The Great Migration Of The Davis Clan & The Scots-Irish In Early Colonial America

As our family delves deeply into the roots of our past, we can’t help but appreciate the new found perspectives that come with re-opening the annals of history (the chronological record of events over successive years.)

We are continually informed into ways of the past that we did not capture in history class over the course of this genealogical exercise. This blog, therefore, is a discussion of the key elements of what we will call, The Great Scots-Irish (Davis) Migration In Early Colonial America.

We are busy, here in 2019; too busy perhaps to stop and reflect as one should at times. As we study the who, what, why and hows of the Scots-Irish migration, it does make one sit down and ponder. I will therefore write this blog from a standpoint of questions; questions my husband and I began to ask ourselves as we delved deeper into our family’s history. Since we are retired and have the time to do this research, unlike our kids and grandkids, we are focused on this so that our younger kin along with us can learn both the genealogical perspectives of our ancestors, and achieve deeper understanding of the contextual-situational dynamics that get at the who, what, where, when and why of our ancestors’ actions.

Here we go, from the questions perspective we’ve been asking ourselves:

Question One: What motivated the Scots-Irish to come to America in the first place? There were numerous reasons for the immigration of so many of the Scots-Irish to America in the 1700s. High rents and religious persecution are most often noted. Most Scots-Irish came freely to the American colonies, although there were also some who were deported as prisoners or came as indentured servants.

Question Two: Where did the Scots-Irish settle? Scots-Irish immigrants settled in the American colonies beginning in the 1600s. However, the first major migration of Scots-Irish to America was a group that came with Rev. James McGregor from County Londonderry to New England in 1718. They arrived at Boston, and many of them moved to New Hampshire, establishing the town of Londonderry. (This is not our kin, however you do see a large “Davis” population that is located in Boston and New England from this migration.)

The majority of the Scots-Irish who came to America in the colonial period settled in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Carolinas. Many of the earliest Scots-Irish immigrants (of the 1720s and 1730s) first settled in Pennsylvania. Many then moved down from Pennsylvania into Virginia and the Carolinas. From there immigrants and their descendants went on to populate the states of Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee in the 1780s and 1790s. (This is our kin and we were the earliest “Davis” group to come in this window always pushing first into the western frontier of the Virginia territory.)

Question Three: What was the “signature” of the Davis clan migration? The Scots-Irish largely came to colonial America in family groups as our Davis lineage did. Often, members of an extended family settled near one another in America, whether they immigrated together or separately. You see this with our ancestors as some stood up land in America having arrived sooner and some meeting up after arriving later. Some Scots-Irish immigrants came to America as part of larger group or congregational migrations, meaning that an entire group or congregation of Presbyterians together moved from one locality in Ireland to one locality in America. It is thus very important to trace persons that immigrated with a Scots-Irish ancestor or were associated with the ancestor in America. With our Davis line you can also see that we travelled with other families that we inter-married with. Key surnames include Pickens, Crockett, VanBebber, Yoakum, Cox, Cunningham, and others. Many of these other families can be traced with our Davis line all the way back to Ireland such as the case with the Cunninghams inter-marrying and Pickens. Others we co-mingled with in Pennsylvania or Beverely Manor, the first land tract opened up in the new Virginia territory.

In some cases, the immigrating group was led by a minister. In such instances, the minister may be traced back to the church he served in Ireland. Most of the immigrants who accompanied him would be from the same area. However, a group or congregational migration may have drawn from a larger area than just one town or parish in Ireland. Our Davis line tended to be ministers/ preachers and/or stood up churches along the way and also followed ministers into new territory. This religious context is an interesting one in our journey of exploring our ancestors.

Question Four: What was the nature of the Davis Scots-Irish? When this country gained its independence about one out of every ten persons was Scotch-Irish fighting in the Revolutionary War. While history books taught us about early America being British born, those books left out the Scots-Irish who were the second largest concentration of peoples in early colonial America. The English settlers in America didn’t particularly like their new neighbors. Pennsylvania had the most Scots-Irish and James Logan, secretary to the Penn family and an Irishman himself, lamented that “the settlement of five families of [Scotch-Irishmen] gives me more trouble than fifty of any other people.” When they continued to pour into the colony, Logan, fearing that the decent Quaker element might be submerged, fumed: “It is strange that they thus crowd where they are not wanted.” Cotton Mather in Massachusetts was more forthright; he fulminated against their presence as one of “the formidable attempts of Satan and his Sons to Unsettle us.” On the eve of the Revolution a loyal English colonist declared the Scotch-Irish to be, with few exceptions, “the most God-provoking democrats on this side of Hell.” But Scots-Irish were more fortunate over later-coming settlers as they experienced hostility for only a short time. Practically all Scots-Irish, including our Davis clan, immediately pushed forward into cheap lands of the back country of the Virginia territory, out of reach of the sensibilities of the English colonists who disliked the Scots-Irish “oddities.”

