The Scots-Irish as indigenous people

By Razib Khan | July 22, 2012 5:04 pm

A fascinating comment below:

In traveling across America, the Scots Irish have consistently blown my mind as far and away the most persistent and unchanging regional subculture in the country. Their family structures, religion and politics, and social lives all remain unchanged compared to the wholesale abandonment of tradition that’s occurred nearly everywhere else.

Unfortunately, this has a lot to do with a powerful and long-running strand of paranoia and xenophobia. I’ve ridden trains through the rail towns of WV and KY and been regarded with more unprovoked hatred than anywhere else on Earth. On the other hand, when I’ve been introduced to their clan-based social structures by close friends, it is a uniquely close-knit and life-affirming culture that I’ve been honored to participate in.

What stuck me about this comment is that it is the sort of statement you regularly see from Western anthropologists or adventure tourists in relation to indigenous colored peoples the world over. That is, a parochial clannish folk trying to hold onto to their traditions, albeit with the downside of being inward looking and often regressive (downside from the perspective of Westerners that is). What these people lack in cosmopolitan openness, they make up for in adherence to authentic values which can’t but help earn some admiration. Substitute “Scots-Irish” for “Pashtun”, “Hmong” or “Berber” and you will see what I mean.


If you are not aware (e.g., you are not American) the Scots-Irish in this context refers to a melange of peoples who emigrated to the New World from Ireland and the border region between Scotland and England in the middle of the 1700s. These were not Catholic Irish, or Gaelic speaking Highlanders. Rather, they were tough Presbyterian Protestants, whose cousins still remain committed to their distinctive identity in Ulster in Northern Ireland. They arrived to the port of Philadelphia, and spread south via the spine of the Appalachians. Many of the traits that non-Americans perceive as “Yankee” are ironically those of Scots-Irish, who were most certainly not Yankees (i.e., Puritan New Englanders). The Scots-Irish were the prototypical cowboys, pushing into the Appalachian wilderness despite the attempts of the British crown to restrain them.

Though the Scots-Irish are not “Pilgrim stock” in their length residence on the American continent, the majority were not immigrants to the United States, they were settlers of the American colonies. Their’s was part of the founding culture of the United States, and it still leaves its stamp on our society in its politics and mores, for good or ill (that depends on your perspective!). But one aspect of Scots-Irish identity is that to a great extent it has decoupled itself from any “Old Country” consciousness. A broad swath of the Eastern American Uplands is dominated by people who give their ethnicity as American. After 250 years they have only the vaguest recollections of the nature of their British antecedents.

In Ornamentalism David Cannadine makes the case that the British saw their Empire through the lens of class as much, or more than, race. Though one can quibble with the magnitude of Cannadine’s argument, I think one must grant that it is part of the picture, if not the whole picture. The importance of class in England, and more or less in Europe as a whole, is contrasted with its relatively lower salience in the United States. Why? One can make a classic materialist argument that in a labor scarcity-land surplus regime which characterized the early American republic the ossified class systems of the Old World simply could not develop. But another aspect which must be acknowledged is that the early American republic also saw the emergence of a white man’s republic, where implicit white identity gave way to the expansion of suffrage to non-property holding white males as a natural right, and the revocation of what suffrage existed for non-whites based on their racial character. The Scots-Irish were a major part of this cultural evolution, being as they were generally part of the broad non-slave holding class in the South and Border States. Though they may not have had the wealth of lowland planters, the Scots-Irish were part of the aristocracy of skin.

But ultimately this system, which waxed around 1900, has left us in the 21st century in a confused state when it comes to talking about race and class. The academic ‘discourse’ about white privilege acknowledges rhetorically the reality of class differences amongst whites, but in practice this issue never realizes itself in any actionable manner. In the 19th century this was something that non-elite whites might have viewed positively, as the bracketing of all whites together as one political nation which excluded all non-whites, irrespective of the latter’s ‘respectability’ in specific cases, redounded to their benefit. The poorest white was superior to the wealthiest non-white in the social culture of the United States in the 19th century. Race trumped class in totality. But today the elision of distinctions among white Americans without explicit ethnicity (e.g., Polish, Jewish, etc.), those whites whose Anglo-American heritage is part of the cultural DNA of this nation, results in the bracketing of all together as beneficiaries of white privilege.

This position of Scots-Irish as part of the aristocracy of race and white skin privilege leads to perverse situations. It is true that Scots-Irish Americans are arguably among the more racist white ethnic groups. But this reality can easily be mitigated by a Marxist explanation of their relative lack of economic privilege. How many people would guess that the poorest county in America is 99% non-Hispanic white? But this amelioration of contempt for the retrograde attitudes of poor whites on the part of elites is blocked in part by the racialized consensus of the 19th century which served to uplift the Scots-Irish! As I have noted before, the 21st narrative of white privilege is in many ways simply a normative inversion of the 19th century narrative of white supremacy.

