The Ulster-Scots

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The Ulster-Scots In Pennsylvania

   The initial settlements in Pennsylvania were made in the southeastern counties in the vicinity of the ports of Philadelphia, Chester and New Castle. As more and more families arrived, they moved further westward. The towns in the eastern region were inhabited by the Quakers, who had founded the colony, and the Germans, who had begun immigrating to the colony in the early-1700s. Many of the Ulster-Scots who were forced to emmigrate from Ireland because of the economic conditions in their homeland could make the voyage only by entering into indentured servitude. The services of those individuals and families were most often purchased by the wealthy Quakers, and therefore they settled in that region. As soon as they became freed of their obligations they generally. moved onward. The Ulster-Scots who had been able to finance their journey to America tended to move beyond the already inhabited sections of the province and homesteaded in the frontier regions.

   In the period from the year 1717 through the 1750s the "frontier" was in the present-day counties of Berks, Lebanon, Lancaster, York and Adams. Through the 1760s and into the 1770s the "frontier" was pushed north and westward with the acquisition of lands from the Indians and the erection of Cumberland and Northampton Counties in 1750 and 1752 respectively. In 1771 Bedford County was formed out of Cumberland. In the following year Northumberland County was formed out of Northampton. Then in 1773 Westmoreland County was formed out of the western portion of Bedford. The erection of each new county points to the influx of settlers; as the frontier regions were settled and became more and more crowded, the demand for conveniently accessible courts of law arose. When the Pennsylvania Assembly saw that a particular region had reached a certain level of inhabitants and merited being separated into smaller jurisdictional regions, it granted the requests and erected a new county.

   Of course the Ulster-Scots were not the only ethnic group which pushed into the Pennsylvania frontier. There were quite a number of German families who were also frontier homesteaders. The two groups coexisted somewhat peaceably in the frontier primarily because they were both outsiders in regard to the English. The mountainous region in the center of Pennsylvania was ideal for the way of life of both groups and sufficiently distanced them from the English in the eastern counties. The Germans sought out good limestone based farmlands and they found them in the Appalachian Mountains. The Ulster-Scots tended to find the solitary isolation of the Appalachians ideal to their own temperament.

   The mountain range known as the Appalachians stretches in a curving arc from the northeast corner of the province of Pennsylvania, through the southcentral region of that province and on southward through Maryland, Virginia and into the Carolinas. At the time of the initial waves of the Ulster-Scot migration it served as a natural boundary line between the English colonies and the Indian lands. Apart from a few instances in which the white settlers (for the most part UlsterScots) violated the Indian treaties and moved into the lands to the west of the boundary, the incoming settlers tended to homestead in the great valley just to the east of the Appalachian range. As the lands in Pennsylvania filled up, the incoming settlers moved southward into Virginia and eventually into the Carolinas. Then, in 1754 a new treaty was signed at Albany, New York with the Indian sachems by which they granted tracts of land to the Allegheny Mountains (which define the western edge of the Appalachians) to the province of Pennsylvania. With the prospect of new lands to homestead upon, many residents of the established counties along with new immigrants pushed into that region. In the 1768 New Purchase Treaty, the Indians conveyed lands to the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly which lay to the west of the Allegheny Mountain Range.

   Note: The author of this article resides in the portion of Mother Bedford which was erected as Blair County in 1846. The remainder of this article will dwell primarily on the settlement of the Ulster Scots in Blair County.

   Blair County was part of the region that was opened up for homesteaders by the Treaty of Albany in 1754. It was not until about 1768, though, that the first settlers moved into the portion of that region which would be given the name of Blair County in 1846. From 1768 until 1774 there were only a few families that had established their homesteads in this collection of mountains and valleys that lay between the Allegheny and Tussey Mountains. Then, between 1775 and 1779 there was a large influx of settlers. The period from 1778 through 1782 was one in which the relations between the Indians and the Euro-American settlers broke down and Indian incursions into the region were increased. Many, perhaps half, of the original pioneer settlers left Bedford County and few of them returned. After the American Revolutionary War was over there occurred a massive migration of people all over the eastern seaboard. Once more settlers flooded into this region; included among them were many Ulster-Scots.

   The Ulster-Scots and the Germans tended to stick to themselves and settled in different valleys in the part of the region that would be designated as Blair County. The Germans settled principally in the Morrisons Cove and Indian Path valleys while the Ulster-Scots built their homesteads in the Scotch, Logan and Sinking Spring valleys. The German settlers tended to obtain their property through legal means of warranting, surveying and then patenting the land. The Ulster-Scots, on the other hand were known to obtain their property by simply squatting on a certain tract of land and hoping not to be ousted from it when the government noticed. Quite a number of Ulster-Scot families settled in the Sinking Spring Valley on the tract claimed by the Proprietors. The Penn family had surveyed and set aside many tracts of land throughout the province for their own private future use. Those tracts were often homesteaded upon by the Ulster-Scots. They sincerely (albeit erroneously) believed that since the Proprietary family had invited them to emigrate from their homeland with the prospect of lands to settle upon, then the Proprietary Tracts were the lands they had been invited to. The earliest tax assessment return that is still in existence in the collection of records maintained in the Bedford County Court House which separates the families settled on the Proprietors' Lands is one taken in 1785. That return listed thirty-two families residing on the Proprietors' tract of Sinking Spring Valley. Some individual families were spread out in the other valleys, including the Indian Path Valley, which encompassed much of Old-Greenfield Township.

   The period between the year 1778 and 1782 was one of intensified Indian/Euro-American conflict. The only Frankstown Township tax assessment returns from the American Revolutionary War period that are currently in existence in the Bedford County Court House are for the years 1775, 1779 and 1782. It is difficult to know whether any others simply did not survive, whether they were removed by earlier researchers, or whether they simply were not taken. The 1779 Frankstown Township Tax Assessment recorded many of the residents as "absant", meaning that they had left the region. Most of them moved eastward to the relative safety of Cumberland County, and as already mentioned, did not return to Bedford County. As the Indian attacks grew more frequent and intense, the day to day government of the county may have been affected; there might not have been much motivation on the part of the tax assessors and collectors to travel about through the region at their own personal danger.

   Many, but not necessarily all, of the families that fled from Bedford County were Ulster-Scot. The Germans tended to cling to their farms moreso than the Ulster-Scots; they were more reluctant to give in to the terrors of the Indians. The Ulster-Scots had been harassed for so many centuries that they did not feel the same attachment to the land as what the Germans did. The Ulster-Scots, though ready for a fight at the drop of a hat, tended to move from one location to another without any misgivings.

   Prior to the Indian incursions and the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, as noted previously, the Ulster-Scots and the Germans tended to separate themselves from each other somewhat. Following the Revolution, as more families came back to this region, the two ethnic groups began to intermingle more. The war, and the intermingling of men of different ethnic backgrounds in the armed forces, probably helped to bring the people closer together.