McGavock Fell

McGavock Fell

(Jacob McGavock 1790-1868)
By Don D. Crawford, about his 3rd great grand uncle


Outnumbered ten to one, at that location of the battle, during a ferocious attack by war-hooping, war-painted, savage Red-Stick Creek Indians, 23-year-old Jacob McGavock strained and struggled, with the other members of the Nashville Volunteers Artillery Company, to complete a daunting task.  The men had to drag their single cannon out of the creek, take the cannon off its timbers, drag and push the cannon to the top of a hill and fire the cannon into the advancing enemy, to repulse the overwhelming attack by hostile Indians on Andrew Jackson’s army.  Both sides realized that the tide of battle would turn on whether the Red Sticks captured the cannon or whether the artillery company succeeded in firing the cannon. 

The Red Sticks fired volley after volley from muskets and shot arrow after arrow from bows at members of Jacob’s unit, which created a relentless, deadly barrage.  The duty to which Jacob and the other members of the artillery company committed themselves to complete, put these gallant patriots in the open and prevented the men from taking cover from the persistent storm of deadly projectiles.  The savages brought down one member of this band of brothers after the other, yet the dwindling number of survivors bravely continued the task, risking death to accomplish the mission to save their brothers by firing the cannon.  Keenly focused on their duty during the commotion and chaos of the fully engaged battle, the survivors managed to fire the cannon, just in time.  After the first shot of the cannon, McGavock fell.  Hamilton, Bradford and Lieutenant Armstrong, the commander of the artillery unit, also fell.  Lieutenant Armstrong, exclaimed as he lay, “my brave fellows, some of you will fall, but you must save the cannon.”  Gen. Andrew Jackson called the effort by the men in the artillery company the greatest act of bravery Jackson had ever witnessed.  Jackson’s report of the battle affirmed, “Never was more bravery displayed than on this occasion.”  Jackson’s Last Will and Testament, commemorated this iconic display of courage with a bequest to General Robert Armstrong of a sword and with words which recalled the Battle of Enotochopco and Armstrong’s memorable command to “save the cannon.” 


For over 100 years before the American Revolution, which began in 1776, and for over 100 years after the American Revolution, which ended in 1783, pioneer Americans, who settled and who civilized the frontier backwoods during the Westward migration, faced many dangers.  In addition to daily dangers, particularly from hostile Indians, national crises periodically called American sons to demonstrate their courage, their patriotism and their dedication to the preservation of liberty, by fighting large scale wars with Indians, sometimes combined with other wars of the nation.  The Creek War and the War of 1812 presented such a time, particularly for Jacob McGavock and other brave sons of Tennessee. 


The generation of Patriot Americans who fought the British and the British Allies in the American Revolution and the generation of Patriot Americans who fought the British and the British Allies in the War of 1812 represented two extraordinary generations of mankind.  Their peers can rarely be found among modern Americans.  These two generations, in the author’s opinion, were the greatest generations of Americans.  The greatest generation was the American Revolution Generation, because the generation of the War of 1812 protected the liberties earned by their fathers and grandfathers and emulated the examples set by their fathers and their grandfathers. 

The American victory in the War of the Revolution ranked as one of the most significant events in World History.  The cause of freedom for the American Revolution ranked as the most noble of causes for war and the liberty subsequently practiced in America served as an example to the entire world.  American Patriots, particularly those who had Scot Ancestry, may have drawn inspiration for their own courage from the examples set by William Wallace (1270-1305) and Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) who led Scotland’s War of Independence from England (1296-1328).  Americans rose up, banded together and shook off the shackles of the royals, the nobility and the overlords.  Many Christians considered the American Victory in the war to be nothing short of a miracle of God.  

France’s attempt at emulation, during the French Revolution 1789-99, became marred by extreme cruelty and rampant executions.  Since an ocean separated America from Britain, independence and liberty did not require the execution of royalty, nobles and the “ruling class.”  This allowed the parallel development of American culture and British culture over the following centuries.  This simultaneous development revealed how the American experiment in democracy fared when compared to the development of the culture of the mother country.  America has fared quite well and became the most powerful country, with the most freedom for its citizens, among all other countries in the world.  The victory in the War of the Revolution provided the opportunity for this example to the world.

The War of 1812 threatened the American way of life, this example of liberty and the continuation of the experiment in democracy for the descendants of the veterans of the War of the Revolution.  Without the service, sacrifice and victory which marked the War of 1812 Generation of Americans, this story would be changed.  This story is about Jacob McGavock, born September 20, 1790 in Virginia, a patriotic Scot-Irish-American fighting man who showed great courage in battles against the Creek Indians during the Creek War, which became part of the War of 1812.  Jacob McGavock (1790), rightfully held a place among these honored men of the Generation of the War of 1812, because Jacob emulated Jacob’s father, Hugh McGavock (1761), and Jacob’s grandfather, James McGavock (1728), fighting for the liberty of America. 

Many outstanding talents characterized Jacob and members of Jacob’s large family.  Impressive achievements frequently marked members of Jacob’s family, but this element was not the criterion for selection of family members for discussion in this article.   Connection to Nashville and Middle Tennessee became the required element for selection of the few of the numerous members Jacob’s family who are discussed in this article. 