All this leads to the strangeness of American in 2012 which might perplex outsiders. For example, Malia Obama, the daughter of two individuals with law degrees from Harvard, would be able to benefit from affirmative action,* because she lacks white skin privilege. In contrast, the child of a poor family from Appalachia who was white would not gain any preference, because by their nature as a white person they had the right of white skin privileged from which they benefited. You might assert here that there are points in favor for geographic and class diversity at elites schools. But from what I have read Thomas Espenshade’s work shows that elite universities tend to discriminate against rural and lower class whites (as well as Asians) to maintain diversity through admissions of sufficient numbers blacks and Hispanics. Note: well connected whites with high socioeconomic statuses are doing fine under the current dispensation. Unfortunately, non-elite whites have contributed to their own situation via the construction of the racial republic in the 19th century, which has now been turned upside down to their disadvantage.

* To be fair, the most affirmative action would be based on her status as the daughter of a president of the United States, not her race.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Race
MORE ABOUT: Scots-Irish
  • marcel

    Unfortunately, non-elite whites have contributed to their own situation via the construction of the racial republic in the 19th century, which has now been turned upside down to their disadvantage.

    How much did non-elite white contribute to the construction of the 19th c racial republic, and how much did they just accept something that worked to their benefit? From a (vulgar?) marxian perspective, perhaps they allowed themselves to be co-opted by an ideology that prevented the existence of a more widely held class-based analysis.

    My impression is that the Catholic Irish, repudiating The Liberator’s position on anti-black racism, indeed struggled to be accepted in the white man’s democracy. Is this also the case for the Scots-Irish in the U.S.?

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    Is this also the case for the Scots-Irish in the U.S.?

    uh, the scots-irish created the ‘white man’s democracy.’ the picture above is of andrew jackson, part of the scots-irish back-country ‘ascendancy.’ in any case, the issue as to whether early 19th century populism was genuine or simply elite manipulation (in this case, an alliance between anti-yankee northerners and southerners) is a complex one. i lean toward the position that the american democratic moment, when we began to think of ourselves as such, as opposed to a republic, is real, though not nearly as democratic and populist as the mythos may state.

    please note that i do accept the proposition that there was a hamilton-conservative tendency in the early republic which attempted to recreate something like european aristocracy in the united states. this early faction is what the populists were against, and i think they succeeded eminently in destroying its vitality. though victory is never complete. hamilton’s world, and the ‘american system,’ came back in a grotesque form in the gilded age plutocracy, where state served capital.

  • richard williams

    re:
    border region between Scotland and Ireland in the middle of the 1700s

    the border region between ireland and scotland is the irish sea, same as in 1700.

    re:
    Rather, they were tough Presbyterian Protestants, whose cousins still remain committed to their distinctive identity in Ulster in Northern Ireland.

    the english as part of their colonialization program took the presbyterian scots as overseers of the roman catholic irish, the english themselves wisely stayed home and collected the rents via those overseers. their grandchildren were not welcomed to remain in ireland so they immigrated to the americas.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #3, typo. fixed.

    their grandchildren were not welcomed to remain in ireland so they immigrated to the americas.

    actually, it was economic destitution. their poor eating habits is how they got labelled ‘crackers’ (they ate the crappiest crackers).

  • Grey

    “the border region between ireland and scotland is the irish sea, same as in 1700″

    The border shifted with the various easterly or westerly invasions over the Irish Sea over the centuries so sometimes it was in Ireland, sometimes in Scotland and occasionally it was the Irish Sea.

    #

    “Substitute “Scots-Irish” for “Pashtun”, “Hmong” or “Berber” and you will see what I mean.”

    And Arab and Mongol and Indo-European(?) for Highlanders on horseback.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    While I broadly agree with your post, it bears mentioning that the Scotch-Irish were not predominant through all of Appalachia. Although they settled in large numbers in both southern Appalachia (Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee), and Northern Appalachia (Western Pennsylvania), the English outweighed them in what’s now considered the core of Appalachia – West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky.

    Today, 35.2% of West Virginia’s population cite English descent, versus 18.8% “American,” 8% Irish, and 5% Scotch-Irish. Even if most of the Irish and “American” population are Scotch-Irish, there is still no way that Scotch-Irish outweigh the English in the ancestry pool.

    Looking at both reported ancestry maps by county, as well as colonial settlement maps, a similar “gap” is evident. The Scots-Irish traveled down the Shenandoah valley from Western Pennsylvania into North Carolina, but they didn’t traverse the valley itself in large numbers. Speaking personally, having had to review lists of hundreds of names in West Virginia for work, I’ve seen plenty of Smiths and Coopers, and few Wards and Logans.

  • Huxley

    They are generally known as “Scotch-Irish” and I am not sure they really exist as a separate ethnic group anymore, having been assimilated into a generic white American mix with other British folk and Germans. I have some Scotch-Irish ancestry in addition to Scottish, English, and German and this is pretty standard. I don’t think people think of Andrew Jackson, Andrew Mellon, and Woodrow Wilson as anything other than white Americans of British background.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    They are generally known as “Scotch-Irish”

    don’t be a fucking asshole or i’ll ban you, “scots” is an accepted alternative form. for example, albion’s seed has the same number of hits for both forms.

    generic white American mix

    that’s the problem: there is no generic white american mix. that is a construction. anglo-american culture has root constituents, some of which are still distinct and separable.

    Scottish, English, and German

    cultural and voting patterns still differ between british and german descended people in the midwest, for example. you shouldn’t talk about what you don’t know out.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #6, appreciate the comment. any idea where the english of northern appalachia come from?

