While there are three major peoples groups who settled Appalachia, the Scots-Irish have perhaps had the biggest impact on the region when compared to African-Americans and Indians. This ethnic group largely migrated to America and specifically the Appalachia region in the 18th century around the time of the Revolutionary War with most migration ending around the time of the American Civil War. With them, the Scots-Irish brought the combined culture and history of their Scottish and Irish ancestors. These people were used to being oppressed by their rulers and therefore were fiercely independent. These Europeans also brought important ideas about frontier development. Outsiders to the region who did not understand their way of life perceived the Scots-Irish as a lazy people, with this stereotype still existing today. Resources have played a major role in shaping the economy of the Appalachian Mountains. While the Scots-Irish have a unique and full culture, they share many commonalities with the other two major ethnic groups dominant in the region. All these factors combined to ensure the Scots-Irish have had a lasting effect on the region we call Appalachia today.
The Scots-Irish, which were originally from Scotland, were forced to immigrate to Ireland hundreds of years ago and eventually settled permanently in the United States. Their ancestors left Scotland in the 1600’s as a result of religious persecution from the English kings. They were also faced with almost certain poverty due to being dispossessed of their lands. (Leyburn, 99-103) For the next one hundred years after leaving Scotland, the now Scots-Irish lived peacefully in their adopted homeland of Ulster, Ireland (Leyburn, 101). Starting in the early 1700’s, Great Britain began to make laws limiting the highly successful Irish textile industry because of fears that it would compete with Britain’s own manufacturing capabilities (Leyburn, 160). These limiting laws, along with dramatic rises in rent for farm land culminated in Scots-Irish migrating to the New World in search of the freedoms and land ownership they never fully had in Europe (Leyburn, 161). Once in their new home, the long-persecuted Scots-Irish found the land ownership and toleration they had been seeking for so long (Griffin, 100). It is believed that at least 250,000 Scots-Irish migrated to America during the colonial era (Leyburn, 157). This started before the Revolutionary War and ended around the time of the Civil War. As a result, over 15 percent of Americans alive today can claim Scots-Irish heritage. This is a gigantic proportion when considering that America consists of immigrants from every country in the world. Prominent Americans with this ancestry range from Andrew Jackson and General Patton to John McCain. Since the Scots-Irish had already settled a new land when they transitioned to Ireland, they acquired excellent techniques that would assist them in starting anew in America.
With the migration of the Scots-Irish to America came two ideas of frontier development, including environmental determinism and the idea of cultural synthesis. The idea of Environmental Determinism is the belief that the environment in people’s lives shapes their beliefs, thoughts and overall culture (Determinism, 2012). “Free land on the frontier had shaped America’s democratic institutions, economic behavior and social patterns.” (Blethen, 19) The other major idea the Scots-Irish brought with them was cultural synthesis. This consisted of immigrants assimilating into the culture of their surroundings. This involved the Scots-Irish drawing on Indian practices for farming, hunting etc. This idea believed that the frontiersman was a combination of “Stockman-Farmer-Hunter” because of the shortage of labor in the frontier region at the time. Besides ideas, these immigrants also brought knowledge of the log cabin to America. While it is hard to imagine frontier America without one of these iconic...
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