In the 17th century, the documented chief sachem between St. Jones and Duck Creek, Kent County, Delaware, was Christian, whose Indian name was Petticoquewan. He was sachem of a band called the Mitsawokett, likely the ancestors of the present-day mixed-blood, remnant Native American communities of Kent County, Delaware, and their relatives who are dispersed throughout the United States and Canada.
From 1994 to the end of 1998, a group of archaeologists excavated and researched a small house site (called Bloomsbury) in Duck Creek Hundred, Kent County, Delaware, that was occupied at the end of the eighteenth century. In the course of this research, it became necessary to understand the community context in which the site existed. The community study led to some conclusions, some of which are detailed in a report posted at Heite Consulting's web site and on this site.
Essentially, the group headed by Ned Heite, a historian and archaeologist working on the project for the Delaware Department Of Transportation, documented the continuous existence of a Native American remnant community throughout the past 300 years. The group believes that it has conclusively shown that the community defended its existence as a distinct lineage group, even when there were no "Indians" on the official record. Moreover, Heite and his co-workers show it is obvious that the families recognized their Indian origins, and that their non-Indian associates accepted this.
Because of the "invisible" nature of the population, it is Heite's conclusion that historians have mistakenly lumped them with "free blacks" during the antebellum period. This lumping occurred when the "free persons of color" column in the Federal decennial census was mistakenly interpreted as meaning "free black." The study shows conclusively that "free person of color" was not always Negro, and that "mulatto" cannot be taken to indicate African ancestry. As a result, they call into question virtually all the contemporary historical scholarship that is based upon antebellum census enumerations of "free persons of color" and references to "mulatto" individuals.
Ned Heite says,
There is, clearly, a need for in-depth revisionist histories of the Native American remnants. A few steps have been taken along this path by genealogists, by tribal organizations and by a few academic historians whose points of view are neither afro-centric nor eurocentric.
There is a large and growing body of literature on the isolate communities, written from both inside and outside.
Virginia Easley DeMarce published two articles on the "isolate" communities, both of which are extremely useful. Dr. DeMarce brings the professional historian's techniques to a genealogical problem. Essentially, she showed that the Melungeons and other groups with exotic origin legends were actually Indian remnants. The articles were published in 1992 and 1993 in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly:
'Very Slitly Mixt:" tri-racial isolate families of the Upper South - a genealogical study.' Vol, 80, No. 1 (March 1992), pp. 36-56.
'Looking at legends - Lumbee and Melungeon: Applied genealogy and the origins of tri-racial isolate settlements.' Vol. 81, No. 1 (March 1993), pp. 24-45.
There has been a burst of scholarship concerning isolate communities, but much of it must be taken with several very large pinches of salt. Brent Kennedy's book on his own people, the Melungeons, is an example. While Kennedy's research and activism are massive and admirable, the book contains some leaps of faith that are, in my opinion, unacceptable. Dr. DeMarce has pointed out that the most logical explanation for Melungeon origins is that they are an Indian remnant group who migrated from Central Virginia.
Communities went under a variety of names, of which Melungeon is one of the more common. In Delaware, the Indian community were called moors. I have heard that this kind of evasive nomenclature was adopted to avoid being called black, mulatto, Negro, or Indian, during the ante-bellum period. If they were identified as Negro or mulatto, they would be subject to discriminatory laws. People identified as "Indians not taxed" lost their civil rights and got shipped west.
There is good evidence that large numbers of Indians stayed behind during each "removal" episode. To this day, there are remnant communities in each of the steps along the westward migration from which Indian tribes were 'removed.'
The history of white/non-white relations in America has been less than admirable. But, "...the nature of history (is that)...we must look at the ugly along with the beautiful if we are to appreciate its wholeness, and eventually to forgive our forebears. That must not be taken as evidence that we share these old prejudices, or that we condone the behavior of our ancestors. But sweeping these behaviors under the rug will not change the past, and only understanding the past will allow us to remedy and avoid its mistakes." (Dr. Louise Heite)
"What are you?"
A correspondent wrote,
...I am one of these Delaware 'Moors'. ...as a growing adolescent, life posed many questions to my siblings and myself. Removed from Cheswold and living in south Jersey many of our friends would often ask "what are you?" and although often we would ask our parents and grandparents (living in Cheswold) we never got much more than "our people." Within the last four years I have lost my mother ...and my maternal grandparents, all of whom were dearer than life to me. I would very much appreciate anything you could forward me so that I may let my children know whom and what a wonderful lineage they came from.
Another, living in the deep South, says,
Folks ask me all the time, 'just what are you?'
And a third wrote,
I also remember being told as a child that the direct family...were mostly a mixture of Anglo/Indian and Spanish blood which didn't make it easier for my sister and I to answer the question "what are you?" that was so frequently asked by classmates in the 60's and 70's. It wasn't until the early 70's that the term "other" was provided on the national test papers we were given in elementary school. Before that you had to list yourself as white, black or asian, those were the only choices. In short, I've learned much about our roots through this group and would like to offer my assistance in anyway that I can to help uncover and document the truth of our family history for ourselves and for future generations.
I Never Knew
people never told me about my real ancestral home
Those that came before me sought to protect their own.
I never knew the old ones and who my ancestors were
I never knew what they sacrificed or what they had to endure.
I never knew about the family secret and why my mother cried
I never knew until all of the old folks had died.
I never knew until I found out for myself, without any shame
That what I am inside is to be loved and that no one is to blame.
I never knew who I truly was; hidden way down deep inside
I do know now that I must tell it to all with great pride.
I never knew that I, son of my mother, was of mixed race
Delaware Moor; the Yellow People; this is my true human face.
I never knew that I was white, black, and Indian
I never knew because others considered it to be an ultimate sin.
I never knew what my grandmother taught me came from Indian ways
But loving memories of the touch of grandmas hands stays and stays.
I doesnt matter that I never knew.
It only matters that now I do.
August 27, 2006