All of our people all over the country - except the pure-blooded Indians - are immigrants or descendants of immigrants.
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt
In a rare cleaning assault on a stack of old - as in pre-Sept. 11 - papers and magazines, I was surprised at how many of the six-week-old headlines I had already forgotten. One topic in particular, though revised since that terrible day, concerned the just-completed visit between Mexican President Vicente Fox and President Bush, and the resulting furor over how many more Hispanics, that already dominant U.S. minority, should be allowed to come here.
In light of recent events, our immigration policy is about to change - if such an elusive and perpetually broken system can ever be fixed. But I got to thinking: How many of us would be American citizens today if a strict immigration policy had been in place two or three centuries ago?
The history of the American Southeast did not start with the voyage of Columbus, the settling of Jamestown, or the arrival of James Oglethorpe in Georgia. The struggle for supremacy on the European continent, the Protestant Reformation and resulting migration of religious groups, and the lust for new land among rival nations before and during these explorations, profoundly affected the demographics of the new world. People who came to America rarely left their ethnicity behind.
All early Americans could have used the modern custom of hyphenated nationalities to define who they were: Anglo-Americans from England, predominant settlers of coastal Georgia and the northeast; German-Americans who lived in clusters throughout the colonies; and the Scotch-Irish or Celtic-Americans from the upper regions of the British Isles who poured into the Georgia backcountry (Columbia County area) as soon as new Indian land opened up.
Like the English, the Celtic people were British, too, but the two groups were never considered equals. Those who called themselves true Brits in America came from the English lowlands, while the Celts emigrated from the uplands of England, the Scottish Highlands, or Northern Ireland and Wales.
The difference was enormous. The English were educated, organized, and hardworking; the Scotch-Irish tended to be restless, illiterate, and given to fun and strong drink. The former were planters; the latter raised livestock because it didnt take as long to milk cows or butcher hogs as it did to plant, tend and harvest crops. The former also bought and registered their land, while the latter were apt to drive their herds to the first clearing they found, build crude homes but few fences, and make little attempt to establish legal ownership. They loved life, but they loved it simple, uncluttered with someone elses rules.
These highlanders settled in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, but Georgia land drew them south. By the time of the American Revolution, the Celtic people outnumbered all other immigrants across the South, with most living here in the backcountry. After the war, according to the 1790 census, nearly 90 percent of Georgias white population stemmed from these people.
But more than any other newcomers, the Celts, called Crackers, became Georgia.
They didnt become educated leaders and landowners overnight, but given opportunity and time they built homes, schools, and towns; abandoned their primitive ways; and ascended the ladder of civilization along with their once-antagonistic peers. The same people who were against other peoples rules were also against high taxes, illegal fees and religious intolerance. In short, they were perfect candidates to fight for American independence.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. The above is an excerpt from the book, As Long as the Rivers Run, her work in progress about Columbia County history. E- mail comments to email@example.com.)
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