Before We Were White: Naming Names, Part 1
This is as good a day as any to re-iterate and to clarify the aim of this page/podcast.
There are many excellent Facebook groups and online resources dealing with the history and genealogy of various communities who are now commonly referred-to as “people of color” – whether of indigenous, African, or other ancestry, free and unfree.
Most of the members of these groups would consider themselves, their family, and much of their community as having been “people of color” throughout their time as participants in American history, right up to the present day.
Not everyone uses the term “person of color”. Some use a more specific ethnic self-descriptor like Choctaw or Gullah. Most still use the old social divisions of “Black”, “Indian”, and “Asian”. Still others prefer to describe themselves as “multi-racial”.
What all of the foregoing have in common, is a broad agreement that they are in some respect not part of the social category called “White”.
As someone who has lived mostly outside the “Indian”, “Black”, or “Asian” experience, it is not this writer’s place to comment on the choice of self-identity made by people whose shoes I have never walked in.
People will self-identify as whatever group they feel a part of.
This writer was born and reared among the community most usually called “White Evangelicals” by sociologists and commentators in the mainstream media.
All of these people tend to agree on the origins of these “White Evangelicals”.
This is because almost every Wikipedia page, and almost every mainstream American history source, offers the same background sketch for these people.
“The American frontier was settled by people of English, Scottish, Welsh, German, and Scandinavian ancestry, but most of all, it was settled by the Scots-Irish.”
And that’s that. Colonisers, pioneers and settlers in North America were all northern and central European Christian “white folks”.
“Indians” were just an obstacle to “white” advancement, and any people of color were slaves.
Simple, right? “Indians”, “Blacks”, and “Whites”.
Except that this entire story is a fabricated nonsense, with no basis in the actual historical record.
How does a start-up podcast created by some random person with a website and a Facebook page earn the right to be so dismissive of accepted history and received wisdom?
By going to the primary and secondary documentary sources, and reading. And then reading some more.
Reading until their very social life is in danger of becoming like their obsession – history.
This website, this social media group, and this podcast, are about the multi-ethnic roots of those Americans – usually part of the underclasses and working classes – who are descended in varying degrees from “people of color”, but are now usually seen, categorised, or self-identifying as “White”.
Why on earth should this matter?
The 2016 USA presidential election has stoked old embers, and “whiteness” has become part of the public agenda in a way not seen for decades.
Those who believe in “whiteness” or indeed, “white supremacy”, are feeling emboldened, and they are back on the march.
Until this concept of American “whiteness” is seen as absurd, and demonstrated to be utterly ludicrous, there will be room for social divisions based on a ridiculous public belief in “race categories”.
Two people greatly admired by this writer died during the past couple of years – Brent Kennedy and James Nickens.
Both were deeply involved in challenging “received wisdom” about the nature of early American ethnicity.
James Nickens focussed primarily on the Virginia Indians, and the outrageous “scrubbing” of their continuing legacy from American history.
For his part, Brent Kennedy once published a list of surnames, intended to act as a research guide for “not-quite-white Appalachians” trying to understand their multi-ethnic roots. Brent was largely responsible for bringing the so-called Melungeon people of southern Appalachia to wider attention.
Now that the two lights of Brent and James have been extinguished, it falls to all of us to carry the fire.
I am not qualified to continue the work of James Nickens, but do feel able to add to the work begun by Brent Kennedy.
Following over 15 years of research, I have compiled a database of over 250,000 Americans with roots in pre-1800s North America.
It is this database which informs and underpins much of the material found in my blogs and podcast episodes.
Starting today, with this post, I will begin to share my own list of surnames drawn from this database – surnames clearly associated with the multi-ethnic history of frontier America.
What sets these lists apart from the names found among other multi-ethnic communities, is that every surname on these lists represents a family now usually seen as “white”, even while having multiple ancestors who were clearly DOCUMENTED in some way as having been perceived as “non-white”.
These lists will eventually be greatly expanded, as we add appendix lists based upon the maiden names of spouses, partners, concubines, and consorts in households once explicitly enumerated as “black”, “mulatto”, “free person of color”, “Indian”, or “all other free”.
Today’s list includes surnames beginning with the letters “A” and “B“.
Anyone with information which would add to this list is welcome to comment and share.
Abernathy (also Abernethy; Scottish)
Adkins (also Atkins)
Aiken (also Aken, Akins, et al)
Aldridge (sometimes interchangeable with “Eldridge” or “Aldrich”)
Amyx (unclear whether French Occitan patrynomic of “Amic”, or German patrynomic of “Amick” – possibly both if of Alsatian provenance)
Anderson (also “Annison”; often interchangeable with “Henderson”)
Archer (also Archerd)
Armentrout (likely from from German “Ermentraudt”)
Asbury (often “Asberry” in Appalachia)
Austin (rendered sometimes “Alston”)
Auxier (often rendered “Oxshire” or “Oxsheer”)
Ayres (also Ayers)
Bare (usually from German “Baer” or “Behr”)
Bass (sometimes rendered “Bays”)
Bean (sometimes a foreshortened form of “MacBean”)
Beatty (sometimes rendered as “Baty” or “Beatie”)
Bench (sometimes given as “Benge”)
Benge (sometimes given as “Bench”, and sometimes misrendered as “Bunch”)
Biggerstaff (also “Bickerstaff”)
Bilbrey (sometimes “Bilbury” or “Bilberry”)
Blevins (possibly Anglicised patrynomic of Welsh “ap Blethyn”)
Blissard (also “Blizzard”)
Bolling (also Boldin, Baldwin, Bowlin, Bowlen, Bowling, Bouldin, Bolin, Bolen – could “Bowline” be original source of this name?)
Bolton (possible original name source of many “Boldin” and “Bolen” families)
Bone (possibly from German “Bohn”)
Bouldin (also Boldin, Baldwin, Bowlin, Bowlen, Bowling, Bolling, Bolin, Bolen, perhaps “Bolton”)
Bourne (see also “Burn”, “Burns”, et al)
Bowers (sometimes Anglicised patrynomic of German “Bauer”)
Bowles (also “Boles”)
Bowman (sometimes from German “Baumann”)
Branham (also rendered as “Branum”, “Brannum”)
Brashear (from French “Brassieur”, and in rare cases a corruption of “Bradshire”)
Brewer (often an Anglicised translation of German “Brauer”)
Brown (often from German “Braun”)
Burch (also “Birch”)
Byrd (sometimes “Bird” in Appalachia)
#BeforeWeWereWhite #history #genealogy #names #EthnicHistory
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