Economic and social reasons for migration.

The motivation to migrate from Scotland and Ulster because of religious persecution was certainly a serious cause between about 1630 and 1720. After this period the factors became much more economic and social as both agrarian and industrial revolutions began to exert influence.

In the early 1700s  landlords still needed to retain their tenants and leases were offered for 21 and 31 years or for three lifetimes. These were reasonably generous and were usually made direct with the tenant. There gradually arrived on the scene the middlemen, often groups of individuals joining in a partnership who rented large tracts of land and sublet. Inevitably prices rose. By the 1750s the landowners were beginning to revert to direct leases and there was the popular observance of the `tenants rights`. By this the custom and practice was that the tenant had first choice at renewing the lease when it became due with no one else making an offer until that had been rejected. This gave a value of perhaps two or three times the rent to purchase the `interest` and was a useful additional source of funds for the intending migrant.

Agriculture and industrial growth was fastest in the east of Ulster during the 1700s and reflected the distribution of the population. There was much investment in the domestic linen industry with spinning and weaving on home looms. Alongside this the agriculture was of small flax crops and sufficient produce for the home. The majority of these small farms cum weavers did not grow produce for the commercial market. As a result they suffered when poor harvests and famine struck and they were forced to purchase supplementary foods.  In better times increased incomes gave the nudge for an increase of rents which contributed to smaller lettings of land, and more small tenants. Expansion also meant more subsidiary industry with bleach greens, textile finishing, more commerce, transport facilities and so forth.  

In the west of Ulster the expansion was more leisurely with a focus on yarn spinning and supply of yarn to the North of England mills. Agriculture was perhaps more market orientated as farmers made good use of rich pastures for fattening cattle for sale. But they too had to endure the rising rents and the relative boom and bust cycles from recession, bad harvests and famine. By the end of the 18th century there was a remarkable trade in cattle to Scotland via the port of Donaghadee. A French visitor recorded that on a day in 1796 when he crossed to Scotland there were  400 horned cattle  transported, and in the previous six weeks some  30,000 head had been carried over. He also noted that the farmers were effectively held to ransome by the ferry masters who charged as much as 1 guinea (21 shillings) per animal. Interestingly he noted that his journey, with good winds , took only two and a half hours.

In the eighteenth century therefore the various pressures saw surges of migration from time to time. 1710- 1720 was a busy time for migration from Ulster as was 1730 -1740 and 1750 -1775. The numbers who migrated vary considerably such as an average of 4000 a year in the 1760s. Other estimates suggest 6000 a year between 1725 and 1770, and 12,000 a year between 1729 and 1750. Whatever the true number the reality was that thousands of  people, many small farmer and weavers among them, set out for a new life in America during the eighteenth century.

The Famine in Ireland and Scotland

The Famine didn't happen in Ulster' has been one of the most unchallenged myths in recent Irish History. " The Famine in Ulster" by Christine Kinealy and Trevor Parkhill corrects that distortion by giving an account of how each of the nine counties and the city of Belfast, fared during this great calamity. Ulster was indeed spared what a local newspaper called 'the horrors of Skibbereen'. Nonetheless, the severity of the famine for much of the population, particularly in the winter of 1846-7 is all too apparent in each of the counties. Ninety-five inmates of Lurgan workhouse died in one week in 1847; 351 people queued to get into the Enniskillen workhouse in one day and emigration continued at an ever increasing pace while hospitals overflowed with fever cases.

In Scotland following the 1745 Jacobite rebellion there was positive action to remove power from the clan chieftains and widespread seizure and redistribution of lands. Alongside this was the forced change to an agrarian society with the development of hill sheep farming to replace the traditional crofting. A product of this was smaller farms and higher rent charges from landowners. Sheep rearing led to greedy landlords and a policy of moving people out of the glens to the coasts and disillusioned Highlanders to the ports of Fort William, Greenock and Glasgow and thence emigration. The situation was compounded in the 19C when a policy of Highland Improvements continued the forced removal until the middle of the century when it was destroyed by competition from Australia where many of the exiles had fled.

This period saw frequent famines, the worst of which followed the potato blight of 1846 which affected much of rural Scotland as well as Ireland. Here were epidemics of cholera, and whole families were found dead in the rotting straw of their huts. In the food riots which followed both blight and pestilence was rife.

Emigration to the colonies was now regarded by the Government as a noble purpose and supported by government funds and private subscription. Similar activities took place, albeit on a smaller and less emotive scale, in Kent and Sussex in England, whose salt-marshes and rolling Downs were ripe for sheep farming. But it was Scotland and Ireland that suffered the most and whose populace for one reason or another sought foreign climes. 

Recommended reading about the Famine.

The horrors of the Famine are described and commented upon in great detail in

The History of the Great Irish Famine of 1847 (3rd ed.)(1902)
With Notices Of Earlier Irish Famines

Author: John O'Rourke.

This is available free from the Gutenberg Project  as an e book. Release Date:December  21,2004  [EBook#14412]

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