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Blackfoot or Black Dutch?

Although not officially recognized, the term Black Dutch can apply to many different ethnic groups in America.


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My great-grandmother, Sarah Catherine Andrews, was said by her daughter (my grandmother) to be a "full-blooded Blackfoot Indian." I was curious. I knew she was Indian, but I always thought the Blackfoot were further north, ending up in Montana and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan: Sarah was born in the Deep South . . . in Alabama. In the South, however, there were people of Native American descent known as the Black Dutch. And while my research has not firmly documented Sarah as Black Dutch, its easy to see how "Blackfoot" and "Black Dutch," might be confused, especially by a daughter with 80--plus winters on her head, recalling her mother's heritage.

So who or what are the Black Dutch? There is more than one answer to the question. The term "Black Dutch" and sometimes "Black Irish" was adopted by Native Americans of the Southeast, particularly the Cherokee, to disguise Native heritage, following the removal of Indians from Native lands in the 1830s. It was dangerous during those times to be known as Indian, and discrimination was rampant, socially and legally. As census records show, many declared their race as "white," especially those who married white. "Full bloods claimed to be Black Irish or Black Dutch," (Wikipedia) to account for their darker skin -- Sarah was a full-blood. Originating in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, many Black Dutch families migrated south to Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and Oklahoma.

Why "Black Dutch" -- where does the term derive?

Contrary to associations we might make today, Black Dutch was not used to imply African American heritage, although some who use the term may have been of African American descent, but it was used to denote those of a dark complexion.

The word "Dutch" is believed to have been an Americanization of the German "Deutsche," meaning those of German descent. The Pennsylvania Dutch, for example, are of German descent. The term "Black Dutch" was used to often applied to immigrant groups of "swarthy" or dark complexion, including Germans and those from the Netherlands who didn't happen to be blond and blue-eyed; and those from Portugal and Spain, among them, Sephardic Jews, who identified themselves as "Hebrews of the Portuguese Nation." As one source says, "People often forget that many Hebrew families came to this country in Colonial times very early on." (see Black Dutch and American Indians, below)

It is said a large proportion of American families reporting a Black Dutch heritage have German or Americanized German surnames; although most of the mixed-race Black Dutch families of the Deep South have English or Scots-Irish surnames, and have no German or Dutch ancestry. Sarah's surname, Andrews, is of Scottish origin. And it is the Cherokee tribe found mostly in northeast Alabama where Sarah was born in 1852.

It is impossible to say, at this point, that Sarah was of the Cherokee Nation, but the research suggests she certainly was not Blackfoot and may very well have been among the community of Black Dutch whose family migrated south some twenty years before she was born. Most fascinating is the story the many diverse groups that came to share a common name, Black Dutch.

Further Reading

Black Dutch, by Mike Nassau

The Influence of Sephardic Jews and Moors on Southeastern Indian Cultures, by Donald Panther-Yates. Keynote address given to Institute for the Study of American Cultures, and Epigraphic Society, Columbus, Georgia. October 24, 2002.

Black Dutch and American Indians, Black Dutch Genealogy, Researching Black Dutch Ancestry.

What Is a Melungeon?, by Melissa Slate. Genealogy Today, 12 October 2006.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2010.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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