Scots-Irish in 18th-Century Chester County: The Fight Between Surveyor John Churchman and Scots-Irish Immigrant Alexander Ewing
In 18th-century Chester County, feathers could be easily ruffled by Scots-Irish immigrants. But not always, as was proven when John Churchman ran a survey line.
Illustration by John S. Dykes
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Immigrants bring us new things that seem exotic at first but are later embraced. Italians, for instance, brought us pasta. A century ago, many native-born Americans refused to eat it. Today, we each consume an average of 19 pounds annually.
Not all immigrant culture goes down so easily. In 1734, Chester County surveyor John Churchman of East Nottingham had an unpleasant encounter with Alexander Ewing while running a survey line. A typical representative of Pennsylvania’s newest crop of immigrants, the Scots-Irish, Ewing opposed the very idea of a survey. He had a gun, threatened to use it, and was tackled by a bystander. No one was harmed.
It wasn’t a unique incident. Crime rates in Chester County had skyrocketed with the arrival of the Scots-Irish—and they stayed high until they moved on. In the 1690s, when the Scots-Irish accounted for only a fraction of the county’s population, they were nevertheless responsible for 26 percent of all crimes, according to historian Jack Marietta.
Then, after 1700, Scots-Irish immigration swelled. In 1759, 23 percent of the population of Chester County was Scots-Irish. Records from the 1760s, however, show that the Scots-Irish committed more than half of all indictable (violent) crime. “Given so many pacifists (Quakers, Mennonites, etc.), the astonishingly high homicide rate after 1717 did not occur because pacifists lost their religious scruples and began killing each other,” wrote Marietta, “but rather because new people without pacifist scruples did more of the killing.”