Indians, mullatoes, coloreds, Negroes, whites:

Thoughts of Historians & Other Interested Folks





From Ned Heite ( 25 Apr 1999:   

Flash of Realization -- Political Intrigue

Whenever a legislature passes a law, it reflects something that is happening in society. You can expect, for instance, a whole bunch of laws against students killing their classmates (reference Columbine High School shootings, 1999).

So. The Virginia legislature in 1705 passed a law that says the children of Indian-European marriages were mulattoes, but the children of these mulattoes and a white mate were to be identified as white.

Pocahontas was not the only Indian bride of an English colonist. This is a question about the hundreds, nay thousands, of individual male settlers who redeemed their time to pay for their passage and set out to make a place in the wilderness raising tobacco. Where did they get their wives?

It's a pretty good guess that more than a few of the wives were Indian women, whose names do not appear on the record.

So if grandma was an Indian, the grandchildren are legally white, provided there was only one Indian grandmother. Two Indian grandmothers and the children were legally mulattoes" until they found a white spouse, in which case their children would be white. The concept of whiteness neatly folded into the concept of having only one Indian ancestor, which many white families retain even today.

So why was the legislature so specific? Could it be that the law was written to codify a temporary situation (brown children) that would work itself out? By that time the Virginia colony was almost a century old, and there must have been a significant number of mixed race people, even in the legislature. Could it be that they were actually declaring themselves white? Many of the families in the legislature of that time had worked themselves up from pretty humble beginnings.

The same law decreed that all descendants of white/African unions would be "mulattoes" forever.

Ned Heite ( wrote on the Virginia history discussion list, 24 Feb1998:

Research Strategies

There is a fundamental difference between the research strategies employed by genealogists and those commonly employed by historians. Both groups could learn from the others. In my own research, I try to satisfy the requirements of genealogists, historians, and anthropologists, all at once. The results of merging all these research agendas can be envigorating, to say the least.

Genealogists traditionally draw their conclusions from a disciplined approach that must follow a certain course. When I was at the state archives I was often frustrated by people who came in, believing they could find their ancestors without step-by-step, item-by-item proofs and verifications, starting at  the present and working tediously backwards. Of all the historical sciences, genealogy is sometimes the most rigorous when it comes to proof.

Among historians, there is the top-down approach, in which one looks at the aggregated record, draws conclusions, and moves on. This approach produces quick and generalized results, but too frequently inspires inaccurate conclusions.

A prudent research strategy recognizes the pitfalls of top-down research.  In the current atmosphere of cultural resource contracting, it is difficult to adopt the detailed, bottom-up, approach, which is not commonly taught in universities. The bottom-up method helps one avoid falling into some pretty terrible traps.

(Paul) Heinegg ( ) chooses to view data through a filter of very old labels that were attached haphazardly. These labels are meaningless, unless you have done enough research into each case, to determine exactly what those terms meant at the time and in the context of their original application.

Because labels were sloppily applied centuries ago, modern researchers must go back and examine the life history of each individual, assembling a picture of the community from the bottom up, rather than from the top down.

The historical profession, and the "new" archaeologists, in pursuit of the big picture,  have frequently fallen into the fallacy of lumping from the top down, which encourages facile conclusions. Some recent trained scholars, who supposedly knew better, have perpetuated fallacies because they chose to accept superficial data without understanding underlying genealogical data.

From Anne Pemberton (   

Research Strategies (continued)

On 23 Feb 1998, Mark Bunster wrote:
>>As an aside, this apparently will change for the 2000 US Census.  The race item will become a "multiple response" question, allowing people to check as many different categories as they feel applies to them. This method was approved over including a "multiracial" catch-all category, which, it was felt by some, would reduce the political power of the individual groups.  The numbers won't add up to 100% anymore, but at least folks won't be forced to choose one race or another. Tiger Woods rejoice!<<

I too will rejoice for similar reasons. But it will not change the preference of my neighbor who asked me to write down her answers on the long form last time around, who wanted me to check Other, and write in American since she maintained she'd never been to Africa and didn't feel African anyway.... Anne  Pemberton

From Dan Mouer (    

 Research Strategies (continued)

"The uncritical use of social categories from the past as unproblematically translatable to the present is just mediocre scholarship at best."

