Black Indians

African American Ancestors Among the Five Civilized Tribes

by Pitter Seabaugh

Although most of the two million claiming Native American ancestry in the United States are of racially mixed backgrounds, many are still amazed to find that many African Americans are of Indian heritage.

Indian people mixed with European or Asian blood usually have very little problem being accepted by the Native community.

African Americans, however, find it much more difficult to find that same acceptance, even though many of there descendants fought the white man alongside the Natives.History tells us that many of these African American ancestors walked the "Trail of Tears" alongside our own ancestors.Still they are often unaccepted.

This is greatly due to the general American prejudice against dark skin people that even seeps down into the very people such racism historically oppressed and disenfranchised.

It hasn't helped that the Buffalo Soldiers, black horse troopers, were used against Native people as a continuing divide and conquer device that began centuries before.Another thing to consider is that many people do not realize that for generations whites, blacks and native people not only lived together as slaves and slave owners, they had intermarried, especially in the mid 1800's.

In the Southeast many of the run away slaves were taken in by the Seminoles.They were tribal people fighting oppression and they were treated as such.

After being brought to America as slaves, thousands of Africans fled to the swamps and marshes of Florida.There they formed an alliance with another group of settlers, refugees from the Creek and other nations who called themselves Seminoles, meaning runaway, and a new race emerged:The Black Seminoles.

As early as the 1700's, there were over 100,000 black Indians.The Black Seminole Indian Scouts proved to be some of the most skilled fighters and trackers of the post -- Civil War era.

No amount of gallantry, however, won them the land promised under the treaties signed by both General Zachary Taylor and President James Polk.In addition, an ungrateful army later cut their rations.Bitterly disillusioned, many of the scouts left for Mexico, never to return.Today the remaining members of the Black Seminole nation live primarily along the Rio Grande.

The history of the Southeast is where most inter-mixing of the blacks and natives took place, but it also took place in other places such as with the Wampoanog in the Northeast and the West.Here a Mountain Man named James Beckwourth, a mulatto who became know as "Bloody Arm", was a well respected warrior who, as legend has it, married into the Crow Nation.

Slavery did not consist of only white people owning black people.Actually there were many blacks who were free and many natives that were slaves and many Indians who owned black slaves.During the Revolutionary War many native prisoners were taken for the use of being sold as slaves.

There have been thousands and thousands of intermarriages between blacks and Indians -- with whole Indian tribes disappearing into the black community, often enslaved in the process.Blacks have similarly been absorbed by Indian tribes.This was largely do to the fact that until 1909 it was against the law to live in the Southeast and be Native American.It was better to be passed off as black and in slavery than to be removed to Indian Territory.

As a result, there are many people of African descent, who, despite their outward appearances, identify as strongly with their Native heritage as any other.

In 1879, black Cherokees petitioned for full citizenship in the Cherokee Nation, declaring, "It is our country.There we were born and reared.There are our homes.There are our wives and children, whom we love as dearly as though we were born with red, instead of black skins."Citizenship was granted. 

To:Cherokee Trails
Subject: Black Indians

Hello, and thank you.I am a Black Indian and have always, always identified with my Native American heritage.I am not an enrolled Indian but my heart is Indian.Thank you for remembering us in your site.

It is rare and very precious to the many of us who are scattered across the country unclaimed because we don't have documentation.My ancestors were Choctaw and Cherokee from Oklahoma. 

Your site has warmed my heart and I thank The Great Mystery for your truthfulness posted for all the world to see.If you have any further information that you would be so kind as to send me, please e-mail me.

Thank you and bless you.

 For more information about the Afro-Indigenous Metisgo to :

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"So you were told you were Black Dutch or Black Irish"

by Pitter Seabaugh

I got a call last week from my cousin Mike Ladd. We are both researching the name Ladd. He asked me if I had ever heard that the Ladds were of Black Dutch ancestry. I told him no but that I had heard they were Black Irish. I got to thinking about it and thought it might be of interest as to how the terms were borrowed, by Native Americans, to avoid persecution.

The following is a quotation displayed on the Museum wall of "The Oakville Mounds Park & Museum" in Moulton, Alabama. Before the Indian Removal Act in 1830, many of Lawrence County's Cherokee people were already mixed with white settlers and stayed in the country of the Warrior Mountains. They denied their ancestry and basically lived much of their lives in fear of being sent West. Full bloods claimed to be Black Irish or Black Dutch, thus denying their rightful Indian blood. After being fully assimilated into the general population years later, these Irish Cherokee mixed blood descendants, began reclaiming their Indian heritage in the land of the Warrior Mountains, Lawrence County, Alabama. During the 1900 U.S. Census only 78 people claimed their Indian heritage. In 1990, more than 2000 individuals claimed Indian descent. Today more than 4000 citizens are proud to claim their Indian heritage and are members of the Echota Cherokee's tribe.

According to Jane Week, Executive Director of the Alabama Indian Affairs, for hundreds of years the Indian community has interacted with the European
communities, who had come to this new and wonderful country. Through intermarriage many of our people are not likely to look Indian. Their blood quantum has diminished, but it does not diminish their ethnic pride or rights.

