We are much interested next to get a glance at the conditions which surround those of our ancestors who for a generation or more lived in Ireland. And all the more so because, among other things, environment has much to do with human development.
To best appreciate later conditions we take a hurried retrospective glance beginning with the first firm hold of the Scotch who preceded our Ireland-born ancestors.
Following the Plantation Confiscation, the outlawed Irish, with few exceptions, crowded back into the haunts of the wolf and the wild cirn [author’s intent with this word is unknown; it may be a typographical error]. They lost no opportunity to swoop down upon the flocks of the Scotch and scurry them away to the hills. So the Scotch had to protect and maintain themselves by bolt, bar and gun. To this state of foray and reprisal, during which about the only law regulating the relations between the two social orders and the differing cultures was that of might and stealth, soon came stupendous questions of religion. In Scotland Presbyterianism had waxed bolder and stronger. This religious dissent was not alone of a spiritual nature; it was gradually molding a sentiment which contributed much to constitutional government. In 1625 Charles I appointed Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, Lord Deputy of Ireland. The same year Laud became archbishop of Canterbury. Wentworth and Laud jealously cooperated to sustain the royal authority and to enforce conformity to the English Church. The doctrine and practices, in many ways, of the English Church were as objectionable to the Ulster Scotch as was Catholicism. Thus another element of discord gradually swelled in volume. But, on the other hand, Wentworth introduced flaxseed from Holland, imported experts from France to teach the industry, and linen making, destined to become world-renowned, began to flourish, thus contributing to industrial betterment.
The struggle in England and Scotland between the parliamentary party and the absolute prerogative of the king was in bitter progress. Laud raised an army in Ireland to be used in Scotland to subdue the king’s enemies, composed of Irish Catholics, because “they hated the Scotch and their religion.” This army was disbanded, never going abroad to serve. The disbandment was the prelude to the great uprising of native Irish in 1641. An historic, bloody and ferocious massacre of Protestants followed, “attended by revolting atrocities.” The story of this outburst of racial and religious animosity makes another sad page in the history of that day. Many thousands were massacred.
Wars and contentions continued to fill the land until at the beginning of 1642 we find four well-defined parties in Ireland, each of which had control of an army. The first was composed of the old Irish, which stood for total separation from England. This party included those who had suffered most from the plantations (i.e., the displacement of the Catholic and rebellious Irish by Protestant Scotch and England) and from religious persecution. They were in possession of Ulster. Second came the Anglo-Irish, or Normans, who had suffered in the same way, though not so seriously. They stood for civil and religious liberty, but in political union with England. They occupied the central and southern parts of the country. These two parties were both Catholic, but, from lack of union, they greatly weakened their cause. Third, there were the Presbyterians and Puritans, under Robert Monroe in Ulster, adherents of the English Parliamentarians and working with the Scottish Covenanters, thought most bitter enemies of the king. “They were naturally extremely hostile toward the Catholic parties. Fourth, there were the Normans with their stronghold in Dublin. They belonged to the Angelican or established church, which recognized the king of England as its head.”
It is really wonderful that race prejudices and religious beliefs all along the path of man have held such a firm unrelenting grip! Even more wonderful to us Americans is the interweave of religion and affairs of state—a condition which the Roman Catholic church yet believes to be most desirable; a status which would recognize the Pope as the head and supreme dictator both temporally and morally, with full power to do such things as give away the islands of the whole world, as did the Pope attempt to give Ireland to King Charles.
From the earliest days in Ireland as generally in Scotland our Ewing ancestors were Covenanters. To that party they gave not allegiance alone, but of their substance and of their toil and of their blood.
