Immigrants from Ireland in the 1700’s

Irish Immigrant Ancestors: Who, What, When, Where and Why?

Review of last post:  I described and discussed the conditions in Ireland under which the Irish Catholics and Scottish Covenanters left the country.  This included the nature of English governance, including the Penal Laws; religious issues; discontinuance of education; food deprivation, both manmade and natural; and constant warfare.

Scots-Irish Lowland Covenanters.

The Scots-Irish, who were Presbyterians, had been under the thumb of the Anglican faith in Scotland. All were Lowland Scots of Edinburgh or south to the border of England. When in Ireland they were still held to oaths and their Presbyterian ministers who had been “outlawed” by the English did not receive recognition in Ireland from 1690 to 1737. Until the mid 1700’s there was so much persecution of Irish Catholics, the Scottish Covenanters and even the Upland Scottish colonizers who settled in Ireland as Catholics and Protestants, saw greater opportunity in leaving Ireland for America, even though they might be moving to American colonies dominated by the English. Most left from Ulster ports.

It might well have been that they had confidence in their own abilities, and they probably recognized that England would have trouble dominating them in a country three thousand miles across the Atlantic.

The Lowland Scots-Irish Covenanters, like my sixth great grandfather Robert Scott, had rebelled against the King in Scotland. Robert was an officer in the Covenantor Battle on Bothwell Bridge. Sir Walter Scott wrote Old Mortality, a fictionalized version of the battle. It was followed with a poem by Letitia Landon, who idealized the man who brought down the Scottish rebels, John Graham of Claverhouse who was under command of the Duke of Monmouth. The battle spelled the end of Presbyterian rebellion.  

These prison cells held about 200 officers or “pardonable” rebels from the “Battle of Bothwell Bridge” in cells previously occupied by monks at the Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh. Townspeople fed them. 250 soldiers from the battle were sent into slavery in Barbados, some were executed, and others were deported to Ireland, my sixth great-grandfather among them.

Though all participants were temporarily imprisoned, King Charles II eventually exiled numerous “favored” Scotsmen to Ireland with a “grant” of land that came with strings attached.  The Scott family had previously helped the King and Scotland through parliament by raising large armies. A record shows that a Robert Scott in Parliament had raised an army of more than 50,000 men. (I don’t know exactly who he was but I know that he was of the same family.) Though my great grandfather had been a Parliamentarian, he was also a cattle farmer and “laird” (an owner of considerable land who ruled over those in his employee, but without the title of baron) from the line of Buccleuchs.

About 200 soldiers of the Covenantor Battle were executed. After residence in Ireland for about two decades, the elder Robert left Ireland and arrived in Philadelphia in 1722 with his son John. I would guess that as a staunch leader in the Covenant movement, forbidding the Presbyterian ministers to serve their people was more than the Scottish colonists were willing to tolerate.

The group of Scots-Irish in Pennsylvania made up the bulk of the first colonial revolutionaries. Those who had been professional soldiers had served the Scots and British. However, it was fortuitous that the enlightened, sturdy, and impassioned Scots with war experience became established here in time for the Revolution against the British.  

Side Note: Michael Moore, the filmmaker of Flint, Michigan came from the same Scots-Irish background. His great grandfather, also named Michael Moore, fought in the same battle on Bothwell Bridge with my great grandfather Robert. Moore’s great grandfather also settled in Pennsylvania.

The first immigrants (from Ireland) who were not indentured servants.

Irish were not here in great numbers when the Scots-Irish arrived. They were not as socially aggressive, erudite, organized as the gregarious society that the Scots-Irish were.

Unlike the Scottish shippers who accommodated their Scot passengers the few possessions they brought, the Irish left home owning and carrying very little more than the clothing on their backs.  There is a very sweet story about an Irish dresser that arrived with the McCabe family and held a secret inside, authored by Cynthia G. Neale. Though I have met the author and it is a good read, I do not recall if it is based on a true story.  If so, it would have been fairly unusual for other than at least a middle class family or aristocracy to have brought such a piece of furniture, but it is nice to read.

Generally, the Irish people were over-taxed, underfed and had little. Read the previous post for details on why the Irish left Ireland.  There were overwhelming reasons. For those who came, there was no such thing as a “net” income or “disposable” income. For the Irish Catholic, all their money went into rent, so they possessed almost nothing. Also, most of their food product went into rent.

Land for immigrants.

In America, the Scottish freeholder (land owner colonist) immigrants from Ireland availed themselves of the land grant given to William Penn. Though Penn initially intended to rescue the German Quakers from religious persecution, Penn allowed the Scots-Irish to settle based on the fact that they, too, had suffered religious persecution in Ireland. The Irish Catholics were not extended invitations to settle on available land as the Scots-Irish were. 

Penn agreed as he was anxious to populate his land, so he expanded his idea of who needed protection. Scots immigrated in very large numbers from 1720 – 1750. There were farming style and other socially disrupting differences between the Scots and the German Quakers, but the ambitious and highly energetic Scots developed Penn’s land quickly and pushed out onto the frontier expanding the country, leaving the Quakers and their numerous complaints about them behind.

