Here’s an excerpt from Karen McCarthy’s 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 attacked 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.”
Note: In 2013, OD will be exploring in depth the cultural origins of the Scots-Irish diaspora in the Upper South in Ireland, Scotland, and northern England. I always wrote about the Caribbean origins of the culture of the Lower South with the intention of framing how the two Southern cultures clashed and blended together in places like the South Carolina Upcountry.