Last week, many Americans celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by wearing green, supping on Irish stew and soda bread or corned beef and cabbage, and raising a pint of Guinness or a dram of Jameson’s. (Heck, even non-Irish heritage people “became” Irish for the day!)
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 39.6 million Americans claim an Irish background (with another five million identifying with a Scots-Irish heritage.) Wow! That is certainly a lot of people—nearly 15% of the American population!
Seeing the percentage of Americans who claim an Irish heritage, I wondered: How many of our ancestors were Irish?
So I started climbing the branches of our families’ trees and discovered Angel Connell, my 6th great-grandfather through my maternal father’s side, who was born 1754 in County Dublin, Ireland. Angel immigrated to the United States sometime before his 28th year when he married Martha Anne Fleming on 29 April 1782 in Greenbrier County, Virginia (now West Virginia.)
However, I was certain that our combined families had more than one ancestor who emigrated from the Emerald Isle. So I kept scaling the branches and found quite a few people who were labeled Scots-Irish. So, who were the original Scots-Irish, and what was their history prior to coming to the Colonies?
Starting in 1609, Lowland Scots began relocating to the northern counties of Ireland. This resettlement was orchestrated by the English Crown as a way to confiscate the Irish nobles’ lands and to populate the area with Protestant English and Scottish colonists.
During the Irish Rebellion of 1641, the native Irish gentry attempted to extirpate the Scottish and English settlers; between 4,000-6,000 settlers perished between 1641–1642. The Ulster-Scots were probably saved from complete annihilation when, in 1642, the Scottish Covenanters sent an army to Ulster to protect the Scottish settlers from the native Irish landowners.
Under the Act of Settlement of 1652, all Catholic-owned land was confiscated, and the British holdings in Ireland, which had been destroyed by the 1641 rebellion, were restored. However, due to the Scots’ enmity to the English Parliament in the final stages of the English Civil War, English settlers rather than Scots were the main beneficiary of this scheme.
Peace reigned until 1689; however, soon another war broke out—again due to religious differences. The Williamite War (1689–91) was fought between Jacobites, who supported the restoration of the James II (a Catholic) to the English throne, and Williamites, who supported the William of Orange (a Protestant.) In 1691, the Williamite forces defeated the Jacobites, solidifying the Protestant minority’s power in Ireland.
A few years later, in the late 1690s, another major influx of Scots into Northern Ireland occurred, when tens of thousands of Scots left their country due to famine.
The Scottish Presbyterians in the northern Irish counties had endured and survived nearly a century of religious discrimination and would most likely have continued to thrive in the face of this hostility. However, they soon encountered an even greater challenge—one that threatened their economic existence in Ireland. By 1710, most of the farm leases granted to the settlers in the 1690s had expired. New leases were withheld until the tenants agreed to pay astronomically inflated rents, which many Scots tenants could not afford. Rather than submit to these new conditions. entire communities, led by their Presbyterian ministers, left. A new exodus began.
Longing for a homeland without oppression and strife, the promise of the New World beckoned. Between 1717 and 1775, approximately 200,000 Ulster Scots migrated to the American Colonies. The first significant wave occurred in the 1719-1720.
Most Scots-Irish settlers (as they were referred to in the Americas to differentiate them from Irish Catholics) were originally drawn to the unspoiled lands of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, where they continued their farming traditions. Our ancestors were no exception. In addition, their origins were varied: Scottish, Irish, and even English. Here are the family members who would be classified as Scots-Irish:
John Barnett, born 20 May 1678 in Derry, County Londonderry, Ulster, Northern Ireland and his wife Jeanette Power, born 1682 in County Londonderry, Ulster, Northern Ireland, are my spouse’s 9th great-grandparents on his paternal mother’s side. The Barnetts immigrated to Chester County, Pennsylvania sometime before 1702, as their daughter Ann was born that year in that locale.
John Campbell, born 16 Nov 1674 in County Donegal, Ulster, Northern Ireland, and his wife Grissel Hay, born 1678 in County Antrim, Ulster, Northern Ireland are my 7th great grandparents through my maternal father’s line (via their daughter Margaret). These Campbell kin, John and Grissel (Hay) Campbell, are also my 9th great-grandparents through my maternal father’s line (via their son James). John and Grissel Campbell first came to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1726.
Thomas Gay, was born 1730 in Ulster, Northern Ireland, as were his parents Samuel Gay, born in 1700, and Margaret (surname unknown), born 1700. They are my 7th and 8th great-grandparents on my maternal father’s side. The family arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and then settled in Augusta County, Virginia sometime before 1740.
James Kelly, my spouse’s 6th great-grandfather on his maternal mother’s side, was born 1720 in County Londonderry, Ulster, Northern Ireland and immigrated to Pennsylvania. He spent most of his life in Letterkenny Township, Franklin County, Pennsylvania on his 200 acre farm named Londonderry. He sold his land in Letterkenny in 1786 and settled on 200 acres that he had been granted in Conemaugh Township, Indiana County, Pennsylvania.
John Kelsay, my 6th great-grandfather through my maternal father’s side, was born in Ulster, Northern Ireland, and immigrated to Pennsylvania in 1720. In 1748, he married Margaret Campbell, daughter of John and Grissel Campbell (referenced above) in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
James Kenney, my spouse’s 8th great-grandfather on his paternal mother’s side, was born about 1703 in Ulster, Northern Ireland and immigrated to Chester County, Pennsylvania sometime before 1725 when he married Ann Barnett, daughter of John and Jeanette Barnett (referenced above).
Robert Kinkead was born 18 Oct 1768 in Omagh, County Tyrone, Ulster, Northern Ireland. He and his parents, David Kinkead, born 1747 in Omagh, County Tyrone, Ulster, Northern Ireland and Martha Sproul, born in Omagh, County Tyrone, Ulster, Northern Ireland, my spouse’s 5th and 6th great-grandparents on his maternal father’s side, immigrated to the New World in 1776. They landed in Newark, New Castle County, Delaware, and then migrated to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. As an adult, Robert Kinkead resided in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.
My spouse’s 4th great-grandparents through his maternal father’s side were Irvin Robinson, born 1762 in Enniskillen, Fermanaugh, Ulster, Northern Ireland and his wife Catharine Elliott, born 1773 in Enniskillen, Fermanaugh, Ulster, Northern Ireland. Irvin Robinson was conscripted to serve in the British Army during the American Revolution and was among the troops who surrendered at Yorktown. In 1793, Irvin Robinson, his wife Catharine, and their children immigrated to the New World, landing in Québec, Canada before traveling to Blair County, Pennsylvania. The family ultimately settled in Indiana County, Pennsylvania.