When Ruth Walling (pictured) spoke of her Cherokee, French, and Black Dutch ancestry, she did so matter-of-factly, not hushed or ashamedly. But in her lifetime, and especially in the generation of her parents, “Black Dutch” was a term of contempt, at least in the North and Midwest.
By James Pylant
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Do not post or reprint without written permission
In the article, “In Search of the Black Dutch,” published in American Genealogy Magazine, several theories of the term’s origin were given, including Platte Dutch.1 In 1886, J. M. Steel, in mentioning Germans in North Carolina’s Iredell and Rowan counties, wrote that they “did not, perhaps, use the German language proper but a dialect peculiar to the Black Dutch as they were called.”2 A contemporary of Steel, in Ohio, viewed “Black Dutch” as an insulting, bastardized take on Platte Dutch. “There are many names among the fishermen that recall the Platt Deutsch or Low German settlers of Fishtown. ‘Black Dutch’ the guileless and unphilological [sic] Fishtowners call it.”3
Some seventy years ago, when my Southern great-great-grandmother, Ruth Walling, spoke of her ancestry—Cherokee, French and Black Dutch—she did so matter-of-factly, not hushed or ashamedly. But in her lifetime, and especially in the generation of her parents, Black Dutch became a term of contempt, at least in the North and Midwest.
“In Search of the Black Dutch” also discussed use of Black Dutch as a derogative.4 Evidence of Black Dutch as term of contempt is found in use by the dawn of the nineteenth century. In 1844, a Gettysburg newspaper reported, that:5
The Phila. Gazette stung to the quick by the defeat of Whiggery, revives the state cry of a want of intelligence on the part of the Democracy. In 1800 the Adams tories stigmatized Pennsylvania as ‘black Dutch’ and ‘ignorant Irish.’
There are other instances pointing to the term as a political slur, including vague mention in an Ohio newspaper in 1849, in which an editor wrote “Clayton and the rest of us had CURSED THE BLACK DUTCH during the campaign.”6 In 1834, the Gettysburg editor of The Republican Compiler wrote:7
Hear ye Pennsylvanians! You have been reviled by the opposition as the Black Dutch! Stupid stolid Pennsylvanians! Incapable of understanding any thing, because you have firmly and patriotically adhered to the men of the people, resisted the cajoleries of aristocrats, and have never yielded an inch to arrogance.
The editor’s sarcastic remarks were aimed at another Gettysburg newspaper, the Commercial Herald, which was critical of the political sentiments of “the Dutch (of Pennslyvania).”8
A Maryland newspaper, in 1828, published an article about the anti-German sentiment in Pennsylvania:9
‘THE BLACK DUTCH’
This is a term, the stiff and supercilious aristocrats who hang upon and rally round the coalition, apply to the staunch republican Patriots of Pennsylvania—As long as they had a hope of electing Jon Sergeant and one or two other coalition members of Congress, they bawled out lustily “Reaction in Pennsylvania!” — “Pennsylvania is turning! John Binns says so.”—But since the signal defeat, nay the complete overthrow of the whole coalition party in that patriotic state, they vent their rage against its citizens by calling them “the stupid black Dutch.” Immediately upon the receipt of the glorious intelligence from Pennsylvania, a prominent Adams man in Frederick expressed himself to the following effect:
‘The black Dutch of Pennsylvania, are like a drove of bullocks—where one leads the rest follow!!!’
Such as the epithets and aspirations, cast upon the honest and intelligent Germans and their descendants, in Pennsylvania, because they refused to be sold to the collation, along with John Binns. Let the Germans of Maryland who manfully support the cause of their Brethern in Pennsylvania, think of this denunciation of the aristocrats.
In 1833, a newspaper editor called the Honorable Henry A. Muhlenburg the “faithful representative of the honest ‘Black Dutch’ of Pennsylvania.”10 Muhlenburg was later proposed as a candidate for governor in Our Country, a newspaper with Democratic affiliation.11
- James Pylant, “In Search of the Black Dutch,” American Genealogy Magazine, Vol. 12 (March 1997), No. 1, p. 17.
- The Landmark [Statesville, North Carolina], Thurs., 1 July 1886, p. 1.
- “Catfish and Waffles,” The Ohio Democrat, Thurs., 13 December 1883, p. 1.
- Pylant, pp. 11-12, 20.
- The Republican Compiler (Gettysburg), Mon., 21 October 1844, p. 2.
- The Hamilton Telegraph [Hamilton, Ohio], Thurs., 30 August 1849, p. 1.
- The Republican Compiler, Tues., 4 March 1834.
- The Hagerstown Mail, Fri., 31 October 1838, p. 1.
- “Celebration of the City and County at Bush Hill,” The Richmond Enquirer [Richmond, Virginia], 19 July 1833, p. 4; evidently a reprint from The Pennsylvanian.
Earle Robert Forrest, History of Washington County, Pennsylvania (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1926), Vol. 1, p. 803.