History of Campbell County, Tennessee

Time Line


By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.  This article was published in the Volunteer Times.

Part I

     A theory regarding the Black Dutch is that in 1588 the Spanish armada, after suffering a defeat by the British, or possibly a horrific storm, both being interpreted differently by various sources, went east and then north. Their destination was Ireland and after arrival they totally looted, pillaged and raped the local women. Children of these conquerors in Ireland who have dark hair are referred to as Black Irish.

     Another analysis of the Black Irish indicates those who came as immigrants from other places (generally England) were sometimes had the surname "Fitz" as in Fitzwilliam - the English king 'gave' land to those who could possess and hold it. The black part was a reference to skin or hair or even eye color; it was a suggestion of 'blaggard'=black=a disapproving implication.

     Another implication is the term Black Dutch refers to Sephardie Jews who intermarried with Dutch Protestants to escape the Inquisition, many of their offspring later moving to the Americas. The 'black' referred to their dark hair and complexions, although rare, of German immigrants from the Black Forest region. One historian states that the Black Dutch came after 1740. Other historians disagree and declare it is uncertain the Black Dutch were of Jewish or Dutch heritage.

     The term 'Black Dutch' has no reliable definition for this phrase. Some indications say that the original name came from rough complexioned Germans, but Anglo-Americans tentatively applied the term to any dark-complexioned American of European descent. Others say the term was implemented in an attempt to disguise Indian or tri-racial descent. Some Cherokee & Chickasaw Indians are called Black Dutch.

     Black Dutch may be one and the same with Pennsylvania Germans who migrated in the area of Pennsylvania as a group. They say they are from 'Deutsche,' which sounds like the pronunciation of 'Dutch, ' which actually means 'German ' in their own language. Because they weren't blonde and blue eyed but darker, they were called Black Dutch. (Some genealogists have suggested that the Black Dutch were either an offshoot of the Melungeons or one of the tri-racial isolate groups in Appalachia.)

     Another largely accepted clarification about the Black Dutch is that, possibly, they were Netherlanders or of dark skinned who were descendants of the Spanish who occupied the Netherlands in the late 16th century and early 17th century, and intermarried with the blonde natives.

     Some say that Black Dutch, Black Irish, and other terms, pertained to those persons who were the children of local women and shipwrecked sailors from Spain, or other countries where the people have darker skins. Some researchers state that the term is relevant to a person of a very mean disposition.

     A Dutch rebellion against the Spanish monarch began in1555 and continued to its triumphant finale in 1609. The nation could not field enough soldiers to defend the empire, and, as a consequence, Spain subjected neighboring Portugal and impressed Portuguese men into Spanish regiments throughout the empire. Some regiments were in Tennessee on a Spanish expedition, which explored eastern Tennessee in 1567. It is more than credible that Portuguese soldiers would desert or defect in Tennessee if the opportunity presented itself. As a sidelight, a genealogical irregularity resulted from this war. A new race was created in the southern part of Holland during the six decades that Spanish and Portuguese soldiers were stationed there. Their fraternization with the Dutch girls produced dark-skinned children, which were the beginning of the Black Dutch. Mr. Gowen notes that these Melungeons were a dark skinned people who wore beards and had straight black hair. Many had dark blue eyes. John Sevier found them when his expedition crossed the Appalachians in 1774.

     By the mid-1800s the term had become an American term for anything denoting one's small stature, dark coloring, working-class status, political sentiments, or anyone of foreign origin. It has been used as an abusive expression labeling German Union troops in the Civil War


     The Melungeons are a people of noticeable Mediterranean descent, characteristically dark complexioned, who may have settled in the Appalachian wilderness as early or possibly earlier than 1567. Dr. N. Brent Kennedy author of, 'The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People,' started the recent research into this group of people. He mentions the need to hide the family connection to the Melungeon community as the main reason our Melungeon ancestors are so hard to find. Dr. Kennedy believes the Melungeons were a people who almost certainly intermarried with Powhatans, Pamunkeys, Creeks, Catawbas, Yuchis, and Cherokees to form what some have called, perhaps a bit fancifully, 'a new race'.

