ICYMI: The earliest mass migration of the Irish to America

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 17 March 2014.]

Scotch Irish Pioneers coverIn Scotch Irish Pioneers in Ulster and America, his classic study of the eighteenth-century “Scots-Irish” exodus from Ulster to America, Charles Knowles Bolton cites court records, newspapers, correspondence and other primary sources. The book provides specific details about immigrant communities in New England, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, and lists many immigrants and their origins in Ulster.

In a time before microfilms, scanned newspapers, and Internet searches, Bolton culled through early American newspapers to locate the arrival of ships from Ireland bearing passengers for New England. He combed state and local archives, viewed correspondence, and reviewed town records to assemble his data.

Bolton studied and reproduced data from the session book of Aghadowey in Ireland, locating the Irish residences of immigrants and included drawings of the houses. (A copy of the session book in the NEHGS collection may be searched here.) He provided sources for many of his assertions in footnotes, so that readers can look for the original source material. The appendices include a list of ships arriving in Boston area ports from 1714 to  1720, members of the Charitable Irish Society in Boston, and the names of fathers in Presbyterian parish registers from 1730 to 1736.

Illustrated with portraits, maps and views of buildings and landscapes, this enduring study of the earliest mass migration of the Irish to America remains an important source for twenty-first-century researchers.

Adapted from the foreword to the NEHGS edition of Scotch Irish Pioneers in Ulster and America.

Marie Daly

About Marie Daly

Marie joined the staff of NEHGS in 1987 as Business Manager, then became Chief Financial Officer in 1998, and was named Director of Library Services in 2002. She received a B.S. from Northeastern University and an MPH from Boston University. In her spare time, Marie traces her Irish ancestors. She is the past president and co-founder of TIARA (the Irish Ancestral Research Association) and has been researching, lecturing, and writing about Irish genealogy since 1976. She is particularly interested in old Irish graveyards and has transcribed the tombstone inscriptions in several Irish cemeteries in the Boston area.

4 thoughts on “ICYMI: The earliest mass migration of the Irish to America

  1. Another resource for 18th century Irish immigration is Trade in Strangers, by Marianne Wokeck. It’s largely about the German immigration, but it also has a good section on the Irish. It’s how it worked as an economic enterprise with fascinating details of the development from sporadic and experimental to efficient and profitable.

  2. Does anyone know of any early resource material for Irish arrivals in NH, specifically Portsmouth NH?
    I have been trying to flesh out information about the travel of a family supposedly arriving in the Rye, Portsmouth area in about 1721 from Londonderry. I’ve never been sure if ships DID actually bring people there, or if all immigrants entered through Boston first, THEN moved north. I imagine that the ease of the coastal waterways in the 1700’s was somewhat like our interstate system for connecting ports.

    1. Hello jane – I wonder this same question with my family TASH, Jacob and Thomas who the family lore is left Belfast. First born I am aware of is Thomas Tash b. Durham, NH in 1722. The name was changed. Probably between Belfast departure and New Hampshire…

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