• David Joyce

Research Methodology: Understanding the Scots-Irish of Colonial Virginia


In the field of modern genealogy in Virginia, one sometimes hears about the Scots-Irish and their important role in the colony’s development. When they emigrated from the North of Ireland during the early part of the eighteenth century, little did they know the impact they and their descendants would have on the future of the United States. This history has also affected how people research their own Scots-Irish ancestry in Virginia.


From a genealogical viewpoint, it is important to understand the different methodologies one can use to find their Scots-Irish ancestors. From the moment the Scots-Irish ventured into central Virginia, their Presbyterian faith and their status as dissenters from the Established Church of England put them at a disadvantage. Due to the religious and political restraints imposed on them by the church, as explained in my previous posts, they are rarely documented in Hanover County. But for those genealogists searching for their Scots-Irish kin in certain regions of the state, it is possible to get past this brick-wall. For this article we will focus on Orange County (later Augusta County), Louisa County (later Albemarle County), and Lunenburg County.


When Orange County was formed from Spotslvania County, Virginia in 1734, it had already begun to receive a stream of Scots-Irish Pioneers from the Great Wagon Trail Road. Upon their arrival in the wilderness, they found their Scots kin forming a majority of the population. Two years later, William Beverly, an affluent landowner, began to sell part of land he was granted to these frontier families.1 Known as Beverly Manner, genealogists can find their Scots-Irish ancestors based on the deeds of William Beverly. It is in 1734 when the county court also began to record their sessions, which is another great resource.


Louisa County, Virginia, formed from Hanover County, 1742, requires a slightly different approached. Mainly occupied by Anglican pioneers, Hanover County was not a place where many Scots-Irish would want to venture. However, when Louisa County was formed, the situation would slowly change. Considered a section of the frontier of colonial Virginia, Louisa County was also part of the Great Wagon Trail Road. As a result, thousands of Scots-Irish who traveled who didn’t settle in Orange County eventually ended up in Louisa County. Welcoming all sorts of religious dissenters, it was a sharp contrast with Hanover County. Although, unlike Hanover County which is a burned county, Louisa has retained its records, and many Scots-Irish can be found in the road orders and county court records.


By 1746, when Lunenburg County, Virginia was formed from Brunswick County, hundreds of pioneers, especially the Scots-Irish had begun to move to southside Virginia. Eager for political, economic, and religious freedoms, they flocked to the isolated wilderness. Similar to the research methodology in Orange County, Virginia, Scots-Irish settlers can be found in the deeds (especially from the merchants Alexander Spalding and John Lidderdale) , court records, road orders, tax records. Unlike the situation in Hanover and Louisa County, Presbyterian communities like the Cub Creek Church settlement, were given freedoms, including the ability to collect their own tithes, and as a result can be found in the Anglican parish records.


For many descendants of the Scots-Irish, it can be a difficult task to find their forefathers, but not is all lost. If one fully understands ways in which they can conduct research in the respective Scots-Irish community, it will hopefully solve a mystery.


Documentation and Suggested Readings:


1. Online Catalog: Images & indexes,” database with images, The Library of Virginia (http://lva1.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com : accessed 27 July 2019), William Beverly, 6 September 1736, 188,491 acres, Orange County Virginia, Colonial Land Office, Patents, 1623-1774; Library of Virginia. Denis Hudgins, Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants (Volume Four: 1732-1741) (Richmond, Virginia : Virginia Genealogical Society, 1994), 77.

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