Southwest Virginia Campbells

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The Scotch-Irish Migration to Virginia

by Phil Norfleet


British Migration Groups to the American Colonies

In recent years, historians of Colonial America have recognized that the settlement of the thirteen colonies in British North America before the Revolution was not a uniform process but rather was accomplished by many highly differentiated immigrant groups. These historians (such as Bernard Bailyn, [1] T. H. Breen [2] and David Hackett Fischer) have further contended that even the English-speaking groups were culturally very different, even though they were all came from Britain and/or Ireland. According to Fischer, [3] the four principal British migration groups were:

1.  Puritans, mostly of the middle class, from the eastern counties of England to Massachusetts Colony during the years 1629-1640.

2.  A small Cavalier elite, a few of the middle class, and a large group of indentured servants from the western and southern English counties to the Virginia Tidewater area during the years 1642-1675.

3.  A group of mostly Quakers from the north midland counties of England and Wales to the Delaware Valley (mainly Pennsylvania Colony) during the period 1675-1725.

4.  English-speaking people from the northern counties of England, the Scottish lowlands and from the Province of Ulster in Northern Ireland (the Scotch-Irish), to the Appalachian backcountry of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Carolinas during the period 1718-1775.


The Campbell Migration Group

As mentioned in Section 3, the first Campbell immigrants, whose descendants are included in this web site, probably arrived in Pennsylvania Colony in the first third of the 18th Century and soon thereafter moved down the "Great Wagon Road" to the Virginia Back Country. At the time of the Revolution, these Campbell descendants were concentrated in Southwestern Virginia near the North Carolina border, in the vicinity of the modern town of Abingdon. They all were of Scotch-Irish origin, probably people from the Lowlands of Scotland who migrated to Londonderry County, Ulster Province, Ireland in the 17th Century. This branch of the Campbell Clan may definitely be associated with the fourth migration group cited above.

Link to Map of the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road

According to Margaret Campbell Pilcher, the immigrant ancestors of Black David Campbell:

" … lived at Inverary, Argyleshire, Scotland. … They emigrated from Scotland to the north of Ireland, near Londonderry, in Donegal Township, Ulster District. There they lived for some years, then moved … to America, the exact date of removal cannot be obtained." [4]

In Section 3, arguments were presented to cast doubt on Mrs. Pilcher’s assertion that the Campbells had lived in Inverary, in the Scottish Highlands. However, whether from the Lowlands or the Highlands, the dual Scottish and Irish backgrounds means that these Campbell immigrants to America were what are now commonly called Scotch-Irish.


The Scotch-Irish

The term "Scotch-Irish" apparently originated in mid-eighteenth century America to distinguish the Ulster Presbyterian emigrants of Scottish ancestry from other Irish settlers in the colonies. The greatest influx of these settlers occurred during the time period 1717-1775. It has been asserted that during that time frame approximately one-third of the Presbyterian population of Ireland migrated to British North America. [5]

Most of the Scotch-Irish entered the colonies through the port of Philadelphia and from thence settled in those Pennsylvania counties lying west of that city, Lancaster County having one of the largest populations of these people. From Pennsylvania, many of the immigrants took the "Great Wagon Road" south into the great Shenandoah Valley of Virginia (see map 2 below). William Gooch, the Royal Governor of Virginia from 1728-1749, had encouraged them to settle in this valley hoping that they would make a valuable buffer between the Indian Tribes who lived west of the Allegheny Mountains and the English planters who resided in the Virginia Tidewater region.

Initially, the Scotch-Irish immigrants were not particularly admired by the other Virginia colonists. The great Virginia planter and man of letters, William Byrd II, compared this Scotch-Irish immigration as being like unto the fourth century invasion of the Goths and Vandals into the Roman Empire! Back in Britain, Edmund Burke, the noted Protestant Irish political philosopher and essayist, wrote in 1757 that:

"The number of white people in Virginia is between sixty and seventy thousand; and they are growing every day more numerous, by the migration of the Irish, who not succeeding so well in Pennsylvania as the more frugal and industrious Germans, sell their lands in that province to the latter, and take up new ground in the remote counties in Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina. These are chiefly Presbyterians from the Northern part of Ireland, who in America are generally called Scotch-Irish." [6]


1.  See Bernard Bailyn, The Peopling of British North America (1986), pages 49-50.

2.  See T. H. Breen, Puritans and Adventurers (1980), pages xi-xviii.

3.  David Hackett Fischer, Albion’s Seed (1989), pages 785-786.

4.  Margaret Campbell Pilcher, Historical Sketches of the Campbell, Pilcher and Kindred Families (1911), page 130.

5.  Carlton Jackson, A Social History of the Scotch-Irish (1993), pages 61-62.

6. Edmund Burke, European Settlements in America, Vol. II, page 216.