THE BLACK DUTCH - MELUNGEONS
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was
published in the Volunteer Times.
BLACK IRISH, BLACK DUTCH, ETC:
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
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 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
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
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
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
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,
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,
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