The Mechanics of Colonialism

Map showing forts, settlements, and migration routes into frontier-era Tennessee and Kentucky

Forts, Settlements, and Migration Routes into Frontier-Era Tennessee and Kentucky


During the 11th and 12th centuries, in an age before gunpowder, the Normans were able to conquer England by constructing forts (motte-and-bailey “castles”) on newly occupied land.

The exact same method – colonisation by fort-building – was employed in Southern Appalachia by land-hungry Americans in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War.

Settlers were not entering a wilderness.  They were entering lands with existing communities, trade networks, farms, and towns.

This is why the Americans who followed the first trappers and longhunters had to build “stations”, blockhouses, and forts along the trails and rivers by which they were entering and intruding upon land belonging to others.

With the advantage of an almost inexhaustible source population, gunpowder and firearms, this American-style “motte-and-bailey” system of occupation took far less time than the earlier, but similar, Norman subjugation of England.

This system can be seen in action to this very day, in places like the Levant, where illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land (the equivalent of Appalachian longhunters and squatters) are eventually fully supported by the coloniser’s military installations and a judicial system weighted in favour of the coloniser.

But enough of comparisons and analogies.

Here is a map I made as an aid in understanding the mechanism of early American colonialism.

With the exception of  some scattered Spanish and French communties (which were often mostly Métis), every single place on this map was land still belonging to non-European Americans at the time.


#BeforeWeWereWhite #AmericanHistory #Appalachia #AmericanFrontier

Blonde Bombshells and “Damaged Goods”

Marilyn Monroe and her mother, maternal grandmother, and maternal great-grandmother

Direct Maternal Lineage of Marilyn Monroe


Legendary film star Marilyn Monroe was born in 1926 to a mother who was first married aged only 14.

We can only speculate what role, if any, this child marriage played in the later mental health issues which would plague Gladys Pearl Monroe.

Gladys was actually born in Mexico to railway worker Otis Monroe and his wife Della Mae Hogan, with the family moving to California around the year 1900.

Her marriage at 14 to Jasper Baker was “stormy”, with many later accounts accusing Baker of extreme domestic violence. Gladys appears to have already been pregnant at the time of her first marriage, giving birth to their first child, a son named Robert Baker, at the tender age of 15.

Gladys Monroe managed to extricate herself from this marriage at the age of 20, already a mother of two children, but her children were taken away by Jasper Baker.

Gladys Monroe married again in Los Angeles at the age of 22, this time to a man called Martin Mortenson.

The exact hows and whys are unclear, but this marriage also broke down, and Gladys became pregnant by a work colleague (and married man) named Charles Gifford in 1926.

The child of this tryst, Norma Jeane, took the surname of her mother’s still legal husband, and was officially born as “Norma Jeane Mortenson” on paper.

Norma Jeane had what can only be called a desperate and difficult childhood, with “home” a constant rotation between intermittent spells with her birth mother, and time spent with foster parents, work colleagues of her erratic mother, and in orphanages.

Norma Jeane’s mother would spend her first spell in an asylum for the insane when Norma Jeane was only nine years old, after suffering what was then called “a nervous breakdown”. Gladys Monroe would later be diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia…

Norma Jeane would take various quasi-paternal surnames before settling on her mother’s maiden name – the name by which she would become famous.

While guessing ethnicity from photos is a fool’s game of phenotype analysis, I am still posting this series of photos because I have some familiarity with the Hogan and Nance families behind Marilyn Monroe’s mother, and her mother before her.  They are my own distant relations (Norma Jeane is an 8th cousin).  Lest this seem like a wish for fame by association, I will point out that Charles Manson is a closer 7th cousin…

Both the Nance and Hogan families of Marilyn Monroe‘s maternal lineage are multi-ethnic, “Old Mix American” people, and it is hard to ignore the possibility that the tragic lives of Norma Jeane and her mother were the product of trans-generational trauma caused at least in some part by the low status of multi-ethnic women in American history.

This hypothesis pales to insignificance when we admire the sheer charisma and comic genius this oft-times lost little girl managed to give the world.


#BeforeWeWereWhite #history #MarilynMonroe #genealogy

Paint Me A Picture

Slave Traders in 19th Century Brazil, possibly Genizaros [painting by Debret]

Slave Traders in 19th Century Brazil, possibly Genizaros [painting by Debret]

Cigano (Portuguese Romani) Slave Traders, 19th century Brazil [painting by Debret]

Cigano (Portuguese Romani) Slave Traders, 19th century Brazil [painting by Debret]

Painters, not unlike musicians or actors, need patrons or a paying audience.