The Scots-Irish were really the first group to call themselves “American” versus Pennsylvania Dutch or Colony X, Y, or Z. They wanted a new identity in this new land and as such bonded together with passion and zeal. Many of the Scots-Irish characteristics of rugged individualism, pioneering/frontiersman, fearless, always pushing forward are what would define the “character” of the American identity.

Question Five: How did the Scots-Irish live in early colonial America? The appetite for the Scots-Irish was to live on the outer fringe of settlement by making small farms in the forests, facing Indian attack and fighting back, required self-reliance, ingenuity, and improvisation that Americans have ranked high as virtues. Additionally, the women of these clans were as strong and fearless as their male peers. This lifestyle of danger is what sets the Davis clan of Boston and New England (who were English) apart from our Davis clan of Pennsylvania who moved rapidly into the western edge of the Virginia frontier (Scots-Irish). This is why our kin to the likes of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett Sr./Jr. were all the iconic inaugurators of the heroic myth of winning of the West that was to dominate our nineteenth century history. Indeed, this is were the “Western hero icon” was formed, with Daniel Boone. The Presbyterian Church that the Scots-Irish brought with them, with its tradition of formality in worship and its insistence upon an educated ministry, was the first denomination to penetrate the realities of frontier life. From here as well, many transferred into the Baptist doctrine, later serving as preachers to this end. Social mixing and intermarriage with neighbors, irrespective of national background, made any such qualifier as Scotch-Irish (or northern Irish or Ulsterman) disappear within a generation. This is why in our genealogical quest we are not only studying the path of Davis, but Cox, Cunningham, Boone, Crockett, VanBebber, Yoakum and many others. It is because they (all these families together) became one clan over the course of pivotal years 1720 through 1776. In terms of offspring, indeed, it was vast and rapid and thus explains the extreme proliferation of Southern Davis “frontiersmen” lineage in a period of just under 50 years.

Question Six: Why are the Scots-Irish so praised for winning the Revolutionary War? The truth, that is not so written in history books due to the emphasis on the English colonies and New England, versus the Scots-Irish and the Virginia Territory, is that the Scots-Irish already had very bad experiences with the British while still living in England, then moving to Scotland then Ireland – all due to persecution over time. The English colonies actually liked Britain. It wasn’t as much the taxing in New England, as much as the poor mismanagement of Indian relations that causes 100s upon 100s of Scots-Irish to be massacred by Indians, by the betrayal of the British Crown, to spur the Revolutionary War. In fact, no one really knows that Lexington and Concord was not the first battle of the Revolutionary War, but rather the Battle at Point Pleasant was. It is also called Lord Dunmore’s War. Lord Dunmore (British who was Governor of the Virginia Territory) did a peace treaty with the Indians and with that forced Scots-Irish settlers to leave lands they had settled. They resisted and Dunmore, finding their plight an irritation, staged with the Indians an attack that would kill the frontier settlers. Colonial Lewis, who grew up with our Davis boys, knew something was up and did not follow Lord Dunmore’s commands. A battle ensued at Point Pleasant that was between the Virginia Militia (our ancestors) and the Indians. Instead of the Indians slaughtering these Scots-Irish Militia who had been set up to protect the frontier families from Indian attacks as Lord Dunmore had hoped, Colonial Lawis and his Virginia Militia killed the Indians and along with them, the Indian Chief. This was the first break, on American soil, between the British and the Colonists. From here the Virginia Militia marched directly to the Battle of Lexington and Concord to fight what the history books call the first battle of the Revolutionary War. In fact, our ancestor Sarah Davis, married Isaac VanBebber Sr. who died at the Battle of Point Pleasant. Their son, Isaac VanBebber Jr., instead of moving to live with his mother and new husband, opted instead to live and be raised by the famed Daniel Boone. Isaac V.B. Jr. later married Daniel Boone’s granddaughter and the rest is history. Many of our Davis kin live in Missouri having moved with Daniel Boone into Kentucky then on to Missouri later in Boone’s life.

Indeed, the Scots-Irish zeal as patriots and soldiers established the course for the future of America. At home and abroad they were credited with playing a vital part in the struggle for independence. A Hessian captain wrote in 1778, “Call this war by whatever name you may, only call it not an American rebellion; it is nothing more or less than a Scotch Irish Presbyterian rebellion.” King George was reported to have characterized the Revolution as “a Presbyterian war,” and Horace Walpole told Parliament that “there is no use crying about it. Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson, and that is the end of it.” A representative of Lord Dartmouth wrote from New York in 1776 that “Presbyterianism is really at the Bottom of this whole Conspiracy, has supplied it with Vigor, and will never rest, till something is decided upon it.” Such testimony to enthusiasm for the American cause was not given to any other group of immigrants.

