The Melungeons are an olive complected, dark eyed,
dark skinned people living in Appalachia. Their claim of Portuguese
descent was largely ignored and they have been historically dismissed as
"tri-racial isolates", part African, Indian and White. Ironically,
for a people accused of miscegenation, they marry only within their community.
Some physical characteristics claimed by those of Melungeon descent are
an Anatolian bump, a donut shaped protuberance on the back of the skull;
shovel teeth, which are curved across the back rather than straight and
end in a ridge at the gum line (also common to American Indians); and Familial
Mediterranean Fever, an inherited rheumatic disease ethnically restricted
to non-Ashkenzi Jews, Armenians, Arabs and Turks. As racial tensions hardened
around the Civil War their status as mulattos deprived them of basic rights
such as property ownership and education. N. Brent Kennedy's The
Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People - An Untold Story of Ethnic
Cleansing in America  documents the denial
and loss of their history and culture.
Investigations into their origins have turned up many significant theories
and clues. One of these theories, that they are part Gypsy,
was put forward as early as the October 1889 issue of American Anthropologist
Swan Burnett, M.D.  and as recently as 1999 by
Henry Robert Burke, African American historian.
One of the clues is the large number of Melungeon who explain away their
dark skin by claiming a Black Dutch ancestor.
In her comprehensive and objective article, In Search of the Black
Dutch, Myra Vanderpool Gormley, C.G., relates that, "The so-called
'Black Dutch' have long been an enigma in American genealogy. Their descendants
are widely reported, yet no authoritative definition exists for this intriguing
Currently speculations on the meaning of Black Dutch range from American
Indian to Sephardic Jew. But rarely does German Gypsy enter the list
of possibilities. Curiously, American German Gypsies living today
have always called themselves Black Dutch, have never heard of it meaning
anything but German Gypsy, and are surprised to hear it could mean anything
Origin of Terms
In the 1800's German Gypsies were called Chicanere,
the low German or Pennsylvania Dutch transposition for Zigeuner.
This high German word may have been derived from the expression, "go away,
thief" or from Atsinganoi, the name of a religious group who, like
the Gypsies, did not like to be touched by outsiders. It is interesting
to note that although the words "gypped" and "Gypsy" are related (and obviously
hurtful and offensive to law abiding Gypsies) the name Chicanere has nothing
to do with the word chicanery, a word which has it's origins in
14th century France. But this unfortunate linguistic coincidence
coupled with the oppression and stereotypes that Gypsies have always faced
make it impossible for even present day Gypsies to be open about their
ethnicity. The term Black Dutch, a corruption of Deutch
for German, must have come into favor fairly quickly after their arrival
in America as an obfuscating way of explaining dark features. In any case
the term begins to show up in print and I have excerpted those germane
to this article from
The Dictionary of American Regional English
black Dutch n. also
black Dutchman, esp. common
Sth, S Midl. A dark-complexioned people of uncertain origin: see
quotations." 1854 (1932) Bell Log TX-CA Trail 35.224, "Along down
the center of my breast is a brown stripe like the stripe on a black Dutchman's
[sic] back." 1930 Shoemaker 1300 Words cPA Mts (as of c1900),
"Black Dutch - Dark Pennsylvania Mountain people, probably of Near Eastern
or Aboriginal stock." 1939 Hall Coll. eTN, wNC, "Black Dutch ...
a local type of people of Germanic(?) extraction. The Foxes are known as
'Black Dutch.' Pennsylvania is as far back as we can trace them. They are
low, not tall, small and have black features.
The second citation is taken from Henry W. Shoemaker,
Chairman of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, who wrote and lectured
about the Chicanere in the 1920's and 30's. He remains the best authority
and this paper is primarily based on his writings. In a 1924 address he
stated that "At least until the 1850's the men were of medium size, very
slim and erect, with good features and large dark eyes. They wore
their hair long; very little hair grew on their faces, but they tied to
cultivate small side-burns." In a March 31,
1930 Altoona Tribune article he described diverse Shekener
girls and women ... of astounding loveliness and their kinship to the so-called
Pennsylvania German people, where strange, dark types predominate, was
apparent. In fact the Pennsylvania German is but a more cosmopolitan
scion of the She-kener
... and all spring from the same Central
and near Eastern polyglot that swarmed into Pennsylvania in the Eighteenth
century of diverse origins. The Chicenere
"ranks decimated whenever a chance to settle down came in view; by these
judicious marriages their blood is in the veins of almost every "Pennsylvania
Dutchman. And the Pennsylvania Dutch boys and girls with their glorious
dark eyes, wax-like complexions, wavy dark hair and features of Araby,
show the undying presence of forgotten Romany (Gypsy) forbears."
