400 Years of Transatlantic Connections
Many people aren’t aware of the historical and cultural links between Ulster and Virginia. The two regions may be 3500 miles apart, separated by the Atlantic Ocean, but they are joined through common historical and cultural ties. The Ulster-Scots Agency hopes that the rediscovery of these connections will inspire you to learn more, and to visit Virginia and experience these connections for yourself.
Ulster and Virginia
In the early 1600s, both Ulster and Virginia were the focus of settlement and plantation plans:
• May 1606 - East Ulster
Under the private enterprise of James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery, lowland Scots arrived in large numbers to what were desolate Antrim and Down.
• May 1607 - Virginia
Three ships of English settlers founded Jamestown in Virginia.
• September 1610 - West Ulster
Following the Flight of the Earls from west Ulster in September 1607, Sir Arthur Chichester proposed two schemes to "plant" English and Scottish settlers into counties Armagh, Cavan, Donegal, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone. The "Plantation of Ulster" began in September 1610.
The Emigrations Begin
Ulster was unique - it was the only region of Europe to be colonized during the 16th and 17th centuries. As the 1600s continued, the British Isles were in great turmoil for much of the century. There were a few low-level attempts to migrate from Ulster to the New World, the most famous of which being The Eagle Wing which sailed from Groomsport on 9th September 1636, carrying 140 Ulster-Scots Presbyterians. There were a few other emigrations from Ulster to the New World during the late 1600s, one of which included Rev Francis Makemie of Donegal. He arrived in Maryland in 1683, and founded the Presbyterian Church in America.
King William III and Virginia
The "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 - 1690 (which saw the Dutch Prince William of Orange become King William III) brought a respite to the persecution of Presbyterians in Scotland and Ulster.
King William III, like many other British monarchs, was commemorated in the expanding English colonies in the New World. In Virginia, the town of Williamsburg, the College of William and Mary, and the Virginian counties of King William County, King and Queen County and Orange County are all named after William. New York was briefly renamed as New Orange - Orange in Connecticut and The Oranges in New Jersey are both named after William III, and Nassau in the Bahamas is named after William’s Dutch homeland, as is Nassau County in New York State.
William’s successor, Queen Anne, introduced the Act of Union in 1707 (to unite England and Scotland as a single state under a single Parliament) - but and also a series of "Test Acts" in 1704 and 1705. Just fifteen years after the Ulster-Scots Presbyterians had supported the Crown at the Siege of Derry and the Battle of the Boyne, they were once again being persecuted by the Crown. This, and other economic factors, meant that America was to become the refuge of around 250,000 Ulster-Scots during the 1700s. In May 1717 the ship Friends Goodwill sailed from Larne, beginning a huge exodus from Ulster to the New World that would continue until the end of the century.
(The recently-published book "
Our First Revolution – the Remarkable British Upheaval that Inspired America’s Founding Fathers" by the renowned American political journalist and historian Michael Barone shows the connections between the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the American Revolution of 1776).
Emigration to Virginia
Originally settling in Pennsylvania and Maryland, around 1732 the Scotch-Irish (as the Ulster-Scots were known in the USA) followed the pioneer Ulsterman John Lewis into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, establishing small farmsteads and churches.
"...Following upon his track came a tide of Scotch-Irishmen of Ulster..." (from The Valley Ulsterman by Armistead C Gordon, Williamsburg, 1896)
The region where the Scotch-Irish were most concentrated in the mid 1700s is today known as the counties of Botetourt, Rockbridge and Augusta.
From the 1700s - today
Through the American War of Independence, the American Civil War and right up to the present day, the Ulster-Scots/Scotch-Irish influence upon the state of Virginia has been a constant factor. A popular quotation often attributed to General George Washington during the War of Independence is "...if defeated everywhere else, I will make my final stand for liberty among the Scotch-Irish of my native Virginia...", although it is more likely that he didn’t use those specific words, but something very similar. A book published in 1788 quoted Washington as saying, in November 1776, that if defeated everywhere else, he would make a stand in Augusta County, Virginia. Augusta County was a Scotch-Irish heartland.
The most recent example of the rediscovery of Scotch-Irish identity in the USA is the book "Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America" by James Webb. James Webb is a highly-decorated Vietnam war veteran who served in the administration of President Ronald Reagan from 1985 - 1987. In 2006 he won the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate and went on to win the election in the state of Virginia, with the campaign slogan "Born Fighting". Senator James Webb will hopefully be attending the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC in June/July 2007 - the three regions chosen to participate at this year’s Festival are Northern Ireland, Virginia and Mekong Delta.
The Ulster-Scots Agency is delighted to be the publisher of this website. We hope that it will another important step in raising the profile of our historical and cultural links, and in strengthening the transatlantic connections between Ulster, Virginia and the United States.