Question Seven: What makes the Scots-Irish zeal so great as America grew and opened up new lands? What did they accomplish? At the end of the Revolutionary War, when the great Ohio and Mississippi valleys were opened up and the rush westward began, sons and daughters of the original Scotch-Irishmen, including our Davis clan, led the way across the mountains to the new frontiers. Theodore Roosevelt is one of many, along with many historians who state that the institutions, attitudes, and characteristics of these trans-Allegheny pioneers constituted the practical middle ground into which the diversities of easterners and southerners might merge into something new—American culture.

Approximately 250,000 Scots-Irish crossed the sea to America after the Revolutionary War, and they bred rapidly; their sons, like later arrivals from Ulster, constantly extended settlements westward to the Appalachians. The mountains then sent the flow of newcomers north and especially south from Pennsylvania until they constituted a dominant element in many colonies and were the first frontiersmen, scouts, Indian hunters and pioneers who made the journey west across the Oregon Trail to settle California, Oregon and Washington territory.

Question Eight: What is the most common name for Scots-Irish? John is the number one name for Scots-Irish men and Margaret is that for women. This is why our family’s lineage is so loaded with John and Jonathan as is the case with my husband’s name. They also have interesting ways to name all their children in relation to the elders who went before. Click here to learn about Scots-Irish naming conventions to learn more.

Question Nine: What was the path that our Davis ancestors took in America? Our Ulster, Scots-Irish ancestors landed in Pennsylvania in 1719 and were based in Chester County, PA. They moved on into the first tract of land to open up in the Virginia Territory in the 1730-1740s called Beverely Manor/Borden Tract. Note that this territory was so large – it was everything south of the Great Lakes, everything east of the Mississippi River and everything north of the Louisiana Territory. NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING, at this time had been opened up beyond the colonies themselves. This was wild western territory with many warring Indian tribes, bear, buffalo, panther, you name it. It is in the Beverely Manor/Borden Tract that Davis kin became friends with great explorer Holston, for which the Holston River was named, and individuals in positions to acquire the first large parcels of land. This gave them access to first lands, first. They moved from what was called “Old Augusta, Virginia” down to Pittsylvania, VA (at the North Carolina border) in 1760s. This geography actually spread across South Central Virginia and North Central North Carolina. A line had yet been drawn between the two (Va & NC). This is why some genealogy folks get confused thinking the Davis kin are different kin, one with a VA location and others with a NC location. It, at that time was all one settlement area. From here the Davis kin began to spread out: Our line went to Roane County, TN. Cousins went to Greenbrier W.V. and were later slaughtered by Shawnee Indians along with the Yoakum, VanBebbers and the Sees and hundreds others. The Davis kin retreated back to Pittsylvania, then resettled the Greenbrier, W.V. again later in 1770s when treaties had been settled with the Cherokee, Shawnee and others. Some of our kin went on from the Greenbrier to live with Daniel Boone into Kentucky then on to Missouri. Other kin from the same Davis line settled Powell Valley, just north of our kin who settled further south along the same river (the Clinch River). And, other kin went to settle the Waxhaw Settlements in North/South Carolina (another interesting area where the Settlement straddled lines that were drawn later.). The Powell Valley TN kin were some of the first to travel the Oregon Trail, first heading west to California in the gold rush. They came back and then brought family over in 1847-48 being the second family to settle Eugene/Springfield Oregon. Then over 70 Davis kin crossed the Oregon Trail in 1852-53 settling Oregon. Our direct line went on from Roane County TN to settle Kansas Territory, then we meet up with the Aaron Davis line (who’d settled Oregon) and re-met up in the Washington Territory, settling in Whitman WA then settling in Pend Oreille County in Eastern Washington/Western Idaho.

Question Ten: What do we appreciate the most in the genealogical deep dive into our ancestors thus far? This is the 300th year anniversary for the Davis family having stepped foot on American soil. It was 1719 when our first American ancestor arrived. It is also the 250th anniversary of Daniel Boone charting the Cumberland Gap that opened the artery for Western expansion into the American heartland and beyond. These are profound thoughts. We opened this blog by saying, today people are so busy, so busy that time to stop, research and reflect is nearly impossible. What Mike and I appreciate most in this journey into what we’ve learned so far, is how special the Davis history is. This history was literally unknown to all of us. Our family IS spread across this great country now and now we know why: It is in the Davis blood! And, it is hard to see everyone as it was with our ancestors once kin moved on to new frontiers. We love our kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews and the new frontiers they will embark upon too. But, my husband is the last Davis alive of his generation, and it is time to bring our history back into focus with fidelity so that our Davis descendants can gain an understanding and appreciation of their history as they continue to bridge new frontiers. It is up to us to capture this history for our descendants for the next ten generations to come. It is with great honor that we do this and it is our hope that our descendants carry this torch forward, like our Scots-Irish ancestors did with their naming conventions of their children.

Therefore, for the rest of our lives, our focus is this:


The Davis family, forging paths for 300 years!

One thought on “The Great Migration Of The Davis Clan & The Scots-Irish In Early Colonial America

  1. Lorie,
    You and Mike are doing a fantastic job with all your research, etc. Sure makes for some interesting reading. Hope to see you again.


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