Project Canterbury

History of the American Episcopal Church 1600-1915

By the Reverend S. D. McConnell, D.D., D.C.L., LL. D.

Milwaukee: Morehouse Publishing Co., 1934.
London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., 1934.

Part First. The English Church in the Colonies

Chapter XV. The Scotch-Irish

England and Scotland at the Reformation; Calvinism and Presbyterianism; Presbytery and Episcopacy; Episcopal rigor; emigration to Ireland; emigration to the United States; hostility to the Church; a cordon around her; influence upon the Church.

At the period of the Reformation England and Scotland were two separate nations, as distinct as the United States and Canada now are. England had through her whole history resisted, and in the end beat off, the aggressions of the Papacy. Scotland had succumbed almost entirely. When the time came, the Reformation had more to do in Scotland, had to do it by a harder battle, against greater odds, in the face of established authorities, religious and secular, and through a far more bitter experience, than fell to the lot of her neighbor. In England the king and officers of state, the bishops and leading clergy, led the movement. In Scotland all these opposed it. In England Episcopacy emerged from the long struggle intact. In Scotland it went down before the people's determination to reform, which purpose the bishops opposed. The Reformed Church of Scotland never forgot that the bishops had joined hands with the Papal enemy.

Wishart and Knox brought into it the Calvinism and Presbyterianism which they had learned at Basle and Frankfort and Geneva in the days of their exile. The twin system of Dogma and Organization struck its roots in the very fabric of the Scottish mind and character. It has lived there a more vigorous and tenacious life than elsewhere in the world. When it had decayed at Geneva it flourished at Edinburgh. When it had become loosened and capable of revision there, it is found in its pristine strength at Pittsburg. When the Protestant Revolution had subsided, Episcopacy had been rooted out in Scotland, and the soil where it had grown sown with the salt of Calvinism. When the two crowns were united in that of James I, there began that long struggle for supremacy between the two peoples whose history had been so diverse. The match was not conspicuously unequal. The advantage which the more numerous population of England gave her was counterbalanced by the profound conviction and fierce tenacity of purpose which marked the Scotch. The stake at issue was the control of the ecclesiastical organization of the United Kingdom. The issue was by no means a foregone conclusion. If the English won when swords and muskets were the weapons, the Scotch knew how to "jouk an' let the jaw go by," and gain their end by cautious and patient diplomacy. Once, at least, they succeeded in having the "Solemn League and Covenant" against prelacy sworn to by monarch and parliament, and Presbyterianism made the law of the land. But the southern half of the kingdom steadily outgrew the northern, and in the long run numbers tell. Presbyterianism was beaten back beyond the border; Episcopacy crossed in pursuit, by the same path upon which the Covenant had once come southward. The ecclesiastical authority of the realm set about to exterminate Presbyterianism, as it, in its turn, had attacked Episcopacy.

In the contest from this time onward the weight of suffering fell upon the Scotch. It was a game of hammer and anvil, and the English wielded the hammer. In the last quarter of the seventeenth century the Scotch Presbyterian's life was a burden to him. "Uniformity" acts, "Test" acts, "Conventicle" acts, entangled him at every turn. It was a felony to worship otherwise than by the Book of Common Prayer, to conduct family worship when more than five beside the household were present, to preach without permission of the bishop, to boggle at abjuring the Covenant which the Presbyterian held sacred, to absent one's self from the parish church. All synods, presbyteries, and sessions were declared illegal. A new hierarchy was set up, with a renegade Presbyterian at its head. Ignorant and godless priests were set in charge of the churches. [Burnet: History of His Own Time, i. p. 229.] The laws were enforced by sequestrations, fines, the gaol, the stocks, boot, thumbscrews, pillory, and the gallows. But all in vain. The stern stuff of which Scotch Presbyterianism was made finally prevailed, and the Presbytery became established north of the Tweed.

