"So you were told you were Black Dutch or Black Irish"

by Pitter Seabaugh

I got a call last week from my cousin Mike Ladd.  We are both researching the name Ladd.  He asked me if I had ever heard that the Ladds were of Black Dutch ancestry.  I told him no but that I had heard they were Black Irish.  I got to thinking about it and thought it might be of interest as to how the terms were borrowed, by Native Americans, to avoid persecution. 

The following is a quotation displayed on the Museum wall of "The Oakville Mounds Park & Museum" in Moulton, Alabama.  Before the Indian Removal Act in 1830, many of Lawrence County's Cherokee people were already mixed with white settlers and stayed in the country of the Warrior Mountains.  They denied their ancestry and basically lived much of their lives in fear of being sent West.  Full bloods claimed to be Black Irish or Black Dutch, thus denying their rightful Indian blood.  After being fully assimilated into the general population years later, these Irish Cherokee mixed blood descendants, began reclaiming their Indian heritage in the land of the Warrior Mountains, Lawrence County, Alabama.  During the 1900 U.S. Census only 78 people claimed their Indian heritage.  In 1990, more than 2000 individuals claimed Indian descent.  Today more than 4000 citizens are proud to claim their Indian heritage and are members of the Echota Cherokee's tribe. 

According to Jane Week, Executive Director of the Alabama Indian Affairs, for hundreds of years the Indian community has interacted with the European
communities, who had come to this new and wonderful country.  Through intermarriage many of our people are not likely to look Indian.  Their blood quantum has diminished, but it does not diminish their ethnic pride or rights. 

It was reported in The Chronological History of the Lumbee, 1865-1885, that times were hard for the Lumbee whose main source of income was in the turpentine industry.  Cut out of work and with families to feed, many found it necessary to leave the area within the next ten years to seek work in the turpentine industry in other states.  Some families found success.  Their stories were reported back to members of their Robeson County relatives.  Others learn that their absent relatives have been subjected to horrible mistreatment in other states, even some murdered.  Many return, but those who remain in other states have had to pass for white to protect their families.  They came home only for infrequent visits with parents and siblings.  As the years went by, some did not allow their descendants to have any information about their American Indian bloodlines.  They passed the family off as Black Dutch, Black Irish, Portuguese, French, Spanish, Italian or anything that the family elders felt could not and would not be checked out by the white people in their new community." 

In my research of trying to find out just what a Black Dutch or Black Irish was, I found that some have associated them with the Melungeon.  The Melungeons live mostly in the Appalachian Mountains.  They are people whose ancestry has been shrouded in mystery.  They are most likely the descendants of the late 16th century Turks and Portuguese stranded on the Carolina shores.  Sir Francis Drake liberated some 200 young Turks on the North Carolina coast.  They later intermarried with Powhatan, Pamunkey, Chickahominy, and Catawba Indians.  These two groups combined later, settled in the Appalachians, and with further intermarriages with the Cherokees.  The word Melungeon is both Portuguese and Turkish, and meaning "cursed soul."  Today, Melungeon descendants can be found among all racial and ethnic groups.  Like the Cherokee, these people were not out to advertise the fact that they were Melungeon, rather they were trying their best to hide it.  There are also many Melungeon roots in southeastern Kentucky families. 

Melungeon families had to hide their heritage.  "Free Persons of Color" laws, were used to take their land and bar them from courts and schools.  There are family stories of being Black Dutch, and being Cherokee.  Many of these families just seem to show up with no past. 

The Cherokee was type cast early in the white history of this country.  We were light skinned, and they just assumed we were mixed with the whites.  The Cherokee actually had complexions that ranged in a variety of skin colors.  These ranged from very light to very dark.  They assumed that the darker ones were part black.  They drove many of our people off their lands because of the darker skin.  Many would not leave.  They hid out in the woods and in the mountains.  Many were forced to live as "white" citizens just for survival.  Most lost their Cherokee heritage.  Very few were able to hang onto them.  Until 1909 they could not vote or hold office.  They drove away or forced many onto Indian territory.  This forced our people into hiding, and making it better to be "Black Dutch, Black Irish" or anything that was dark, than to be an American Indian. 

From:  Ron and Diana
To:  Cherokee Trails
Subject:  Black Irish

I am researching Black Irish as that is what I have been told I am all my life.  In fact it has been stressed as very important to my heritage, but I never really knew what it was.  I assumed it was a form of Irish and simply became curious enough to look into it.  Boy was I surprised, especially since I have heard nothing but Cherokee heritage from my husbands family.  We have pictures of great, great grandmother that looks very Indian but no one would ever mention this, or explain it.  The site is very interesting to me.

Thank you,


Article Borrowed - This short essay is not intended to be a complete story, but to stimulate you to look further into the Cherokee heritage of our people.

Photos by Danny Farrow
(c) Copyright 1998-2000 Pitter's Cherokee Trails.  Edited by Rose City Net

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