by Mike Nassau
This site is dedicated to all people who have been told that they have “Black Dutch” or “Black German” ancestry. There is a Yahoo Discussion Group for Black Dutch where people can discuss their origins and find help with their genealogy. See the messages and other information at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Black_Dutch.
To access all of the information and messages at the Black Dutch Group, you will need to join the group. If you do not want to be a member, you can unsubscribe after reading what you want there.
Some people in America describe themselves as Black Dutch or Black German. These terms mean the same thing, Dutch is the English form of Deutsch in German or Duits in Dutch (Nederlands). It has come to mean the people of the Netherlands only in English recently, but it originally meant all speakers of German in the broadest sense. This includes the entire German sub-branch of the Germanic Branch of the Indo-European Language Family. The other sub-branches are the Anglo-Friesian (English, Scots and Friesian) and the Nordic (Swedish, Danish, Dano-Norwegian [Norsk, Riksmal or Bokmal], Nynorsk [Landsmal], Icelandic, and Faeroese [Faroese]).
There are many dialects and languages in the German sub-branch, divided into High German and Low German. The forms of High German are German [High Saxon, Alemanni, High Frankish, Swabian, Bavarian, Austrian, Luxembourgese, Alsatian, Styrian], Swiss German, and Yiddish. Low German includes Low Frankish (Dutch, Flemish, Afrikaans [South African Dutch]), Low Saxon (Hanoverian, Hessian, Brandenburgian, Holsteiner), Pomeranian and Prussian. Compare to the map of Low German Dialects. The Frankish area includes Netherlands, northern Belgium, Rheinland-Pfalz and Hanover, with the area south of Aachen [Charlemagne's capital], centered on Frankfurt, speaking a High German dialect, and the area from Aachen north, centered on Essen, speaking a Low German dialect. The Pennsylvania Dutch are Low Germans from Germany, not Dutch from Netherlands. The Dutch called themselves Nederduitser (Nether German) until recently, when they switched to Nederlander. Belgium is trilingual, the northern part speaks Flemish (Vlaams, a dialect of Dutch), the southern part speaks Waloon (Valone, a dialect of French), and the eastern edge speaks German (Luxembourgese).
To explore the various forms of Germanic language, I would recommend Wikipedia. Start with Dutch, Low German, High German and the Benrath Line which separates them. Follow into Low Franconian, Low Saxon and Dutch Low Saxon. The map under Limburgish shows the dialects spoken in Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg. Click on the map a few times to get it large enough to read. Veluws and the dialects east of it are Low Saxon. Hollandic and south of it to Walloon are Low Franconian. Luxembourgish and Lorrain are Middle German (High German). Of course Frisian is Anglo-Frisian and closer to English than to Dutch and German. Walloon (Valone) and Picardian are dialects of French (Romance, not Germanic).
Groups, forms or uses of “Black Dutch”
There are at least eight quite different groups of people described as "Black Dutch". If you have been told you are Black Dutch or part Black Dutch, you must find out what the name of the German, Dutch or Flemish immigrant was (if there was one), where he or she came from, what their religion was, if any, etc., before you can figure out to which group they belonged.
1. Melungeons are a Mestee group originating along the VA-NC border, particularly Henry and Patrick county, VA, and Rockingham, Stokes and Surry counties, NC. They, like other Mestee groups of the Southeast, were formed by an amalgamation of various mixed-race and non-white people, particularly the remnants of Indian groups which had absorbed a lot of Black, White and Mulatto people. The white ancestry included many ethnic groups, including both northern European (English, Scots, Irish, etc.) and Mediterranean (Moorish, Portuguese, Jewish, etc.) groups. From this origin along the VA-NC border, they spread westwards to other NC counties, up into the SW corner of VA, into the adjoining mountains of TN (Hawkins, Hancock, Grainger), down the Tennessee valley to Hamilton, Rhea and Roane counties, into eastern KY and from there into southern OH, and along the Sabine river in Louisiana and Texas. There are a lot of Melungeons now in other locations like southern WV, northern AL and the Ozark mountains (AR and MO).
