Scots-Irish and the Clearances -- Page 1

ighland Clearances

written by Iain Kerr

© COPYRIGHT 1997 by Iain Kerr

Reproduced here with express permission of Iain Kerr.

Scots-Irish And the Clearances

The movement of People between Scotland and Ireland -
And Onward Emigration to North America, Australia and New Zealand

Notes covering the origins of the Scots and Irish peoples, some aspects of the history of England, Ireland and Scotland; associated religious disputes and the Covenant: all being influences on the movement of Scots people to Ireland and onward to the former British colonies or diirectly to those colonies. Includes a list of potentially useful references.

Compiled by Iain Kerr at [email protected]

I have been asked by a number of conventional correspondents and more recently contacts on the Compuserve Genealogy Forum to answer questions on the background to the emigration of Scots and Irish people to the Americas and beyond. These notes cover the main historical background to those movements. The attempt an approximately chronological outline of the major incidents which caused population movements in Scotland, from Scotland to Ireland and either directly, or through an intervening refuge, from Scotland and Ireland to the Americas and later Australia.


The racial mixture of the populations of the British Isles is highly complex; largely due to the continued movement of significant portions of the population throughout recorded history. The population of Scotland in the 16th and early 17th centuries was made up from the remnants of the early Celtic inhabitants of the British Isles, of Roman invaders and settlers, the Angles, Jutes, Saxon and Viking invaders of the Dark Ages from continental Europe, later Flemings from the Low Countries and the Normans (themselves of Viking origin) who came north after the conquest of England in 1066. The Irish population at the same time was a mix of the early Celts, Picts and other Hibernian invaders plus Viking and other incomers.

The movement of people between Scotland, England and Ireland over the centuries has been driven by a variety of pressures; political, economic, family ties, religious issues and the problems suffered during times of all types of armed conflict and war. There is also a very long history of such movements from the days of the Viking invaders in the Dark Ages of the 5th to 7th centuries up to the times of the potato blight in Ireland of the mid 19th century.

Some movements have sometimes been loosely referred to as clearances; there were several actual clearance campaigns in Scotland and in Ireland, conducted either directly by the English/British Crown or by substantial land-owners on with the tacit support of a benign government. Although history and romantic fiction tend to focus on the Highland Clearances in Scotland, they were effected across the whole of Scotland; evicting, if not wiping out, the resident Highlander, Lowlander or Borderer populations. Similarly, the massive movement of people from Ireland before, during and after the potato blight and consequent famine (the Great Hunger) of the 1840s has attracted much interest; sometimes obscuring substantial but otherwise routine movements at other times.

The "dark romance" of such Celtic evictions obscures the scale of movements of people from other parts of Britain and Europe. There are clearly documented forced migrations of people, especially religious minorities or economically disadvantaged classes, from the south west of England to the Americas and from Kent to Australia. A remarkably similar modern campaign, the forced emigration of orphans from all parts of Great Britain to Australia, only ceased in the 1950s.

Geographical Factors

It should be recalled that the West Coast of Scotland has a mass of sea- lochs and two belts of islands; the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Furthermore, the County Antrim and County Down coasts of Ireland are very close to Scotland, north-west England and the Isle of Man. The local fishing industry, small-scale trading and the historic movements of populations ensured ready movement by sea between what are now seen as separate countries. In times of crisis, famine or war it was sometimes safer to move family and flocks to another safer or more economically attractive residence. Such escapes were often followed within a generation by a return to the original homeland once conditions there had returned to normal. It is understandable that the family histories of many of the surnames represented in Scotland, Ulster and even Northern England are quite confused.

In an extreme example of routine movements, it should be recalled that in the 18th and 19th centuries, the people of St Kilda (some 40 miles into the Atlantic, west of the Outer Hebrides) were prepared to row to Uist or Harris, against prevailing winds and seas, in order to trade their sole produce, the down of the island's sea-birds for use as mattress filling.

The Beginnings

The troubles in Scotland began in the reign of King Henry VIII, who was attempting to wage war on France - Scotland's "auld allie". Henry defeated King James IV at Flodden Field on 9 September 1513. The Scottish Crown fell to a series of young, often infant monarchs, who were under the influence of their Mothers or Regents. The Regents inevitably were the powerful barons of Scotland, who feuded for that power. The disputes between the barons becoming more complicated with religious differences; between Catholic, Presbyterian and Episcopalian (Anglican).

