The German word for “German” is “Deutsch”, and in America, “Deutsch” got misconstrued as “Dutch”. The so-called “Pennsylvania Dutch” or Amish and Mennonite communities are not Dutch – they are German.
In the late 1600s and early 1700s – during the Nine Years War [1688-1697] and the Wars of the Spanish Succession [1701-1715] – tens of thousands of German peasants became refugees, displaced by war and famine.
Many travelled up the Rhine as far as the major port city of Rotterdam in order to flee via boat to the UK or America.
German Sinti (German Romani, or “Gypsies”) were being viciously persecuted in the contested lands of Alsace-Lorraine and the Rhineland-Palatinate between Eastern France and Western Germany at this time.
Many of these Gypsies fled along with Palatine Germans to Rotterdam, where they spread outwards to other coastal towns and ports of the Baltic and North Seas, seeking and negotiating terms for a passage abroad.
Some signed formal indentureship agreements before sailing, but more were simply transported abroad to be auctioned as servants upon arrival, after which they were expected to complete a five to seven year term of work – in often harsh conditions – all to “pay” for their passage.
Palatine or Sinti, these were the people known as “Redemptioners” in colonial American history.
The most desperate and impoverished were often simply plied with alcohol before being kidnapped by ruthless merchants working in tandem with unscrupulous ship’s captains.
Columns of newspapers were filled with ads placed by masters looking for runaway servants.
By 1763 there were enough Sinti living just outside Philadelphia that they were able to form themselves into a small community, living outdoors among the white oaks lining Conestoga and Mill Creek.
There can be no doubt that many of these people followed the same path south into the Shenandoah Valley as other Germans, along with displaced indigenous peoples, English, Welsh, and Ulster people.
There can also be little doubt that many of the aforementioned runaways – the poorest members of the underclasses – took indigenous or mixed-ethnic partners as they moved along and beyond the frontier of European settlement.
While the German-speaking populations of Switzerland, Austria, and Germany have always had a small percentage of relatively dark-complected people (just like most European populations), the sheer number of such people among 18th century German speakers in America strongly suggests the likelihood of other influences on their appearance – Jewish, Sinti, indigenous American, or African-American, among many others.
These are part of the people often called “Black Dutch” among Southern Appalachians, and their surnames – Kiser, Rhinehart (Reinhardt), Justice, Renner, et al – often survive alongside the people called Melungeons.
#history #melungeons #BlackDutch