  • Scott

    Just a counter point to the Appalachians being ignored due to being White, At Ohio State, Appalachians are eligible for minority scholarships and services.

    http://www.sfa.osu.edu/scholarships/index.asp?tab=b

  • Halvorson

    #4

    The authoritative-seeming Online Etymology Dictionary relates “cracker” to the word’s old secondary meaning of “to brag”, still preserved in the saying “not all it’s cracked up to be”.

    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=cracker&allowed_in_frame=0

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #10, good to know!

    #11, you are right, and i was wrong (or, i read that in something that was wrong). where i was right was that the term was a insult for low class english people.

  • http://educationrealist.wordpress.com Education Realist

    Just to add some anecdata, since it’s rare I see people talking about my heritage!

    I am 8th generation American, with at least two family members who fought in the Revolution, including one who was with Washington at Valley Forge. My family is resolutely plebe: border clan Scottish, Welsh, and Irish on my dad’s side, Scotch Irish and French on my mother’s side, and a lot of German on both. Oddly enough, the German in my family on my dad’s side came from West Virginia (in the 1840s at least), and the Scotch Irish on my mother’s side settled in Pennsylvania (Jefferson County, eventually Punxsutawney) in the mid-1700s. I have a several times great grandfather named after Andrew Jackson (born a couple years after he left the presidency).

    It was a point of pride on my mother’s side of the family that we never said we were Scotch Irish, German, or whatever. When asked our heritage, we said American. I think it’s because what we refer to as the Scotch Irish are actually Western European mutts. and so don’t feel part of any one heritage? Just speculation.

    I was always mildly confused by the fact that the most clearly Irish part of the family, the Depps (Samuel Depp, born in 1776 July 4th, so the family Bible says, in Dublin Ireland) were Protestant. Depp (as the famous Johnny of the clan will readily tell you) is a French or German name, definitely from Alsace. Not until I learned of the German Palatines did I finally make sense of that.

    The Palatines were German Protestants who came to England hoping to be sent to the colonies. In fact, a number of them were sent to Ireland in a failed attempt to outnumber or at least counterbalance the Catholics. Ultimately, many of the Palatines came to America, but it was a number of generations later. I don’t have any evidence yet, but I’m pretty sure that the branch we count as our purely Irish ancesters are actually German–and I wouldn’t be surprised if other Palatine descendants who went to Ireland first think the same thing.

    I’ve always thought it unfair that the Scotch Irish are dismissed as racists. The Southern aristocracy that set up slavery and the oligarchy that maintained it was English. Most of Appalachia fought either for the Union or stayed out of the war; this, too, is borne out in my family (at least five relatives on my mother’s side fought in the Civil War, one was killed in the Battle of the Wilderness).

    I know you said “arguably”, but another way to look at the Scotch Irish resolute rejection of the Big O is that the elites were fooled by a guy with pretty talk and a nice resume while the rabble weren’t buying. I’m just sayin’.

    Both sides of my family have very few college degrees; they are not “poor white” but rather range from lower to comfortably upper middle class. This has remained true through the GI Bill generation as well as the generation after mine; out of 25 great grandchildren, my son is one of 6 college graduates (or finishing graduates). This despite the fact that my paternal grandfather AND grandmother were college graduates of Carnegie Tech and an average clan IQ comfortably over 110, with a few 3 sd IQs (my grandfather, me, a couple others). My sister is currently driving me batshit crazy by not only shrugging off but approving her twins’ decision to go to community college for a couple years, even though they both have SAT scores over 1800, four passed AP tests, and so on.

    Because I’m out west, I don’t know many of my kind. It took me years to figure out how different we were from the other people I knew through my life in tech.

    By the way, Huxley, don’t you go insulting Andrew Jackson by saying he was of British background. Jackson *hated* the British. If most people don’t see that Jackson and Mellon were Scotch Irish, that’s just them being wrong.

  • Andrew Lancaster

    Although I am not personally American, I have ancestry in this area and have studied it back to Medieval times, and this has often led me to think about the subject of how the Scottish March people were a relatively independent population group that evolved in a closed ways for hundreds of years, and then spread to several new countries. It is interesting to note that these settlers came from areas which were, when they left them, unsettled and militarized down to a grass roots level. I think it is noted relatively often that this is part of what goes into the tradition of independence and militias, and which suited these people to expanding the colonies in America.

    But Razib raises class and also conscioussness of any specific old world ethnicity. These points are less discussed. Indeed, not only were these people far from any crown, and far from the city folk who nominally ruled them (consider that the marcher folk were to some extent king makers who made their own laws locally), but the class system worked differently there than in other parts of Britain and Ireland, with extensive clannish networks of landowners calling not so much upon minions, but upon people who were basically the descendents of cousins who just had happened not to inherit the big farms.

    In Britain itself, for example in my family tree, many border people ended up carrying their attitudes into the cities of the industrial north. Also in this area, their relatively dismissive attitude to class and nationality played a role in what was to happen, and the north generally (now including Yorkshire and Lancashire) has been described, at least from a British and Commonwealth point of view, as the homeland of the modern industrial age middle class.