Shoemakers describes their intermarriage as "giving an added dark strain
to the already swarthy Pennsylvania German type, fused as it has been from
South German, Huguenot, Esopus Spaniard, Hebrew, Swiss, Waldensian, Greek
and Indian, the type of the true Pennsylvanian, Tauranian ..."
Reasons for Immigration
There have been Gypsies in America since 1640 when
entire families of English Gypsies called Romanichals were, for
the crime of being Gypsy, enslaved or "indentured for life" alongside Africans
on the Virginia plantations. German Gypsies arrived under similar
duress. German Gypsies, who had "inhabited the Palatinate or Rhine County,
for many centuries, wandering the entire distance between Schaffhausen
and Middelburg on their migrations"  arrived in
the late 1720's with the Huguenots, Swiss Moravians, Alsatians, Jews and
Waldensians searching for freedom from oppression and an escape from the
poverty and chaos caused by the Thirty Years War (1618-48).* But
Gypsies had been given additional reason to emigrate. Since 1577
anti-Gypsy legislation had forbidden them to do business or settle. By
1710 flogging, branding, separation from kin and exile became the standard
punishment for Gypsy men and women with no criminal charges against them.
The punishment for returning was execution. Those deemed fit for
work faced "life confinement with forced labor."
In 1734 Gypsy hunts became an established and profitable sport, with a
reward of "six Reichstaler for every live Gypsy brought in and three for
a dead Gypsy, as well as keeping their belongings." In 1826, Freiherr von
Lenchen displayed his trophies publicly: the severed heads of a Gypsy woman
and her child. In 1835, a Rheinish aristocrat entered into his list of
kills, "A Gypsy woman and her suckling babe."
Henry W. Shoemaker in a 1924 address related that although the Gypsies
Proscribed, hated and despised, there were strict regulations
against these Nomads being embarked in a body as if, though they were not
wanted at home, they were not allowed to go elsewhere! On a number of occasions
Gypsy bands endeavored to charter whole ships at Rotterdam, but as they
were watched with the same argus-eyed authority as are bootleggers today,
their efforts were always at the last minute frustrated. It is related
that one ship, the 'Stein-Awdler,' giving it the Pennsylvania Dutch pronunciation,
got away under cover of darkness, but during an unfavorable tide, it still
lay in the harbor at daybreak, when the papers were scrutinized and declared
invalid by the port authorities. Several boat-loads of port wardens went
in pursuit, but the boats were not to carry the unfortunate Chi-kener back
to dry land, but order them off the ship -- they were driven overboard,
men, women and children, like a plague of rats, and had to jump out in
the mud up to their waists, and get ashore as best they could, leaving
their possessions behind, which were seized as a fine levied against them
as a body. On shore the mud-saturated refugees were attacked by a
mob armed with boat-hooks and soundly beaten, and probably quite a few
died of their wounds and exposure afterwards.
Method of Immigration - Ports Entry
Forbidden to come to America as a free people,
Gypsy individuals "'sold' themselves to redemptioners for the price of
their fare to America. This species of servitude, and the selling of emigrants
for their passage had not a few of the features about it, of involuntary
chattel slavery, and it was characterized at the time as the 'German slave
trade'," according to Ian Hancock's, The
Pariah Syndrome: An Account of Gypsy Slavery and Persecution.
But Shoemaker notes that "while it meant breaking up of the families,
the Gipsies deliberately sold themselves into servitude as individuals
and bravely faced the great adventure, hoping to re-assemble and re-unite
in Philadelphia or Lancaster ..." No doubt the exact numbers could
be ascertained and identified through a careful perusal of I. Daniel Rupp's
Thousand Names of German Emigrants.
There were those who "posed as being as poor as the most poverty-stricken
Palatines, but on arriving at their final destinations in inland Pennsylvania
sometimes bought out their employer's farm, buildings, livestock and implements
and all to the surprise of those worthy Pietists."
