Presbyterians to America

One can only speculate what might have been the outcome of the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland had not so many Ulster Presbyterians, the backbone of that radical movement the United Irishmen, left our shores in the eighteenth century to find a new life in America. Our previous article demonstrates what a huge effect these pioneering people had on the future history of that emerging nation on the other side of the Atlantic. 

Subsequent emigration patterns of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were mainly of destitute or impoverished people, Catholics driven off the land, but the enterprising Presbyterians of the eighteenth century – also ironically fleeing religious persecution (from leaders of the Established Protestant Church) and economic and social deprivation – became hardy, resolute immigrants who as first settlers, quickly integrated into the new nation.

An estimated quarter of a million, most of recent Scottish Presbyterian stock left Ulster for America in the seventeenth century. Many had arrived in Ulster as refugees from religious intolerance in Scotland or England, or France.  Many were tenants on recently confiscated lands from native Gaelic clans and tasted animosity. Some came as Planter families.

There were five great waves of this emigration pattern: 1717-18; 1725-29; 1740-41; 1754-55; and 1771-75. That first wave was instigated by a severe drought that ruined Ulster crops. Ships were chartered for 5,000 men and women to go to Pennsylvania. Later ports of departure included Warrenpoint, Newry, Belfast, Derry, Larne and Portrush, arriving on a regular basis at Philadelphia, Newcastle, Delaware, New York and Charleston. 

Despite the hazardous journey of six to eight weeks, most reached their destination to start a new life in more felicitous circumstances. It was generally accepted that the Ulster shipowners and captains had a much better safety record and survival rate than their European counterparts who ferried the German Palatine Lutheran emigrants to America. The average fare was ~

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