  • Simon

    Slightly at a tangent; I’ve only been to one Berber town, but despite wandering their streets unannounced, let alone introduced, we were near dragged off the streets by the first person we met and forced to sit down, have some tea, and converse pleasantly in broken (mine) French.

    I wouldn’t have described them as inward looking, not for people living on a large rock surrounded by the Sahara.

  • Charles Nydorf

    A northern Irish friend, now living in Scotland, reports that, growing up, she was praised for being “a good crack.” The expression referred to her prowess as a storyteller and humorist.

  • archdukefranz

    Interesting discussion of how the Obama doughters might benefits from affirmative action because of their race, despite their priviledged background.

    Liberals will privately admit this but can never say such things in public. I think Elizabeth Warren is the perfect example. She made up her claims of Cherokee ancestry solely for professional advancement and she now cannot admit that fact.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    Razib,

    I’m afraid I don’t know much about the historic settlement patterns of West Virginia. The first permanent settlement in the modern state appears to have been a German-speaking village in modern-day Shepherdstown in 1727. Much of the state was only settled by the early 1800s, as native American resistance was fierce outside of the modern Eastern Panhandle. “The state has a beast of a website, but the vignettes on it aren’t too helpful and don’t have much information on who the early settlers were. This page has detailed information by county, but is also a bit of a bother to scroll through. It seems West Virginia historians aren’t big on synthesis, but this is the best short recap I can find online.

    More generally, your post reminded me of one branch of “whiteness studies” I became aware of in the late 1990s. Unlike the guilt-tripping side of whiteness studies, it focused on practices deemed “indigenous to American whites” – but in practice this meant indigenous to greater Appalachia. Essentially, making a subsection of white Americans into honorary people of color.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    She made up her claims of Cherokee ancestry solely for professional advancement and she now cannot admit that fact.

    this is disputed. just wanted to enter that into the record. also, will delete future digressions in this boring direction of contemporary politics.

  • AllenM

    What an interesting thread to read again. Razib has hit upon an important theme in my mind. The theme of the Scots Irish push through America. One quarter of my family is decended from this mass movement through America. My Gx5 Grandfather left Ireland with his extended clan of brothers and landed in America during the revolution- he promptly moved with them up to frontier at the time (late 1700s) western North Carolina. He had more than 5 children that lived to adulthood- his brothers also were prolific. Right after 1810 the entire clan sold up, and moved to western Kentucky for few years (must have been more than 50 people on the move given the number of families intertwined). Gx4 married for the first time after the next move across the Mississippi to Arkansaw in 1820s. Some of the clan stayed in Kentucky, some moved south to Mississippi. Gx4′s first wife passed in childbirth after several children that survived to adulthood. His second wife also died in childbirth (one child surviving?) He then moved to the Republic of Texas to homestead north of Dallas with his brothers (some of whom had been educated back east in NC at the Methodist Seminary and were well known preachers). He married again, she died of fever. His fourth wife was a widow from Oklahoma with two children- she had four more children that survived to adulthood, including my Gx3- he married a cousin! Moved south in Texas and was killed as a lawman before he was 40- 6 surviving children. Gx2 grew up on family relations farms, moved west to New Mexico, and finally California- moved and lived with two siblings and families. Also a lawman in California up in the mountains.

    Three generations- coast to coast- tough, combative, clannish people, with literally thousands of descendants scattered across the country. Most of them are baptists now, with some scattering of more modern protestant sects, and of course an LDS convert or two to thank for all the sleuthing that makes 250 years of movement somewhat understandable.

    As for the clannish hostile nature, I would note numerous citations to joining militias- especially against the Comanche, numerous lawman, numerous Confederate enlistees with the last name from the various settlements.

    The GGrandmother family was similar with a large Methodist bent- from Kanawha County (West) Virginia, but their origins went back to England- most likely Kent. They fought on the Northern Side of the Civil War, but dated from late 1700s settlements on the far side of the Appalachian Mountains. They also kept moving for farmland to the frontier (Kansas after the civil war) and had immense families with thousands of decendants alive today. The clan migration pattern was fairly consistent in those days and can be well established looking through the old records.

    It is interesting to see the atomization of the clan into the nuclear family over time in the 20th Century- although my Grandmother and her sisters did keep within 30 miles of each other for a significant portion of thier lives as adults.

  • Paul Ó Duḃṫaiġ

    Just regarding “Gaelic Irish” there is some general admixture in the source populations that became Scots-Irish in the states. For example I’ve seen several members of the Ireland y-DNA project (which I admin) who have ancestry in the US since the 18th century that clearly have Gaelic Irish surnames + matches. These are examples of people who either converted in Ireland (which did happen to keep land) or who emigrated and converted in new world.

    As a result you often see cases in Northern Ireland where a nationalist may have a “planters surname” whereas a Unionist might have a “Gaelic Irish” surname. Life can be funny that way.

  • M

    Nerd-digression perhaps, but out of torpor I have started re-watching Star Trek: TNG again. The character of Worf fascinates me because on one level he is a testament to the failure of multi-culturalism in that society as he clings to backwards, illogical and often repressive beliefs in the midst of the politically-correct Federation. However, he is also the character I most identify with, I think because his experience parallels mine as a half-Scotch-Irish living in a big Northern city.

