The “Scots-Irish” and Appalachia, Part 1

Altazara Smith and children

Altazara Smith and children


After all these years of being told that the “Scots-Irish” are the embodiment of Southern Appalachian culture, that the “Scots-Irish” are the progenitors of mountain music, that the “Scots-Irish” virtually built America, that the “Scots-Irish” were “born fighting” and thus the reason for feud culture and honor killing in the hills and hollers…

No.  This researcher has cast an eye over quite literally tens of thousands of records from every county in Southern Appalachia, and is yet to find one single town, one single county, in which these “Scots-Irish” were the majority ethnic group.

Even the feuds so beloved of American lore only rarely featured families with ancestry able to be traced back to Northern Ireland.

French versus Eversole.

Tolliver versus Martin.

Hacker versus Barger.

Swafford versus Tollett.

Hensley versus DeZarn.

Even Hatfield versus McCoy.

Howard. Philpot. Mullins. Begley. Sizemore. Ingram.

Not a son of Ulster among ’em. Most reputable historians actually based in Ireland are deeply sceptical of this ethnic category called “Scots-Irish” – at least in the sense that the term is used in America.

Ulster, the northernmost province of Ireland, from the time of English (and Welsh and Scottish) colonisation in the early 1600s until the American Revolution, was not ethnically-cleansed of its Gaelic inhabitants, and nor were the many English, Scottish and Welsh labourers piling into Ulster during “plantation” universally Protestant, never mind Presbyterian.

Many were simply migrant labourers escaping hard times in Wales, Northern England and lowland Scotland, chasing the “boom” occurring in the Wild West of Plantation (colonised) Ulster.

Unlike many American immigrants, the so-called “Scots-Irish” – actual Ulster  Presbyterians with Scottish ancestry – often left a reasonable paper trail, in the form of congregational and ship’s charter documents, and it is not terribly difficult to trace their subsequent land transactions and migrations.

No, southern Appalachia was settled and colonised by a far more complex mish-mash of peoples.

And to understand it, we will need to discover why women in the mountains carried names such as “Altazara Smith” (see photo).

Next week we will begin publishing and sharing a compendium of Appalachian female names.

Let’s just say these names seem rather unusual for Ulster Protestants…


#BeforeWeWereWhite #history #ScotsIrish #appalachia #names #genealogy

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