Of course with four hostile armies in the field there was nothing to do but to fight, and fight they did. Ulster was once again devastated. The sage again grew over once-prosperous farmsteads; the wheels of industry rusted. Spear, pike and broad-axe shimmered in the sunshine. The Irish Parliament, following the precedent set by the English Parliament, assumed all the functions of government; and, of course, to back its mandates had to throw an army into the already boiling maelstrom. In England the parliamentary party, led by Oliver Cromwell, defeated King Charles I, January 30, 1649, and hurried him to an ignominious scaffold. The predominant English power then declared the Prince of Wales as king. He assumed the title of Charles II. The Scotch Presbyterians of Ireland espoused his cause, as did most of the Irish parties. But the English Parliament refused to recognize this Charles, and sent the stern Cromwell to Ireland to annihilate his adherents in that section. Cromwell, a brutal fanatic, entered relentlessly upon his mission. Reputable authorities say he slaughtered some of his prisoners, others he enslaved. By 1650 Cromwell had cut to pieces the chief opposition to the Parliament. In that year the Parliament proposed the “engagement,” an oath to be administered to the people of Ulster, requiring them to support a government without a king and a Parliament without a house of lords. Most of the Presbyterians refused to take this oath. As a punishment Parliament ordered the deportation of their leaders and chief men to the south of Ireland. It is said that some Ewings of Scotch ancestry were thus sent into Catholic Ireland. By 1652 the war in support of Charles II was ended; ”but pestilence and famine were raging everywhere.” Adherents of Charles were hanged by the hundreds. The English Parliament declared all Ireland escheated, “and Catholics and Protestants in many cases suffered together; but, on the whole, the persecution of the Catholics was the more cruel,” says a writer. Thousands were driven from the better lands to the barren hills; settlers from England, adherents of Cromwell and the Parliament, were given the richer lands; and deadly feuds between the outlawed and the new comers followed in the wake of more regular war. Many of the new settlers were Cromwell’s soldiers, and the cruel war they had waged was fresh in the minds of the Ulsterites. Conditions were so distressing that many, especially among those who had served in either army, fled from Ireland, 35,000 entering the armies “of France, Spain, Austria and Venice.” “Widows and orphans were hunted down and sent as slaves to the West Indies.” Cromwell smothered the “Rump Parliament,” as the body he had at first served is called, and thereupon the deportation movement stopped. About seven years of comparative quiet followed, during which the Ulster Scots once more prospered. The close of the Cromwellian period saw the end of the old tribal social order in Ireland and left the erstwhile Celtic clansman more of tenant peasant.
Cromwell died in 1658. Sentiments changed in those days and fortunes were made and unmade with the uncertainty of a fitful gust of the wind; Charles II was again proclaimed king, and this time with such a following that he was enabled to assume such functions as kings in those days claimed. “Nominally Charles was a Protestant: at heart he was a Catholic.” But he did nothing to relieve either side in Ireland. He re-established the Angelican Church, to which it is said that then 100,000 in Ireland belonged; and the Presbyterians, of whom we are told there were 200,000, including Puritans and Nonconformists and Independents, were required to support and recognize the established church. Of course the 800,000 Catholics were brought under the same regulations, but for a time with pleasant mitigation.
James, Duke of York, Charles II’s brother, succeeded to the English throne in 1685. As King James II, he at once set about the restoration of Catholicism. All of Protestant England, Ireland, and Scotland began to bestir. Protestantism was confronted with annihilation and its adherents with the most dire penalties. Through the king only, as conditions then existed, could either side hope for far-reaching success. For a leader the Protestants turned toward Holland, where William, Prince of Orange, the nephew and son-in-law of King James, and Mary, his wife, were living.
To this William and Mary the Protestants offered the English crown. The offer was accepted. With an army William landed in England November 5, 1688. The Irish Catholics espoused the cause of James, notwithstanding he fled to France a few weeks after William landed on English shores. In England William was accepted without serious opposition, taking the throne as William III; but in Ireland a bloody war faced him. The story of this war and its Catholic uprising in favor of James is generally regarded as “the most famous chapter in Ulster history.” Jacobus is the Latin for James, and for that reason his Irish supporters are called Jacobites; and William’s adherents are known as Orangemen, distinctions which yet live in Ireland. The Orangemen organized secret societies for the spread and support of Protestantism. Attempts have been made to suppress these organizations; but they yet exist and have spread to the United States and to Canada.
James besought France for aid. This that country was the more willing to give because of its strong Catholic adherence. Some help was given him by the French king, Louis XIV; and in March, 1689, James landed in Ireland with a small French army. With the native Irish Catholics in his ranks, he expected to smash all opposition; and then to lead his augmented and conquering forces into England.
Londonderry, a fortified town on the bank of the Foyle, built and yet occupied by the Scotch Protestants, was the strongest position held by the friends of William and Mary. James lost no time in leading his men against it. Among its Protestant defenders were the Ewings, though probably not enrolled with the troops; and a John Ewing was one of its officials. The Protestants closed the gates of this small and rudely walled town, and sent defiance to the oncoming enemy. Finding he could not take the place by storm, James (through his generals) set about besieging it, resulting in a siege which is in many ways “one of the most famous in English or Irish history,” as a recent writer estimates it. As the coming of James was unexpected, no preparation for a siege had been made, and only the most dauntless and determined would have undertaken the defense. As James’ army approached, large numbers of Protestants from the surrounding country hurried into Londonderry–Derry, as it is often called–so that the walls and fortifications were soon dangerously crowded. The food supplies were soon exhausted. Mules and other non-edible animals were devoured by the suffering besieged. Disease added its terror. Yet, men, women and children exhibited the greatest courage.
