Floridian Minorcans and the Impossibly Tangled Web of Southern Appalachian Ancestry…

Menorcan village

Menorcan village


DNA without history tells us less than half of any story.

Many Southern Appalachians report elevated levels of “Iberian” in autosomal DNA tests.

There are a myriad of reasons this might occur, including Sephardic Jewish or Romani ancestry.

Less obvious is the possibility that some mountain folks might be part Minorcan…

I have written elsewhere about French Acadians (of what was later called Nova Scotia) adding to the ethnic mix of the Carolinas in the aftermath of their “Great Expulsion” from Canada following the end of the French and Indian War in 1763. Many of these refugees to the Carolinas were already “Creoles”, or mixed-ethnic, following a century and a half of intermarriage with the Mi’kmaq, and other tribes of eastern Canada.

For anyone with deep roots in southern Appalachia, it would no doubt come as a surprise to find some of their deepest family roots might have first grown in soil many hundreds of miles to the north.  Yet it is indisputably true.  There are people in Tennessee today sharing DNA with historical Mi’Kmaq leaders.

But what of the lands to the south of the Carolinas?  Could people from there have added to the great southern Appalachian melting-pot of colonial America?

In 1763, British military success in French Canada led indirectly to the Spanish ceding of Florida to Great Britain.  Desperate to make an economic success of her new possessions, the British Crown offered generous land grants to anyone willing to relocate to their new jurisdictions of British East Florida (capital at St. Augustine), or British West Florida (capital at Pensacola).

All right.  What does this have to do with Minorcan-Iberian ancestry?

Every schoolchild has heard of the Jamestown and Plymouth colonies, but most would be surprised to learn that the largest colony ever started in the present-day USA was in fact “New Smyrna“, which was near present-day Daytona Beach, Florida.  A ruthless and ambitious Scotsman named Andrew Turnbull, with a wife from Smyrna (Smyrna was ethnically Greek in 1763, but now lies in present-day Turkey), gathered over 1,400 people from Mediterranean ports under contracts of indenture, and sailed for British East Florida.

The majority of these indentured labourers would hail from the Balearic island of Minorca, near Spain.


Harbour in Menorca, circa 1890

Harbour in Menorca, circa 1890


To make a long story short, the colony was a disaster – constantly beset with disease, supply scarcity, and unrest, due to brutality and broken promises.  When Florida was restored to Spanish rule in 1783 following Britain’s defeat at Yorktown in 1781, most Floridian Loyalists relocated to British holdings in the Caribbean.

But not all of them…

Many former Loyalists or “Tories” elected to take their chances under the returned Spanish administration.  Some built thriving businesses based on trade with the Choctaw and Creek nations.  Some intermarried with Minorcan survivors of the failed Turnbull plantation.  Traces of this curious amalgam of Spanish, English and Minorcan culture survive in St. Augustine to this day.

But what is most relevant to us, when we regard this small, but compelling episode from early American history?

It is this.  The British Proclamation of 1763 (which had prohibited settlement within Indian lands west of the Appalachians) was null and void by 1783.  An independent America had absolutely no intention of honoring British treaties – especially as many “patriots” had been “paid” for their service with promises of land in Indian Country.

With new opportunities opening up in places like Kentucky and Tennessee, many former loyal subjects of the British crown in Florida packed their bags and headed north into southern Appalachia just like many “patriots” carrying land bounties.  Many of these early Anglo and Scottish Floridians quite likely carried something of Minorcan, Italian and Greek history with them, in the form of DNA.

All of this I learned, trying to figure out why my Swaffords of Sequatchie Valley, Tennessee have ancestors who appear on a 1786 Census Roll for Mobile, in Spanish Alabama.

Good genealogy is often good history.

#BeforeWeWereWhite #FloridaHistory #AppalachianHistory #minorca

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