Melungeons sometimes call themselves Black Dutch, Black Irish or Black German to hide their mixed race origin while explaining their being darker than most Whites. If they know of German or Dutch ancestry or have a name which sounds German or Dutch, they are very likely to call themselves Black Dutch, more rarely Black German. If not, they are more likely to use Black Irish. For information on the "Black Irish" in America, please see Tom Kunesh's Black Irish site at http://www.darkfiber.com/blackirish . Also see "Shirley Hornbeck's This and That Genealogy Tips, Genealogy Tips on Black Dutch and Irish, Melungeons, Moravians, Pennsylvania Dutch" at http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~hornbeck/blkdutch.htm. For more information on the Melungeons, see What Is a Melungeon at http://whatisamelungeon.webs.com and the online book Melungeons and Other Mestee Groups at http://melungeonmestee.webs.com and the Open Directory list of Melungeon sites at http://dmoz.org/Society/Ethnicity/The_Americas/Melungeon/.
2. Another Mestee group, the Ramapo Mountain People or Ramapough Indians, are sometimes called Black Dutch. This is more true when they leave the Ramapo Mountain area (NJ-NY border) than when they are in this location. They are the descendants of free Mulattos from Dutch farms in the Hudson Valley who moved to the mountains, where they may have mixed with some remnant Indians, who probably would have been the Munsee group of Lenape (Lenni-Lenape or Delaware) Indians, definitely Algonquian speaking Indians of the East Coast. They may have been joined by some Tuscarora (Southern Iroquoians related to the Cherokee) as they fled north after the Tuscarora War. Since they are mainly a mixture of Dutch and Black, the term Black Dutch would fit them in a way. The two main names are Van Dunk (Van Donck) and De Freese (DeFries). For more information on these people, see the links on the Open Directory at http://dmoz.org/Society/Ethnicity/The_Americas/Melungeon/Ramapo_Mountain_People/.
3. Schwarze Deutsche or Black Germans, found along the Danube River in Austria and Germany, in the Black Forest and, to a lesser extent, along the Rhine River, have dark hair and eyes, unlike the fairer people both north and south of them. Their descendants in America may be called either Black Dutch or Black German. The origin of their dark coloration is ancient, from the Roman army in the third and fourth centuries, C.E. The Roman army of this time period was mostly made up of German mercenary soldiers, but along the German border, the Romans preferred to station non-Germans. The army on the Danube was largely drawn from Numidian and Nubian soldiers, especially Garamante Numidians. The Garamante (called Tubu now) were Black Africans from the central Sahara. Now the Tubu live in northern Chad, eastern Niger and southern Libya. They are not usually found north of Marzuk in Fezzan or Kufra in Cyrenaica now, but in Roman times they ranged north to the central coast of Libya and to Ghadames in southern Tunisia. As well as Garamante, there were some Iranic people stationed on this frontier, especially Sarmatians (called Ossets now) and Scythians (Ashkenazi in the Hebrew Bible) from southern Russia and the Ukraine (Ashkenaz, the old Hebrew for Scythia, has been used for Germany in modern Hebrew by Ashkenazic Jews trying to ingratiate themselves with Germans and Austrians or trying to hide their Khazar ancestry). These African and Iranic soldiers left many descendants who tend to have black, heavy hair and dark eyes even yet.
Beethoven and Hitler are two famous examples of this group (Peanuts). It is interesting to imagine Hitler's reaction to someone telling him he probably got his heavy, black hair from Black African ancestry. Since this was so long ago, with population movement and inter-marriage, all Europeans must have some ancestry from these Black African soldiers. In sixty generations, a person could leave 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 descendants with just two children per person each generation so long as no descendants married each other. Obviously, after a time, many descendants will marry each other, but still it works out statistically that most people from that long ago who left descendants at all are ancestors of everyone in Europe today. The tendency for people to stay in their own community explains why we can see the effects along the Danube and in the Black Forest in the people with black hair and dark eyes but do not see it far away like Iceland. The concentration is far greater at the point of origin, but the dispersion radiates out to everywhere given enough time.
