A Look at a Tri-Racial Group (author unknown)
An intermingling of races was one of the products which occurred with
the early European exploration and settlement of the North American
continent. Stemming from these earlier interminglings, there exists
within the Eastern United States today, in numbers totaling between
fifty thousand and one hundred thousand persons, a variety of surviving,
localized strains of mixed blood peoples.1 Those called
the Moors or the Delaware Moors are a group of such descent.
In a June, 1953 article, the geographer, Edward T. Price, mapped the
locations of the chief populations of racially mixed groups in the
Eastern United States (see Fig. 1).2 Through the particular
geographic distributions of these groups, Price indicated how environmental
circumstances, such as swamps or inaccessible and barren mountain
country, favored their growth. Many of the groups are located along
the tidewater of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts where swamps, islands,
or peninsulas have protected them and kept alive a portion of the
aboriginal blood which greeted the first white settlers on these shores.
Other pockets of these groups are located farther inland, in the Western
Piedmont area, backing up against the Blue Ridge and Alleghenies.
A few of the groups are to be found along the top of the Blue Ridge,
and on several ridges of the Appalachian Great Valley just beyond.
In addition to mapping the distribution and indicating environmental
circumstances pertaining to these racially mixed groups, Price also
noted a number of common phenomenon related to them. These groups
have been presumed to be part white, with varying proportions of American
Indian and Negro blood, although a lack of solid documentation concerning
the origins of a good number of the groups makes determination of
racial composition uncertain. Due to their particular racial mixtures,
these groups are recognized as of intermediate social status, sharing
lots with neither writes nor blacks, nor enjoying the government protection
or tribal ties of typical Indian descendants.
Old census records have indicated that the present number of mixed
bloods have sprung from great reproductive increases of small initial
populations of the groups.3 The predominance of a limited
number of surnames within each group at present is in line with such
a conclusion, and is also indicative of their high degree of endogamy,
resulting from their intermediate status and their relative geographic
isolation from the mainstream population. Characteristics of generally
lower educational and income levels, as well as large families, tend
to further mark the racially mixed groups as members of the more backward
sector of the American nation.
While all of the aspects mentioned above are descriptive of similarities
between the various racially mixed groups distributed throughout the
eastern United States, one must also realize that each group is essentially
a unique phenomenon. Each one stems from a particular intermixture
of races, and is related to a specific locale with recognition of
the group crystallized by a name applied, either by the group itself
or, by the people surrounding them in their region.
The phenomena which Price noted as common denominators in his analysis
of racially mixed groups generally hold true for the people called
Moors, who reside in the Kent and Sussex Counties of Delaware, and
across the Delaware Bay in Southern New Jersey.
Concentrations consisting of members of this group are located in
lowland, tidewater areas of the two states, areas which are basically
rural, even today. (See map, Fig. 2). Moors make up the largest portion
of the total population, (a little over three hundred persons), of
the small community of Cheswold, Kent County
. (Cheswold is about five miles north of the larger state capital,
Dover). These people also inhabit the rural area surrounding Cheswold.
A number of Delaware Moors make their homes in and around the small
town of Millsboro, and along the north shore of the Indian River in
Sussex County, Delaware. In addition to the Moors living in and around
Cheswold and Millsboro, Delaware, a similar, but more dispersed, number
of Moor families live in rural, southern New Jersey. One finds Moor
families in the farming territory outside of Bridgeton, Millville,
and Vineland, New Jersey.
The location of the Cheswold community does not, at first, seem to
concur with Price's indications that racially mixed groups flourish
in relatively isolated geographic areas. The fact that Cheswold is
so near to Dover, and also, just west of a major state highway, Delaware
Route 13, is at variance with that thesis. However, farmlands have
served somewhat as a buffer between Cheswold and Dover, and the Moor
community has remained, up to the present, a separate entity. Information
concerning the settlement in Cheswold by the Moors is more akin to
There are indications that Cheswold was not the initial settlement
area for this group of Moors. Informant Wilson Davis, a Delaware Moor,
stated that the Moors of Cheswold originally lived about ten miles
to the northeast at Woodland Beach, a more marshy area along the Delaware
Bay. According to Mr. Davis, the Moors moved to farm farther inland
and to settle in Cheswold during the last quarter of the nineteenth
century, as the result of a large storm which inundated much of the
land surrounding Woodland Beach.4
The Moorish areas in Sussex County, Delaware and in southern New Jersey
are in more sparsely populated, rural regions. In both regions, the
landscape is covered by truck farms or dense pine forests, and neither
area is crisscrossed by major traffic routes.
