Presbyterian Emigrants

Presbyterian Emigrants

The Scotch race resident in Ireland at the commencement of the eighteenth century were nearly all Presbyterians, and as such had experienced the oppressive measures of Charles II and James II. They had sympathized and acted with the British Nation in driving the latter tyrant from the throne and establishing the claims of his successor. Traditions of the Siege of Derry and the Battle of Boyne were carried wherever the Scotch-Irish went in the eighteenth century, and causes which led to the revolution in England in the preceding century were matters of common conversation and generally well understood. No man could have a proper appreciation of these causes and be ignorant of the rights of a British subject as by law established in the eighteenth century.

Again, the principles and usages of the church with which they are connected were well adapted to diffuse knowledge and elevate the character of the whole mass of the population. The constitution of their church required a learned, pious and zealous minister. It secured the choice of a pastor to the congregation and required his constant and active efforts in diffusing religious knowledge not only from the pulpit but from house to house. It required parents to maintain family religion not only in general terms, but descended to minute details. It demanded the regular appointment and installation of a class of officers to assist the pastor in carrying out wholesome discipline and the extension of knowledge and piety. It secured to these officers a power in all the judicatories of the church equal to that exercised by the ministers, and secured the parity of the ministry. In fact, such were their laws and usages that tyrants have never viewed them with any other than a jealous eye.

These ecclesiastical laws and usages were far from being a dead letter. A thirst for knowledge was excited among the people and means for its gratification devised from time to time. The school master did his work. Books of a theological, scientific and literary nature found a home in the cottage of the poor as well as in the palace of the rich. All pursuits and morality marked the habitations where catechetical instructions and pastoral visitations were maintained. A spirit of enterprise sprung up which could not be circumscribed by a territory so small as a few counties in the North of Ireland. At the commencement of the eighteenth century the people were seeking homes on the Western Continent. They came to New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania. They brought their religious principles and habits of order and industry. Congregations were organized and pastoral relations formed. Presbyteries and synods grew up. The tide of emigration flowed across the Atlantic and up the rivers, reached the base of the mountains and turned to the Southwest, following the ranges of the mountain until it poured its streams into the Valley of the Savannah. New congregations were formed and the cry of the destitute went into the ears of every presbytery and the ear of the Almighty. The ministers toiled in the school house, in the pulpit, in pastoral visitation and yet often found time to make a missionary tour from the Susquehanna to the Catawba.

Abundant revivals of religion followed these labors, a new corps of ministers were brought forward from time to time, new churches sprung up in the wilderness, new academies were established and collegiate institutions planned. This was the spirit, these were the works of the Scotch-Irish population on this continent at the middle of the eighteenth century. From these statements we learn the following characteristics of them:

1. They were a religious people — their minds in childhood had been deeply imbued with doctrinal knowledge and the moral precepts of Christianity.

2. They enjoyed the labors of a learned, pious and laborious ministry. A ministry, however, very inadequate in number to meet the wants of a population so numerous and widely scattered. Yet doing all that could be done to serve their generation and provide for the wants of posterity.

3. In their national synod was a bond of union and a means of producing a common sentiment and unity of action as well as of providing for the welfare of the several parts and the exercise of a general supervision.

4. A oneness of feeling naturally grew out of their migratory habits. A man of good feeling bred in Pennsylvania but who had resided in the two Carolinas and had friends dispersed over the whole intermediate space would feel bound by strong ties to every particular locality where these friends were known to be. These ties existed to an unusual extent among this population long after the War of Independence.

5. From the circumstances of their ancestors in Europe they had learned the importance of limiting the prerogatives of the crown by a strict construction of the law. They also had an idea well defined of what was meant by church rates and the lordly rule of an aristocracy in church and state. The arch policy of James I, founded on the maxim, “No bishop, no King,” was properly appreciated by many of them. The consequence of these various causes was a remarkable unanimity of sentiment and action in favor of independence when matters came to the crisis.