History of Westmoreland County
Volume 1
Chapter 8

Scotch - Irish - German

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Westmoreland county as it now exists in territory was settled largely by Scotch-Irish and Pennsylvania Dutch. The Scotch-Irish was a sturdy race of people in all colonies wherever found. They came from Ireland, but their ancestors had originally been the bone and sinew of Scotland before they had removed to the Emerald Isle. They were scattered over Western Pennsylvania, and were the first to cluster around the forts and blockhouses, where they made money by trading in lands, furs, and skins and other products, rather than by agricultural pursuits. They lived by thrift, rather than by hard labor, yet they did not attempt to live on the unpaid labor of others. They were an extremely aggressive and independent people who made splendid pioneers in a new country.

There were also a good many descendants of French Huguenots who, by the Edict of Nantes, were driven from their vine-clad houses in France because of their religious belief. Many of them had lived so long among the European nations surrounding France that they by intermarriage and association had lost not only their original tongues but their names, though they still retained their distinctive nationalities. Therefore, they not infrequently came to America with French names and German , English or Swiss tongues. Probably three-fourths of all the settlers who came to Westmoreland, however, had for their mother tongue the English language. Of the other fourth the German tongue predominated. Our early settlers were in their make-up not unlike the people in other parts of the state, that is extremely heterogeneous. This was due to the fact that the policy of the Province had been, even from the days of William Penn, its founder, that men of all shades of political and religious belief in Europe or elsewhere, should find a welcome home among our hills.

The Scotch-Irish very soon obtained control of our public affairs in Westmoreland county, as, indeed, they did of almost every colony or province in which they settled. They designated their coming here as a "settlement among the Broadrims," a term applied to Pennsylvanians because of the shape of their hats. More of them came to Pennsylvania than to any other section of America. About the time our country was opening up to settlers, they fled from a series of domestic troubles in Ireland. Prominent among these were high rents and peculiarly oppressive actions on the part of the land owners. The landed estates in Ireland, it will be remembered, were almost entirely owned by lords, dukes and nobles, who lived in London, and this metropolis was then the center of a most profligate and spendthrift age and race, to keep up with which high rents and oppressive measures seemed to be necessary. Here in Western Pennsylvania land was cheap and plenty, and here they came in untold numbers. With them came many from Philadelphia, Chester, Lancaster, Berks, Bucks, York and Cumberland counties, these latter actuated mainly by that progressive westward moving spirit so common in America, and which has since filled the western states with a thrifty and intelligent population.

The Scotch-Irish adhered to the Calvinistic religion, and they had a personality strong enough to very largely impress it upon their new neighbors. There were, indeed, an intellectual and steadfast people. They were not only independent, but were shrewd, industrious and ambitious. They very readily became Americanized, perhaps more so than any other settlers. They had no strict nationality to forget, nor sympathetic national feelings to unlearn. There was no pure Celtic blood in their veins. They had no nation which bound them as purely their own. The songs of Robert Burns, which made the Scotchman forever loyal to his native heather, had no special music for them, nor did the memory of any song learned in childhood from the lips of an Irish mother fill them with patriotism and glory, or draw them from the New back to the Old World. The Shamrock, to which the true sons of Erin are universally loyal, had no tender memoried mystic cord interest to them. They were no more attached to Ireland than the Hebrews were to Egypt by their long sojourn there, or than the Puritans were to Holland, from whence they came to America in 1620. The pure Irish are loyal to the mystic traditions of their hearthstones in whatever nation they may be found. The pure Scotch weep as readily on the banks of the Mississippi as in Scotland over the chant of "Bonnie Doon.: But the Scotch-Irish remembered Ireland only as a place of a severe and temporary tenantry. These characteristics made them excessively independent, if not arrogant, in the New World, and gave them power to impress their identity on, if not to govern, any community in which they settled. They and their deeds of heroism in America have received the highest measure of praise by their friends, while their enemies have apparently, with equal reason, held them up to bitterest ridicule. They always looked down on the Puritans and Quakers who, in turn, despised them. They abhorred the Pennsylvania Dutch, and yet from the beginning to the end they ruled Quaker, Puritan and Dutchman with a rod of iron.

This aggressive spirit led to many difficulties between the Indian and the white men in out country. The English and Dutch had both, as far as practicable, adopted Penn�s peace-loving policy in dealing with the Indian, for the sake of a hoped-for future peace. But not so with the aggressive spirit which characterized the Scotch-Irish. They wanted land, caring little whether it came from the Indians or the Proprietary government; whether it destroyed the Indians� hunting ground or encroached on the squatter-rights of the Quakers, English or Dutch, and, when they once procured a title to it, woe be unto the one who interfered with their possessions. No ignorant brutal race of red men should encroach on the rights of a people who had for centuries stood up against and held their own with the oppressive hand of the Irish landholder. But, when the Indian came to retaliate, he made no distinction between the pacific Dutch, Quaker or English, and the high-minded if not warlike Scotch-Irish. All were alike white men to him, and upon the white race, without distinction, fell the severity of the incursions, which he doubtless thought were a just punishment for wrongs received at the hands of the white man in general.

The Germans in Western Pennsylvania did not generally come from Germany, but rather from Berks, Lancaster, Cumberland, Philadelphia, and other eastern counties. Their ancestors, however, had come from the banks of the Rhine, from Alsace and Loraine, from the Netherlands, or Holland. They were called Pennsylvania Dutch, and spoke a language that was a mixture of German and English, with now and then a word or an expression engrafted from other European tongues. It very greatly resembled pure German, so much so that a German scholar can converse readily with a Pennsylvania Dutchman, while the latter has even today no trouble whatever in making himself understood in Germany. This language was even in its best days, almost entirely a colloquial dialect, and consequently has declined very rapidly in the last fifty years.

