The Pre-Revolutionary Scots-Irish migration.
Due to the paucity of data for migrations to the American Colonies, it is not know how many M'Millan immigrants arrived before the American Revolution, let alone how many were Scots-Irish. Estimates of total number of Scots-Irish immigrants to the American Colonies run from 250,000 and 400,000, making them the second largest European immigrant group prior to the American Revolution. Despite this, the Scots-Irish are virtually ignored by American history textbooks. This is one factor those with this ancestry are all too often unaware of it.
The Scottish Lowlands before 1600.
In 1600, immediately prior the migration to Ulster, Scotland was economically distressed, technologically backward and politically chaotic compared to the rest of Western Europe. By our standards life was short (the average life expectancy at this time was said to be 35 years) and brutish.
During the "Covenanting Times" records have numerous Galloway MacMillans signing petitions against the forced acceptance of Episcopacy, imprisoned even executed for their faith. See Clan MacMillan Magazine, Issue 9, Nov. 2007 for an article titled "Covenanting MacMillans in Galloway".
Scotland had been without a strong monarchy since the death of Robert Bruce in 1329. Subsequent kings until the 17th century had little control over the country, rendering Scotland, in effect, more a collection of fiefdoms than a nation. Noblemen owned the land with the vast majority of the population living as their tenants. These tenants tilled the land, paid rent and served as soldiers when called upon by their lord to do so. Agriculture was extremely primitive, the staple crops being grey oats and a poor grade of barley. Crop rotation was not yet in use. The steel plow was almost nonexistent in Scotland, so crude wooden plows were pulled by horses or oxen with the plow often tied to the tails of the livestock, a team of men and women needed to facilitate this. Only the eastern Lowlands had fertile farmland. The southwestern Lowlands, including Galloway, homeland of one MacMillan branch, had thin rocky soil, only suited to raising livestock.
Even when war wasn't declared between England and Scotland, noblemen on both sides raided across the border. Cattle reiving and feuds combined with the frequent invasions of the English to create a chronically lawless, violent environment. Add famine, poor harvests and the occasional visit by the Bubonic Plague (the latest of which was 1648) to round out a picture of general misery difficult for one living in the 21st century to comprehend.
From the Lowlands to Ulster, (1606 - c.1700).
In 1603 James VI of Scotland became James I, monarch of England, Wales, Scotland and nominally of Ireland. He was eager to both upgrade Scotland's economy and colonize. England had repeatedly invaded Ireland, meeting military success but failing in long-term colonization, unable to maintain long-term control beyond "The Pale", (Dublin and those counties adjacent to it). Benefits to the Crown of "The Plantation", as the effort to colonize Ulster became known, included draining excess population from the Lowlands, increased production and a way to suppress the native Catholic Irish in this most rebellious part of the island. James I specifically excluded Highlanders from this enterprise. Though the McDonell Earls of Antrim settled many Highlanders from their ancestral estates in Scotland on their lands in Northern Ireland.
Plentiful harvests by early Ulster settlers in 1606 and 1607 provided an incentive for other Lowlanders to migrate, offering the only alternative to a bleak existence as tenant farmers in the Lowlands. English and later French colonists to Ulster would introduce the Scots immigrants to improved agricultural methods allowing them prosperity out of reach to the Lowlanders.
While the Renaissance had little impact on Scotland, the Reformation did. John Knox introduced Presbyterianism in the late 16th century. Lowlanders quickly evolved from indifferent Catholics to passionate Presbyterians. Presbyterians were vehemently anti-Catholic, making them perfect for the role they were given to pacify Ulster and displace the indigenous Catholics. The Presbyterianism of the Ulstermen would be in the more strict, conservative vein of the Lowland Covenanters.
Ulster Scots to America (1717 - 1775).
The decision to emigrate to the New World in the 18th century wasn't taken lightly by any European. The voyage was a long and dangerous one as opposed to the 20-30 mile trip from Scotland to Ulster. This migration was to arrive in five great surges, all primarily due to economic conditions in Ulster, though there was a lesser flow ongoing in intervening years. Drought was the principal cause in 1717-1718; high taxes and rents for 1725-1729; famine in 1740-1741; drought again in 1754-1755 and dramatically increased rents combined with overpopulation in 1771-1775. Additional incentives were religious persecution, ongoing strife with the indigenous Catholic Irish and trade restrictions in later years which decimated the formerly prosperous wool and linen industries.
