Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia, by Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr (includes a CD with 20 Tracks)
Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a steady stream of Scots migrated to Ulster and eventually onward across the Atlantic to resettle in the United States. Many of these Scots-Irish immigrants made their way into the mountains of the southern Appalachian region. They brought with them a wealth of traditional ballads and tunes from the British Isles and Ireland, a carrying stream that merged with sounds and songs of English, German, Welsh, African American, French, and Cherokee origin.
Their enduring legacy of music flows today from Appalachia back to Ireland and Scotland and around the globe. In Wayfaring Strangers, Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr guide readers on a musical voyage across oceans, linking people and songs through centuries of adaptation and change.
From ancient ballads at the heart of the tradition to instruments that express this dynamic music, Ritchie and Orr chronicle the details of an epic journey. Enriched by the insights of key contributors to the living tradition on both sides of the Atlantic, this abundantly illustrated volume includes a CD featuring 20 songs by musicians profiled in the book, including Dolly Parton, Dougie MacLean, Cara Dillon, John Doyle, Pete Seeger, Sheila Kay Adams, Jean Ritchie, Doc Watson, David Holt, Anais Mitchell, Al Petteway, and Amy White.
The authors reached back to explore medieval troubadours in the south of France, wandering minstrels who fanned out across Europe, and Scottish ballad collectors, composers, singers, and fiddlers. Above all, though, our book is primarily about the nameless families—across many generations—who held onto the one thing that cost nothing, took up no space in their travel trunks, and was perhaps their most valuable symbol of identity: the songs and tunes they carried over centuries and the miles.
Of all the emigrant journeys probably none was more fraught with peril, and yet more sustained by music, than the passage across the Atlantic. The eighteenth-century crossing could take six to ten weeks. On the sailing ships, quarters were cramped, food was basic and scarce, homesickness set in early, and the threat of disease or death was always lurking close by.
So it’s no surprise that ships’ captains, knowing how important music was for maintaining good spirits, gave a high priority to hiring a fiddler for the voyage. In fact, a fiddler was second only to the ship’s surgeon in crew hiring priorities. They provided daily recreation and physical exercise for dances on deck. And of course, ballad singing was always a boost to the spirit and a reminder of shared memories from home.
For the eighteenth-century Ulster Scots emigrants, Philadelphia and its smaller Delaware River ports were far and away the most popular destinations. Philadelphia had become an important port for the linen trade with Ulster and other parts of Ireland. Plus Pennsylvania had a sizeable Quaker community, which was accepting of the Ulster Scots Presbyterians escaping religious repression and economic discrimination.
Secondary landfalls in the Colonial South included Charleston and Savannah. New York and Boston did receive some Ulster Scots, but those ports played more of a role to incoming Irish famine refugees of the nineteenth century. Also, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia was the destination for many nineteenth-century Highland Scots.
The Great Philadelphia Wagon Road was actually originally mapped by Thomas Jefferson’s father. The Road originated on Philadelphia’s High Street, close by the docks and wharfs. From there, it continued west into the Pennsylvania frontier and down Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley into the Carolinas’ mountains and piedmont.
It was described as “Colonial America’s busiest highway” and ferried the wayfarers’ flow toward uncharted terrain. Conestoga Wagons carried entire families over what was a winding, rutted dirt path. These were driven by the legendary “wagoneers,” the dashing minstrels of the day, and they shared songs and fiddle tunes along the route. Dances were common at the overnight way stations. The fiddle was ever popular but there was also the occasional banjo and the very portable jaw harps. Plus the mountain or lap dulcimer was likely born along the Philadelphia and Wilderness Wagon Roads, having evolved from an earlier German instrument that come into Pennsylvania.