It was reported in The Chronological History of the Lumbee, 1865-1885, that times were hard for the Lumbee whose main source of income was in the turpentine industry. Cut out of work and with families to feed, many found it necessary to leave the area within the next ten years to seek work in the turpentine industry in other states. Some families found success. Their stories were reported back to members of their Robeson County relatives. Others learn that their absent relatives have been subjected to horrible mistreatment in other states, even some murdered. Many return, but those who remain in other states have had to pass for white to protect their families. They came home only for infrequent visits with parents and siblings. As the years went by, some did not allow their descendants to have any information about their American Indian bloodlines. They passed the family off as Black Dutch, Black Irish, Portuguese, French, Spanish, Italian or anything that the family elders felt could not and would not be checked out by the white people in their new community."

In my research of trying to find out just what a Black Dutch or Black Irish was, I found that some have associated them with the Melungeon. The Melungeons live mostly in the Appalachian Mountains. They are people whose ancestry has been shrouded in mystery. They are most likely the descendants of the late 16th century Turks and Portuguese stranded on the Carolina shores. Sir Francis Drake liberated some 200 young Turks on the North Carolina coast. They later intermarried with Powhatan, Pamunkey, Chickahominy, and Catawba Indians. These two groups combined later, settled in the Appalachians, and with further intermarriages with the Cherokees. The word Melungeon is both Portuguese and Turkish, and meaning "cursed soul." Today, Melungeon descendants can be found among all racial and ethnic groups. Like the Cherokee, these people were not out to advertise the fact that they were Melungeon, rather they were trying their best to hide it. There are also many Melungeon roots in southeastern Kentucky families.

Melungeon families had to hide their heritage. "Free Persons of Color" laws, were used to take their land and bar them from courts and schools. There are family stories of being Black Dutch, and being Cherokee. Many of these families just seem to show up with no past.

The Cherokee was type cast early in the white history of this country. We were light skinned, and they just assumed we were mixed with the whites. The Cherokee actually had complexions that ranged in a variety of skin colors. These ranged from very light to very dark. They assumed that the darker ones were part black. They drove many of our people off their lands because of the darker skin. Many would not leave. They hid out in the woods and in the mountains. Many were forced to live as "white" citizens just for survival. Most lost their Cherokee heritage. Very few were able to hang onto them. Until 1909 they could not vote or hold office. They drove away or forced many onto Indian territory. This forced our people into hiding, and making it better to be "Black Dutch, Black Irish" or anything that was dark, than to be an American Indian.

From:Ron and Diana
To:Cherokee Trails
Subject:Black Irish

I am researching Black Irish as that is what I have been told I am all my life. In fact it has been stressed as very important to my heritage, but I never really knew what it was. I assumed it was a form of Irish and simply became curious enough to look into it. Boy was I surprised, especially since I have heard nothing but Cherokee heritage from my husbands family. We have pictures of great, great grandmother that looks very Indian but no one would ever mention this, or explain it. The site is very interesting to me.

Thank you,


Joan - Red Dawn

Subj:It's Me! 
Date:1/15/01 11:26:10 PM Mountain Standard Time 
To:    Shoshanna and Wolf Lodge

Hi Shoshanna,

I just wanted to give you & Wolf a little background on the relationship between African Americans and the Native American community from my experience.

I have Native American ancestry on both my mother & father's side, and when I experienced my first Pow Wow 20 years ago with my Youraba House (we rented a bus and went out to the Shinacoc Reservation), I felt that I had come home.  After that my children & I attended at least 3 a year in NY, NJ & PA.  My daughter, Ayo & I learned the dances and I even made outfits.

At a gathering in Queens, NY, Ayo entered the Fancy Dance contest.  She did real well. One girl lost a piece of her outfit and was disqualified. Later on they handed out the prizes.  The girl that was disqualified changed her clothes & hair and received 3rd place.  Ayo was devastated.  She didn't mind losing so much, but they cheated.  A month later we were at one in Philly, and we were dancing (she wasn't a contestant) in the circle when the same girl told the officials that she didn't have papers, and they stopped her from dancing. She became very shy of Pow Wow's after that.

Several years later, she taught a friend who was active in the Native community in Brooklyn, how to dance.  She entered one of the contest.  Before giving out the prizes they stated that there were no ties.  Her friend, Kikanchuwa, received third prize.  At the conclusion of the awards they stated that in the fancy dance there was a tie for 3rd place.  Ayo's friend had to dance with 1 other girl.  Everyone watched.  Then they awarded the prize to the other girl.  Her friend was devastated & embarrassed.  I walked out in the circle and embraced her.  Everyone there booed the action of the judges.  A drummer passed us later and told us to keep dancing. Ki is very dark brown skinned and has Native ancestry.

We have been told of other stories where dark skinned dancers were not given recognition after dancing for many years.  When we attend and dance we are not spoken too.  They try to ignore us but, the ones that look white are embraced and excepted. So, if it seems like we don't want to be involved, it's not our fault.  We don't feel accepted.  

The majority of Black Americans of slavery ancestry have some Native in them and it's hard when you have to dance alone or hesitate when you are among , what we feel, are our people.  I listen to Native music all of the time.  Ayo's main spiritual guide is a young Native boy, (we both have a few with us)  She passes him every time she attends a Pow Wow and dances.  I sometimes have to bring her back when she gets out of the circle.  She has been given gifts from merchants after watching her dance.  They say that she holds the spirit.  Don't get me wrong, we have had some positive experiences  that's why we continue to be involved.

Well, I hope this gives you an idea of what we have to deal with.  We (Black Americans) have been put down for generations by everyone and have learned to keep to ourselves and not push ourselves on anyone.
So, yes I know several people who would be interested in a dialogue and/or involvement. I wish I had a scanner so that I could show you pictures of me and Ayo, White Feather. Talk soon,

Blessings & love,
Joan - Red Dawn

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