based on selections from _Albion's Seed_ by David Hackett Fischer

The Borders of North Britain--an INTRODUCTION to BORDER CULTURE

Early in the twentieth century the English folklorist Cecil Sharp left his home in Stratford-on-Avon and spent many months in America's Appalachian highlands, collecting the songs and dances of the back settlers. After careful comparison with British materials, he wrote of these people:

From an analysis of their traditional songs, ballads, dances, sing ing-games, etc.... they came from a part of England where the civilization was least developed probably the North of England, or the Border country between Scotland and England.'Music of the Cumberland Gap

This border region included six counties in the far north of England: Cumberland, Westmorland and parts of Lancashire onthe western side of the Pennines; Northumberland, Durham and parts of Yorkshire to the east. It also embraced five counties of southern Scotland Ayr, Dumfries, Wigtown, Roxburgh and Berwick. During the seventeenth century, its culture was carried westward across the Irish Sea to five counties of Ulster Derry, Down, Armagh, Antrim and Tyrone.1

Within this region the North British emigration to America drew heavily from counties that touched upon the Irish Sea Ayr, Dumfries and Wigtown in Scotland; Cumberland and Westmorland in England; Derry, Antrim and Down in Ireland. The sea itself united its surrounding lands in a single cultural region.2

To a traveler who enters this border region from the south of England, the landscape seems strange and forbidding even today. As one drives northward on the M6 motorway, the first impression is of a bare and empty country, which by comparison with the teeming English Midlands appears almost uninhabited. The terrain is uneven a stark succession of barren hills and deep valleys. West of Kendal, a handsome stone-built shire town in the old county of Westmorland, the countryside begins to change. Here one enters the Lake District, with its romantic scenery and beautiful views. Westward beyond Lake Windermere lies the Fell country, a sparsely settled mountain district with peaks rising to 3,000 feet, and high moorlands of almost lunar bleakness. Still farther to the west, the houses grow more numerous as one approaches the close-built coastal towns on the Irish sea. Forty-five miles north of Kendal lies the city of Carlisle, the metropolis of the English marches. This town is still dominated by its castle with massive walls of crimson stone which brood ominously above the busy traffic on Castle Way. To wander through the damp dungeons of Carlisle Castle, and to study the strange graffiti carved in its walls by captives many centuries ago, is to feel once again the violence of life upon the border. Everywhere in the region one still discovers ruined walls and crenellated towers which are memorials to its violent past. At Penrith, a market town halfway between Carlisle and Kendal, there is a great red sandstone beacon high on a barren hill, where warning fires were lighted when the Scots came over the border.3

The border derived its cultural character from one decisive historical fact. For seven centuries, the kings of Scotland and England could not agree who owned it, and meddled constantly in each other's affairs. From the year 1040 to 1745, every English monarch but three suffered a Scottish invasion, or became an invader in his turn. In the same period, most Scottish kings went to war against England, and many died "with their boots on," as the border saying went. Scotland's first king, Duncan (1034-40), was murdered by Macbeth after losing a war to the Northumbrians. In 1057, Macbeth himself suffered the same fate after his defeat by another English army in the forest fight at Dunsinane. The next Scottish king, Malcolm Canmore (1058-93), invaded England five times in hopes of conquering its northern provinces, and was at last slain in Northumberland. After 1093 the Normans attacked northward in their turn and when Scotland's king Donald Bane (1093-97) resisted, they took him captive and their Scottish allies put out his eyes to quiet him.

An interval of peace followed, but in 1136 Scotland's King David led an army into England and the fighting began again. In the course of the next century most towns on both sides of the border were brutally sacked and burned, and the countryside was ravaged from Newcastle to Edinburgh. Churches and monasteries became favorite targets; one Scottish army struggled home so laden with loot that soldiers drowned in the river Eden beneath the weight of plundered chalices and crucifixes.

