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Martial Men
Debateable Lands:
Frontier Culture amongst Anglo-Scottish
Borderers, Ulster-Scots and Aboriginal Americans


Gordon Ramsey


In the wastes…you may see as it were the ancient nomads, a martial kind of men
(Elizabethan antiquarian Camden on the 16th Century Anglo-Scottish Borders cited
MacDonald-Fraser 1989 p44).

The Indians were a martial people, ready to sell their lives dearly in defence of their
homes (James Smith 1737-1812 – adopted into an Indian family cited Starkey 1998 p17).

This paper will be divided into two parts. In the first, I will give a historical narrative

of the experience of the Scots Borderers in Britain, the Ulster-Scots in Ireland and the

Scotch-Irish in North America. In the second, I will look at a number of areas of

experience in detail, comparing the Scotch-Irish experience with that of the Aboriginal

North Americans with whom they came into contact on the American Frontier.

I had originally planned to write a balanced account, but have found this was simply

beyond my resources. I have therefore taken an unashamedly ethnocentric standpoint in

which I have viewed events primarily through the eyes of the Ulster-Scots, my own

people, but have tried to highlight connections and themes that may resonate with a

reader viewing the same period of history from an Aboriginal standpoint.

A note on terms: I have used ‘Ulster-Scots’ to designate settlers of Scottish descent in

Ulster, and ‘Scotch-Irish’ to designate the same people and their descendants in North

America, generally coinciding with common use on both sides of the Atlantic.

I have used the terms ‘Aboriginal’, ‘Native’, ‘indigenous’ and ‘Indian’ more or less

interchangably depending on context. I may appear to have both over-used and misused

the last: this is because it was as ‘Indians’ that the Scotch-Irish generally viewed

indigenous peoples.



In the period from the 11th to the 13th century, as the political conglomerations that were

to become the nation-states of England and Scotland congealed around the Norman

aristocracies who, as invaders or mercenaries, had secured a powerful place in both

kingdoms, a new cultural and economic zone came into being in the island of Britain.

The area that geographers refer toas Scotland’s ‘Southern Uplands’ would become

known as ‘The Borders’. One area at the western end was known as ‘The Debateable

Land’, because both countries claimed jurisdiction, but neither bothered to exercise it.

Macdonald-Fraser describes the reality of life in the Borders in the centuries to come:

It was the ring in which the champions met; armies marched and counter-marched
and fought and fled across it; it was wasted and burned and despoiled, its people
harried and robbed and slaughtered, on both sides, by both sides…the Borderers
were the people who bore the brunt; for almost 300 years, from the late thirteenth
century to the middle of the sixteenth, they lived on a battlefield that stretched
from the Solway to the North Sea (1989 p4).

Living at the mercy of tides of brutality over which they had no control, the Borderers

developed a brutal culture in order to survive. When Scotland and England united under

King James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England also, that culture was, in

turn, brutally broken. As ‘The Borders’ became ‘The Middle Shires’ of the newly

constituted Great Britain, thousands of its inhabitants were dispersed to the new frontiers

that were being created by the imperial project at the heart of ‘Great Britain’. The names

of the ‘Riding’ clans: Adair, Armstrong, Beattie, Bell, Crozier, Douglas, Elliott, Graham,

Hume, Irwin/Irvine/Ervine, Johnston, Kerr/Carr/Carson, Little/Lyttle, Nixon, Maxwell

and Scott, to pick out the most notorious, are to be found wherever a frontier was created

in the English speaking world, but their frontier culture had the greatest effect in two

specific areas, Northern Ireland, and North America. Their legacy, for good or ill, has

had an enormous impact on the world in which we all live today. Macdonald-Fraser

makes the point that:

The British, and their knsmen in America and the Commonwealth, count
themselves civilised, and conceive of their savage ancestors as being buried in the
remote past. The past is sometimes quite close; these ancestors of Presidents
Nixon and Johnson, of Billy Graham and T.S. Elliott, of Sir Alec Douglas-Home
and the first man on the moon are not many generations away (ibid. p9).

Let us look now then, at how that culture was created in the Anglo-Scottish Borders,

before seeing how it was transformed in Ulster and America.


On the border was the Armstrangs, able men;

Somewhat unruly, and very ill to tame.
(Walter Scott of Satchells – 16th Century Border Ballad)

The Borders, as a cultural zone different to both Scotland and England, was effectively

created by the English King Edward I’s attempts to assert overlordship over Scotland

during the 13th century. This was part of a wider English imperial project which saw the

conquest and devastation of Wales, and the securing, through force and diplomacy, of the

French province of Gascony. Although Edward’s initial application of alliance-building

backed by a military campaign achieved Scottish submission in 1296, a rebellion led by

William Wallace the following year soon reasserted Scottish independence. Wallace

achieved success by guerilla tactics. Macdonald-Fraser describes the effects on the


What resulted was not only guerilla warfare but guerilla living. In times of war
the ordinary Borderers, both English and Scottish, became almost nomadic, they
learned to live on the move, to cut crop subsistence to a minimum and rely on the

meat they could drive in front of them. They could build a house in a few hours
and have no qualms about abandoning it; they could travel great distances at
speed and rely on (raiding) to restock supplies…this was how they were to live
whenever war broke out for the next two and a half centuries (ibid. p29).

As the power struggles between English and Scottish kings continued to erupt into

intermittent warfare over the following 250 years, this became increasingly the Borderers

normal way of life: the difference between war and peace became simply one of

intensity. Macdonald-Fraser again:

The trouble with all Anglo-Scottish wars was that no-one ever won them; they
were always liable to break out again. There was no future for the borderers in
trying to lead a settled existence, even in so-called peacetime. Why till crops
when they might be burned before harvest? Why build a house well, when it
might be a ruin next week? Why teach children the trades of peace when the
society they grew up in depended for its existence on spoiling and raiding?
(ibid. p29).

The Borderers were forced to develop means of subsistence, social and moral codes,

and identities, that would enable them to survive the desperate circumstances in which

they found themselves. Living in a war zone, the Borderers developed a warrior society

and became, literally, their own worst enemies: “the Border folk made the war and terror

on themselves; it was as much a part of their lives as agriculture” (ibid p6). All who

lived in the Borders were both victims of, and participants in this society:

The Border reiver…was not part of a separate minority group…he came from
every social class. Some reivers lived in outlaw bands but most were ordinary
members of the community, and they were everywhere in the Marches (ibid. p5).

The loyalty of the Borderer was primarily to his clan, rather than his country. Conflicts

in the Borders, therefore, did not break down along the simple lines of English against

Scottish. English feuded with English and Scots raided Scots, in addition to cross-border

conflicts. Intermarriage and tribal alliance across the border were also common, to the

frustration of both governments.

Neither government made any attempt to enforce the ordinary law of the country in the

Borders. Instead, they attempted to maintain some degree of control through ‘Border

Wardens’ appointed by the respective Crown’s in the East, Middle and West Marches.

Since the Wardens’ resources were limited, and most either came from ‘Riding’ clans, or

through ambition or necessity soon became entangled in the complex webs of alliance

and enmity, there was little pretence at impartial enforcement. The effective law of the

Borders was that of Blood Feud.

The ‘savagery’ of the Borderers way of life made them despised in both London and

Edinburgh: it must be remembered, however, that it was London and Edinburgh who

created and sustained ‘The Borders’. Macdonald-Fraser points out that:

while both governments officially deplored what must be called the reiver
economy, they exploited it quite cynically for their own ends. The Borders were
an ever ready source of fighting men, a permament mobile task force to be used
when war broke out…a bloody buffer state..one could almost say that the social
chaos of the frontier was a political necessity (ibid p30).

That political necessity ended in 1603, when the death of the English Queen Elizabeth

without an heir led to King James VI of Scotland becoming the King of England as well.

James did not want his two kingdoms divided by a ‘bloody buffer state’, so, as brutally

as the frontier society had been created, it was destroyed. A Royal Army progressed

along the Borders, killing or arresting miscreants. The final act was played out in

Dumfries, the central town of the region of Galloway, close to the Debateable Land of the

West March. The citizens of the town tried, without success, to slaughter the Royal

troopers. “Dumfriesshire continued to the end to be the last outpost of turbulence, the

final refuge of thieves and outlaws” (ibid. p365). The denouemont was a mass hanging

in the town in July 1609. After this, the Scottish Chancellor reported that “the Middle

Shires were now as quiet as any part in any civil kingdom in Christeanity.” (ibid. p175).

As the flames of the Border wars died in Dumfries, however, a new flame appeared there

- the flame of religious revival. A radical, fundamentalist, democratic and passionate

form of Presbyterianism was taking hold in Scotland, and devastated Dumfriesshire was

its heartland. It proclaimed a Calvinist belief in predestination, and taught the doctrine of

‘the Elect’. The poor, broken and desperate people who turned to it, took comfort from

the fact that they were amongst Gods ‘Elect’, destined to sit at his right hand, whilst their

English and Episcopalian tormentors would find themselves cast into the fiery pit. It was

a dreadful faith, for a people in dreadful circumstances. They heard, and believed, that

“the first shall be last, and the last shall be first” (Mathew 19.30)… “the stone which the

builders rejected”, shall be “made the head of the corner” (Mathew 21.42). The ‘Kirk’

(Scottish Presbyterian Church), believed that the Scots were God’s new ‘Chosen’ people

(Leyburn 1962 p59), destined to “be a light unto the Gentiles” (Acts 13.47), through

‘His’ church. The enthusiasm with which the Borderers, in the throes of societal

disintegration, embraced the faith could be compared to the spread of the ‘Ghost Dance’

amongst the Plains Indians at the end of the American frontier period. It was to be a

belief to which many in Dumfries would hold fast as they left Scotland behind, for the

‘Debateable Land’ did not disappear with the Breaking of the Border: it simply moved –

across the narrow channel referred to in the Scots dialect as ‘the Sheugh’ (the ditch), to a

land clearly visible from the Galloway coast: Ulster.



From Scotland came many, and from England not a few, yet all of them generally the
scum of both nations, who from debt or breaking of the law, came hither hoping to be
without. (Lecky. History of England in the Eighteenth Century. 1878-90).

In 1603, the year James VI of Scotland took the throne of England and commenced the

‘Breaking of the Border’ he also expressed the hope “that the sea-coasts (of Ulster) might

be possessed by Scottish men, who would be traders as proper for his Majestie’s future

advantage” (Leyburn 1962 p89). Within the year two Ayrshire lairds (landowners), Hugh

Montgomery and James Hamilton set out to bring his hopes to fruition. They succeeded

in buying large parts of Antrim and Down, the two Ulster counties closest to Scotland,

from an imprisoned Irish lord, Con O’Neill, on condition that they secure his release and

pardon. This was achieved, and the King approved the deal, with the provision that the

land was settled with ‘British Protestants’. The Galloway lairds did not have to look very

far to find large numbers of people desperate to get out of Scotland.

The ‘planters’ found themselves in a country that had been devastated by the Nine

Years War, a conflict as destructive as any on the Scottish Borders. Chichester, the

English Lord Deputy had pursued a merciless policy to destroy the power of the Gaelic

lords resisting Elizabeth’s rule: “We spare none of what quality or sex whatsoever and it

hath bred much terror in the people” he wrote (Fitzpatrick 1989 p9). “It was in a land

wasted by a scorched earth policy and against a background of genocide that the first

Scots settlement was to begin”(ibid.).

In 1607, the most powerful of the Ulster Gaelic landowners: the Earls of Tyrone and

Tyrconnell, believing their plans to rebel against James with Spanish assistance had been

betrayed, fled the country. James confiscated their lands in six Ulster counties, Coleraine

(soon to become Co. Londonderry), Armagh, Cavan, Tyrone, Fermanagh and Donegal,

and hastily started to plan the wholescale Plantation of the ‘escheated’ lands. The ninth

county of Ulster, Monaghan, was already seeing private plantation similar to that in

Antrim and Down.

Land in the escheated counties was granted to ‘undertakers’ who were required to build

a castle and settle Scots or English tenants on the land. The native Irish who still

remained in the depopulated province were to be allowed to remain on inferior lands,

seperated from those of the planters. A system of ‘apartheid’ was envisaged. Difficulties

in attracting sufficient Protestant settlers to occupy all the escheated lands, however,

meant such plans soon broke down and Catholic tenants were accepted alongside

Protestant incomers. By 1640, about 40,000 migrants had settled in Ulster:

The records show clearly…Galloway, that region of the southwest which included
the shires of Ayr, Dumfries, Renfrew, Dumbarton and Lanark, provided the
greatest number…the Lothians and Berwick came next in order, while a much
smaller contingent came from the district lying between Aberdeen and Inverness
in the northeast (Leyburn 1962 p94).

