Since before Roman times in 200 A.D., the border between England and Scotland was in almost constant warfare. The people, whether English (like the Musgrave’s) or Scottish (like the Knox’s, McIntire’s), were living in a war zone. The men were warrior-like and often away at battle. With the men away, the women raised the many children and took care of the household and farm, as soldiers trampled crops and rustlers stole livestock. The extended family or clan was the only unit worth any loyalty.
Each family had a few acres where they raised their own food and grazed livestock. Families moved often. Their home was a simple building, built in a day, with few household possessions. As rents increased in the borderlands, Scots-Irish were encouraged to migrate to northern Ireland. Soon rents increased in Ireland and their farming/ grazing lifestyle was no longer economically feasible in Ireland.
When the first Scots-Irish first arrived in Pennsylvania about 1717, their behavior, provocative dress, and speech were very different from the Quakers, so they were rejected, ridiculed, and called “Scots-Irish”. In spite of their poverty, they were a proud people, which further irritated the Quakers. The Scots-Irish settled on the frontier of Pennsylvania and; when the roads south opened, they went down into the Shenandoah Valley to the Carolinas. Later migrations to America in 1760-1775 were directly to the Carolinas. The Scot-Irish families continued the old patterns of life first on the frontier, then to Tennessee, and further west to Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. Since the Scots-Irish way of life was successful on the frontier, other frontier immigrants took on those characteristics, still seen today.
Weddings were wild affairs, full of ritual, and expensive. Sometimes brides were abducted, usually (but not always) willingly. First cousins often married to “keep it in the clan”. There was a shortage of clergy and sometimes couples got tired of waiting. Premarital pregnancies were common and not scandalous. Most of the original Scots-Irish were Presbyterian, but became Baptists and Methodists as their population and migration outgrew the Presbyterian seminaries capacity to provide ministers.
Families were male dominant; women and children were to obey. Children, especially boys, were taught to exercise their wills. The Scots-Irish doted on their male children, reared to have pride, independence, and courage. Girls were taught the virtues of patience, industry, sacrifice, and devotion to others. Men shared in the care of their children from infancy. Corporal punishment was often used.
Formal education wasn’t important to the Scots-Irish, the most illiterate group. The main occupation was farming combined with herd grazing. There was no class system with everyone seen as equal. As in Scotland, this group moved often, creating scattered, isolated settlements, along creeks and streams.
- “Albion’s Seed, Four British Folkways in America,” David Hackett Fischer, 1989.
- “Born Fighting – How the Scots-Irish Shaped America,” James Webb, 2004.
Copyrighted, 2012 by Andrea Musgrove Perisho.