Q. A 1755 Virginia militia muster roll has “Scotch,” “Scottish,” “Irish” and “English” as places of origin. Is “Scotch” always short for Scotch-Irish, or might Scotch and Scottish be used interchangeably?
They descended from about 200,000 Scottish Lowland Presbyterians who relocated to Ulster, in northern Ireland, with the encouragement of the Protestant British government. Britain hoped the Scottish “plantations” would tighten its grip on mostly Catholic Ireland.
When they migrated again across the Atlantic, these ethnic Scots from Ulster were typically referred to as Irish, given their most recent home for as much as a century. It was only after large-scale Irish migration began that these Protestants widely adopted the “Scotch” (or “Scots”) qualifier, to distinguish themselves from the new Catholic arrivals. Eventually, nearly 2 million “Scotch-Irish” left Ulster for North America.
The term Scotch-Irish, though common in the United States, is all but unknown in England, Scotland and Ireland. Today, the people of Scotland prefer the terms Scottish and Scots, using Scotch exclusively to refer to whiskey. We can only guess what the recorders of your 1755 muster roll might’ve been thinking, but it’s certainly possible that both Scotch and Irish referred to what we now call “Scotch-Irish.” Indeed, given the era and these immigrants’ recent history, Irish was probably the preferred term; only a few Irish from outside Ulster had arrived by 1755.