This might seem obvious, but it has a direct bearing on how we view history.

English society has been notoriously class-conscious since the first Norman warlords began erecting their stone fortresses – aka castles – among the peoples of England after 1066.

These Normans/Northmen (of Normandy in France) were really just “Frenchified” Vikings with a serious superiority complex after spending a few generations away from their Northern homelands.

Their “Viking French” became the language of the ruling classes in Britain, and this legacy survives right down to the present day, even in American English.

When we want to sound educated, we tend to use words evolved from the French language.

When we want plain talk, we tend to use words evolved mostly from Saxon English.

Think of the difference between saying “an illuminated chamber”, or “a well-lit room”.

But I digress (or “wander off-path”, if we avoid French usages here).

Our deeply-ingrained sense of social class, for much of history, dictated what was deemed worthy of recording.

In the age before affordable photography, only very few people could afford to pay a trained artist for a portrait or painting.

The peasantry, the underclasses, and the poor were only rarely subjects for the artist’s brush.  They simply couldn’t pay for such a service.

So art as a paid occupation – in the age before social realism – was generally concerned with portraiture of the ruling classes, landscapes, religious themes, and the documentation of “great events” – with only a few noteworthy exceptions.


I invite any reader here to fire-up a search engine, and attempt to locate contemporary images of the American working classes and underclasses from any time before the mid-19th century.

Paintings, etchings, drawings, anything.

You will find precious little.

What is more, by the time American painters DID decide to paint scenes from the lives of frontierspeople and common people, America as a whole was already actively, aggressively engaged in curating its own myth.

Think of George Caleb Bingham‘s 1852 painting of Daniel Boone leading “white settlers” through the Cumberland Gap – a painting made over 80 years after the events it sought to portray.

This is where it gets a little ticklish and complex, because there ARE American drawings of things such as slave markets and slave auctions.

This is because America was happy to portray “The Three Americas” which underpinned the racial caste system.  Black, White, Indian.

Anyone who was not “Black” (and thus unfree), anyone who was not “Red” (and thus savage), became by default and by design, “White” and thus free.

“Brown” was not an option.


As we’ve already suggested, most artists in 16th and 17th century class-conscious colonial America painted “worthy” subjects, or at least subjects who could afford to pay them.  The “white” merchant classes, religious leaders and elites, in other words.

So decades and centuries of art mostly portrayed only two groups of people – well-to-do “whites” or enslaved “blacks”.

In the post-Revolutionary years, as many American artists began to turn their faces away from “elite” subjects, and to the historical men and women who were deemed worthy of remembrance as nation builders, painters could no longer conceive that the American frontier was actually settled in large part by “brown people”

Yet it was.

And we can prove it by examining early camera lucida drawings and photographs, reading court and census documents, and cross-referencing folklore and DNA.

The paintings shown here were made by a French gentleman in early 1800s Brazil, a man named Debret.  An unusual man with an early, almost anthropological fascination with the “non-white” peoples of Brazil.

One shows the house of Portuguese Cigano “Gypsy” slave traders in Rio de Janeiro.  The other shows what are probably “Genizaro” slave traders marching Guarani captives to market.

What does this have to do with Anglo-American history?


American folk heroes like Jim Bowie were trading with pirates for slaves along the Gulf Coast before Texan “independence” from Mexico.  Jewish slave merchants operated out of Maryland and Charleston.  Many indigenous American tribes had become drawn deeply into this sordid trade.

And all of these people (who were often brown to begin with) were “co-mingling” and creating an even larger brown American underclass – an unsung and largely forgotten group which would spend decades, centuries, attempting to cross the color bar into “whiteness”.

Needless to say, the brown and impoverished rarely sat for painters.

For their own futures and safety, they were usually pressing ever westward, or keeping to the hills and hollers, swamps and backwoods…


#BeforeWeWereWhite #history #SlaveTrade #brazil #cigano #romani #genizaro

The “Scots-Irish” and Appalachia, Part 2 (or I’m Going To Jackson…but not THAT Jackson)

Hiram Keith with wife Elizabeth Ashby

Hiram Keith with wife Elizabeth Ashby


As a kid growing up in 1960s and 1970s Missouri, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Arizona, there was always a deep ambivalence in my family regarding “book learning”.

Book learning was great if it led to a good job or a roof over one’s head.

Where book learning became less welcome was the point at which it mentioned things like slavery.  Or the theory of evolution.

