History of Campbell County, Tennessee

Time Line


By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.  This article was published in the LaFollette Press.

Their Scots-Irish and English neighbors discriminated against Melungeon people as they moved 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 coveted. This discrimination carried into the 1940' s-50 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 - Free Person of Color in Virginia. This in turn led to their children being labeled as Mulatto (M) 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 decisions 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. They changed either the spelling of their surnames or they picked an entirely new name, relocating many times, anything to distance themselves from their Melungeon heritage. They sometimes became "Black Dutch" or "Black Irish", or some other combination.

One theory concerning the "Black Dutch" is that in 1588 the Spanish armada having being defeated by the British or by a bad storm, went east and then north. They made landfall in Ireland and did the usual things conquistadors were supposed to do: looted, pillaged and raped the local women. The offspring of their activities in Ireland who have dark hair are referred to as Black Irish.

Black Irish also can indicate those who came as immigrants from other places (generally England) and sometimes their names were noted as such: "Fitz" as in Fitzwilliam. The English king gave land to those who could hold it, take it and keep it. The black part was not referring to skin or hair or even eye color; it was indication of 'blaggard' = black = a negative association.

Some say that the term Black Dutch refers to Sephardie Jews who married Dutch Protestants to escape the Inquisition. Many of their descendants later moved to the Americas, the "black" referring to their dark hair and complexions, perhaps infrequently, German immigrants from the Black Forest region, e.g., "For the most part, the Black Dutch came after 1740." Others disagree and say it is doubtful that the Black Dutch were of Jewish or Dutch heritage.

Some say that there are strong indications that the original Black Dutch were rugged complexioned Germans; but Anglo-Americans sometimes applied the term to any dark-complexioned American of European descent. Some say the term was adopted as an attempt to disguise Indian or tri-racial descent. Some Cherokee & Chickasaw Indians are called Black Dutch.

Black Dutch may be synonymous with Pennsylvania Germans who settled in the area of Pennsylvania in groups together. When asked where they were from, they said "Deutsche" sounding to us like "Dutch", but actually meaning "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 widely spread explanation about the Black Dutch is that they were Netherlanders of dark complexion who were descendants of the Spanish who occupied the Netherlands in the late 16th century and early 17th centuries; these in turn intermarried with the blonde natives. However, the Dutch government's Central Bureau for Genealogy is unable to offer an explanation for the term.

Some say that Black Dutch, Black Irish, and other terms, were applied to those persons who were the offspring of local citizens (women) and shipwrecked sailors from Spain or other countries where the people have darker skins. Others will say that the term pertains to a person of a very mean disposition.

One source states that a Dutch revolt against the Spanish monarch began in 1555 and continued until 1609. The nation could not find enough soldiers to defend its empire and Spain subjected neighboring Portugal and impressed Portuguese men into Spanish regiments throughout the empire. A new race was created in the southern part of Holland during the six decades that Spanish and Portuguese soldiers were stationed there. It produced dark-skinned children that were the beginning of the Black Dutch.

And so, like the Melungeon race, there is no definite of absolute record of the beginnings of the "Black Dutch."

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