Lesson Plan

The Scots-Irish in the Carolina Backcountry


Have students identify the Scots-Irish and explain their role in the Carolina Backcountry during the American Revolution.


The student will identify the Scots-Irish, especially as related to cultural traditions and geography.

The student will demonstrate an understanding of the role of the Scots-Irish in backcountry lifestyles and in the Revolution.


There is a myth that all Scotland was like the Scottish Highlands. Although there were some similarities, there were great differences in culture. Highland Scots held on to strong tradition; Anglo-Saxon England more increasingly influenced the Lowland Scots. Lowland Scots lived south of Edinburgh, many on the border with England. The latter area, often referred to as the Borders, was a land known for its herding of livestock. It was often referred to as a lawless, poor and overpopulated region where cattle rustling and other such crimes were common. The Border Collie, a popular sheep dog, was developed in the Borders region.

Life was difficult economically for these poor Lowland Scots. Some moved to Ulster in Northern Ireland. King James I of England made it government policy to settle additional Scots in Ulster. His purpose was to pacify a turbulent region with Protestant Scots loyal to the crown.

Life in Ireland was no better. Lowland Scots settlers who worked as tenants on land awarded to Scottish and English noblemen lacked power to stop higher and higher rent increases, and the Scots remained segregated from the Native Irish, with whom they had cultural and religious differences.

Higher rents, famines and difficult relations with the Native Irish caused the Scots to move again. America, providing opportunities for land and freedom, pulled them. Close to a quarter of a million Ulster Scots migrated to America between 1715 and 1775.

In America, the Ulster Scots were known at first as Irish, so-named for their last homeland. (They intermarried little with the Native Irish.) Ulster Scots later took the name Scotch-Irish (today, often referred to as Scots-Irish) to distinguish themselves from the Native Irish, who migrated to America in great numbers, beginning in 1840. The Scots-Irish, along with the Germans, made up much of the population of the southern backcountry. Log cabins, hunting, herding and subsistence farming were associated with the Scots-Irish. Contradictory and adaptable people, they valued their faith, progress and education.

The Scots-Irish grew to value land and freedom. Their independence, love for freedom and defense of their American homeland pushed most of them to become ardent Whigs in the Revolution. Many of the militia at the Battles of Kings Mountain and Cowpens were toughened Scots-Irish frontiersmen.


1. Have students identify the Scots-Irish and explain their name.
2. Have students explain those factors that helped push the Scots-Irish out of Ireland.
3. Have students explain those factors that helped pull the Scots-Irish to America.
4. Have students use a map to trace the Scots-Irish migration from Lowland Scotland to Ulster to America.
5. Study material culture associated with the Scots-Irish, including: the Pennsylvania Rifle, the log cabin, foodways, farming/herding practices, etc.

1. Have students identify long rifles (Pennsylvania rifles) on exhibit in the Visitor Center Museum.
2. Have students view the laser-disc program, Cowpens: A Battle Remembered. Afterwards, have them describe the role of the militia in the Battle of Cowpens.
3. Visit the Scruggs House just off the park tour road. Have students identify the following terms: hewing, notching (half dovetail notching), chinking, shingles, and riving, froe, adz. Have students point out features of the Scruggs’ House that identify or illustrate these terms.

1. Have students write a paper describing the Scots-Irish, including origin of the name, reasons for migration, and their association with the frontier lifestyle.
2. Have students identify the terms matronymic, patronymic, toponymic, pet or by-name, given name, and surname. Refer to the book, The Book of Scots-Irish Family Names (Robert Bell), and identify the origins of common Scots-Irish surnames. Discuss various pet or by-names (nicknames.)