These wars continued for many generations. In the year 1215, England's King John marched north on a mission of revenge. The Scottish burghers of Berwick were put to death by torture; the English king set fire to their houses with his own hand. During the late thirteenth century, Scotland was forced to accept English overlordship, which brought another interval of sullen peace. Conditions improved in the reign of Alexander III (1249-86), a golden age for Scottish culture. But on a dark night in 1286, Alexander fell to his death over a cliff or perhaps was pushed and the slaughter began again. England's King Edward I (1272-1307) captured the border town of Berwick and put to death every male of military age. For three centuries Scottish soldiers in their bloodlust cried "Remember Berwick!"

The lowlands remained in English hands until about 1297, when Scotland's national hero William Wallace invaded Cumberland. His soldiers flayed the bodies of English officers who fell into their hands. When Wallace himself was captured, his body was drawn and quartered, and his head impaled atop an English pike. England's warrior King Edward I (1272-1307) then harried the north with such violence that he was called the "Hammer of the Scots"; as he lay dying in Cumberland, Edward ordered his bones to be carried into Scotland by an avenging English army. His hapless son Edward II (1307-27) tried to obey, but was beaten at Bannockburn (1314) by the Scottish hero Robert the Bruce, whose followers looted, burned and raped the northern counties of England, and part of Ireland for good measure. England's Edward III (1327-77) took his revenge in the campaign which is still remembered as the "burnt Candlemas" a systematic destruction of the Scottish lowlands as far north as Edinburgh. The act of savagery led to new atrocities by the Scots, and new expeditions by England's Richard II (1377-99) and Henry IV (1399-1413).

All the while, private fighting continued between warlords on both sides of the border. Through the fifteenth century, North Britain was reduced to anarchy. Scotland's James I (1406-37) was assassinated by his own henchmen; James II "of the fiery Face" (1437-60) was blown to pieces while attacking the English at Roxburgh; James III (1460-88) was murdered by a family of rampaging border warlords; end dames IV (1488-1513) died fighting the English on Flodden Field. English vengance reached its bloody climax when Henry VIII (1509-47) ordered the ruin of hundreds of border villages in a retribution that Scots remember as "the Rough Wooing."

The border fell quiet after 1567, when dames VI became King of Scotland and later King of England as well. But in the reign of Charles I, English and Scots went to war again, and hostilities continued under the Commonwealth and Protectorate. Major raids and border risings also occurred in 1680, 1689, 1715 and 1745. Altogether, two historians of the border write that "until after 1745, the region never enjoyed fifty consecutive years of quiet." This endemic violence caused heavy loss of life on both sides of the border. It was written that "a Scots raid down toward the Tyneside often did as much killing in relation to the local population as the plague did nearly everywhere."4 The cultural effect of violence was magnified by a climate of fear which continued even in periods of peace. Long after the "Forty-five," English diaries often recorded rumors that the Scots were "over the borders." Fear itself remained a social fact of high importance after so many centuries of strife.5

Dynastic stuggles between the monarchs of England and Scotland were only a small part of the border's sufferings. The quarrels of kings became a criminal's opportunity to rob and rape and murder with impunity. On both sides of the border, and especially in the "debatable land" that was claimed by both kingdoms, powerful clans called Taylor, Bell, Graham and Bankhead lived outside the law, and were said to be "Scottish when they will, and English at their pleasure."6 They made a profession of preying upon their neighbors "reiving," it was called along the border.7 Other families specialized in the theft of livestock "rustling" was its border name. Rustling on a small scale was endemic throughout the region. Large gangs of professional rustlers also "operated on a scale more reminiscent of the traditional American model than any English equivalent," in the words of an historian.8

This incessant violence shaped the culture of the border region, and also created a social system which was very different from that in the south of England. On the border, forms of tenancy were designed to maintain large bodies of fighting men. Lord Burghley noted, " . . .there is no lease in that country, but with provision to find horse and arms, to be held by an able man."' In the great manors of Wark and Harbottle, it was observed that "customary tenure was very secure . . . descent was by partible inheritance, so that potential fighting men were guaranteed subsistence."9

