Scotch-Irish Emigration

The largest group to leave Ireland in the 1700s was the Scotch-Irish. Their ancestors had just arrived from Scotland about 100 years before, but by the early 1700s, they had enough of the British discrimination against them. They decided to leave and then packed everything they had – clothing, personal items, tools, farm implements, and weapons. They were never returning to Ireland. The English laws did not allow the Scots to own any land. So, their only ties to Ireland were the family members they left behind. Many were prosperous farmers and skilled tradesmen who were the backbone of Ulster agriculture and the linen industry. They were farmers, but many were active in the linen trade to supplement their farm income. However, the continued threats of higher rents and fluctuating prices drove even the prosperous tenant farmers to emigrate to America.[1]

Many had money and could afford the passage. If the Scotsmen did not have the 3 pounds 10 shillings needed for the passage, they willingly agreed to be indentured workers in America. They signed contracts with agents or ship captains. They knew the shipping company would sell their indenture contract after arriving in the colonies to farmers, merchants, or tradesmen who needed workers. The agreement was for five to seven years of labor in America and paid for their passage.

Ironically, the Ulster linen trade established the overseas trade routes between the Ulster ports and the American colonies that enabled their immigration to America. Ships hauled many tons of flaxseed and other materials from Pennsylvania to Ulster and were eager to fill their empty cargo holds for the return trip to America. The captains willingly accepted the Scottish emigrants’ money to pay for their passage to America, thus generating new revenue for the ship’s owner.

After the Scots in Ireland made arrangements for passage to America, packed their belongings, they said goodbye to friends and family, loaded their carts, and made their way to the Ulster ports of Londonderry, Portrush, Larne, Belfast, and Newry. Their small ships sailed for Philadelphia and Charleston with about fifty passengers on-board.[2]

Filling the cargo holds with immigrants also solved a desperate problem for the American colonies who needed more workers. Many governors and land promoters in the American colonies offered land, tools, and seed to the immigrants. They sent out advertisements and hired agents to recruit workers to come to America. Charleston, South Carolina, and Philadelphia became the primary destination for the Ulster immigrant, and during the mid-1700s, Charleston rivaled Philadelphia as the port of entry for the Ulster-Scots. After arrival, the immigrants found cheap land without a landlord. They discovered the English Penal Laws did not exist in the colonies, and they did not have to tithe to two different churches. America offered the Scotch-Irish a new beginning and hope for their families.


[1] Blethen, H. Tyler; Curtis W. Wood Jr. From Ulster to Carolina: The Migration of the Scotch-Irish to Southwestern North Carolina, North Carolina Office of Archives and History.

[2] Blethen, H. Tyler; Curtis W. Wood Jr. From Ulster to Carolina: The Migration of the Scotch-Irish to Southwestern North Carolina, North Carolina Office of Archives and History.

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