Defining the term ‘Black Dutch’
by Ruth Baker
Oct 30, 2011 | 2555 views | 0 0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ruth Baker
Ruth Baker
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I never know when a letter or call will send me off on a search that will turn into a full-fledged trip into the past. A reader called and asked a question which I had not heard before. I know some of you will be disappointed to know that I don’t know everything (smile). He told me his grandmother looked Indian but always said she was “Black Dutch.” He wondered if there was a tribe of Indians by that name. My curiosity was aroused and I began my search into the Indian history. This is what I found, and maybe others can add to it.

This title began in the Pennsylvania Dutch colony. The people were not true Dutch from Holland, but a mixture of German, Swiss and French Huguenots.They had dark hair and swarthy skin, instead of the noted blond hair and blue eyes of the German people. When asked who they were in the early colonies they would reply, “Deutsche.” The word meant “German” in their language but it sounded like “Dutch” by the hearers, so they called them “Black Dutch.”

Finally, the word pops up in the Appalachian Mountain Regions. There was a large tribe in the area called “Melungeon.” Their ancestry was shrouded in mystery. It has been said that they were a group of Indians who were offspring of intermarriage of Turks and Portuguese with Powhatan, Pamunkey, Chickahominy, and Catawba Indians. These groups combined later with the Cherokees. The word “Melungeon” in the Turkish and Portuguese language means “cursed soul.” There are many roots of these people in southeastern Kentucky families.

The Cherokee Indians had a range of skin color from light to very dark. At a time when Indians were being driven from their lands, many refused to leave. They hid in the woods and the mountains. Many were forced to live as “white” citizens just for survival. Most lost their Cherokee heritage. Until 1909, they could not vote or hold office.

The Creek Indians had the same trial in their fight for survival. “It used to be when asked if you had Indian blood, you’d say ‘Black Dutch’” said Chief Neal McCormick, chief of the eastern Creek Indian Nation. The Creeks inter-married more with the Scotch than any other but it is found that they also married Irish and Dutch. It became best to their interest to disguise their Indian blood.

So, you have your lesson for the day on the term “Black Dutch.” The consensus is that the term was used as a disguise for the Indians to preserve their homes and their ways of life. “It used to be that if you had Indian blood in you and someone asked you what you were, you’d say “Black Dutch” but now more and more of our people are coming out,” said Morning Star, wife of Chief Neal McCormick, chief of the Eastern Creek Indian Nation.

Another writer, descendant of a Creek Chief, wrote “the term Black Dutch is used to refer to one that has Indian Blood, and most particularly with Creek Indian blood. Although there were a few German/Swiss in the Creek Nation, they were in the minority. The term actually does not refer be having any connection to this nationality. The Creeks preferred the Scotch, English or Irish in that order as far as marriage was concerned. There is no explanation as to why they preferred the Scotch.” So you see the term used to distinguish and describe progeny of Hollander-Spanish marriages, was later the disguise used by Indian white descendants to cover their red heritage.