Copied from the papers of Wilson S. Davis of Clayton, Wilmington, Bishop's Corner and Dover, DE, and Beltsville, MD

 

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"Times Phila May 19, 1892"

KENT COUNTY'S MOORS

A CURIOUS DELAWARE COMMUNITY AND ITS HISTORY

LENI LENAPES OF TO-DAY


Leni Lenapes They Claim To Be, But Perhaps There is Another
Side to the Story.
What a Tradition of the Countryside says.

Every American knows that his country is a very big one and that what he calls "the American people" is a conglomeration of nearly every race and nation on the face of the earth, but he seldom realizes that, in hundreds of places, scattered here and there all over the land, there are to be found hundreds of colonies of peculiar races, families or tribes, many of which were planted long before the Revolution, that have preserved through many decades the habits, peculiarities of mind or physique, often the very language of their ancestors.

It was lately the good fortune of the writer to discover one of these little communities within three hours' ride of Philadelphia; and he promptly interviewed every neighbor and every "oldest inhabitant" who seemed likely to prove a source of information in regard to it. It was in the vicinity of the village of Cheswold, in Kent County, Del., that a certain race or clan of people were heard spoken of under the name of Moors. They were described as having a light brown complexion, sharp or clean-cut features, eyes usually blue and hair in many cases of a distinctly red tinge. There was no difficulty in finding the house of one of them. The master received us civilly. He was about the color of a dark mulatto, apparently about 50 years of age, and his bushy whiskers were streaked with gray. His iron-gray hair was nearly straight, with a slight wave running through it, and his eyes were of a dull blue. Except his color he had none of the characteristics of a negro, and might otherwise have been taken for a well-bred white American.

"There are a great many of our people scattered about here," he said, "but really I don't know much about our origin. Most people call us mulattos, but we are really nothing of the sort. I don't know just what you would call us, though. My father's grandfather was a Frenchman, and his wife was an Indian squaw; my own grandfather and my father married among their own people. I never bothered about the matter myself, and never thought it made any difference to any one where we came from. But I'll tell you where you can find out as much about it as anyone knows. You go see old John Sanders. He's pretty old, and has lived about here nearly all his life, and probably he can tell you more about it than anybody else. But I'm not sure that he can tell you much, either. I can't read or write myself, and I have to carry everything in my head, so I don't try to put anything in it that I an not likely to have a good deal of use for. Perhaps I may have heard something about my foreparents, but if I have I've forgotten it. If I had been one of your reading and writing people I suppose I would have had it all down on paper long ago."

Though he asserted his inability to read and write, his language was excellent, and he spoke with the intonation and pronunciation of a well educated man. There was none of the usual negro thickness of tongue and mouthing of words among them, and their fluency of speech and clearness of enunciation might be envied by half the white men one meets.

John Sander's house was found after a walk of about a mile over such perfectly level country as only Delaware can show. The old man was at home, and was glad to see visitors. He must have been a remarkably fine-looking man in youth, and has not yet lost all pretensions to good looks. Though he is 80 years of age, he walks as straight as ever; his eyes are clear and strong, his voice full, and his straight black hair, thick and heavy, is only slightly streaked with gray. Our modern American curse of baldness has passed him by, and he might easily pass for fifty years younger than he is. And his--(illegible)--lean face--(illegible)--forehead, high cheek bones, and prominent, thin nose with downward curve which might have been termed hooked.

"I'm afraid I can't tell you much about our people," he said, "but you are welcome the little I know. No, we are not Moors, neither are we mulattos. We are Indians, and we belong to a branch of the great Delaware Nation, which used to hold all the country from New York to Cape Charles. Down in Sussex county, on the backbone ridge of the Peninsula, the head waters of two rivers rise close together--one of them, the Nanticoke River, flows west into Chesapeake Bay, and Indian River, the other, flows east and empties into the ocean; and it was at the place where these two rivers rise that our clan had its chief seat, and it is still the centre for our people. When this part of the country was first settled by the white men most of the Indians were either killed or driven away to the West and South, but some of our people clung to the soil; they settled down, adopted many of the ways of the white men, and lived in peace and friendship with their despoilers. In time they adopted the names of their white neighbors, and the principal names in our tribe now are Harmon, Norwood, Sauders, Street, Ridgway, Jack, Mosely, Durham and Hughes--all unmistakably of English derivation. They settled all over the country in squads in the same way. You can find them almost anywhere if you know how to look for them, and in Accomac and Northampton counties, Va., at the extreme lower end of the Peninsula, there are any number of them. And down there they have kept more to themselves than they have elsewhere, and they look and live more like the Indians did when I was a boy. I am 80 years old, and I can remember a good way back.

"I was born in 1811, not two miles from here. My father, while a boy, was bound out to a man named Jefferson, who brought him up here from Sussex, so that I claim kindred with the old families down there. He settled here and lived here all his life; so did I, except some years that I spent out West, mostly in Indiana. At that time there was quite a large colony of Indians living along the Wabash River, near Peru, Indiana, and they were much lighter in complexion than our people here. I can remember the time when our people about here all lived together in a squad; but now it is as if a tornado had struck them, and they are scattered all over the country. At that time they used to intermarry; they would have nothing to do with either whites or blacks, and kept entirely to themselves. I suppose it was later intermarriages that caused the tribe to diminish so fast in number; there were a great many more of us fifty years ago than there are now. But after they came to be so few they became more or less mixed up with the other races, so that now they might be called almost anything; they are like Jacob's cattle--some white, some black and some ring-streaked. We older ones are pure-blooded, but the younger generations have got badly mixed.