Too much book learning was seen as a sign of thinking you might be better than less-educated people.

“Ten dollar words” were not only frowned upon – they were greeted with derision and outright hostility.

Now, on one level I understand these folks. No book is going to make a person a good mechanic, carpenter, sailor, or parent.  A book might help here and there, but some things are only learned properly by DOING.  Fair enough.

No one wants to be lectured by a “theoretical farmer” straight out of agricultural college when your family has been managing the same piece of ground for generations.

But some things ARE only found in books.  Especially history books, because once we are dead, we are, literally, history.

And because living families carefully curate their stories, there is often a visceral fear of books.  Because once someone is dead, especially long dead, all that remains are folk stories – and books, and documents.

History is the delicate dance between documents, and the living who must try to interpret those documents.

And when these interpretations don’t match the carefully curated family folklore, when these interpretations don’t match the carefully curated national folklore, certain bad things can happen.

Like culture wars.  Like the banning of certain books.

My recent post on the overstated impact of the “Scots-Irish” on Appalachian culture got quite a few responses and shares.  That’s great.  It’s the reason writers write.

One gentleman suggested my views were off the mark, and that in his region, there were at least three “Scots-Irish” families for every family of English or German descent – let alone people of “non-white” ancestry.

He further suggested that West Virginia might have less “Scots-Irish” due to the historical influx of immigrant mine-workers.

This blog and podcast rarely concerns itself with late 19th century industrial immigration.

What we are interested in are the earliest origins of what is often called “heartland America”, those people with families stretching right back to pre-Revolutionary times, the people who were on the bleeding edge of the earliest frontiers.

I’m going to share what I know about one small part of Breathitt County, Kentucky.  The town of Jackson, a small place, so not too hard to cast a glance over.

Here is a small cross-section of families present in Jackson, Breathitt County, KY during the 1800s. I have intentionally left out “Johnny-come-lately” immigrants, that is to say, families arriving in America during the mid-to-late 1800s.  Because the bulk of “Scots-Irish” immigration occurred during the first three-quarters of the 1700s, they are of course included where present.

Here are some surnames “A” to “K”.  If there is any interest, I can post the second half of the alphabet later this week.  Remember!  Having a surname which sounds of a particular ethnic background means very little in early American history.  People of ALL backgrounds “borrowed” surnames from the British Isles – indigenous people, people of African ancestry, Jewish people, Romani people, Portuguese people, German people…

This list is neither highly-selective, nor does it claim to be comprehensive.  It is merely based on my own research into multi-ethnic America.  If anyone out there can share the surnames of documentable “Scots-Irish” families of Jackson, Breathitt County, KY, please do!  The population today is still just over 2,200, so we should be able to find them.


Adkins (earliest assumed ancestor – William Vortimer Adkin, born 1689 VA) “Scots-Irish”?  NO.

Aikman (origins unclear – most genealogies claim Scottish origins, but NOT via Ulster)  No evidence of Scots-Irish ancestry at hand.

Allen (origins unclear – earliest known ancestors from 1600s Tidewater Virginia) “Scots-Irish”?  NO.

Back (origins unclear – descended from apparently German “Bachs” of colonial Virginia, possibly Sinti)

Baker (origins unclear – related to early Bakers who intermarried with multi-ethnic Bolling families)  No evidence of “Scots-Irish” ancestry at hand

Barnett (origins unclear – no records prior to 1820, with one “Joshua Barnett” head of household in Ohio County, KY including people of color)

Black (descended from a Scot or Ulster Scot, but family heavily intermarried with Germans, and indeed, French and some Portuguese)

Blanton (origins unclear due to apparent “non-paternal event” involving Bakers.  Other Blantons in Harlan County, KY fought with Bunch‘s Regiment.  Some Blanton men of dark complexion nicknamed “Gip” – origins of these Blantons also unclear)

Bryant (origins unclear, although most genealogies suggest Welsh ancestry. Earliest proven ancestor “William Bryant“, slaveholder and friend of non-Scots-Irishman Daniel Boone)

Burton (origins unclear, earliest documented ancestors found in 18th century Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.  Many Burtons of Wales and Somerset, England carry Romani DNA haplo)

Campbell (origins unclear – most genealogies claim Scottish origins, but NOT via Ulster.  Heavily intermarried with German Eversole and French Fugate families)

Clarkston (earliest documented ancestors George Clarkston b.1745 and George’s son Thomas Clarkston b.1787.  Thomas apparently married to Nellie Feathers, woman with haplotype most common in Balkan region and southern France)

Collins (origins unclear – earliest documented ancestor William Collins b.1809 in Tennessee, who may have been son or nephew of Melungeon Valentine Collins.)

