April 4: Solemn League & Covenant signed in Ulster (1644)

Any number of our cultured readers might be upset if someone called them a “redneck.” And for good reason as this name speaks of someone in a disparaging way. But when you consider the origin of the word, our readers, especially those from a Scotch-Irish background, might to proud of to have someone speak of them in that way.

In 1643-1644, all over the three kingdoms of Scotland, England, and Ireland, Presbyterian people signed “the Solemn League and Covenant.” We won’t deal with it in its full form by a separate post until September 26 of 2014, but its first section set the tone for the whole. Paraphrased by PCA Ruling Elder Edwin Nisbet Moore, in his book “Our Covenant Heritage,” (and used by permission), this first part solemnly pledges, with uplifted hands before God, that the signers would endeavor “. . . the preservation of the Reformed religions in the Church of Scotland . . . [and] the reformation of religion in the kingdoms of England and Ireland . . . according to the Word of God and the example of the best Reformed Churches: And shall endeavor to bring the churches of God in the three kingdoms, to the nearest conjunction and uniformity in religions . . . .”

In so all over Scotland in 1643, Presbyterian people signed this covenant. The next year, Presbyterian ministers were sent to Ireland so that the Scottish transplants in Ulster could sign the Solemn League and Covenant also. Scottish people in some 26 towns signed it. On this day, April 4, 1644, one thousand soldiers and people signed it at Carrickfergus Castle, which still exists today approximately 11 miles north of Belfast, Ireland.

So, where does the figure of “redneck” comes from this historic occasion? The people who signed it knew that their act of signing identified them as taking a solid stand on the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. They knew also that their signatures could mean persecution and death for them in the future. A number of them signed their names in their own blood, much like the signers of the National Covenant in 1638. Countless wore red pieces of cloth around their necks, further identifying themselves unashamed of their commitment to the Reformed faith. Red pieces of cloth? They were known as “rednecks” at that time, a slang term for a Scottish Presbyterian.

The next time you are derisively called a “redneck”, don’t get mad, but simply reflect on the long spiritual line which stood the test of time in their adherence to the Word of God as summarized up in the Westminster Standards.

Words to Live By: There would come a day when religious promises signed in blood or displayed by red pieces of cloth meant persecution and death in the British Isles in the 17th century.  We may not be at the stage in our blessed country, but when businesses are shuttered for Biblical convictions by the courts of the land in the early 21st century, then the other may not be far behind. The cultural war for Christian principles and practices is slowly but surely lost in America. How we need to pray for a biblical revival among Christians and churches followed by a spiritual awakening in our land. In a single night, our Lord can turn the world upside down. Pray believing in His sovereign power, and look expectantly for how the Lord may work. Jesus Christ is King over all the nations of this world.

  1. Carl Wilton’s avatar

    While the connection between Covenanters (wearing red neck-cloths) and “rednecks” can be found in numerous places on the internet, It has all the markings of an urban legend. See http://www.wordorigins.org/index.php/more/480/ . If you have any actual documentation from published, original sources of the use of the term “redneck” prior to 1830, and particularly from Britain, that would be highly useful to those, like David Wilton of wordorigins.org, who are trying to document the origins of this term. Even a reference to Scottish Covenanters displaying red cloths would be useful – is there any reference to such a custom in contemporary Scottish sources?

  2. Georgia’s avatar

    Any number of our cultured readers might be upset if someone called them a “redneck.” And for good reason as this name speaks of someone in a disparaging way. But when you consider the origin of the word, our readers, especially those from a Scotch-Irish background, might to proud of to have someone speak of them in that way.

    Please note, we are not from a SCOTCH – IRISH BACKGROUND. Rather is is

  3. Richard Hodges’s avatar

    Scotch-Irish is an acceptable, even preferred, term as well by American Presbyterians with Ulster heritage.

    Excerpts from an excellent (lengthy) essay by Michael Montgomery (2004, Univ. of South Carolina).

    “By almost any criterion…Scotch-Irish has been more widely used in the United States for the last three hundred years, and it remains so today.”

    “In the United States Scotch-Irish has been used for Ulster immigrants (mainly of Presbyterian heritage) for more than three centuries and well over one hundred years for their descendants.”

    “The Scotch-Irish Society of the United States of America, founded in 1889, has a number of state chapters and publishes an annual journal, the Journal of Scotch-Irish Studies (there is no Scots-Irish Society).”

    “Even today Scots is not the traditional term in rural Ulster, where Scotch is used in reference to people and their form of speech.”

    “From an American point of view, people in Scotland and Ireland are welcome to call the group on their side of the water Scots, but they should be neither indignant nor resentful when Americans use a more historical term incorporating the older form Scotch to refer to their own ancestry.”

    “…many reasons and factors legitimate and favor Scotch-Irish. It has been used for more than three centuries and has a much better historical claim than Scots-Irish. It had considerable currency before the late-nineteenth century and was…prevalent in the colonial period…”.

    “Descendants of Ulster immigrants in America call themselves as well as their ancestors Scotch-Irish. However much historians might favor a specific name, their views would seem to be inadequate, even misguided, if they do not defer to the members of the group in question themselves.”

    “Americans do not look abroad for the authority on how to speak English, so why should they do so regarding what to label themselves? Scotch-Irish has been the dominant usage in American circles for a long time, especially by people of Presbyterian heritage with Ulster foreparents, and for this reason if no other, it should be considered the proper and correct term.”



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