Geography has played some part in setting the Moors start from the
mainstream American population, but the racial composition of this
group, linked to their origins, has played a more primary role. A
number of scholars have taken note of this group which, for the most
part, considers itself distinct from both Negro and white races. Researchers
have examined their mixed blood characteristics and have endeavored
to trace the precise origins of the Moors.5
In discussing the physical appearance of the Moors, as well as the
Nanticoke Indian descendants to whom some Moors are related, C. A.
facial characteristics...set them apart from both whites and Negroes.
The darkest have brown skins and the lightest resemble their white
neighbors in complexion. Blonde, red and sandy hair may be seen,
but the majority have brown or black hair, either wavy or straight
and coarse like that of the full blooded American Indian. Kinky
or woolen hair...is not often seen...straight noses and thin lips
are typical. Eye colors range from grays and blues to dark brown
and black. Many of the mixed bloods have sharply chiseled features,
swarthy complexions and straight hair.... Others are distinctly
Indian-like in appearance, having high and wide cheekbones, even
among the same family. Light skinned Parent often have dark skinned
children and vice versa. 6
No one has really been able to trace the precise origins of the Delaware
Moors. Legend and historical hearsay have suggested possibilities.
C. A. Weslager, in his book Delaware's Forgotten Folks, presents
(in his own words) legends of three categories which he collected
from Delaware Moors.7 One category of legend purports that
the Moors originated sometime before the Revolutionary War through
the founding of a colony along the Atlantic coast of the Delmarva
peninsula by a group of dark skinned Spanish Moors. Through intermarriage
with the local Indians come the people called Moors in Delaware and
A second category of legend Weslager refers to as pirate legends.
These legends stated that Spanish or Moorish pirates, in the later
eighteenth century, were shipwrecked off the Delaware coast in the
Delaware Bay or near the Indian River Inlet. The shipwrecked men were
taken in by the Nanticoke Indians and came to marry Indian women,
thus beginning the mixed stock of Delaware Moors. Some versions of
this legend considered the shipwrecked men as Spanish, French, or
Moorish sailors and not buccaneers.
Weslager categorizes a third legend type, which he found most popular
among the Moors, as romantic legend. In this legend type a beautiful
woman and a dark-skinned slave or slaves are the central characters.
The woman was wealthy, either Spanish or Irish, and lived on a plantation
in southern Delaware. She purchased one male slave who turned out
to have been a Spanish prince. They then fell in love and had children
of dusky complexion. Not being accepted by the white community, the
family sought associations elsewhere and consequently, mixed with
the Indians in the vicinity of the plantation. Other modifications
of this plot said that a similar women bought seven couples of Moorish
slaves whose children intermarried with Indian descendants living
on Indian River.
Historically, there is foundation for the legends of the pirate category.
Piracy was common in the Delaware Bay from about 1685 to 1750, and
references cite occurrences of Spanish and French pirates preying
on ships that entered the Delaware Bay.8 William Kelly,
a citizen of Lewes, Delaware, was captured and taken aboard a French
pirate ship in 1747. According to him the pirate crew of one hundred
and thirty members consisted of "some English, some Irish, and some
Scotch, but the most part of them were Frenchmen and Spaniards."9
In 1717, Delaware authorities issued a proclamation stating that they
were willing to grant pardon to privateers who surrendered to the
law and gave up their looting careers.10 In these ways
pirates could have ventured to settle along the Delaware coast and
engendered the Moorish strains in the existing local population.
