Pennsylvania: Scotch-Irish Centre (2)

Henry Jones Ford
CHAPTER IX (2) Start of Section

A letter has been preserved written by Robert Parke, in 1725, to his sister in Ireland, giving an account of the conditions which settlers then encountered. He was living in what is now Delaware County, west of Philadelphia. His sister had written to him that report had reached Ireland that emigrants thence to Pennsylvania were dissatisfied. This prompted him to go into details. He declares it is:

"The best country for working folk & tradesmen of any in the world. . . . Land is of all Prices, Even from ten Pounds to one hundred Pounds a hundred, according to the goodness or else the situation thereof, & Grows dearer every year by Reason of Vast Quantities of People that come here yearly from Several Ports of the world."

He mentions that the rate for passage between Philadelphia and Ireland is nine pounds. Supplies are plentiful, the market price for beef, pork or mutton being two and one-half pence a pound. The country abounds with fruit.

"As for chestnuts, wallnuts, & hasel nuts, strawberrys, bilberrys, & mulberrys, they grow wild in the woods and fields in Vast Quantities. ... A Reaper has two shills. & 3 pence a day a mower has 2 shills. & 6 pence & a pint of Rum, beside meat & drink of the best; for no workman works without their victuals in the bargain throughout the Country. A Laboring man has 18 or 20 pence a day in winter."

He advises his sister to bring plenty of clothes, shoes, stockings and hats, for such things are dear. Stockings cost four shillings and a pair of shoes, seven shillings.

"A saddle that will cost 18 or 20 Shills. in Ireland will cost here 50 Shills. or 3 pounds & not so good neither."

The writer remarks that notwithstanding high prices for manufactured articles, "a man will Sooner Earn a suit of Cloths here than in Ireland, by Reason workmen's Labour is so dear."

The reference to the increasing price of land of course applies chiefly to the region between the Delaware and the Susquehanna first opened to settlement. Scotch-Irish immigration flowed around the Quaker settlements and poured into the interior with a force that annoyed provincial authorities. Writing in 1730, Secretary Logan complains that the Scotch-Irish in an "audacious and disorderly manner" settled on the Conestoga Manor, a tract of 15,000 acres reserved by the Penns for themselves. Logan says the settlers alleged that it "was against the laws of God and nature, that so much land should be idle while so many Christians wanted it to labor on and to raise their bread."

It was, however, Logan himself who introduced them into that country, which took its name from the Susquehannock town of Conestoga, lying northwest of the creek of the same name. The title of the Indians was extinguished by the treaty concluded by Penn in 1718, but Indian towns were still so thick along the valley of the Susquehanna that it was deemed advisable to use the Scotch-Irish as a frontier garrison. In a letter dated November 18, 1729, Logan says:

"About that time [1720] considerable numbers of good, sober people came in from Ireland, who wanted to be settled. At the same time, also, it happened that we were under some apprehensions from ye Northern Indians. ... I therefore thought it might be prudent to plant a settlement of such men as those who formerly had so bravely defended Londonderry and Inniskillen, as a frontier, in case of any disturbance. Accordingly, ye township of Donegal was settled, some few by warrants at ye certain price of 10s. per hundred [acres] but more so without any. These people, however, if kindly used will, I believe, be orderly, as they have hitherto been, and easily dealt with. They will also, I expect, be a leading example to others."

It was the policy of Penn and his associates to make large reservations for themselves. Penn sold nearly 300,000 acres to persons in England who had never seen the land but who acquired it with a view to its prospective value. If their desires had been gratified there might have developed in Pennsylvania a tenant system with absentee landlords like that from which Ireland is now extricating herself. The chief instrument by which this system was frustrated appears to have been the Scotch-Irish. As the available lands in Donegal Township were taken up these people spread into the manor, and the Proprietors had to make terms with them.

Logan's successor, Richard Peters, had a similar experience in what is now Adams County. The Penns had reserved for themselves a tract of some 40,000 acres including the site of Gettysburg and the land southward to the Maryland line. Scotch-Irish emigrants settled in this country, and in 1743 Peters undertook to dispossess them. Seventy of the settlers confronted Peters, who had with him a sheriff and a magistrate, and strongly protested. Peters had brought surveyors to plat the region but the settlers would not allow them to proceed. A number of indictments were brought, but in the end the cases were compromised, the Scotch-Irish settlers being left in possession of their holdings with titles from Penn for a nominal consideration.

