Celtic People-First European Settlers of Alabama
For the cultural enlightenment of those who are descendants of Indian (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek) and Celtic (Irish, Scotch, Welsh, and Scotch-Irish) people of north Alabama, the following details are needed since most of the mixed ancestry people of the Southeast are Celtic and Indian. However, the sad fact is that most of our children and grandchildren have no concept of who they are or of their true roots. The vast majority of our children and grandchildren have never heard the word Celtic nor know what it means, and many do not know the heritage of either culture of Celtic or Indian. Alabama history books do not mention Celtic people or discuss the lifestyles of the Irish, Scots, and Scots-Irish. Our Alabama history books want all our people to be Anglo or Anglo-Saxon who are of German ancestry. Since the vast majority of north Alabama people are of Celtic origin, we need a better understanding of the Celts-Irish, Scots, and Scots-Irish.
The Celts were the primary traders to the Indian people of North Alabama beginning in the late 1600s and continuing until the Turkey Town Treaty of 1816 which took the remaining lands from Cherokee and Chickasaw ownership. The land south of the Tennessee Divide was taken from the Creeks by the Treaty of Fort Jackson in 1814. These Celtic traders utilized a system of Indian roads, trails, and paths leading from village to village. The following excerpts from an article by William Lindsey McDonald (1979) best describes the first Caucasians who came into this area and made contact with native people.
“The salience of English, Scotch, Welsh, Irish, and Scotch-Irish family names in North Alabama, denotes the prevalence of these first settlers who came in such great numbers to the Muscle Shoals. These people were, as a rule, from two groups of ancient peoples.
In the 5th Century, groups of Germanic people invaded the British Isles. These were the Jutes, Angles and Saxons who settled mostly in Southern England, and, who historically are referred to as the Anglo-Saxons. These are the people who were to become most acquainted with the ways of feudalism, vassals, lords, serfs, and such, that became the way of life in the southern English lowlands. They were also the ones who learned firsthand about the emerging industrial life in the mills located around the larger English cities. The Anglo-Saxons settled along the east coast in the original thirteen colonies and contributed to the cultures of the New England countryside, big cities, sea ports, and the factories and workshops of the industrial East. In Virginia and the other Southern states, the Anglo-Saxons became the leading influence in plantation life with its social structure of slavery, that closely resembled the feudalistic system of Europe they had known from the 9th to the 15th century.
Not many plantations existed in the Tennessee Valley. Most of the farm life in North Alabama was represented by the less than one-hundred-acre homesteads where the wife and children bore the drudgery of the plow and hoe. It is observed that these hardy subsistence-type farmers were of the Celtic stock. No other race of people on earth was more suited to blaze a trail and populate the wilderness of backwoods America than these Celts. History records no people who were more self-sufficient, independent, or able to withstand extreme hardships than the Celts (McDonald,1979).
The Celts were a division of an early Indo-European people of the European Iron-Age. They predated the Roman times and were the tribes who resisted, harassed, and refused to be conquered by the legions of the Caesars. They were scattered all the way from Galatia in Asia Minor to Spain and the British Isles in western Europe. These were the rugged Highlanders in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, who resisted conquests of invading armies and the British Crown, and for hundreds of years made their living among the hardest of terrain and weather. The only system of authority recognized by the ancient Celts was the clan. They did not organize and build towns until a thousand years ago. Unlike the Anglo-Saxons, who recognized only hereditary royalty in the few European ruling families, the Celts held that all members of the clan were descended from the same common ancestor, and, therefore, they were all of royal lineage. This proud Highlander, believing in his own self-worth and indestructibility, became the race of American pioneers who would survive against all the impossibilities.
Laying a hand on a person’s body, or meddling in his personal affairs, was considered a high crime among the Celts. This law of the land still persists among their blood lines in the hills of North Alabama. The blood-curdling battle cry of the ancient Celtic warrior as he took off his clothes and plunged naked into a kill-all-or-be killed battle became the “rebel yell” of the confederate soldier in the 19th century. The fierce loyalty to family and clan is still characteristic of the Southerner. The stubborn inability of those of Celtic blood to think in harmony with those outside his clan can be seen in the prevalence of so many religious denominations in the Bible Belt. The legendary stinginess of the Scot is probably the most misunderstood part of his character. His basic austerity in all that he did was the means of his survival for thousands of years.
The people who became the first permanent white settlers of north Alabama was the Celts. They intermarried with the Indians and quickly adopted many of the ways of the Indians for the sake of survival as well as for a better way of life. According to McDonald (1979), "Some county seats in North Alabama laid out in a square around the court house are reminders of the Indian villages built around the four principal chief houses of the Cherokees. It has been observed that the small subsistence crossroads community with its store, cotton gin, and a church or two, is about as pure Celtic in character as one can find anywhere. The Anglo-Saxon influence can still be found in a few large farms but even more so in the industrial complex of the larger Tennessee Valley towns. The traditions and cultures of these early people run through the cosmopolitan society of the Shoals in the Twentieth Century. It can be said that the Anglo-Saxon, the Celt, the Chickasaw and the Cherokee left their footprints in the chain of Appalachian foothills that run across the northern part of Alabama” (McDonald, 1979).
Sometime between 2000 and 1200 BC, Celtic people migrated through northern Europe and into the British Isles. Even though the early history of Celtic people was not firsthand, other people who made contact with them recorded incidents of early Celtic culture. In 225 BC, thousands of our Celtic ancestors crossed the Alps from the British Isles and northern Europe to attack the great Roman Empire. During this attack at Telamon, the Romans killed some 40,000 Celtic people whom they referred to as barbarians. The annihilation of Celts at the Battle of Telamon did not dissuade the Celtic people from their habitation of the British Isles. From northern Europe, the Celtic people had invaded and lived in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and parts of England. In all of these areas except England, the Celtic lifestyle became the dominant culture. The English, who have Anglo-Saxon origin in addition to other ethnic groups, also referred to the Celtic people as barbarians. They killed thousands in numerous battles and wars. Eventually, the English dominated the Celts within the British Isles.
Differences in religious beliefs among Catholics and Protestants, domination by the English, and constant warring among Celtic clans contributed to continual unrest among the Celts. The increasing brutality of war and bloodshed prompted many Celtic people to seek freedom in the unfamiliar lands of the New World. During the 1600s, many Celts were able to escape the wrath of war and death in the British Isles by signing on with the English as indentured servants. Numerous Celtic freedom seekers boarded ships at the bustling seaport of Cork, Ireland, and as indentured servants, they were granted passage on ships bound for America. From the early 1600s through 1700s, more than one million Celtic (Irish, Scotch, Scotch-Irish, Welsh, and Cornish) people migrated to the New World, many in servitude of the English; but because Celtic people did not have strong loyalty to the British, most Celts sought freedom from the English before their seven-year period of servitude was completed.
In the early years of Celtic occupation in the New World, these servants were a dime a dozen to the English. Black slaves were much more highly valued than the Celtic barbarians. Aristocratic plantation owners would place Celtic people downhill on the river bank while black slaves rolled bales of cotton to them. If a Celt was killed, it was not counted as much of a loss; a black slave was much more highly prized than a Celtic slave or an Indian slave.