The uneasy peace between the two kingdoms broke down during the Reformation with the rise of Presbyterianism in Scotland and the evolution of Anglican church in England. King James V attempted to assert Scots power, but after defeat in battle, Henry's armies invaded Scotland and beat the Scots at Hadden Rig near Berwick in August 1542. The Scottish Army then mounted a counter-attack at Solway Moss which turned into a rout with the Scottish Army suffering many casualties.

The families of the defeated Scots soldiers were immediately at risk. No sooner than the battle of Solway Moss was over than the retreating Scottish Army found itself beset by Borderers or border reivers - those families who lived in the Border Marches, where neither English or Scottish Crown held sway. The reivers were eager as always to snap up plunder and prisoners, whichever side they belonged to. Some of the Scottish soldiers who escaped were reputedly so reduced by panic and confusion, that they were prepared to surrender to women. The news of Solway Moss was literally a fatal blow to the sick and dejected King James V who died in despair at Falkirk. No sooner was his body cold than the Scotts and Kerrs, down on the English Border, were raiding the royal flocks and farms.

Henry's Rough Wooing

The Scottish crown passed to James' infant daughter Mary, Queen of Scots. Henry VIII sought to gain control over Scotland (and to advance his cause against France) by proposing marriage with his infant son Edward, Prince of Wales under the Treaties of Greenwich of August 1543. The treaties were rejected by the new Scottish Parliament. Henry's response was to loose his English troops upon Scotland with instructions to kill, burn and spoil. The invasions of Scotland in 1544 and 1545, known as Henry's "rough wooing", brought slaughter, burning and indiscriminate extermination wasting southern Scotland and inflicting irreparable damage on the Scottish abbeys and driving the populations away deeper into Scotland or across the sea to Ireland.

The work was entrusted to Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford. By threat and bribe he revived the old English Warden's policy of securing the toughest of the Scottish clans to work in England's interest; the time would come when he could claim that he had turned Dumfries into virtually an English province. In the meantime he managed to control the Scottish reivers' activities to an extent that the old Lord Dacre had not achieved. He played skilfully on the feuds which, as always, were in progress along the line, turning the Armstrongs on to the Kerrs and Scotts who were themselves engaged in their perpetual vendetta.

Henry maintained suzerainty over Scotland until, losing campaigns in France, the English armies were withdrawn from Scotland in 1550.

Religious Ferment - the Reformation

The next 20 years of Reformation in Scotland saw the firm establishment of the Calvinist Church of Scotland (the Presbyterians), although there were still Roman Catholic communities, especially in the Islands and West Highlands, and a significant minority who tended to an Episcopalian Church. This event is focused on the Confession of Faith (later to be revived as the Covenant) and by the Act of Settlement of 1560. Two decades of confusion followed during the attempted Counter-Reformation by Roman Catholic supporters of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary abdicated in 1567 and Scotland was governed by four disputatious Regents during the childhood of King James VI. Mary was executed at Fotheringay on 8 February 1587 by order of Queen Elizabeth I. James VI succeeded to the English throne on Elizabeth's death on 26 March 1603. James VI and I, as he became after being crowned in London, continued a campaign to bring order to the Borders, begun in the 1590s, and sought to do so by sending some of the Border reivers to serve in the Continental wars.

James VI and I - Highland Clearances

James VI and I, although absent from Scotland for most of his reign, pursued a campaign to bring into order the 'peccant' parts of the realm - the Borders, the Highlands and the Islands. For example, the 7th Earl of Argyll led the pursuit of and violent measures against the MacGregors under a commission of "fire and sword" of 1610. In 1617, Parliament confirmed a Privy Council ordinance of 1603 which abolished the very name of MacGregor. These pressures contributed to the significant number of Scottish (and Irish) emigrants in the first colonial ventures in the North Americas. Some of the Scots settlers established Nova Scotia under the leadership of Sir William Alexander, afterwards Earl of Stirling.

The later years of James VI and I reign saw gradual revelation of his personal adherence to the Roman Catholic church and to more overt support for the reintroduction of the Episcopal Church in Scotland. His persecution of the English Puritans and the Scottish Presbyterians were to create more emigration pressure during the reign of his son Charles I.

