Monday, March 14, 2011

John Wayne, Scots-Irish Icon

In one interview in the early 1950's John Wayne described himself as 'just a Scotch-Irish little boy.' John Wayne, or as he was known before his fame, Marion Morrison, was born in Winterset, Iowa. His family emigrated from County Antrim, Ireland, in 1799. The Morrison family, like many Scots-Irish families in Counties Antrim and Donegal, were of Hebridean origin.  The Morrisons were Scottish Gaels that came to Antrim from the outer Hebrides.  Scottish Highlanders and Hebrideans were called Redshanks circa 1520 through the 1600s and many of them migrated to Ulster in the 1500s and 1600s.  They also emigrated to the Colonies very early and became part of the Scots-Irish society there.

John Wayne's immigrant ancestor was Robert Morrison born in 1782, son of John Morrison. The Morrison family were active in the United Irishmen movement and their decision to emigrate was brought about by a British warrant issued for the arrest of Robert Morrison.

Robert Morrison and his mother arrived in New York City, in 1799. Like so many Scots-Irish the Morrison family had a tradition of being strong willed, opinionated, and carried a well developed sense of right and wrong.  Following the path of other Ulster settlers, the Morrisons pulled up stakes many times and followed the frontier west. The first wave of Ulster settlers headed west and south and people the Southern Uplands and the hill country of Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas. The Morrison were part of a second wave of Scots-Irish that moved along the rivers west into Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, and Iowa. They became the Mid West Scots-Irish.

John Wayne is arguably the most famous and most successful actor in history, quite an accomplishment for a Scots-Irish boy from Winterset, Iowa. He was a complex man, his family very Presbyterian, yet John Wayne often described himself as a 'cardiac Catholic.' He lived his life as a Christian with noticeable Presbyterian focus and drive, yet his wife Pilar was Roman Catholic, as were all his children. John Wayne himself converted to the Catholic Church officially just days before he passed away.

John and Pilar Wayne

John Wayne's childhood home in Winterset, Iowa


  1. Marion Morrison went to Glendale High School in Glendale, CA with my Grandmother, Theo Elizabeth "Jane" Montgomery, her brother, John Barrett "Jack" Montgomery, and her brother, William Hays "Bill" Montgomery. Apparently, Marion asked her out and she was too shy to even answer him. He was a Football player. My Grand Uncles told me that they often found their shy, red haired, little sister embarrassing.

  2. His cousin Della Morrison was my grandfather's cousin, so I believe he would be my cousin twice removed. :) It's a small world.