Saturday, 3 June 2017

The More Things Change . . .

Migration in the Name of Religious Belief

The Scots and the Scots-Irish had a hard time after the death of Cromwell and the restoration of Charles II in England.  After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, things were better, but the Scots continued to labour under restrictions of various kinds.  One consequence of this oppression was "voting feet": large numbers of Scots and Scots-Irish sailed for America.  

As one historian put it:
After the year 1714, their ships began to cross the sea from Ulster in a long unbroken line.  For more than sixty years they continued to come.  It was the most extensive movement ever made from Europe to America before the modern days of steamships.  Often as many as 12,000 came in a single year. . . . In the two years, 1773 and 1774, more than 30,000 came.  A body of about 600,000 Scots was thus brought from Ulster and Scotland to the American colonies, making about one-fourth of our population at the time of the Revolution.  [H. A. White, cited by Douglas Wilson, Five Cities that Ruled the World (Nashville, Tn.: Thomas Nelson, 2009), p. 144.]
These migrants were both economic and political in their motivation.  That is, they were poor and the prospects for  life were better  in the New World, than the Old.  But they were also second class citizens by dint of official policy in England.  These things have a contemporary sound about them, given the mass migration now underway from the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia into Europe and probably, eventually, into the United States.

But then as now, there were strong religious undercurrents to this Scots and Scots-Irish migration.  Many of them were Presbyterians, spiritually descended from the Puritans, who now made up that substantial body of Nonconformists.  These people were ready volunteers for the American armies and militia when the war of independence broke out in America.  Many saw that struggle as a continuation of what they had endured in Scotland and Ireland: the English crown, acting as a front for the religious intolerance of the Established Church.  The liberty sought by the colonists was above all a liberty of conscience and freedom of religious belief.  Hence the involvement of the Black Regiment: the Presbyterian pastors in the war effort.

Wilson writes:
When war broke out between England and America, Peter Oliver, a Tory writing in 1781, rebuked the "black regiment, the dissenting clergy," for fomenting the Revolution.  . . . Speaking in the English Parliament about John Witherspoon, Horace Walpole said that cousin America had run off with a Presbyterian parson.  At Yorktown, Washington's colonels with one exception were Presbyterian elders.  More than half the soldiers in the Continental Army were Presbyterians, and most of the rest were other kinds of Calvinists.

The British army specially targeted Presbyterian churches because they knew that they were in the thick of it, and the "black regiment" was effective in supporting the war.  One name for the war in England was the Presbyterian revolt.  One of the biggest controversies in the colonies before the war was whether the king was going to appoint an Anglican archbishop over all the colonies.  The rallying cry in the Revolution was "No King but Jesus."  [Ibid., p. 145f.]
In our modern troubles, anyone who fails or refuses to see the religious undertones in the migration of people from Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia is either ignorant, or willfully myopic.  It has happened before, and is happening again.  But this time it is Islamic in make-up, not Presbyterian.  The outcome is likely to be a veritable world of difference.

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