The Planter Class

1. The Planter Class of England

Colonization of Virginia occurred in rather distinct stages. Initially, life expectancy for immigrants was short. Were it not for an ever-increasing rate of immigration, British peoples in early Virginia would have died out. However, the chance for wealth attracted those new settlers who braved the environment and cut a civilization out of the wilderness.

Adventurers and the Dying Times (1607 - c. 1642)

With the colonization of British America, there was a new opportunity for Adventurers to produce wealth. Beginning with the failed Roanoke Colony of 1586 and the subsequent Jamestown Colony of 1607, men of means traveled to what would become Virginia in search of wealth. The first "supplies" to Jamestown included Gentlemen and Knights of the Realm. Those initial settlers were poorly prepared to tame the wilderness. And, many may have starved because they were more interested in hunting for gold rather than clearing the land and planting a crop. Subsequent settlers learned that the "gold" of Virginia came from working the soil, primarily in the form of tobacco.

The earliest period of Virginia settlement has come to be known as the "Dying Times" when perhaps 50% of all immigrants died within the first five years after arrival. As malarial lands were cleared, sanitation improved, and subsequent generations developed immunity from the many diseases, life expectancy increased. Even though the number of immigrants rose continually and immigrant families begat children, the total population barely grew. Edmund S. Morgan in his American Slavery: American Freedom: the Ordeal of Colonial Virginia estimated that it wasn't until 1700 that Virginia births exceed Virginia deaths. And without population growth, expansion into the hinterland was not possible.

A little known segment of the early Virginia population was religious separatists, especially in the Northern Neck. Catholics, Cavaliers, and others settled freely in the lower counties below the James. But, Pilgrims/Puritans targeted Northern Virginia. The best known religious separatist group intended for Virginia was the Pilgrims of Massachusetts Bay. Perhaps by accident but more than likely due to a conspiracy by their sponsors, the Pilgrims departed Holland for the Northern Neck of Virginia, landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620.

Commerce, Cavaliers, and Planters: the Planter Class (c. 1642 - c. 1700)

With the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642, Catholics and Royalists had cause to flee England for Virginia. And, these immigrants came to be known as Cavaliers. In 1660 with the end of Cromwell's Protectorate and restoration of Charles II, immigration grew rapidly.

By 1660, those brave souls of the Dying Times had managed to create permanent settlements from wilderness, bringing with them a modicum of British civilization. Now everyone--Cavaliers, Puritans, and especially English businessmen--found Virginia the land of opportunity. If you could afford to pay passage, the King would grant 40-50 acres per person transported as "headright." By this land allocation system, huge plantations were amassed which would fund many of the most famous families in Virginia history--Washingtons, Lees, Warners, and Lewises. These Planters created an aristocracy not built on peerage but on wealth. They and their descendants were the movers and shakers. And, their history is the history of modern Virginia.

And, Everybody Else (post 1700)

Subsequent immigrants could patent land and could gain wealth and could work their way into upper society of Virginia. But, those persons would be the exception as opposed to the rule. As immigration to Virginia became open to the average British citizen, Middle-class and even the poor made their way to Virginia 

Exiting the boat, these immigrants generally found that they had to move beyond established settlements into the hinterland. These frontiersmen established a buffer between the gentry of coastal Virginia and the Indians. And, most of these new immigrants were Scot-Irish.

2. The Planter Class of Ulster

Beginning with the reign of James I (1603), the English Crown began a program of planting Scottish and English Protestants on confiscated lands in Ulster, the most Catholic province of Ireland. Described as "His Majesty’s Plantation of Ulster," these new immigrants were to serve as a buffer zone, forcing out the original inhabitants and strengthening the Crown's hold on Ireland.

In the following 90 years, an estimated 100,000 Scots and a smaller number of Welsh Quakers and Englishmen immigrated to Ulster. This mass migration was prompted by economic as well as religious reasons: Presbyterians and Anabaptists migrated in search of a perceived lessening of persecution by the Church of England; sons without hope of inheriting property were in search of lands and titles; Lowland Scots were fleeing poor economic conditions. Perhaps the single greatest factor was the failure of the grain harvest in Scotland between 1690 and 1694. The subsequent famine forced even more Lowland Scots to flee, primarily to Ulster.

Whether by plantation of Protestant immigrants from Scotland or conversion of the local populace, by the 18th Century Scot-Irish Presbyterians were a majority in several counties of Ulster. Much has been said about subjugation of Catholics in Ireland by the Church of England's proxy, the Church of Ireland, after Cromwell's victory in 1651. Even though Presbyterians were not persecuted to the same extent as Catholics, their existence in Ireland can be described as "second-class" at best.

