Monday, November 4, 2013

Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America

Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America by James Webb (Broadway Books, 2004, Hardrback, 369 pages) is a captivating book that surveys the history of the Scots-Irish. They are a fiercely independent group of Scots originating in the border region with England, who later moved to the Ulster Plantation in Ireland, and from there to America, the greater part arriving in the 1700s before the Revolutionary War.  The book begins as the Celtic tribes in Scotland effectively stop the advance of the Roman invaders, who eventually give up their conquest and construct Hadrian's Wall to seal off the territory they could not control.  Subsequent chapters in the first third cover highlights of Scottish military, civic, and religious history in struggles with England and later in the Ulster Plantation--revealing much more complexity than I had been aware of in the face-off among Scots-Irish, English, and native Irish, that eventually led to the great exodus of Scots-Irish to the new world. The latter two-thirds of the book covers the history and migration patterns of the Scots-Irish in America, beginning with their settlement in the rugged hill-country of the Appalachian Mountains, and following them as they were consistently among the first settlers to push the frontiers westward.  The author reveals how many cultural, religious, and civic traditions have their roots in Scots-Irish beliefs and traditions.

The author weaves his personal heritage and family stories with the greater history of the Scots-Irish, giving the book a deeply engaging and personal feel.  This is not your typical family history reference book, as important and useful as those are!  It is a fascinating story to be enjoyed by anyone interested in the undercurrents and hidden forces at work in the history of Britain and America.  

That said, however, in many ways it does serve as a useful reference tool.  In addition to better understanding my ancestral cultural and religious heritage, I found myself learning something in every chapter that gave clues to the potential migration patterns of my Scots-Irish ancestors.  I bought my own copy of the book and have marked relevant information and insights on most pages.  As a result, it no longer seems so puzzling that my Scots-Irish great-great grandfather, a prosperous farmer in Missouri, moved to the western border of Idaho two years before his death in 1922.

A reviewer on the back cover, Tom Wolfe, effectively captures the spirit and content of the book: "James Webb reveals the all-but-invisible ethnic group that has created the core beliefs of democracy American-style: our rights come from God, not the Government; all of us are born equal, and 'born aristocrats' don't exist; and tread on either of those two truths, and we'll fight you down to the last unbroken hyoid bone."

If you have Scots-Irish ancestry, take a look at this book to gain a better understanding of who they were and why they did what they did. Go to call number 973 F2wjs on our shelves and spend a few hours reviewing the content of this fascinating book.

Contributed by: Mary Lee Call

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