The genealogy and history of the Presbyterian Church has always been intertwined in Virginia history. Beginning in the 18th century, protestant dissenters were seen unfavorably by the Established Church of England. Presbyterians, Quakers, and Puritans because of their religious beliefs were penalized by the British government socially, politically, and in matters of religion. The Presbyterians, especially, had a traumatic relationship with the authorities.
Beginning in 1717, a massive immigration of Scots-Irish persons who had Scottish ancestry from Northern Ireland, entered the British colonies and continued until 1775.1 A majority of the immigrants were Presbyterians, however, it was not uncommon for other dissenters from the Church of England to participate as well. The reasons for leaving their homeland were many. One of the most devastating causes was the growing difficulty of maintaining a livelihood due to an oppressed economy. One of the once historically favorable industries of Northern Ireland was being targeted by the English government. Being a pastoral society, these Scotsmen developed a thriving wool and linen industry that caught the attention of the British.2 Aware of the income generated, the English authorities enacted a law that prohibited the export of their products to other countries, except to England and Wales. To complicate matters, the ability to support a family with a respectable level of income was hampered by the frequent number of famines that occurred.
Rent-Racking was another controversial issue that further limited prosperity. In 1717, landlords increased the rent on Scottish, Presbyterian tenants by doubling or tripling it.3 After this, farmers were unable to pay their rent which was worsened by the declining woolen industry.
Religious persecution against the Presbyterians presented another trial as well. Because of the animosity between the Presbyterian Church and the Church of England, the British imposed several restrictions on the Presbyterian community by barring them from participating within the government. Prohibited from taking public office in the military and in nonmilitary positions unless they took communion as part of the Church of England, their basic civil liberties were being abused.4 To enhance this punishment, the English also declared marriages in the Presbyterian Church illegal and those who did get married were fined.5
Having enough of this injustice, Scottish families left Ireland for a better and hopeful future. However, they would be sorely surprised at what they would actually experience in the new world. In Virginia, the Presbyterian Church and its followers would still experience social, religious, and political persecution.
In the upcoming part 2, we will examine how the Scottish of 18th Century Central Virginia struggled and how they managed to survive in the new world from a genealogical and historical viewpoint.
1. Wayland F. Dunaway, The Scotch-Irish of Colonial Pennsylvania (1944; reprint, Baltimore, Maryland : Genealogical Publishing Co, inc, 2002), 28.
2. Wayland F. Dunaway, The Scotch-Irish of Colonial Pennsylvania (1944; reprint, Baltimore, Maryland : Genealogical Publishing Co, inc, 2002), 29.
3. Dunaway, The Scotch-Irish of Colonial Pennsylvania, 29.
4. Wayland F. Dunaway, The Scotch-Irish of Colonial Pennsylvania (1944; reprint, Baltimore, Maryland : Genealogical Publishing Co, inc, 2002), 31.
5. Dunaway, The Scotch-Irish of Colonial Pennsylvania, 31.