The past is a foreign country… (part 2): The Scots-Irish

“The past is a foreign country: They do things differently there.” (L.P. Hartley)

The Logans are Scots-Irish. After immigrating, they settled in the backcountry of the American colonies, a(nother) borderland. They brought with them the mores and folkways of the borderlands of Scotland and Ulster. These are laid out in the wonderful Albion’s Seed — Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer. Here are a few excerpts which pertain to our backcountry Scots-Irish ancestors:

Border onomastics (naming patterns): “Favored forenames in the backcountry included a mixture of biblical names (John was the top choice), Teutonic names (such as Robert or Richard), and the names of border saints (especially Andrew, Patrick, David). This combination did not exist in any other English-speaking culture.”

Child-rearing ways: “Building the will”: Backcountry families…had special ways of raising their young [that] differed from those of New England Puritans, Pennsylvania Quakers and Virginia Anglicans–and yet similar to the folkways of the British borderlands. For backcountry boys, the object [of socialization] was not will-breaking as among the Puritans, or will-bending as in Virginia. The rearing of male children in the back settlements was meant to be positively will-enhancing. It’s primary purpose was to foster fierce pride, stubborn independence and a warrior’s courage…. An unintended effect was to create a society of autonomous individuals who were unable to endure external control and incapable of restraining their rage against anyone who stood in their way.” [Here, Fisher cites Andrew Jackson as an example.]

“This system of child rearing began by being highly indulgent and permissive. In both the British borderlands and the American backcountry, parents doted upon male children….”

Food ways: “Backsettlers…differed from other cultures in their eating habits. They tended to take only two meals a day–a plain breakfast and a hearty meal in mid-afternoon. The rhythm of two daily meals was a North Britain custom, carried to the interior of America….”

“The folklore…“actively discouraged cleanliness. To wash a milk churn was thought to be unlucky. Frogs were dropped into the milk to make it thicken. The quality of butter was believed to be improved in proportion to the number of human hairs embedded it in.” A common saying was: “The more dirt the less hurt.”

Marriage ways: The backcountry Scots-Irish (North Britains)’s season of marriage was different than in all the other British America regional cultures:

  • Congregational New England: Autumn was the “marrying time,” especially…November and December.”
  • Anglican Virginia: the favorite marrying time was “between Christmas and Lent.”
  • Quakers: Two annual peaks: one in the spring; the other in autumn.
  • Backcountry settlers, especially Scots-Irish: “A single predominant season of marriage in April, May, June and July.” Fischer notes this was the custom on the borders back in  north Britain.




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