www.childers-shepherd.org, 12 Feb 2008
|Historical Background for Our Families
Take a moment to begin counting your "parents". Each of us has two parents, four grandparents, eight
great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents and so on. Assuming an average of four
generations per century, if we continue back to 1700, each of us has over four thousand direct-line
ancestors to that point, including hundreds of different surnames.
Some of our ancestors were native people, often Cherokee, whose generations in this land go back
into prehistory. However, most of our ancestors arrived more recently in North America.
Most of these more recent arrivals in the piedmont and mountains of western North Carolina were
"Ulster Scots" or "Scotch-Irish". That is, they were poor lowland Scots who, in the 1600's, were
encouraged by King James I (the very same one who authorized the much loved King James Version
of the Bible) to move to the Ulster Plantation which he established in northern Ireland as a way of
exerting control over the rebellious Irish. The lowland Scots were joined by some poor farmers from
Yorkshire and other areas of northern England. They farmed, grew flax, tended sheep, and made
linen fabric and woolen goods. And they worshiped God as faithful Presbyterians.
A hundred years later, hard times at home in Ulster and rumors of abundant good land in the
American colonies drove thousands upon thousands of these Ulster folk to migrate. Most of them
landed at Philadelphia and settled wherever they could find available land, first in southeastern
Pennsylvania, and then later along the great wagon road southward into the Shenandoah Valley of
Virginia and on to piedmont and western North Carolina. These migrations occurred in several great
waves from about 1715 until about 1775.
While the land was fertile and cheap, life was hard. The Cherokee, who felt threatened by the invasion
of arriving palefaces, attacked often and ferociously. The settlers responded in a similar way. There
was hardly any energy for establishing such essentials of civilized life as churches and schools. When
they did gather in groups to establish congregations, it was nearly impossible to find acceptable
preachers because the Presbyterians insisted that their clergy know Greek, Hebrew, and Latin as well
By and by, the Baptists and the Methodists, who did not require their ministers to be educated, filled
the vacuum, so that most of the erstwhile Presbyterians eventually found spiritual community as
Baptists or Methodists.
- summarized from the excellent book by James G. Leyburn, The Scotch-Irish: A Social History, University of North
Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC, 1962.
For an excellent general history of western North Carolina, see Ora Blackman, Western North
Carolina: Its Mountains and Its People to 1880, Appalachian Consortium Press, Boone, NC, 1980.