Forge, Mill, and the Societies of Northern Britain and Ireland
The contribution of the Scotch-Irish to the development of colonial life is often acknowledged, but little studied. The neglect is even more revealing for northern England, that is, the land lying north of the river Humber. Not only did the founders of the United States have significant ties to the Scotch-Irish, but they were also the dominant ethnic group in Appalachia and most of the South, excluding Tidewater Virginia. Several places of importance for this project are to be found in the north of Britain.
A representative of the rapid progression from the rural to urban is the city of Aberdeen, where a community for trade and manufacturing had been developing in the eleventh century, and was formally encouraged by King David I in the twelfth century. In addition to the medieval remains, such as St. Machar's Cathedral or King's College (established by King James IV), the range of medieval crafts is displayed in the Marishal College Museum. This shows that medieval cities, like those in colonial America, were very much dependent upon agriculture for their trade. Emigrants from the region not only bestowed the town's name in their new homes (Aberdeen, MD), but many of them knew first-hand the horrors of being a vanquished people in their own land. The failure of Bonny Prince Charlie (the titular King Charles III) in the spring of 1746 forced many opponents of the Hanoverian dynasty in Britain to flee to the new world. Their descendants remembered persecution and were among the first to urge separation from Britain in 1776.
Moving southwest, we find is an excellent demonstration of the nexus among religion, industry and settlement: Whithorn, home of one of the earliest Christian centers in Britain. The restoration of the original ecclesiastical settlement provides parallels with many of the religious settlements in colonial America. As was true for many colonial American communities, Whithorn had access to an important commodity; in this case it was in an important medieval iron production/manufacture region. The early medieval site had to adjust to a new population when, in the eleventh century, Irish Sea Vikings settled there and exploited both its religious antecedents as well as the iron working. A third rejuvenation occurred in the following century, when the church and mines were turned to the uses of the Scots monarchs.
While both Aberdeen and Whithorn were spontaneous settlements, a good example of a planned community with an influence that linked antiquity with the Middle Ages is Hadrian's Wall. Famous as a monument to delimiting the classical world, this monumental work was planned with the interests of the Roman Empire in mind. Nevertheless, the communities along the wall underwent a significant transformation just prior to the beginning of the Middle Ages: from barracks to communities. Like the many settlements that grew up around forts in early America, there was a similar development that occurred as military outposts in the Atlantic region became redundant with the westward expansion of the frontier. Carlisle, at the western end of the wall, was originally a garrison supply base, but by the twelfth century it was occasionally the home of the Scottish court. English monarchs used it in their turn, and the city of Newcastle was placed on the eastern bounds of the wall at the river Tyne. Both of those towns were famous for their mills and metal works. The entire region south of Hadrian's Wall revealed the traces of previous military supply. In the shadow of the Wall was the ecclesiastical city of Hexham, famous for its church, and, just a few miles away, Corbridge, the infamous tenth-century slave market. Most importantly were the settlers in colonial America who were living on the borders. Many of them came from the Anglo-Scottish border region. In this region were the important abbeys such as Jedburgh, Roxborough, and Melrose, dedicated to strict Christian observance. At the same time, this was the area of small farmers and herdsmen, who guarded their properties and the entrance to their countries. The topography of the region was superb for water-driven mills and small-scale metal working.
These sites reflect the diversity of links between northern Britain and colonial America. They also acknowledge the important contributions made by peoples from areas considered marginal by previous generations of scholars. Nonetheless, they reveal the fascinating mixture of peoples whose efforts at settlement can not be limited to a single enterprise.