Conley (Connolly) (although an apparently Irish surname, earliest known ancestor Henry Connolly is referred-to in legal documents as a “Dutchman” with poor English??!!)

Combs (Coombs) (earliest documented ancestors from early 1700s Virginia.  Notables included the Tory soldier, slaveholder, and killer Nicholas Combs)

Cornett (earliest likely ancestor John Cornett b. 1702 Henrico County, VA.  Cornetts of Kentucky deeply multi-ethnic, with no sign of “Scots-Irish” ancestry)

Counts (slaveholders and descendants of Fort Germanna settlements – family lore refers to Counts people as “Black Dutch“, i.e. mixed or possibly German Romani ancestry)

Deaton (slaveholders, earliest documented ancestor Thomas Deaton of Henrico County, VA, whose son William Deaton also fought on the Tory side)

Evans (origins unclear – earliest documented ancestors appear in 1700s VA and NC.  Surname is Welsh, and family intermarried with Welsh Bryants)

Francis (origins unclear – earliest documented ancestors appear in 1700s VA and KY.  Intermarried with aforementioned Coombs and Fugate families.)

Fugate (well-known multi-ethnic Appalachian family of ultimately French origins.  Famous for rare genetic condition which once rendered family members blue in color.)

Gaye (origins unclear, but likely connected in some way to Gaye and Bolling families of early Henrico County, VA.)

Gibson (origins unclear – earliest documented ancestors appear in mid-1700s NC.  See Melungeon Gibsons for possible connections)

Gose (origins unclear – earliest documented ancestors such as “Dutch John Gose” appear in mid-1700s NC.  Many Gose people of Breathitt County enumerated as “mulattos“, and intermarried with multi-ethnic Nichols/Nickell/Knuckles families.)

Harris (origins extremely murky – some Harris people of Breathitt descendants of Benjamin Harris, b.1795.  Little more is known.)

Hensley (earliest origins unclear – earliest documented ancestors such as slaveholder Henry Hensley appear in mid-1700s VA.  His childrens’ households included “free people of color”, and intermarried with “Angels” and “Howards“.)

Hogg (slaveholders; earliest origins unclear – earliest documented ancestors include Thomas Hogg b. 1740 VA.  Most genealogies suggest Scottish origins, but NOT via Ulster)

Hoskins (origins extremely murky – earliest documented ancestor probably the killer John Hoskinson of Maryland who changed/shortened his name and moved to Ohio Country, his sons moving down into KY.  Name very common among the English Romani.)

Hounshell (earliest known ancestor Johann “John Hounshell” Hauenschild who died 1810 in VA., presumably of German extraction.  All sons were slaveholders.)

Howard (earliest documented ancestor John Howard, born NC early 1700s.  Sons and grandsons apparently intermarried with both indigenous and Melungeon Mullins women)

Joseph (earliest origins unclear – earliest documented ancestors from mid-1700s Delaware and Maryland, intermarried with multi-ethnic Salyers, Huffs, and Arnetts of Magoffin County, KY.  No “Scots-Irish” here.)

Keith (origins extremely murky – earliest documented ancestor William Keith, whose dirt poor “preacher” son Hugh Daniel Keith abandoned family to run away with a young girl – but not before fathering other children by a slave consort. Hence the many “Keith” people once enumerated as “mulatto“.)


#BeforeWeWereWhite #history #ScotsIrish #appalachia #genealogy

The “Scots-Irish” and Appalachia, Part 1

Altazara Smith and children

Altazara Smith and children


After all these years of being told that the “Scots-Irish” are the embodiment of Southern Appalachian culture, that the “Scots-Irish” are the progenitors of mountain music, that the “Scots-Irish” virtually built America, that the “Scots-Irish” were “born fighting” and thus the reason for feud culture and honor killing in the hills and hollers…

No.  This researcher has cast an eye over quite literally tens of thousands of records from every county in Southern Appalachia, and is yet to find one single town, one single county, in which these “Scots-Irish” were the majority ethnic group.

Even the feuds so beloved of American lore only rarely featured families with ancestry able to be traced back to Northern Ireland.

French versus Eversole.

Tolliver versus Martin.

Hacker versus Barger.

Swafford versus Tollett.

Hensley versus DeZarn.

Even Hatfield versus McCoy.

Howard. Philpot. Mullins. Begley. Sizemore. Ingram.