Theses Planters transformed the rural, backward countryside of Ulster into the economic center of Ireland. Farming, the raising of sheep and cattle, and the planting of flax spawned industries in the North while the southern three provinces maintained their pastoral character. By 1690 the economy of Ulster was booming from the export of agricultural goods and linen made from the local flax to England and Europe. But, this would soon end.

The Scot-Irish

Perceived as a threat to the local English economy,  in 1665 and 1680 Parliament passed a series of Exclusionary Acts which prohibited importation of Irish goods in England and Scotland. And in 1699, Parliament prohibited the total export of manufactured wool from Ireland, destroying the linen industry of Ulster and impoverishing the population.

In 1702/3 the Test Act required all office-holders in Ireland to "use sacraments as prescribed by the established church," relegating all non-Episcopal Irish to the state of second-class citizens. Marriages were declared void, causing landed heirs to be declared bastards. Thus, lands were vacated of their rightful owners, adding to the masses of poor in the country.

Many of the children of the original Planters found their conditions unbearable; as they were treated nearly as harshly by their English landlords as were the indigenous Irish. As new lands in the American Colonies were opened for settlement, large numbers of the Scot-Irish (Welsh-Irish) took their leave, migrating to America.

Migration to America was not easy. Unable to pay the £10s for the passage, many Ulster Irish sold themselves into indentured servitude. Thus, the immigrant signed away up to seven years of labor for the passage. Despite their poverty and the indenture, an estimated 400,000 inhabitants of Ulster immigrated to the American Colonies, primarily to the port city of Philadelphia PA.

To distinguish these new Ulster Irish immigrants from the Irish who were already settled in the Colonies, the new immigrants came to be know as Scot-Irish, denoting their original Scottish origins and heritage. Initially settling in western Pennsylvania, the Scot-Irish continued south along the "Great Wagon Road" into the Valley of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. 

The Rev. Clarke Party of New York provides us with an insight into the lives of our early Scot-Irish ancestors. Rev. Clarke and a hundred families of Scottish Protestants from Newry in the north of Ireland landed in New York Harbor on 7/28/1764 aboard the ship John. Rev. Clarke personally went to Salem NY to inspect the lands arranged for settlement by the new immigrants along the upper Hudson River. Returning to New York City, Rev. Clarke discovered that approximately 50% of his congregation had been wooed away to what would become Abbeville Co SC by a fast-talking land agent. Rev. Clarke went on to establish his settlement on the upper Hudson River, but he made frequent trips to the backcountry of South Carolina to check on members of his flock.

New York Gazette of August 6th [1764]:
"Last week in the Ship John, from Newry, Ireland, Luke Kiersted, master, there arrived about three hundred passengers, a hundred and forty of whom, together with the Rev. Clarke, embarked on the 30th ult., with their stores, farming and manufacturing utensils, in two sloops, for Albany, from whence they are to proceed to the lands near Lake George, which were lately surveyed for their accommodation, as their principal view is to carry on the linen and hempen manufacture to which they were all brought up."

    Nora M. Davis, Director, An Historical Sketch of the Long Cane Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, 27 October 1940, recorded in "Lower Long Cane Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, No date <> 2 August 2005.

There are a series of circumstantial evidence which indicates that the future South Carolina members of the Rev. Clarke Party walked south down the Great Wagon Road to what would become Abbeville Co SC. By 1771 they had established three Presbyterian Churches--Little Run, Long Cane, Cedar Creek--which united under the auspicious of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. These hardy settlers ably adapted to the rigors of the frontier. From the following quote, we learn of their lifestyle and habituations:

The manners and dress of these first settlers must have been quite primitive. Their dress was as follows: hunting-shirt, leggings, and moccasins, adorned with buckles and beads. The hair was clubbed and tied up in a little deerskin or silk bag. At another time they wore their hair cued and rolled up in a black ribbon or bear's-gut dressed and dyed black. Again it became a custom to shave off the hair and wear white linen caps with ruffles around. The women's dress was long-eared caps, Virginia bonnets, short gowns, long gowns, stays, stomachers, quilted petticoats, high wooded heels. There was little market for produce except to the new settlers. Trade was carried on in skins and furs. Deer and beaver skins were a lawful tender in payment of debts. Winter skins were 18 pence sterling, Indian-dressed skins $1 per pound. (Testimony of James Duncan, son of the first settler.)
    George Howe, "History of the Presbyterian Church in South Carolina," 1965, v. I, pp. 335-336.

Settling in the Piedmont, these new settlers formed a buffer between the settlements in the tidewater and the Indians. And as the westernmost settlers, the Scot-Irish would provide a disproportionately high number of Continental soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Some Revolutionary War historians have postulated that the Scot-Irish from over the mountains were the difference between victory and defeat, crushing the South Carolina Tories at the Battles of King's Mountain NC and Cowpens SC, forcing Cornwallis north out of the Carolinas and into the eventual trap at Yorktown VA.


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