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The Ulster-Scots Society of America
The Roots of Ulster's Strong Links with the White House


One-third of all US Presidents had their ancestral origins in the northern province of Ireland (Ulster)

During his two visits to Ulster, President Bill Clinton spoke proudly of his ancestral links with the province and of the remarkable fact that a third of all US Presidents had their roots in Ulster.

President Clinton, whose connection is through his Blythe and Ayer ancestors, is one of at least 14 Chief Executives who are descended from the 250,000 immigrants from the north of Ireland who had already settled along the American frontier by 1800.

Most of these early migrants were Ulster Scots, those people of Scottish origin who spent a century or more in the northern counties of Ireland before moving to the New World. These pioneering people and their descendants, known in the USA as the 'Scotch-Irish', have often been called "the first true Americans". They have had a huge and disproportionate impact on American education, politics, commerce, the military, journalism, literature, the arts and entertainment.

While many of the Presidents have typically Ulster-Scots surnames - Jackson, Johnson, McKinley, Wilson - others, such as Bush, Roosevelt and Cleveland, have maternal links with the homeland which are less obvious.

Andrew Jackson
7th President 1829-37. He was born in the predominantly Ulster-Scots Waxshaws area of South Carolina two years after his parents left Boneybefore, near Carrickfergus in County Antrim. A heritage centre in the village pays tribute to the legacy of 'Old Hickory', the People's President.

James Knox Polk
11th President 1845-49. His ancestors were among the first Ulster-Scots settlers, emigrating from Coleraine in 1680 to become a powerful political family in Mecklenberg County, North Carolina. He moved to Tennessee and became its Governor before winning the Presidency.

James Buchanan
15th President 1857-61. Born in a log-cabin (which has been relocated to his old school in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania), 'Old Buck' cherished his origins: "My Ulster blood is a priceless heritage". The Buchanans were originally from Deroran, near Omagh in County Tyrone where the ancestral home still stands.

Andrew Johnson
17th President 1865-69. His grandfather left Mounthill, near Larne in County Antrim around 1750 and settled in North Carolina. Andrew worked there as a tailor and ran a successful business in Greenville, Tennessee, before being elected Vice-President. He became President following Abraham Lincoln's assassination.

Ulysses Simpson Grant
18th President 1869-77. The home of his maternal great-grandfather, John Simpson, at Dergenagh, County Tyrone, is the location for an exhibition on the eventful life of the victorious Civil War commander who served two terms as President. Grant visited his ancestral homeland in 1878.

Chester Alan Arthur
21st President 1881-85. His election was the start of a quarter-century in which the White House was occupied by men of Ulster-Scots origins. His family left Dreen, near Cullybackey, County Antrim, in 1815. There is now an interpretive centre, alongside the Arthur Ancestral Home, devoted to his life and times.

Grover Cleveland
22nd and 24th President 1885-89 and 1893-97. Born in New Jersey, he was the maternal grandson of merchant Abner Neal, who emigrated from County Antrim in the 1790s. He is the only President to have served two terms with a break between.

Benjamin Harrison
23rd President 1889-93. His mother, Elizabeth Irwin, had Ulster-Scots roots through her two great-grandfathers, James Irwin and William McDowell. Harrison was born in Ohio and served as a Brigadier General in the Union Army before embarking on a career in Indiana politics which led to the White House.

William McKinley
25th President 1897-1901. Born in Ohio, the descendant of a farmer from Conagher, near Ballymoney, County Antrim, he was proud of his ancestry and addressed one of the national Scotch-Irish Congresses held in the late 19th Century. His second term as President was cut short by an assassin's bullet.

Theodore Roosevelt
26th President 1901-04. His mother, Martha Bulloch, had Ulster Scots ancestors who emigrated from Larne, County Antrim, in May 1729. Teddy Roosevelt's oft-repeated praise of his "bold and hardy race" is evidence of the pride he had in his Scotch-Irish connections.

Woodrow Wilson
28th President 1913-21. Of Ulster-Scot descent on both sides of the family, his roots were very strong and dear to him. He was grandson of a printer from Dergalt, near Strabane, County Tyrone, whose former home is open to visitors. Throughout his career he reflected on the influence of his ancestral values on his constant quest for knowledge and fulfilment.

Richard Milhous Nixon
37th President 1969-74. The Nixon ancestors left Ulster in the mid-18th Century; the Quaker Milhous family ties were with Counties Antrim and Kildare.

George Herbert Walker Bush 41st President 1989-94: His Ulster Scots links are through William Gault and Jonathan Weir, his great-great-great-great grandfathers who both settled in Blount County, Tennessee, around the Revolutionary War period. President Bush was made aware of this ancestry during a visit to Knoxville, where Gault is buried in nearby Baker's Creek United Presbyterian Church cemetery.

George W. Bush  43rd President, 2000 - present:  See George Herbert Walker Bush

Other occupants of the White House said to have some family ties with the north of Ireland include Presidents Adams, Monroe, Truman, Eisenhower and Carter.


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