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The Scotch-Irish in America
Proceedings of the Third Congress at Louisville
The Scotch-Irish of South-Western Pennsylvania.
By Mr. S. T. Wiley.


It is fitting and appropriate that the present Scotch-Irish Congress should assemble in the metropolis founded by Boone, and largely settled by Scotch-Irish whose rifles won its productive fields from the sway of the Indian.

The Scotch-Irish is a wonderful race, which has always made the measure of its opportunity the measure of its responsibility; and by its aptitude, tact, honor, sincerity, integrity, ability, truth, and energy has made itself a potent factor in the progress and prosperity of every land in which it has become an element of population.

Historians have failed to accord the Scotch-Irish race its rightful place in the colonial history of the American Republic, or to yield the just tribute duo to the valor and devotion of unnumbered thousands of Scotch-Irish who have fallen on a hundred battle-fields throughout the Union, and whose graves, green in the summer's grass and white in the winter's snow, stretch from the beautiful gulf-shore of the sunny South to the swelling waters of the great Northland lakes.

At the opening of the eighteenth century the Alleghanies constituted the western boundary of English colonial territory; but in the mountain valleys between the tide-water regions of the South and the Alleghanies, and in the longitudinal valleys between the Susquehanna River and the Alleghany Mountains arose a wonderful class of people whose courage and whoso arms won the Mississippi Valley and the great West. They will be known in the future as the backwoodsmen of the Alleghanies, and will soon be recognized as the equal of the Puritan and the Cavalier.

These backwoodsmen were nearly all Scotch-Irish from the north of Ireland. They stretched a broad belt from north to south, a shield of sinewy men thrust in between the people of the sea-board and the red warriors of the wilderness. They differed from the world in dress, in customs, and in mode of life. In the conquest of the West the backwoods ax, shapely, well-poised, with long and light head, and the long small-bore, flint-lock, frontier rifle were the national weapons of the American backwoodsmen, who have never been excelled in their use. Their fringed hunting-shirt, of homespun or buckskin, was the most picturesque and distinctively national dress ever worn in America. They crossed the Alleghanies and plunged often into shadowy and wolf-haunted woodlands in whose tangled depths lurked the hawk-eyed and wolf-hearted Indian, who was a terrible and cruel foe. The dark tribesmen of the forest, on their own ground in the woods defeated the finest drilled veteran troops in the world, and were never whipped among the trees by any enemy except the backwoodsmen of the Alleghanies.

The founding of this great republic was on the Atlantic shore by the Cavalier, the Puritan, the Patroon, the Quaker, the Catholic, and the Huguenot; but an honorable and important share in the establishment of its independence, and its wonderful growth and great increase of territory is due to the backwoodsmen of the Alleghanies, who passed off the stage of action without ever realizing the importance or magnitude of the work which they accomplished in the building up of the United States.

By 1763 the American backwoodsmen had increased in numbers in the valleys along the Alleghanies, so that they were ready to flood the continent beyond. From Bedford and York Counties and the Cumberland Valley in Pennsylvania, from Western Maryland and from the Shenandoah and Kittanning Valleys in Virginia, the Scotch-Irish poured in a steady stream into South-western Pennsylvania, despite the King of England's proclamation prohibiting settlement west of the Alleghanies, in Pennsylvania and North-western Virginia. They successfully resisted and evaded the English troops sent from Fort Pitt to drive them away, and bid defiance to the proclamations issued by the Governors of Pennsylvania and Virginia, who ordered them to leave the country until its title was obtained from the red lords of the forest.

In 1768 the Indian title was purchased, and during the next year Pennsylvania and Virginia, who both claimed the territory of South-western Pennsylvania, commenced selling land, whose settlement almost led to civil war between the adherents of the two provinces. Pennsylvania established a court of justice (the first west of the Alleghanies) at Hannastown, the capital of her then (1773) created county of Westmoreland, while Virginia organized the judiciary of her West Augusta District at Fort Pitt, and two years later made the disputed territory part of her three counties of Ohio, Monongalia, and Yohogany. The Scotch general, Arthur St. Clair, was the principal leader of the Pennsylvania settlers, while the Scotch Irish colonel, William Crawford, whom the Indians burned at the stake at Sandusky, was one of the active and most successful of the Virginia magistrates and leaders. The Scotch-Irish, divided in their colonial allegiance, were thus arrayed in bitter strife against each other, but as the contest was assuming alarming proportions and was threatening to culminate in bloodshed, news came of the battle of Lexington.