Endemic violence also had an effect upon the economy, which lagged far behind other parts of England in the pace and pattern of its development. In 1617 the Venetian ambassador noted that the border country "at a distance of forty miles from the frontier, and especially the county of Northumberland was very poor and uncultivated and exceedingly wretched . . . from the sterility of the ground and also from the perpetual wars with which these nations have savagely destroyed each other." For centuries the region remained in the grip of a vicious cycle. Poverty and violence caused much poverty and more violence.10 The insecurity of the borders created a unique style of architecture throughout this region. The gentry lived in buildings called peles, stone towers three or four stories high. The ground floor was a windowless storeroom with walls ten feet thick. Stacked above it was a hall for living, a bower for sleeping and a deck for fighting. Camden wrote that "there is not a man amongst them of the better sort that hath not his little tower or pele.''l2 Poor tenants dealt with danger in another way, by erecting rude "cabbins" of stone or wood or build within three or four hours." The destruction of these temporary buildings was not a heavy loss, for they could be rebuilt almost as rapidly as they were wrecked.13

Border violence also made a difference in patterns of association. In a world of treachery and danger, blood relationships became highly important. Families grew into clans, and kinsmen placed fidelity to family above loyalty to the crown itself. One officer, who was charged with the thankless task of keeping the King's peace among the borderers, reported in despair in 1611:

They are void of conscience, the fear of God; and of all honesty, and so linked in friendship by marriage, and all or most of them of one flesh, ending to make their gain by stealing, that of a hundred felonies scarcely one shall be proved.14

Borderers placed little trust in legal institutions. They formed the custom of settling their own disputes by the lex talionis of feud violence and blood money. There was also a system which the borderers called "blackmail," involving the payment of protection money to powerful families.15

As we shall see, endemic violence shaped the culture of this region in many other ways in attitudes toward work, sport, time, land, wealth, rank, inheritance, marriage and gender. This culture was much the same on both sides of the border. "English and Scots Borderers had everything in common except nationality," writes historian George Fraser. "They belonged to the same small, self-contained, unique world, lived by the same rules and shared the same inheritance.16

This border culture was carried across the Irish Sea to Ulster by the settlers who would be called Scotch-Irish and Anglo-Irish. Those immigrants came from many parts of Scotland and England, but an historian observes that "the greatest numbers came from the Borders." In Ireland they found another environment of endemic violence. There the old folkways survived for centuries after they had disappeared on the border itself, and still go on today in northern Ireland, with its Protestant drums and Catholic bombs and savage knee-cappings and tortures in the Maze. In the unceasing torment of that beautiful ravaged land, the long legacy of border violence still bears its bitter fruit.

But in the borderlands themselves, the old culture began to be transformed in the seventeenth century mainly by new political conditions. The two warring kindgoms gradually became one, in a long consolidation that began when Scotland's James VI inherited the English throne in 1603, and ended in the Act of Union in 1706-7.

In this process, the borders experienced a sweeping social revolution. There are many truths to be told about this event. One was the truth of its agents, who saw it as a process of "pacification." Another was the truth of its objects, who thought of themselves not as villains but victims. In any case, this ordering process was as violent as the world that it destroyed. The pacification of this bloody region required the disruption of a culture that had been a millennium in the making. Gallows were erected on hills throughout the English border counties, and put busily to work. Thrifty Scots saved the expense of a rope by drowning their reivers instead of hanging them, sometimes ten or twenty at a time. Entire families were outlawed en masse, and some were extirpated by punitive expeditions. Many were forcibly resettled in Ireland, where officials complained that they were "as difficult to manage in Ireland as in north Cumberland," and banished them once again this time to the colonies. The so-called Scotch-Irish who came to America thus included a double-distilled selection of some of the most disorderly inhabitants of a deeply disordered land.17

