The migration of Irish Protestants from Ulster, Ireland’s northernmost province, to the American colonies began by 1718. By the American Revolution, more than 100,000 Ulster immigrants had arrived in America, representing the single largest movement from the British Isles to British North America in the 1700s. In America these people and their descendants came to be known as the, “Scotch-Irish,” to recall their Scottish and Irish origins, and distinguish them for the Catholic Irish who arrived in the United States in the mid-1800s.
Most Ulster immigrants came to the colony of Pennsylvania. Competing with the Germans for land in southeastern Pennsylvania, many Irish families made their way through the Great Valley of the Appalachians to settle in western Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and the piedmont of North Carolina. By the end of the 1700s, theirs was the dominant English-speaking culture in the colonial American backcountry.
Contributions to American Culture
In America, Ulster immigrants were often found in newly opened areas on the western edge of settlement. Here in the backcountry they served as a buffer between Native Americans and older, established eastern settlements. Due to their numbers, they emerged as the dominant cultural group in the backcountry. The one-room cabins built by early Ulster settlers were modeled on Irish houses, with one difference; the building material changed from stone to log. Education and religion were important to settlers from Ulster, and they established schools, academies, and Presbyterian churches in the places they settled. Some Ulster settlers also emerged as political leaders in the backcountry. Such leaders advanced the idea of “natural freedom,” which valued individual liberty and the right to be left alone. Ulster settlers and their descendents were among the first supporters of American independence.