Meanwhile many to whom life had become intolerable sought refuge in Ireland, then a sort of No-man's-land. A sheriff's writ could hardly cross the Channel, and the moss troopers were not there to harry them. They were welcomed as thrifty tenants upon the large, half-waste tracts held by English landowners. But as the civilization of the island increased, its whilom obscurity ceased to shelter them. The same contest of argument and arms between the bishops and the Presbyterians, which had wasted Scotland, sprang up in Ireland. The bitterest theological controversies, diversified by passages at arms, occupied a whole generation. Finally it embittered the relations between land-owning Churchmen and the Presbyterian tenantry. The "Antrim Evictions" left thousands of them without home or shelter. In two years thirty thousand emigrated to America. [Craighead: Scotch and Irish Seeds in American Soil, p. 274.] They found many of their kin already here. The prisoners taken at Dunbar and Bothwell Brig fifty years before had been sold as slaves to the plantations. [Ibid., p. 266.] Scotch noblemen and gentlemen had bought large lands for their fellow religionists in South Carolina. There were settlements of them in Virginia and Maryland. But at the opening of the eighteenth century they began to come in like a flood. Boston, Philadelphia, and Charleston were the principal places of entry. Of these, Philadelphia was the favorite. Whole congregations came, bringing their ministers with them. "In the first half of the century, Down, Antrim, Armagh, and Derry were emptied." [Fronde: History of Ireland, vol. i. p 129.] In 1740 the immigration had reached twelve thousand a year to Philadelphia alone. [Hodge: History of the Presbyterian Church, p. 51.] They halted but a little at the seaboard, but passed at once through the coast settlements, and took possession of the frontier. In the fertile valley of the Mohawk, the rich, rolling land of the Susquehanna, the long, trough-like valleys which lie among the eastern ranges of the Alleghenies, in the uplands of Virginia, Maryland, and the Carolinas, they established their homes. They were a profoundly religious people. With a spirit like, and yet unlike, the Puritan settlers of New England, they have left their impress indelibly upon American religion. The uppermost feeling in their minds, when they came, was hatred of Episcopacy, whether in its Romish or its English guise. Their fathers had challenged it to mortal combat a century before, and in their own time the battle had gone against them. In the early years of the last century there were Scotch Presbyterians living here whose ears had been cut off by "Kirke's lambs"; whose fathers had been hung before their eyes for attending conventicles; who had worn the boot and thumbkins while Leslie stood by and jeered; who had been hunted away from their burning homes by that polished gentleman and stanch Churchman, John Graham, of Claverhouse ; ministers who had been browbeaten by Irish bishops, and denied sympathy even by the gentle Jeremy Taylor, [Craighead: p. 225.] had been turned out of their livings, fined, imprisoned, their ministerial office derided, the children of the marriages they celebrated pronounced bastards. A deep and sullen hatred of the Church which they regarded as the author of their wrongs was part of the furniture which they brought here with them. They were not likely to consider that they themselves were animated by a similar spirit, and, the opportunity being given, would have reversed the parts in the tragedy. In point of fact, the opportunity had not been given, and so things were as they were. The sober judgment of the world is now made up that the Church lost far more than she won by the methods then adopted. The fair-minded and candid Hallam well says, "It was very possible that Episcopacy was of divine institution, but for this institution houses had been burned and fields laid waste, the gospel had been preached in the fields, and its ministers shot at their prayers. It was a religion of the boot and thumbscrew, which a good man must be very cold-blooded indeed if he did not hate and reject from the hands which offered it. For, after all, it is much more certain that God abhors cruelty and persecution than it is that He has set up bishops to have a superiority over presbyters." [Constitutional History, vol. iii. p. 435.] At the end of the period now before us, [From 1700 to the War of Independence.] the Scotch-Irish had established a cordon in the rear of the Church, whose seat was on the seaboard, reaching from Londonderry in New Hampshire, and following the foothills of the Alleghenies, to Georgia. They gave the religious tone to the life which was preparing to start with leaps and bounds across the mighty West. They made the first inroads into the wilderness "over the mountains." They planted in the new settlements the seed of hostility, or, at the best, dislike of the Church and her ways. They repaid with interest the grudge they owed her for her part in their fathers' quarrel.

But at the same time they became, unwittingly, her bulwark against the savage Indians and the Roman Catholic French. In the long and bloody French wars they bore the brunt. Behind the rampart they formed, the Church pursued her course in peace. When she had grown strong enough, in the next century, she moved out side by side with her ancient enemies, whose hostility had then abated, to possess the land of the West. For a while the Presbyterians stood sturdily with the Church against the enthusiasm of the "Great Awakening," and for the high Church and Sacramentarian ideas they had brought with them, [The definitions of the Sacraments in the "Confession of Faith" are such as would satisfy the very highest Churchman.] but in the end they succumbed to its influence. [Briggs: American Presbyterianism, pp. 249, 250, 252.] From them rather than from the Puritans have come, for example, the popular judgment as to the proper observance of the Lord's Day, and the attitude of the individual Christian towards amusements and recreations. These notions have, in turn, unconsciously and unavoidably affected the practice of Church people in these regards. [Canon XIV, 1789.] The Church has caught from them also a certain seriousness of religious life and carefulness of personal conduct, for which she owes a debt. On the other hand, this debt has been more than repaid by the company of recruits which they have constantly furnished to her membership. Bishops, priests, and laymen, the roll of whose names would fill a book, have come to the Episcopal Church from conviction of her better ways, who have never lost their kind goodwill to their old Presbyterian home.

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