The pacification of the border transformed its social system. The old border warlords were deprived of their income and fell deep in debt, losing their properties to the merchants of expanding towns. A romantic account of their fate was the history of the Osbaldistone family, in Scott's great border novel Rob Roy. An actual example was Sir William Chaytor, seized for debt in his ancient pele and carried off to London's Fleet Prison raging helplessly, "From Hell, Hull, Halifax and York, Good Lord deliver us." 18

The old warrior families were replaced by a new class of entrepreneurs who saw the future of their region in commerce and coal. Arable lands along the border passed into the hands of agricultural capitalists. Most great landlords in Cumberland and Westmorland were absentees who never knew their tenants and rarely visited their estates. One of the largest holders, the Duke of Somerset (1682-1748), saw his Cumbrian lands only once in sixty-six years. These properties were run by stewards and bailiffs. The income that they extracted from the ten; ntry was sent to southern England. The distribution of wealth, always unequal in the borderlands, now became still more so.19

Some middling families of the class called statesmen were able to improve themselves. Even these small holders were technically tenants, but in fact they owned everything except the mineral rights to their lands for the payment of nominal rents. Some enlarged their holdings, and were able to pass them to their children for the payment of a fine equal to two years' rent, plus a piece of silver called "God's Penny."20

Others were not so lucky. When the borders were pacified, changes were made in the form of tenure. "When fighting men were no longer needed," one historian has written, "landlords began to argue that customary tenants were in fact tenants of the will of the lord."21 In the process, both tenants and undertenants became vulnerable to exploitation. The cruelties of rack renting became commonplace throughout the region, and evictions were widespread. Many emigrants brought to America an indelible memory of oppression which shaped their political attitudes for generations to come.22

Some tenants resisted by going to law against the landlords. Others took the law into their own hands. This was specially the case in southwestern Scotland, where the rural population rose against their oppressors and leveled the stone walls that landlords were building for livestock. The largest of these insurrections was the so-called Galloway Levellers' Revolt of 1724. In northern Ireland, tenants banded together in violent vigilante groups called Hearts of Steel and Hearts of Oak against rack-renting landlords. The absentee proprietors themselves were safe in London or Dublin, but many an agent was brutally assassinated. 23

More violence occurred when new roads began to be built throughout the region, and were forcibly resisted. A custom called "pulling up the ways" became a common form of rural protest against encroaching civilization. England's new standing army was called out to suppress road riots along the border.24

As if these miseries were not enough, the people of the borders were also afflicted by famine and epidemic disease, which so often accompanied rapid change in the early modern era. A large part of the population lived close to the edge of subsistence, and became highly vulnerable to harvest fluctuations. Major crop failures occurred repeatedly in the eighteenth century notably in the years 1727, 1740, and 1770. Each scarcity was followed by a surge of emigration.

These trends also occurred in Ireland, where Calvinist colonists were caught between a rapacious Anglican elite on the one hand, and a fast-growing Catholic majority on the other. They were increasingly exploited by rack-renting landlords, bullied by county oligarchies, and taxed by a church to which they did not belong. Another factor in Ireland was the depression of the linen trade. This industry suffered a prolonged decline throughout the period of emigration, and experienced a major collapse in the early 1770s.

The cause of these various troubles was a social transformation of high complexity. Their consequence was a surge of emigration so strong that observers compared it to an "epidemic" or "rage" or "distemper." Authorities were appalled by the loss of population, but could find no way to stop it. One of them wrote in 1728:

The whole north is in a ferment at present, and people every day engaged one another to go next year to the West Indies. The humour has spread like a contagious distemper, and the people will hardly hear of anybody that tries to cure them of their madness. The worst is, it affects only Protestants.25

In Ireland, so desperate did people become that some attempted to escape in open boats across the Irish Sea and drowned in those treacherous waters.26

These people were refugees from a great historical transformation which had caught them in its complex coils. Some wished only to keep their own customs; others thought more of the future than the past. For both groups, the New World held the promise of a happiness which eluded them at home. In their teeming thousands they fled to America.


keep travelling, into theAmerican Backcountry