Thompson Family Tree

Scottish & Irish

The following is a  brief account of where the Scotch-Irish started out from, travelled to, and then settled in, America.

Source: "The Scotch-Irish: A Social History" James G Leyburn.


Ulster, one of the four traditional kingdoms of Ireland, was only 20 miles across the channel from Scotland. In 1603, a laird of northern Ayrshire (Scotland), Hugh Montgomery, learned that Con O'Niell was in prison. O'Niell was a chieftain of large properties in County Down, and County Antrim. Montgomery proposed to O'Neill a bargain. He could effect the escape and pardon of O'Neill, if in return, O'Neill would grant him half of his lands.

The escape and pardon was achieved, but the granting of lands to Montgomery, was denied by King James. Montgomery sought the aid of another Ayrshire laird, James Hamilton, who had great influence with the King. With a new agreement drawn, giving each of the two Lairds a third of O'Niell's property, but had conditions, that the lands should be planted with British Protestants, and that no grant of fee farm (ie, freeholds) should be made to any person of mere Irish extraction.

In 1609, the two Scots, Montgomery and Hamilton, began to induce tenants and other Scots, to come over as farmer-settlers. Within 10 years, the population of the Plantation of Ulster, had reached around eight thousand. The assignment of lands to Scottish undertakers, was to have a permanent effect on the character of Ulster. Despite every vicissitude, including massacres and war, the Plantation gradually grew strong and proved to be a success. If one cause more than any other can be singled out for its success, it would be the presence, the persistence, and the industry of the Scots in the region.

Back in Scotland, there was an increasing hardship occasioned by the spread of a form of land tenure, called the feu, which had the effect of dispossessing many farmers of their traditional lands. They were attracted to the generous lands visible across the channel from the shores of south western Scotland. Any Scot who had the inclination might now take the short journey across to Ulster and there, on easy terms, acquire a holding of land reputed to be far more fertile and productive than any he was likely to know in his own country.

Economic distress in the Lowlands and economic opportunities in Ulster were the predominant causes for migration during the first fifty years after the plantation scheme had begun in 1610. In the Lowlands a positive fever for emigration swept.
Ships were travelling back and forth with the frequency of a ferry.

From 1634 onward to 1690, life for the colonists of Ulster was to consist of a series of crises, some of them so prolonged and severe that the very existence of the Scottish settlements were threatened. The trouble had two causes: religious ex-actions from England and native uprisings. Under the Jesuits the Irish people had become fervently Catholic; to them the Protestants of Ulster were heretics as well as interlopers. The native Irish resented the intrusion of Scottish (and English) settlers on their ancestral lands, and their resentment exploded in 1641 in bitter insurrection.

Between 1717 and the Revolutionary War some quarter of a million Ulstermen came to America.
By the time the Great Migration began in 1717, a few Ulstermen were present in at least half of the American colonies, often alongside immigrants who had recently come directly from Scotland.
It was when Ulster developed, in rapid succession, two new industries that the pinch came. Both woolen and linen manufacture grew apace in the closing years of the seventeenth century, bringing remarkable prosperity to North Ireland and arousing uneasiness among English competitors.

Belfast, had arisen from the swamps of the Laggan Valley, giving Ulster a sheltered seaport for her growing trade. The competition of Irish cloth seemed unendurable to English cloth interests. At the Kings command, Irish Parliament in Dublin passed the Woolens Act in 1699, giving a crippling blow to the industry in Ulster.

The substantial leaders of Ulster had put their primary economic faith in manufacture and trade, and their success in life now depended upon two unknown and uncontrollable factors: the arbitrary acts of the English Parliament and the ups and downs of the foreign market. A third and more immediate economic cause stimulated the first great migration of 1717. This was the suffering caused by rack-renting.

The land question assuredly played a large part in driving Presbyterian Ulsterman to take the drastic step of removing to America. From rack-renting, whole villages lost their Protestant element by migration to America. The final blow was a succession of calamitous years for farmers. During the seventeens, there were six years in succession that were notable for insufficient rainfall (1714-1719).

The first migration, then was touched off by a combination of drought, rack-renting, diminished trade in woolen goods, depression, and also religious discrimination and persecution. When the fourth successive year of drought ruined the crops in 1717, serious preparations began to be made for a migration.

Ships were chartered, consultations were held, groups were organized, and property was sold. More than five thousand Ulstermen that year made the journey to the American colonies. There were but two real drawbacks--the dangers of an ocean crossing (especially for woman and children) and the expense of that passage. The practice of indenture has long been a familiar device.

There were five great waves of emigration, with a lesser flow in intervening years: 1717-1718, 1725-1729, 1740-1741, 1754-1755,
and 1771-1775.

In 1717, at least 5000 Ulstermen left Ireland. Jonathan Dickinson reported from Philadelphia in 1717, that there had arrived from ye north of Ireland many hundreds in about four months, and that during the summer we have had 12 or 13 sailings of ships from the North of Ireland with a swarm of people.

The second wave was so large, that not only the friends of Ireland, but even the English Parliament became concerned. In the Pennsylvania Gazette it was reported  that poverty, wretchedness, misery and want are become almost universal among them; that...there is not corn enough raised for their subsistence one year with another; and at the same time the trade and manufactures of the nation being cramped and discouraged, the labouring people have little to do, and consequently are not able to purchase bread at its present dear rate; that the taxed are nevertheless exceeding heavy, and money very scarce; and add to all this, that their griping, avaricious landlords exercise over them the most merciless racking tyranny and oppression. Hence it is that such swarms of them are driven over into America.

The third wave marked, on the American side, the first movement of Scotch-Irish in any numbers beyond the confines of generous Pennsylvania to the southwest. Following the path through the Great Valley, many Ulstermen now went into the rich Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, whose southern extremity opened out toward North and South Carolina. The second wave had so well established the Scotch-Irish in the south eastern tier of counties in Pennsylvania, that their influence, even in political affairs in the Quaker commonwealth was becoming impressive. Famine struck Ireland in 1740, and was certainly the principal occasion for the third large wave, which included numbers of substantial Ulstermen.

An estimated 400,000 persons died in Ireland during 1740-1741; for the next decade there was a tremendous exodus to America.

The fourth exodus had two major causes: effective propaganda from America, and calamitous drought in Ulster. A succession of governors of North Carolina had made a special effort to attract to that province colonists from Ulster and from Scotland. Governor Dobbs of North Carolina, (formally from Carrickfergus County Antrim) declared that as many as ten thousand immigrants had landed in Philadelphia in a single season, so that many were obliged to remove to the southward for want of lands to take up in Pennsylvania.


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