There were Pennsylvania Dutch scattered all over Westmoreland county, but they settled mostly in Hempfield and Huntingdon townships. There were also a great many on the Chestnut Ridge bordering Somerset county, where they were very numerous. They lived isolated lives compared with the Scotch-Irish, and the township of Hempfield and Huntingdon as well, have in a great measure retained their Dutch characteristics even to our day. They never went abroad to seek public preferment or office. They were almost exclusively farmers, and they were good farmers, too, with apparently little ambition to engage in other industries. They were sober, industrious, economical, unprogressive and honest. The early settlers of this race believed in ghosts, haunted houses, signs, etc., more than their neighbors of other extraction did. Many of them even yet plant their crops, kill their live stock, cut their grass, roof their houses, build fences ,etc., in certain signs which they learned from their ancestors. In the early years many of them had horseshoes nailed above their doors to keep away the witches. They burnt brimstone in the coop to keep the witches form bewitching the chickens. Many fond mother taught her children that as long as they wore the breastbone of a chicken tried around their necks with a string, they would not take whooping cough. They made tea from the dried lung of a fox to cure consumption. The rattles of a snake killed without biting itself would not only cure headache but would ward off sunstroke as well. So it was that long long years after the last Indian had been driven to the Mississippi valley, they imagined that they heard warwhoops of savages on dismal evenings, and the music of fife and drums, once so common at forts and stockades, often came back to dispel the Indian spirits which nightly hovered around their former hunting grounds. Many believed that children with certain ailments could be cured by putting them three times through a horse collar. So a felon could be cured by a child which in its youth had strangled a groundmole by holding it above its head. This peculiar ability remained with the child even to aged manhood. Diseases of horses were cured by words and charms, and water was discovered by the twigs of trees held in certain positions. Many believed that immense treasures were buried in the ground. This was generally English gold, and more than one field has been dug over in fruitless searches for the rich mineral.

But is can scarcely be said that they were ignorantly superstitious, or superstitious greatly beyond the age in which they lived. It must be remembered that Blackstone, the greatest of English law commentators, believed in witchcraft, etc. He says, Book 4, Chapt. 4, Sec. 6: "To deny the possibility, nay actual existence of witchcraft and sorcery, is at once flatly to contradict the revealed word of God in various passages both of the Old and New Testaments; and the thing itself is a truth to which every nation in the world hath in its turn borne testimony, either by examples seemingly well attested or by prohibitory laws; which at least supposes the possibility of commerce with evil spirits. The civil law punishes with death not only the sorcerers themselves, but also those who consult them imitating in the former the express law of God, �Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,� and our laws both before and since the Conquest have been equally penal; ranking this crime in the same class with heresy and condemning both to the flames."

There were some old Dutch cures that though seemingly foolish, may have cured the patient. To illustrate; they believed that a horse could be cured of sweeny, which is an atrophy of the muscles, by taking a �round stone from the bottom of a creek and rubbing the sweenied parts for fifteen minutes before breakfast. This cure, foolish as it may seem, had in it all the essentials of the most modern methods of the massage treatment, and doubtless cured many a suffering horse. So, too, erysipelas, a feverish skin disease with painful swelling, could be cured by taking the blood of a black rooster killed before sun-rise and covering the diseased parts thoroughly with it. Now the blood of the rooster when dried formed a covering which kept the air from it, and doubtless in many instances effected a cure. The skillful modern surgeon would apply collodion, which would effect a cure in the same way.

But very early they established churches and Sunday schools. They had preachers from Germany or men educated in the German language and this is one reason why the Pennsylvania Dutch language has lasted as long as it has. In religion the most intelligent of them were largely Lutherans or German Reformed. There were Mennonites or Mennonists, who were followers of Simon Menno, born in 1496. There were also many Dunkards and Omish. These three branches were nearly the same in religious beliefs and they were all extremely superstitious. They rejected infant baptism, would not be sworn in court nor perform military duty. They are remembered now mostly from their peculiar dress and from their public feet washing as a religious ceremony. The shrill whistle of the locomotive was the death knell to many of these superstitions. Neither the Dunkards, Mennonites nor the Omish have held their own with the march of education and improvement. The common school system wherein the text books and teachers were almost exclusively English, has well nigh obliterated the Pennsylvania Dutch language.

Nor must it be supposed that these people, ignorant and superstitious as they were, were inferior in native intellect or morality. For their day, they acquired large estates and lived comfortably. At the time of which we write, they were within the limits of Bedford county, too far from the seat of justice to redress their grievances by going to law. They had therefore an unwritten law among themselves which in effect worked out the spirit of all law as defined by Justinian, the Great Roman law giver, viz.: "To live honestly, hurt nobody, and render to every one his due." One in that community who habitually violated this precept, was very soon ostracised from the society of his neighbors; the ordinary field hand would not work for or associate with him. He was not invited to the barn raising or log rollings so common then in the sparsely settled country, and this unwritten law of social ostracism was carried out so thoroughly against the offending dishonest or unworthy neighbor that families thus ostracised have abhorrently left the fields they had cleared with great labor, never to return to them.

These principles of right living were brought with them and thoroughly implanted in the new country, for most of them had been brought up under the English law and knew thoroughly their inherent rights as citizens of a community. The very absence of courts or convenient tribunals before which to redress their grievances, helped them in a great measure, to give a high moral tone to their rural communities in their personal relations with each other.

Source: Page(s) 116 - 121, History of Westmoreland County, Volume I, Pennsylvania by John N Boucher. New York, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1906.
Transcribed March 1999 by Kathy Jo Lowrie for the Westmoreland County History Project
Contributed by Kathy Jo Lowrie for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (http://www.pa-roots.com/westmoreland/)

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