The Black Dutch and Black Irish

I am an American with a great deal of Irish ancestry. I have also been told we have a great deal of “Black Dutch” ancestry (I have also heard “Black Irish” used to describe this before), Scottish, French, German (which may actually be more Slavic “Wendish” ancestry), and Native American.

I did a 21-marker-pair autosomal DNA analysis through DNAtribes to get some clues. My results were strongest for Spain (with Basque as the highest of the regions matched) and Italy. This was followed with Russia, Ireland, Scotland, Macedonia, and Romania. My top 3 diaspora groups were Israel then Caucasian then Mestizo.

I am hypothesizing that my Irish ancestry may have been concentrated near one or more of the port towns with a long history of “contact” with Spain. Feel free to comment about this hypothesis and/or provide your own. There are many others out there that have “Black Dutch” and “Black Irish” ancestry out there that would love to hear reasonable hypotheses that might appropriately explain these terms.

A television series that aired recently on Irish television might be of some interest to you:

It may well air on the US History channel at some point in the future. In the documentary the makers cited evidence that suggested the earliest Irish settlers were from the Iberian peninsula, specifically the Basque region.

I’ve never heard of the “black Dutch” before. My wife’s father’s family is Dutch, so I’ve had a fair amount of contact with people who ought to know, but it’s never come up. Cecil has written a couple columns along these lines about the Irish; see:

Short answer: the “black Irish” seem to be an American invention, but yeah, there’s been a lot of mixing due to trade and so on.


[anecdotal datum] When I was growing up in the early '60s, I was always told that my ancestry was 1/4 Scots and 1/4 “black Dutch” (the remaining half is assumed to be some uniquely American melánge), which I repeated faithfully whenever the question came up. Many years later, I asked my mother what black Dutch meant, as geography class never mentioned the black Netherlands. The way she told it, black Dutch was a euphemism for German and was used because German ancestry was not looked upon favorably during WWII. [/AD]

I was given to understand that the “black Irish” tag was a result of the destruction of the Spanish Armada where the ships and thousands of sailors were swept by storms throughout the British isles, and the survivors were “fruitful and multiplied”. I never hear of Black Dutch, but the antipathy against “the Hun” was notable after the Great War and, for example, the German Saxe-Coburg line on the throne of England Anglesized from Battenberg to Mountbatten.

I am of mixed Irish, Scot and Norwegian ancestry and have recently learned that there is also a Dutch component to what I had always believed was Scot Irish heritage. I am curious about the “black irish” and would like to learn more about it because my mother [Irish, Scot] was very olive complected with light hair and her skin would become tan in the summer without any effort. I have lighter red hair but have never had freckles and get quite dark when I am in the sun which seems to confuse a lot of people. I tell people that I am probably of what is referred to as the “black irish” ancestry to explain the darkness of my skin in the summer but am at a loss to explain it any further when they give me puzzled looks. Any further information anyone can give me would be helpful.

I’ll just add that plenty of Irish people are sallow skinned. The lily-white with freckles skin, while common, is only one type of Irish complexion.

until recently i never knew about the “black Dutch”. to be honest i am fascinated by the history

Um, no.

Way I heard it, Black Dutch and Black Irish were descriptions adopted by Indians who wanted to stay on their land to explain their dark complexion. Coupled with the negative stigma of being Indian motivating those in the know to deny their heritage, and the myth of originating from European stock of dark complexions became believed by even their descendants who never knew any better.

Descendants of St. Nick’s six to eight black men?

A newspaper article, maybe 2 years ago, covered the results of a genetic survey that was done of Ireland and compared to results from mainland Europe. Not suprisingly most modern Irish are closely aligned with genetic profiles from southern England, probably due to the Anglo-Norman conquest, with a small fraction of Gaelic and Scandinavian influence. The closest match to the Gaelic profiles were to smaller fishing villages on the coast of Spain. I’ve seen references to how close Irish Gaelic is to Basque and the languages spoken in Asturias and Galicia in Spain. This actually agrees with the Irish legend of King Miles and Queen Scota of Spain and how they founded a dynasty in Ireland, overcoming the Fir Bolg and Tuatha De Danann, the peoples who came to Ireland before them. The Black Irish as Armada survivor descendants has been debunked though the Armada might better explain how the Claddagh symbol came to Ireland. The Black Irish are simply a variation on a theme, possibly a resurfacing of an older Celtic strain. The Black Dutch sound like the Jackson Whites aka the Ramapos and are reminiscent of the Melungeons. The Jackson Whites were a genetic mix of New Amsterdam Dutch, African slaves, Native Americans, and assorted prostitutes and outlaws. The Melungeons were, if I remember correctly, a mix of African slaves or freemen, Native Americans, and a strong strain of Portuguese. According to books like the “The Darker the Berry” there was a some intermarriage between Irish and African-Americans, slave or free, but Black Irish as a term probably didn’t mean passing for white. Though almost the entire Houma tribe of Louisiana did just that to keep their land, they were so successful they were having difficulty gaining recognition as a tribe.