4. Tziganes or, more commonly (but erroneously), Gypsies, are another group called Black Dutch in America. A Tzigane from Germany, who could speak German, could be accepted much better by saying he was Black Dutch than if he admitted to being Gypsy. Tziganes were called Gypsies because of the mistaken belief they came from Egypt. At other times and places, they were called Bohemians (as in La Boheme) because they were thought to be from what is now the Czech Republic. Their language is called Romany, sometimes attributed to their self-given name of Rom (or Dom) but more likely because they were thought to be from Romania. In actuality, they come from the Indus valley area of Pakistan and western India, their language is Indic, their traditional religion a form of Hinduism. The name Rom or Dom comes from the Sanskrit word Domba, meaning low caste ("untouchable") musician. Tzigane, which has cognates in most European languages including Russian and Turkish, is derived from the Sanskrit name of their caste in ancient India. Words for Tzigane in a few languages:
English = Tzigane; French = Tzigane; Russian = Tsygan
Dutch = Zigeuner; German = Zigeuner; Hungarian = Cigany
Italian = Zingaro; Spanish = Gitano; Rumanian = T¸igan
Turkish = Çingene; Polish = Cygan; Czech = Cikan
There is already an excellent site on Tziganes as Black Dutch in America: Wayfaring Stranger by Linda Griggs. It also tells about their connections with the Melungeons. Please see:
Part One at http://foclark.tripod.com/gypsy/Patrin1.htm
Part Two at http://foclark.tripod.com/gypsy/Patrin2.htm.
5. Dutch and Belgian Jews were sometimes called Black Dutch in America because they spoke Dutch or Flemish and were darker than the other Dutch and Flemish. They had only recently moved to the Netherlands and Belgium (then Spanish Netherlands) from Iberia (Portugal and Spain). When Spain annexed Portugal for a while, many Portuguese Jews fled to Spanish Flanders to escape the Inquisition (see http://www.theotherside.co.uk/tm-heritage/background/flanders.htm for Flanders as part of Spanish Netherlands). Most, like the famous philosopher Baruch Spinoza, crossed into Protestant Netherlands for greater freedom of expression and religion (see http://users.erols.com/jyselman/ for more on Spinoza). These Sephardic Jews were, on the average, darker than the Ashkenazic Jews of northern Europe, so an explanation like Black Dutch suited them well.
6. Mulattos, Quadroons, Octaroons and other mixed children of German, Dutch or Flemish fathers who appeared mostly White, but were too dark, would use the term in order to live in White society. Of course, they frequently learned the term from one of the other types of Black Dutch and then would sieze it as their own.
How many people were in each of these groups, I have no idea. But there are a lot of people finding ancestors called Black Dutch, so there could have been a sizeable number in any of them.
7. I have found a Mailing List (discussion group) on the Black Dutch in America. This group seems to mostly be Native American or part Native American whose ancestors said they were Black Dutch in order to be accepted as White at a time when people were denied their rights and rejected for being part Indian. See the Rootsweb Mailing List for Black-Dutch-America at http://archiver.rootsweb.com/th/index/black-dutch-america.
8. The U.S. Census has official categories to which people can be assigned. These are called “subject definitions” or “Ancestry codes”. The numbers assigned vary from year to year, one year “Melungeon” was number 662 under SOME OTHER RACE (600-999). Another year, it was 763 under 700-799, 986, 987-999 Other Race, 749-799, 986, 987-999 Not of Hispanic Origin. There is an entry for “Black Dutch”, it is 310 under:
300-359 WEST INDIES (EXCEPT HISPANIC)
310-313 DUTCH WEST INDIES
310 DUTCH WEST INDIES
310 Black Dutch
310 Netherlands Antilles
311 Aruba Islander
311 Bonaire Islander
311 Curacao Islander
312-313 St. Maarten Islander
312 Saba Islander
312-313 St. Eustatius Islander
So, to the U.S. government, “Black Dutch” means people from the Dutch West Indies (also called the Netherlands Antilles). This is almost totally irrelevant to American or Canadian individuals trying to find out what some ancestor meant by describing himself as “Black Dutch”, of course.
There are many other mixed groups around the world that might be called “Black Dutch” but which don’t show up in America until very recently. Black and part Black people from Suriname (Surinam, Dutch Guiana) could also be called “Black Dutch”. Part Dutch mixed race groups like the Cape Coloureds of South Africa, The Rehobothers of Namibia and the Burghers (Burgers) of Sri Lanka (see Dutch in Sri Lanka) come to mind. Then any non-white person living in the Netherlands might be called “Black Dutch”, like the large Indonesian community there, especially the Christians from the Moluccas who regard themselves as refugees from predominantly Muslim Indonesia and never intend to return there. The famous spy, Mata Hari, who was part Indonesian, could be called “Black Dutch”. But all these have nothing to do with the historical “Black Dutch” of North America.
Mike Nassau, April 6, 2006
Open Directory Editor for Melungeon and related topics.