  • Ed

    I always hear stories about Irish being severely discriminated against well into the twentieth century. I haven’t heard the same about Scotts or Welsh though, possibly because they are predominantly protestants.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #22, fav. episode. they ask worf about klingon gods. worf: “we killed our gods!”

    #21, in the 1840s when reformist irish clerics arrived in the states and overturned the old roman catholic order dominated by the old recusant families and french canadians one of the major issues they wanted to focus on was the lack of retention of irish immigrants. probably a moot point though, as the great wave of irish catholics who started to arrive were unlikely to get swallowed up as the previous more diffuse streams had.

  • pconroy

    @16 (Charles),

    I grew up in the Irish Midlands, and people there – like everywhere in Ireland – go out to a pub to have a few beers, tell stories, listen to music, dance, court or whatever. So someone might say to you in passing, “How was it last night at xxx pub?” and if you had a rollicking good time, you’d answer, “The craic was mighty!” Or if you go to some event, say a concert or some such and there’s not much happening, you’d say, “Where’s the craic?”

    Craic (pronounced “Crack”) is an Irish Gaelic word for the above experience. Since there is no equivalent word in English, people use the Irish word.

    Probably the expression, that joke “Cracked me up”, could be related.

    Of course not related to the urban phrase, “Crack Cocaine”… or is it??

  • pconroy

    @13,

    Very true about the Palatine Germans in Ireland. A strange fact that most Americans don’t know is that many of the Palatines in Ireland were some of the earliest Baptist converts, and 2 Palatines (I believe from Rathkeale in Limerick, Ireland) were the first to introduce the religion into the Americas.

    Here an interesting site on Huguenot and Palatine Irish names:
    http://www.dochara.com/the-irish/surnames/hueguenot-palatine-names-in-ireland/

    I grew up in Ireland, of Irish descent, and have Huguenot relatives (Cobbe, Deverall) and seem to have Palatine ones too.

    Additionally I have Quaker relatives, and Quakerism in the US and the Caribbean was introduced by William Edmondson/Edmundson, of Rosenallis, Co Laois, Ireland, near Portarlington, Co Laois – right in the area where most of my fathers relatives are from.

  • pconroy

    Overall I have 1,000+ relatives on 23andMe’s Relative Finder, and about 600 of these are from North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana.

    Here’s a partial map of relatives in the US – note the clusters in the “American” South:
    http://i47.tinypic.com/2e5ld74.jpg

    When I look at a partial listing of relatives names, here are my top matches:
    Smith – 28
    Murphy – 19
    Taylor – 17
    Miller – 17
    Moore – 16
    Green – 13
    Lewis – 13
    White – 13
    Williams – 13
    Scott – 12
    Clark – 12
    Jones – 12
    Johnson – 12
    Sullivan – 11
    Martin – 11
    Davis -11
    Brown – 11
    Phillips – 10
    Walker – 10
    Thomas – 10
    Thompson – 10

    So to answer Razib’s #6 question, where did the “english” of northern appalachia come from? I’d reckon it was Ireland?! ;)

  • Paul Ó Duḃṫaiġ

    #24 Razib, the other factor affecting “retention” up until the 1840′s is that in the pre-famine period Irish people were generally fairly “à la carte” catholics. There was very low attendance of church etc, generally on order of 40-45%. There is also the fact that the Church hierarchy was only in the process of building itself up. Priest training had only been legalised in 1795 with establisment of Maynooth — one of the conditions was it could only be in English, teaching in Irish was to be forbidden. Given the costs entailed the new “Class” of clergy were born out of the Petit-bourgeoisie Catholic merchant/growing middle classes. These by definition were major forces in the Anglicization of Ireland.

    In the period after famine this shot up to near 100% attendance. The hegemony that the church developed in Irish society was thus very much a post-famine occurrence. The church of course was very much pro-Dublin Castle (British administration). This can be seen by the constant denouncements of the IRB/Fenian Brotherhood from the pulpit etc.

    Anyways part of the sharp increase in religiosity after the famine is often place on the fact that many at the time assumed the calamity was the “punishment of god on the wicked”.

    Of course “Gaelic Ireland” was more liberal then I would imagine even today is when it comes to religious observance. Marriage in general was civil as under Irish law divorce was legal, that and there were no concept of illegimitacy, thence plenty of stories of “Lords” having 15 sons by 10 women (all of whom were eligible for succession — elected lordship) etc.

    #25 – Paul, Craic believe it or not is actually a loan word in Irish language, been derived from middle-english Crack, which has same meaning. Thence you hear the term used in North of England, Scotland as well. I know wiki ain’t great reference but it does have links to plenty of relevant references in this article:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craic

  • pconroy

    @28 (Paul)

    I don’t trust that wiki reference that “Craic” has been used in Irish since at least 1968

    I attended an all Irish school from the time I was 4 yo, in 1967, in a backward rural part of the Irish Midlands, and the word was in vogue even then, by my teacher. So my guess it has a (much ?) older provenance in Ireland.

  • Paul Ó Duḃṫaiġ

    Paul,

    Well I don’t think you can put an exact date, but I’d probably put the origin of word with the gaelicised spelling to the folk revival during the 1960′s. The word “crack” itself probably came into Ireland in the 17th century probably via Plantation of Ulster (from which later sprang the Scots-Irish) from there it worked itself into general “Hiberno-English”.

