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Scotch-Irish Migration to Pittsburgh

Scotch-Irish Migration to Pittsburgh

by Larry Ciptak

from Out of This Kitchen: a History of the Ethnic Groups and Their Foods in the Steel Valley


The Scotch-Irish–an ethnic group that originated with the migration from Scotland to northern Ireland in the early 1600s–turned to the New World a few years later to escape religious persecution and economic difficulties. The majority entered through Philadelphia and made their way to western Pennsylvania through the Cumberland Valley.

"They were pioneers, frontiersmen, these Scotch-Irish: their general equipment consisted of a rifle, the Bible and the Psalms of David," wrote Pittsburgh City Councilman Robert Garland in 1923.

The Scotch-Irish element in western Pennsylvania permeates the area's every social and institutional fabric. The University of Pittsburgh, Washington & Jefferson College, Allegheny College in Meadville, Westminster College, Grove City College and Geneva College were all founded by Scotch-Irish. By 1856 there were already three Presbyterian theological seminaries, while the Roman Catholics did not have one until 1870.

Though Presbyterians dominate local Scotch-Irish history, there were also Scotch-Irish Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians and members of other denominations.

Noted Scotch-Irish from Pennsylvania history include Stephen C. Foster, Andrew W. Mellon, Robert Fulton and Samuel Morse.

The Scotch-Irish were also responsible for western Pennsylvania's Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, when they violently opposed the government's attempt to enforce an excise tax on whiskey. They tarred and feathered federal revenue officers and burned down the home of General John Neville in Collier Township. President George Washington resorted to sending militia from four states to squelch the insurrection. "Anti-federalist sentiments stemming from this period, as evidenced by the Whiskey Rebellion, later became the nucleus of the Democratic Party and the genesis of their stronghold in western Pennsylvania," according to local historian Timothy Patsko, himself of Scotch-Irish descent.

Garland wrote, "When we speak of the Scotch-Irish we naturally must take off our hats to the Presbyterians who have dominated for about one hundred and fifty years. In every land in which they dwell, and at all times and under all circumstances, they stand for faith and loyalty and all of the other cardinal virtues."