This Land WAS Your Land
By the early 1700s, the English had been established in the New World for several generations. Still, they needed more inhabitants to grow food, to harvest natural resources for exportation to England, and to protect the territory from the Native people and their French allies.
In 1715, the Pejepscot Company had partnered with the Massachusetts legislature to build Fort George on the banks of the Androscoggin River on Merrymeeting Bay, in the northeastern District of Maine. Now they were actively seeking settlers for the area.
They turned to a group of families recently arrived at Boston from across the Atlantic. Though these immigrants weren’t English, they were at least Protestant, not Catholic. Even better, these new immigrants were tough enough to prove a worthy match to the Native savages and French Catholics who continued to plague the English settlers.
These saviors were the Ulster Scots.
The Ulster Scots’ ancestors were resilient borderland people, the Lowlanders of Scotland. They were a mixture of several ethnicities: Highland Picts, Gaels, Britons, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Normans, Flemish, and an Irish tribe called Scots. They occupied the Lowlands of Scotland located between two longtime enemies, the feudal English to the south and clannish Scottish Highlanders to the north. Ultimately, two things kept the Lowlanders from thriving in Scotland: frequent battles between the English and Highlanders that devastated their home ground, and the Lowlanders’ unsustainable farming practices. These two ongoing problems combined to create a barren landscape where the Lowlanders merely subsisted as best they could.
In the early 1600s, Catholic Ireland surrendered to the invading Protestant English. King James I, seeing an opportunity to create a Protestant stronghold there, encouraged the English of crowded London and Lowlanders in southern Scotland to settle in Ulster, on land belonging to the decimated native Irish. Thus James created yet another borderland, this one between native Catholics’ land and Protestant English holdings.
Over the next century more than 100,000 Presbyterian Lowlanders, eager to lease more fertile ground, sailed across the North Channel to northernmost Ireland. There they joined 20,000 Anglican English immigrants and formed a unique culture marked by self-reliance and independence. These Ulster Scots weathered religious discrimination by the English and guerrilla warfare by the “primitive” native Irish. They also survived continual English religious, civil, and international war—but were ultimately undone by English economics.
In 1710, when most of the Ulster Scots’ land leases expired, the new rates were double or triple what they had been before. After crop failure, they could no longer feed themselves, let alone deliver an even larger part of their harvest to the landlord. Once again, they sought new land. By the start of the American Revolution in 1775, more than 230,000 Ulster Scots had left Ireland for the American colonies, carrying with them a deep resentment of the English and an even deeper will to survive.
When the Ulster Scots sailed into the port of Boston in 1718, they may not have been surprised that the English colonists didn’t welcome them with open arms. Instead, the colonists warned the uncivilized “dirty Irish” out of Boston.
Where could they go?
About fifty immigrant families attempted to settle in the western border town of Worcester, though many abandoned their newly erected log cabins after English residents burned down the partially constructed Presbyterian church. Still others removed to Londonderry, New Hampshire.
Still others chose a deal too good to be true. An estimated twenty-five to forty Ulster Scots families accepted the Pejepscot Company’s offer of free passage from Boston to the eastern wilderness of Merrymeeting Bay. In fact, so many of them settled in the precarious location, bordered by “civilized” English Boston to the south and enemy French and Native territories to the north, that a 1720 map of the area clearly labels an “Irish” settlement in Brunswick.
The “wild Irish” arrived in Brunswick at the end of summer to find a land still marked by war: formerly majestic oaks now blackened stumps, previously cleared farmland become forest once again, and all of it guarded over by a stone fort and fifteen English soldiers.
The Ulster Scots immediately set to, building shelters and laying in stores for the coming winter. Once again, it would be up to them to take care of themselves.
Next Blog: Location, Location, Location-Part III: This Land BELONGS to You and Me
- Bolton, Charles Knowles. Scotch Irish Pioneers in Ulster and America, published by Bacon and Brown, Boston, 1910. https://archive.org/stream/scotchirish00boltrich/scotchirish00boltrich_djvu.txt. Accessed June 12, 2015.
- Janssonius van Waesberge, Johannes, La Grande Britagne sheet map, published by Keere, Pieter van den.1646. www.oshermaps.org/map/151.0001. Annotated and accessed Dec. 23, 2016.
- McKeen, John. Four Lectures on the History of Brunswick. Brunswick, Curtis Memorial Library, 1985. Call No. 974-191.
- Southicke, Cyprian. The Harbour of Casco Bay and Islands Adjacent. Richard Mount Thomas Page and Company, London, 1720. Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library. http://maps.bpl.org/id/17665. Accessed Oct. 10, 2016.
- Wheeler, George Augustus Wheeler, MD. And Henry Warren Wheeler. History of Brunswick, Topsham, and Harpswell, Maine. Alfred Mudge & Son, Printers, Boston, Mass., 1878. http://community.curtislibrary.com/CML/wheeler/index.html, accessed July 30, 2016.