Others "were canny enough to know that they would never work out their
passage money. They would either marry the sons or daughters of the
Huguenot, Swiss and Palatine farmers they were bound out to, or else they
would run away."
As runaways it would seem that the German Gypsy had an advantage over
the English Gypsy. English Gypsies would have had dark oriental eyes, dark
skin and hair in contrast to the fair complected English making them more
easily singled out and controlled. "Most of the Chi-kener families
were broken up by this Redemptioner method of emigration, as some were
dumped on the inhospitable New England coast, others in New Jersey, and
still others in the far South instead of at the ports along the Delaware."
Warren B. Smith's White Servitude in Colonial South Carolina reports
that "The largest group represented outside of the British Isles were the
Germans. Many of these Germans came as redemptioners."
He goes on to quote Robert L. Meriwether's, The Expansion of South Carolina
which states, "The largest bodies of the Germans and Scotch-Irish who settled
the piedmont and mountainous regions from Maryland to Georgia came to America
through the ports of Philadelphia and Newcastle, Delaware, and finding
lands occupied in Pennsylvania and New Jersey were gradually pushed toward
the south, till they were met by a smaller stream of the same people who
came through the port of Charleston to South Carolina and thence to the
Common Names of the Black Dutch
As if the genealogy and origins of the Black Dutch
were not complex enough, it is important to note that Gypsies often have
two names, one that is private and for family use and one that is public
for official records and conducting business. Imagine the brick wall
you would encounter if your Granny Palmer was listed on public documents
as a Smith. The public name that is chosen is very often the most
common name in the area in which they have settled. This creates the kind
of research problem Brent Kennedy faced when he found his Melungeon ancestors
had "some sort of secret pact to give their children the same names" with
"five Andrew Jackson Mullinses living at the same time."
Interestingly, a variant of the name Mullens, Mullen, may have been
a Gypsy name as it appears alongside Chicanere and Romanichal names in
an August 30th, 1862 article in The Rock Island Argus.
The article describes a caravan of Gypsies arriving in town to deal horses.
The men, Constant Smith , Frank Schwartz, John Boswell and Cornelius Mullen,
approached the press to offer references and assurances of their honesty.
The press encouraged the town to make the Gypsies unwelcome. The
name Kaiser is also common to both Gypsies and Melungeons. In the
Pariah Syndrome, Ian Hancock mentions the Kaiser name when he quotes
an article from the National Gazette, May 19th, 1834 which
tells of the indiscriminate flogging of Gypsies, called Yansers,
in New York State, apparently as a means of sport for whoever could afford
it." He quotes the paper as saying, "There is yet another tribe,
at or near Schenectady, called Yansers, although their patriarchal name
is Kaiser. A gentleman appointed some years ago to some town office
there, states that he found a charge of four pounds, ten shillings for
whipping Yansers, the amount being small, was allowed. A similar
charge being brought the next year, he asked what in the name of goodness
it meant? Behold, it was for chastising Gypsies whenever occasion
presented, which was done with impunity and for some profit ...
Brent Kennedy's The Melungeons: Resurrection of a Proud People also
lists the names Kiser, Kayser and Colley. "Regardless of how these
darker genes may have slipped in, by the early 1800's both the Kisers and
the Colleys were a dark-complexioned, black and curly-haired people alternately
claiming an Indian or 'Black Dutch' heritage."
Other names of Chicanere reported by Shoemaker were Hemperley, Rau,
Reinhold, Einsich, Dapp, Grosmere, Ingraham, Stanley, May, Nesselrode,
Lovell, Shaw and Wharton. Additional Black
Dutch/Chicanere names are Smith, Schwartz, Womeldorf. Stanley, Smith,
Ingram and Lovell are actually English Gypsy or Romanichal names. This
confusion may have arisen when Chicanere began traveling with Romanichals.
The members of the second German Gypsy migration of 1850-70 also traveled
with Romanichals and were absorbed into their culture.
Loss of Culture or Romnipen
It seems almost certain that any Melungeon/Black
Dutch ancestry that can be linked to the Chi-kener must be descended from
those German Gypsies who were never able to reunite with their clan or
families, married non-Gypsies or gadje and lost their cultural heritage.