The majority then, came from the Borders or the Lowland counties immediately

adjoining them. The ratio of Scots to English settlers is estimated at five or six to one

(Montgomery on-line), and most of the English were themselves Borderers (BBC

History: Economic background of the settlers – on-line). For those settlers who were not

fleeing the troubles of the Borders, changes in land ownership in Scotland were a major

factor in driving them out of the country (Leyburn 1962 p99). The Breaking of the

Border, the Plantation of Ulster, and of North America which was authorised in 1606,

and the changes in Scottish land law, were all part of the transition from feudalism to

mercantilist capitalism. When the Scots crossed the Straits of Moyle, they left behind

feudal obligations and clan loyalties and entered the world of rents and contracts. This

increased the importance of the ‘Kirk’ as a centre of social life, focus of loyalty and

source of identity.

The choice of Scots rather than English to settle in Ulster was largely due to the fact

that economic hardship in Scotland made them easier to recruit, but there also appears to

have been some element of deliberation. Jackson claims that James wanted the Scots to

be “Gods bulldogs…to bite the wild Irish into submission” (1993 p9) and a contemporary

English settler in Armagh remarked: “It were good to set this land to Scotsmen for the

English will gladly sit down upon the other if the Scots shall be a wall between them and

the Irish” (Fitzpatrick 1989 p29).

Settlers built stone forts known as ‘bawns’, raised cattle as they had in Scotland, and

lived in constant fear of attack by ‘rapparees’ (outlaws) and ‘wood-kernes’ – groups of

former Irish soldiers whose leaders had fled, and who lived in the forests and survived by

raiding the settlements. Many Borderers were to be found in the farthest frontiers of the

settlement – which were also the farthest from the centres of English law. In County

Fermanagh in the south-west of Ulster, “uniquely in the Plantation counties”, three

British names, “Johnston, Armstrong and Elliott, are among the five most numerous in

the county” (Turner 2002 p45). The Armstrongs and Elliotts had been traditional allies in

the Scottish Borders, the Johnstons in Galloway had been their neighbours, and they

remained united on the new frontier.

The year of 1641 started with religious oppression, as the ascendancy tried to enforce

‘The Black Oath’ requiring loyalty to the established church. If the year started badly,

this was nothing to the way it ended, when the dispossessed native Irish rose in rebellion

in an attempt to exterminate the settlers. Casualty figures have been much disputed, but

it is generally accepted now that about 12,000 Protestants, between a quarter and a third

of the population, died. Of these, probably one third were slaughtered by the rebels, the

remainder dying of cold and starvation after the destruction of their farms. Whatever the

numbers, there is no doubt of the traumatic effect of the massacre. Thousands of

survivors fled east to Antrim and Down, or back to Scotland, bringing with them terrible

stories of atrocities and wildly exaggerated estimates of the numbers killed. It is a trauma

that is still remembered by the descendants of those who survived – ‘The Bridge at

Portadown’, where many Protestants were drowned, is portrayed on Orange banners from

the area today, and the massacre coloured future interactions between settlers and natives.

The terrified survivors appealed to Scotland for help, and in 1642, the ‘New Scots Army’

landed in Ulster. Munro, its commander, did not attempt the complete reconquest of the

province, but instead opted for a vicious campaign of reprisal raids, inflicting similar

atrocities on the Irish to those the settlers had suffered. Moreover, the New Scots Army

was compelled to live off the land, taking from native and settler alike, and found recruits

to replace its losses (mostly from hunger and desertion) amongst the settler population.

Just as in the Scottish Borders, the settlers found themselves compelled to fight in a war

in which they were oppressed by both armies (Fitzpatrick 1989 pp36-8, Jackson 1993

p29). Their response was the same as the tactics they had used in Scotland: “The Ulster

Commission issued strict orders that Ulstermen ‘continually be within some distinct

quarters’ and stop the newly revived practice of ‘removing themselves in flocks from one

place to another’” (Jackson 1993 p29). They also turned again to the Kirk for spiritual

sustenance in desperate times:


Using the Church organisation of the army…Scots chaplains set up a framework

of Presbyterian congregations…”The people were very hungry in receiving the
Gospel’ Patrick Adair claimed…this wasted church now beginning to rise out of
the ashes” (Fitzpatrick 1989 p37).

The 1641 Rebellion had massive consequences that spread far beyond Ireland. It

provided the spark that ignited the English Civil Wars, in which Scottish armies also

became involved as the Scots tried, through force and diplomacy, to impose

Presbyterianism on England. In Ireland, the fighting spread to the southern provinces and

continued for nearly 10 years. The New Scots Army was defeated by Eoghan Roe

O’Neill’s ‘Catholic Army of Ulster’ in 1646, but the rebellion was finally crushed by

Oliver Cromwell’s English Puritan ‘New Model Army’ in 1649. Peace came at last to

the devastated Province of Ulster, but, as in the Scottish Borders, it would only be an

interlude before the next cycle of wars.

Nevertheless, Ulster was at peace and during the next forty years it became a haven for

Protestant refugees fleeing religious persecution elsewhere. The beef industry had been

devastated, so the Ulster-Scots turned to the production of Woollens (Jackson p30).

In 1666, King Charles II was restored to the thrones of the three kingdoms of England,

Scotland and Ireland. In partnership with Archbishop Laud, he set about establishing the

Anglican ‘High Church’ throughout England and Scotland. Dissenting ministers were

driven from their churches. Some English Puritans and many Scottish ‘Covenanters’ fled

to Ulster. The Covenanters were fiery Presbyterians, chiefly from Galloway, who were

loyal to ‘The National Covenant’ in which they had sworn to uphold the Scottish variant

of the reformed faith. In Scotland, they evolved an ‘underground church’ carrying out

services in the fields. In the 1780s, following the murder of the Archbishop of St.

Andrews by Covenanter zealots, King Charles unleashed a brutal campaign of repression

in Galloway which is remembered as ‘The Killing Times’. This led to another influx of

brutalised people from the southwest of Scotland, whose fanatical devotion to their

religious principles was only hardened by the trials they had suffered. Covenanter

martyrs are also remembered on modern Orange banners. In 1685, they were followed

by another influx, this time of thousands of French Hugenots, fleeing the massacres of

Louis XIV, who brought with them skills that would be important in the future of Ulster,

those of linen-weaving. They would have little time, however, for peaceful industry.



It is old but it is beautiful,

And its colours they are fine,
It was worn at Derry, Aughrim, Enniskillen and the Boyne,
My father wore it in his youth,
In those by-gone days of yore,
And its on the Twelfth I love to wear the Sash my Father wore.

Ulster Loyalist Ballad.

On the death of Charles II, his son James became James II, ruler of the three kingdoms.

James went beyond his father’s high-church Anglicanism and embraced the Roman

Catholic faith. Moreover, he was determined to impose that faith on his kingdoms, and

establish his own position as an autocratic monarch in the style of Louis XIV, France’s

‘Sun King’. In essence, James wanted to reverse the effects of both the English Civil

Wars, and the Reformation. He quickly generated massive opposition in England and

Scotland, and in 1688, the English Parliament invited William of Orange, a minor

potentate in the Netherlands, to assume the Crown. James fled to France, and William

landed in England in what was to become known as ‘The Glorious Revolution’,

supposedly because of its bloodless nature. It was to be far from bloodless in Ireland,

however. James saw Catholic Ireland as the back door by which he would retake the

Crown of Britain. He landed there with a French Army and raised troops from the Irish

population. Protestant Ulster, however, lay between him and easy access to the British

mainland. The northern cities of Enniskillen and Derry withstood sieges in 1689 until

William arrived in Ulster with an army, and drove James from Ireland with victories at

the Boyne and Aughrim in 1690.

The Battle of the Boyne is celebrated every Twelfth of July in Ulster by massive

parades all over the province. The Siege of Derry, celebrated by a parade in the city on

August 12th, however, plays a more important role in the consciousness of Ulster-Scots.

To simply summarise a complex story: Derry was packed with refugees, who,

remembering 1641, had fled from the surrounding countryside. The city’s government,

however, hesitated to defy James’ army until 13 apprentice boys (mostly orphans), took

action by slamming the gates of the walled city in the face of the advancing soldiers. The

garrison’s English commander, Lundy, then fled the city, abandoning the Ulstermen to

their fate. Despite terrible hardship, fierce battles and mass starvation, Londonderry held

out, sustained by the Crimson Banner that symbolised the blood they were prepared to

shed, and their motto ‘No Surrender’. An English fleet arrived at the mouth of the River

Foyle, but hesitated to break the boom that James’ army had used to block the river,

allowing the siege to drag on for 105 terrible days. Finally, the boom was broken by the

‘Mountjoy’, one of the smaller ships of the fleet, which was commanded by a Derry man,

Captain Browning, whose wife was inside the city, and who acted without orders from

his English commander. Finally, the loyalty of the Ulster-Scots Presbyterians was

betrayed when their religion was subjected to renewed persecution following the war.

Whig historians such as Macauley credited the Siege of Derry as being the turning

point that saved Protestantism and Parliamentary Democracy in Britain, and therefore in

the World. Modern historians take more nuanced views. Ulster-Scots were happy to take

the credit for saving democracy, but they also drew more down to earth lessons from the

story. Firstly, that in the face of savage enemies and false friends, an uncompromising

attitude of ‘No Surrender’ is the only guarantee of survival. Secondly, that governments,

generals, armies and fleets, especially if English, are to be neither trusted nor relied upon,

and that God’s people must look only to God and themselves for their salvation. To a

large extent, this was the vindication and solidification of belief systems that had their

roots in the Scottish Borders of the previous century, in the 1641 Rebellion and in the

Killing Times in Galloway. The theme of ‘loyalty betrayed’, which has haunted Ulster

Protestants from 1689 to the present, may also strike a chord with Mohawks, or the Black

Loyalists of Nova Scotia.

These beliefs, reinforced by the constant retelling of the tale in story and song, have

influenced the conduct of Ulster-Scots, not only in Ireland up to the present day, but also

in far places, from the Pennsylvania frontier, to the Alamo in Texas, to Manitoba’s Red


Then Fight, and ‘No Surrender’,

Whenever Duty Calls,
With Heart and Hand and Sword and Shield,
We’ll Guard Auld Derry’s Walls.

(Ulster Loyalist Ballad).


Ulster after the Williamite war presented a sadly familiar aspect of devastation. “One

French diarist noted that parts of Ulster were like Arabian deserts” (Hofstadter 1971 cited

Jackson 1993 p33). Churches, homes and farms had been burned, and the newly

appointed Anglican Bishop of Derry found:

his see “almost desolate” with “country houses and dwellings burnt …great tracts
of land …were burnt up so that the same fire spread 18 miles and ran over almost
all the neighbouring regions”. (King 1906 p32, cited in Gillespie 1988 p. lxiii,
cited Griffin 2001 p13)


In these years the High Church…was rampant and flaming.

(John McBride to Wodrow 4/8/1713 cited Griffin 2001)

Almost as soon as Ireland had started to export Woollens, the English Parliament had

started to pass protectionist legislation against it. By the turn of the century, the industry

had been destroyed. Ulster turned to a new source of income: Linen.

“In the 1690s the Scottish grain harvest failed for four successive years and there was a

famine in both Highlands and Lowlands…it is estimated between a quarter and a third of

the population either died or left the country” (Fitzpatrick 1989 p45). Their destination

was Ulster. This confirmed the numerical dominance of the Scots Presbyterians in the

province, but only made the English establishment more determined to ensure that their

numerical superiority did not translate into political power: “Fear and suspicion…defined

the ways in which Ireland’s Ascendancy viewed northern Presbyterianism” (Griffin 2001


Queen Ann took the throne in 1702 and in 1703, the Test Act was passed, “which

required all office-holders in Ireland use sacraments as prescribed by the established


church” (Jackson 1993 p35). This made the Ulster-Scots (as well as the Irish Catholics)

officially “second-class citizens in a second-class kingdom” (Griffin 2001 p64).

Moreover, “Local bishops declared…marriages performed by dissenting ministers null

and void… “making their children incapable of succeeding to their estates…as being

bastards”, something to which even Catholics were not subjected.

This persecution, far from weakening the Kirk, had the opposite effect:

During the years when the tight knit church came under pressure from the
Ascendancy, Ulster became the preeminent linen-producing region of the British
Isles. At the very moment dissenters encountered new economic possibilities
within a wider…society the…Ascendancy pressed men and women to rely more
heavily on church structures set apart from the institutional life of the kingdom to
order their lives (Griffin 2001 p37).

If some were finding new opportunities in Linen, however, for others, economic

pressures were added to religious ones. In 1707 the one-hundred year rent-freeze that

had been instituted at the time of the Plantation expired, and landlords promptly

introduced the practice of rack-renting: leasing a farm to the highest bidder (Jackson

1993 p40). Then, “between 1714 and 1721, Ulster was hit by droughts and killer frosts”

(ibid). After all they had been through, it seemed life showed little sign of improvement.

Many started to doubt if they would ever find personal security, let alone be able to build

the Kingdom of God, in Ulster. Some looked for an escape, and found it: across the



“God had appoynted a country for them to dwell in…where they will be freed from the
bondage of Egypt and go to the land of Canaan” (Griffin 2001 p79).

