Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
The character of the Scots-Irish has been shrouded in myth almost from the moment the first Ulster immigrants disembarked at Philadelphia in the 1710s. Contemporaries condemned the Scots-Irish as lazy, illiterate, uncouth, and violent. Later hagiographers, however, praised them as ruggedly individualistic, liberty-loving people who brought civilization to the American wilderness. Recent historians have done little to advance this debate. While re-stating these simplistic stereotypes, modern scholars have failed to ground their arguments in extensive analyses of primary sources. While numerous monographs studying other ethnic and cultural groups in colonial America have appeared over the last thirty years, none as been published on the Scots-Irish. My dissertation fills this gap in the historiography of colonial America. By comparing the cultural maturation of Scots-Irish communities in the Pennsylvania and North Carolina backcountries from 1715 to 1775, this study describes the growth and preservation of a unique Scots-Irish ethnic identity. Following the methods of ethnohistorians, it examines Scots-Irish economic, social, religious, and political values, attitudes, and behavior as a means of examining the continued strength of the group's unique self-image. The Scots-Irish in the eighteenth-century American backcountry illustrate the continuing power of ethnicity better than any other group of people. Although the novel conditions of the American frontier partially undermined Scots-Irish ethnic uniformity and distinctiveness, the settlers struggled to re-create as much of the identity and culture that they had known in northern Ireland as possible. In both colonies, Ulster immigrants preserved their unique institutions, traditions, and beliefs; observed strict ethnic exclusivity in their economic, social, and religious lives; and clashed with other ethnic groups in politics and social affairs. On the eve of the Revolution, ethnicity continued to determine many of the Scots-Irish immigrants' actions in western Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Their sense of themselves as a distinct people within the diverse eighteenth-century American backcountry remained very powerful. They still identified themselves as Scots-Irishmen or Irishmen more than Britons, Americans, Pennsylvanians, or North Carolinians.
Yeager, Kevin Lee, "The Power of Ethnicity: the Preservation of Scots -Irish Culture in the Eighteenth-Century American Backcountry." (2000). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 7401.