South Carolina Irish

By Strum, Harvey | South Carolina Historical Magazine, April 2012 | Go to article overview

South Carolina Irish


Strum, Harvey, South Carolina Historical Magazine


South Carolina Irish. By Arthur Mitchell. (Charleston, S.C.: History Press, 2011. Pp. 126; $19.99, paper.)

This synopsis of the South Carolina Irish experience essentially ends with the Civil War and includes an appendix with a short history of the Irish in North Carolina that focuses almost exclusively on the colonial period. Arthur Mitchell, professor emeritus of history at the University of South Carolina-Salkehatchie, has crafted a well-written account of the state's Irish history, but the study is light on comparative analysis. For the reader looking for a brief overview of the Irish in South Carolina, this work is ideal, but anyone trying to understand the subject in a broader context will look in vain for explanations of whether South Carolina was unique or reflected regional and national trends. For example, how did nativism in Charleston and Columbia prior to the Civil War compare with nativism in urban areas of other southern states?

The author starts with a detailed treatment of early Scots-Irish settlement. Delving deeper into the shifting positions of the colonial assembly, which first rejected and then welcomed Irish settlers, would have helped the reader to grasp the complex attitudes that developed in South Carolina towards Scots-Irish and Catholic Irish immigration from the seventeenth century onward. Mitchell concludes that the majority of Scots-Irish Presbyterians and Catholic Irish drifted away from organized religion in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. However, he does not explain what role religious revivals played in the faith of the backcountry's Irish population. In particular, what impact, if any, did the Great Awakening have on their religious loyalties? Statistics on the growth of Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist congregations in the backcountry prior to the 1770s could have shed light on Irish religious identification in colonial South Carolina. Did a second period of religious revivalism in the early nineteenth century influence the religious identification of the Irish? While there is mention of significant Irish immigration into South Carolina in the 1760s, how many stayed in the province? Also, the emphasis of the chapter on the colonial period is the Scots-Irish Protestants. There is little discussion of Catholic immigration and an absence of figures on how many came.

While the chapter concerning the participation of Scots-Irish and Catholic Irish on both sides in the American Revolution is one of the book's strengths, a few weak points remain. The author could have offered more on the involvement of the Irish in the Regulator movement prior to the Revolution and their ideas about allegiance leading up to the conflict. Mitchell notes that a significant group of Scots-Irish loyalists from the Chester area left in 1783 to return to Ulster, but he does not present enough personal accounts or precise data to give the reader a sense how many of South Carolina's nine thousand loyalists were Irish. …

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