Major emigration from Ulster to America commenced in 1717-18, during which 5000

families crossed the Atlantic. Initial movement was to Puritan Massachussetts, but the

Scotch-Irish, as they would be called in America, were not made welcome despite the

similarities of their religious beliefs. The Puritans considered them to be “to the last

degree uncleanly and unwholesome and disgusting” (Perry 1890-1900 p41 cited Leyburn

1962), and saw their arrival as “the formidable attempts of Satan and his Sons to unsettle

us” (Jackson 1993 p58).

Massachusetts insisted on strict conformity to Puritan religious practices, and this the

Ulster settlers would not accept, so they pushed on to Maine, New Hampshire,

Vermont,and Rhode Island.

Back in Ireland, the Toleration Act was passed in 1719, which at last allowed

Presbyterians to practice their religion openly. The removal of external pressures from

the Kirk, however, resulted in it being torn by competing pressures from within, a result

of the social changes that market capitalism was bringing about. Controversy erupted

between ‘Old Lights’ with a conservative vision for renewal of the Kirk, and ‘New

Lights’, who put forward radical new ideas, derived from the thought of the Scottish

Enlightenment, whose father figure, Francis Hutcheson was himself the son of an Ulster

minister. The dispute centred over whether congregation members should be required to

subscribe to ‘The Westminster Confession of Faith’, the classic statement of Calvinist

belief. The Kirk was caught in the paradox, only visible in hindsight, of using a pre-

modern worldview to try to make sense of the changes brought by modernity.


Presbyterians did not distinguish between the hardships of 1717-29 and the
problems they experienced in the church. Ulster dissenters believed the economic
challenges they confronted had religious origins. In 1718, the session at
Ballycarry called for “a day of humiliation and fasting…because of the abounding
sins as also the extraordinary raines that threatened the displeasure of God”
(Ballycarry Session Minutes 10/10/1729). Juxtaposing the natural and the
supernatural, Ulster dissenters argued the hardship of rising rents had their origins
in growing divisions within the church (Griffin 1993 p83).

The two were indeed related, but perhaps not in the directly causal way they were seen

to be at the time. Many Ulster-Scots sought to escape both physical and spiritual

dilemmas in a ‘New World’:

The impulse to migrate…stemmed from their plight in a kingdom transformed by

the market economy, a church grappling with new ideas and a crisis in discipline,
and a society gripped by confusion. Migration also exacerbated these problems…
leaving those left behind with a more onerous burden to bear (Griffin 2001 pp87-

Although some were successful in leaving behind the economic oppression of Ireland,

their spiritual problems, inevitably, travelled with them.

After the hostile reception early migrants had received in Boston, those who followed

shifted their dreams to Quaker-ruled Pennsylvania, where religious toleration was

practiced: “Pennsylvania appeared to men and women of the north as a perfect Ulster,

one where opportunity coexisted with religious freedom” (Griffin 2001 p66).

In the early…18th Century…Ulster had a population of some half million, out of

which about 250,000 were Presbyterian. Between the 1720s and 1768,
approximately one third of the Protestant population of Ireland immigrated to
British North America, and overwhelmingly they came to Pennsylvania
(Jackson 1993 p61-2).

James Logan, the Colonial Secretary of Pennsylvania, saw an immediate use for the early

arrivals. In 1720 he wrote “I thought it might be prudent to plant a Settlement of those

who had so bravely defended Derry and Enniskillen as a frontier in case of any

disturbance”. There was thus no land of peace and plenty for the Ulster-Scots.

Stereotyped as ‘frontiersmen’, frontiersmen they were condemned to remain: deployed,

like their Scottish ancestors in Ulster a century earlier, as human-shields for those more

powerful than themselves. The irony was that the habits of thought that had been

instilled into the Ulster-Scots by four centuries of deprivation, marginalisation and

brutalisation ensured that, when brought into contact with an alien culture with whom

they were in competition for land, there would indeed be a ‘disturbance’. In fact the

impact during this early period was huge:

In a first wave beginning in 1718 and cresting in 1729, these people outnumbered
all others sailing across the Atlantic, with the noteable exception of those…in
slave ships. By sheer force of numbers, this earliest generation of migrants had a
profound influence on the great transformations of the age…including the
displacement of the continent’s indigenous peoples, the extension of the frontier,
the growth of ethnic diversity and the outbreak of religious revivals.
(Griffin 2001 p1).

The likelihood of conflict between the Scotch-Irish and indigenous peoples was

increased by the fact that the native peoples had themselves been forced to become

‘frontiersmen’. The large-scale settlement of Europeans in North America had started

about the same time as the Plantation of Ulster, and the connection was clearly seen at the

time. The town of Virginia in County Cavan was named after the American Colony.

When the Scotch-Irish arrived on the frontier, therefore, they found peoples who had

already suffered massive disease, displacement and societal breakdown, who were seeing

a frontier develop between the British and French, much as the ‘Borders’ had developed

between England and Scotland, and had adapted and reconstituted their cultures to

survive on that frontier, much as the Anglo-Scottish Borderers had done before them.

Logan settled the first Scotch-Irish settlers along the Susquehanna River, to the west

and south of traders already settled there. Across the river lived the ‘Indians’ with whom

the traders did business. The township of ‘Donegal’ was established and the area soon

became a haven for the Scotch-Irish, attracting new immigrants, as well as fugitives,

runaway indentured servants and army deserters, who fled there much as the Armstrongs

and Elliotts had fled to County Fermanagh in Ulster.

Lacking funds to purchase land, the Scotch-Irish simply settled where they
pleased…They came in such great numbers that neither proprietors nor officials
could keep up with their movements. Every attempt to collect purchase price or
expel them from the land was strenuously resisted. James Logan estimated in
1726 that Scotch-Irish squatters occupied 100,000 acres of Pennsylvania land.
They justified their actions by invoking the Deity, saying that it was “against the
laws of God and Nature, that so much land should be idle when so many
Christians wanted to labour on it” (Klein 1971).
In addition to squatting on lands already granted to English and German
colonists, the Scotch-Irish thought nothing of dispossessing Indian tribes…The
Ulster-Scots had already removed…the native Irish, to make room for themselves,
and in the same way they did not regard the Indians as the rightful owners of these
lands but as obstacles in the way of Christian progress.
The Scotch-Irish actions against the Indians…were in direct contrast with all
previous Quaker policies. The Quakers had always aquired land from the Indians
through treaty and by paying for the possessions they took…William Penn…
treated Indians as his friends and equals. Now the Scotch-Irish began to put all
those good…relationships in jeopardy.

(Jackson 1993 pp62-3).

When the Scotch-Irish established a settlement, they built, in order of priority, a fort, a

church, a school and then their houses (Jackson p64):

many relied on the only recognisable institution they encountered, the

Presbyterian Church, to bring order to their communities. Soon after arrival on
the frontier, some Ulster settlers assembled themselves into congregations, and
pushed for the establishment of their own presbytery. (Griffin 2001 p100).

They almost immediately began to engage in local politics in Lancaster County, as the

Susquehanna area was named, challenging and unseating Quaker incumbents. By 1730,

James Logan was complaining that they were “Troublesome settlers to the Government

and hard neighbours to the Indians” (Fitzpatrick 1989). The following year, the colonial

authorities noted with alarm that:

“People from the North of Ireland…have run over the back parts of the province
as far as Susquehannah and are now to the further disaffection of the Indians,
passing over it”. The Presbytery of Donegal in 1732 was already ministering to
people “west of the Susquehanna” on land unpurchased from the Indians (Griffin
2001 p136).

The Scotch-Irish were not the only displaced people seeking a haven on the


the lower Susquehanna Valley had become by the early 18th century a centre for
Indian refugees fleeing tribal, imperial and inter-colonial rivalries. Originally, the
region had been settled by Susquehannocks who feuded with their neighbours to
the north in Iroquoia. Traumatised by wars, they banded together with Senecas.
Jointly calling themselves ‘Conestogas’ they centred their lives on a trading
village on Conestogoe Manor just south of Donegal.
Around the same period, Shawnees from the south and west and Conoys from
the Potomac Valley appealed to the Pennsylvanian authorities for leave to resettle
in the area…by the early 18th century, bands from the Five Nations established a
presence in the region, further north along the Susquehanna in the village of
Shamokin (Griffin 2001 p107).

The area was thus a complex mix of different ethnic groups, both immigrant and

indigenous in origin, but almost all newcomers to the region, with different identities,

interests, and enmities, as well as growing social and economic ties. They could no more

be simply understood as ‘Whites’ and ‘Indians’ than the Grahams or Armstrongs could

be simply understood as English or Scots. War Bands from the Five Nations passed

through Scotch-Irish settlements on their way to battle Cherokees and Catawbas in the

south (ibid), and the Scotch-Irish of Donegal clashed repeatedly with Irish ‘Papists’ from

Catholic Maryland, from 1732 to 1736, over the frontier between the two colonies (ibid.


In 1736, the government of Pennsylvania reacted to the continuing influx of settlers by

purchasing the land on both banks of the lower Susquehanna from the Six Nations. The

Scotch-Irish settlers gained access to land, the Quaker government gained through the

increase in migrants who could contribute to the economy of the colony, and the Six

Nations gained because trade shifted from Conestoga to their village of Shamokin. The

Conestogas and Delawares of Conestoga Village were the losers. In the long term,

however, the continuing expansion of Scotch-Irish settlement would also lead to the end

of Quaker power in Pennsylvania.

By the late 1730s, dispossessed bands of Indians roamed many frontier areas…
travelling in bands of 20-50. They were “generally civil” but when they arrived at
a household, they had to be supplied with food., or “they became their own
stewards and cooks, sparing nothing”. Roving Indians throughout the frontier
also killed white mens’ cattle for food (Jackson 1993p112).

The behaviour of these Indian ‘frontiersmen’ differs little from the Border Reivers who

found themselves in similar situations two centuries earlier. The Border Reivers were

seldom accused of being ‘civil’ however.

Scotch-Irish immigration had fallen back during the 1730s, due to temporary

improvements in the economy in Ulster, but in the 1740s, famine struck in Ulster and

there was another upsurge in numbers. Thousands who could not pay their fares came as

indentured servants, to be sold on arrival. On completing (or fleeing) their indenture,

they invariably headed for the frontier:

many headed along…the Great Wagon Road to the back parts of Virginia…In
much the same way James Logan had believed that Ulster’s Presbyterians would
provide a sound buffer to western Indians and land-hungry Marylanders,
Virginia…hoped a new generation…would people the Shenandoah Valley to
protect the east of the colony from hostile Indians (Griffin 2001 p159).

As their predecessors shielded the Quakers, they now shielded the slave-holding

Plantations of the Virginia Tidewater. The continuing flood of land-hungry Scotch-Irish

eventually occupied the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Carolinas, Upper Georgia, Tennessee

and Kentucky (Jackson 1993 p75).

Between 1748 and 1756, the Ohio Valley became the scene of increasingly vicious

conflicts between expanding Scotch-Irish settlers, and various Indian tribes, many of

whom had already suffered displacement at least once. In 1750, an offical warned that

“Numbers of the worst sort of Irish had been to mark places and were determined to have

gone over the hills this summer or in the fall”. The uncontrolled movement of the

Scotch-Irish was driving the Indians into alliance with the French:

The native groups to the north and west had good reason to embrace the French
cause. North of the blue Mountains lived Delawares incensed by fraudulent land
deals…West of the Appalachians in the Ohio Country other bands of Delawares
and Shawnees hasd settled after losing their lands along the Susquehanna with the
treaty of 1736. In Ohio, the motley collection of peoples experienced a spiritual,
economic and military renaissance, enabling them to emerge from the shadow of
the Six Nations…
When Britain and France went to war…the disaffected Indians struck back. After
hostilities broke out…in 1754, the Shawnees cast their lots with the French, and
soon the Delawares in Ohio followed suit. Neither needed much encouragement
to burn homes and scalp settlers on the Pennsylvania frontier…most of the 500
scalps and 200 captives…taken to Fort Duquesne during the first few years of the
war came from Pennsylvania. Refugees flooded back to Donegal and Paxton,
where the trader John Harris turned his home into a fortified armoury. In 1755,
those living over the hills retreated to Carlisle, where they erected five forts…
settlers sent urgent requests to Philadelphia…(Griffin 2001 p167).

It was ironic, but not really coincidental, that the town where they took refuge was named

after the frontier fortress to which English refugees traditionally fled from the Scots

Border Reivers.

In 1755, a British army column under General Bradford was destroyed by Indians, and

in 1756, France and Britain formally declared war. The Scotch-Irish appeals to the

Quaker government produced no response, so John Armstrong raised a force of 300 from

the Donegal and Paxton area, advanced through the forest and attacked Kittaning on the

Allegheny River, the chief base for the Indian assault. He surprised the Indians through

the use of Indian tactics, killed many, destroyed the village, and returned bearing the

scalps of the slain. The Scotch-Irish thus became the first Europeans to practice mass-

scalping (Fitzpatrick 1989 p78). “Only in 1758, after British troops took Fort Duquesne,

cutting off Indians in Ohio from the east, did the raids cease” (Griffin 2001 p167).