Initial Scots-Irish immigration focused on Massachusetts. The Ulster Presbyterians assumed common religious beliefs (Presbyterianism and Puritanism shared Calvinist roots) would gain acceptance by established Puritan colonists. However, Plymouth's "Shining City on the Hill" was rigidly conformist. The Puritan colonists quickly saw the Scots-Irish as uncouth and combative, encouraging them to move west. New Hampshire had a sizable Scots-Irish settlement, 10% of the state's population in the 17th century. Eventually, the ships carrying the Ulster immigrants were turned away altogether, only welcomed by William Penn's Pennsylvania.
One of the first Scots-Irish McMillan families that we know of in North America were Quakers. Thomas McMillan & Deborah Marsh were married in County Armagh, Ireland, in 1727, and emigrated to Chester County PA in 1738/9.
It is estimated that approximately 75% of Scots-Irish entered the American colonies through Philadelphia and adjacent ports. William Penn and his Quaker colony (Penn's "Holy Experiment" as he termed it) accepted all immigrants with open arms in stark contrast with other colonies. As in Massachusetts, the belligerent Scots-Irish were to test the tolerance of the established pacifist colonists. They were unable to compete economically with the prosperous Quakers and Germans so tended to move on.
The vast majority of emigrants from Ireland to America before 1840 were the Protestants whose ancestors had been Scottish Lowlanders, along with minorities of English Puritans and French Huguenots. Andrew Leyburn, author of The Scotch-Irish, A Social History, has these at 20% and 5% respectively. While the descendants of Scots, English and French usually settled apart in Ulster, they mingled on arrival in America. This migration would come to an abrupt halt in 1775, the British government belatedly coming to realize that the influx of Scots-Irish was providing recruits for the Patriot army.
Most of those Scots-Irish who didn't enter the colonies through Pennsylvania and some who did arrived to become indentured servants, usually a four to seven-year indenture. This provided the only route the poor could afford, those who didn't have the funds to pay for their passage and financially fend for themselves in this new world. New England had little demand for indentured servants, so they tended to immigrate to the middle and southern colonies. On arrival in America they would be bid on by potential employers who would repay those who transported them or their agents. This indenture usually specified the indentured servants would be taught the skills necessary to subsist in this new land and, on fulfilling their indenture, be provided the basic tools to make their way. Pennsylvania would award a 50 acre plot to those who completed their indenture. Many on the frontier were those who broke their indenture. As their employment was temporary, many of their employers, especially in southern colonies, treated them as rented property, often with more cruelty than their slaves.
Migrating west and south.
Free (at least temporarily), unsettled wilderness on the frontier was the primary attraction. Before the American Revolution this would have been the eastern slope of the Appalachian Mountains. They followed the Philadelphia Wagon Road first west then south, eventually as far as Georgia. Initially a buffalo trail, later an Indian trace, it was eventually to become a pioneer trail. See a map of their migration routes and settlements. This route ran adjacent to the Conestoga Valley from which the conestoga wagon derives its name, the vehicle which later aided this migration south.
Their settlements became a protective buffer between the established English and German settlements of the eastern seaboard and the often hostile native tribes to the west. Their experience in decades of strife in Ulster served them well on the frontier, this combined with the guerrilla tactics borrowed from the American Indians. The advent of the long rifle - initially the product of Lancaster, Pennsylvania developed by German and Swiss immigrants - gave them the wherewithal to effectively hunt in the wilderness and defend themselves against hostile Native American tribes. Marksmanship was a much admired skill on the frontier.
Assault on the frontier: the French & Indian War (1756 - 1763).
Ignoring both Crown policy and that of the pacifist colonial Quaker legislators of Pennsylvania, the frontier settlers moved into the tribal lands causing intermittent friction. Large-scale Indian aggression on the frontier was precipitated, in part, by the defeat of Braddock's British army in what is now Ohio in 1755, a year before the French and Indian War was declared. The ineffectiveness of the regular British Army and its European tactics in the wilderness created the perception among the Indians that they could easily regain the lands settled by the Europeans. As an additional incentive the French paid Indians for both scalps and captives. Early in the war one French officer wrote "It is incredible what quantity of scalps they bring us... These miserable English are in the extremities of distress". Thousands of settlers died at the hands of the Indians and entire frontier towns were wiped out. To survive, the settlers had to adopt Indian tactics and respond in kind, the British military having almost no presence on the frontier. After the French defeat, hostilities continued with Pontiac's Rebellion (1763-1766).
