Black-Indian History

The first black slaves were introduced into the New World (1501-03) ostensibly to labor in the place of the Indians, who showed themselves ill-suited to enforced tasks and moreover were being exterminated in the Spanish colonies. The Indian-black inter-mixture has proceeded on a larger scale in South America, but not a little has also taken place in various parts of the northern continent. Wood (New England’s Prospect, 77, 1634) tells how some Indians of Massachusetts in 1633, coming across a black in the top of a tree were frightened, surmising that; ‘he was Abamacho, or the devil.” Nevertheless, inter-mixture of Indians and blacks has occurred in New England. About the middle of the 18th century the Indians of Martha’s Vineyard began to intermarry with blacks, the result being that “the mixed race increased in numbers and improved in temperance and industry.” A like inter-mixture with similar a results is reported about the same time from parts of Cape Cod. Among the Mashpee in 1802 very few pure Indians were left, there being a number of mulattoes 1 Robert Rantoul in 1833 2 states that “the Indians are said to be improved by the mixture.” In 1890, W. H. Clark 3 says of the Gay Head Indians: “Although one observes much that betokens the Indian type, the admixture of black and white blood has materially changed them.” The deportation of the Pequot to the Bermudas after the defeat of 1638 may have led to admixture there. The Pequot of Groton, Connecticut, who in 1832 numbered but 40, were reported as considerably mixed with white and black blood, and the condition of the few representatives of the Paugusset of Milford in 1849 was about the same 4 Of the Indians in Ledyard we read: “None of the pure Pequot race are left, all being mixed with Indians of other tribes or with whites and blacks.” Long Island presents another point of Indian-black admixture. Of the Shinnecock on the south shore, Gatschet in 1889 5 observe “There are, 150 individuals now going under this name, but they are nearly all mixed with black blood, dating from the times of slavery in the Northern states.” Still later M. R. Harrington 6 notes the occurrence in many individuals of both Indian and black somatic characters. These Shinnecock evidently have not been so completely Africanized as some authorities believe. The remnant of the Montauk in East Hampton are reported by W. W. Tooker 7 to be mixed with blacks, though still recognizable by their aboriginal features. The region of Chesapeake bay furnishes evidences of Indian-black inter-mixture. The fact, pointed out by Brinton 8 that the list of the numerals 1-10 given as Nanticoke in a manuscript of Pyrlaeus, the missionary to the Mohawk, dating from 1790, is really Mandingo or a closely related African language, indicates contact or inter-mixture.

Of the Pamunkey and Mattapony of Virginia, Col. Aylett 9 states that there has been a considerable mixture of white and black blood, principally the former. Traces of Indian blood are noticeable, according to G. A. Townsend 10 in many of the freeborn blacks of the east shore of Maryland. According to Mooney 11 “there is not now a native full-blood Indian speaking his own language from Delaware Bay to Pamlico sound,” those who claim to he Indians having much black blood.

We find not only Indian-black inter-mixture, but also the practice of black slavery among the Indians of the south Atlantic and Gulf states. The Melungeons of Hancock County, Tennessee, but formerly resident in North Carolina, are said to be “a mixture of white, Indian, and black” 12 The so-called Croatan of North Carolina and Redbones of South Carolina seem to be of the same mixture. The holding of black slaves by the tribes of the Carolinas led to considerable intermarriage. There has been much black admixture among the Seminole from an early period, although the remnant still living in Florida is of comparatively pure Indian blood. Of the other Indians of Muskhogean stock the Creeks seem to have most miscegenation, fully one-third of the tribe having perceptible black admixture. In the time of De Soto a “queen” of the Yuchi ran away with one of his black slaves. Estevanico, the famous companion of Cabeza de Vaca, the explorer, in 1528-36, was a black, and the importance of black companions of Spanish explorers has been discussed by Wright 13 Of Algonquian peoples the Shawnee, and the Chippewa of Minnesota, etc., furnish some cases of Indian-black intermarriage, the fathers black, the mothers Indian.

The Canadian Tuscarora of the Iroquoian stock are said to have some little black blood among them, and Grinnell reports a few persons of evident black blood among the Piegan and Kainah. Some of the Indian tribes of the plains and the far west have taken a dislike to the black, and he often figures to disadvantage in their myths and legends. Marcy, in 1853, reports this of the Comanche, and in 1891 the present writer found it true to a certain extent of the Kutenai of south east British Columbia.

Nevertheless, a few cases of intermarriage are reported from this region. The Caddo, former resident, of Louisiana and east Texas, appear to have truth black blood, and on the other hand it is probable that many of the blacks of the whole lower Atlantic and Gulf region have much of Indian blood. Lewis and Clark reported that some of the north-west Indians, for mysterious reasons, got their black servant to consort with the Indian women, so much were they taken with him. According to Swanton the richest man among the Skidegate Haida is a black. In the Indian black half-breed, as a rule, the black type of features seems to predominate. The relation of the folklore of the blacks in America to that of the American aborigines has been the subject of not a little discussion. In regard to the “Uncle Remus” stories, Crane 14 and Gerber 15 assume the African origin of practically all these myths, and hold that such borrowing as has taken place has been from the blacks by the Indians. Powell 16 and Mooney 17 entertain the opinion that a considerable portion of the myths in question are indigenous with the Indians of south east United States.

The latter points out that “in all the southern colonies Indian slaves were bought and sold and kept in servitude and worked in the fields side by side with blacks up to the time of the Revolution.” The conservatism of the Indian and his dislike or contempt for the black must have prevented his borrowing much, while the imitativeness of the latter and his love for comic stories led him, Mooney thinks, to absorb good deal from the Indian. He also holds that the idea that such stories are necessarily of black origin is due largely to the common but mistaken notion that the Indian has no sense of humor.Citations:

  1. Mass Hist. Soc. Coll., r, 206; iv, 206; ibid., 2d s., iii, 4; cf. Prince in Am. Anthrop., ix, no. 3, 1907.[]
  2. Hist. Coll. Essex Inst., xxiv, 81[]
  3. Johns Hopk. Univ. Circ., x, no. 84, 28[]
  4. De Forest, Hist. Inds. Conn., 356, 1853.[]
  5. Am. Antiq., xi, 390, 1889[]
  6. Jour. Am. Folklore, xvi, 37, 1903[]
  7. Ind. Place-names, iv, 1889[]
  8. Am. Antiq., ix, 352, 1887,[]
  9. Rep. Ind., U. S. Census 1890, 602[]
  10. Scribner’s Mag., no. 72, 515, 1571,[]
  11. Am. Anthrop., iii, 132, 1890,[]
  12. Am. Anthrop., ii, 347, 1889.[]
  13. Am. Anthrop., iv, 217-28, 1902.[]
  14. Pop. Sci. Mo., xviii, 324-33, 1881[]
  15. Jour. Am. Folk-lore, vi, 245-57, 1893[]
  16. Harris, Uncle Remus, introd., 1895[]
  17. 19th Rep. B. A. E., 232-34, 1900[]

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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