Scottish Highland colonists.

Scottish prisoners from the Highlands, who had been supporters of King James II/VI (1685-1688) were thought of as enemy. They were captured by English both in Scotland and Ireland during this time period.  The highlander prisoners were deported into Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia and around New England by the English in 1716, 1740, and 1776. The prisoners numbered about 10,000 and were soldiers and rebels who caused aggravation in Scotland.  They were given terms of forced labor for their “crimes”. [i] They shipped out from Ulster. This was a policy that came back to bite the English during the Revolution.

The most notable emigration from the highland was the Highland Clearances.[ii] The clan and feudal systems were eroding across western Europe in the 1700’s. This was driven by a desire for religious freedom, relief from taxes and the Little Ice Age that initiated many lean years- from the late 1300’s into the 1800’s. Of course, that initiated an uprising against the monarchy.  The Scottish Highlanders were considered barbarians because of their dress and well as their discontent.  They were not loved by their kings. The Scottish kings had not even visited the Highlands until Charles arrived for a show of strength against the Jacobites in summer of 1745.[iii] With a group of desperate Scots and Irish farmers who were a mix of religions, the Jacobites took the Whig city of Edinburgh. 

Simultaneously, the agricultural traditions were in a disrupted state with a conflict of Scotland moving to a capitalist economy that came with the Scottish Enlightenment. Ultimately, the northern Scots remained impoverished, and their population grew until the land could no longer accommodate them.  The Clearances resulted in over 10,000 emigrants. Half went to Canada and the other half to Australia. Of course, many of the Canadians came to America, and when the potato famine hit in Ireland, it also affected Scotland.


Native Irish Catholics.

As previously noted, the native Irish were usually indentured servants who had come from poverty. They were on their own, more likely isolated from a large support group like that of the Scots-Irish. Records appear to indicate that they were quite spread out from each other, so it was more difficult for them to gain social momentum until their numbers increased and Irish communities formed. 

However, though most were very impoverished, there were physicians (the one occupation they were allowed to have under Penal Laws) and teachers among some of the first Irish. Again, most lived in Boston, New York (most having migrated from Canada into Syracuse), or Pennsylvania (near Pittsburg).   

Most of the first Irish immigrants stayed in laboring jobs in Massachusetts and Maryland, and those in that location generally became anti-abolitionists by the 1800’s. They did not want to be the ones on the bottom of the ladder, so their political sentiments began to harden. Many in the region who had limited skills and were generally illiterate clamored for opportunities, but they were not welcome and it was resented.  

Racism that sprouted from Irish immigrants.

            With the degraded reputation of the Irish immigrant and later, with the coming of the Industrial Revolution, racism began to take hold among the Irish as Baltimore grew in the number of freed slaves. Maryland began to move from slavery to accept the manumission law in which an African slave, like an indentured servant, could be released after an amount of time.  Realizing they were in competition with freed slaves, the Irish did not want the slaves to “move up” the ladder and take Irish jobs. If freed slaves had the worst jobs, the Irish immigrants had a leg up. They didn’t want competition for better positions, such as clerks, salesmen, or other more middle-class occupations. The Irish wanted to climb above their rock-bottom, canal-digger status.

During the 1800’s the divisions intensified. By 1858, Maryland statute grew extremely racist and placated the growing racist Irish demographic by requiring freed slaves to remove themselves from Maryland upon their becoming free. The law also banned the previous manumission laws. Also, many Irish had, by this time, become involved in politics (city councils, newspaper editors, precinct workers, labor unions, etc.) that clearly helped to drive their growing racist policies.[iv]

Newspapers and individual politicians stoked the race wars by blaming both the freed slaves and Irish for poverty, ignorance, and any other negative attribute. Most of all, like today’s politics, the established “haves” did not want the “have-nots” to vote—unless they wanted an “ignorant” voter! The Irish and the freed slaves had the most in common, and both groups had the most to gain from having a voice in the new democracy. Repeating history, however, they failed to think of uniting as they were in competition. The “union” concept was in formation. Those who had “made it” did not want others to be equal because they felt they might end up on the short end of the stick.  The solution was to continue marginalizing those who had already been marginalized.

Cartoon drawn by Thomas Nast from the December 9, 1876 Harper’s Weekly.

The Irish in Boston, Baltimore, and New York did not like being pictured in “the problem in America today is the Irish” articles. Newspapers had always placed ugly images of the Irish “papists” and freed slaves in the paper. The cartoon, above, appeared 100 years after one might have thought we had figured things out.

You can imagine how the Irish got fired up and how being labeled as those at the “bottom of the barrel” caused shame, resentment, and anger in both communities of the poor. The Blacks and Irish in Boston, Baltimore, New York, Chicago, Pittsburg, and Buffalo were competing for industrial labor jobs aside from work as longshoremen, railroad workers, canal diggers, grave diggers, etc. Their animus and competition resulted in ugly racism and riots. Had the community taken a democratic, inclusive, “American” approach, things could have been quite different. It seems that people have never understood what our democracy was supposed to have been. That rings true today.