Ned Heite wrote: "The historical profession, and the "new" archaeologists, in pursuit of the  big picture,  have frequently fallen into the fallacy of lumping from the  top down, which encourages facile conclusions. Some recent trained  scholars, who supposedly knew better, have perpetuated fallacies because they chose to accept superficial data without understanding underlying genealogical data."

Ned, I have also noted that archaeologists and genealogists share much in common because of their intense focus on a single family or a single piece of ground over a long period of time. Of course the heydey of the "New" Archaeology was about 1977, don't you think? While there's still plenty of them out there, many more, like you, tend to seek theory which, in Geertz's words, "hovers just above the data." I think you'll find, too, that there has been an equally strong trend in historical writing. Not everyone does "top down" work, as you imply. There has been a considerable amount of influence from "micro-history" and "historical ethnogaphy," etc., since the big peak of macro-scale social history in the '70s and '80s.

Now, as far as your assertion, "scholars, who supposedly knew better, have perpetuated fallacies because they chose to accept superficial data without understanding underlying genealogical data...."  I doubt that has anything to do with the scale ("top-down," "micro," etc.), but with a scholar's ability, pure and simple. The uncritical use of social categories from the past as unproblematically translatable to the present is just mediocre scholarship at best.

From William A. Russell (  22 Feb 1998,  responding to Ned Heite (, whose comments are marked by carats)

Research Strategies (continued)

This discussion - ongoing now for a year - intrigues me for reasons that I cannot explain. Having early disagreed with Paul Heinegg about some of his conclusions, I have seen a veritable avalanche of primary source citations from him which proved both his thoroughness and the incorrectness of my original position. The responses to his continuing documentation do more to illustrate the emotional attachment that can be invested in a position than they do to discredit his findings.

I really shouldn't comment on this posting, but I feel compelled (an irresistible impulse to commit an irrational act) to do so and will try to do it gently.

(Ned Heite quotes marked by >> <<)

>>Thanks to Mr. Heinegg for sharing some well-known documentary sources, that demonstrate my contention regarding communities who have maintained their Indian identity and their Indian lineage for three centuries on the Eastern Shore.<<

Well, so far, sort of so good. They do somewhat support Mr. Heite's position in the limited area of some peoples maintaining some identity, but not to the detriment of Paul Heinegg's.

>>People named Driggus, Johnson, and Sisco today are self-identified as members of the African-American community. I am acquainted with them. However, one cannot ignore the fact that other descendants of these same progenitors are now, and are descended from, people of mostly Indian ancestry.<<

Well, I suppose one could ignore it just as one could ignore the plain language and meaning of later cited primary source documents, but in neither case would it be relevant to the point. Along some branches of the family tree they could be descended from persons of primarily Polish or Tibetan ancestry. Obviously, all people, even close cousins, do not share all of the same ancestry. Just as obviously, cousins do share "some" of the same ancestry.

>>Heinegg's first fallacy is his acceptance of the term "negro" or "mulatto" in early records as indicating African ancestry, which simply is not the case. These terms were used  indiscriminately  until the present century, to describe "colored" people of all origins.<<

By the scribes cited, in the times cited, in the places cited, those terms meant basically what they were meant to convey - persons of African heritage or of mixed heritage. I believe that Paul Heinegg has supplied overwhelming evidence as to the meaning, usage, and frequency of the terms. I have yet to see any such overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

>>Looking beyond the superficial labels that Mr. Heinegg cites, there is a much more  complicated racial picture. The true racial picture can be unravelled person-by-person, and lineage-by-lineage, but the superficial labels are meaningless.<<

I don't accept that anything to do with the "labels" is superficial, particularly when they are labels used by persons to describe themselves.  It could be that these people had enough strength of self to be proud of their heritage.