Presbyterian Revolution - The National Covenant

Charles I, who claimed to be King of Great Britain, continued his support of the Episcopal Churches in Scotland and England and maintained closer relations with Catholic allies in Europe. Charles was uncompromising in his dealings with the Scottish, as well as the English, Parliaments and with Archbishop Laud, proposed that the Episcopacy be re-introduced in Scotland. The Scottish opposition to this was both general and intense. The Scottish Parliament and Kirk produced the National Covenant on Wednesday 28 February 1635. In an astonishing "avalanche" the Covenant was rapidly distributed throughout Scotland. By years-end, 95% of the Scottish people had bound themselves to the Covenant. The Covenant bound its adherents to "uphold and to defend the true religion" and to oppose all "innovations on the purity and liberty of the gospel". This led to the so- called Bishop's Wars.

The Scottish Parliament seized the royal fortresses and stores, made an alliance with France and sent an army under General Alexander Leslie across the English border early in 1640. The Scots were well prepared; the country was filled with old soldiers who had served Germany in the Thirty Years war who served as the nucleus for untrained levies. Leslie seized Newcastle. King Charles responded by calling his fourth, the so-called Short, English Parliament which was dismissed after 3 weeks.

King Charles having failed to regain power in Scotland, then made a truce with the Scots and called the fifth, or Long, English Parliament which met on 30 November 1640. In 1641, the English Parliament, which was packed with anti-monarchists and libertarians (who became the Puritan Party), presented the King with the Grand Remonstrance which recited all of the acts of tyranny and misgovernment of the previous sixteen years. King Charles attempted to arrest five of the members of Parliament but failed and on 10 January 1642 he left London, never to return, save as a prisoner.

The First English Civil War 1642 - 1649

In 1643, a General Assembly held in Edinburgh accepted the overtures of the English Parliament - the "Solemn League and Covenant". Both parties agreed to preserve the reformed religion in England and Ireland and to suppress all opponents of the League and to preserve peace between England and Scotland. The Presbyterian cause was joined. In 1643, the Scottish Covenanting Army, under Leslie, swept the royal forces before him and advanced to besiege York before playing an important part in the battle of Marston Moor.

Montrose's Venture 1644 - 1645

Montrose, who had refused to have any part in the Solemn League, accepted the King's commission as Lieutenant General, commanding the Royalist Army in Scotland. After defeat at Marston Moor, he returned to Scotland in disguise and raised a small force including some 1,000 wild Irishmen and Islemen commanded by Alistair MacDonald. Montrose led his small force to victory in six battles against the odds and carried fire and sword into the lands of the Campbells. Just when the Lowlands lay before him, Montrose was defeated by Leslie at Philliphaugh. But the Covenanting victory was stained by a horrible massacre of Royalist prisoners, echoing that which has occurred after the Battle of Naseby. The first English Civil War ended with the impeachment, trial by Parliament and execution of King Charles I in 1649

The second English Civil War 1651 - 1652

Immediately after the execution of King Charles I in Whitehall, the Scottish Parliament proclaimed King Charles II as monarch. The King accepted this odd offer which was conditional upon his recognition of Presbyterianism and, arriving from his exile in The Hague, Netherlands, off Garmouth on Spey, he signed both Covenants on 23 June 1649. King Charles II was crowned King of Scotland at Scone early in 1651. Cromwell could not accept this and in July he crossed the Border with 16,000 men, mainly veterans, and a fleet sailed up the east coast. Cromwell seized a tactical advantage at the Battle of Dunbar. In victory he showed no mercy and the few able Scottish survivors were sentenced to exile in the 'Plantations' of Ulster and the Americas.

He then led his Royalist armies in an attempt to regain power in England. This failed with defeat at the Battle of Worcester where Highlanders, following the Royalist cause into England, fell in significant numbers. The Highlander's homelands became forfeit to the victorious Roundhead supporters; their families refugees. King Charles had a long and exiting journey into exile in France.

The Usurpation (Commonwealth and Protectorate) 1649 - 1660

The English Parliament under Cromwell first attempted to treat Scotland as a mere province and attempted to create a Union between the nations during the Barebones Parliament (which contained only 5 Scots members out of 140) with Cromwell as Lord Protector. The Commonwealth and Protectorate broke up as an institution after the death of Oliver Cromwell and the succession of his son Thomas as Lord Protector. The restoration of the Crown in 1662 came as relief to most Scots because they were Royalists at heart and hoped to be permitted to practice their own form of Presbyterianism which emphasised the direct responsibility of every individual to his Maker.

Restoration and the Covenanters 1660 - 1689

King Charles II has sworn at his coronation in Scotland in 1st January 1651 to uphold the Solemn League and Covenant and to establish a Presbyterian Government. The crown was placed on his head by the Marquis of Argyll. Yet, little more than a year after his restoration to the throne, Charles had Argyll executed at the Cross of Edinburgh because Argyll adhered to Presbyterianism.

