Racial islands

by Elizabeth Pollard


Those on the net interested in this subject might want to have a look at Brewton Berry's Almost White, MacMillan, 1963. It is out-of-print, but a good academic library might have it. Berry reviews the literature on a number of supposed "triracial (Indian-White-Black) isolates" in the eastern United States. Recent editions of George Peter Murdock's Ethnographic Bibliography of North America include a listing of references on such groups. There were several issues of the American Anthropologist in the 1970s devoted to studies of them.

What needs to be kept in mind when reading these books and articles is that the claim these groups had some degree of Black ancestry may be more apparent than real. I am reminded that Alfred L. Kroeber noted that many of the full-blooded Northern Arapaho he did fieldwork among in the early part of this century had skin pigmentation that was nearly black, yet the genealogies he collected failed to show any African-American ancestry. His explanation, and that of more recent researchers, is that this is the result of inbreeding. Geneticists on this net might be better able than I to explain this.

In nearly every case, it is assumed that genes from the African-American population entered the group before the nineteenth century. Some references on the absorption of runaway slaves by the Seminole and Miccosukee in Florida were given in a post on this list (not mine) some months ago. On the other hand, it is frequently reported that members of the so-called "triracial isolates" who marry or even regularly associate with Blacks become outcasts. To recognize them as members would be to admit the claim of many local Whites that the members of the group are really mulattos. Some of the groups Berry discusses (e.g., the Wesorts in Maryland) have apparently been absorbed into the Black population, while those who can "pass for white" no longer identify with the group (e.g., such people among the Melungeons in east Tennessee and southeastern Virginia). Others have since succeeded in gaining recognition (state and/or federal) as Native American tribes, or are still seeking it. Most have little or no recognizable Native American culture and speak no language other than English.

Elizabeth Pollard

Systems Librarian Internet:

University of Alabama in Huntsville Compuserve: 72457,1560

Huntsville, AL 35899 Phone: (205)895-6313








"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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