Emigration - a historical snapshot.

      It is a tangled web the Orrs and indeed all the so called Scotch - Irish or Ulster Scots, weave.

       To understand the widespread emigration of the family it is necessary to be aware of the changes that were taking place in England, Scotland and Ireland in the 16th ,17th and 18th century. Not only was there religious discrimination (depending on whether the King was Catholic or Protestant) but until 1707 Scotland was a foreign country. Ireland had become part of the English lands under Henry VIII. Thus England was concerned with its safety along its borders with Scotland and Ireland whilst there was the ever present threat of war with France and Spain. In a way the English Parliament tended to regard Ireland as a side show and this contributed to the problems. This Time Line lists the main events that were taking place which contributed to the migration of the Scots and the Ulster Scots.

        In 1603 King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England and this saw a major change of direction in Ireland. He saw that by placing Scottish Protestants settlers in Ireland he could also remove a lot of his problems on the Scottish - English border - the Border "Reivers" - several families (Armstrong, Elliott, Irvine, Graham, Nixon, Johnson, etc) called `the riding clans` who lived by pillaging the populace ("reiver" means thief). He dealt with the Reivers very harshly transporting some to Connacht in the west of Ireland, and also saw the opportunity to encourage the Presbyterian `Dissenters` to move across the Irish Sea. When the Irish Earls fled from Ireland in 1607   their lands reverted to the Crown and the re distribution of it to loyal supporters became the Plantation of Ireland. in 1610 -30.

       The `Plantation` was the settlement of land in Ireland by English and Scottish people. There was a mainly English Plantation in the mid-16th Century when Queen Elizabeth I wanted lands settled. The Plantation in 1610 redistributed land to English and Scottish `Undertakers` so called because they had to undertake to build fortified barns and houses and populate the land with English and Scottish protestants. These same settlers, of course, formed a loyal armed force - yeoman soldiers, in times of disturbance. This was a device to keep the indigenous people who were mainly Catholic, under control. Thousands of Scottish people went to Ulster with the Plantation. 

         At much the same time in Scotland there was religious discrimination against Presbyterians in particular, who dissented from the official faith and rule by the Bishops of the Church of Scotland. Later there was a deliberate policy of `clearing` the Highlands with many small crofters forced off their land. From 1630 - 1690 all Non Conformists, including Presbyterians and Catholics, were subject of discrimination in Ireland. In between times there was a revolt in 1641 by the native Irish objecting to the way `their land` had been taken and given to the English and Scots. In the early 1650s, there was another major redistribution of lands in Ireland when Cromwell offered land in lieu of wages to his soldiery - many took the offer and sold the lands on without themselves even visiting their allotment. In later years many of these Scots - Irish and the indigenous Irish people who were badly treated in so many ways, subsequently migrated to the English Colonies in America.

          There was almost constant turmoil in Ireland through the 17th and 18th centuries with assorted rebellions in 1640, 1650 (Cromwell) 1690 (Battle of the Boyne when William of Orange - Protestant, overcame James II - Catholic with French allies) and 1798 and 1803 Rebellions.

   As a consequence of the "Plantations", and anti Catholic land laws between 1603 - 1778, ownership of land by Catholics dwindled from about 90% to about 14%. Failure to conform to the episcopal Church of Ireland  brought economic ruin to many Catholic families and seriously effected other `dissenters` such as the Presbyterian Scots . Much of the land was broken down into small plots of a few acres and varied enormously in its suitability for cultivation. In 1841, for example, the majority of families were living on farms of less than seven acres. Alongside this the population centres were diverse with overcrowding especially in the West of Ireland. In the North and North east agricultural provided much employment but here the linen industry was becoming mechanised and the small farmer/weaver became hard pressed to compete.

