Economic and social reasons for migration.

The motivation to migrate from Scotland and Ulster because of religious persecution was certainly a serious cause between about 1630 and 1720. After this period the factors became much more economic and social as both agrarian and industrial revolutions began to exert influence.

         In the early 1700s  landlords still needed to retain their tenants and leases were offered for 21 and 31 years or for three lifetimes. These were reasonably generous and were usually made direct with the tenant. There gradually arrived on the scene the middlemen, often groups of individuals joining in a partnership who rented large tracts of land and sublet. Inevitably prices rose. By the 1750s the landowners were beginning to revert to direct leases and there was the popular observance of the `tenants rights`. By this the custom and practice was that the tenant had first choice at renewing the lease when it became due with no one else making an offer until that had been rejected. This gave a value of perhaps two or three times the rent to purchase the `interest` and was a useful additional source of funds for the intending migrant.

           Agriculture and industrial growth was fastest in the east of Ulster during the 1700s and reflected the distribution of the population. There was much investment in the domestic linen industry with spinning and weaving on home looms. Alongside this the agriculture was of small flax crops and sufficient produce for the home. The majority of these small farms cum weavers did not grow produce for the commercial market. As a result they suffered when poor harvests and famine struck and they were forced to purchase supplementary foods.  In better times increased incomes gave the nudge for an increase of rents which contributed to smaller lettings of land, and more small tenants. Expansion also meant more subsidiary industry with bleach greens, textile finishing, more commerce, transport facilities and so forth.  

         In the west of Ulster the expansion was more leisurely with a focus on yarn spinning and supply of yarn to the North of England mills. Agriculture was perhaps more market orientated as farmers made good use of rich pastures for fattening cattle for sale. But they too had to endure the rising rents and the relative boom and bust cycles from recession, bad harvests and famine.

        In Scotland following the 1715 and 1745 Jacobite rebellions there was positive action to remove power from the clan chieftains and widespread seizure and redistribution of lands. Alongside this was the forced change to an agrarian society with the development of hill sheep farming to replace the traditional crofting. A product of this was smaller farms and higher rent charges from landowners. Sheep rearing led to greedy landlords and a policy of moving people out of the glens to the coasts and disillusioned Highlanders to the ports of Fort William, Greenock and Glasgow and thence emigration. The situation was compounded in the 19C when a policy of Highland Improvements continued the forced removal until the middle of the century when it was destroyed by competition from Australia where many of the exiles had fled.

         In the eighteenth century therefore the various pressures saw surges of migration from time to time. 1710- 1720 was a busy time for migration from Ulster as was 1730 -1740 and 1750 -1775. The numbers who migrated vary considerably such as an average of 4000 a year in the 1760s. Other estimates suggest 6000 a year between 1725 and 1770, and 12,000 a year between 1729 and 1750. Whatever the true number the reality was that thousands of  people, many small farmer and weavers among them, set out for a new life in America during the eighteenth century.

The Famine in Ireland and Scotland

        "The Famine didn't happen in Ulster" has been one of the most unchallenged myths in recent Irish History. " The Famine in Ulster" by Christine Kinealy and Trevor Parkhill,  corrects that distortion by giving an account of how each of the nine counties and the city of Belfast, fared during this great calamity. Ulster was indeed spared what a local newspaper called 'the horrors of Skibbereen'. In the South of the country below a line between Sligo and Wexford, the conditions were truly horrific; to the north and east lay the area which suffered least. Nonetheless, the severity of the famine for much of the population, particularly in the winter of 1846-7 is all too apparent in each of the counties. Ninety-five inmates of Lurgan workhouse died in one week in 1847; 351 people queued to get into the Enniskillen workhouse in one day and emigration continued at an ever increasing pace while hospitals overflowed with fever cases.

          The end of the 1700s saw the beginning of great change in the linen and weaving industry as steam power enabled improvements and  larger and more economical mills and processing plants. Two Scottish innovations had an impact on agriculture - the Scots cart and the iron swing plough. This `modernisation` improved agriculture and land with  crop rotation, gave better and more varied crops to supply a growing demand in the industrial cities. It was the beginning of the end for the cottage industries. By the early 1820s mills appeared along the streams of west Belfast each employing several hundred workers. As a result people poured into Belfast from all over Ulster. Belfast grew from a modest market town of about 20,000 people in 1800 to 50,000 by 1830s and to 350,000 by 1900.  Mechanisation also brought a rapid growth in manufacturing and engineering , especially of machinery and tools, while the shipyards were in their infancy. By the 1850s some 28,000 men were employed in Belfast. Some 17,000 women were working mainly in the textiles and clothing trades. This mass movement of people from cottage industries to the city is one of the main reasons for the genealogists `brick wall` . Tracing movements is very much pot luck  as there are no surviving Census Returns before 1901, having been lost in a fire in 1922.

        Political and economic reasons for emigration were dramatically influenced by the `Potato Famine` in 1845-48. There were at least five other `famine` years - 1800,1816,1817,1822 and 1836, when partial failure of crops occurred. This was compounded by desperate families eating their seed potatoes normally put by for the following year.  To add to the problems disease grew especially in the overcrowded tenements. There outbreaks of typhus accounted for 33,000 deaths in Ulster between 1846 and 1850. Dysentery was rife and responsible for some 12,000 deaths with Antrim the worst county for it in the whole of Ireland.. There had already been cholera epidemics in 1831 and 1832 but it reappeared in 1849 with some 2,300 deaths reported. The overall effect of the Famine in Ulster was that in the period 1846-1850,some  217,000 people died . The consequence was an unprecedented increase in emigration that amounted to a panic in some places at its peak in 1847. The tale is recorded of middle class emigrants  who were so impatient to leave Ireland that if they could not board a ship immediately on arrival at Londonderry, they at once took a steamer to a port in England or Scotland rather than wait for the next vessel.

       The `Famine` was not a one off event. The loss of crop meant no seed for the following and subsequent years, while greedy landlords and an inadequate response by the Government  (who insisted on exporting what grain was harvested rather than provide for the starving population) made things worse. This period saw frequent famines, the worst of which followed the potato blight of 1846 which affected much of rural Scotland as well as Ireland. Here were epidemics of cholera, and whole families were found dead in the rotting straw of their huts. In the food riots which followed both blight and pestilence was rife. The classes least able to cope were the small farmers and agricultural labourers, along with the small shopkeepers and tradesmen who depended on them. The Famine saw a change in landholdings in Ulster as well as in population. In 1841 there had been about 100,000 were between one and five acres; by 1851 there were less than 30,000 such farms in the Province.

         Emigration to the colonies was now regarded by the Government as a noble purpose and supported by government funds and private subscription. Similar activities took place, albeit on a smaller and less emotive scale, in Kent and Sussex in England, whose salt-marshes and rolling Downs were ripe for sheep farming. But it was Scotland and Ireland that suffered the most and whose populace for one reason or another sought foreign climes.

           There were undoubtedly Orr`s from both Ireland and Scotland who emigrated to the USA at this time, and the National Archives (NARA) lists some who entered America via New York  [ Listing ]

 Next : Dissenters in Ireland


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