Side Note: My father, (in the 1950’s) referred to Irish laborers as the “ditch diggers.” Irish warned their children that they would become ditch diggers if they didn’t go to college. Thousands of early Catholic Irish not only worked on the canal system, then later the railroads, but their own ancestors had helped dig Kansas City out of the limestone cliffs and coal out of the ground. I don’t think my father was derogatory, but I know it worked for many generations of Irish children whose families expected more from them. Most immigrants come from everywhere with a lot of ambition, and they push their children using education as a tool and sometimes a weapon!

Irish Quakers/Friends.

Quakerism in Ireland was a significant fact. George Fox, at the age of nineteen, and an English native, turned away from Catholicism in the midst of Reformation fervor, and decided that there was an “inner light” that was the voice of God speaking directly with the faithful.  He believed that faith did not require a religious mediator, especially not a pope—though there were ministers who taught Fox’s religion and organized the groups.  He became a true missionary, and by 1700—twenty-five years after he started—there were 60,000 Quakers in England.[v]

It wasn’t Fox who crusaded his religion into Ireland. It was a young Englishman, William Edmundson, born in Westmoreland, England who had served in the Scottish army and settled with other English and Scotsmen, first in the town of Antrim then in Lurgan in the County of Armagh. That is where he and several others from England started their proselytizing in Ireland.

Although the religion grew rapidly, many Quakers stood up for Irish Catholics, but it was not the Catholics who were converted to Quakerism in Ireland. It was primarily the Scots and the English.

When the Quakers of Ireland first arrived in America with the Scots, it is believed that only the O’Mooney family were actually Irish.  They settled in Lancaster County. Most of the “Irish” Quakers were predominantly English. The “Irish” Friends brought to Pennsylvania were English, a small number of Scottish and a smattering of Welsh who had lived in Ireland only a few years. Quakers did not arrive with the earlier emigrants to the New England Colonies, but only came with the first shipload to New Jersey and some into the Carolinas and Virginia.  Most arrived in Pennsylvania with the Presbyterians and other Quakers from 1682 to 1750.[vi]

In the Albert Cook Myers book, Immigration of the Irish Quakers into Pennsylvania, 1682-1750, there is an extensive index of the Quaker settlers and the names of their children. The work also contains many lists of witnesses to marriages and names of those present at meetings. Even though these people are called Irish Quakers, they were likely Ulster colonists of English, Scottish, or Welsh heritage.  

Side Note: It is in a Friends record of meetings that I discovered my fifth great-grandmother, Jane Mitchell, who married a Presbyterian (my 5th great grandfather, John Scott). I know that some women were flogged for doing what she did, but I have no idea if her “mixed” marriage brought her grief. Possibly not. They had six children and they were very prominent citizens. In spite of John’s prominence, his wife Jane was buried in the Friends cemetery, not in the Presbyterian Covenanter cemetery. It’s possible that the cemetery which his family helped fund had not yet been completed before she died.

Preview of my next posting: My next post will provide clues on finding Irish immigrants before 1790 and will give the history of the roads the migrant immigrants had to travel at various times from the 1600’s to the early1850’s—before the railroads were built.

Side Note: Knowing about the roads is information that helped me “break the trail” that led my Irish Quigley family from New York in 1849 to the frontier of Missouri in 1852.

Corner stone in wall noting the founding year of 1727 for the congregation of Neshaminy Presbyterian Covenanters at Warwick, Bucks Co., PA. The chapel in background, is not the original church. The original is shown in the painting in the first heading of this post that was a gift from Mrs. Wm. Holmes. Some argue that the corner stone was brought from somewhere else and placed in the wall. Even though that might be correct, the date in the stone is correct, argue others.


[i] Miller, Olga K. Migration, Emigration, Immigration, Volume 1. “Convicts and Rebel Prisoners.” Logan, Utah: The Everton Publishers, Inc., 1974, pp. 13-4.

[ii] Doug. Highland Titles: The Everlasting Gift of Scottish Lands. “The Highland Clearances.” Updated 28 October 2020. https://www.highlandtitles.com/blog/the-highland-clearances/#clan-system  Accessed 06 August 2020. 10:16 a.m.

[iii] “Maryland’s law banning al manumission of slaves comes into effect,” House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, Accessed August 5, 2020. https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/index.php/node/32197

[iv] Herman, Arthur. How the Scots invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It. Chapter Five, “A Land Divided.” New York: Broadway Books, 2001.

[v] Myers, Albert Cook. Immigration of the Irish Quakers into Pennsylvania, 1682-1750. Westminster, MD:Heritage Books, Inc., 1902, p. 6.

[vi] Ibid.

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Mary Jaffe

Mary Jaffe (neé Scott) dreamed of becoming a National Geographic journalist, but it was a dream unrealized--even though she spent her entire eighth grade summer sleeping outdoors along a river, in the woods with the bears, in a barn, in lightening storms, etc. to determine if she was made of the right stuff. Now, at age seventy-seven--after thirty-five years of teaching elementary, adolescent and adult incarcerated students; raising her family as a single mother; singing professional opera; and caring for her beloved terminally ill husband for more than a decade--she has turned to writing historical fiction.