    The word isn’t present in Dineen’s dictionary from 1927, which is a treasure to read, containing massive amount of idiomatic expressions (total of 45,000 head words)

    http://glg.csisdmz.ul.ie/
    http://gogan.ie/maclochlainn-on-dinneen.php

  • Naughtius Maximus

    Is it true that the term Hill Billy relates to Scotch Irish/Ulster Scots; with Billy being a reference to William of Orange (the whole Battle of the Boyne thing)?

  • Paul Ó Duḃṫaiġ

    Naughtius Maximus, well who knows, it’s often said as a joke here in Ireland. Generally the name Billy is often associated with the North. One of my work colleagues who has no northern connection is called Billy, often for a laugh we’d go “Bill-lly” with a Northern accent. It’s quite a common name to this day among working class Loyalists, obviously middle class Unionists probably more likely to go with William in comparison.

    I would think though that it’s probably a false origin of the term.

  • j mct

    A couple of points I guess.

    Hamilton’s ‘class’ wouldn’t be anything like Euro aristocrats, the class his program would have aided would have been bourgeois or middle class in Europe. The closest thing to a Euro aristocrat in the US would have been a southern planter.

    I’m not sure, and I’m an Irishman from county Bronx so I’m not an expert on the word craic, other than no NY Irish use it, but all my relative’s from the olde sod (Armagh, Leitrim, and Mayo) do, including ones whose formative years would have been in the 1950′s, for what it’s worth.

    Per white democracy, letting hillbillies or lower class whites, calling them scotch irish is a very college professor thing to do, nobody else calls them scotch irish, including themselves, in was a straight forward expansion of the franchise or democracy, it wasn’t as if blacks were kicked out or more vigorously excluded than they were before.

    The Catholic clergy in the US was overly Irish, at least outside Louisiana, from the beginning, well before the potato famine. Amongst the bishops, it still is.

    Per Palatinates in Ireland, I’d bet as many Irish citizens actually know that as can speak irish fluently :) .

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    Hamilton’s ‘class’ wouldn’t be anything like Euro aristocrats, the class his program would have aided would have been bourgeois or middle class in Europe. The closest thing to a Euro aristocrat in the US would have been a southern planter.

    fair enough point. though it wasn’t european aristocracy based on landed wealth, it was a hierarchical society where a minority would have rents and leisure.

    The Catholic clergy in the US was overly Irish, at least outside Louisiana, from the beginning, well before the potato famine. Amongst the bishops, it still is.

    french influence pre-1820: http://books.google.com/books?id=BjA-chnsFvcC&lpg=PP1&ots=uaRjJl5TTL&dq=In%20Search%20of%20an%20American%20Catholicism%3A%20A%20History%E2%80%A6%20(Paperback)%20by%20Jay%20P.%20Dolan&pg=PA38#v=onepage&q&f=false

  • Paul Ó Duḃṫaiġ

    Razib, nice link. I’ll have to read some more of it tomorrow morning.

    I couldn’t agree more though. The Catholic hierarchy was only decriminalization in Ireland in 1782. They only got their first legal seminary in the 1790′s. The goal of which was to prevent clerical education on the continent which was default location during the 18th century (in particular France), that and to further Anglicization. The Catholic church in Ireland was thus in a very poor position until really the period after 1828 (Catholic Emancipation) where it had built up a fairly solid core. So for the life of me I can’t see how priests of Irish origin could have had much of an effect on US church until after the massive demographic inflow of the 1840′s and 1850′s.

  • http://www.isteve.blogspot Steve Sailer

    The most dramatic moment in NASCAR history was the last lap fatal crash at the 2001 Daytona 500 of Dale Earnhardt Sr. I presume that’s a German surname.

  • Roger Bigod

    One explanatory story is that the Norman Conquest ran out of gas in the area of the Border and for 500 years neither England nor Scotland could establish rule in the area. The result was a society without formal laws, courts or political direction. The associated character traits include reliance on family and clan, antagonism toward authority, quickness to resort to physical violence.

    This explains some contradictions such as the overrepresentation in the Tea Party, but also in the sergeants who keep the Army running. The strong sense of personal dignity with an ability to make fun of themselves. It’s the only ethnic group that it’s permissible to make fun of, and several comedians have made careers of doing so.

    There’s a theory that some of these traits have a genetic component, and the Borderlands may have had some assortive in- and out-migration that intensified the character and culture. This is testable, because we will know the genes that affect the behaviors and there are controls in the other populations of the British Isles. The really interesting study will be of groups like the Pashtuns and Hmong.

    It my be that the Borderlands features will have adaptive value, if industrial society declines and we have to make do with simpler supply chains and levels of social organization.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    It’s the only ethnic group that it’s permissible to make fun of, and several comedians have made careers of doing so.

    i don’t think this is true, though you are correct that comedians have a field day with the scots-irish. you can make fun of WASPs, upper midwesterners (fargo, prairie home companion), asians (apu, the guy on 2 broke girls). you can’t make fun of blacks unless you are black. that’s about the only hard and fast rule that i know of.

