Project Reading

Here are my continued thoughts on the secondary reading I am doing for my current project on Presbyterians and the American Revolution.  (For additional entries in this series click here).

I want to continue with my thoughts on Patrick Griffin, The People with No Name: Ireland’s Ulster Scots, America’s Scots Irish, and the Creation of a British Atlantic World, 1689-1764.

Griffin offers a slightly different interpretation of the Paxton Riots than Peter Silver does in Our Savage Neighbors. As I discussed in a previous post in this series, Silver’s interpretation of the riots is focused almost entirely on race.  Griffin, while not ignoring that race was a factor, interprets the riots through British rights language.  In other words, the Paxton Boys believed that they had legitimate grievances against the Pennsylvania Assembly. They did not feel that they were being represented by the provincial government and thought that the government was not doing enough to deal with the Indian problem on the frontier in the wake of Pontiac’s Rebellion.  The riots were a manifestation of their fight for the rights afforded to all British subjects. Griffin writes:

But the [Indian] wars had revealed as never before their [Scots-Irish] marginal status in Pennsylvania and their impotent voice in an empire that they believed they had a significant hand in fashioning and defending.  

And this:

…for these people holed up in small forts in times of dangers on a bleeding frontier or fleeing east from dispossessed Indians, British liberty took on new, troubling meanings.  Britishness underscored a right to life and property, a liberty that negligent government officials alienated at their own peril.  For frontier settlers, however, the unifying logic of such concepts could also justify the slaughter of Indians both hostile and friendly.

Griffin’s book has me more optimistic about the possibility of a religious (Presbyterian) interpretation of the Paxton riots.