Scotch Irish Heritage
Brownsburg’s predominantly Scotch-Irish heritage was abundantly evident in the everyday life of the village on the eve of the American Civil War. The rugged Scotsmen who migrated first to Ulster in the 1600s and then to Pennsylvania and the Valley of Virginia in the 1700s were different from the English who had settled Virginia’s Tidewater and Piedmont. They were staunchly, some said sternly, Presbyterian, and their Calvinistic conviction that all believers should read and understand the Bible motivated a stress on education second only to their faith in God. Their academies offered what was probably the best primary and secondary schooling in the antebellum South. They were hard-working, thrifty, and prosperous. In Ulster and Scotland they had raised sheep and cultivated flax, and from these agrarian pastimes had emerged a cottage industry—weaving—and a thriving commerce in textiles.
But the Valley’s Scotch-Irish did have one fateful social and economic point in common with the English beyond the Blue Ridge: the practice of slavery, which they regarded as Biblically sanctioned and ordained by God. Thus there was in Brownsburg an African heritage as well.
In the village and on the surrounding farms, spiritual life centered on the New Providence Presbyterian Church, with a membership in the 1850s of between two and three hundred, both whites and slaves. There were several local academies. The Rev. James Morrison, longtime minister at New Providence, had presided since the 1840s over a boarding school for girls at his spacious country home, Bellevue, a few miles away. In 1850 the all-male Presbyterial High School, also called the Brownsburg Academy, opened on a hill overlooking the town. The 1860 census recorded numerous Brownsburg-area farmers and slaves (plus a handful of free blacks)—as well as shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, cabinet makers, blacksmiths, coopers, saddlers, wagon makers, millers, merchants, doctors, teachers; and a single tanner, millwright, potter, plasterer, brick mason, stone mason, and distiller. All were pursuing their occupations in Brownsburg and vicinity. Only in the twentieth century would “going into town” come to mean fast travel over paved highways to trade in Lexington or Staunton.