The McGavocks, like many of their Scot-Irish kin, had been often blessed with tall, strong physiques and superb minds.  In addition, the McGavocks in America also typically strived to attain five important, practical goals in life: (1) faithful lives in the Presbyterian Church; (2) high character (virtue and honor); (3) respectable educations; (4) useful occupations and (4) large industrious families.  Many McGavocks graduated from college, at a time when the inability to read or write was common.  McGavocks who attained these goals of life displayed an effective combination of admirable attributes, which equipped these McGavocks for worthwhile lives, for success and for leadership.  

Jacob McGavock (1790) successfully obtained all of these goals in life; faithfulness, character, education, occupation and family.  In addition, Jacob was a handsome young man; with a ruddy complexion, reddish hair, steel grey eyes and a winning personality.  Jacob also cultivated excellent communication skills and an eye for beauty, not only of the skin, but also of the heart.  Jacob believed the old adage, “pretty is as pretty does.”  This was never more evident than when Jacob McGavock asked Louisa Caroline Grundy (1798-1878) to marry him.  Louisa was uncommonly talented, from a prominent family (the daughter of U.S. Senator and later U.S. Attorney General, Felix Grundy), full of promise to become a wonderful wife.  The couple displayed every characteristic necessary to become exceptional parents.  The genetic qualities and the life style, which this couple provided to their posterity, helped to create outstanding children and outstanding descendants.  Jacob’s elated family, both those back home in Virginia and those in Tennessee, recognized Louisa as an ideal match for Jacob.  The original McGavock American clan had been formed in Virginia, where two of Jacob’s most important role models lived and died; Jacob’s grandfather, James McGavock, and Jacob’s father, Hugh McGavock.

Jacob’s grandfather, James McGavock (1728-1812, the author’s 5G Grandfather), had immigrated in 1754 or 1755 from Antrim, Northern Ireland to the colonies (Augusta Co., Virginia), where James soon served on the British side in the French and Indian War 1754-1763.  Fifty thousand British soldiers fought in the French and Indian War, including British regulars and colonial provincial regiments made up of men like Colonel George Washington[1732-1799] (English ancestry), Captain Griffith C. Rutherford (1721-1805) and James McGavock [1728] (both Scot-Irish ancestry).  

During the French and Indian War, James married Scot-Irish Mary Cloyd in 1760, daughter of David Cloyd (1710-1792) and Margaret Campbell (1707-1764).  These were dangerous times on the frontier in Virginia.  Four years after the marriage of James and Mary, raiding Indians scalped Margaret Campbell Cloyd (1707) and killed John Cloyd (1737-1764), Mary’s brother, while David Cloyd was away.  In 1771, after the British, with important aid from the colonists, defeated the French and the Indians, who allied with the French, James made a crucial business decision and purchased an important homestead, called “Fort Chiswell.”  Ft. Chiswell, had been built in 1758 as an outpost, during the French and Indian War.  In 1763, as a result of the British victory in the war, France surrendered to the British all of the lands east of the Mississippi River.  The Seneca trail, on which Ft. Chiswell had been built, became, in 1763, the official boundary for the frontier beyond which King George III, who ruled Britain 1760-1801, forbid settlement.  After James McGavock acquired the property, James built an inn which became an important stopping place for travelers on the Old Wilderness Road, particularly for those settlers headed for the western frontier. 

American colonists had continued to be subjects of the British Crown, King George II, and on succession in 1760, King George III, during the French and Indian War.  In 1774, when Thomas Jefferson, for 20 shillings, purchased 157 acres located in Botecourt County in the Colony of Virginia, which included the natural rock bridge, John Murray (1730-1809), also known as Lord Dunmore and as the 4th Earl of Dunmore, the last Royal Governor of the Province of Virginia, signed the deed, on behalf of King George III.  Later, Jefferson and McGavock became owners of neighboring tracts, when James McGavock purchased a tract of land situated adjacent to the Natural Bridge tract of land owned by Thomas Jefferson.  Thomas Jefferson, an attorney, represented James McGavock in legal matters.  Jefferson and McGavock may have discussed the troubles which began to emerge in the relationship between the “mother country,” and the colonies.

Within a few years after the French and Indian War ended, tensions between the two peoples separated by the Atlantic Ocean developed and increased.  The relationship between the colonists and the Crown seriously deteriorated when the Crown failed to redress legitimate grievances, such as “taxation without representation.”  In 1775, the American population had grown to almost 2.5 million and had become a formidable force.  When neither side would capitulate, the dispute erupted into a world-changing crisis, known as The American Revolution. 

In 1775, before the Declaration of Independence was signed and before the Mecklenburg Declaration was signed, James and 14 other Patriots, almost all Scot-Irish Captains in the Virginia Militia, signed the Fincastle Resolution, which pledged their lives and risked their property in support of liberty. (See Appendix 07 – Fincastle Resolution).  Scot-Irish Virginian Patriot Patrick Henry, who received a copy of the document, summarized the essence of the Fincastle Resolution with his famous pronouncement, “Give me Liberty or give me death.”  Four of the signers of the Fincastle Resolution married three sisters of Patriot Patrick Henry; Colonel William Christian (1742-1786) married Anne Henry (1743-1790); Captain Thomas Madison (1744-1798), cousin to President James Madison, married Susannah Henry (1743-1831), and Colonel/General William Campbell (1744-1781), hero of the Battle of Kings Mountain, married Elizabeth Henry (1749-1825).  After Gen. William Campbell died, Captain William Russell married William’s widow, Elizabeth Henry Campbell. In 1821, Tennessee honored Patrick Henry with “Henry County.” 

