Open Alternative Views of Statue
 

 

It might seem to some that the life of the early Scotch-Irish in America was one of misery, hardship, and persecution, particularly if the lives of those in Maine or Worcester are our only point of reference. In those places the pioneer had to deal with harsh winters, hostile native Americans and an established church which was almost as unfriendly as the Church of Ireland. If we read the history of the 1718 emigrants in Londonderry or Chester, Pennsylvania, on the other hand, we read of relative peace, established farms, and religious freedom. What is striking is that one group of people who shared a similar past in Ireland, and experienced the mutual bond of sailing the treacherous ocean, could experience lives in the new land that were amazingly diverse. After four years of researching this special group, I have come to realize that any limiting description of this ethnic group would be false. They were farmers, grocers, blacksmiths, servants, pastors, ship builders, judges, linen merchants, sailors and fishermen. Some were rich enough to pay for passage to America for themselves, and others had to indenture themselves as servants to eke out an existence. Researching the people who became the 'melting pot' of America has to be done with a broad mind and open eyes.

C.K. Bolton in the Scotch-Irish Pioneers provides a clearer view of their financial status. Based on the records from the early Boston newspapers, and the writings of Cotton Mather and Thomas Lechmere we gain an interesting insight into the financial means of the emigrants. Newspaper advertisements clearly show that there was a willingness among the 1718 emigrants to 'rent' their services as indentured servants. This common practice among their English neighbours was a means to gain financial security, and establish their own independence. Usually for the term of seven years, the servant would work for a master, gain some savings, and earn the right to be a freeman and establish a home where he so chose. The newspapers of Boston and Philadelphia are also full of advertisements showing that seven years was too much time for some of our Scotch-Irish brethren. Unfortunately, later articles do not mention if the runaway servants are ever returned. However, this means of procuring financing on American shores was not the only source of wealth. The 1718 emigrants of New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Maine and Massachusetts were primarily families with the means to quickly establish their homesteads and businesses.

One of the primary records for the 1718 group from Ireland is the Conolly Papers in PRONI [Conolly Papers, T2825/C]. In August 1718, Robert McCausland lists men who have sold their interest in their rented lands and are either preparing for departure or have actually gone to America. These emigrants came from “two nearly contiguous estates stretching from the Waterside of Derry City to the mouth of the River Roe”. These papers clearly prove that the 1718 emigrants were generally not the poor and indigent. At least in this first group of emigrants, many of the Scotch-Irish were well-to-do; they had sold their lands and holdings and provided the financial means for the emigration of many of their fellow emigrants. Thanks to Richard McMaster, and his article in 'The Journal of Scotch-Irish Studies' vol.1 no.1 Spring 2000 pgs.18-23; American researchers can now understand how so many 1718 emigrants came to New England and immediately established homes, purchased land and developed business sites. Early American researchers, such as C. K. Bolton [pgs.132-144], had mentioned the possibility that the emigrants were reasonably well off; the Lechmere letters described by Bolton show a group of emigrants aware of the value of their service, and unwilling to lower their demands for payment, regardless of their status as newcomers. The Conolly papers prove that some of the 1718 emigrants were indeed relatively prosperous.

 

back to top