Family tradition passed down by my maternal grandmother, Lola, says that we are Scots-Irish. Now what does that mean? Unfortunately, Dear Reader, I need to give a history lesson.
You remember Henry VIII of England, don’t you? He was the one with all the wives and religious unrest. Anyways, in 1541 the Irish Parliament passed the Crown of Ireland Act. It stated that whoever was the King of England was also the King of Ireland.
Now here’s when the fun begins. Protestant-raised Edward VI, Henry VIII’s and third wife Jane Seymour’s son, was the first of Henry’s children to ascend to the throne. Edward abolished the mass, clerical celibacy, and decreed that all religious services were to be conducted in English. The sickly Edward died at the age of fifteen.
Next in line, Mary I, Henry’s heir from his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon, was a devout Catholic. Mary reinstated Catholicism as the official religion of England. She reinforced this by burning 280 Protestant dissenters at the stake, two from the Bird branch of our family tree. Mary reigned for five years and died without children.
The last of Henry’s children to rule England was Elizabeth I. Elizabeth was the child from the union of Henry and the beheaded Anne Boleyn. She established what is now known as the Church of England. Reigning for over 44 years, she was more religiously tolerant than her siblings. Elizabeth was labeled the “Virgin Queen”, never married or had children. Upon her death King James VI of Scotland, a Scottish Presbyterian, assumed the throne as James I as king of England, Ireland, and Scotland. James was the great grandson of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret.
King James I created the Plantation of Ulster to strengthen England’s Protestant control over the Roman Catholic population of Northern Ireland. James, unable to persuade his English subjects to migrate to Ireland, opted to entice the Protestant Presbyterian Lowland Scots to move. Over 100,000 Scottish migrated to the Ulster Plantation between 1607 and 1697. On a side note, our Highlander cousins were seen as more “wild and unruly” than the native Catholic Irish.
As the Scots-Irish of the Ulster Plantation began to prosper, laws to protect English trade were passed at the expense of the Irish. These laws were meant to only tax the Irish Roman Catholics, but instead also taxed the Presbyterian Scots-Irish. Because of this religious and economic persecution, more than 250,000 Scots-Irish immigrated to the American Colonies between 1717 and1775.
While researching the Scots-Irish I ran across a this quote: “If all else fails, I will retreat up the valley of Virginia, plant my flag on the Blue Ridge, rally around the Scotch-Irish of that region, and make my last stand for liberty amongst a people who will never submit to British tyranny whilst there is a man left to draw a trigger” George Washington at Valley Forge.
Now that the historical background has been explained, let’s learn about our Scots-Irish ancestors and their encounters in the New World.