Black Dutch, Black Irish, Melungeon, Moravian, Pennsylvania Dutch

Billie Harris - Jun 19, 2011

Sometimes we hear references to the Black Dutch and I'm posting a a web site which contains information about these people.   I know my grandmother (not   a Lewallen but married to one) said some of her ancestors were Black Dutch and I've always been curious about them.   After reading this, now I know a little more.



The true origin of the Pennsylvania Dutch is often confused by researchers new to genealogical research in Pennsylvania. The people known as the Pennsylvania Dutch are not from Holland but are of a mixture of German, Swiss, and French Huguenot origin. Mr. Charles Kerchner has written an excellent article explaining the real Germanic roots of the people known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. Here is a link to his article:


One theory is that in 1588 the Spanish armada having being defeated by the British or by a bad storm, depending on your interpretation, went east and then north. They made landfall in Ireland and did the usual things conquistadors were supposed to do: looted, pillaged and raped the local women. The offspring of their activities in Ireland who have dark hair are referred to as Black Irish. Actor Alec Baldwin is a Black Irish, to name one.

Black Irish also can indicates those who came as immigrants from other places (generally England) and sometimes their names were noted as such: "Fitz" as in Fitzwilliam - the English king 'gave' land to those who could hold it, take it and keep it. The black part was not referring to skin or hair or even eye color; it was indication of 'blaggard' = black = a negative connotation.

Some say that the term Black Dutch refers to Sephardie Jews who married Dutch Protestants to escape the Inquisition, many of their descendants later moving to the Americas, the "black" referring to their dark hair and complexions; perhaps rarely, German immigrants from the Black Forest region, e.g., "For the most part, the Black Dutch came after 1740." Others disagree and say it is doubtful that the Black Dutch were of Jewish or (Holland) Dutch heritage.

Others say that no authoritative definition exists for this intriguing term. There are strong indications that the original Black Dutch' were swarthy complexioned Germans but Anglo-Americans loosely applied the term to any dark-complexioned American of European descent. Some say the term was adopted as an attempt to disguise Indian or tri-racial descent. Some Cherokee & Chickasaw Indians are called Black Dutch.

Black Dutch may be synonymous with Pennsylvania Germans who settled in the area of Pennsylvania in groups together. When asked where they were from, they said "Deutsche" sounding to us like "Dutch", but actually meaning "German" in their own language. Because they weren't blonde and blue eyed but darker, they were called Black Dutch.

Some genealogists have suggested that the Black Dutch were either an offshoot of the Melungeons or one of the tri-racial isolate groups in Appalachia.

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 century and early 17th centuries, and intermarried with the blonde 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 say that Black Dutch, Black Irish, and other terms, were applied to those persons who were the offspring of local citizens (women) and shipwrecked sailors from Spain or other countries where the people have darker skins. Others will say that the term pertains to a person of a very mean disposition.

According to the web page at: - a Dutch revolt against the Spanish monarch began in 1555 and continued until 1609. The nation could not find enough soldiers to defend its empire and Spain subjected neighboring Portugal and impressed Portuguese men into Spanish regiments throughout the empire. A new race was created in he southern part of Holland during the six decades that Spanish and Portuguese soldiers were stationed there. It produced dark-skinned children that were the beginning of the Black Dutch.

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, political sentiments, or anyone of foreign extraction. It has been used as a derogatory expression labeling German Union troops in the Civil War. has come down through history with the designation of the Great Moravian Empire. It included not only the Czech Lands of Moravia, Bohemia and Silesia, but Slovakia and parts of Austria, Hungary, Poland and Germany as well.

Interesting websites concerning Black Dutch and Black Irish:


Moravia is part of the Czech Republic. Persons living there will speak either Czech or German. Brno is the capital of Moravia. Moravia was one of the small eastern European "kingdoms" that ended up being a part of a "larger" nation. Bohemia is another locality in the same region that was once an independent nation... for a short while.

Northern Moravia and Silesia is the second largest region of the Czech Republic. It has about 2 million inhabitants. Poland and Slovakia are its neighboring countries. Northern Moravia has large mountain areas and fertile lowlands, beautiful countryside, caves and a number of castles, museums and galleries. It is a region of woods, lakes and water basins, good Moravian cuisine with special dishes and excellent beer. Haná is a region of flatland, one of the most fertile regions in the country. A web page on Northern Moravia:

In the 9th century the Slavic inhabitants of Moravia established a political state in the heart of Europe. Their creation has come down through history with the designation of the Great Moravian Empire. It included not only the Czech Lands of Moravia, Bohemia and Silesia, but Slovakia and parts of Austria, Hungary, Poland and Germany as well.