Not a son of Ulster among ’em. Most reputable historians actually based in Ireland are deeply sceptical of this ethnic category called “Scots-Irish” – at least in the sense that the term is used in America.

Ulster, the northernmost province of Ireland, from the time of English (and Welsh and Scottish) colonisation in the early 1600s until the American Revolution, was not ethnically-cleansed of its Gaelic inhabitants, and nor were the many English, Scottish and Welsh labourers piling into Ulster during “plantation” universally Protestant, never mind Presbyterian.

Many were simply migrant labourers escaping hard times in Wales, Northern England and lowland Scotland, chasing the “boom” occurring in the Wild West of Plantation (colonised) Ulster.

Unlike many American immigrants, the so-called “Scots-Irish” – actual Ulster  Presbyterians with Scottish ancestry – often left a reasonable paper trail, in the form of congregational and ship’s charter documents, and it is not terribly difficult to trace their subsequent land transactions and migrations.

No, southern Appalachia was settled and colonised by a far more complex mish-mash of peoples.

And to understand it, we will need to discover why women in the mountains carried names such as “Altazara Smith” (see photo).

Next week we will begin publishing and sharing a compendium of Appalachian female names.

Let’s just say these names seem rather unusual for Ulster Protestants…


#BeforeWeWereWhite #history #ScotsIrish #appalachia #names #genealogy

Speaking Chinese in the Wild West

Chinese tradespeople in 19th century Arizona Territory

Chinese tradespeople in 19th century Arizona Territory


The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was America’s first, and possibly only, federal law explicitly forbidding the immigration of a specific ethnic group.

Intended to remain in place for a period of ten years, many Americans might be unaware that this legislation, in one form or another, persisted until 1943!!

Even after this, the USA operated a “National Origins Formula“.

This is a term used to describe a whole range of laws and measures used from the 1920s up until the passage of The Civil Rights Act of the 1960s as a way of keeping America “white” and ostensibly “Christian”.

Here are some Chinese workers in Arizona Territory, as mentioned in our podcast episode My Little Runaway


#BeforeWeWereWhite #history #ChineseAmericans #WildWest

“Old Mix” American Surnames – “Cates”

Cates and Fields families of Jefferson County, Tennessee, including Richard Baldwin Cates

Cates and Fields families of Jefferson County, Tennessee, including Richard Baldwin Cates


When researching early American history, it is important to remember that many, many families whose ethnic and linguistic history was “non-Anglo”, almost reflexively seem to have referred to themselves in the plural or patrynomic form of their chosen surname.

Perhaps this was a reflection of differing cultural attitudes to names, family, and community?

This means that people who had assumed, adapted, or “borrowed” an English suranme (such as indigenous peoples, Métis, Africans, Jewish, Romani, Germans, et al) seem to have been more likely to add an “S” to surnames.

Aiken/Akins, Beaver (Bieber)/Beavers, Clower (Clauer)/Clowers, Elkin/Elkins, Field/Fields, Leffert/Lefferts, Mullin (Moulin)/Mullins, Salyer/Salyers, Spear (Speer) /Spears, Wood/Woods, and so on.

This can lead to some serious confusion. An example would be the surname “Cate“. There are people really named “Cate“, and there are people who took the name “Cate“, but then added the patrynomic “S”, becoming “Cates

Still with us?

Then there is still another group – families who were enumerated or named in early documents according to the sound heard by English-speaking record takers.

For this example, consider the German surname “Götz” (also rendered “Goetz“).

To a native English speaker with only a rudimentary level of literacy, this surname sounds to all intents and purposes like “Cates“; and so was it often recorded, along with variations such as “Gates“.

And thus did many ethnically German people in Appalachia appear as “Anglos” in early documents.

Cate, Cates.

A surname used in America by people of multiple and mixed ethnicities.


#BeforeWeWereWhite #history #appalachia #genealogy #cates

Mapping “Old Mix” Appalachia

Map Showing Counties of Southern Appalachia with Substantial Multi-Ethnic Populations

Map Showing Counties of Southern Appalachia with Substantial Multi-Ethnic Populations


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?


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!


#BeforeWeWereWhite #history #appalachia #melungeons

Maps and…sex?

Map of Predominating Sex - based on 1870 US Census Data

Map of Predominating Sex – based on 1870 US Census Data


Apropos the post from a couple of days back, here is an interesting map.

(Do you like maps? I like maps.)

This 1870 “Map of Predominating Sex”, based on US census data, is like 150-year-old social analytics.