Captain James McGavock (1728), like most of the Scot-Irish, served as a Patriot fighting for independence against the British in the War of the Revolution 1776–1783. A letter from Thomas Jefferson to James McGavock (1728), preserved in family records, once addressed James as “Major,” but no commission as such as been discovered.   In the War of the Revolution, the American Patriots, through great hardships, personal risks and sacrifices, miraculously defeated the British and the British allies.  British forces included; (1) British regulars, (2) loyalist American Tories and (3) some Indian tribes, which allied with the British.  Indian Tribes which allied with the British, killed settlers and fought the Patriots included the following: Shawnee; Delaware; Mohawk and Cherokee.

During the American Revolution, Scot-Irish General Griffith C. Rutherford (the author’s 5G Grandfather) led an expedition against the Cherokee which eliminated any further serious Indian threat to the Patriots living in the Carolinas, during the War of the Revolution and which also gave the Cherokees reasons to regret their British alliance.  General Rutherford’s first campaign in 1775-76, called the Snow Campaign had been against the Tories in South Carolina.  In this campaign, Tories shot in the shoulder William Polk (1758-1834), the son of Gen. Thomas Polk (1730-1794) and the nephew of Ezekiel Polk (1747-1824).  Ezekiel Polk became the grandfather of President James K. Polk.  William Polk (1758) recovered from the wound in the shoulder, served as a Colonel in the Battle of Eutaw Springs and became the father of Confederate General Leonidas Polk (1806-1864).  Another son of William Polk (1758) Lucius Polk (1802-1870), married Mary Eastin (1810-1847), the granddaughter of John Donelson (1725-1885), Co-founder of Nashville, Tennessee and father-in-law of President/Gen. Andrew Jackson.  Bonds among Scot-Irish families during the American Revolution continued for generations, often creating Informal Clans, as demonstrated by the examples in this article.

Some similarities existed between the War of the Revolution and with the American Civil War, because loyalties to the Patriot Cause for independence and Tory loyalties to the Crown divided America and sometimes split families.  For example, stories about the Battle of Kings Mountain revealed family members who fought against each other.  No such division plagued the McGavocks or their closely related Scot-Irish families in southwest Virginia, who almost universally fought as Patriots.  The important role of the Scot-Irish in Gen. Washington’s army has been often heralded.  Gen. Washington has been often quoted as stating; “…if defeated everywhere else I will make my final stand for liberty with the Scotch-Irish of my native Virginia…”

(NOTE: During Colonial and early America, the “Scot-Irish” were simply called “Irish.”  Regardless what label was employed, the Protestant Presbyterian Scots who settled in Northern Ireland, primarily during the Implantation, and who migrated to America before the American Revolution, are the same unique people.  If Washington actually used the term “Irish,” rather than “Scot-Irish,” the modification in Washington’s quote can be justified to communicate Washington’s original intent.  The complete term of “Scotch-Irish” became common after immigration of large numbers of Catholic Native Irish who fled the famines of the middle 1800s.  Since readers today could believe that “Irish” referred both to Scot-Irish and to Native Irish, the insertion of “Scot-Irish” conveyed Washington’s original intent.)

Rockbridge County, Virginia, named for the natural rock bridge on Jefferson’s property, saw the births of many famous people who made important contributions to American History; from pioneer surgeon Dr. Ephraim McDowell (1771-1830) to Sam Houston (1793-1863).  Gen. Sam Houston (1793), served as commander of the Texian Army which won the independence of Texas when it defeated Mexican General Santa Anna in the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836.  Houston also served as U.S. Congressman, Governor of Tennessee, Governor of Texas and became the first President of the Republic of Texas.  In the same year Houston was born in Rockbridge County, Stephen F. Austin (1793-1836), who became known as the “Father of Texas” was born in nearby Austinville, Wythe County, Virginia.  Austinville had been the county seat of Fincastle County when the James McGavock signed the Fincastle Resolution at the Fincastle Courthouse located near some important lead mines.  James McGavock became acquainted with Moses Austin and his brother who owned the lead mines.  McGavock helped to defend the lead mines during the War of the Revolution because it was a critical source of supply for Washington’s munitions).

During the French and Indian War, during the peace which followed, during the American Revolution and during the peace which followed, James McGavock and Mary Cloyd McGavock raised a large family of five sons and five daughters, in the community known as Max Meadows, Virginia.  Max Meadows became identified by different county names, as new counties had been formed and county boundary lines changed: originally Augusta County; Botecourt County in1770; Fincastle County in 1772; Montgomery County in 1777 and finally Wythe County in 1790.  Mary gave birth to a son, Hugh McGavock, their first child, in 1761 during the French and Indian War.  In 1787, Mary had the couple’s final child, a daughter named Sally, after America won independence from Great Britain and a couple of years before the election of the new nation’s first President, George Washington.