The Slavic princes of Great Moravia, Mojmir I (830-846) and Rastislav I (846-870) had to deal with the two-headed problem of converting their people to the Christian faith and maintaining their political and cultural independence.

The term Moravian can be used in several contexts to refer to diverse people over the past dozen centuries. The ancient Slav who accepted Christianity from Saints Cyril and Methodius were Moravians. The Anabaptists of Swiss origin who found their promised land in the 16th century were Moravians. The German and Czech speaking Protestants who sought refuge in Herrnhut and evangelized the far corners of the earth were Moravians. The Czech speaking inhabitants of what we know today as Moravia, who stayed in their native land and preserved the language and carried on the traditions and culture of their forefathers were Moravians. The 19th Century Czech immigrants who left their native villages in the foothills of the Carpathians (mountains) and the fertile plains of Hana were Moravians. All of these diverse and varied people were Moravians, and where ever their descendants are today, be it in the Czech lands or off in the far corners of the earth, all are the rich beneficiaries of the two great Moravian moments in history.

There are Moravian settlements in Bethlehem, PA and Winston Salem, NC which remain a tremendous source of history as to the Moravian culture. These are German Moravians and they have basis in their religious beliefs which are a direct link to the Czech Moravians. You have to follow the Czech Moravian movement..both physical in history and theologically to get a greater understanding of their proud heritage.

The Moravian Church, based on the principles of John Hus, was formed in Bohemia in 1457, and at that time was called Unitas Fratrum, or Unity of the Brethren. They were known as Brethren for many years, but that is not the same as the United Brethren Church, which was, and still is, a different animal altogether. The Pietist movement of the early 1700's mostly reform minded Lutherans - revived the Brethren Church. They were joined by refugees from Moravia after 1722, and the church was reorganized then as the Moravian Church.

The Evangelical United Brethren Church was an independent church, begun in the American colonies in the early 19th (1800-1807) century. It had three founders, Philip Otterbein, a German Reformed; Martin Boehm, a Mennonite bishop; Jacob Albright, a new flavor of Methodist. The Moravian Church itself still exists. The United Brethren movement (not to be confused with the several Brethren churches) was a German speaking equivalent of the Methodist movement. Years later, the two denominations (Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren - nor Moravians) acknowledged their common heritage, and merged to become today's United Methodist Church. Some EUB's did not agree, and so there is still a Evangelical United Brethren Church today. It might be called the Evangelical UB Church, or something like that.

You may want to subscribe to the Moravian Heritage Society. They have a website at: - or contact Tom Hrncirik at

Check out - scroll down until you find the link re: history of Brno or Moravian history...both give a wealth of information.

Susan Schlack at has a website called Moravian Church Genealogy Links at She also runs the Rootsweb Discussion Group To subscribe, send the word subscribe to MORAVIANCHURCH-L-REQUEST@ROOTSWEB.COM - Sue says it's easy to mix up MORAVIAN. Definition 1. People who come from the geographical region of Moravia. Definition 2. Members of the Unitas Fratrum / Unity of the Brethren / Evangelische Brudergemein. It is officially known in the USA as the "Moravian Church," hence the "Moravian Church Official Homepage" at This page is produced in Bethlehem, PA, the center of the Northern Province, USA.


If you have been researching your family in the Cumberland Plateau of Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Tennessee, during the early migration years, you may be able find them through a connection to this newly re-discovered group of people. The Melungeons are a people of apparent Mediterranean descent, typically dark complexioned, who may have settled in the Appalachian wilderness as early or possibly earlier than 1567.

Dr. N. Brent Kennedy author of, ‘The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People,’ started the recent research into this group of people. His book is a must read for anyone who is connected to this group. Most bookstores can order this book in paperback for you. Dr. Kennedy documents his own family tree in the book and gives some startling theories which are being confirmed by current researchers. He mentions the need to hide the family connection to the Melungeon community as the main reason our Melungeon ancestors are so hard to find. Dr. Kennedy believes the Melungeons were a people who almost certainly intermarried with Powhatans, Pamunkeys, Creeks, Catawbas, Yuchis, and Cherokees to form what some have called, perhaps a bit fancifully, ‘a new race’.

They appear to have been in the southern Appalachias with mining as a common occupation before the English settlers explored the area. One theory is they are descended from people of mixed ancestry in Spanish settlements in the South East who kept moving into the interior to avoid English colonists. This is supported by genetic evidence. Genetic diseases appear in Melungeon populations which only seem to appear elsewhere in populations from the Iberian peninsula and north Africa.