Within months, the French abandoned their North American empire.

As on previous frontiers, the peace was only temporary. In 1763, the Ottawa chief

Pontiac, backed by an aboriginal spiritual revival that called on Indians to abandon the

frontier economy and return to the old ways, led a powerful confederacy of Ohio tribes

against settlers, chiefly the Scotch-Irish. Thousands died, and the survivors fled east, in

scenes reminiscent of the 1641 massacres in Ulster. As in 1641, and 1689, “rumors and

conspiracy theses were…widespread…some people thought the Jesuits were behind all

the Indian attacks” (Jackson 1993 p117).

The Scotch-Irish raised a militia group called the ‘Paxton Rangers’ commanded by

John Elder, a Presbyterian minister, to defend themselves. British forces defeated

Pontiac, but some of the Scotch-Irish wanted revenge. In December 1763, a group of

about 50 Paxton Rangers, led by Lazarus Stewart, a Presbyterian elder, attacked the

peaceful Indians of Conestoga Village, whom they accused of supplying weapons to the

hostiles. Six innocent Indians were killed. The survivors were taken into the local jail,

for their own protection, but the ‘Paxton Boys’ returned, stormed the jail and killed the

remaining Indians. Reports that the Colonial government intended to try the Paxton Boys

for murder led a group of 200 to march on Philadelphia. Here they were met by

Benjamin Franklin, who, with the help of a couple of cannon, persuaded them to go

home. There was to be no justice for the Conestogas. Many of the Paxton Boys were

among the first to enlist in the Revolutionary Army in the following decade (Griffin 2001

p170, Jackson 1993 p117).

In fact the Scotch-Irish overwhelmingly supported the Rebellion, played a considerable

part in its leadership and provided the backbone of its military forces (Hernan 2001

pp246-254), one Hessian officer in British service saying: “Call it not an American

Rebellion, it is nothing more nor less than an Irish-Scotch Presbyterian Rebellion”

(Fitzpatrick 1989 p88). A Philadelphian claimed that “a Presbyterian loyalist was a thing

unheard of” (Herman 2001 p250), whilst Uriah Tracy of Connecticut described the

Scotch-Irish of the Pennsylvania back-country as “the most God-provoking democrats

this side of Hell” (Maldwyn 1969): In part this was due to their dislike of the English

establishment, and their egalitarian religious principles, but another major factor was that

the Royal Proclamation of 1763 had forbidden further encroachment on Indian lands to

the west. Although they had never paid any attention to this: “it would have taken the

entire British army to enforce it” (Jackson 1993), the fact that the imperial government

was prepared to try was regarded as “intolerable interference” (Fitzpatrick 1989 p92).

In the years of political wrangling which preceded the final breach between
Britain and the North American colonies, it is significant that the Scots-Irish were
the first to mention guns. Hanover…was one of the most prickly and self-
opinionated of the Ulster settlements. In 1774…Hanover passed a resolution
opposing the “iniquitous and oppressive action of the London parliament and
adding… “our cause we leave to heaven and our rifles (ibid).

To trace the history of the Scotch-Irish after the Revolution in America becomes more

difficult, as their communities became less distinct in further moves west, partly due to

the failure of Presbyterian church structures to survive on the expanding frontier. We

tend to find the same themes repeated in new locations. The Scotch-Irish, in reaction to

forces largely beyond their control, created the frontier environment to which later

settlers, whether or not they were of Scotch-Irish origins, would adapt. The social

environment the Scotch-Irish had created would condition the relationships of new

settlers with each other, with the physical environment and with the aboriginal peoples

they encountered.

Before leaving this historical narrative to look at some specific themes in interaction

between the Scotch-Irish and Aboriginal Americans, we may briefly consider four

geographical areas where the Scotch-Irish played a major role, the Deep South, Texas,

Kansas/Missouri and Canada. In the Deep South, the Scotch-Irish found themselves part

of a class-system composed of largely English plantation-owners, Afro-American slaves,

and, one step above the slaves, themselves. The sense of ‘apartness’ that was a feature of

the Calvinist faith and the frontier experience they had brought from Scotland and Ulster,

probably facilitated their participation in the system of ‘apartheid’ that developed there.

Their distrust of central government, also traceable to the Borders and Ulster, probably

contributed to their widespread support for the Confederacy during the Civil War, even

though most were not slave-holders. Yet many of the features of Afro-American

Christianity in the South can also be traced directly to the Scotch-Irish heritage. Cash’s

‘The Mind of the South’, identified the distinctive features of southern society as the

tension between hedonism and puritanism, and the creation of a permanent ‘frontier’

society. All these may trace their roots to Ulster and the Scottish Borders.

The Scotch-Irish from Kentucky and Tennessee, as well as some who immigrated

directly from Ulster, played a formative role in the establishment of Texas as an

independent state, which was subsequently annexed to the USA. The majority of those

who died in the Alamo, with its mythic overtones of the Siege of Derry, were Scotch-

Irish, as were leading figures such as Davy Crockett and Sam Houston. The settler

society that developed in Texas, and its attitudes to the Mexicans, Comanches, Apaches

and central government, as well as features such as fundamentalist Christianity,

acceptance of gun-culture and a fiercely retributive justice system may all be traced to the

heritage of Ulster and the Borders.

On the Missouri/Kansas border, an area of heavy Scotch-Irish settlement, a frontier

culture was created in the years prior to, during and after the Civil War, between ‘states-

rights’ Missouri and abolitionist Kansas that had many of the features of the 16th century

Anglo-Scottish borders, with raiding carried out by kin-based gangs and guerilla groups.

The James, Younger and Dalton gangs who came out of this milieu, were all of Scotch-

Irish origin.

Canada is an interesting case because the Scotch-Irish played a major, but not a

formative role here. Canada was settled initially by the French, who established

primarily trading relationships with the aboriginal inhabitants, and then by United Empire

Loyalists, who included only a small minority of Ulster-Scots, and a considerable

majority of Scottish Highlanders. Trigger notes that “It is significant that not once was

there a case of serious or prolonged conflict between Europeans and Indians living within

the borders of Canada” (1971 Vol. 1 p3 cited Starkey 1998). There was major

immigration from Ulster to Canada in the 19th century. By this time, the disastrous

outcome of the bloody ‘United Irish’ rebellion in Ulster and other parts of Ireland had

made the Ulster-Scots firmly, if sometimes reluctantly, loyal to the British crown. The

Orange Order was the social glue that held Ulster-Scots communities together now, the

Presbyterian church having lost its dominant position through fragmentation, something

to which all organisations established by the Ulstermen with their ‘dissenting’ world-

view, were constantly prone. Although there were violent conflicts between Orangemen

and Irish Catholics in many cities, and the Orangemen also responded to Fenian raids

across the U.S. border, the Ulstermen were moving into a social environment where

peaceful, if discriminatory, relationships with the aboriginal inhabitants were already well

established, and they adapted to this. In fact the Orange Order acquired members from

many ethnic backgrounds in Canada, and a Mohawk Lodge existed for some years. It is

noteable however, that in the rare case that violence did occur, in the Red River

rebellions of the Métis people in Manitoba, Ulstermen were at the heart of it. The Métis,

themselves, were, of course, literally a ‘race of frontiersmen’, many of partially Scots or

Ulster-Scots descent. The suspicion must arise, therefore, that where there were no

‘frontiersmen’, there was no frontier.

The story of the Scots Borderers, the Ulster-Scots and the Scotch-Irish, and the peoples

with whom they they came in contact, seems like an unrelieved vista of violence,

brutality, bigotry and man’s inhumanity to man. When we look beneath the surface,

however, we find that this was never the whole story.




Let us now consider some areas of experience of the Scotch-Irish and the Aboriginal

Peoples who were the co-creators of ‘the frontier’ in North America. The topics we will

cover will be Subsistence Methods, Social Structure, Spirituality, Warfare, Racism and

Identity. These are overlapping topics, in both Aboriginal and Scotch-Irish societies, for

instance, subsistence methods, social organisation and spirituality are intimately linked,

as are questions of racism, identity and warfare.


The hunter lo'es the morning sun;

To rouse the mountain deer, my jo;
At noon the fisher seeks the glen
Adown the burn to steer, my jo:
Gie me the hour o' gloamin' grey,
It maks my heart sae cheery O,
To meet thee on the lea-rig,
My ain kind Dearie O.

(‘The Lea Rig’ by Rabbie Burns, Galloway 1792)

Prior to the arrival of Europeans in North America, aboriginal peoples had followed a

wide variety of subsistence strategies, including settled agriculture, hunting and gathering

from a fixed base, nomadic hunter-gathering, and combinations of these methods. “The

first English accounts of the woodland Indians often pay high tribute to their cultural and

agricultural standards” (Evans 1969).

Settled Agriculture had been practiced in the Eastern woodlands for millennia,
and the historians references to virgin forest are…as misleading as when applied
to medieval Ireland. The Cherokee …had established a powerful ‘kingdom’ in
the southern Appalachians and they had subsidiary hunting grounds…beyond the

Cumberland Mountains, their trails, which the pioneers were to follow, winding
through the wind-gaps (ibid).

The Scotch-Irish learnt much from the aboriginal inhabitants of the land. They learnt to

cultivate native crops, most notably maize: The Indian corn was a prolific substitute for

oats and barley; and like them it was spring sown and food for man and beast (ibid).

Other crops the Scotch-Irish adopted from the indigenous peoples were:

tobacco, beans…pumpkins, squash and gourds. They all lent themselves to hand
cultivation and harvesting and demanded… the simplest of implements…Like the
other prolific crop of New World origin which was by this time well known in
Ireland, and which the settlers took with them to North America – where it came
to be known as the Irish potato – maize was cultivated by ‘moulding’ or ‘hilling’
in the Indian fashion…the Indian methods of preparing corn for food were very
similar to the Irish methods, requiring no elaborate mills or ovens. The hominy-
block was a ready substitute for the knocking-stone, and hominy for porridge.
Bread…of many kinds was baked on the hearth…or in the pot-oven…and the
open hearth kept its function as the focus of the home…the pioneer housewife’s
helpmeet is the bundle of turkey feathers – a ready native replacement for the
goose-wing ‘tidy’ of the Irish hearth (Arnow 1960 cited Evans 1969).

The Scotch-Irish also adopted the making of Maple sugar during the winter, also believed

to be derived from indigenous peoples, from Kentucky to Maine (Jackson 1993 p107).

Johnson and Evans both contrast the Scotch-Irish adoption of Indian techniques of

forest agriculture with the ‘European’ techniques of their English and German


To clear land, the Scotch-Irish girdled trees, unlike the English and Germans who
simply cut them down…In the midst of these dying trees, a Scotch-Irishman
planted his first crop of corn. A year after girdling them, the Scotch-Irish cut
down the trees, and usually used them for firewood. This method…also made it
easier to remove the stumps (Johnson 1966 cited Jackson 107-8).

whereas the Germans…selected level sites, grubbed up the tree roots and turned
their clearings into ploughed fields, the Scotch-Irish preferred to make fresh
clearings and move on once they had ‘taken the good’ out of the land…The
Indian methods of ‘deadening’ the woodlands served their purpose (Evans 1969

Hunting was a vital part of the way of life of both Natives and Scotch-Irish:

The backwoodsman took over…the Indian’s passion for hunting, and with it the
deerskin shirt and stalker’s moccasins. Indian arrowheads provided them with
gun flints (Doddridge 1824/1902). They wore their hair long, Indian fashion,
dressed it with bear’s grease and tied it with an eel-skin or a ‘whang’. Nor would
Indian music, consisiting of drum and flute, have been unfamiliar to Ulstermen
(Van Doren 1928).

(Evans 1969 p82).

Leather clothing had been commonly worn in the Scottish Borders and in Ulster, so these

were easy adaptations for the Scotch-Irish (Macdonald-Fraser 1989 p87) . There were

differences in the way the Indians and the Scotch-Irish hunted however. For the Indians

the wildlife was an essential renewable resource, and conservation was part of their

survival strategy. The Scotch-Irish, used to the mores of the market economy, acted


Their slaughter of wildlife was indiscriminate and enormous. David Noel Doyle
in Ireland, Irishmen and Revoluionary America says “as they had virtually
exterminated deer and wolf in Ulster so now they helped to do the same to bear,
wild turkey, passenger pigeon and certain deer populations from Pennsylvania
south. (Fitzpatrick 1989 p71).