After paying for private tutors for the older children, in 1792 James McGavock helped establish an Academy at Wythe Courthouse, the first public school, and in the same year James helped found the Anchor and Hope Presbyterian Church, conveniently located between Ft. Chiswell and Max Meadows.  A Presbyterian Church and a public school were the hallmarks of Scot-Irish settlements on the American frontier.  James McGavock proudly demonstrated an excellent example of the Scot-Irish men of the American Revolution Generation and of the Scot-Irish settlers of the American frontier.  Rev. Gray described James McGavock as follows, “who in stature was full six feet in height, stout of frame, and with a constitution to endure labor and stand exposure.  ….McGavock came from that remarkable people, the Scotch-Irish, who have done so much for the liberties of this country, and for education generally, and for the dissemination of Presbyterian principles, especially in Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee.  As an Old-Countryman he understood the solid value of land.  Like an Old-Countryman, also, he wished to found a family with landed estates.  In this he was eminently successful, acquiring by his aptitude for business and his industry and energy, large and valuable bodies of land.  With credit to himself and general satisfaction of the public, he filled several important offices of honor and trust…. He was an affectionate husband, kind father, social companion and generous benefactor.”  The example set for the family by James McGavock (1728) became emulated by his descendants.

Jacob’s father, Hugh McGavock (1761-1844) (the author’s 4G Grandfather) grew tall and fleet, then served as a Patriot in the War of the Revolution (private, ensign & lieutenant), like his father James.   Examples abound of sons who joined fathers to fight in the War of the Revolution, particularly among Scot-Irish families.  Hugh McGavock (1761) and James McGavock, Jr. (1764-1838), two sons of James (1728), both served in the war.  General Griffith C. Rutherford (1721) also had two sons who fought with him in the Revolution; Major James Rutherford (1758-1781), who was killed on September l8, 1781, while gallantly leading a charge against the British in the Battle of Eutaw Springs, South Carolina and Henry Rutherford (1762-1847), who survived the war and married Mary Johnston. 

Hugh McGavock (1761) served in the Virginia State Line under Colonel Joseph Crockett.  In 1781, Crockett’s troops joined Gen. Rogers Clark in the expedition against the

Shawnee Indians at the Falls of the Ohio.  Virginia Governor Patrick Henry commissioned George Rogers Clark (1752-1818) as Lieutenant Colonel of Virginia Militia and Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson promoted Clark to Brigadier General, making Clark the highest ranking military officer in the Old Northwestern frontier during the war.  In part due to Clark’s successes against the British and against the Indians in the “Old Northwest Territory,” the British ceded the entire area to the U.S. in the Treaty of Paris in 1783.  The “Old Northwest Territory” included the land below the Great Lakes and between the Ohio River and the Mississippi River.  This area had been included the territory the French ceded to the British in 1763.

After the War of the Revolution ended in 1783, Hugh, as James’ oldest son, returned to Max Meadows, Virginia, to be near and to assist the McGavock family and his father, at Fort Chiswell.  James McGavock (1728) owned land at Max Meadows.  Son Hugh settled in the upper tract of land and Son Joseph settled in the lower tract.  For decades, James McGavock (1728-1812) and his family operated a popular inn (hotel) at the site of Fort Chiswell.  A license was required to operate the inn called an “ordinary,” in which James agreed to provide “good wholesome and clean lodging and diet for travelers and stableage and provender or pasturage, as the season shall require, for horses…”.  James also agreed, under this same license that James would not “suffer or permit any unlawful gambling in his house, nor on the Sabbath Day suffer any person to tipple or drink any more than is necessary.”  James McGavock, Sr. (1728), when age made him less productive, turned management of Ft. Chiswell over to James McGavock Jr. (1764-1838), who inherited Ft. Chiswell, upon the death of his father.  The McGavock Mansion, also called Ft. Chiswell Mansion, which was built in the mid-1800s by two sons of James McGavock Jr. (1764), Stephen McGavock (1807-1880) and Joseph Cloyd McGavock (1813-1886), can be visited today in Wythe Co., Virginia, located near the junctions of Interstate 77 and Interstate 81.  President/General Andrew Jackson stayed at Ft. Chiswell on trips between Washington and Tennessee.  Jacob McGavock (1790) and his eleven other siblings were all born and raised Max Meadows, Virginia, walking distance from Ft. Chiswell.


The McGavocks, including Jacob (1790), the hero of this story, represented Scot-Irish-Americans and can only be fully understood in the context of their race/ethnicity of Scot-Irish-Americans.  The religion, political ideals, principles, values, virtues, attitudes, hopes, heroes, sense of common purpose and sense of community (common race, ethnicity, language & heritage) set apart the Scot-Irish-American frontiersmen from other groups of Americans.  Their Sense of community – brought with them a cultural identity (not Scot or Irish [national identity] but Scot-Irish [tribal/local community identity]).  The Scot-Irish organized themselves more as a tribe (hence the informal clan title) than on the basis of a political subdivision.   The individual’s identity within the clan, did not change when the group migrated a cross the border of a state.  The Scot-Irish identify with each other, wherever they may be. 

