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Ulster Presbyterian Emigration to America: The Absence of a Unionist Political Dimension in America

by Familia Ulster Genealogical Review: No. 19, 2003


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by Elodie Aviotte

"THE DOMINANT VIEW OF IRISH EMIGRATION to the USA places it in the context of the Famine or post-Famine exodus. The – mostly Catholic – community was forced to leave Ireland to flee a social catastrophe on a scale never before experienced and which was made all the more tragic by the reluctance of the British government to seek to do anything about it.

This perspective conceals the fact that the first Irish emigrants to America were actually Protestant. This Protestant emigration mostly occurred during the eighteenth century, when 70% of emigrants were Presbyterians (Miller 1985, p. 149). This article will focus on the study of Presbyterian emigration from Ulster, as it has been generally overlooked in studies of Irish emigration.

This relative lack of analysis is explained by the absence of a significant pro-Unionist Ulster-Scots political constituency in modern America. The lack of political Diaspora has certainly influenced Ulster Unionists’ attitude to the US involvement in Northern Ireland."

This article seeks to analyse the historical roots of the absence of Unionist support in America, and looks at Ulster Presbyterian emigration to there, with some limited comparisons to the nineteenth-century Catholic emigration.