The Scots-Irish Cause Trouble…

…in William Penn’s Philadelphia.  This, from Robert Carse’s Ports of Call:

But the Scottish Presbyterians who came in from North Ireland were the worst.  They knew their rights, they said, and they would have those satisfied before they stepped foot out of Penn’s town of brotherly love.  Most of the Scots were big, rangy men, with blue eyes, red hair and extraordinarily short tempers.  A number of the families had been proscribed, driven from their homes in Scotland for refusal to join the Church of England.  Then, in Ireland, they had fought the native Catholics, and, for practice, each other.

They took over the Blue Anchor Tavern as their temporary headquarters.  Men who were recognised as shipping agents were chased, caught and thrown in the river.  Songs were sung in the Blue Anchor taproom.  There was dancing to a bagpipe. But the leaders who met with the colony authorities were canny, adroit in their dealings.  When the Scots left for the frontier, retribution for the various losses suffered during the voyage had been made, and the groups were happy.  Pipers marched ahead along the forest trails in the leaf-dappled summer sunlight, playing gay tunes.  Life on the frontier promised well.  There would be no more trouble with landlords or leases, like that in Ireland.  Each man was given enough space for himself here, and a chance for some fighting should the Indians turn ugly.

Philadelphia was the entry port for many of the Scots-Irish in the years leading up to the American Revolution.  It was, in some ways, the “Ellis Island” of that immigrant group, although their goals were far different, a difference not well grasped today.

More than three centuries have passed since the rowdies came to Philadelphia, but the issues then have not left us.  Indeed one way to interpret the divide our country experiences today is whether this nation is defined by the Scots-Irish or everyone else.

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