Scot-Irish families in America have provided important stories in America History.  Some of the most fascinating of these important stories described the roles played by the Scot-Irish families who formed the backbone of Gen. Washington’s Colonial army and who frequently could be found at the forefront of the Westward Migration.  In some cases, families lived in the same areas of Scotland, next moved to the same areas of Northern Ireland, then later generations arrived at the same areas in America. Once settled in America, these families often migrated together in the vanguard of the Westward Settlement as the U.S. frontier advanced. Subsequent generations typically migrated, with related families (their Informal Clan), to Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and adjoining states, as well as other states.


Most Americans have learned the story in American History about how the Pilgrims in 1620 landed in America for the purpose of establishing a colony in America for Great Britain, under King James I of England (King James VI of Scotland).  In comparison, fewer Americans have learned the story about how King James I of England (King James VI of Scotland) also implanted English and Scot families into Northern Ireland beginning about 1609 and how descendants from these families migrated to America and played important roles, sometimes pivotal roles, in American History.

As an introduction to the story about the Implantation, we begin with some geography followed by a brief history, admittedly which omitted many potential details.  Historically, the country of Ireland had been divided into four provinces, approximately equal in size: (1) Munster in the south; (2) Leinster in the central east, (3) Connacht in the central west and (4) Ulster in the north.  Ulster originally contained nine counties.  The boundaries of Ulster, Ireland contained a relatively small area.  All nine counties in the Province of Ulster added together only comprised an area of approximately 8,275 square miles (an area about 80 miles by 100 miles) and had a population of 2.1 million people (2011 estimate).  The metropolitan area of the City of Houston, Texas is 10,062 square miles.  The City of Houston alone has a population of 2.1 million people (2010 Census).

In 1603, on the death of Queen Elizabeth, King James VI of Scotland also inherited the throne of England (including Wales), to also become King James I of England.  Within a few years after coronation, King James began the Implantation.  King James had several purposes in planning the Implantation, but probably the two most important involved peace along the border between England and Scotland and peace between Britain and Ireland.  In some cases, King James used inducements to encourage migration of English and Scot settlers from their native countries to Ireland.  In other cases, King James used coercion to force removal of troublesome families to preserve the peace between England and Scotland by requiring removal to Ulster, such as in the instance of Lowland Border Scot families.   There had been a tradition of reiving (raiding and stealing from the English) along the border between England and Scotland.  The reiving families included approximately 100 surnames, such as the following:  Armstrong; Bell; Burns; Chisholm; Davidson; Douglas; Graham; Grey; Hall; Henderson; Johnstone; Nixon; Reed; Rutherford; Scott; Taylor; Thompson; Wilson and Young.  The culture for the reiving families extended back into the centuries and produced a uniquely battle-hardened group of people accustomed to violence.  King James planned to use these border families to establish strongholds in Ireland in an effort to attain the elusive goal of “controlling the Native Irish.”  There is a famous photograph of Neil Armstrong, the astronaut, Billy Graham, the evangelist, and President Richard Nixon, upon which a Scotsman was said to have remarked, “just three reiving families.”

The Implantation began in 1609 and continued over the following decades, bringing the newly arrived Scots, who generally were Presbyterian, and the English migrants, who tended to attend the Church of England (Episcopalian), to bear against the Native Irish, who were almost all Catholic.  The Implantation led to the cultural and religious wars that continued between the Irish rebels and the British for the next three centuries.  The Implantation impacted the population of the people inhabiting Ireland.  Some estimates show that by 1672 the population in the entire country of Ireland consisted of about 800,000 Native Irish, with about 200,000 of English descent, scattered throughout the country, and about 100,000 of Scot descent, concentrated predominantly in Ulster. The Scots tended to intermarry amongst themselves and to migrate within the counties of the Northern Province in Ireland. 

Although King James and his descendants ruled the contiguous countries of England, Wales and Scotland, the formal political union of England (including Wales) and Scotland was not enacted by the parliaments of England and Scotland until 1707.  Under the Union Jack, Great Britain included three countries; England, Wales and Scotland.  Although marked by periodic rebellions, England effectively controlled the Kingdom of Ireland for centuries, beginning with Norman invasions in the 1100’s. 

The Implantation by King James also led to the terms “Scotch-Irish” and “Scot-Irish,” which both described the Scots implanted in Ireland, who maintained their Scot identity in Ireland, for up to a century or longer, then who migrated from Ireland to America.  Scot families in Ireland and Scot-Irish families in America grew by geometric progression, with large families from 6 to 12 children being common.  The Source; Guidebook of American Genealogy, by Kory L. Meyerink and Loretto Dennis Szuccs claimed that 135,000 Ulster Scots had immigrated to Colonial America.  In contrast, other sources claimed that as many as 200,000 Ulster Scots migrated between 1715 and 1775 to Colonial America, and that the total Irish population in Colonial America was only 300,000 in 1790, including both the native Irish immigrants and descendants combined with the Scot-Irish immigrants and descendants.  These estimates suggested that the Scot-Irish population greatly outnumbered the Native Irish population in early America.  On the other hand, The Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, claimed that in 1790, when the total American population was 3,929,326 (3.9 million), the Ulster (Scot-Irish) population totaled 200,000 and the Irish population from the remaining three provinces totaled 200,000.  These estimates suggested that the Scot-Irish population equaled, but did not outnumber the Irish population.  Regardless which estimates are more accurate, the total Scot-Irish population made up only a small portion of the total American population, probably 5% or less. 