However, this does not account for the fact that most of the surnames
of the Delaware Moors suggest English descent. One researcher, Donald
VanLear Downs, has endeavored to trace the origins of the Delaware
Moors through an expedition launched in the 1680's by Charles II of
England to Tangiers in North Africa. Downs employed as sources extracts
from the "Calendar of State Papers--Domestic, October 1683 to April
1684" filed in the British Museum in London, and an oral account he
received from a Tangier historian, a Mr. Maxwell Blake. Downs asserted
that the Moors in Delaware have English surnames because a number
of Charles II's companies, when disbanded in 1684, set sail for America
accompanied by Moorish women. They supposedly landed on an island
in the Chesapeake Bay and named it Tangier Island.11 Down's
assertions may explain how Moorish blood reached the region, but they
do not offer explanation as to why no Moors presently inhabit Tangier
Island, or why a migration occurred from this possible initial settlement
to the Indian River, Woodland Beach, or Cheswold areas of Delaware.
Although the specific origins of the Delaware Moors is unclear, most
scholars and the Moors themselves, have tended to come to the consensus
that the group can be identified as being a racial mixture of the
Indians who once occupied the Delmarva region (the Nanticokes and
the Lenni Lenape), of whites of European descent, and of some unspecified
African strain. Also agreed upon is that the Moors of Delaware have
come to be related, by blood and marriage ties, to the Nanticoke Indian
descendants of Indian River Hundred, Sussex County, Delaware.
Returning to Price's thesis concerning tri-racial groups, one finds
that, as with other groups, the Delaware Moors developed their particular
racial mixture in much earlier times, (in this case, during the Colonial
period), and that the present numbers in the group are descendants
of that earlier mixed population. According, to written sources and
informants, it has been customary for Moors to marry Moors.12
Because of this endogamy, the Delaware Moors today, as a group, consist
of members of closely interrelated families. Informant Dorothy Carney
listed eighteen Moor families of Cheswold and stated that branches
of some of these families make up the Moor populations in both Sussex
County, Delaware and in southern New Jersey.13
Price generalized that most tri-racial groups tended to have larger
immediate families and lower educational and income levels than the
mainstream population. None of my sources seemed to indicate that
the Delaware Moors have larger than average numbers of offspring.
However, in terms of education, most Moors do not progress beyond
the high school level, and a good number of the Moors attended only
grammar school. Relatively low educational attainment by the Moors
as a group has been due, in part, to racial discrimination. Previously,
in the Cheswold area, the Moors were barred from attending local white
public schools, and many Moor parents did not wish their children
to attend the separate black public schools. It was in 1923 that Pierre
Samuel DuPont financed the erection of a three room schoolhouse to
serve as the state-supported Cheswold School for the Moor children
of grammar school ages.
The Cheswold School functioned as the primary educational Institution
for the Moors of Cheswold until it was closed in 1964, along with
the Fork Branch grammar school, (also built by P. S. DuPont in the
twenties, and intended for blacks, though attended mainly by Cheswold
area Moor children). It was not until the late 1950's, after the 1954
Supreme Court ruling and when school consolidation occurred, that
Moor children could attend public high schools in the Dover area,
and then more could pursue a college education. Prior to that time,
numerous Moors did not attend high school, though some did enroll
in correspondence courses and received high school diplomas by taking
an equivalency examination.
In terms of occupation, most Moors have been tenant- or landowning
farmers and have earned moderate and respectable incomes from working
the land, thus not needing higher academic educations. The male Moors
who entered the labor pool in non-farming occupations with no higher
education found various blue-collar level jobs in construction, maintenance,
or factory work, for example. The Moor women who have worked have
done so in factory work, as domestics or as sales persons in retail
Some persons who have previously investigated the Delaware Moors have
considered them no different outwardly from other rural or small town
Delawareans. Other writers have felt the Moors maintain their own
peculiar traditions. When doing field research among the Delaware
Moors in the early 1940's, C. A. Weslager claimed that "beneath the
surface lurk shadows that can be traced to Indian life of the past."14
He cited the lingering use of herbal cures, weather beliefs related
to natural phenomena, and handmade wooden implements as survivals
of the Moors' Indian descent.15 It seems to this researcher
that a good number of the survivals which Weslager maintained as being
Delaware Moorish, (such as sassafras tea, the belief that molesting
a buzzards nest would bring misfortune, or the use of animal traps
made of logs and tree limbs, were also passing traditions of many
other rural Delawareans at the time. Donald Downs also indicated in
1960 that the Delaware Moors16 "have many traits and a
few customs of the 'Moors' of Morocco."