One of the best documented Scots-Irish McMillan families is that of the brothers Andrew and John McMillan who emigrated to New Hampshire from the parish of Dunboe in County Londonderry in about 1754. Andrew set up a store in Concord NH and fought with Rogers Rangers in the French & Indian War, for which service he was rewarded with extensive land grants in the vicinity of Conway NH. He married Hannah Ozgood in 1761 and served as Colonel of the 15th New Hampshire Regiment in the Revolution. Andrew's son John was a general.
The Scots-Irish were to experience the American Revolution on two fronts: the conventional war with the British forces in the coastal areas of the colonies and the guerrilla war with Native tribes on the frontier. A mainstay of the patriot Revolutionary army, George Washington considered the Scots-Irish indispensable. In testimony before Parliament, a British general reported "half the regular Continental Army was from Ireland" (Scots-Irish). King George was to label the American Revolution a "Presbyterian War".
One such Ulster immigrant was Alexander McMillan (1749-1837) from County Derry, Ireland. Immediately upon landing in Boston in 1775 he enlisted in the Patriot army, joining the invasion of Canada. He was to serve the cause through the Battle of King's Mountain in 1780. Soon thereafter he moved near Knoxville, Tennessee where his house still stands, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Militia units on the frontier were to again face Native American tribes, this time allied to Great Britain, renewing their assault on frontier settlements as with the French and Indian War and Pontiac's Rebellion. This was primarily a war of skirmish and ambush, not the set-piece battles further east. The frontiersmen replied in kind, repeatedly attacking the towns of the native tribes, burning vast stores of corn and other foodstuffs, crippling the Indian tribes' economies as well as inflicting casualties. Thousands were to die among both the settlers and the Native Americans fighting them.
"The Melting Pot" beyond the Appalachian Mountains.
In 1763 the Crown made a proclamation that no Europeans should settle beyond the Appalachian Mountains, lands newly acquired by Britain from the defeated French. However, by 1771 frontier families were trickling through the Cumberland Gap and the Wilderness Road farther south. With a cessation of widespread Indian aggression after the American Revolution this would become a flood. Again, the Scots-Irish would be at the forefront to settle this new frontier.
Presbyterian Scots-Irish would often become Methodists or Baptists due to a scarcity of Presbyterian ministers on the frontier. To be ordained, Presbyterian ministers were required to have a college education which limited their numbers. Unable to minister to the scattered frontier settlements, the void was filled with Baptist and Methodist preachers. They were often semi-literate but delivered a more emotional message. By 1810 Baptists and Methodists would far outnumber Presbyterians.
An excerpt from Clan MacMillan, A New History by Graeme Mackenzie MA:
Perhaps the most notable of the Scots-Irish Presbyterians to emerge from the MacMillan exodus to the New World was the man remembered as the "Apostle of the West"; the Rev. Dr. John McMillan (born 1752 in Chester Co., Pennsylvania; died 1833 in Cannonsburg, PA). He was the grandson of Samuel McMillan from Carmony, Co. Antrim, and his father William emigrated to Pennsylvania sometime between 1738 and 1742. Rev. John graduated from Princeton College in 1771, and married Catherine Brown in 1776. From about 1780 he taught Latin and Greek to prospective ministers in a log cabin at Shannon Run in Washington County, PA. The "John McMillan Log Academy" is considered the first school west of the Allegeny Mountains. He served in the militia during the Revolution and in 1791 he and another minister founded the Cannonsburg Academy, into which he moved his log cabin students. He also helped found the Pittsbugh Academy - later the University of Pittsburgh - and he is said to have educated over 100 ministers and preached over 6,000 sermons in his career.
National origins blurred as the Scots-Irish integrated with other descendants of British immigrants and later with descendants of those from other countries. One writer noted that with each stage west a pioneer moved, so a layer of civilization was stripped away as did ties to European culture and institutions. The rigid hierarchy under which their Lowland Scottish ancestors had lived would gradually be discarded. Concepts such as aristocracy and terms like "peasant" would be left behind. In 20th century polls, descendants of the Scots-Irish would classify their ethnicity simply as "American".