Although estimates on actual numbers varied, it is well established that the Scot-Irish migrated from Ulster (Northern Ireland) to Colonial America primarily from 1715 to 1775.  Americans should recognize that the story of the influence of the Scot-Irish immigrants and their descendants on American culture certainly rivals, and by many measures excels, the influence of the Pilgrims and their descendants on American culture. The impact on American History made by the Scot-Irish families, mostly Presbyterian, from the Province of Ulster, who immigrated to the American Colonies is amazing, in light of the size of the earth and earth’s population and the size of Ulster and Ulster’s population.  Some objective indications supported this proposition. Consider, for example, the disproportionate number of Scot-Irish who served in outstanding roles in governmental offices, including the following: as President; as cabinet members; as state governors; as U.S. Senators; as U.S. Representatives and as celebrated military officers.

One source which demonstrated the impact on American History made by the Scot-Irish is an article entitled “Scot-Irish,” at, claimed that out of 216 years of the presidency, presidents with Scot-Irish ancestry occupied the office for 113 of those 216 years.  These presidents included the following: James Monroe 5th; Andrew Jackson 7th; James K. Polk 11th; James Buchanan 15th; Andrew Johnson 17th; Ulysses S. Grant 18th; … and so on. The list does not include presidents of Scot descent, whose ancestors failed to make the migration through Ireland, like Rutherford B. Hayes, who descends from the same family as Gen. Griffith C. Rutherford (1721).  Gen. Griffith C. Rutherford’s branch made the Irish migration, but lineal ancestors in Hayes’ branch of Rutherfords did not move first to Ireland, before arriving in America.

Some ancestors of Presidents, with origins in Northern Ireland, not discussed in detail in this article, included the following: Andrew Johnson, an Ulster Presbyterian in about 1750 emigrated from County Antrim to North Carolina and became the father of 17th President Andrew Johnson.  William Arthur was born in County Antrim and became the father of 21st President Chester A. Arthur.  Thomas Milhous (1699) and James Moore (1777) were both born in County Antrim and were ancestors of 37th President Richard Milhous Nixon.  James Wilson (1787) born in County Down is the father of 28th President Woodrow Wilson. John Simpson born 1738 in Northern Ireland is the great grandfather of 18th President Ulysses Simpson Grant.  Michael Reagan, Catherine Mulcahey, Patrick Cusick, Patrick Mulcahey and Sarah Higgins are the ancestors of 40th President Ronald Reagan.

A surprising number of the most prominent Scot-Irish families identified in this article came from County Antrim.  County Antrim and County Down were the two counties in Northern Ireland most heavily colonized in the 1600’s by the Scots, under the Implantation by King James I/VI.  Today only County Antrim and County Down still have a majority Protestant population among the counties in Northern Ireland.  Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, lies mostly in County Antrim, with the remainder in County Down.  Residents of County Antrim loved and took great pride in the following: (1) the Glens of Antrim for beauty in landscapes; (2) the Giant’s Causeway for beauty in seascapes and (3) the castle at Carrickfergus for a medieval castle, with almost a millennium in history.  The longest river in Ulster, the Bann River, separated County Antrim from County Derry.  The Bann River Valley attracted families of Scots who moved to Ulster.  County Antrim contained about 1,176 square miles, or an area about 34 miles by 35 miles.  Every family from County Antrim mentioned in this article lived so near to each other as to require only a few minutes or at most perhaps a half hour car drive between the homes today.  Many of the families discussed in this article came from the Bann River Valley in County Antrim and settled in river valleys in America, which may have reminded them of their homeland.

County Antrim families, discussed in this article, included the following: McGavocks, Jacksons, Crawfords, Hutchinsons, Robertsons, Houstons and McCrorys.  County Donegal provided the Polks, Calhouns, Crocketts, Buchanans, Craigheads and Alexanders.  County Derry provided the Campbells, Cloyds, Ewings, Rodgers, Pattons and Prestons.  County Monaghan provided the Rutherfords, Carrolls and the Catheys. County Tyrone provided the Johnstons and County Down provided the Blairs.  County Down contained about 952 square miles or an area about 32 miles by 30 miles.  Members of these families also migrated to other Ulster counties.  For example, common surnames from County Down included Campbell, Graham, Johnston and Smith.  Practically none of the families discussed in this article came from the most southern portion of Ulster including; County Fermanagh, County Cavan and County Armagh.  Some families identified as Scot-Irish, due to assimilation with Scot-Irish culture in America, included families such as the Hayes, who came directly from Scotland, and the Donelsons, who came from England, to the Colonies, then intermarried with predominantly Scot-Irish families.

In 1801, Great Britain formally united with Ireland to form The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.  The United Kingdom also included many other countries, such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  In 1921, most of Ireland, basically the provinces of Connacht, Leinster and Munster, gained independence from Great Britain, but most of Ulster, about 2/3, remained part of Great Britain and became the separate country called “Northern Ireland.”  Today, the country of Northern Ireland includes the following the six counties which originally were located in the Province of Ulster: Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone.   Today the three counties, which originally were located in the Province of Ulster, but which are now part of the Republic of Ireland include the following: Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan.  In this article the original nine counties which formed “Ulster” are sometimes referred to as “Northern Ireland.”  Ulster is located in the northern part of the island of Ireland, whether it is comprised of the original 9 counties or the present 6 counties of Northern Ireland.


