The Church in History: The Church in America by Dr. T.Y. Hiter

As the Baptist movement struggled to define itself in the 1750s and 60s, another, completely unrelated, but soon to be inseparable, set of events got underway. That second set of events involved the mass migration of thousands of Englishmen to the Colonies.

Now, it’s true that people from all levels of English society and all parts of the four “nations” of the United Kingdom (England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales) came over to the Colonies, beginning shortly after 1600, and continuing until, well, today, but most of the major migration took place in identifiable waves. The first two waves were to Virginia and Massachusetts. Most of these people were Church of England, or “Anglican”, though they worshipped in different ways. In the South, they were classic Anglicans. In the north, they were Puritans. Most of the southerners came from London and the West Country. Most of the Puritans came from the East. Another wave was made up mostly of Quakers, who came to Pennsylvania from Yorkshire, Cheshire and Lancashire. The fourth great wave came from extreme northwestern England, along the border with Scotland and Ireland. Indeed, these people became known as “Scotch-Irish” or, more correctly “Scots-Irish”, though in fact, they were neither. True Scots-Irish were descended from an earlier English imposition on the lowland Scots, whose lands the English crown wanted, in order to introduce large-scale sheep raising there. They took the lowland Scots off the land and transplanted them to Ireland: some to the South and many to the North. Some of these transplanted people came to the Colonies during the same time that the massive influx of border-country folk were coming, and the name got applied to all of them.

The borderers were among the poorest and roughest people of all the British Isles. The places they lived in were constantly being invaded by someone or other, their houses were routinely burnt, and their folkways were such that their preferred entertainments were fighting, hunting (usually illegally) and whiskey—making, drinking, or selling. When they got here, most of the good land was taken, and they had no use for cities anyway, so overwhelmingly they moved immediately west to the mountains, where the French, Indians, and one another were available for all three. In terms of religion, the border people had no use at all for organized religion. They did, though, feel an attraction for unorganized religion, and for years maintained their liking for what was called “field churches”; large gatherings that might go on for several days and include much loud and enthusiastic preaching, a good deal of fighting, and a good many opportunities to make contact with the opposite sex.