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A look at early-American immigration: British, Scottish Borderers
Historical Society hears about immigrants who fled violence, poverty
BC Historical - Proctor Web
Dr. Jack Proctor talks to the Bulloch County Historical Society about immigration to America from the Scottish Borders region. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

With his presentation, "British and Scottish Borderers Immigrate to America," Dr. Jack Proctor told the Bulloch County Historical Society about a flow of immigrants who outnumbered the Puritans and the Cavaliers.

The title of his recent program suggested a timeframe, "1725-75," but he outlined the character of the Borderers and their region as far back as 1050 and noted movements of immigrant groups extending after the American Revolution. Proctor is a longtime local dentist and a member of the Historical Society.

Four major migrations from Great Britain into North America occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries, he said, counting the immigrations of the Puritans, Cavaliers and Quakers as three of these.

"But the largest movement was that of the Scots-Irish and the border Scots and the border English coming from Great Britain," Proctor said. "They should be considered as one people."

The Borders, he explained, is a name for the region along the border between England and Scotland. Historically, it consisted of the four or five southernmost Scottish counties and five or six northern English counties.

The people on either side of the borderline tended to identify as "Scots." But conflict between the two historic kingdoms and the ability to escape across the border made it a violent and lawless region for centuries, he said.

"Since 1050 there were about seven centuries there when they didn't have a 50-year span without some major conflict going on between England and Scotland," Proctor said. "This was a very violent place. They were the tripwire for any armies going north from England or going south from Scotland."

Themes seen in motion pictures about the later settlement of America's western frontier, such as feuding families, cattle rustling and the theft of horses, actually resemble life along the Scottish Borders during this period, he said.

Scottish to Ireland

Then James VI, king of Scotland from 1567, became king of England in 1603 on the death of his cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. Around the same time that James became the first king to rule over both England and Scotland, England also solidified its annexation of the island of Ireland, previously a separate kingdom.

This opened up vast estates that King James owned in Ireland's northern counties, known as Ulster, for exploitation, and he needed peasants to farm his land there and take care of it, Proctor said.

"He saw this as an opportunity to solve two problems with one solution," he said.

The king gave his cronies from around London and southern England titles, making them dukes and earls and so forth, over the land in Ulster in return for their giving long-term leases and favorable terms to peasants from the border counties, Proctor said. This also removed some of the peasants from the border counties.

But a century later - Proctor cited 1717 as significant - the long-term leases in the north of Ireland were expiring. New terms included exorbitant rents, called "rack rents," and descendants of previous immigrants from the Scottish borders to Ireland, called Scots-Irish, were evicted from the land in Ulster. Meanwhile, overpopulation in the Borders and economic recession, with a decline in the wool industry and bank failures, also created incentives for more people to leave that area, he said.

"Why did they leave Scotland? What would push them out? Unlike the Puritans and Cavaliers and Quakers, most left for increased economic opportunity," Proctor said.

In other words, political or religious freedom was not the primary motivation, as it had been for some of the earlier groups. But Border Scots did face religious persecution, because they were mainly Presbyterians, while the landowners were Anglicans. Presbyterians were barred from holding public office, and their marriages were not recognized by the Church of England, he said.

Presbyterians are Protestants, so Protestants made up the majority of the Scots-Irish phase of Irish immigration to America, Proctor noted. The predominantly Roman Catholic phase of immigration from Ireland began later.

He outlined several separate waves of immigration to America by Borderers and Scots-Irish.

"Over half the population of Ulster and the Borders left for America in the 1700s," Proctor said.

Recruiters to Georgia

Another factor in the immigration was the work of sea captains and "recruiters" who promoted the use of their ships and settlement in particular places, he said.

"A good example of recruiters is right up the road here, just outside of Louisville," Proctor said.

Two men named John Rea and George Galphin obtained 50,000 acres by royal grant and brought in more than 100 families there in the 1760s, Proctor said. The site of the original settlement has never been located, he said.

Conditions aboard ships that made the crossing were unsanitary, and many ships carried more passengers than they could safely hold.

"I know one incidence of a ship coming from Belfast to Savannah that had, they said, over 400 people on it, and 100 of them died on the way," Proctor said.

The fourth Monday of most months, the Historical Society meets at 11:30 a.m. for lunch in the Pittman Park United Methodist Church social hall. The topic for the next program, Sept. 25, is the names of Georgia Southern University buildings and the personalities behind them.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.



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