I say this because in reading about the Melungeon I can find no evidence
of the ritual cleanliness regulations that the Gypsies brought with them
when they migrated out of India 1000 years ago and continue to practice
today in varying degrees as a key component of their cultural identity.
Since many of the regulations involve menstruation, childbirth, cleaning
and cooking it falls to the women to maintain them. As long as the
family and the clan can stay together they can retain their customs and
heritage or Romnipen which loosely translates to Gypsyhood.
But when the individual is separated from his family and clan his culture
is not inclined to survive intact.
Fate in America
But, "Only a small percentage of the hundreds of
continental gipsies who came to Pennsylvania as redemptioners in the last
half of the Eighteenth Century ever rescued themselves from this new environment."
Chicanere "who reached Philadelphia were ultimately reunited into family
groups, and as soon as this was done their instinct took them to the road."
"Lancaster for some reason was the first headquarters of the Gipsies
in Pennsylvania, that is outside of Philadelphia. In 1763 there were
enough of them there to attempt to form themselves into a band, and live
in the open in the groves of giant white oaks along the Conestoga and Mill
Creek." Other "favorite harboring spots
for a century or more; Philadelphia, Lebanon, (called by the Gypsies Stitestown,)
Lancaster, Reading and York  and, up until
1930, "Most of the traveling She-kener wintering in little narrow
alleys adjacent to the railroad tracks at York" [15a]
or at Pittsburg.
In 1930 Shoemaker wrote that
They were expert horsemen, and created the first interest in
horse-breeding and horse-racing in rural Pennsylvania. In other words,
they stood for better horses. They were expert potters, making better
pots, jugs and flasks than the Indians, or the potters of Huguenot, Spanish
or Moravian antecedents. They were expert coppersmiths, and turned
out finer work than any other foreign element in Pennsylvania. They
were clever ironworkers and artistic tile makers. Everything they
executed was distinctive and of artistic merit, and yet they did not try
half so hard as the plodding gentiles they out-created and out-sold.
They knew how to make glass, and the famous Baron Stiegel whom Pennsylvania
is so tardy in honoring, used every inducement to secure their staying
with him at Manheim, his chief glass-maker's name was Stanley, a German
speaking Gipsy, whose descendants are today part prosperous and sedentary
and part wanderers and impecunious. They were famous musicians, and
as dancers excelled for their grace.
The She-kener were the vanguard of the artistic impetus which the so-called
gave to Pennsylvania, the colonial houses, furniture, stoves, firebacks,
glassware, tiles, illuminated manuscripts, sconces, urns, pottery and bells,
as well as ballads and music that have caused antiquarians to remark that
the Pennsylvania Germans alone of all the colonial elements left behind
them artistic remains.
Because no people are ever all good or all bad, they also had the
reputation of being able to put a "disturber" on a person, a spell that
may last indefinitely. Pennsylvania witchcraft, the black art, the
is theirs ... and in telling fortunes the She-kener girls
and women never impart anything that is pleasant, for example, they will
tell a married man that his wife is false."
The Pennsylvania Dutch people, although pious, were also superstitious,
which brings us to the famous Pennsylvania Dutch Hex Signs that decorate
the barns of Lancaster County. By all accounts the symbols are purely
decorative, but I find it hard to imagine that the Pennsylvania Dutch,
believing it possible to be hexed, would just coincidentally call their
barn decorations "hex signs".
Their superstition also made the Long Lost Friend: A Collection of
Mysterious Arts and Remedies for Men As Well As Animals by Johann Georg
Hohman, the second most popular book after the Bible, and it has remained
in continuous print to this day. The book's introduction claims the
information was collected from a Gypsy. I have not been able to find
any evidence that there is overlap between traditional Gypsy folk medicine
and those remedies in The Long Lost Friend, however further research
is needed. This book influenced not only the culture of the Pennsylvania
Dutch but that of African Americans in the South who purchased the book
from Jewish peddlers and used it in the development of Voodoo.