Mr. Downs did not elaborate on just what these traits and customs
might be and my research turned up nothing strikingly Moroccan. It
does not appear that a peculiar lifestyle or variant traditions have
been the elements marking the Delaware Moors as an identifiable group.
Strong family ties and separate social structures do seem to be forces
maintaining a "groupness" among them.
Informants indicated that most social affairs for the Moors are and
have been family affairs.17 Both Mrs. Dorothy Carney and
Wilson Davis recall "Big Thursdays" which were held annually at Woodland
Beach on the second Thursday in August. This was an all-day affair
of picnicking and entertainment such as swimming, dancing, wrestling,
and foot races. Wilson Davis says that it was strictly a Moor affair,
a time when relatives from Cheswold, lower Delaware, and from New
Jersey came together and the whole clan had a reunion.18
The last big crowd was in about 1934, according to Mr. Davis, and
Mrs. Carney says the tradition ended due to family feuding.
But family ties are still strong among the Moors. Mrs. Carney's family
gathers regularly with relatives for Sunday dinners in the winter
and has had picnics every summer Sunday with relations for at least
the last ten years. Birthday celebrations are causes for large family
Volunteer fire companies, schools, and churches are institutions which
often serve as social centers in small towns. In Cheswold, Moors are
still barred from serving on the firefighting crew, although they
virtually support the weekly bingo games held at the fire hall. Mrs.
Carney stated that when the Cheswold School operated dances, raffles
and box socials were events held to support school programs and as
get-togethers for the Moors.
The Rev. John VanTine serves as pastor for both the Methodist churches
in Cheswold, the Cheswold United Methodist Church functions for a
predominantly white congregation while the Immanuel Union United Methodist
Church serves the Moors of the Cheswold area in religious and social
capacities. Sunday services, as well as social events such as suppers,
raffles, and occasional talent nights featuring spiritual songs or
makeshift bands, bring a sizable group of Cheswold Moors together
frequently. Homecoming days, held about once a year at the church,
to honor some of the older Moor families with recognition during the
service and a supper, draw Moors from Cheswold and farther areas,
especially those closely related to the honored families.
The clannish nature of the Delaware Moors and the existence of their
own network of organizations and institutions have, in good part,
been created by the dynamics of prejudice and racial discrimination.
These elements which in some ways set the Moors apart, are not due
to significant cultural differences between the Moors and their mainstream
counterparts. As with other minorities, the Moors have often been
barred from the cliques, social clubs, and churches of white America.
Consequently, they have needed to construct to a certain extent their
own parallel social world.
There are now many interests served by the preservation of this separate
communal situation; it is doubtless that many of the Moors are psychologically
most comfortable in it, even though they desire that discrimination
in such areas as employment, education, and housing be eliminated.
This is slowly happening as the climate of the nation of the whole
end of the particular regions inhabited by the Moors become more tolerant
toward racial minorities. While the Moors have long been behaviorally
assimilated into mainstream American life, they are still in the process
of becoming structurally or institutionally assimilated. As long as
there are needs to be served by such strong family ties and parallel
social structures, the Moors of Delaware and southern New Jersey will
remain a viable and identifiable group.
1. Edward T. Price, "A Geographic Analysis of White-Indian-Negro Racial
Mixtures in the Eastern United States," Annals of the American
Association of Geographers, Vol. 43, No. 2, p. 136.
3. Two indexed publications particularly useful to Price were: U.
S. Census Bureau, Heads of Families at the First Census of the United
States Taken in the Year 1790, (Washington, 1907-1908); C.G. Woodson,
Free Negro Heads of Families in the United States in 1830, (Washington,
4. Untaped interview with Wilson Seville Davis, May 24, 1974. (Mr.
Davis, a Delaware Moor who grew up in Clayton, DE, is sexton of Christ
Episcopal Church, Greenville, DE. He is keenly interested in the origin
and history of the Delaware Moors, particularly as a result of his
conversion to the Mormon religion with its emphasis on genealogy).