The cultural traffic was not all one way. The ‘Bannock’, a staple in Scotland and

Ireland since at least the Iron Age, is now regarded as a traditional ‘Indian’ food by many


The Scotch-Irish also brought a less welcome commodity – alcohol. Leslie, Bishop of

Ross, noted that the Scots Borderers took very little beer or wine (MacDonald-Fraser

1989 p50). Perhaps it was too dangerous to be drunk when one might have to fight for

life or property at any moment, for Leyburn claims that the drink of Lowland Scots at the

time was beer and that they were often ‘unpleasantly drunk’ (1962). Certainly when the

Ulster-Scots set sail for America they were familiar with the distillation and consumption

of whiskey, and they adapted easily from Irish ‘poitin’ to American ‘moonshine’,

producing whiskey from surplus corn (Jackson 1993). In Pennsylvania, where they were

settled close to “hard-drinking traders…the only goods they had in abundance were linen,

which had little marketability, and liquor, which had too much” (Griffin 2001 p100).

This led to whiskey being used as a currency, and attempts by the US Federal

government to tax it between 1792 to 1794 led to the Whiskey Rebellion, in which

outraged Scotch-Irish threatened to burn Pittsburgh.

The records of Presbyterian Church Sessions show that alcohol abuse was the most

serious social problem they faced. “One of the inevitable consequences of intemperance

was fist-fights, brawls and even ‘riots’ , and the Middle Spring sessions dealt with them

as they occurred” (Jackson 1994). These social problems were transmitted to the

indigenous populations through trade and social interaction. The story of Simon Girty,

who later became a Shawnee guerilla leader, illustrates the environment in which this


Simon Girty…was not only Scots-Irish but very much a product of the society he grew
up in. His family lived at Sherman’s Creek in the Pennsylvania mountains, in that band
of frontier society where the men of the family took refuge from a poverty stricken
existence in heavy drinking. Simon saw his father killed by an Indian in a drunken

Alcohol abuse has remained a major problem in all parts of Ireland, in Scotland and in

many Aboriginal communities to the present day.

The most positively significant contribution the Scotch-Irish brought to the indigenous

Americans was cattle. In the Scottish Borders:

The agricultural system …followed a regular pattern. From autumn to spring,

when the nights were long, was the season for raiding; the summer months were
for husbandry, and although raiding occurred, it was less systematic. Tillage took
place in spring and summer, and the crops were mainly oats, rye, and barley, but

the main effort went into cattle and sheep raising. For the rural Borderer had to
be mobile, leaving his winter dwelling about April to move into the ‘hielands’
where he lived in his ‘sheiling’ for the next four or five months while the cattle
pastured (Macdonald-Fraser 1989 p51).

In Ulster, the Scots settlers found a very similar way of life that had been deeply

embedded for well over a millenium. Indeed, the central story of the ancient group of

epic stories known as ‘The Ulster Cycle’ is entitled Tain Bo Cuailgne – The Cattle Raid

of Cooley. The little cottages the Scots called ‘shielings’ were known as ‘booleys’ in

Ireland, but the seasonal movement of cattle, referred to as ‘transhumance’ in academic

terminology, or booleying in the Ulster vernacular, was the same. Fitzpatrick says:

In agriculture…there were many similarities between the immigrants…and the

native Irish…Irish wealth was counted in…cattle rather than…land, and Irish
hubandry was based on a system of moving cattle to mountain pastures in the
summer and back to the valleys for wintering, what Arthur Chichester described
irritably as “runninge up and downe the country with their cattle”…The arrival of
the Scots was a boost to the Celtic droving tradition. Many more cattle and better
breeding strains were introduced and the Scots…creat(ed) a network of regular
markets and fairs. Exports of livestock…beef and hides, increased dramatically…
the danger and uncertainty of colonial life in Ulster deterred the farmer from over-
dependence on crop husbandry and kept the emphasis on cattle for many
generations (1989 p30-31).

After the rise and fall of the Wool and Linen (Flax) industries, beef farming remains the

primary form of agriculture practiced in Ulster today.

There had been no livestock kept in North America prior to European arrival, because

there were no wild animals suitable for domestication (Diamond 1999). On the frontier,

however, “the Ulstermen found themselves in a land of hills and valleys…the ‘mountain’

still provided the extensive summer grazing they had been accustomed to find on the

Ulster hills” (Evans 1969 p81).

In… ‘The Ante-bellum Southern Herdsman: A Reinterpretation’…Forrest

MacDonald and Grady McWhiney argued that the tradition of cattle-raising and

cattle-droving…of the American West is…derived from Irish and Scots practices
imported with the settlers from Ulster (Fitzpatrick 1989 p120).

They suggest that the tradition spread from the Deep South to Texas and the remainder of

the West. This was accomplished not just by the Scotch-Irish, however, but also by

indigenous peoples who had adopted cattle as a way of ensuring the survival of their own

communities. In the Southeast…the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks and

Seminoles…had a chance to add livestock to their lives…Indians were able to build up

their herds (Iverson 1994 p17). Iverson notes that this was done with Federal

government support, but that Federal hopes that ‘agriculture’ would encourage

assimilation were dashed. On the contrary “because of such innovation, the major tribes

of the southeast became all the more determined to maintain their homelands” (ibid), and,

when they were forcibly deprived of them,

the livestock assisted in the very difficult transition to the west…within the
decade following the various trails of tears, Indians from the Five Tribes used
cattle as part of their overall strategy for coming to terms with their new
surroundings. Cherokees sold beef to nearby Fort Gibson, Choctaw farmers
raised enough beef for themselves and for Creek contractors as well, Creeks
owned, in agricultural historian Douglas Hurt’s words “a large number of cattle”
by the early 1830s (ibid p18).

Iverson has also drawn attention to how for many Native Americans, cattle-raising has

become as important as a source of identity as it is as a source of income. Cowboy garb

is regularly worn by reservation Indians in the west (Fixico 1985 cited Iverson 1994

p185), and this is not simply affectation, in the Navajo nation, at least one rodeo is held

virtually every weekend (Roessel 1991 p23 cited Iverson 1994 p185). Iverson quotes

Downs on the ‘ideal’ of the Indian Cowboy:


The cowboy serves as a platform from which new and non-traditional aspirations
can be formed. Although a young man may wish to become a mathematics
teacher, a tribal policeman and tractor driver, or leave the reservation…to take up
a new life in the city, he views himself basically as a cowboy who can rope, ride
and participate in rodeo, a man who knows something of cattle and cattle lore,
who dreams of owning cattle and becoming a rancher or cattleman. (Downs 1972
p284 cited Iverson 1994 p185).

Downs suggests that this is because the cowboy ‘ideal’ is

one much closer to the life of the Navajo homestead than is any other role in
modern American life” for it “requires that a man be a horseman and a roper, have
a knowledge of animal ways, and a number of outdoor skills which the Navajo
already possesses” (ibid).

In fact, Iverson says, Being a cowboy allows you to be an Indian (Iverson 1994 p203).


We’ll stand by our Cause,

Our Religion and Laws,
And we’ll die for the Orange and Blue.
(Ulster ballad).

North American Aboriginal societies during the 18th century have been described as

“kinship states, collectives of families and clans centred on a sense of ethnic identity”

(Starkey 1998 p34). Kinship was also the basis of societal organisation in the Scottish

Borders, where the primary marker of identity was neither religion nor nationality but

‘surname’. Kinship remained (and remains) important for the Ulster-Scots in Ireland and

the Scotch-Irish in America, but the disruption caused by displacement meant that the

Presbyterian Church became central as a means of regulating social life in Ulster and

America. In Ulster, the state was actively hostile to the Presbyterian faith for most of the

period under consideration, in America, the state structures were often too remote, and

too unconcerned, to be of much help. Unwilling, for the most part, to submit to outside

authority, the Ulster-Scots subscribed to the principle that ‘if you would be self-

governing, govern yourselves’. The Kirk was the means by which the community was

regulated and the needy cared for:

The Presbyterian Church was the channel for social welfare. The many orphans
and illegitimate children were looked after; money was raised for the sick and
needy. In the extended pioneer family, the very old and the very young were
looked after as a matter of course (Fitzpatrick 1989 p111-2).

Leyburn notes that in Ulster,

Church discipline…if anything increased during the 17th Century. Such minute
control of personal life could not have persisted without general approval of the
members of the church…No doubt this surveillance and the people’s submission
to it contributed to the sense of community in a land where the Presbyterian faith
was neither established nor held by the natives (1962 pp143-4).

In Ulster this caused some alarm to the authorities. The Vicar of Belfast asserted in the

early 18th century that “Ulster’s dissenters saw their church “Superiour to, and

independent of all authority of the Civil Magistrate”…northern dissent was “A Grand

Political Machine that subverted the constitution” (Tisdall cited Griffin 2001 p23) while

the Bishop of Down complained “they proceed to exercise jurisdiction openly and with a

high hand over those in their possession” (Conduct of the Dissenters 1712, cited

Stevenson 1920 cited Griffin 2001 p23).

The Kirk, however, suffered a crisis of discipline shortly after these comments were

made, as the expansion of the market economy offered greater opportunities for sin, and

the greater financial independence of some members of the community made them less

willing to submit to church discipline, and more likely to appeal to state courts.

Appealing to civil…courts provided individuals with a venue to clear themselves

or press their cases beyond the reach of Ulster Presbyterian society…Sessions
were reluctant to question the rulings of…civil courts…One man from Burt in
1709 (argued) that the “session (was) unjust in their proceedings with him more
than heathens and pagans and the conclave of Rome”….Abraham Miller of

Carnmoney declaimed the church’s authority in public…Barbara Miller of

Donegal “cohabited with a man for several years…and acknowledged she was
not formally married”. Yet…she was “not…convinced of sin nor would she
“submitt to order”. (Griffin 2001 p42-3).

Social changes brought by the market economy also played a role in the Auld

Licht/New Licht controversy which eventually resulted in the New Lichts being expelled

from the Synod of Ulster, and the formation of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.

The erosion of traditional values and codes of conduct by the market economy, the loss

of authority by spiritual leaders and elders, and the divisions caused by appeals to state

law over community structures have all been problems experienced by North American

Aboriginal communities in more recent times.

Many Presbyterians hoped to escape these problems in the ‘New World’. For a time

they were successful: solidarity was essential on the frontier and sophisticated New Licht

arguments carried little weight. As the frontier expanded, however, the church’s

insistence on college educated ministers became a problem. With the move into the

Virginia back-country and the Carolinas, the Presbyterian Church found it increasingly

difficult to minister to its flock. The ‘Great Awakening’ in the 1740s with its call for an

‘emotional piety’ split the church and Baptist missionaries in the South provided a

ministry that the Presbyterian church had failed to supply (Griffin 2001). Thus the vast

majority of Scotch-Irish in America ultimately turned away from the church that had

ordered their lives from the time their ancestors left Galloway for Ulster.

If Scotch-Irish social structures were disrupted by displacement and social upheaval

caused by market forces, the same was true of the indigenous societies they encountered:

Ohio Indian towns in the 18th century were often constituted of refugees from many tribes

(Starkey 1998 p34), and many Aboriginal people abandoned traditional spiritual practices

for various kinds of Christian belief, damaging traditional social structures and

introducing new ones.

Gender roles appear to have been clearly assigned in both Scotch-Irish and indigenous

communities. In gatherings of Aboriginal peoples today, the roles of women and men are

explicitly defined as those of ‘nurturer’ and ‘protector’. These roles would have been

very familiar to the Scotch-Irish. On the Scottish Borders, Pedro de Ayalo, a Spaniard,

found the women “courteous in the extreme…really honest though very bold…in

absolute control of their houses” (MacDonald-Fraser p47). Leyburn, however notes “that

in all the contemporary accounts of the Ulster Plantation, the troubles with the Irish, and

the establishment of the Presbyterian Church in northern Ireland, the life and character of

the women are never mentioned” (1962). This may well be due to the explicitly

patriarchal nature of the church itself.

Power may have been more evenly distributed in at least some aboriginal societies. In

the Iroquois Confederacy, power was explicitly vested in the Women in time of peace –

possibly a unique social arrangement. Much of the period we are considering, of course,

was not a time of peace.

The role of women in perpetuating gender roles in warrior societies is exemplified by

the reminiscences of US President, Andrew Jackson. Jackson’s parents had immigrated

from Carrickfergus, County Antrim, and he was raised by his mother, Elizabeth

Hutchinson, in Waxhaw Creek, a Scotch-Irish settlement in the Carolina back-country,

his father having died when he was an infant.


One day (his mother) scolded him: “Stop that Andrew. Do not let me see you cry
again. Girls were made to cry, not boys”. “What are boys made for, mother?” he
asked. She answered, “to fight” (Hernan 2001 p236).

Both Aboriginal and Scotch-Irish Americans claim an influence in the construction of

the U.S. Constitution: the indigenous peoples through the example of the Iroquois

Confederacy, acknowledged at the time by Benjamin Franklin, and the Scotch-Irish

through the institutional culture of the Presbyterian Church, with its hierarchical system

of appeal and its checks and balances.


Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have
done it unto me (Mathew 25. 40).