Typically authors have described Scot-Irish traits in positive terms such as the following: deeply committed believers (typically Presbyterians); exceptionally effective leaders; exceedingly loyal; unusually strong; highly adaptable (versatile); unusually creative; realistically practical and uncommonly brave.  On the other hand, pejoratives include the following; quick-tempered, stubborn, clannish hillbillies, with meager lives and caring little for beauty. 

As shown by the Scot-Irish families portrayed in this article, many Scot-Irish were also brilliant, well educated, sophisticated pioneers, with excellent tastes, an eye for architectural beauty and abundant means.  Many plantation homes, which have survived and which have attracted tourists to the Nashville, TN area for over the last century, were established by Scot-Irish families beginning almost two centuries ago.  These incredible homes stand and attest to these remarkable, distinctive traits as well.  Many of these antebellum homes were built by lineal descendants of James McGavock (1728).  Although the Scot-Irish families followed herein, distinguished themselves from some negative Scot-Irish stereotypes, all Scot-Irish shared three important traits.  Almost without exception, they: (1) fiercely defended their liberties; (2) consistently protected their independence and (3) took great pride in their family, their Informal Clan and their Scot-Irish ancestors and heritage. 

In summary,  the Scot-Irish set of values which evolved in America and set apart the Scot-Irish from most other peoples in the world can be outlined as follows: (1) Christian faith [evolved to Protestant Presbyterianism, which; advocated decent and orderly conduct, promoted democracy; empowered ruling elders, rejected the centralized power – no Pope or bishops and which promoted spiritual sovereignty of the individual, because it respected individual conscience]; (2) love of freedom [willingness to risk property and person and even to die in causes for liberty]; (3) loyalty [to friends, to family, to clan, to kin, to country and to God; (4) rule of law [governed by laws – not by men, no one is above the law, live decently and orderly]; (5) sovereignty of the individual [equal treatment under the law, inalienable rights from creator]; (6) personal dignity [defend honor, family honor, clan honor and honor of the country – don’t back down from a fight]; (7) respect for the dignity of others [don’t be mean or pick a fight] and (8) independence [self-reliance]; (9) diligence [Protestant Work Ethic]; (10) perseverance [if you are right, never give up]; and (11) wisdom [prudent reasoning and decisions].


The Scot-Irish excelled in leadership, in maintaining their Presbyterian Faith, in promoting education, in establishing the institutions of self-government and in creating prosperity out of wilderness.  The Scot-Irish often could be found heavily represented in the ranks of many professions necessary for progress, such as the following; lawyers, doctors, educators, ministers and surveyors.  Generally without government control, government contribution or government interference, the Scot-Irish built homes, schools and churches and set up a local government, often consisting only of a local Justice of the Peace and a Sheriff of the county.  Scot-Irish settlements often offered a desirable environment, which included enforced codes of conduct and a prosperous economy.  Settlers moved to these settlements and raised families on the frontier, in spite of dangers inherent to the wilderness (such as wild animals and savage Indians).  The new arrivals combined with growth in the size of original families stimulated rapid population growth.  Nashville provided a classic example of the spectacular development in Scot-Irish settlements on the American Frontier. 

The American Scot-Irish viewpoint, measured the progress of civilization by the conversion of wilderness into productive land and by progress toward maximum freedom for the individual, while maintaining the proper balance between order and chaos. The Presbyterian maxim of “decently and in order,” provided an important guiding light for governing affairs, both in the church and in civil government.  In America, the Scot-Irish sought to establish a cultural paradigm with the hierarchy of power in the following order: (1) Protestant Christianity (ideally Presbyterian) at the top of the pyramid of power; (2) the people in the middle and (3) finally at the bottom of the pyramid of power, a democratic (officials elected by the people), republican system of government (rule of law paramount – a nation of laws, not men -– no man above the law – every male citizen provided equal opportunity under the law). (NOTE: During early American history, this social system excluded male and female slaves and Anglo females from the highest levels of freedom, but still provided the most freedom for the largest group of people for any nation in the history of mankind.  This was a monumental achievement, despite the criticisms which modern man may levy).

The following identified the primary purposes of government: (1) to provide safety; (2) to promote predictability in financial transactions and (3) to preserve and to protect the sovereignty of the individual.  Within this cultural paradigm, the American Scot Irish favored a free market, laisse faire, capitalistic style economy.  The Providence of God picked winners and losers, not the government.  The popularly accepted slogan became, “God helps those who help themselves.” The “Protestant Work Ethic,” which other Calvinists [such as the Pilgrims and other Puritans] shared with the Presbyterians, helped make America prosperous.  The Wealth of Nations (1776), established Adam Smith 1723-1790, a Scot, as the father of modern economics and a founder of free market economic theory.  Paramount in the civil order, however, remained the sovereignty of God, with the Providence of God controlling God’s creation and the activities of man.