Costume - Early
The Chikener brought vivacity to their dress as
well as their arts. The men "usually wore a red sash under their
coats into which were sewed leathern scabbards or sheaths, where they carried
long knives with rapier like handles." "The
sashes and "handsome cashmere shawls formed leading elements of their
"The girls were of marked beauty, the same dark coloring as the Pennsylvania
mountain girls of today, the hair worn long and in two braids, tied with
red ribbons, and sometimes bound upon their heads, and into which silver
half-moons and stars were woven. The skirts were worn short, and
striped patterns predominated. They wore long, bright colored stockings
or tights, and low shoes of soft leather. A scarlet scarf was draped
about the neck, over which were many stings of bright colored beads of
glass or metal. Bobbed hair was only worn by girls who had had a
love affair with a white man and failed to win him into the tribe."
Gypsy youth never wore hats and often ornamented their dark hair with
Many people erroneously thought that Gypsies darkened their skin deliberately
and Shoemaker was misinformed on this point. He wrote, "The darkness
of the Chi-kener complexions was heightened, so Dr. Stephen tells us, by
the use of various greases or schmeres, which recalls William Penn's
famous letter of 1683 to the Free Traders, at London, in which he says:
The Pennsylvania Indians are of complexion black, but by design, as the
Gypsies in England." Some Pennsylvania Germans called the Gypsies
and "Dutch" mothers whose babies had dirty faces called them "regular smutsers."
This last custom is now being questioned. It seems the English Gypsies
had skin dark enough that the English assumed erroneously that they had
deliberately darkened their complexions. Among English Gypsies there
is no such tradition or history of such a tradition.
By 1875 "they gradually adopted more modern styles of apparel.
The Chi-kener girls dipped snuff, smoked sumac leaves in long-stemmed pipes,
bobbed their hair, and wore short skirts ... They were cleanly in their
habits, great bathers, and always on the move looking for fresh water.
They were fond of a wild dance, perhaps the ancestor of the present 'Charleston,'
 "their favorite musical instrument was much like
a banjo, and they often sang a song or dirge about their ancestors having
been dumped into Rotterdam harbor."
Customs and Superstitions
Apart from having "their long tresses publicly
bobbed ... Chi-kener were kind to their children, never resorting to corporal
punishment, and were always respectful to the older members of the tribe
... When on the march the men and boys rode the horses and ponies, the
women walked" or "occasionally rode ponies astride, but never used a saddle
... In those days tents were set at night, but later when vans or wagons
were adopted, they slept in these vehicles."
Historically all Roma have believed in the supernatural and are superstitious.
The Chikener "believed in dreams and ghosts, familiar spirits followed
the caravans, annoyed the picketed horses at night by pulling their tales,
or tapped on the windows of the wagons, if ill-fortune was at hand. When
the wind moaned at night, it was the spirit of long dead Chikener longing
to return to the Gipsy trail."
Chikener also brought with them a symbolism of
good and bad trees. They classed as good trees first the beech, widely
known as the "Gypsy tree," after that the ash, and the rowan or mountain
ash, the white oak, the birch, the linden and the maple. Pines and
aspens were evil, and the Chi-kener's prejudice became a prime cause for
early settlers cutting down all pine trees near their dwellings.
As well, the giant stag-horn sumac was called the "devil tree."
The Chicanere also used trees medicinally. For example, in newly
cleared pastures rattlesnakes and copperheads killed many cattle.
As a remedy the head of a newly killed reptile was inserted into a hole
bored into a young "snake ash" and plugged up. The following year
switches were cut from the suckers of the tree and gently used on the bitten
"As they were naturally an extremely reticent people, the Pennsylvania
German Gypsies developed a tree language which in time was their chief
defensive weapon against the constant persecutions of the white people."
Pictographs were carved into trees. "A circle quartered on a beech,
ash or linden indicated ... a safe and pleasant place to camp." A
half or quarter circle meant danger, ranging from loss of money to death,
the severity being indicated by which quadrant the quarter was taken from
and the type of tree on which it was carved" ... "a diamond, cut on a beech,
bisected, translated to mean that 'must leave for reasons' (best known
to self). Will be within two days journey." ... "The bisecting line
when extending on both sides beyond the diamond, "four days journey." On
one side only a "three days journey." ... Also carved on a beech tree a
heart and a cross were "symbols of Gypsy lovers."
Shoemaker also describes "the white man's warning against the Chi-kener:
a black star and black hand." While still
In the Rhine when a Gypsy came to a house looking for work and found their
was no money to be made he painted a discrete white star on the doorjamb
as notice for the next Gypsy traveling through.