Native Cloggie here. Black Dutch? Never heard of it. Sure, we had the usual immigration from (our (former) colonies in Surinam and Indonesia. But that happened last century, so, not in the centuries that genealogists are interested in.

The only thing I got is that a lot of people in our province of Zeeland have un-Dutch dark hair and are not as fair skinned. This is usually attributed to the mixing in of Spanish blood when the Spanish Armada was run into the ground and the surviving Spanish soldieres began to wash up on the Zeeland shores. Also, lots of political refugees in the 1600’s in Amsterdam, mostly Portuguese Jews and French protestants.

And I have to say, the American fascination with European ancestry amuses me. It is true I guess, that old adage of 100 years beign a long time for Americans, but not for Europeans, just like a 100 miles is long for us but a short distance for you.

The US east coast areas of New York (city and state) as well as around Albany and west have been very heavily Holland Dutch since their settlement in the early 1600s. After all, the Dutch explorer Henry Hudson discovered the Hudson River and surrounding territory.

Around 1700 the queen of England was looking for “volunteers” to collect pitch from evergreens with which to waterproof her ships. At the same time a major winter freeze hit central Europe, freezing water, crops, animals, and people. There was also a huge religious “battle” under way between Lutherans and Roman Catholics. (Remember, Martin Luther had just printed his bible and begun another branch of Christianity.) Multitudes of people from the area in Germany known as the Palatine or Palatinate left their homeland and migrated - many to England. This migration gave the queen of England the labor force she needed to ship to New Amsterdam to collect the pitch for tarring her ships.

The Holland Dutch were not the least bit happy with the emigration of a bunch of Deutschmen primarily because the American settlers didn’t know the difference between the Dutch and the Deutsch - nor could they pronounce them. Therefore, the terms Holland Dutch and Black Dutch came into use to differentiate the two ethnicities.

My grandmother’s ancestors landed at what became Nieuw Amsterdam with the first settlers from Holland in the 1600s. My grandfather’s ancestors came from Germany and landed at Nieuw Amsterdam in 1709/1710. I got the explanation from both sides of the family.

Hope this helps with the confusion. I’d guess the Black Dutch description followed many German immigrants throughout the years in America. All it was really meant to do was to differentiate the Holland Duch from the German Deutsch.

come to find out… I actually do have Basque and Italian ancestry down the line, and less Irish than I once thought. oops…

The questions that still remain are: why was this ancestry forgotten or ignored? why was so much emphasis placed on other ancestries in the family? were these other ancestries simply downplayed for some reason?

Just noting that this is a resurrection of an old thread; priot to woodland creature’s post (above), the last prior post was from Dec 2009.

One thing I think matters is your surname, if you have an Irish surname you’re probably more likely to look up the Irish part of your family than the other parts. I have way more interest in finding ancestors that share my surname than those who although equally related to me, don’t. Also, for some reason Irish ancestry is seen as a good thing, in a way German or other ancestries just aren’t. I think perhaps Irish history of being the underdog is appealing? I don’t really know the answer but the notion of being Irish still has a resonance amongst people amongst the Irish diaspora in a way it doesn’t amongst a lot of similar diasporas.

Melungeons often described themselves as Black Irish or Black Dutch.

Often enough, when those terms are used, they’re euphenisms for an admixture of white/native american/black of some sort.

Here is something tantalizing…

I have given grandparents DNA tests at 23andme, and the two with “Black Dutch” references came up with a little bit of “African” in their “ancestry paintings” there. One of them also had a small “Asian” bit show up as well. 23andme is VERY conservative when it comes to showing any non-Euro ancestry in this tool (and are somewhat notorious for it I hear talking to others there), though they say “noise” is possible. Here is a link to them

Maybe some of these “Black Dutch” are Melungeon as you have mentioned

::: total brain fart :::

I dunno why this thread is in the Chicago section, and has been for a year or more… I think it belongs in the Comments on Cecil’s Column, and so is being moved there.