The rifle-shots on "Lexington Common" awoke an intense patriotism in the hearts of these contending Scotch-Irish, who, leaving the jurisdiction of the disputed soil to be determined by their Colonial Legislatures, rushed to arms, and on the same day, May 16, 1775, both at Port Pitt and Hannastown, pledged their lives and their fortunes in the cause of the colonies against the oppressive measures of the English Ministry. Proctor, St. Clair, Mackey, Wilson, Butler, Brady, and Van Swearingen recruited seven companies of the Eighth Pennsylvania at Hannastown, while Crawford enlisted the larger part of the Seventh and Thirteenth Virginia Regiments at Fort Pitt, and Capt. Cresap drew from this county twenty-two of his famous Maryland company, which joined Washington at Boston. The larger part of these men, nearly two thousand in number, were Scotch-Irish and were splendid marksmen. They fought under Washington from Long Island to Valley Forge while a portion of them were at Saratoga, where their unerring rifles helped largely to turn the scale of victory in favor of Morgan and Arnold. They were sent in 1777 to Fort Pitt to check the Indians, and served along the western border until the close of the war.

The Scotch-Irish formed the larger part of the forces engaged in Lochry's (1781), Crawford's (1782), Harmar (1790), and St. Clair's (1791) Indian expeditions into the Ohio country.

South-western Pennsylvania was the center of the whisky insurrection—the first rebellion in the United States—which was principally the work of the Scotch-Irish, who, when they found themselves lacking in expected war material and the support of a part of the people of Western Pennsylvania, prudently dispersed before the large army which came against them under the command of Washington and his ablest revolutionary generals.

In every war of the republic the Scotch-Irish of South-western Pennsylvania have taken a prominent and distinguished part. The pioneers and early settlers of South-western Pennsylvania were of mixed race: Irish, German, Scotch, English, Welsh, and Scotch-Irish. But the dominant strain in their blood was the Scotch-Irish, who constituted the majority of their numbers, and whose churches and school-houses were built in the shadow of the frontier forts.

These different elements were composed of the bravest and most daring spirits of their respective races. The Irish possessed all those traits of national character for which they have been distinguished for centuries, and bore well their part in the frontier struggle. The next distinctive class was the German, who laid out a life-work devoted to labor, and who were sober, plain, economic, honest, religious, and firm in the discharge of duty. The Scotch were hardy, moral, and fearless; the English were noted for a high sense of honor and lofty spirit of independence; and the Welsh, like the English, could not be excelled for intelligence and bravery, and were ever foremost in times of danger.

The Scotch-Irish, by weight of numbers and prominence in civil and military life, stamped their character upon the country whose affairs they controlled for many years. Strong-willed and self-reliant, distinguished for intelligence, morality, patient industry, and honest thrift, they were wise in council, sagacious on the march, and brave on the battle-field.

Besides parts of Alleghany, Westmoreland, and Somerset Counties, the three entire counties included within the territory of Southwestern Pennsylvania were named for Washington and his brave and distinguished generals, Greene and Lafayette. But little effort has ever been made to collect the local history of Greene County, while Washington County has achieved national reputation through its Scotch-Irish college (Washington and Jefferson) and its Presbyterian Churches. In treating of the part which the Scotch-Irish have played in the history of Fayette County, I shall notice three events of national importance. In the eastern highlands of Fayette County, in the dawn of morning light, Washington fired the first gun of a great war that swept New Franco from the map of the New World and established the supremacy of the English-speaking race in North America; in the western hill country of this county the Scotch-Irish McCormacks and Cochrans first began the manufacture of the world's typical coke, in one of the richest coal fields in the world ; while on a great rock in a beautiful valley in Redstone Township, Alexander Campbell preached his first sermon in the establishment of the Disciple Church.