  • Tom Bri

    Wish I had asked my MacGregor grandma about why her folks came over. The MacGregors weren’t too popular in Scotland or England. I knew her as a nice old farmer lady. I was an adult before I learned that she had a degree, achieved sometime in the 1920s. Presbyterian, by the way.

  • Isabel

    ” you can’t make fun of blacks unless you are black. that’s about the only hard and fast rule that i know of.”

    Seriously? Aren’t you forgetting something?

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    jews?

  • Grey

    “The character of Worf fascinates me”

    Now you mention it the Klingons are the Star Trek version of this type of culture.

    “Craic believe it or not is actually a loan word in Irish language, been derived from middle-english Crack, which has same meaning. Thence you hear the term used in North of England, Scotland as well”

    As in Wallace from Wallace and Gromit and “a cracking piece of cheese.”

  • Isabel

    haha, yes :)

  • Roger Bigod

    I overstated the case, but most ethnic humor is mild compared with what’s permissible regarding the Scots-Irish. Lines that work in a Jeff Foxworthy monologue would fall flat if applied to Lake Wobegone and be offensive regarding blacks.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    I dunno how you can say it’s impermissible in American culture to make fun of Jews if you’re a gentile. Maybe it’s because I grew up in an area where half my friends were Jewish, but those jokes flew fast and easy. Admittedly, we tried to make them over-the top ridiculous so no one would think them serious, like joking about blood libel.

    There’s of course South Park’s numerous jokes too, “Jew gold” most notoriously. Of course, Matt Stone is Jewish, so maybe he gets a free pass as a writer, even though the jokes are usually set up by gentile characters.

  • Isabel

    “but most ethnic humor is mild compared with what’s permissible regarding the Scots-Irish.”

    yes,agreed esp. if you go beyond humor the difference is huge. there is no limit to how vicious the “hillbilly” portrayal can be, in a movie for example.

    KZ can you give an example of a non-Jewish stand-up comedian who makes jokes about Jews? Simply discussing Jews at all is considered anti-semitic by some, in my experience anyway.

    In any case think having to be a member of the group is a general rule, with a few exceptions who are well known to skewer all groups (not sure exactly how these break down, but usually the joker comes from one of the ‘minority’ backgrounds, as with South park). But I think anyone can joke about whites, and most of the humor does end up aimed at the lower SES end. Less cost for mocking them perhaps, or the rich are boring?

  • http://dispatchesfromturtleisland.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    “it is the sort of statement you regularly see from Western anthropologists . . . in relation to indigenous colored peoples the world over. ”

    One hypothesis in anthropology is that particular kinds of People’s white and non-white the world over (Greek and Sardinian and Chechnyian herders are other “white” examples), exhibit this cultural pattern, which is often described as a “culture of honor” after its most prominent feature to outsiders. Proponents of the theory argue that it is a natural response to the demands of a pastoralist society in places with a weak governmental authority, because credible threats of force are necessary to protect flocks in a largely lawless land. This theory then argues that the culture then persists from one generation to the next culturally even when the functional justification for this cultural pattern is long gone. Results of empirical efforts to test that part of the theory in the American context have been mixed.

    A broader version of this hypothesis also associates particular cultural hallmarks with hoe based and plough based traditional forms of food production, respectively. For example, societies that traditionally had plough based horticulture are more patriarchal because a man’s physical strength is crucial to household survival in those economies. Crude large scale comparisons of cultural features globally with traditional forms of agriculture show a corrolation.

    FWIW, while this has a lot of attractiveness to it, another quite plausible theory out there which doesn’t require such efficient multigenerational transmission of culture, that is discussed as a competitor to the Scotch-Irish heritage point, is that a lot of the cultural distinctiveness of this white ethnicity in the U.S. is traceable to the uniquely American ethnogenesis of this culture from a combination of the religious ideas of the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century in the American South (it was previously the most secular region in the U.S.), and the spillover effects of an African-American substrate culture’s influence on a white superstrate.

    All of these theories are fascinating but hard to pin down and prove.

  • Luke Raines

    Has there ever been a genetic analysis done to establish if the Scots-Irish are more Celtic or more Germanic? Or are they just too diverse to be categorized in either group?

  • http://dispatchesfromturtleisland.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    “up until the 1840′s is that in the pre-famine period Irish people were generally fairly “à la carte” catholics. There was very low attendance of church etc, generally on order of 40-45%.”

    A 40%-45% rate would exceed that of any European or European derived Roman Catholic population in the world today (African Catholic churches do better). Modern British, French, Spanish and German Catholics have church attendance rates on the order of 5%-20%, although the Italians and Irish Catholics have church attendance rates above the European baseline.

    There is also some historical case for Irish participation in Catholicism being enhanced as an institution of cultural preservation all of the way back to the point at which the English occupation of Ireland began, much earlier than the famine years.

    As an aside, much of Northern Europe was Christianized by missionaries eminating from Ireland in successive waves outward from that epicenter in Middle Ages, rather than by missionaries more directly traceable to Rome in the classical era.

    @48 “Has there ever been a genetic analysis done to establish if the Scots-Irish are more Celtic or more Germanic? Or are they just too diverse to be categorized in either group?”

    I’m not aware of any studies on point, but unless the genologies are grossly wrong, the putative places of origin of the Scots-Irish are far more Celtic than Germanic given studies that have been done of the population genetics of regions within the British Isles.

