The Crack: Ulster-Scots Presidents

The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), July 27, 2002 | Go to article overview

The Crack: Ulster-Scots Presidents


Seventeen of the 43 American Presidents were of Ulster ancestry. Some have more direct Ulster links than others, but the connection to 18th and 19th century immigrants from the north of Ireland is tangible. This fifth article from the 'Ulster-Scots in America' series researched by journalist-author Billy Kennedy uncovers facts that you can astound your American cousins with!

ANDREW JACKSON: (Democrat 1829-37). This seventh American President and founder of the Democratic Party in the United States was born in a frontier log cabin in the Waxhaws region of the Carolinas in 1767, his parents Andrew and Elizabeth Jackson having left their home at Boneybefore near Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim 18 months earlier. Andrew, a lawyer, helped draft the constitution for Tennessee, which set up as the 16th state of the Union in 1796. He was the victorious United States commander at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Like his parents, Jackson was a Presbyterian and his wife Rachel was also of Ulster lineage.

JAMES KNOX POLK: (Democrat 1845-49). The 11th American President, James Knox Polk was born in 1795 near Charlotte in North Carolina. His Scottish- born great-grandfather Robert Bruce Polk (Pollok), of Lifford Co. Donegal, arrived in the American colonies about 1680. James Knox Polk was Governor of Tennessee before becoming US President and he and his wife Sarah are buried in Nashville. Both were Presbyterians. Polk served seven terms in the US Congress and was Speaker of the House. His great uncle Thomas Polk signed, with other Scots-Irish (Ulster-Scots) citizens in North Carolina, the Mecklenburg Declaration of May, 1775, a very significant document which preceded the Declaration of Independence.

JAMES BUCHANAN: (Democrat 1857-61). Born 1791 in a log cabin in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, 15th American President James Buchanan was also a Presbyterian. The Buchanan family, parents James and Elizabeth Speer Buchanan and some of their 11 children, lived at Deroran near Omagh and left Londonderry for America in 1783. Buchanan, a lawyer, was the only bachelor President. He spent 42 years as a Democratic state Assembly man, US Congress member, US minister to Russia, Secretary of State, minister to Britain and President. Buchanan once said: "My Ulster blood is my most priceless heritage".

ANDREW JOHNSON: (Democrat 1865-69). The 17th American President was born in a log cabin at Raleigh, North Carolina in 1808. His Presbyterian namesake and grandfather from Mounthill outside Larne, Co Antrim arrived in America about 1750. Johnson worked as a tailor for many years and was Mayor of Greeneville in East Tennessee, a town largely inhabited by Scots-Irish settlers, and became Governor of Tennessee and Vice-President to Abraham Lincoln before assuming the Presidency on Lincoln's assassination. Johnson's mother Mary 'Polly' McDonough was of Ulster stock, as was his wife Eliza McCardle.

ULYSSES SIMPSON GRANT: (Republican 1869-77). Born 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio, the 18th American President, also of Presbyterian stock, successfully commanded the Union Army in the American Civil War. His mother Hannah Simpson was descended from the Simpson family of Dergenagh between Dungannon and Ballygawley in Co Tyrone. His great grandfather John Simpson left Ulster for America in 1760. President Grant, a Methodist, admitted he was more of a soldier and a farmer than a politician. In July 1878, Grant travelled to Ulster to receive the freedom of Londonderry and also visited the Simpson homestead near Ballygawley.

CHESTER ALAN ARTHUR: (Republican 1881-85). The 21st American President was born at Fairfield, Vermont in 1830. Arthur's grandfather and his father, Baptist pastor the Rev William Arthur, emigrated to Dunham, Quebec, Canada from Dreen near Cullybackey, Co Antrim in 1801, and the family settled in the neighbouring American state of Vermont. …

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