King Charles II, known to his English subjects as "the Merry Monarch", was wont to say that Presbyterianism was no religion for a gentleman and restored the Episcopacy in Scotland. He quickly developed had a vindictive attitude both to his former enemies and to the Presbyterians in Scotland who had been his allies. In England, the Act of Uniformity 1662, the Conventicle Act of 1664 and the Five Mile Act of 1665 were concerted efforts to persecute those Protestants who failed to accede to the 49 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer. In Scotland, the Act of Proclamation 1662 banished from their manses and parishes all ministers who lacked an episcopal licence. The result was that on 1 November 1662, over 400 ministers came out of their churches and manses. This was followed by the Act of Fines of 1663, designed to punish those revolting clergy. The enforcement of those fines was placed under military control using the newly formed standing Army.

The collection of those fines led to the first military rising of the Covenanters, at St John's Town of Dalry in Galloway on 12 November 1666. A small party of armed Covenanters overpowered some troopers under the command of Sir James Turner who were torturing a Covenanter who would not pay his fine. The Covenanters then marched from Dumfries to Lanark, increasing to some 2,00 in number. At Rullion Green they encountered the superior forces of the Crown under General Dalziel. 1,000 Covenanters who determined to go forward at all costs were disastrously defeated. Over 100 prisoners were taken to be afterwards executed after various degrees of torture at appointed spots all over the country. Other prisoners were subsequently transported as indentured labour to the Americas.

The persecution of the outed clergy and Covenanters, and anyone providing them shelter or support, continued along with heavy fines. By 1677, landowners and masters were required to sign bonds for all persons residing on their land. Their landowners refused to accept this impossible undertaking. The Government loosed upon the south-west, and Ayrshire in particular, the Highland Host - a body of 6,000 Highlanders and 3,000 Lowland militia who lived in free quarters while they extracted the bonds and looted the country. The simmering uprising led to the assassination of Archbishop Sharp, the symbol of the episcopacy and the persecutor of many Covenanters, at Magus Moor near St Andrews on 3rd May 1679.

Following the assassination, a company of Covenanting extremists held a Conventicle in Avondale on 25th May. They prepared a public manifesto, ratified at public meetings and published at Rutherglen on 29th May - a date deliberately chosen as the unpopular public holiday for the King's birthday. General John Graham of Claverhouse ("Bloody Clavers" later Viscount Dundee and "Bonnie Dundee") attempted an attack on the Covenanters at a great Conventicle at Drumclog on Sunday 1st June but was repulsed. This was one of the Covenanter's few military victories.

Three weeks later at Bothwell Brig, the 5,000 strong Covenanter Army was disastrously defeated by a Royal force under Monmouth; 400 being left dead on the field; and 1,500 carried away as prisoners to Edinburgh. There they were confined in the open for five months in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Two ministers were hanged, some other prisoners were executed at Magus Moor. [The names of all Covenanter martyrs are recorded on the National Covenant Memorial in Greyfriars Kirkyard.] 400 prisoners who took a bond not to rise in arms again were released. The remainder were sentenced to be transported to Barbados, but their ship sank off the Orkneys with 200 of the captives battened below hatches.

Monmouth, who was considered by the King as too kindly and lenient, was replaced by James, Duke of York (later King James VII and II). The strict Covenanters, reduced in numbers but not in spirit, continued to resist with increased fervour. Led by the minister Andrew Cargill and by Richard Cameron, a St Andrews graduate, they were known as the Society men" or the Cameronians. [The British Army regiment which bore that name for nearly 300 years, were known as "the Covenanters"; they took their rifles to the Kirk and posted sentries outside. The regiment went into suspended animation in the 1970s, resolved to return should Scotland or the Covenant ever have need of them.]

On 22nd June 1680, the first anniversary of the dark day of Bothwell Brig, the Cameronians assembled at the market Cross at Sanquhar and published a Declaration for the deposing of the Stuart King Charles II. Cameron was killed at Airsmoss a few weeks later. But the Society People continued to harry the authorities.

The period of the Restored Monarchy in Scotland was a period of marked economic and political development. Yet the continued persecution of dissidents drove men to lands abroad where thought was more free. A small Quaker-Scottish colony was established in East New Jersey in the 1660s and in 1684; a Presbyterian settlement in Stuart's Town in South Carolina.

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