5. The earliest study was made in 1898 when anthropologist William
Babcock from Washington, D. C. visited Indian River Hundred and published
an article in the 1899 issue of The American Anthropologist.
University of Pennsylvania ethnologist, Dr. Frank O. Speck, conducted
studies of the Nanticoke Indian and Moor descendants in lower Delaware
for twenty-five years, beginning in 1912. The Moors of Cheswold, DE.
remained uninvestigated until 1940 when C. A. Weslager began 8 series
of studies to trace their origins.
6. C. A. Weslager, in Delaware: A History of the First State,
edit. by H. Clay Reed, (New York, 1947), Vol. II, p. 610.
7. C. A. Weslager, Delaware's Forgotten Folk, (Phila., 1943),
pp. 25-39. Weslager states that the origin legends of the Moors were
related to him chiefly by members of the Harmon, Wright, Mosley, Ridgeway,
Kimmey and Norwood families.
8. See B. Fernow, (edit.), Documents Relating to the History of
the Dutch and Swedish Settlements on the Delaware, (1877).
9. C. H. B. Turner, (edit.), Some Records of Sussex County,
(Phila., 1909), p. 48.
10. C. A. Weslager, Delaware's Forgotten Folk, p. 28o
11. Donald VanLear Downs, The Moors of Delaware, (Downs Chapel,
DE., Aug. 10, 1060), pages unnumbered.
12. There are exceptions to this generalization. As mentioned previously,
some of the Moors are now related to Nanticoke Indian descendants.
Also, some Moors have left their communities, marrying whites, and
have been assimilated into white communities. Fewer Moors have married
blocks, as this is strongly discouraged.
13. The Cheswold Moor family names which Mrs. Carney listed include:
Carney, Carter, Coker, Davis, Dean, Drain, Durham, Greenage, Hughes,
Johnson, Morgan, Morris, Mosley, Pritchett, Reed, Sammons, Seeney,
14. C. A. Weslager, in Delaware: A History of the First State,
H. Clay Reed, edit., Vol II, p. 611.
16. Downs, The Moors of Delaware, pages unnumbered.
17. The week of May 22-May 29, 1974 was spent in Delaware; fieldwork
was interspersed with library research and consisted of:
May 28, 1974--Untaped interview with Mrs. Dorothy W. D. Carney and
her daughter, (Donna) Colette Carney, Dover, DE.
May 24, 1974--Untaped interview with Wilson Seville Davis, Greenville,
May 25, 1974--Visited Cheswold, DE. where attended Sunday morning
service at the
Immanuel Methodist Church; casual conversations held with the minister,
Rev. John W. Van Tine, and some members of the congregations; photographic
"notes" taken of the town of Cheswold and the surrounding area.
18. Neither Mrs. Carney nor Wilson Davis know why the "Big Thursday"
celebration was held on the second Thursday in August and they did
not feel that the Moors' "Big Thursday" celebrations which were held
at Slaughter Beach, DE when the summer crabbing and oystering bans
were lifted. (Note--this is exactly the sentence written. It is
Berry, Brewton, Almost White, New York: The MacMillan Co.,
Bush, W.G., "Big Thursday." Delaware Folklore Bulletin,
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Settlements to the Year 1907, Vol. 2. Wilmington, DE.: Published
by the author.
DeValinger, Leon, Jr., Reconstructed 1790 Census of Delaware,
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Mixed-Blood Groups in the Eastern United States" American Speech,
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in Milford, DE Herald, June 15, 1895), Dover, DE.: The Public
Archives Commission of Delaware, 1929.
Fitzgerald, Neil, "Delaware's Forgotten Minority: The Moors,"
Delaware Today Magazine, Vol. 10, No. 1, (Jan., 1972), pp.
Gilbert, William Harlen, Jr., "Memorandum Concerning the Characteristics
of the Larger Mixed-Blood Racial Islands of the Eastern United States,"
Social Forces, Vol. 24, (1946), pp. 438-447.
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in Minorities in a Changing World" (Milton L. Barron edit.),
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Dorothy W.D. Carney and her daughter, (Donna) Colette Carney, Dover,
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Wilson Seville Davis, Greenville, DE, May 24, 1974.