Bishop Leslie of Ross noted of the Scots Borderers that “they think the art of

plundering so very lawful, that they never say over their prayers more fervently, or have

more devout recurrence to their beads and their rosaries, than when they have made an

expedition” (MacDonald-Fraser 1989 p47). He observed with approval, however, that

“Nor indeed have the Borderers, with such ready frenzy as many others of the country,

joined the heretical secession from the common faith of the holy church”. The latter

observation was to prove ironical considering the role Borderers were to play in the

Protestantisation of Ulster. Another view of religion in the Borders is given by the well-

known story of the visitor to the notorious stronghold of Liddesdale, who, seeing no

churches, inquired “Are there no Christians here?” and was told “Na, we’s a’ Elliotts an’

Armstrangs” (MacDonald-Fraser 1989 p47).


Leyburn notes that “Ulster Presbyterianism tended to resemble the Covenanting faith of

the western Lowlands (from which, indeed, it drew many of its elements) than the less

exigent faith of other parts of Scotland” (1962 p143).

The tension between the ‘earthly’ conduct of the Borderer and the stern discipline of

the Kirk was to be a theme of Scotch-Irish life from the time of the Galloway

Presbyterian flowering onwards.

The theology of Calvinism would seem to have little in common with Aboriginal

spirituality. In practical terms, however, they may have shared more than one would

think. Certainly they shared (and still share), a belief in a Creator, and a conviction that

the practice of spirituality is in no way separate from the everyday things of life. The

basis of the ‘Dissenting’ faith: that every individual must find their own relationship with

God, according to their own conscience, was the philosophical basis of what would

become the ‘American’ way of life, but may also resonate with Aboriginal culture.

The long-term persecution of Presbyterians in Scotland and Ulster led to the practice,

which would continue in North America, of outdoor services, usually conducted by

streams and rivers, and often lasting all day. During the early 18th century when meetings

in Ulster were being harrassed by the authorites, County Down Presbyterians would row

to Scotland for a days services and return at night. Once started, the practice of outdoor

preaching was attractive because it recalled Christ’s own ministry. When they were able

to build churches, their unpretentious nature, and the practice of calling them ‘meeting

houses’ emphasised that it was the congregation, not the building that was important.

(Fitzpatrick 1989 p39). Their belief that all the things of nature were part of God’s

creation was theologically different, but emotionally similar, to the Aboriginal perception

of ‘Spirit’ in nature.

The principles of their religion were closely related to the way the Scotch-Irish viewed

the society they found themelves in:

Calvinism was strongly opposed to the principle of absolutism in government, and

this at the very moment when absolutism was ascendant on the European scene…
Calvin insisted upon the sovereignty of God, before whom all kings are minions.
He followed (St.) Paul in requiring passive obedience (to kings)…But then he
made a great exception which practically does away with the rule: “If they
command anything against Him, it ought not to have the least attention, nor…
ought we to pay any regard…Presbyterians in Scotland followed the exception,
not the rule, in their resistance to James and Charles, and Ulster-Scots relied upon
the exception in resisting…the Black Oath (Leyburn 1962 p146).

The Kirk could play a leadership role in war as well as peace, from the Covenanter

armies to John Elder, the Minister who led the Paxton Rangers during Pontiac’s War.

Amongst Aboriginal tribes, prophets could also play a significant role in wartime, and did

so both in Pontiac’s war, and in the later uprising led by Tecumseh. Native religious

‘revivals’ could be a unifying force for groups whose tribal identities had been destroyed

by the impact of war and the market economy, just as Covenanting Presbyterianism was

in Scotland after the Breaking of the Border.

Revival could also be a force that divided established communities and challenged

established boundaries. This was the case with the ‘Great Awakening’ of the 1740s, in

which the leading figure was William Tennent, an Ulster Presbyterian minister, and

former Anglican, who split Presbyterian congregations with his call for a deep emotional

commitment, disregarded denominational divisions and gloried in the fact that his

converts included Negroes and Indians (Griffin 2001 p126).


The United Church in Canada, whose heritage is in part from the Presbyterian Church,

has recently issued an apology for its failure to recognise the value of the Aboriginal

spiritual heritage. Perhaps this may signal the possibility of a more productive

relationship between differing traditions, who may have more in common than they



The freebooter ventures both life and limb,

Good wife and bairn, and every other thing,
He must do so, or else must starve and die,
For all his livelihood comes of the enemie.
(Satchel – 16th Century Border Ballad)

There has always been a contrast between the techniques, and mores of frontier

warfare, and those of the regular armies of European nation-states. This was as true on

the Anglo-Scottish Borders as on the American Frontier.

We know little of the war-fighting techniques of indigenous peoples of the Americas

prior to European contact. Certainly the civilisations of Meso-America had large-scale

armies, that probably manouvred in a similar manner to medieval armies in Europe. It is

possible such armies may have been possessed by the ‘Mound-builder’ civilisations

which populated the Mississippi and Ohio regions prior to contact, but we have no record

of this. If they were there, they were destroyed by European diseases before they ever

saw a European settler. The Native-Americans who the Scotch-Irish encountered had

already experienced a century of contact and had been forced to become frontiersmen.

That was how they fought, and the Scotch-Irish were forced to learn from them in order

to survive. In many ways, this came naturally to the Scotch-Irish, given their heritage.

There was little distinction between soldier and civilian in the Scottish Borders. Any

able-bodied man would be a soldier in wartime, a farmer or herdsman in peace, a reiver

when needs required, and would also be prepared to take up arms to pursue a blood-feud

in defence of his ‘surname’. This changed little in the new environment of Ulster, where

settlers had to be constantly on their guard against ‘rapparees’ and ‘wood-kerne’, as well

as the ever-present threat of war. It was also little different from the thinking of the

‘Indian frontiersman’ who also assumed that to be a man was to be a warrior:

For guerilla fighters such as the Indians, the formal distinctions between soldier
and civilian did not exist…Indians also did not draw the European distinction
between war and murder. ..the Algonquian peoples believed there were two kinds
of killings; those at the hands of enemies and those at the hands of allies. If the
killer belonged to an allied group, his family expected that the dead would be
‘covered’ with appropriate compensation and ceremony. If this did not occur, the
killer became an enemy and a blood feud began (Starkey 1998 p28).

This is extremely similar to the ancient Irish ‘Brehon’ laws, also based on the principle

of compensation. In the Scottish Borders, however, such a killing would almost always

result in a feud. In Ulster and America, where the Kirk held sway, disputes could often

be resolved before reaching the point of violence, but beyond its reach, the feud again

became the only law. The case of the Hatfields and McCoys in Kentucky is the most

famous, but far from the only example of this. During the American Revolution:

British occupation of South Carolina and Georgia was resisted by guerilla

fighters, many of whom had gained experience in Indian warfare. The conflict
between American and loyalist partisans was one of the most cruel episodes of the
war…Guerilla leaders such as Thomas Sumter and Francis Marion came from this
hard school where civil war and Indian war merged. Reliance on Indian warriors
by Tory leaders…encouraged the guerillas to retaliate against the loyalists as if
they were Indians. In many cases southerners seem to have lost sight of the
difference between war and murder (Starkey 1998 p135).

The guerillas of South Carolina and Georgia were Scotch-Irish frontiersmen whose

heritage meant that their moral codes were always much closer to the Indians than to

those of European regular soldiers. This description by Starkey of the North American

frontier makes the similarities with the Anglo-Scottish Borders clear:

This contest was never simply one of European versus Indian….While some
tribes relied on traditional religious practices as a bulwark against the European
threat, others converted to Christianity and in varying degrees adopted a European
way of life. Christian Indians often served as loyal soldiers in European forces
and many non-Christian Indians entered into alliance with Europeans for reasons
of their own. The line between Indian and white settlement was never precise…
European and Indian settlements were frequently in close proximity to each other
and there was a geat deal of peaceful interchange (1998 p10).

The Borderers recognised that their own interests were not always the same as those of

the national powers for whom they sometimes fought, and they had strategies for dealing

with this.

Embroidered letters attached to their caps were used for wartime identification.
There was a suspicion in the English Army in the 1540s that the English March
riders used these identifying signs not only to be known to each other but “that
thei used them for collusion, and rather bycaus thei might be knowen to
th’enemie, as the enemies are knowen to them, for thei have their markes too, and
so in conflict either each to spare other, or gently each to take other. (William
Patten, a Londoner who accompanied Somerset’s Scottish expedition in1547 cited
MacDonald-Fraser 1989 p87).

Indians serving British and French armies had similar arrangements:

French-Canadian authorities learned that their mission Indian friends often

warned their Mohawk kindred, allies of the English, of impending raids…at the
siege of Fort Niagara in 1759, the majority of Indians on both sides withdrew
rather than kill one another (Starkey 1998 p34).

The Border Reiver was a horseman: according to Bishop Leslie, the Borderers “reckon

it a great disgrace for anyone to make a journey on foot” (MacDonald –Fraser 1989 p85).

Similar pride was to become a feature of the culture of some western Plains Indians. The

Border horses, called hobblers or hobbys were small, tough and had tremendous

endurance. The English medieval historian Froissart estimated they could cover 20 to 24

Leagues a day, or about 70 miles. Similar feats were claimed for the Plains tribes on

their mustangs, in comparison to the 30 to 40 miles the US Cavalry could manage. In

part this was because both Borderers and Indians travelled light:

The Border rider…was…far more streamlined than the ordinary cavalryman of

his time. His appearance was ‘base and beggarly’ by military standards…Patten
noted…(1547) “The outwarde sheaw…whearby a stranger might discern a villain
from a gentleman, was not amoongst them to be seen.”

In time of war The “Scots Borderers were…recognised…as ‘licht horsemen’ not obliged

to serve in heavy armour…the English Borderers..were similarly used as scouts and

‘prickers’” (ibid).

In peace or war, the riders favourite weapon was the lance…used couched, for
thrusting and also for throwing. Camden describes the Borderers on horseback
spearing salmon in the Solway; anyone who has tried to spear fish on foot will
appreciate the expertise required to do it from the saddle (ibid p89).

When the Plains Indians acquired horses, they also acquired similar skills with the lance.

The Bow was also a significant weapon on the Borders later than in other regions:

In the 1560s, the majority of English infantry carried the longbow, but by 1600 it
was virtually obsolete in the country as a whole. On the Border, however, where
a light, rapid-fire weapon was needed, the bow lived longer: in Leith Ward,
Cumberland in 1580, the muster roll showed over 800 bowmen to 9 arquebusiers,
and in the 1583 muster the English West March counted 2500 archers, with no
mention of firearms.
Hundreds of handguns with ammunition were sent to Berwick in 1592, but the
powder was unreliable, and as for the guns, “when they were shot in, some of
them brake, and hurte divers mennes hands”. In the same year Richard Lowther
asked only for bows in the defence of Carlisle (ibid p88).

In Ulster, firearms replaced bows as the mainstay, and on the American frontier,

Aboriginal peoples had also adopted firearms as their principal weapons by the end of the

17th century. It is a false perception to see the Indians as being technologically primitive

compared to the settlers therefore: both were forced to make the transition to military

modernity within a century of each other. Moreover, the Indians did not use their

firearms in the same way as regular European armies:

Indians drew no sharp distinction between hunting and warfare and therefore
trained to achieve accurate marksmanship in both. From an early age, Indian men
spent their lives in acquisition of these skills so that they became second nature.
In contrast, the European peasantry were disarmed by law in most countries.
When recruited as soldiers, they were trained not to fire at marks, but rather in
unaimed volley fire. Destructive…at close quarters on European battlefields, this
method…was little use in the woods (Starkey 1998 p22)..

The different tactics adopted by Native Americans were as much a product of their

environment, traditions and social structure as of the weapons themselves. Starkey gives

this account of the Indian way of fighting:

Indian warriors did not simply hide behind trees but exploited…cover to conduct
moving fire on the enemy. Indians were trained to outflank their opponents…
they seldom completely surrounded the enemy….Indians understood how to
conduct orderly advances and retreats…in which warriors with loaded weapons
covered those whose guns required recharging. They were also able to seize the
psychological moment, charging from cover with war whoops that…were likely
to terrify all but the most seasoned soldiers (1998 p22).

This is an exact description of the tactics that I was taught in British Army infantry

training in the late 1970s. Indians did not simply adapt to ‘modern’ warfare techniques

brought by Europeans, they played a major role in defning what ‘modern’ warfare would

be. The Scotch-Irish proved to be able to adapt to this kind of warfare much better than

regular troops schooled on the battlefields of Europe. They also hunted to eat, and thus

acquired an early familiarity with firearms, and competence in marksmanship. John

Armstrong, leader of the Donegal irregulars during the French War, commented of the

Indians: “The principles of their military action are rational, and therefore often

successful…in vain may we expect success against our adversaries without taking a few

lessons from them” (Starkey 1998 p10).