>>In-depth examination, based on a biographical and genealogical analysis, reveals a class of people who spurned both white and black contacts, who were treated at law very differently from blacks, and who frequently intermarried with white women during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.<<

Ah, they spurned white and black contacts and intermarried with them. To both spurn and intermarry is an interesting trick unless one is a Shaker. But then, of course, they would have left no descendants. Maybe they spurned AFTER intermarriage, something I recall as being fairly common. The problem with this comment about an "in-depth examination" is that it  is Paul Heinegg who has offered the "in-depth" citations of sources, not those attacking his work.

>>The very records that Heinegg cites are among the body of information that demonstrates the separateness of the Indian survivors. My associates and I have come to a different conclusion because we have approached the records with open minds.<<

Extraordinarily open minds if I do say so. It is a useful practice to remember that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

>>It is ideed tragic that Mr. Heinegg has accumulated and published so much useful information, but has squandered his research in pursuit of an agenda.<<

I am old enough not to be amazed at how frequently it occurs that when a person supplies voluminous material supporting our position, he or she has engaged in great scholarship, but when it runs the other way, they are pursuing an "agenda".


Betty Terry comments, quoting William A. Russell, above, "I don't accept that anything to do with the "labels" is superficial, particularly when they are labels used by persons to describe themselves.  It could be that these people had enough strength of self to be proud of their heritage."

My grandfather did not describe himself as "Neg" in the 1930 census, Kent County, Delaware. The enumerator did that. In the same census, if the enumerator listed a person as Indian, the listing was changed at the office to "Neg". Other similar examples have been discovered during the course of our research. The plain fact is that in all likelihood illiterate people did not describe themselves as to color or race -- it was done for them. And that is why it is not correct to assign a place of origin as Africa solely on the basis of skin color. Genealogy is about families and their origins. Paul Heinegg sins by calling many of my ancestors "Free African Americans" though no one knows whether the color originated in Africa, the Mediteranean, the native Indian poplulation of the East Coast or some permutation of these three, perhaps mixed with white.


From Ned Heite ( 11 Jan 2001:  

Ethnic Identity Movements

A useful feature of Professor Brown's paper ( is his classification of Native American ethnic identity movements in the east.  There's no law that says we must agree or disagree with all of everything a person writes....

I have trouble with Brown's bold assertion that there is no documentable connection between the modern Piscataway and historic Indians, but that is the subject of his research and not mine.

In Delaware, the two communities have clear and documented descent from people who were identified by their contemporaries as Indians. In both communities, we can find hard evidence that individuals asserted their Indian ancestry during the nineteenth century. In both Delaware communities, we have reliable observers from outside the communities who consistently identified them as Indians during the nineteenth century.

So clearly the two Delaware Indian communities were not "invented" by any recent "identity" movement of the late twentieth century.

From Ned Heite ( 12 Jan 2001:  

Indian Lineages

For those who asked, the two Indian communities in Delaware are the Cheswold and Oak Orchard clusters of interrelated families. Thanks mostly to members of this list, both communities can be shown to descend from the same small group of individuals. Among this small group of individuals were people who can be positively identified as Indians.

When I say "positively identified as Indians," I mean that there are eighteenth-century documents in which these individuals clearly were called Indians by people who saw them face to face.

There were other individuals in this group who were not identified as Indians, but appear from association to have been Indians.

Some of the individuals may in fact have been white or mixed blood. They appear without racial designation, so I don't know for certain who they were. ...evidence has been put forward to identify some of the founding population as African.

In the presence of mixed evidence, what matters is tradition. In both Cheswold and Indian River, we have reliable documentation that the Indian River families asserted Nanticoke heritage during the nineteenth century, and the people at Cheswold claimed Lenape heritage at the same time.

Claimed lineage is much more important than the fine details of genealogy. Go to any Scottish Games and ask those guys in plaid skirts if they really are all Scot. I can say that, because I'm a professed dutchman with ancestors named Graham and Wallace.