  • Grey

    “Proponents of the theory argue that it is a natural response to the demands of a low technology pastoralist society, because credible threats of force are necessary to protect flocks in a largely lawless land. This theory then argues that the culture then persists from one generation to the next culturally even when the functional justification for this cultural pattern is long gone.”

    If pastoralism relatively encourages raiding because it’s easier to rustle a cow than a field then you have a physical environment leading to a man-made environment that selects for traits suited for a more violent raiding culture. (And the opposite in the fertile farming valley down below.) Wouldn’t a relatively but noticeably more honor based culture then persist as long as the original raiding population retained a higher proportion of pro-violence traits even after the original selection pressure was lifted?

  • http://dispatchesfromturtleisland.blogspot.com ohwilleke

    “Wouldn’t a relatively but noticeably more honor based culture then persist as long as the original raiding population retained a higher proportion of pro-violence traits even after the original selection pressure was lifted?”

    The leading version of the theory argues that this is a cultural rather than genetically transmitted propensity in which case the kind of analysis that you suggest wouldn’t follow.

    Culture of honor studies have demonstrated physiological differences in Southern v. non-Southern stress chemical responses to provocation. But, as far as I know, no one has done a serious scientific study to identify potential genes or to try to isolate hereditary genetic affects associated with this ethnic culture from cultural ones (e.g. via adoption out of area of young children). It is easy to understand why. The hypothesis is not a good fit with the disciplinary paradigm and not P.C. in the least.

    Culture of honor type distinctions between herding and farming cultures are at least as old as the oldest known writing, Sumerian epics, where they are prominent features of the stories.

    @#7 and #8

    “I am not sure they really exist as a separate ethnic group anymore, having been assimilated into a generic white American mix with other British folk and Germans. ”

    The lack of a distinct self-identity label and the homogenization of American culture is giving rise to a generic white American mix. I don’t think that we are there yet, but the differences in General Social Survey type opinions between these populations and other American white ethnicities among Millenials and those of the Greatest Generation and earlier have trended materially towards homogeneization. The differences in identity between American Catholics and American Protestants, and on WASP v. non-WASP lines is also greatly diminished from what it was say, sixty years ago. This is probably a result of both exogamy and cultural factors like the sustained impact of mass media, the impact of elite educational institutions in creating a national culture, and more.

    One the other hand, political opinion is very stable geographically over long time frames. The county by county election results in 1860 and 2008 are virtually identical on the liberal v. conservative line, and the regional divides on foreign policy now are almost the same as they were in the days of George Washington in states that were around in both eras.

  • Grey

    @51
    “Culture of honor type distinctions between herding and farming cultures are at least as old as the oldest known writing, Sumerian epics, where they are prominent features of the stories.”

    Quite.

    The recurring conflict between farmers and herders seems to me to be one of the main drivers of world history.

  • pconroy

    @49 Andrew,

    I’m not aware of any studies on point, but unless the genologies are grossly wrong, the putative places of origin of the Scots-Irish are far more Celtic than Germanic given studies that have been done of the population genetics of regions within the British Isles.

    I’ve been involved over the years in genetic genealogy, and especially that of R-M222, the alleged Ui Neill descendants. Most worldwide live in this “American” region of the US South. There is a lot of contention over who is and who isn’t of Scottish descent. But researchers have pointed out that for from the earliest days in the colonies till the mid 1800′s, most Native Irish were without their priests and over time became Presbyterians, and assimilated to a Scots-Irish identity.

    Certainly the traditional population of Ireland was about 6X that of Scotland, and so you would expect far, far more Irish people to have descendants in the US than Scottish, and increasingly as DNA reveals it’s evidence, that’s what we are finding.

  • J Taylor

    non-elite whites have contributed to their own situation via the construction of the racial republic in the 19th century, which has now been turned upside down to their disadvantage.

    Elites fight one another for domination A good example of this , using the example of the Scots Irish is the glencoe massacre
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massacre_of_Glencoe
    The lowland scotish elite sided with the english and helped perptrate the massacre of the MacDonalds by the cambells.
    K Macdonald, a distant ancestor has taken up the theme of treachery by a hostile elites on his work on those who may not be mentioned the you know who’s as a hostile elite. It is less that the scots Irish have contributed totheir own demise and rather they have been displaced by a hostile elite who regards them with disdain.

  • Harmon

    Being an American of pure English descent on my New England father’s side dating from the 1630s and of Scots-English descent on my Southern mother’s from the 1700s, I must say that a lot of this resonates with me. For reasons having to do with my personal history, I pretty much identify with my mother’s people, and sure enough, the characteristics described here are the ones I’ve been aware of all along – I’ve just never thought of them in this kind of context.

    I do dispute, though, that the S-I only think of themselves as Americans if they are descended from Unionists in the Civil War. I’ve always been bemused that the descendants of the rebel southerners think of themselves as Americans, while people in most other parts of the country seem to be hyphenated, one way or another. But after reading this stuff, it looks to me like the S-I immigrants to this country probably didn’t think of themselves in terms of nationality before arriving here, and then, arriving during and after the Revolution, absorbed the intense patriotism of the time. Southerners even thought of the Civil War as the Second American Revolution.

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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