``The so-called `Black Dutch' have long been an enigma in American
genealogy. Their descendants are widely reported, yet no
definition exists for this intriguing term,'' James Pylant says in an
article titled ``In Search of the Black Dutch,'' which appears in
American Genealogy Magazine (Volume 12, No. 1).
Many readers of this periodical responded to a survey about their
``Black Dutch'' ancestry as did several professional genealogists. The
results were interesting but inconclusive. According to Pylant:
· There are strong indications that the original ``Black Dutch'' were
· Anglo-Americans loosely applied the term to any dark-complexioned
American of European descent.
· The term was adopted as an attempt to disguise Indian or
infrequently, triracial descent.
· By the mid-1800s the term had become an American colloquialism;
a derogative term for anything denoting one's small stature, dark
coloring, working-class status, politics, or anyone of foreign
Gordon McCann, an Ozarks folklorist, speculates that ``Black
Dutch'' might be a derogatory _expression_ labeling German Union troops
in the Civil War. Raymond G. Matthews, a consultant at the Family
History Library, says ``it is doubtful that the Black Dutch were of
Jewish or (Holland) Dutch heritage (one popular theory),'' and Dr.
Arlene H. Eakle of the Genealogical Institute in Salt Lake City stated
there was ``absolutely no Jewish culture tie-in'' found during an
in-depth genealogical study of one line that family members claimed was
Another fanciful and widely circulated explanation about the
``Black Dutch'' is that they were Netherlanders of dark complexion who
were descendants of the Spanish who occupied The Netherlands in the
late 16th and early 17th centuries, and intermarried with the blond
natives. However, the Dutch government's Central Bureau for Genealogy,
established as a state archive and genealogical organization, is unable
to offer an explanation for the term.
Some genealogists have suggested that the Black Dutch were either
an offshoot of the Melungeons or one of the triracial isolated groups
in Appalachia. Darlene Wilson in an article published by the Wise
County, Virginia, Historical Society in the current issue of the
`Appalachian Quarterly,'' says ``My mother's family always said that
they were of `Black Dutch' ancestry but no one then or now living could
explain, to my satisfaction, what that meant.''
A number of ``Black Dutch'' descendants who responded to the
American Genealogy Magazine survey suspect that their ancestors were
Native Americans. Some based their belief simply because an ancestor
`looked like an Indian,'' while others reported a family tradition of
the term being used to actually conceal Native American heritage.
Most family historians who took the survey have traced their
``Black Dutch'' ancestors to Tennessee. Still others have found earlier
lines in Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina. The term is
especially common among families with Southern roots. Nearly 60 percent
of the genealogists reporting ancestry that claimed to be ``Black
Dutch'' bear surnames that are either decidedly German or possibly
Americanized from Germanic origin.
complete report of this survey plus information submitted by
researchers about their families claiming ``Black Dutch'' heritage can
be read in American Genealogy Magazine (Volume 12, No. 1), available
for $7.50 from AGM, P.O. Box 1587, Stephenville, TX 76401. Subscription
rates for this quarterly are $22.50 per year.