The preponderance of evidence points to primarily Indian heritage for the two closely related communities.  They are, in fact, an extended family, even though the two core communities justifiably claim origins in different pre-contact affinities.

I know nothing about Piscataway lineages, and I don't care to get involved. Turkey Tayac was a friend of mine. I never asked for his ID, but as Professor Brown intimates, he had many anthropologist friends.

From Brian Alnutt ( 15 Jan 2001

The Mulatto/Indian/Moor Race Question

...As a PhD candidate in US history, thought I'd try to address the questions a lot of folks have just raised about the whole "moor" and mulatto issue.

You've just come face to face with the arbitraryness of race distinctions in the US!  Now, it's correct that the term mulatto, which originated in the Spanish colonies, usually described a person of mixed African & white ancestry. But, from the colonial era forward, many east coast Native Americans, especially those who became detached from larger tribal units, were as apt to be described as "mulattoes" or even "negroes" in gov't and press documents as "Indians." Why? Most historians attribute this to a mixture of carelessness and the fact that many such Indians were doing the same sort of lower-level agricultural work as Africans. A fair number were even held as bound servants.

Essentially the colonies were developing a "binary" racial hierarchy by the mid 1700's with places for whites and blacks but not for Native people, and the naming reflects this. It's also quite true that many east coast Indians, from New England to the far South, intermarried with Africans and whites also; but the communities remained essentially Native at the core.

By the 19th century, the practice of referring to eastern Indians as negroes or mulattoes on census documents was pretty common; for example the whole Narragansett tribe of Rhode Island was so listed. But as some of you have noticed, racial designations on census forms are always imprecise; in some cases the same individual can be found listed as "mulatto" in one census, "Indian" a decade later; and in one case I've heard of, "white" a decade later!

To make matters more interesting, eastern Indians displayed a lot of flexibility in how they interacted. Some individuals worked within the greater "colored" population (that is, the combined African, Indian, and mixed population), like John Durham, who became a prominent figure among Philadelphia's "colored" leaders during the late 19th century, or numerous Iroquois who served in "colored" units of the Union army during the Civil War.

Others stayed more separate from blacks. The tough thing to come to grips with is that there's lots of racial mixture in the US population. Many eastern Indians are part black and white, many "African-Americans" are really part Indian and/or white, and many more "whites" than you might imagine are part Indian and/or African. Despite this, the Indian communities from Maine to Florida have remained essentially Native American in origin and character to this date.

Now, on the issue of the name "Moor", this is just a folk name which was given for unknown reason to the 2 Indian communities in Delaware long ago. Other Indian groups along the east coast have also been given such folk names by outsiders, such as the "Brass Ankles" of South Carolina.

From: Betty and Ray Terry ( 15 Jan 2001   

The Mulatto/Indian/Moor Race Question (continued)

John Sanders, quoted in the Philadelphia Times, 1892:

"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...."

If 'Moor' was being speculated upon 110 years ago, how will we ever know at this late date?


From Ned Heite ( 15 Jan 2001   

The Mulatto/Indian/Moor Race Question (continued)

The origins of the Moor designation is unfortunately lost in the mists of time. I believe Betty Terry has searched most of the possible sources. I'll try to recount the parts of the stories that I know. The term was used in both Kent and Sussex counties during the nineteenth century. There is a family named Moor, no "e," in northern Kent County. Their family burial ground is near Cowgill's Corner. They have no tradition of nonwhite ancestry that I have ever heard of. A member of that family kept store at the place now known as Cheswold, which was called Moorton, or Moortown (I've seen it both ways) after him. So the name Moor was attached to the place through this man. To further confuse the story, a lady of the Moor family is said to be the ancestor of the Seeney family who live in the area today. The story of Moorish ancestry is recounted in the 1888 Scharf history of Delaware. According to Scharf, the beginnings of the community could be traced to the early eighteenth century. The Scharf version states that the families are original moors, whatever that might mean.








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