Col. William Crawford was one of the first of the Scotch Irish to settle in what is now Fayette County. Within such limited space it would be impossible to mention all the Scotch-Irish families who have been residents of this county, and yet such a history is very important. It is the proper work of a county Scotch-Irish Society, an organization that should be established in every county in the United States.

In every profession and occupation of life the Scotch-Irish have been prominent in Fayette County. Daniel Sturgeon, the "silent Senator," with Edgar C. Cowan, another Scotch-Irishman of Westmoreland County, have been so far the only two United States Senators from South-western Pennsylvania. Among the physicians of Fayette County none stood higher than Dr. Hugh Campbell, while as financier none were more able or safe than Judge J. Kennedy Ewing, Col. Ewing Brownfield, and Jasper M. Thompson; and to-day among the leading business men of the county none have been more successful than Col. Reed, Robert Hogsett, and the Moores. On the bench, Nathaniel Ewing, Nathaniel Breading, James Lindsey, and Edward Campbell presided with ability and fairness; while among the members of the bar, James Veech, Alfred Patterson, and a score of other Scotch-Irish lawyers have been recognized as an honor to their profession.

The oldest in active practice of the lawyers at the Fayette County bar to-day is Col. Thomas B. Searight, a prominent and well-known public man of extended political influence in Western Pennsylvania. He is Scotch-Irish like his college classmate, James G. Blaine, and has served in both Houses of his State Legislature, as well as having served as Surveyor-general of Colorado. He is a man of good legal attainments as well as fine literary ability. He is now engaged in preparing an extensive and valuable work on the "Old National Road," a road which was a pet of Henry Clay in his day. For over thirty years Col. Searight has been in continuous and active public service, and within the last two years has been chiefly instrumental in wresting his county from the hands of the Republican party and securing an old-time Democratic majority in the county which had formerly been largely Democratic. He is a brother of James A. Searight, who is President of the People's Bank of Fayette County, and who was the first member of the Scotch-Irish Society of America from South-western Pennyslvania.

The Searight (originally written Seawright) family of Fayette County was founded by William Searight (the father of Col. T. B. and James A. Searight), who was Scotch-Irish on both paternal and maternal sides. His paternal grandfather, William Seawright, came from County Donegal, Ireland, to Lancaster County, Pa., in 1740. He married Ann Hamilton, who came from Belfast, Ireland, about the same time and settled in the same locality. Ann Hamilton was an aunt of Maj, Hamilton, of South Carolina, of whom Col. Evans, of Columbia, Pa., in his "Notes and Queries" writes as follows:

Maj. James Hamilton (son of William Hamilton) (father of Gov. James Hamilton, of South Carolina) was unquestionably the most distinguished member of this more than ordinary family. He was born upon the parental farm in 1758, in Leacock Township. He was probably one of the classical scholars of the Rev. Robert Smith at Pequea Church. When the tocsin of war sounded at Massachusetts Bay, his heart was fired with patriotic zeal before he attained his majority. On March 16, 1776, he was enrolled as second lieutenant in Capt. John Murray's company of riflemen in the Second Battalion of Col. Miles's regiment. He must have shown an aptitude for military affairs to an unusual degree in one so young to be placed in the line of officers. In his future career he demonstrated the wisdom of the selection. He was in active service in the Jerseys, and participated in the campaign there. He was in the hottest of the fight on Long Island in August, taken prisoner, and not exchanged until November 2, 1777. For gallant conduct in this action, in September, 1778, he was promoted to a captaincy in the First Pennsylvania, commanded by Col. James Chambers (who subsequently married a Miss Hamilton). On December 10, 1778, he was promoted to major of the Second Pennsylvania Regiment of the Line, commanded by Col. Walter Stewart. In May, 1780, he commanded a detachment, and, as senior major, his battalion at Yorktown, which was in Gen. Wayne's command.