The darker the shaded area, the greater the disparity between the reported male and female populations of a given area.

In other words, in 1870, many self-described male Americans were:

1) Going without sex

2) Having sex with other men

3) Sharing women (including sex workers)

4) Taking partners from unenumerated population groups (such as slaves and indigenous women)


#BeforeWeWereWhite #history #maps #HistoryOfSex #AmericanFrontier

Dressing-up as a Princess

Daniel Keith with wife Amelia Hayes and children, Clay County, KY circa early 1900s

Daniel Keith with wife Amelia Hayes and children, Clay County, KY circa early 1900s


We all have things we hate.

Not things like “which way to hang toilet paper”.

Real hates.  Because “hate” is, after all, a strong word.  Or at least it used to be.

We’ll leave aside war and violence for now.  Those are pretty much universally cited “hates”.

Harming and belittling children, reckless disregard for the feelings of others, wanton abuse of animals – these things, too, should be universally agreed as things worth hating.

But it is the liminal things between naivety, thoughtlessness, selfishness, and wilful ignorance we’ll consider for a moment.

Stuff like able-bodied people using the parking place reserved for the disabled.

Stuff like drunk jet-skiers destroying the peace of a blue and remote mountain lake.

Fast food bags thrown out of a car window along a country road.

But then, if you are a weirdo like me, with too many things jostling for space in a late middle-aged head, you might get annoyed, even angry, at the way so many people tend to select a preferred reality at some point in their 20s or 30s, and then stick to that “reality”, whatever new information might cross their path over the subsequent years.

This anger can distill into hate.  Hate is not good for a person, nor is it wise or saintly, but sometimes a person just can’t jump over their own shadow.




One of these distilled emotions tends to spill over whenever this writer sees the terms “Indian princess” or “Indian maiden” used to describe someone’s remote ancestor of indigenous American ethnicity.

Such terminology is intended to disguise certain truths, in order to place a romantic gloss on older, darker aspects of American history.

Using the words “Indian princess” or “Indian maiden” suggests some bygone age of intercultural amity, in which a woman of equal social standing is “courted” by a “white” outsider to her community.

These words are meant to imply a 1950s-style of courtship, in which the besotted man approaches the father of said “maiden”, seeking her hand in marriage from her father, who is of course always a “Chief”.

The words “maiden” or “princess” are also intended to elevate the woman in question – a way to skate over the fact that, for most of American history, indigenous peoples were treated much the same way as African-Americans.

Indigenous peoples were enslaved.  They were sold.  They were rounded-up in concentration camps and marched at gunpoint to dry and dusty places hundreds of miles from their rightful homelands.

Their children were removed and placed into industrial schools, where they were abused physically and sexually, beaten for speaking their native tongues.

And in a patriarchal society, no one was farther down the social ladder than indigenous women and women of color.

In the violent rough and tumble of Manifest Destiny, “non-white” women were often seen as little more than a labor resource, or a sexual commodity.

The disease, warfare, and land grabbing of the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s saw the deaths of countless indigenous men. What almost no one ever mentions is the countless number of indigenous women and children left to fend for themselves in the wake of these communal disasters.

Not all indigenous women ended-up on reservations – perhaps not even the majority.  Many were forced into a life of back-breaking manual labor or menial drudgery as farm hands or washerwomen.  Some were forced into prostitution.  The “luckier” ones might become wife to a frontier trapper, miner, or settler, enduring a hard life of endless childbearing, cooking, sewing, washing, spinning, weaving, cleaning, etc.

This writer has read firsthand accounts where men were quite open about bringing their Indian consorts (yes, that’s plural) west, making them walk alongside an ox-wagon for days, their feet tied with rope to the woman ahead or behind them…




Everything was not horror.  Some inter-ethnic pairings and marriages were based on mutually agreed trade-offs, even affection.

Many indigenous women came to be held in high regard by their wider communities, often because of their expertise and skills in pottery-making, basketry, herbal medicine and midwifery.

Anyone with deep roots in colonial-era America has one of these women in their family tree somewhere.

Modern DNA testing will rarely show it, because the DNA of one or two indigenous women during the late 1700s or early 1800s will have been shuffled-out by now.

But they WERE there, they were real, and they were almost never an “Indian princess”.


Please note that the use of this photo is for showing a typical Old Mix American family. It is NOT intended to imply any relation to any of the issues discussed in the above blog post.


#BeforeWeWereWhite #history #IndigenousWomen #AmericanIndianWomen #appalachia