The Melungeons were ‘discovered’ in the Appalachian Mountains in 1654 by English explorers and were described as being ‘dark-skinned with fine European features, (meaning they were not black) and as being a hairy people, who lived in log cabins with peculiar arched windows, (meaning they were not Indians). They practiced the Christian religion, and told the explorers in broken Elizabethan English, that they were ‘Portyghee,’ but were described as being ‘not white,’ that is, not of Northern European stock, even though some of them had red hair and others had VERY striking blue or blue/green eyes. Where did these people come from? Recent research is answering that question. And it appears that they may be a combination of Turks, Spaniards, Portugese, Moor, Berber, Jew and Arab.

Some cultural traits include the practice of putting tiny houses over graves, putting a pattern of nails over doors for good luck or protection, and working with metals, gems, or mining.

The Melungeon descendants have some rather unique physiological characteristics. There is a bump on the back of the head of some descendants, that is located at mid-line, just above the juncture with the neck. It is about the size of half a golf ball or smaller. If you cannot find the bump, check to see if you like some descendants, have a ridge, located at the base of the head where it joins the neck, rather than the Anatolian bump. To find a ridge, place your hand at the base of your neck where it joins your shoulders, and on the center line of your spine. Run your fingers straight up your neck toward your head. If you have a ridge, it will stop your fingers from going on up and across your head.

There is also a ridge on the back of the first four teeth (upper and lower) of some descendants. If you place your fingernail at the gum line and gently draw (up or down) you can feel it and it makes a slight clicking sound. The back of the teeth also curve outward rather than straight as the descendants of anglo-saxon parentage do. Teeth like these are called Asian Shovel Teeth or just Shovel Teeth which are typical of Native Americans.

Some descendants have what is called an Asian eye fold. This is rather difficult to describe. At the inner corner of the eye, the upper lid attaches slightly lower than the lower lid. That is to say that it overlaps the bottom lid. If you place your finger just under the inner corner of the eye and gently pull down, a wrinkle will form which makes the fold more visible. Some people call these eyes, “sleepy eyes, dreamy eyes, bedroom eyes.

Some other characteristics are, extremely high arches, an extra bone in the foot, and the foot may be wider than normal and double-jointedness. There is also a kind of squat that some Melungeon descendants seem to be able to do which may be connected to being double jointed. Squat down with your feet and knees TOGETHER, keeping your feet flat on the floor, and your buttocks almost touching the ground. You may put your arms around your legs, but do not lean back on your hands. If you can do this without falling over backwards, you have performed the squat! Some families may have members with fairly dark skin who suffer with vitiligo, a loss of pigmentation, leaving the skin blotched with white patches. Some descendants have had six fingers or toes. There is a family of people in Turkey whose surname translated into English is Six Fingered Ones.

There are some Mediterranean diseases which show up in some of the descendants of the Melungeons. Some of these diseases can be quite severe, even life threatening, and if you or a family member have suffered from a mysterious illness, I can give you the names of these, but there is ongoing research into some areas that are less severe, but which pose problems for some descendants who seem to suffer with them. Sleep problems, including periodic limb movement, shaky (restless/active) leg syndrome, and sleep apnea are one such area. Allergies, including lactose intolerance, are another.

Certain surnames are associated with this unusual and highly interesting group of people. Check them out at:

If your family has an Indian Grandmother/father myth which you have been unable to prove, and they have been hard to trace and they lived in NC, TN, KY, VA, WV areas in the early migration years or if they seem to have moved back and forth in these areas and if they share any of the certain surnames and characteristics, you may find a connection here. Some descendants do not show the physical characteristics and of course, there are many people with the surnames who are not connected to this group.

Melungeon people were discriminated against by their Scots-Irish and English neighbors as they moved into the areas where the Melungeons lived. They wanted the rich valley lands occupied by the Melungeons they found residing there. They discriminated against the Melungeons because they were darker skinned than their own anglo-saxon ancestors and because this helped them obtain the lands they coveted. This discrimination carried into the 1940’s-50’s and perhaps even longer because of the work of a man called Plecker who was the state of Virginia’s Director of Vital Statistics and an avowed racist. He labeled the Melungeons, calling them mongrels and other worse terms - some were labeled FPC - Free Person of Color in Virginia. This in turn led to their children being labeled as Mulatto (M) and both of those terms came to mean BLACK. If you find such a term for any of your ancestors, it does not necessarily mean that they actually were black. Some Melungeon families married white, some black, some Indian, some a combination. But for all of them the terms led to rulings in which they couldn’t own property, they couldn’t vote, and they couldn’t school their children. As a result, they hid their backgrounds with the Indian myth, with the orphan myth (my family are all dead), and the adopted myth, and they changed either the spelling of their surnames or they picked an entirely new name, moving many times, anything to distance themselves from their Melungeon heritage. They sometimes became "Black Dutch" or "Black Irish", or some other combination.