Unable to take the place by storm, the leaders of the Irish Catholic army resorted to a most brutal plan by which they hoped to break the resistance of the city. They gathered hundreds, some writers tell us thousands, of children, women and old men, and drove them, all Protestants, shelterless and foodless, under the walls of Derry, giving notice that they would be left to starve there unless the city surrendered. “This fiendish device failed. The victims exhorted the defenders to stand firm, and instant death was proclaimed for any one uttering the word surrender.” “Many a man saw his aged father and mother forced up to the walls by the soldiers at the point of the pike and was powerless to help” (Woodburn, The Ulster Scot, 157). Fortunately the defenders of the town had captured some of the important men of the Jacobites. Preparations were made to hang these on the walls of the town in full sight of the Catholic army, unless the dying men and women and children without the city should be permitted to return home at once. This threat produced the hoped-for result; but not before many Protestants died of exposure, disease and hunger. The sufferings of those victims were intense; and all the details of the harrowing story have never been recorded. It is claimed by some pro-Catholic writers that the order which brought noncombatants under those walls was issued by Rosen, a French officer, who had been sent to aid Hamilton, the commander of James’ forces, and that it lacked the approval of both Hamilton and the Jacobite army. But the correctness of this claim is disputed. It is certain, however, that had Hamilton and the army remonstrated, the scheme would have failed of its execution. It is, though, fair to remember that it is said that King James did not approve this murder, and that he denounced General Rosen and called the scheme “a cruel contrivance!”
In the besieged city women fought by the men on the ramparts. Gradually the siege became a blockade, lengthening into great anguish of soul and terrible torture of body. “Arms were found to grasp weapons which others arms had dropped; stern voices mingled the watchword of ‘no surrender’ with appeals to the Most High to save his children from ‘the idolatry of Rome’ and the cruelties of the Celt. … The sufferings of the besieged soon become intense; the refuse of the sewer, the vermin of the street were welcome additions to the supplies of food; … death was dreaded as little as the detested enemy” (William O’Connor Morris (of Ireland), Ireland, 182). At the end of 105 days, July 29, 1689, William’s relief ships, sailing up the Foyle, broke the obstructions built by the Jacobites and saved the remnant of the noble defenders of historic Derry. “Soon all that was seen of the Irish army was the cloud of dust that marked its retreated.” Macaulay’s account of this siege of Londonderry is a masterpiece. No Scotch-Irish descendant should fail to read it.
Macaulay says: “The number of men within the walls capable of bearing arms was seven thousand (including able-bodied citizens who fought with the soldiers), and the whole world could not have furnished seven thousand men better qualified to meet a terrible emergency with clearer judgment, more dauntless valor, and more stubborn patience.”
As civilians and in the military ranks several of the ancestors of the American Ewings participated in this defense of Londonderry. There is a tradition in the James L. Ewin family, Washington, D. C., that an ancestor was in command of troops in that battle. Nearly every branch has some tradition of ancestral participation in that memorable defense. Unfortunately history and military rosters are so incomplete upon this subject that we are left largely to tradition. Tradition, however, is corroborated by an old poem written shortly after that battle by a native of Ireland in which we find this stanza:
Hindman fired on Antrim’s men,
In Douglas’s Derriana, or Hampton’s Siege of Londonderry, is a yet older poem, “Londeriadoes” section five of which has the following lines:
James Roe Cunningham and Master Brooks
Londonderry was but the beginning of the war, short but sharp and bloody, which terminated in the triumph of the Protestant cause at the battle of the Boyne on July 1, 1690. Our kinsmen and representatives of the family took pleasing parts in the Protestant ranks in this battle, too. A conspicuous instance was Finlay Ewing, closely related to the ancestor of the Virginia and Maryland families. Finlay was presented with a sword for his distinguished bravery in the epochal battle. It is said that he was an officer of artillery. There are creditable traditions that others of the family were by his side. This Finlay, it is said, was a son of James Ewing, who was born in Glasgow about 1650, and who is said to have married a Jane Porter. Dr. Thomas Ewing of New Jersey was a great grandson of Finlay, and was a surgeon in the patriot army of the Revolution (Joseph L. Ewing, Ewing Families, 12, 22, and 96). The Hon. Thos. Ewing, first Secretary of the Interior, family was another branch which descended from Finlay. Many others of the Ewings subsequently became “rebels” against the misrule of the British government in America; and they left enviable records of service in our Revolution.