After the surrender of Cornwallis, Gen. Wayne with his brigade was sent to the relief of Charleston, and Maj. Hamilton was in service there when peace was declared. While there he met Miss Elizabeth Lynch, sister of Thomas Lynch, Jr., one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence from South Carolina. They were married, and for years they lived upon his plantation on the Santee. For some time prior and at the time of his death he resided in the city of Charleston. Among other children he had a son James, who was born in Charleston May 8, 1786, and became one of the most distinguished of the many prominent men of the Palmetto State. He received a collegiate education and graduated with high honors. His father had in view the profession of law for his son; but he preferred a military life, and entered the army, serving with great credit as a major in the Canadian campaigns under Scott and Brown, in 1812. The battles there were the hottest and better contested on both sides than any others during that war. After the war he commenced the study of law with James L. Petigrew. For several years in succession Maj. Hamilton was chosen the chief officer in Charleston, which corresponds to that of Mayor in Northern cities. He displayed eminent abilities in this position, which brought him into prominence.

In 1822 he discovered the Vesey conspiracy to raise an insurrection among the slaves. In the same year he was elected to the State Legislature, where he at once distinguished himself as a debater. He was chosen a representative to Congress in 1824 and in 1826. He espoused the doctrine of free trade and advocated direct taxation. He believed in the dueling code, and was Randolph's second in his duel with Henry Clay, and second to Gov. McDuffie in his duel with Col. Cummings, of Georgia, and occupied the same position upon other similar occasions. He was a strong partisan of Gen. Jackson; and in 1828, when he became President, he offered him the post of Minister to Mexico, with authority to negotiate the annexation of Texas. This he declined. He quitted Congress to become Governor of South Carolina in 1830, at the interesting period when his State resolved to nullify the Federal tariff laws. He became a "nullifier," and was one of the ablest advocates of "States rights." The war breeze kicked up in South Carolina caused great excitement throughout the country, and was not entirely allayed until the compromise of Henry Clay was brought about, when Mr. Hamilton retired from public life, and devoted himself to the care of his plantation. In a few years he became ardently interested in the cause of Texas, to which he gave his personal service and a large portion of his private fortune.

In 1841, while Texas was an independent republic, he was her Minister to England and France, where he procured the recognition of her independence. On the death of John C. Calhoun, in 1852, he was appointed his successor in the United States Senate, but declined the office for domestic reasons. In his efforts in behalf of Texas he expended his fortune, and became involved in pecuniary difficulties, which harassed the latter years of his life. He was on his way to Texas to seek indemnification for his losses, when he perished by a collision between the steam-boats "Galveston" and "Opelousas," in the latter of which he was a passenger. With his usual gallantry he yielded his own chance of safety to a lady among the passengers, to whom he was an entire stranger. His conduct was in sharp contrast to that of a prominent lawyer in Lancaster, who witnessed his wife's struggles in the Hudson River at the "Henry Clay" disaster without making a supreme effort to save her life. Mr. Hamilton was esteemed by his native State as one of her greatest citizens. S. P. Hamilton, who resides at Chester, S. C, is a son. Gov. Hamilton had a brother Robert, who moved to the West, and it is supposed that Gov. Hamilton, of Illinois, was one of his descendants.

William Searight, the grandson of William and Ann (Hamilton) Searight, was born in Cumberland County, Pa., December 5, 1791, and settled in Fayette County, Pa., where in 1826 he married Rachel Brownfield, who yet survives him at the age of eighty-seven. William Searight was an ardent Democrat, and at the time of his death was a candidate for Canal Commissioner of Pennsylvania, then one of the most important offices of the State. His children were Thomas B., Ewing, Jane, William, James, and Elizabeth, the latter of whom is the wife of J. T. Calvin, President of the National Bank of Commerce, of Pittsburg, Pa. After the death of William Searight a large meeting of the citizens of the county, irrespective of party, assembled at the courthouse and passed resolutions of respect to his memory and character, in which it was stated as a publicly recognized fact that in the death of William Searight Fayette County and Pennyslvania had lost one of her best and most useful citizens.


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