How well the Scotch-Irish had learned these lessons was demonstrated in the

Revolutionary War, at the Battle of Kings Mountain:

at King’s Mountain…these ‘over-mountain men’…fought the battle in native

American style, keeping under cover of the trees, each sharpshooter killing a
redcoat with a single shot and then moving back to reload while another settler
took his place. Ferguson was killed and his men, after heavy losses, surrendered.
(Fitzpatrick 1989 p105).

“Ferguson, one of the most talented professional oficers in the British army, had been

defeated by ‘amateurs’ trained in the Indian way of war” (Starkey 1998 p135). The

Scotch-Irish repeated their success at Cowpens:

At Cowpens, Tarleton met an American force composed largely of Scots-Irish

militia, under General Daniel Morgan (from Draperstown, Co. Londonderry).
Morgan’s military skill held the untrained frontiersmen together under Tarleton’s
attacks until their superior marksmanship inflicted such losses that the…British
regiments disintegrated (Fitzpatrick 1989 p105).

The Scotch-Irish were even able to turn their acquired skills against the masters: Starkey

observes that Jackson’s envelopment tactics in the Creek War might have been designed

by Little Turtle or Tecumseh (1998 p164).



In the County Tyrone in the town of Dungannon,

Where there’s many a ruction meself had a han’ in,
Bob Williamson lived there, a weaver by trade,
And its all of us thought him a stout Orange blade…

But Bob the deceiver, sure took us all in,

And married a Papish called Bridget McGinn,
Turned Papish himself and forsook the auld cause,
That gave us our freedom, religion and laws.

Well the boys of the townland made some noise upon it,
And Bob had to fly to the province of Connacht,
Well he fled with his wife and his fixin’s to boot,
And along with the rest went his Auld Orange Flute….

(Ulster ballad)

For those who draw borders, it has always been important to be able to determine who

belongs on which side. This has never been as easy as it might seem, however. The very

name ‘The Borders’, with its plurality, which was applied to the Anglo-Scottish

borderland, hints at the indeterminacy of the reality on the ground, as opposed to the line

on the map. In the case of ‘The Debateable Land’, even the location of the line was not

clearly defined.

there was considerable fraternisation and co-operation between Scots and English
along the frontier, socially, commercially and criminally. There was
intermarriage on a large scale. There were ‘international’ families like the
Grahams, and communities of “our lawless people, that will be Scottishe when
they will, and English at their pleasure” as Thomas Musgrave put it. As the (16th)
century wore on, more and more Scots became settled on the English side of the
frontier, to the distress of the English Wardens (MacDonald-Fraser 1989 p65-66).

Both the Scottish and English governments tried to maintain control of the Borderers

through racist legislation:

at its most extreme this imposed the death penalty on Scots who married
Englishwomen without licence, or who even received English men or women; on

the English side it was March treason to marry a Scotswoman, or even to befriend
her, without the Warden’s permission (ibid. p67).

In the city of Carlisle, “most of its guilds had regulations discriminating against Scots,

and the city itself forbade unchartered Scots to live there, or to walk the streets after

curfew without an English companion” (ibid p70). Some Canadian towns maintained

similar ‘curfew’ laws against ‘Indians’ until the 1950s.

To pass laws and to enforce them were two different matters, however. Enforcing the

discriminatory rules in the cities and resisting the mass immigration…in the Middle

March depended on being able to tell who was Scottish and who was English. This was

not always easy (ibid. p70).

Adding to the frustrations of the respective governments was the fact that the Borderers

were adept at exploiting their marginal status. Covert cooperation in wartime has already

been mentioned. Another technique for the Border clans was to arrange for an English

kinsman to pursue a feud on the Scottish side of the border, or vice versa, thus evading

the law on both sides.

In 1530, Sandye Armstrong, ostensibly English and living in the Debateable

Land…(caused) involved correspondence with London by threatening to become
Scottish if the English Warden did not give him proper protection from his
enemies. These nationality cases baffled officialdom, who had no means of
settling them (ibid. p71).

Similar issues were to arise in Ulster. The Plantation was envisioned as resulting in an

apartheid system, in which settlers and natives would live separate lives in separate

communities. The difficulty in attracting enough Scottish settlers to occupy all the

escheated lands meant, however, that the achievement of this ideal was the exception

rather than the rule. “Despite the explicit prohibition against the employment of ‘meer

Irish’…this…was openly flouted, and the attempts to enforce it were vigorously

protested” (Leyburn 1962 p94).

Intermarriage across religious lines, although not illegal, was frowned upon by all the

religious establishments, and could sometimes lead to rejection by the community, as

described in the darkly humorous ballad ‘The Auld Orange Flute’. It still can. Yet

intermarriage has always taken place despite social sanctions against it. This is

symbolised by the standing irony in Northern Ireland today, that the two leading Irish

nationalist politicians, Gerry Adams and John Hume, have surnames derived from the

Scottish Lowlands and Borders respectively, whilst leading Unionist politicians such as

Ken Maginnis and Bob McCartney have Irish Gaelic surnames.

The creation of the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland in 1920 produced a whole new

set of problems for their respective bureaucracies, cross-border terrorism being the best

publicised, and a whole new frontier culture, including tax-avoidance. There is a petrol

station called ‘Straddles’ in County Tyrone/Monaghan that has pumps on both sides of

the border and simply switches the fuel outlet according to the prevailing tax regimes.

Governments have also struggled to prevent the claiming of benefits on both sides of the

border, and pirate radio stations broadcasting from one jurisidiction into the other. They

have been powerless to control a flourishing smuggling industry that deals in everything

from cigarettes to diesel fuel, and pigs to pornographic videos. Aboriginal communities

in North America have also learnt to exploit borders, for instance by the introduction of

casinos as a source of wealth for communities with few other material resources, and

have insisted on rights to cross the US/Canadian border, which are enshrined in treaties,

but denied to other citizens.


In North America, the enforcement of boundaries was also of concern to those in

power, whether that power resided in colonial governments, in Presbyterian elders or in

Aboriginal prophets.

For governments whether British, Pennsylvanian, or later U.S. and Canadian, where

treaties were to be made, and group relationships conducted with ‘Indians’, it became

vital to be able to define who exactly was an Indian and who was not. This led to

increasing concern about the ‘problem’ of ‘half-breeds’ (Mawani), who could move from

one category to another in exactly the same way as Borderers who were “Scottishe when

they will, and English at their pleasure”. Ultimately it led to ‘Indian Acts’ in both the

USA and Canada in which governments defined ‘Indians’ by blood. These acts remain in

existence, despite the fact that the overtly racist criteria on which they are based are in

direct contravention of the egalitarian and anti-racist principles publicly espoused by both

governments. It is extraordinary that the constitutionality of these acts has never been

challenged on these grounds: perhaps this is because many Aboriginal people have

themselves internalised the belief that being an ‘Indian’ is a matter of genetic, rather than

cultural inheritance.

Evidence suggests that this was not the view of indigenous peoples in the 18th century.

‘Marrying out’ was a common practice, as was the adoption of prisoners-of-war into the

tribe: By the end of the 17th century, many Iroquois were in fact adopted prisoners or the

children of prisoners (Starkey 1998 p34). This practice was extended to Europeans, and

there are many instances recorded, some of which have become well known, such as

Simon Girty, already mentioned:

he, with the rest of his family, was…carried off by an Indian war party. As a
young man he came back to white society, only to be despised as an illiterate

‘half-Indian’. Highly intelligent but deeply frustrated by his treatment, Girty

returned with two of his brothers to the Shawnee tribe…During the Revolutionary
War Girty was a remarkably effective leader of raiding parties, taking particular
delight in torturing the better off Scots-Irish who fell into his hands (Fitzpatrick
1989 p95).

As well as illustrating the permeability of ‘racial’ boundaries, this story also highlights

the brutalising effect of their enforcement. Such ‘adoptions’ were not purely one way:

During the latter 1760s…two white men were deep into Penn’s woods …hunting
…They heard someone following them, and hid behind a tree to waylay the
stranger…the person was a half starved Indian girl. They fed the girl and took her
home with them. She lived with the older of her two captors and his wife, and
ultimately married the younger…No one ever found out where she came from, or
why she had been seperated from her tribe. The community took her in and for
many years she was known as ‘Laughing Annie’ (Jackson 1993 p117).

Perhaps the most important ‘Aboriginal right’ in modern times is the right of the

community to decide who is, and who should be able to become, a member. To do this

effectively means to recognise, and assert, that membership in any community,

Aboriginal or otherwise, is not a matter of blood, but a matter of culture. This is already

explicitly recognised in the immigration law of both Canada and the United States, it is

only logical, therefore, that it should be extended to ‘First Nations’.

A discourse of ‘savagery’ or ‘primitiveness’ of colonised peoples has been used to

justify paternalistic control of Aboriginal communites in North America and of the

Catholic majority in Ireland. This has been well documented on both sides of the

Atlantic. These were peoples, who under the colonial system, were at the bottom of the

economic heap. A more subtle discourse has been used to justify the marginalisation of

those peoples like the Scotch-Irish in the USA, and the Ulster-Scots in Ireland, as well as

Irish Catholics in New York, in relation to Afro-Americans, and the ‘white’ underclass in

post-industrial northern England, in relation to British-Asians, who find themselves,


through historical processes over which they had little control, one small step up from the

bottom. This discourse takes two forms. The first is again, the discourse of ‘savagery’.

The marginalisation of the ‘frontiersmen’ who are compelled to live cheek by jowl with

the ‘savage’ Irish or Indian, is justified because they are held to have become ‘no better’

than their intimate enemies. The history of the Scotch-Irish in America is littered with

such discourse, in which they are compared unfavourably, first with the Catholic Irish,

and then with the Indians.

Established settlers in Pennsylvania recorded some of their opinions on the Scotch-Irish:

A Pennsylvania official declared “The settlement of five families from Ulster

“gives me more trouble than fifty of any other people” (Griffin 198 p2).

Hector St. John Crevecoeuer doubted they could become “Pennsylvanian”…he

found that “they love to drink and to quarrel, they are litigious and soon take to
the gun…they seem beside to labour under a greater degree of ignorance of
husbandry than the others”. (ibid).

“capable of the highest villainies” (ibid p103).

“little honesty and less sense” (P.Gordon to the Penns, 16/5/1729 Penn MSS,
Official Correspondence, II, p75 cited Griffin 2001 p103).

The Scotch-Irish keep the Sabbath and everything else they can lay their hands on
(Jackson 1993 p62).

“the very scum of mankind” (Isaac Norris to Joseph Pike, 28/10/1728. Norris
Papers, Isaac Norris Sr. Letterbook p516 cited Griffin 2001 p103).

The Scotch-Irish encountered similar attitudes when they moved south into Virginia

and the Carolinas:

An Anglican clergyman, Charles Woodmason characterised them as a

“Sett of the most lowest vile crew breathing – Scotch-Irish Presbyterians from
the North of Ireland” (Davidson 1979 cited Jackson 1993 p86). They were “very
poor” he said, “owing to their extreme Indolence…They delight in their present,
low, lazy, sluttish, heathenish, hellish life, and seem not desirous of changing it.
Both men and women will do anything to come at Liquor, Cloaths, furniture…

rather than work for it” (ibid p23) Some of their…vices Woodmason listed as
licentiousness, wantonness, lasciviousness, rudeness, lewdness and profligacy.
He said they lived wholly on Butter, Milk, Clabber and what in England is given
to Hogs and Dogs. (Crozier 1984)

(Jackson 1993 p86).

Benjamin Franklin, after his encounter with the Paxton Boys, referred to them as:

‘the Christian White Savages of Packstang and Donegal (Griffin1998 p171).

An English farmer visiting America about the year 1800 wrote: “None emigrate to
the frontiers beyond the mountains, except culprits, or savage backwoodsmen,
chiefly of Irish descent…a race possessing all the vices of civilised and savage
life, without the virtues of either…the outcasts of the world, and the disgrace of it.
They are to be met with, on the western frontiers, from Pennsylvania inclusive, to
the furthest south. (Strickland 1801 p71 cited Evans 1966 p71-2).

In general, all the ‘vices’ that the English establishment habitually attributed to the

Catholic Irish and the Indians, it also used to label the Scotch-Irish, and this discourse did

not end with the 18th century. English historian Arnold Toynbee, writing in the 1930s,

claimed that the Scotch-Irish:

“succumbed to the barbarising severity of their Appalachian environment” and

became “no better than barbarians, the American counterparts of the Hairy Ainu”
(Toynbee 1934).

He added for good measure that:

the impress of Red Indian savagery (on the Scotch-Irish), is the only social trace
that has been left behind by these vanquished and vanished Redskins.(ibid. Vol. 2

thus demonstrating to perfection how the discourse of ‘savagery’ could be used to

marginalise both native and migrant.