             In the early centuries there was plenty to flee from, and  in many instances the ministers of the church went with or followed after their congregation when the latter emigrated. In the American colonies there was for a long time resentment against Catholics but the Presbyterians and other non conformists enjoyed freedom of religion and thrived. During the persecutions in Europe Ireland was a destination for many other Protestant  Dissenters . The Hugenots and Palatines were in time  integrated into the population and many  joined the exodus to the New World. There was also a period when the use of Transportation was the favoured method to punish wrong doers, and this added to the flow of people to the Colonies .

       There was considerable emigration before the Famine period, with sailingís from all round Ireland and from English ports. In later years a large proportion of especially younger people went via England e.g. worked to get their passage money before emigrating or signed up as `indentured servants` (fancy words for slaves in many cases). So there were regular movements from Ireland, through the ports of Londonderry, Portrush, Larne, Belfast, Portpatrick, Warrenpoint, Dundalk, and Drogheda to Glasgow, Liverpool, Fleetwood, Ardrossan, Greenock, London. From Dublin, Cork, Wexford, Waterford, the main ports were Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow, Plymouth. Virtually anything that floated was used and passengers often suffered at the expense of the cargo, i.e. human beings slept on open decks, the cargo was too precious to get wet!

          Emigration to America was very heavy in the early 1700s  with peaks during 1710-20 and again in 1730-40. The busiest period for migration to the Colonies was 1750- 1775 which came to a halt in the summer 1775 with the firing of Lexington and Concord. Migration was then virtually at a standstill for the next eight years restarting in August 1783. The main ports of departure from Ulster during the 1700s were Londonderry, Larne, Belfast, Newry  and Portpatrick with sailings usually to PA, NY, SC, MA, MD and occasional voyages to GA, Delaware, Novas Scotia and Prince Edward Island. The prime driver in this migration was commerce and migrants  had to travel on cargo ships until purpose built passenger ships came along in the 19th century. Emigration was aided by a series of enactmentís in the US after 1783 when Ulster enjoyed a virtual free trade status; so good trade gave opportunities to travel. Another significant change was in the type of person emigrating. Before  about 1770 many emigrants were poor  and  single, or became indentured servants and were employed as labourers doing the hard and dangerous jobs in the new frontiers. After 1783 the emigrants became more fare paying, with skilled workmen with whole families who had money in their pockets, going to carry on a trade in the US. It was in the 18th Century that there were positive moves to encourage settlement in lands as far apart as South Carolina where land was given to immigrants and recruitment for Prince Edward Island in Canada. Even as late as 1888 there were Emigration agents in most towns.

      The US and Canada migration is sometimes complicated because many immigrants went to stay in New York and Pennsylvania, perhaps meeting up with people from the same locality in Ulster. They stayed a while or took another ship to places like South Carolina because they had heard of the free land that was available ( the South Carolina bounty offer ended in 1767); or they went up the Ohio Valley and migrated West. Many went to Canada after the Revolutionary War because they were `Royalists` and later returned to the US; or found life so hard and bleak in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia and moved south to warmer climes.

       Perhaps the thing to remember is that these immigrants had known the most difficult times and had nothing to lose but their lives. They were prepared to go anywhere that offered even half a chance of a living and prosperity so to find them in the Gold Rushes to Alaska or Ballarat in Australia, or in the mines digging coal, or building the subways of New York is not surprising. 

       There were movements within the US because of lack of opportunity, with too many chasing too few jobs in the new cities, as well as failures of enterprises such as their small farms in inhospitable places - that's why the land was free or at a nominal price. Many, perhaps most, came from farming backgrounds and would have followed that tradition by and large. Certainly many Scots were involved in the tobacco, rum and sugar trades of the West Indies and could well have followed this with migration to Virginia and Georgia/Southern states. Undoubtedly Orrs were in Alabama as there are many Black American Orr families there, especially Morgan Co. The name has in some cases been that of the master adopted by slaves - hence black Americans; as well as mulatto descendants from mixed marriages and extra marital relations.

        Thatís a short history of how the Scottish Orrs became Ulster Scots became Americans, Canadians, Australians etc. A rugged breed fearing God and not afraid of hard work.


Orr Name Study Ulster Scots Reference material