But another glance at conditions which followed the Boyne victory is needed before we come to the immigration of our fathers to America.
Following the Boyne there was an important battle at Limerick, the last considerable groan of the dying Catholic cause; but its mention is a matter of fairness that we may record the fact that there Catholic women fought in the ranks as had the Protestant women at Derry. But Limerick was a struggle of no magnitude as compared with Derry. The treaty of Limerick closed the war. Thereafter William and Mary’s position was accepted throughout the British domains. “Catholic Ireland was now at the feet of William almost as completely as they had been at the feet of Cromwell.” The lands of the Irish who sided and who sympathized with the Jacobites were confiscated, and thousands went into exile. From arms the struggle passed into legislation, the Protestants enacting laws unfriendly to the Catholics. Backed by the Roman church with its head in Italy, the Catholics did all that could, under the circumstances, be done to thwart and annoy the enemy. Much wrong and much harshness sprang from both sides; bitterness ran into wanton riot. Protestants and Catholics and finally especially the Presbyterians suffered from the blaze kindled by hatred and fanned by fanaticism. But out of the confusion and crucifixion came the men and women who were destined very largely to give to America an untrammeled Protestantism and a government divorced from church. One needs to read Dean Swift, who hated the Presbyterians and despised the Catholics, to get a flood of needed light upon the terrible decade in which our ancestors, fitted to aid in a broader field, came to America.
It is no surprise, when we remember the horrors of Derry and the long train of sufferings which followed the Boyne, that Jacobites and Orangemen today cannot agree upon a civil status for Ireland. Church differences in Ireland today are as sharp as they were in 1690; and the civil status of the country waits upon them.
Woodburn, writing recently from his home at Castlerock, Derry County, Ulster, Ireland, says:
In Ireland there are three main divisions of the people—the Irish, the Anglo-Irish, and the Scotch-Irish, which are represented by the three principal churches, the Roman Catholic, the Protestant Episcopal, and the Presbyterian.
He estimates that 95 per cent of the third class yet live in Ulster. He proceeds:
There is a great difference in the characteristics of the people in northern and southern Ireland—a difference which is apparent to every one. This dissimilarity is chiefly due to the two important factors, religion and climate, and not, as is generally supposed, to race. … There are not two races in Ireland: the whole population is a mixture of Celtic and Teutonic, and the Ulsterman has probably as much Celtic blood as the southerner.”
In the south of Ireland nearly all the people are Catholics. Their ancestors suffered no displacement by the Protestants such as north Ireland experienced during the plantations of Ulster.
Yet, after all, climate, environment and thousands of factors have, from a parent stock, differentiated the races of the world. The original Celt of Ireland was so different from the Celt of early pre-Scotland that for all practical purposes they were different races. We know that there were such sharp differences between tribes of the aboriginal Celts of what is now Scotland that they, also, were practically different races. As Morris says, the defenders of Londonderry were “study Protestants of Anglo-Saxon and Scottish blood.”
So that practically it is not inaccurate to attribute to racial differences as much as to conflicting religious opinions the cause of the war which established the Protestant succession upon the British throne. This classification involves no reflection upon or disparagement of either. It merely helps us to understand the bloodshed and bitterness between the two lines of descent.
The next English sovereign is Queen Anne, who followed William and Mary in 1702. Anne died in 1714, without leaving any great impressions upon the country in which our ancestors then lived.
George I comes next. It was during his reign that some of our ancestors embarked, tradition says, in The Eagle Wing, for America. Few of them came later than 1725; and, probably, as did our near kindred from whom are descended other branches of our family, some came earlier.
During the period which saw our progenitors leaving distressed and harried Ulster, the penal laws, restricting Catholics in educational advantages, in the right to own land and to hold office, and debarring them from other advantages, were passed and enforced; and the anti-trade laws were provided and so enforced as to most injure the Protestants by largely destroying trade. Previous to those laws, Ireland, regardless of its endless wars, exported largely, especially cattle, cheese, butter and cloth. The anti-trade laws prohibited these and other products being exported or sold abroad. The list included hats, sail cloth, iron ware, gunpowder, and nearly everything that made the island prosperous. “The poverty and misery caused by the destruction of all these trades brought famine and pestilence in their wake.” Catholics, Presbyterians, and all Nonconformists were required to pay tithes of one-tenth to the Angelican or Established Church of England, of which the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States is the descendant. There was persecution from every quarter. Misery, blear-eyed want, gaunt and revolting, and sickening despair stalked abroad by day and prowled through the villages and about every farmstead by night. Fair Ulster again faded; weeds, like the tares of the Bible, choked the flax in the fields and forests no longer felt the restraining hand of husbandry. Industry was manacled; civil and religious liberty imprisoned. That for which our clan had so earnestly struggled in Scotland and to find which some of them left that beloved land of clear lakes, inspiring hills and barren cleft-tortured mountains, and splendid valleys, a land they loved as we love ours today; that for which the fathers and mothers of some of us fought and for which they so nearly perished at Londonderry, that which some of them helped to secure at decisive Boyne, was not to be enjoyed in Ireland.