"But we still keep much to ourselves, and when we marry outside the tribe it is usually with some one whiter than we are. Most of us belong to the Methodist Episcopal Church and we have our own church buildings and government. Little Union Church, near here, has members of all races and colors, but our own Manship Chapel doesn't admit any but our own people. Others may come as often as they choose and are quite welcome and a good many do come, but no strangers are admitted to membership or can have any voice in the management. A number of years ago the Methodist Conference succeeded in taking one of our churches from us, down in Sussex, but our people immediately built another for themselves and connected themselves with the Methodist Protestants. That is why we want no strangers to join our church here; that occurrence was a lesson to us. A few years ago the conference cited us for trial because we refused to admit the black people to membership, but we proved to them that it had always been the custom for whites and blacks to have separate places or worship, and that we, as not being either, had always had our own churches, though in the old days we always had white men to preach to us. When they saw the --- we took and --mit to them, they quietly dropped the whole thing and didn't allow it to really come to trial. Ever since then we have gone on our own way quietly, and nobody has said a word to trouble us.

"My father and mother and all my foreparents were Indians. There are not many of the pure blood about here now, though there used to be a great many. It is strange how people have forgotten about us. Sixty years ago everyone knew who and what we were; there never was any question about it, and no one ever thought about taking us for Africans. Look at me!" said the old man as he drew himself up to his full length of six feet two inches, "Do I look like a negro?" He certainly looked like almost anything else. "Well, all our people looked like me then. None of them were ever slaves; we were as free as the whites, and every one knew it. But since that time most of the old families have either died out or moved away. The people about here now are all newcomers. Of course they know nothing about us and never troubled their heads to inquire. There were plenty of mulattos about and the newcomers thought every one with a dark skin must be a mulatto. So they took to calling us so, and do it yet--they don't know any better. Of course we feel ourselves superior to the negroes and mulattos and generally hold ourselves aloof from them and we would prefer not to be confounded with the useless mulatto lot that are found loafing everywhere. But we have become accustomed to it and don't mind it so much now, for it really doesn't matter much what you call a man, provided you don't call him a thief or a liar.

"I really don't know how we came to be called Moors. I have heard, though, that a good many years ago a family of genuine Moors settled somewhere in this part of the country, but I have never seen them, and never heard anything more about them. They certainly had no connection with our people, who are the ones usually known by that name. But if the story is true, the newcomers about here, whom I spoke of, may have got us confused with them, or attached their story to us. There are quite a number of families by the name of Moor or Moore living about here, and this village used to be called Moorton until a few years ago. But the Moore families are mostly white people and none of them have ever been connected with us in any way, and I never heard whether the village was so named on their account or ours. Probably it was on theirs, for the settlement, the original one, is a pretty old one and have got its name long before we were ever called Moors, and while our descent was well known. In my young days we were called "planters." We belonged to the Delaware Tribe of Indians, but I don't know what was the name of our clan, probably nobody does now. But I know that our last chief was buried somewhere in the neighborhood of Millsborough, in Sussex County, and I have heard that when they were building the railroad from Lewestown down to Snow Hill, in Maryland, they had to dig through the place where he was buried, so they took up what was left of his bones and buried them somewhere else. He must have died more that a hundred years ago, for we have had no chief when my father was a boy."

But sons of the toil tell yet another tale, which they claim to have received from their forefathers. And these men say that about the middle of last century there dwelt in Ireland a lady of more or less noble blood, with certainly a large amount of property, whose temper was a match for her own fiery locks. And that this same temper of auburn hair led her to quarrel with her family and indulge in an animated "discussion wid schticks," in the course of which the fair lady's relatives used such forcible arguments as to disgust her with her present surroundings. So she converted all her property into a portable form as quickly as might be, and hied her away to the far West of those days.

What is now known as Sussex County, Delaware, was fortunate enough to find favor in her eyes, and the goods she brought with her to the Land of Promise were quickly exchanged for an extensive tract of land. In due time the land was cleared, houses and barns built and all was ready for the vast crops that were certain to repay a slight amount of cultivation. But the country was new and sparsely settled; every free man had a tract of his own and found it more profitable to farm it for himself than to become a day laborer on the lands of another man. So, in default of other labor, she did as her neighbors had done, and imported large numbers of negro slaves---(illegible)---informant expressed it, who was soon promoted to the position, first of "driver," or "field boss," afterward of overseer of the whole plantation.

The nearest white neighbor lived miles away. Milady was still young enough to feel that, "it is not good for man--consequently, for woman, also--to be alone." The color line and race antipathy were not as strongly marked as they are in our own day; and before many years were flown Madame had married her big "Congo nigga." The population increase rapidly, both on the plantation and in the neighboring country, and as the country filled up the people became accustomed to seeing dark brown boys and girls, with the red hair and blue eyes that they inherited from their Celtic ancestress. They kept much to themselves, affecting to despise the other negro population. Some of them married white husbands or wives, and the whole clan so intermarried for so many generations that they have now as fixed racial characteristics as any race or tribe in the world. Yet there are still some prejudiced ones among their neighbors who stubbornly refuse to forget that their Saracen blood was imported by way of the Congo, and who consider these "American Moors" as of exactly the same race and social standing with the mulattos whom the "Moors" themselves despise so heartily.

 



Also see, "The connection between Indiana and the Delaware Indian communities"

 

 

 

 

 

 

MITSAWOKETT

"The History and Genealogy of the
Native American Isolate Communities
of Kent County, Delaware, and
Surrounding Areas on the Delmarva Peninsula
and Southern New Jersey"

 

 

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