Under this cultural system, the Scot-Irish frequently acted under two sets of values; spiritual values (Christian – Protestant – Presbyterian, predominantly) and cultural values, which sometimes competed with spiritual values for decisions and actions.  Cultural values included the ancient Scot-Irish values of a warrior; courage, honor, respect, generosity and wisdomGeneral Andrew Jackson exemplified all of these traits as the archetypical Scot-Irish leader.  The Scot-Irish believed in the following features surrounding these cultural values.  Courage comes from the strength of your will.  Honor is a gift you give to yourself.  Respect you earn and demand from others.  Generosity is at the heart of good character.  Wisdom is the proper foundation to make each value properly effective and the correct bond to associate these values into an integrated personality. 

Cultural values guided decisions and actions which related to honor, to relationships and to national issues.  The Scot-Irish understood and accepted that violence sometimes became necessary to defend honor or to protect the weak, the helpless, family members, clan members, neighbors and countrymen, particularly when they were women and children.   When attacked or threatened, the Scot-Irish did not turn the other cheek. The Scot-Irish aggressively met the threat and avenged any losses or defeats. When any national crisis threatened, the Scot-Irish were usually among the first to confront the challenge and to join the fight to protect their families, their neighbors, their country and their cherished liberties.


The Scot-Irish often demonstrated an understanding of liberty, which can rarely be found among modern Americans, even among politicians holding national offices.  As a way to attempt to define the Scot-Irish understanding of freedom, the following metaphor of a three legged stool has been employed. The seat of a stool supported by three legs represented American Liberty and American Prosperity. The three legs which support the seat of the stool are Christianity, Sovereignty of the Individual and Rule of Law. 

 First, Christianity (the cultural moral code – Protestant – ideally Presbyterian) formed one supporting leg. 

Second, Sovereignty of the Individual (the significance of the individual/ individual liberty) formed the second supporting leg.  Sovereignty of the individual can be considered in two dimensions; the spiritual dimension and the civil or social dimension.  Historically, churches used punishments, up to burning at the stake, for beliefs which were outside orthodox church doctrine.  Churches sometimes labeled an unorthodox belief as a blasphemy of God, which justified extreme punishments.  This power of the church to control the thoughts and the practices of individuals in matters of church doctrine through punishments diminished the spiritual sovereignty of the individual.  The Presbyterian Church, established in the Protestant Reformation in Scotland by Calvinist Theologian, Rev. John Knox (1513-1572), allowed church members to balance church doctrine with individual conscience.  This elevated the significance of the individual, spiritually.  This practice, in some important ways, elevated individual spiritual authority to the level of church authority in matter of conscience/doctrine.  The implementation of sovereignty of the individual in spiritual matters in the Presbyterian Church became an important, if not a required, experiment before implementing sovereignty of the individual in civil government, for the American experiment.  (NOTE: Although the author was raised in the Baptist Church, the author discovered and converted to the Presbyterian Faith, without any knowledge of the author’s Scot heritage, because the Presbyterian Church was a natural fit with the author’s nature.)  Spiritual sovereignty obviously has been premised on bona fide (good faith) attempts to understand and to interpret the Bible and on conclusions which will be decent and avoid disorder.  It is not a license to create chaos and to destroy order. 

The Presbyterian Church also established a church government based on “ruling elders” and based on a distrust of central authority in government.  This became the practice of democracy in church government, which encouraged the growth of sovereignty of the individual in the civil dimension.  The implementation of democracy in Presbyterian Church government became an important, if not a required, experiment before implementing democracy in civil government, for the American experiment.   Democracy in civil government became a hallmark of the American Experiment.  The concept of sovereignty of the individual gave rise to the constitutional concepts of equal protection (the government may not create classes of citizens or favor one citizen over another or target one citizen differently than another) and equal treatment under the law (rule of law/no man above the law).  The rights of others end, where the rights of any individual citizen begins.  To create a group under any category; race, gender or otherwise, for the purpose of tipping the scales of justice/law or the effect of the law to favor a group over the rights of any single individual corrupts the sovereignty of the individual.  Americans must only be viewed, considered and treated as individuals, for the American system to function in the manner it was founded and as it was understood by the early Scot-Irish.

Finally, Rule of Law (Constitution and a Democratic Republic form of government) formed the third supporting leg.  Stability in the Rule of Law made consequences of decisions and choices predictable and also ensured safety of persons and security of property, which created an environment for prosperity. 

Each of the three legs symbiotically also supported the other two legs.  For example, Christianity (Protestant – ideally Presbyterian) provided the moral authority for the underpinnings of the Rule of Law and supported the spiritual significance of the individual.  Sovereignty of the Individual meant that the government had no legitimate power to put anyone above the law because this violated equal protection under the law and it meant that the church had no legitimate power to force a particular doctrine on anyone.  The Rule of Law supported the Sovereignty of the Individual and the free exercise of Christianity (freedom of conscience).  Any attack on any one of the three; Christianity, the Sovereignty of the Individual or the Rule of Law simultaneously attacked the other two legs.  Imagine a leather strap which attaches to all three legs, so if one leg is removed, it simultaneously pulls out the other two.  Even if the legs

could be completely independent, which they are not, remove any single leg and the stool of American Liberty and American Prosperity falls.