The Proprietors, while thus reserving to themselves large manors, and quite willing to use the Scotch-Irish to ward off Indian incursions, were unwilling to help bear the public burdens. This was a chronic issue between the Governor and the Assembly, the Governor importuning the Assembly to lay taxes for the public defense, and yet rejecting all bills that did not exempt the Proprietary estates. In his Autobiography Benjamin Franklin mentions a bill which set forth "that all estates, real and personal, were to be taxed; those of the Proprietaries not excepted." The Governor agreed to approve the bill, with the change of only a single word. His amendment was that "only" should be sustituted for "not." Franklin says that the account of these proceedings, transmitted to England, "raised a clamor against the Proprietaries for their meanness and injustice in giving their Governor such instructions; some going so far as to say, that, by obstructing the defense of their province, they forfeited their right to it."

That was a view of the case upon which the Scotch-Irish were inclined to act. It is noted as a racial characteristic that they were opposed to paying any rent, however small. This aversion is amply explained by their experience in Ulster, where rents had been raised after they had settled the country and made the lands valuable by their industry.

In habits and mode of living there was little to distinguish the Scotch-Irish from other settlers, except their attachment to Presbyterianism. There were some Scotch-Irish among the Quakers, James Logan himself was one of these, but the proportion was very small. Many of the Irish Quakers who emigrated to Pennsylvania were natives of England who had lived only a few years in Ireland. The Scotch-Irish who settled in America had to adapt their ways of life to the new conditions. Their style of dress was that which was common among the backwoodsmen, and in general they fell into the folkways of the frontier. Particular information about their manners and customs is meagre. Journals kept by pioneer ministers have been preserved, but they rarely contain any descriptive matter. In the Diary of the Rev. David McClure there is an entry under date of October 17, 1772, when he was in the Youghiogheny region:

"Attended a marriage, where the guests were all Virginians. It was a scene of wild and confused merriment. . . . The manners of the people of Virginia, who have removed into these parts, are different from those of the Presbyterians and Germans. They are much addicted to drinking parties, gambling, horseracing and fighting. They are hospitable and prodigal."

These Virginia customs have been sometimes exhibited as Scotch-Irish. An account which has been drawn upon for that purpose is one written by the Rev. Joseph Doddridge, whose father settled in Washington County in 1773. His Notes which were prepared for publication in 1824 give a vivid and authentic account of pioneer society. Mr. Fisher, in his Making of Pennsylvania, refers to it as "the best description we have of the colonial Scotch-Irish." But Doddridge did not describe the Scotch-Irish. The people with whom he was reared came from Maryland and Virginia, and he expressly disclaims any particular knowledge of the Scotch-Irish settlers. He says:

"With the descendants of the Irish I had but little acquaintance, although I lived near them. At an early period they were comprehended in the Presbyterian Church, and were, therefore, more reserved in their deportment than their frontier neighbors, and from their situation, being less exposed to the Indian warfare, took less part in that war."

The reference is to the outbreak of Indian hostilities in 1774, known as Dunmore's War. Doddridge attributes to the Presbyterians the introducing of religious worship and the founding of educational institutions in the western country. There is no denominational bias in his testimony, as he was reared in the Methodist Church, entered its ministry and eventually became an Episcopal clergyman. Writing to Bishop White in 1818, to give an account of religious conditions, Doddridge declared:

"To the Presbyterians alone we are indebted for almost the whole of our literature. They began their labors at an early period of the settlement of the country, and have extended their ecclesiastical and educational establishments so as to keep pace with the extension of our population; with a Godly care which does them honor."

Doddridge was educated at a Presbyterian institution, Jefferson College, at Canonsburg, Pa., and he never forgot his indebtedness to it. The account he gives of frontier conditions doubtless describes dress, home crafts and customs which the Scotch-Irish adopted in common with other settlers. They may have made some contribution to the stock, a possible allusion to which is Doddridge's mention that among the dances was one called the "Irish trot." In general frontier customs reflected frontier conditions. The dress of the men showed the influence of Indian example. In colonial times this style of dress prevailed throughout the interior. It should be remembered that the frontier was for a long period close to the coast. There were Indian camps even in Bucks County, the oldest section under European occupation. Doddridge's account, although made from observations in western Pennsylvania in the last quarter of the century, may be taken as characteristic of frontier conditions everywhere before the growth of factories and the construction of railroads transformed living conditions. He says:

