There are innumerable multi-ethnic communities and population groups in the USA, many with their deepest roots pre-dating the Plymouth and Jamestown colonies.
Southern Appalachia had its own particular set of circumstances leading to the formation of multi-ethnic communities there. Origin stories for these groups have been put forth over many decades, and each story was based in specific beliefs, biases, needs, and assumptions – often with little real evidence.
Almost every explanation offered thus far suffers from over-simplification.
The most common of these over-simplified stories refers to Old Mix Appalachians as “tri-racial isolates”.
This belief in black, white, and red “races” is a direct result of America’s history of chattel slavery, in which all people were required to slot into a “privileged” or “unprivileged” group.
But the rural, unenslaved poor who gathered in the Carolina backcountry and Piedmont just before and after the American Revolution were not all “white”, at least not in the racist sense of that word.
That is to say, the underclasses of the Appalachian frontier were not all of Central and Northern European origin. And even when they were of European origin, they were often drawn from “non-white” sections of the European population (Jewish and Romani peoples, for example).
As for non-Europeans entering North America, well, that is a complex and untold story.
Most might be forgiven for not realising that the navies and merchant shipping capabilities of Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands, and the Ottoman Empire (including North African client states) far outstripped those of Britain until well into the 1800s.
In other words, every ship in every port in the Americas was likely to include people and crew from places as far-flung as Indonesia, Madagascar, India, or South America.
Consider this extract from “The Negro Law of South Carolina, 1740”
SEC. 4. The term negro is confined to slave Africans, (the ancient Berbers) and their descendants. It does not embrace the free inhabitants of Africa, such as the Egyptians, Moors, or the negro Asiatics, such as the Lascars.
Setting aside the august legislators’ lack of geographical knowledge (in that the Berbers and Moors were often one and the same people), notice the explicit reference to “Lascars“?
Who were these people requiring explicit mention in colonial era legislation?
EVEN THE BRITISH NAVY RELIED GREATLY UPON SAILORS FROM THE FOUR CORNERS OF THE WORLD.
It has been estimated that up to 80% of regular crewmen on British naval vessels during the 1700s WERE NOT EVEN FROM THE BRITISH ISLES. Which brings us to these “Lascars” – sailors and crew from India.
Did badly treated crew members regularly “jump ship” in ports, looking for a better life?
Did British colonial authorities facilitate immigration of South Asian Indians to its North American colonies?
Yes, and yes.
Major English ports such as Liverpool even had entire waterfront districts populated by workers and former sailors from India.
Do people ever mention these people from India when discussing the ethnogenesis of Southern Appalachia?
And yet they WERE there, families such as the Williams and Weavers. We find women in Appalachia bearing names such as “Gantanaga” and “Aruna” among communities more traditionally identifying as part Native American.
But enough of all this, at least for now.
Please enjoy this map I have produced after many years of research, a map showing those counties of Southern Appalachia with substantial populations of people sharing “non-white” ancestry, based on documentary, DNA, and photographic evidence collected from over 220,000 people, and counting.
This map is not about “tri-racial” ancestry. This map is about ancestry from virtually everywhere.
US demographers, sociologists, economists, historians, and anthropologists have spent the better part of a century and a half “squinting at the natives” of Appalachia, never appreciating Appalachia’s profound complexity. Again, this is largely due to America’s constant need to view everything through the binary spectacle lenses of “race”.
“Before We Were White” hopes to contribute in some way to a revision and correction of “The Story of America”.
If you enjoy or share this map, please give our website, social media, and podcast a mention!
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