Scots-Irish Impact on the Appalachian region
Please welcome guest blogger Byron Chesney. By day a computer applications engineer in Knoxville, TN, Chesney is also an active observer of the Southern Appalachian scene on his numerous Tennessee and Knoxville area related websites. Somewhere in all that he manages to eat and sleep!
Stubborn, proud, independent, rugged, individualistic are all terms used to describe the people known as Scots-Irish. They came to North America in the early 1700’s from Ulster in Northern Ireland, where they were forced to flee due to political and religious persecution as well as high rent and a shortage of land. As they tried to settle within the American colonies, they soon discovered that they didn’t fit in there either. Many of the same problems that they had experienced in Ulster were also prevalent in the colonies. So, they packed up their pots and pans and headed south to the mountainous regions that we call the Appalachians. It was here that they settled in the hills of Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Carolina, and Georgia, and lived life the way they saw fit.
These fine folks, though regarded by outsiders as “peculiar,” brought with them not only their beliefs and values, but also their traditional brand of music, poetry, and folklore. Today’s country and bluegrass music scenes can trace their humble beginnings back to the hills of Appalachia where families would play handmade acoustic instruments and sing songs of life, love, and lore. Country music superstars Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney, as well as many others, can map out their families’ roots back to the Scots-Irish. Many present-day poets and writers can also thank these ancestors for their rich and colorful talents.
Able to scratch out a living and raise a family on an acre of rocky hillside, the Scots-Irish are largely responsible for the independent thinking and determined will of the present-day people of the southeast and regions west. Over 25 percent of Americans can trace their roots back to the Scots-Irish. You might go so far as to say that they were mainly responsible for blazing the new American frontier.
Religion played a huge role in the life of the Scots-Irish; after all, it was their religion that first drove them from their native homeland of Scotland, over to Northern Ireland, and ultimately to the Americas. They chiefly held Presbyterian beliefs and greatly influenced the beginnings of the Baptist and Methodist faiths of Protestant religions in the South. Strong spiritual and family beliefs were instilled in their mind-sets, which naturally have been passed down and are still present in the lives of their descendants today.
Along with music and religion, the Scots-Irish had strong political views. They built up a calculated indifference towards the dictatorship of British rule and the Roman Catholic Church under which they had lived both in their native homeland and in the American colonies. They were heavily involved in the Revolutionary War, fighting on the side of the Patriots. After the war, as payment for their loyalty, many state governments issued land grants to war veterans, allowing them to move their families into the westward expanding territories of North Carolina and what would eventually become the state of Tennessee.
From this group of independent thinkers, we gained the likes of pioneers such as Davy Crockett and Sam Houston, and American presidents Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, Andrew Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and yes, even William Clinton. The role of the Scots-Irish on the Appalachian region and the United States of America should not, cannot, and will not be dismissed or overlooked. I, as a seventh generation Scots-Irish Appalachian American, will see to that! Independent? Yes. Proud? Yes. Stubborn? Definitely!