"The hunting shirt was universally worn. This was a kind of loose frock, reaching half way down the thighs, with long sleeves, open before, and so wide as to lap over a foot or more when belted. The cape was large and sometimes handsomely fringed with a ravelled piece of cloth of a different color from that of the hunting shirt itself. The bosom of this dress served as a wallet to hold a chunk of bread, cakes, jerk, tow for wiping the barrel of the rifle, or any other necessary for the hunter or warrior. The belt, which was always tied behind, answered several purposes besides that of holding the dress together. In cold weather the mittens, and sometimes the bullet bag, occupied the front part of it. To the right side was suspended the tomahawk, and to the left the scalping knife in its leathern sheath. The hunting shirt was generally made of linsey, sometimes of coarse linen, and a few of dressed deerskins. These last were very cold and uncomfortable in wet weather. The shirt and jacket were of the common fashion. A pair of drawers, or breeches and leggins, were the dress of the thighs and legs; a pair of moccasons answered for the feet much better than shoes. They were made of dressed deerskin. They were mostly made of a single piece with a gathering seam along the top of the foot, and another along the bottom of the heel, without gathers as high as the ankle joint or a little higher. Flaps were left on each side to reach some distance up the legs. These were nicely adapted to the ankles and lower part of the leg by thongs of deerskin, so that no dust, gravel or snow could get within the moccason.

"The moccasons in ordinary use cost but a few hours labor to make them. This was done by an instrument denominated a moccason awl, which was made from the back spring of an old clasp knife. This awl with its buck's horn handle was an appendage of every shot pouch strap, together with a roll of buckskin for mending the moccasons. This was the labor of almost every evening. They were sewed together and patched with deerskin thongs, or whangs, as they were commonly called. In cold weather the moccasons were well stuffed with deers' hair or dry leaves, so as to keep the 'feet comfortably warm; but in wet weather it was usually said that wearing them was 'a decent way of going barefooted,' and such was the fact, owing to the spongy texture of the leather of which they were made.

"The women usually went barefooted in warm weather. Instead of the toilet, they had to handle the distaff or shuttle, the sickle or weeding hoe, contented if they could obtain their linsey clothing and cover their heads with a sunbonnet made of six or seven hundred linen. The coats and bedgowns of the women, as well as the hunting shirts of the men, were hung in full display on wooden pegs round the walls of their cabins, so while they answered in some degree the place of paper hangings or tapestries, they announced to the stranger as well as neighbor, the wealth or poverty of the family in the articles of clothing.

"The fort consisted of cabins, block houses and stockades. A range of cabins commonly formed one side at least of the fort. Divisions 6r partitions of logs separated the cabins from each other. The walls on the outside were ten or twelve feet high, the slope of the roof being turned wholly inward. A very few of these cabins had puncheon floors; the greater part were earthen. The block houses were built at the angles of the fort. They projected about two feet beyond the outer walls of the cabins and stockades. Their upper stories were about eighteen inches every way larger in dimensions than the under one, leaving an opening at the commencement of the second story to prevent the enemy from making a lodgment under the walls. In some forts, instead of block houses, the angles of the fort were furnished with bastions. A large folding gate made of thick slabs, nearest the spring, closed the fort. The stockades, bastions, cabins and blockhouse walls were furnished with portholes at proper heights and distances. . . . The whole of this work was made without the aid of a single nail or spike of iron, and for this reason—such things were not to be had. In some places less exposed, a single blockhouse, with a cabin or two, constituted the whole fort. Such places of refuge may appear very trifling to those who have been in the habit of seeing the formidable military garrisons of Europe and America; but they answered the purpose, as the Indians had no artillery. They seldom attacked, and scarcely ever took one of them."

The settlers were naturally loath to leave their own cabins, abandoning their live stock and other possessions, until absolutely compelled to do so, and usually they did not repair to the fort until actual bloodshed showed that the Indians were on the ground. Doddridge gives a vivid account of his own experience. He says:

"I well remember that, when a little boy, the family was sometimes waked up in the dead of night, by an express with a report that the Indians were at hand. The express came softly to the door, or back window, and by a gentle tapping waked the family. This was easily done, as an habitual fear made us ever watchful and sensible to the slightest alarm. The whole family were instantly in motion. My father seized his gun and other implements of war. My stepmother waked up and dressed the children as well as she could, and being myself the oldest of the children, I had to take my share of the burdens to be carried to the fort. There was no possibility of getting a horse in the night to aid us in removing to the fort. Besides the little children, we caught up what articles of clothing and provision we could get hold of in the dark, for we durst not light a candle or even stir the fire. All this was done with the utmost dispatch, and the silence of death. The greatest care was taken not to awaken the youngest child. To the rest it was enough to say Indian and not a whimper was heard afterward. Thus it often happened that the whole number of families belonging to a fort who were in the evening at their homes, were all in their little fortress before the dawn of the next morning. In the course of the succeeding day, their household furniture was brought in by parties of the men under arms."