A more recent discourse used to maintain the marginal status of the Scotch-Irish and

similar groups is that of ‘bigotry’. This discourse has been employed very effectively in

many situations, but two that stand out are against working-class Protestants in 19th and

20th century Ulster, and against ‘white trash’, in the Deep South. In both cases the

‘bigotry’ displayed by these groups towards their neighbours, Ulster Catholics and

Southern Afro-Americans respectively, is held to be a product of ‘ignorance’, which is

seen as an explanation and justification for their lowly economic status. The discourse of

‘bigotry’ serves a double purpose. Not only does it justify the social and economic

exclusion of the ‘bigots’, but it also shifts on to them the blame for the social and

economic condition of their marginalised neighbours. Thus both groups are kept

effectively marginalised, without any responsibility for this marginalisation being

attributed to the dominant forces and structures in society. A similar discourse has also

been deployed in relation to marginal ‘white’ communities in both Canada and the USA

which have been involved in fishing or hunting disputes with Aborigiinal communities,

and just as both groups could be labeled as ‘savages’ in the past, both can be labeled as

‘bigots’ now, thus sharing the blame for their own misfortune.

What is problematic about the discourse of ‘bigotry’ is the assumption that it is due to

ignorance, and can therefore be cured by education in the liberal mores of the economic

elite. This ignores the structural realities of the situation in which these people find

themselves, which is one of real, and frequently desperate competition for land or

economic resources, whether those resources are fish, on the Canadian east coast, or jobs

and houses in Belfast. This is not an inevitable situation but one which has been created

by the market forces of capitalism. Bigotry is not due to ignorance but to a correct

perception of the situation in which people find themselves: when they have insufficient

power to change the system, they depend upon the support structures of a tight-knit

community for survival, and can only hope to maintain or improve their subsistence level

at the expense of others. It is true that education can alleviate bigotry between specific

groups, for example, Ulster Catholics and Protestants. It can do this by enabling them to

rise up the class system into an environment where group loyalties are less essential for

survival. The working class ghettoes of the Shankill and Falls Roads in Belfast are

festooned with flags expressing the loyalties and identities of their inhabitants. There are

no flags on the affluent and religiously mixed Malone Road, around Queen’s University.

The people on the Malone Road don’t need flags: they have BMWs. As people lose their

community, they will also lose their bigotry. This will not eliminate bigotry from the

system, however. Were this to happen on a large scale, other groups, perhaps Somalis or

Rumanians would have to be introduced to take up the duties of ‘reserve army of labour’

and, finding themselves in similar circumstances, would be likely to respond with similar


Perhaps the greatest strength of the ‘savagery’ and ‘bigotry’ discourses is that it has

been so tempting for the competing groups at the bottom of the socio-economic pile to

use them against each other, effectively absolving those who create, maintain and benefit

from the structures that force subordinate groups into conflict, from all responsibility for

the results.


I was baptised by Father Murphy, then rushed away by car,

To be made a little Orangeman, beneath that Shining Star…

Well both churches tried to claim me, but I was smart because
I could play me harp, or play me flute, dependin’ where I was.
(‘The Orange and the Green’ by A. Murphy).

On frontiers, identities are often vitally important to people, and yet are always subject

to fluidity and change. We have already looked at many ways in which people have

created, maintained, changed, and manipulated their own identities in response to

different circumstances on the frontiers of the Anglo-Scottish Borders, Ulster and North

America. On the Borders, as in pre-contact North America, identity was primarily

associated with kinship.

In Ulster, Religion was, and is, the primary marker: change your religion and you

change your national identity and possibly your kinship ties as well. It is extraordinarily

difficult to maintain an identity as a a Catholic Loyalist, or a Protestant Nationalist in

Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, identities are far from fixed and unchanging, as is

apparent from the wide range of designations given to, or adopted by, Ulster Protestant

people. Initially settlers were referred to, by themselves and others, as Scots, or English.

Later, as residents of the Kingdom of Ireland, they came to think of themselves as Irish

Protestants, although their regional identity was also important, and Northern Dissenters

was another frequently used term. Throughout all these periods, Britishness (which

carried with it the right to ‘British liberties’) was an important, and sometimes dominant

aspect. With the successive Home Rule crises at the end of the 19th and beginning of the

20th centuries, their regional identity as Ulstermen and women came to the fore, although

Britishness, and Protestantism with which it was associated, remained vitally important.

The term Ulster-Scots also began to be used around this time. With the establishment of

two semi-independent states in Ireland in 1920, some began to refer to themselves as

‘Northern Irish’, whilst a minority had never abandoned an ‘Irish’ dimension. In more

recent times, the term Ulster-Scots has enjoyed a major revival associated with renewed

interest in dialect, musical traditons and other aspects of culture, but some feel this is too

narrow an identity to encompass the descendants of English, native Irish and Huguenot

peoples, and prefer Ulster-British. Almost all the terms referred to remain in use to some

extent, and in different contexts several may be used by one individual. This

indeterminacy of identity has often been seen as a weakness, and Irish nationalists have

often used it to argue that Ulster Protestants should simply accept that they are ‘Irish’

with the political consequences that implies. This has only resulted in even fiercer

commitment to alternative, if ill-defined identities. As globalisation has brought

increasing numbers of people with quite different ethnic and religious identities to

Ireland, however, it has been increasingly difficult for nationalists to define what being

‘Irish’ means – the Ulster Protestant’s problem has become everybody’s problem, in

Ireland and elsewhere.

The term Scotch-Irish was first coined in Elizabethan times to describe the Catholic

MacDonnells of Antrim. It became widely used in the 18th century, however, in North

America, to distinguish Ulster Protestants, mostly Presbyterian, from Irish Catholics, but

was often seen as an abusive term. The Ulstermen, to their chagrin, also often found

themselves referred to simply as ‘Irish’:

inhabitants of Londonderry, New Hampshire,…resolved “we were surprised to

hear ourselves described as Irish people when we so frequently ventured our all
for the British Crown and Liberties against the Irish Papists” (Jackson 1993 p10).

As battles such as that at the original Londonderry faded into the past, however, the

Scotch-Irish became more comfortable with the ‘Irish’ part of their identity:

What is striking about the group consciousness of this period (1723-1825)…is

that immigrants from every part of Ireland shared a fellow feeling. Later on,
when the issues of Catholic emancipation were to arise, and anti-Catholicism was
to become an important strain in American nativism, old animosities would be
reawakened and both the Scotch-Irish and the Catholic Irish would insist upon
their distinctiveness. But for the moment both groups were content to be simply
Irishmen, colaborating in politics, sharing newspapers like the New York
Shamrock, and joining together in such benevolent organisations as the Friendly
Sons of St. Patrick (Maldwyn 1966 p67).

The term Scotch-Irish enjoyed a revival with the massive increase in Catholic Irish

immigration following the Great Famine of the 1840, and is still commonly used,

although many, remembering the abuse of the past, dislike the association of ‘Scotch’

with Whisky and prefer ‘Scots-Irish’.

Griffin notes that “Failure to take these people on their own terms, as men and women

without easily identifiable identities, is to distort the groups’ experience”(2001 p3), and

emphasises the point by calling his book ‘The People with No Name’. The fact that their

identities were already in flux may explain the ease with which they became


Our narrative has shown how identity was also fluid for Aboriginal peoples on the

North American frontier. Established tribal identities were destroyed or transformed,

new identities came into being, amongst them, the idea of being an ‘Indian’, Native, or

Aboriginal person. For many people of Aboriginal heritage, citizenship posed a dilemma

of identity. In the postmodern era, however, we have become much more aware that all

identities are socially constructed and subject to change in response to circumstances, and

that different identities are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Thus to the question, are

you British, Irish, Northern Irish, an Ulsterman, an Ulster-Scot or Ulster-British, I can

answer “all of the above”, but different aspects of my identity are important in different

contexts. This is more challenging than simply accepting an ascribed identity without

thought, but it is also offers more opportunities for creative relationship, and the

possibility of transcending previously exclusive identities. Achieving such transcendence

also requires society to change in order to allow this, however, as Bob Williamson

discovered the hard way with his Auld Orange Flute.


For that we’ll not Quarrel,

For the Poor of the World,
Had always a Winter before they have Spring.

(‘The Star of Moville’, by blind North Derry fiddler Jimmie McCurry, 1925).

The peoples of the frontiers, Scots and English Borderers, Ulster-Scots, Irish, Scotch-

Irish, Iroquois, Algonquin, Métis and others, have played an important part in forming

the world we live in today, not because they were powerful, but because being largely

powerless, they were forced to take on the defining roles others preferred to avoid.

MacDonald-Fraser says of todays Borderers that:

They are not…the most immediately loveable folk in the United Kingdom…
Incomers may find them difficult to know; there is a tendency amongst them to be
suspicious and taciturn…Perhaps the greatest compliment one can pay to the
people of the Anglo-Scottish frontier is…that, in spite of everything, they are still

The same could probably be said of all the peoples whose character was forged on the

anvil of the frontier. They are important because their values, for good or ill, have

entered the popular culture of the most powerful nation on earth, through the medium of

the Western novel and the Hollywood film. Some of the best of these may show a truer

picture of the historical frontiersman than an academic paper can capture. John Ford’s

‘The Searchers’ captured many of the themes that characterised the Scotch-Irish on the

frontier: a tight-knit community, male-domination, acceptance of violence as a normal

part of social intercourse, a citizens militia of ‘Rangers’ led by a Christian minister. The

character of Ethan Allen, played by John Wayne captured many of the frontier’s

paradoxes: his loyalty to his kin balanced by a sense of ‘apartness’ that led him to prefer

to kill the daughter of the family rather than accept her back after she had lived with

Indians, his hatred of the Indians for their savagery juxtaposed with his willingness to

scalp his own enemies, his fight for ‘civilisation’ rewarded by remaining forever on its


Clint Eastwood’s ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ presents a more balanced view,

Eastwood’s Scotch-Irish outlaw being complemented by Chief Dan George’s Cherokee

Confederate, and offers a more hopeful outlook in its exploration of confrontation and

reconciliation across borders, first between Rebels and Yankees, then between the varied

group and the Comanche people of Chief Ten Bears. The song ‘The Rose of Alabamy’

featured in the movie is an Americanisation of the County Down folk song – ‘The Flower

of Magherally’.

Leyburn assessed the influence of the Scotch-Irish on the emerging ‘American’ culture:

Their optimistic self-reliance, with a conviction that God helps those who help
themselves, was to become the congenial American folk philosophy…not far
removed from materialism and a faith in progress.
The Scotch-Irish were no more the originators of these American convictions
than they had been…of the idea of freedom and individualism. What is
significant is that, holding the attitude they did, and being present in such large
numbers throughout the United States, they afforded the middle ground that could

become typical of the American…The Scotch Irish element could be the common
denominator into which Americanism might be resolved (1962 p323).

That the values of the frontier have entered the mainstream culture of the USA is of

concern to the whole world, because in the era of globalisation, the whole world is on

America’s frontier. President George Bush is neither an Ulster-Scot nor a frontiersman,

but he grew up in a society whose norms and values were largely formed by people who

were. Those in Europe who condemn the USA for its ‘savagery’, fundamentalist self-

righteousness and lack of regard for ‘the law’, might do well to ask themselves how it

came to be that way. All people today, including Americans, might pause to consider the

significance of the fact that the modern culture and mores of the USA were largely

determined by a people whose previous experience had been 500 years of brutalisation,

traumatisation, oppression and mutual genocides.

The stories of the Scotch-Irish and the Aboriginal North American have generally been

portrayed as struggles against each other. In fact they were thrown together in the course

of their own respective struggles to maintain life and security, human dignity and

freedom, a sense of identity and community, and a way of living that encompassed the

spiritual as well as the material. The real threat to these things was not the other group,

but the forces of the market capitalist system, based on ‘fiat’ or ‘debt’ currency, which

necessarily enriches some individuals and groups at the expense of impoverishing others

(Lietaer 2001). That is why similar problems are shared today by the Protestant and

Catholic ghettoes of Belfast, the urban aboriginal population of Winnipeg, and the former

southern sharecroppers, black and white, of Chicago, and why similar pressures continue

to drive off the land the cattle-farmers of present-day England and Scotland, of Ireland,

north and south, and the ranchers, farmers and cowboys of North America, both

Aboriginal and Euro-American, as well as driving fishermen from the waters from the

Canadian Maritimes to the Irish Sea.

In the face of a globalising and homogeonising corporate capitalism, there has, in recent

years, been a revival of, and a renewed sense of value imbued in local cultural practices,

and local ways of living, speaking and seeing, and a reassertion of local expressions of

identity from the Sacred Drums of North America to the Lambeg Drums of Ulster.

Willie Drennan, a practitioner of the latter with the Ulster-Scots Folk Orchestra as well as

being a traditional County Antrim story-teller, observes on the sleeve-notes of their

album ‘Endangered Species’, that:

“lack of interest and respect for our distinct cultural heritages is surely a factor in
today’s growing indifference to family and community values, and indeed in the
lack of necessary concern for the sustainability of our local environment. In this
context, we are all part of an endangered species”

In this context also, perhaps, communities who previously believed they had little in

common, except ancient enmities, may find that they have after all, a currency of greater

value than the dollar to exchange.



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