Migration and Emigration to the USA - The Ulster Scots

The term Scotch Irish is a particularly American expression to describe the Ulster families of Scottish origin who emigrated to the USA. It is often confused as meaning Roman Catholic and native Irish rather than Protestant / Presbyterian of Scots origin. In the UK they are properly referred to as the Ulster Scots (Scotch refers to the drink). It should also be remembered that until 1776 all of North America was a British colony (although fighting with the French over ownership of what became Canada) and as such families from Britain were migrants as if moving from one county to another - they did not need passports and no official records were kept of their movements. Passenger lists, if they exist, are therefore commercial  documents along with the ship`s manifests and the ship`s log which might contain details of those on board.

For nearly 400 years there has been a flow of migrants leaving Glasgow and other ports in the west of Scotland for destinations overseas. In the early seventeenth century the majority were headed for the Plantation of Ulster (1610-30), while a few were sailing to the continent and a handful to Nova Scotia. As transatlantic trade developed, the economic links led to settlement overseas, particularly along the American coast and in the West Indies where many Scots were involved in the tobacco plantations and sugar cane growing. 

Some of the earliest Scots were prisoners from the battle of Dunbar (3 Sep 1650)  and from the battle of Worcester (1651) who were transported to Massachusetts where the Scots Charitable Society was later founded. Many of these were transported on the John & Sara from Gravesend and served an indenture in the Lynn Iron works and later became honourable citizens and family men. Cromwell was responsible for about 1200 transportations from Ireland shipping prisoners from Knockfergus and Portpatrick in May 1656  to Virginia, New England and the West Indies.

The first known congregation in East Jersey was probably at Freehold, NJ. Rev Jos Dally in Woodbridge & Vicinity, the Story of a New Jersey Township (1873)  says "the first settlers came to Woodbridge in the latter part of the summer of 1665" . Covenanters at Freehold were in the congregation of the Puritan pastor Samuel Sheppard. It is for this reason that the survivors of the Henry & Francis  found a warm welcome in this locality when in mid December 1685 the survivors of their terrible voyage (some seventy people died) made landfall at Perth Amboy.

The Union of 1707 removed all restrictions on Scottish trade with the English colonies and soon Glasgow virtually monopolised the Tobacco Trade with the Chesapeake area, this too, led to further settlement in America. Within a generation Glasgow and Greenock became two of the most prominent ports in British intercontinental trade, soon becoming the main exit ports for Scots migrants. There are three significant areas of settlement where Highland communities were established: Jamaica, North Carolina and Prince Edward Island (PEI). The first distinct emigration, mainly Presbyterian, from Scotland was to South Carolina in 1682 where the settlement of the Stuartstown and Ashley River area survived for twenty years. Such early experiences as this - and later in New Jersey - were used as a basis for future ventures as at Darien. Notable personages from Argyll and Ayrshire were involved in these early days whose  leaders included Lord Neil Campbell and Ewan Cameron of Locheil.

Other establishments, of the 1720s and 1730s, were in the Savannah area of Georgia and around Cape Fear in North Carolina. The rate of emigration was to increase rapidly in the mid eighteenth century due to changes in land tenure in Western Scotland and the Highlands. Families moving to small plantations and farms was a significant feature, too, of emigration to North Carolina. A land bounty scheme in South Carolina was especially attractive to the migrants, most of whom had some farming background. Not surprisingly the scheme was oversubscribed and had to be wound up in 1767.

The main ports for the migrants from Ulster were Belfast, Londonderry, Larne, Newry and Portpatrick. The definitive work "Ulster Emigration to Colonial America, 1718 -1775 " by R J Dickson gives a wide range of factors and figures pointing out that peaks in migration  reflected periods of shortages and recession in Ulster. Thus peaks were in 1718-9; 1727-9; 1735-6; 1740-1; and 1745-6. He also gives the approximate number of sailings from the main ports during 1750-1775 as:
     Belfast        Londonderry   Newry   Larne   Portpatrick
       143               128              84          57          30

The destination of these vessels were mainly to Philadelphia, New York, South Carolina, Maryland and Massachusetts with odd sailings to Georgia, Virginia, the West Indies, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

         Destination    PA   NY  SC /NC NS/PEI  MD  MA  GA  Other
Belfast                   45% 17    15              9            4       5
Londonderry         77%   2       8                        7                    6
Newry                    51% 29      8                        7                    5
Larne                     32% 35     21                       7                    5
Portpatrick            37%   40      3                            10             10

The pioneering spirit is clearly seen in the fact that so many Ulster Scots went to areas where land was available either free or very cheap. The land itself tended to be in the remoter parts, in need of clearance, and often required defence against the native Indians. Thus they took land 40 - 50 miles inland from Philadelphia, PA and similarly in Maryland. An Ulster settlement was established at Donegal, PA and spread from there into the Cumberland Valley and then to Virginia and Carolina, the Shenandoah Valley and Appalachian Mountains.  A group with their minister, from Co Donegal, settled along the Elizabeth River near Norfold, Virginia in 1671. Earlier another group of Ulster Scots settled at New Jamaica, Long Island in 1662.The ancestors of these settlers moved on to Arkansas and Missouri, and with fresh immigrants via New Orleans moved into Mississippi to join those immigrants coming down the Ohio Valley. Even then they were still seeking the wide open spaces migrating to Texas and the Mid west - Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska. 

Early Orr settlers included a family who were residing on Christaina Creek, PA in 1701. Later a Presbyterian minister, Robert Orr,  was in the Maidenhead and Hopewell, MA area in 1715 and then preached  at Pennington, Lawrence, Trenton and Titusville. A William Orr  was in Lower Octoraro, Nottingham, PA  in 1732. The Register of Rev John Cuthbertson  records the baptisms of the children of a William Orr on 4 August 1788 - George, John , Katharine, Margaret, Martha and William. And a James Orr married an Anne Smith in Burlington ,NJ  in 1757.

Today some 100,000 descendants of these and other early American Orr`s are distributed across all states of the USA.

Recommended reading:

This excellent book gives considerable details of other migrants and transported prisoners etc.


 Foreword By JOHN FOORD

 Published by The Scottish Section of "America's Making" New York, 1921

This book has been reprinted as a paperback  eg see www.abebooks.com. It is freely available from the Gutenberg Project as an e book at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/15162 .

Next: Placement of Early settlers 

Orr Name Study Ulster Scots Reference material