Scotch or Irish

Like most Americans, my DNA is a variety of nationalities and cultures. The Westward Sagas series describes the 100-year odyssey of the Adam Mitchell Family, Scotch-Irish ancestors who arrived in Pennsylvania ca 1720 and ended up in Texas during the Texas Revolution.

In both Book 1: Spring House and Book 2: Adam’s Daughters, there are numerous references to the Scotch-Irish. At book signings and speaking events, I am often asked the meaning of the word Scotch (pertaining to people). After being asked how one’s ancestors can be from a place called Scotch, which is the native whisky of Scotland, I started calling my ancestors Scots-Irish. Then a confused Irishman said to me, “You should check it out man. You’re either Irish or Scots; you can’t be both.”

I began to research the term and found that it is only used in America or by Americans abroad. Citizens of the U.K. are appalled by its use. Yet, Wikipedia says 3.5M Americans, 1.2% of the U.S. population, claim to be Scots-Irish. Many famous Americans—such as Andrew Jackson, Elvis Presley, Ulysses S. Grant, John McCain, Neil Armstrong, and George S. Patton—profess to be Scots- or Scotch-Irish.

Where did the word come from? What does it mean? One thing is certain whether it is Scots- or Scotch-Irish. The name was chosen by the two hundred fifty thousand Protestant dissenters from the Irish province of Ulster who immigrated to the thirteen colonies from 1710 to 1775. Most were Protestants (Presbyterians) from the lowlands of Scotland before being recruited by King James in a land scheme to propagate his Protestant plantation of Ulster.

The King of Scots failed to advise (or it was in the fine print of their forty-year lease) that the lands they were leasing were presently occupied by Irish Catholics who had lived there before them for hundreds of years. The Catholics were not going to give up their lands easily. Needless to say, the Scots were not met with open arms. During the Catholic Rebellion, four thousand Protestant settlers were massacred and thousands more died from illness and starvation after being driven from their homes.

Those Scots that survived became great warriors; their fathers had survived the border wars of Scotland and England. “They were born to fight,” says Senator James Webb in his book on the subject, Born Fighting. The Scots never felt at home on the Emerald Isle and when given a chance to leave, two hundred fifty thousand Scots jumped at the opportunity. They boarded overloaded vessels and sailed months at sea, many dying on board, indenturing themselves up to ten years for the opportunity to get out of Ireland.

Arriving in Colonial America, they were asked, “Where are you from?” They answered, “Scotchmen from Ireland,” which became Scotch-Irish. They were America’s first hyphenated Americans.

During the American Revolution and the War of 1812, these hyphenated warriors fought for independence and the lands that they owned. They fought side by side with immigrants from many nations, who afterward called themselves Americans.

Hopefully, all hyphenated U.S. citizens will someday drop the hyphen and call themselves Americans. That is my Memorial Day wish in this 235th year of our nation’s independence.

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