Woodburn, regarded particularly in England as fair and impartial, of County Derry, Ireland, summing up the causes which led our ancestors and their brother Scotch into America, says:
Summing up the causes of the emigration we find the first was the destruction of the woolen trade of Ireland by the repressive laws forced through the English Parliament by English manufacturers, which caused much unemployment, especially among the Presbyterians (which included the Ewings, we remember), who were chiefly farmers and traders. The second was the continual persecution they endured at the hands of the bishops of the Irish Episcopal Church. The blame for the unjust and galling measures which were passed must be laid at the door of the government of Ireland. To be quite fair, the final blame rests with the Bench of Bishops in the Irish House of Lords, who were far more hostile to the Scots in Ulster than to the Catholics in any part of Ireland. All the authorities are agreed upon this point, that these bishops were the chief instruments in putting the Presbyterians of Ulster under humiliating religious disabilities. The third cause was the payment of tithes to the clergy of the Episcopal Church. The fourth cause was a series of poor harvests, which resulted in several famines in the third and fourth decades of the eighteenth century. The fifth cause was the raising of the rents by the landlords of the county. Our general conclusion is that the emigration was due to ‘religious bigotry, commercial jealousy, and modern landlordism’ combined.
Harvests between 1720 and 1730 were very poor. This, no doubt, contributed to the causes which turned our ancestors toward America, as some came between those dates.
We can readily understand why, therefore, with the few earthly goods left to them, some embarked, say traditions, upon the good old Eagle Wing, others on the staunch Rising Sun, to seek in American what their fathers had vainly sought first in Scotland and then in Ulster.
It is not true, as some think, that most of our ancestors came at the same time, or that all came in the same ship. Some came in the one barque and others in another. Yet how prophetic that many Scotch and Scotch-Irish, with a contribution by the Ewings, should come, among others, in The Eagle Wing and in The Rising Sun. But for the Scotch, Scotch-Irish and Irish, who would have unfettered the American eagle wings which drove the clouds of misrule from the hill-top over which came the rising sun of American liberty?
Just a word about the old ship Eagle Wing is worth its time. History says that she began to ship Scots hither as early as 1635, and that in September 1636, she brought 140; and that for more than a hundred years she was plowing the deeps, bearing first and last many thousands of the best blood to our shores. For heroism and service and for the part her passengers took in founding this government, and for the parts in the world’s progress their descendants take today, The Eagle Wing shades the Mayflower into a speck on the horizon of the local history of New England.
The Celtic Irish have contributed many great men to the world. Their names are carved high; but the names of no race stand higher or surpass those of the Scotch-Irish. John Walker Dinsmore, D. D., LL. D., expressed the historical truth when he said:
For two hundred years and more the Scotch-Irish race has been a very potential and beneficial factor in the development of the American republic. All things considered, it seems probable that the people of this race have cut deeper into the history of the United States than have the people of any other race, though they have not been by any means the most numerous or boastful. This is not an extravagant statement. It can be verified by irrefragable proofs. Until recent years the Scotch-Irish have been mostly silent about their achievements. They have been content to do the work given them to do and let others take the glory. The sober fact is, that judged by the criterion of valuable and enduring work along every line of useful life, no other race has had equal influence on the course of American history during the last two hundred years; not even excepting the descendants of the Pilgrims. (The Scotch-Irish in America (1906), 4, Introduction by Adlai Ewing Stevenson, formerly Vice-President of the United States).
Of those emigrants Froude correctly says that it was “the young, the courageous, the energetic, the earnest … who tore up by the roots, founded homes in America, to the number by 1776 of 400,000.” “They were driven out of the land which they had saved for England by their swords at Londonderry and Ennis Killen, and they carried their enterprise to another land beyond the seas, and played a great part—perhaps the greatest—in building up” our great American dual government, as Woodburn correctly states.
Page last updated 1 September 2007.