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Old 04-03-2010, 08:49 PM   #1
AmigoKumeyaay
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"Black Dutch / Black Irish"

The Elusive Black Dutch of the South

NATIVE PEOPLES MAGAZINE

The Elusive Black Dutch of the South
Published 01/10/2006

The Elusive Black Dutch of the South
By Jimmy H. Crane

Many people who now live and have roots in northeast Mississippi, north Alabama, south Tennessee and other parts of the South are descendants of the “Black Dutch.” Who were and are the Black Dutch? The term in some areas has become so antiquated that only a few of the elderly even remember the use of the term. I first heard the term from my Grandmother Crane, who had the surname of Page. Her grandparents were Butlers and Mayhalls. She would often refer to their lineage as Black Dutch. One of my aunts on my maternal side described her grandmother as Black Dutch. She said, “Poppy said we were Black Dutch and Indian.” Sometimes my mother would say, “I think we are kin to the Indians….Grandma so and so looked like an Indian.”

As a very curious youngster I was always asking myself, who are the Black Dutch? Where did they come from? As time went by, the term lay dormant except when both sides of the family were together for a reunion or funeral, and conversation would arise as to who we were and where did we come from. Both sides of my family’s characteristics range from dark hair, dark eyes and olive skin, to red hair, blue eyes and fair skin. This is somewhat typical in some families of the area. With such blending over the past 150 years, it was interesting to try to determine who was what and what was who.

My cousin from Georgia came up to me one day and in a low voice seriously asked, “Who is this Black Dutch in our family?” Although I had corresponded in the early 1990’s with relatives concerning genealogy and would sometimes mention the Black Dutch, it was not until June 1995 at the Iuka Mississippi Heritage Day Festival that I really went into high gear and got into a serious search for the Black Dutch. (The term “Black Irish” is sometimes used, but not as much as Black Dutch.) When the term Black Dutch was mentioned, many of the people held up their hand and looked at one another. I knew then I was not alone in wondering about the Black Dutch.

Surnames with Black Dutch heritage that have been collected to date are all English names. How interesting! What was recognized was that true Dutch names would be similar to German spellings and pronunciations. Names like Brown, Butler, Mayhall, Johnson, Tiffin and Massey for example somehow did not sound like Dutch or German. But these were names with Black Dutch lineage.

Here’s another notch to the handle: almost every time that Black Dutch was found, Indian lineage was found, and to date, a high percentage of association in the Iuka, Tishomingo, Itawamba areas has been established with the Cherokee. A representative of the Eagle Bear Clan of the Free Cherokees said that her grandmother told her that her family escaped the Trail of Tears. They were forced to hide in caves and become known as Black Dutch to hide their identity. In a telephone conversation, I was told that other tribes besides the Cherokee also used the Black Dutch term, including the Chickasaws and the Choctaw. I believe the Creek descendants could have also used the term.

One of my own grandmothers, whom my great aunt told me about, was referred to as Black Dutch and was often ironical “mistaken” for an Indian when they migrated to Oklahoma in the late 1800’s.

During the 1996 Burnsville Mississippi Inter-tribal Gathering on the banks of the Tenn-Tom Waterway, I talked with members of the Four Fires Dance group from the Florence, Alabama area. One member of the drum group said his people, the Cherokee, were also known as Black Dutch; that this was just another name used to cover up the Indian identity. Remember, from the 1830’s on, it was perilous times for those who braved Andrew Jackson’s greed and political reign of terror on the Southeastern Indian people. Also, this gentleman mentioned that he had heard of two types of Dutch, the Highland Dutch and the Black Dutch. He said the Black Dutch were the Cherokee. Two members of the Four Fires Dance Group, and who are notably Cherokee, said their people were Black Dutch. I was told that Black Dutch was simply another name for Cherokee. Census rolls in the Moulton, Alabama area in the late 1800’s show a family name listed as white; then ten years latter as Black Dutch; and then ten years latter as Cherokee.

The elusive question is, when did the term Black Dutch arise? A strong probability is after 1830, when the forced removal of the Cherokees from their homeland began. Were there, in fact, a Dutch people with similar physical characteristics, or was the term coined or manufactured to match the occasion? The fact is it worked very well. It is understandable that the Cherokee, Chickasaw and others who remained behind had to come up with a cover-up in order to survive. No choice but to go underground, to become “white” in order to own land, keep their homes and survive, denying their Indian identity simply because it was the safest thing to do at the time. This may have led them (especially the women) to take on the term “Black Dutch” or “Black Irish.” Children, when they became of age to marry, may have been encouraged to seek out mates who were white or had more white or European heritage. The first generation of blending and re-blending may have occurred after the 1840’s and 1850’s.

The northeast Mississippi hills (where I was raised near Alabama) were considered fairly isolated until well into the 20th century. A few miles away in north Alabama are the Freedom Hills, which were even more isolated. I believe that many Chickasaw, Cherokee, as well as Creek descendants took refuge in these hills. We are known as the Hill People in this area. There is little doubt in my mind that many of the Hill People who claim the Black Dutch or Black Irish descent are actually more of Native American descent that they really know. It always has been most interesting to me to travel the back roads of my home county (Itawamba) that borders Alabama and notice the people. What is sad to me is that many of the people don’t know their heritage.

I have heard associations of the term “Black Dutch” with the Black Forest in Germany. During the summer of 1996, I traveled to Germany on an education trip and I asked many people about the term but none had ever heard of it.

On May 17, 1997, I visited the Oakville Indian Mounds Park and Museum located on County Road 187, just off highway 157, eight miles southeast of Moulton, Alabama. I copied the following quote that was displayed on the museum wall in large print.

Before the Indian Removal Act in 1830, many of Lawrence County’s Cherokee people were already mixed with white settlers and stayed in the hill 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 1880 U.S. Census only 78 people claimed their Indian heritage. In 1990, over 2000 individuals claimed Indian descent. Today over 4000 citizens are proud to claim their Indian heritage and are members of the Echota Cherokee Tribe.

In all the many hundred years in which the Indian community has interacted with the European communities who came to this new and wonderful country, through intermarriage many of our people are not likely to “look” Indian. But just because their “blood quantum” has diminished, it does not diminish their ethnic pride or rights.

The Black Dutch survive today in the hearts of many of the Southern Appalachian hill people--a proud people with an elusive sprit who had to hide out, go under-ground and conceal their identity to live another day. They never gave up. They never surrendered. The drum beats for the elusive “Black Dutch.” My search continues.
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