The following article entitled, The Mysterious Melungeons by Mr. Arlee Gowen, appeared in the September 1992 issue of Stripes, the Texas State Genealogical Society Quarterly: A Dutch revolt against the Spanish monarch began (in)1555 and continued to its successful conclusion in 1609. The nation could not field enough soldiers to defend the empire, and as a consequence, Spain subjected neighboring Portugal and impressed Portuguese men into Spanish regiments throughout the empire. [Some regiments were in Tennessee on a Spanish expedition which explored eastern Tennessee in 1567]. It is more than credible that Portuguese soldiers would desert or defect in Tennessee if the opportunity presented itself. As a sidelight, a genealogical anomaly resulted from this war. A new race was created in the southern part of Holland during the six decades that Spanish and Portuguese soldiers were stationed there. Their fraternization with the Dutch girls produced dark-skinned children which were the beginning of the Black Dutch. Mr. Gowen notes that these Melungeons were a dark skinned people who wore beards and had straight black hair. Many had dark blue eyes. They were found by John Seiver when his expedition crossed the Appalachians in 1774.

ARE YOU OF MELUNGEON HERITAGE? - Specific things to consider:
CENSUS & OTHER OFFICIAL DATA -- was your ancestor listed as non-white for any years? Try to review each census that was taken during your ancestors lifetime. In my family, I have found some ancestors listed as mulatto in some years and white in others. Review birth, death, marriage records, etc.

FAMILY TRADITION -- Is there an oral history of Cherokee or other Native American ancestry that cannot be verified? Is there a tradition of being Black Dutch, Black Irish, Black Italian, etc.? Did your family change surnames for no apparent reason?

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION -- Did your ancestors live in any of the areas traditionally associated with Melungeons during the time periods that the Melungeons occupied the area? Remember the Melungeons and other mixed ethnic groups were forced out of areas as Scots-Irish and English settlers moved in and forced them out.

SURNAMES -- Brent Kennedy and others have identified common surnames associated with Melungeons, Lumbees, etc. Having a surname on these lists should be considered only as an indicator and not hard evidence of Melungeon heritage, for example, Mullins is a common Melungeon name but not everyone named Mullins is of Melungeon heritage (I know some Mullins whose parents came directly from Ireland and are definitely not Melungeon.)

PHYSICAL TRAITS -- There are lists of physical characteristics associated with some Melungeon descendants i.e. ridge or bump on the back of the head, shovel teeth, etc. Again, the presence of these traits should be used only as indicators of possible Melungeon heritage not as proof and conversely, an absence of these traits doesn't disprove Melungeon heritage.

DISEASES/ILLNESSES -- Many descendants of Melungeons are susceptible to diseases with Mediterrean and other exotic (to us Americans, anyway) origins, for example, Bechet's Syndrome, Joseph's Disease, Mediterrean Familial Fever, Sarcoidosis, Thallasemia, etc. so the presence of a genetically inherited disease in your family which normally affects persons of genetic backgrounds that don't agree with your believed background can provide clues to your true genetic makeup.

PHYSICAL APPEARANCE OF ANCESTORS -- Look at photos and descriptions of early ancestors and evaluate their appearance against Melungeon characteristics i.e. skin tone and eye color, however, don't put a lot of faith in this test since the appearance of Melungeons can vary widely even within the same immediate family group.

HOW WERE YOUR ANCESTORS REGARDED BY OTHERS -- Look at personal recollections, court appearances or depositions, and nicknames your ancestors were given by their contemporaries (for example, one of my great-great uncles was known by everyone as Black Leonard Mullins and another distant Mullins relative was known as Black Ike Mullins). Were your ancestors regarded as strange or different for no apparent reason? Did later generations refuse to talk about certain ancestors while gushing over others?

TO JOIN THE MELUNGEON ROOTSWEB Mailing List, send the word ........ subscribe ........ to: MELUNGEON-L-REQUEST@ROOTSWEB.COM


Sephardic Jews are those from the Iberian Peninsula and along with other ethnic groups of that often overlooked part of Europe, they took part in the spread of European culture to the rest of the world, most especially America, vast portions of which were colonized by Spanish and Portuguese speaking people.

An excellent website is at:

It is a treasure-house of information helpful to Jews with Sephardic heritage and includes many links to other informative sites on this subject