Southern History Series: John C. Calhoun’s Scots-Irish Ethnic Heritage

The following excerpt about Sen. John C. Calhoun’s family background comes from Karen McCarthy’s book The Other Irish: The Scots-Irish Rascals Who Made America:

“Like Rankin, John Caldwell Calhoun was descended from the same plain stock of Presbyterian immigrants from the north of Ireland. He had a brilliant mind and a fervid nature, but lacked Rankin’s humility. He was a Yale-educated, South Carolina farmer determined to rise above his class. He was ambitious, aristocratic, and consumed by burning desire to be the country’s most powerful politician.

Nine years after the Rankins set sail out of Belfast Harbor, Patrick Calhoun, Sr. and his wife  Catherine followed suit, all the way across the ocean and down the beaten path from Pennsylvania into a Virginia farming community. When Grandpa Patrick died eight years later, his wife Catherine and her children undertook a fateful move to a Scots-Irish settlement in Long Cane, South Carolina – the heart of Cherokee country.

For a decade the Calhouns worked hard in the Carolina backcountry, but by the 1750s tensions between the colonists and the Cherokee were mounting. By 1759 the Cherokee declared war. In 1760 word reached Long Cane that the Cherokee were attacking isolated farms in the area, stealing, and slaying any settlers they found.

Two-hundred fifty Scots-Irishmen packed their wagons and left for nearby Fort Tobus in Augusta, Georgia. They hadn’t gone far when they were surrounded by the terrifying sound of Indian war whoops. Seventy-six-year-old Catherine Calhoun, her son, and granddaughter were scalped. Two other granddaughters aged five and three were captured and raised as Indians. Calhoun’s Uncle William cut a horse loose from a wagon and sent his pregnant wife and five-year-old son to Fort Tobus, Augusta. It was the last time she saw her husband alive. Calhoun’s father Patrick Jr. was left alone to watch the Cherokee burn and massacre the settlement. The horror of his seeing his mother, brother, and niece scalped and discarded in the dirt only made him tougher and combative – it was a trait his children would inherit.

When John C. Calhoun was born in 1782, his father had become a respected landowner, member of the legislature, and anti-government activist. He was also an Indian fighter of some renown. His hat, which became a family treasure, had four bullets in it from riding out after war parties. In the South Carolina legislature he fought for settlers’ right to vote. He was among those who organized the church and school and tried to civilize the place at a time when the Regulators were rampantly meting out their own kind of justice. Patrick Calhoun was a giant of a man in his son’s eyes.

One evening the young John Calhoun watched his father ride home from a legislative session in Charleston much like he always did, but this night Patrick Jr. was leading a slave straddled on a horse behind him. It was unusual to find slaves among humble log cabins of backcountry farmers. With Adam’s arrival, John Calhoun’s whole life changed; his future was woven into the system of slavery that became a normal part of life.

The Calhoun’s weren’t idle or wealthy. The sons all worked long, hard days, playing fields in the “brillin’ sun” like every other poor Scots-Irish farmer in the backcountry. There was only one difference – they worked alongside their slave. As Patrick Jr. prospered, the Calhouns acquired almost a hundred slaves.”

The following excerpt about the Scots-Irish comes from page 46 of John Alexander Williams’ book Appalachia: A History:

“In the Carolinas, the Irish settled in encalves interspersed among German enclaves in the valleys of the Yadkin and Catawba Rivers in North Carolina as well as in the Waxhaws. One study found a concentration of three or four surnames among the numerous settlers of backcountry districts in South Carolina. The Calhouns of Long Cane Creek in the far northwestern corner of the province provide another example, having migrated as a group of at least five households from Augusta County, Virginia, in 1751. An analysis of names recorded in the 1790 census discloses that 18.9 percent of the population of South Carolina was Scots-Irish, 17.8 percent of Tennessee’s, 16.5 percent of Kentucky’s, 15.1 percent of Pennsylvania’s, 12.2 percent of Georgia’s, and 11.7 percent of Virginia’s, compared with 10.5 percent of the overall U.S. population. It should be kept in mind that Ulster migration resumed after the Revolution and reached its peak in 1815. The large Irish concentration in the Redstone district of southwestern Pennsylvania developed during and after the Revolution in the midst of Indian warfare. The Redstone Presbytery was created in 1789. Thomas Mellon, who would provide the model for Irish Protestant leadership in America’s industrial revolution, did not arrived in western Pennsylvania until 1818.”


I would not have guessed that South Carolina would have been the most heavily Scots-Irish state although their mark on the South Carolina Upcountry couldn’t be more obvious. It is also turns out that large numbers of Germans settled in South Carolina. I’ve read that South Carolina’s mustard based BBQ sauce is a product of this German twist on the White population.

There is a DEEP VEIN of Southern culture and history to explore here which eventually we will be getting into by reviewing books like Lacy K. Ford, Jr.’s Origins of Southern Radicalism: The South Carolina Upcountry, 1800-1860, Rachel Klein’s Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry, 1760-1808, Ryan Quintana’s Making a Slave State: Political Development in Early South Carolina, S. Max Edelson’s Plantation Enterprise in Colonial South Carolina, Holt Merchant’s South Carolina Fire-Eater: The Life of Laurence Massillon Keitt, 1824-1864 , Michelle Lemaster’s Creating and Contesting Carolina and the always excellent Jack P. Greene’s Money, Trade, and Power : The Evolution of Colonial South Carolina’s Plantation Society.

The gist of what you need to understand though about Scots-Irish settlers like the Calhoun family migrating out of Greater Appalachia and settling in the South Carolina Upcountry is that two great Southern cultures clashed and blended together all over the western South. The same was true of President Andrew Jackson who was a slaveowner in Middle Tennessee. President Andrew Jackson and his Vice President John C. Calhoun were famously rivals in the antebellum era.

The Scots-Irish who settled in Appalachia and the English who settled along the Atlantic Coastal Plain intermarried and blended together under slavery. The prominence of Andrew Jackson and John C. Calhoun are only the two most prominent examples of how the Southern cultures blended together to simply become “White” under slavery. The Southern race-based social order which was built on slavery was so permeable that it easily absorbed other minorities like Jews and Catholics as well.

South Carolina was unique in the South. It was the only Southern state that became truly unified under plantation slavery as cotton plantations in the early 19th century spread across the Upcountry which complemented the rice plantations in the Lowcountry. Elsewhere, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky were bisected by large swathes of Appalachia which had a corn and cattle economy. The Florida peninsula was a cattle range. Arkansas has the Ozarks. Louisiana had its swamps. Texas had vast areas that were inhospitable to slavery. Mississippi and South Carolina also had black majorities and felt the most threatened by abolition.

About Hunter Wallace 12366 Articles
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Occidental Dissent


  1. Historical antecendents are great, HW, but the problems we face NOW, need solutions.

    Either you are intimating that we round up every nigger and ship them back to Africa (as the South suggested/planned after Lincoln) or we engage in Civil War II and acknowledge that this Union of disparate states means nothing, of which C’ville was the first Fort Sumter moment.

    Which is it? Because giving Yangbux to BlackBucks for ‘reasons,’ is not (IMHO) a ‘solution.’

  2. ulster-scots greetings from northern ireland,again another great article about my folk !many thanks again for giving us hillbillys a shout out !

  3. Most of America’s greatest country music stars are/ were of Scots-Irish descent. The great Johnny Cash comes most readily to mind.

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