     They became visible in the southern Appalachians with mining as a widespread occupation before the English settlers explored the area. One conjecture is that they are descended from people of mixed ancestry in Spanish settlements in the Southeast, who kept moving into the internal boundaries to avoid English colonists. Genetic diseases appear in Melungeon populations, which only seem to appear elsewhere as inhabitants from the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa.

     The Melungeons were 'discovered' in the Appalachian Mountains in 1654 by English explorers and were described as being dark-skinned with refined European features, meaning they were not black. They were also described as being a hairy people, who lived in log cabins with irregular arched windows; these were certainly not Indians.

     They practiced the Christian religion, and told the explorers in their own Elizabethan English, that they were 'Portyghee,' (Portugese) but were described as being 'not white.' They made clear they were not of Northern European stock, even though some of them had red hair and others had very conspicuous blue or blue/green eyes. New research is answering the question, where did these people come from?

Part II

     Some intellectual traits include the custom of putting tiny houses over graves, placing a pattern of nails over doors for good luck or protection, and working with metals, gems, or mining.

     The Melungeon descendants have some rather distinctive physiological traits. There is a bump on the back of the head of some descendants, that is located at mid-line, just above the juncture with the neck. It is about the size of half a golf ball or smaller. If you cannot find the bump, check to see if you like some descendants have a ridge, located at the base of the head where it joins the neck, rather than the Anatolian bump. To find a ridge, place your hand at the base of your neck where it joins your shoulders, and on the center line of your spine. Run your fingers straight up your neck toward your head. If you have a ridge, it will stop your fingers from going on up and across your head.

     There is also a ridge on the back of the first four teeth (upper and lower) of some descendants. If you place your fingernail at the gum line and gently draw (up or down) you can feel it and it makes a slight clicking sound. The back of the teeth also curves outward rather than straight as the descendants of Anglo-Saxon family lines do. Teeth like these are called Asian Shovel Teeth or just Shovel Teeth, which are typical of Native Americans.

     Some descendants have what is called an Asian eye fold. This is quite difficult to describe. At the inner corner of the eye, the upper lid attaches slightly lower than the lower lid. That is to say that it overlaps the bottom lid. If you place your finger just under the inner corner of the eye and gently pull down, a wrinkle will form which makes the fold more visible. Some people call these eyes, "sleepy eyes, dreamy eyes, and bedroom eyes.

     Some other characteristics are, exceptionally high arches, an extra bone in the foot, and the foot may be wider than normal and double-jointedness.

     There are some Mediterranean diseases, which show up in some of the descendants of the Melungeons. Some of these diseases can be quite severe, even life threatening. Sleep problems, including periodic limb movement, shaky (restless/active) leg syndrome, and sleep apnea are one such area. Allergies, including lactose intolerance, are another.
Their Scots-Irish and English neighbors discriminated against Melungeon people as they located into the areas where the Melungeons lived. They wanted the rich valley lands occupied by the Melungeons they found residing there. They discriminated against the Melungeons because they were darker skinned than their own Anglo-Saxon ancestors and because this helped them obtain the lands they desired.

     This unfairness carried into the 1940's-50's and perhaps even longer because of the work of a man called Plecker, who was the state of Virginia's Director of Vital Statistics and an avowed racist. He labeled the Melungeons, calling them mongrels and other worse terms - some were labeled FPC - Free Person of Color in Virginia. This in turn led to their children being labeled as Mulatto and both of those terms came to mean 'black.' If you find such a term for any of your ancestors, it does not necessarily mean that they actually were black. Some Melungeon families married white, some black, some Indian, some a combination. But for all of them the terms led to rulings in which they couldn't own property, they couldn't vote, and they couldn't school their children. As a result, they hid their backgrounds with the Indian myth, with the orphan myth, and the adopted myth, and they changed either the spelling of their surnames or they picked an entirely new name, moving many times, anything to distance themselves from their Melungeon heritage. They sometimes became "Black Dutch" or "Black Irish", or some other combination.

The preceding material is a condensed version of the original manuscript and was taken by permission from the works of Shirley Hornbeck. Web site: http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~hornbeck

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