It is uncertain who added the black hand and when, but the black hand and
white star appear in a Gypsy Holocaust Memorial in Salzburg leading me
to believe that this image originated in the Rhine and traveled to Pennsylvania,
a clear visual indicator that the intolerance they had hoped to escape
in the New World had followed them.
Language of the Chicanere
Because the language of older kin is a clue to
origins, I have included some notes on Chicanere language for those researching
their Black Dutch heritage.
Of their own Chicanere words, those collected by Shoemaker 
and confirmed by John Sampson of the Gypsy Lore Society 
are: schater - tent; schaw - herb; ruh
or ru - wolf;
schokel - dog; daddie - father;
mami - grandmother; and schetra - fiddle. Also used
by the Chicanere were Pennsylvania Dutch words which have a German base:
fluent - gun;
haws - rabbit; kots - cat;
baum - tree;
blech - pewter; schmere - grease;
schifwoga - conestoga wagon; goul - horse; gow
- gelding; goo - cow; sal - soul or spirit; shar
- scissors; lewa - love; schlong - snake;
shmardsa - pain; dame or
dama - mother;
jagger or yagger - hunter, woodsman; rawba - raven;
schwatza - blackbird; boocha
- beech tree; bilda
- candle mold; barrich - mountain or hill; werdhaus
inn or tavern; wektora - pigeon; and wekawdler
lit. eagle. Words of uncertain origin used by Chicanere
are: aschpin - whetstone; meilbahr - milestone (bahr
however, does mean stone in Romani ); wek'nia
- hawk; dada - grandfather; hausleira - peddler; shosich
- young girl, flapper; schlor - dagger; and boga-man
- boogie-man, lit. "dark man with bow", Indian, enemy.
It is also worth noting that "native Dutch farmers, with whom the Chi-kener
came into daily business intercourse, ... compelled them to adopt certain
Indian words commonly used." An example
of this might be "pow wow" which in Pennsylvania Dutch Country refers to
a "white magic" ceremonies often for healing.
"Some authorities have claimed that from 1845 to
1870 there were approximately three thousand of the She-kener following
the roads in Pennsylvania."... By the 1930's "three hundred would
be a liberal estimate of their numbers. The World War drew many of
them to Hog Island and other industrial plants, with the result that they
settled down in cities, and will probably never take the roads again."
The three thousand would not have included the second wave of German
Gypsy migration in 1850-70. Those "Gypsies in large numbers ... travel
in handsome automobiles ... on the Pennsylvania highways in the summer
months. But beyond acknowledging a racial and lingual kinship the
She-kener maintain no intercourse with them."
Black Dutch - Indian relations
Many people researching their Melungeon and Black
Dutch heritage also claim Indian ancestry. In the same way that Melungeons
marry within their community Gypsies traditionally marry only other Gypsies
and usually within their clan or vitsa but far more men than women
arrived in the colonies. Under those circumstances it is not unreasonable
to think that German Gypsies would have married Indians. There was
a community of Gypsy men married to Indian women in Paskagola, Louisiana
documented in 1780.
Anyone familiar with the history of the treatment of the American Indian
would find it hard to imagine that a dark skinned person would claim Indian
ancestry in order to receive better treatment, but while Indian may be
synonymous with second class citizen, it is not synonymous with thief.
An Indian is still allowed to conduct business. He is not considered
a criminal by birth. Even today there is enough discrimination and stereotyping
to compel Gypsies to "present themselves as American Indians, Hispanics,
or southern Europeans, and they usually do this rather than identify themselves
as Gypsies."* Unfortunately, the only encounter
between Indians and Gypsies described by Henry Shoemaker in his 1924 address
About this time came the first contact between Gipsy and Indian,
a romantic and historic fore gathering of oppressed peoples. In the
market-cross at Lancaster these two groups of dark-skinned peoples met,
the Indians to buy, the Chikener to sell their trinkets and wares.
As one old man from the Little Sand Hills of Dauphin County said in describing
it, "They hated one another." This did not augur well for journeys
into Indian countries, but they went. It was in the fall of 1763
that they left Lancaster, following the Conestoga to its source, as they
had the Rhine from Schaffhausen to Rotterdam and Middelburg. Evidently
their journey was uneventful, as there are no records, but at length they
came to an abandoned Indian camp with huts, stockades, good water, forage,
which they calmly pre-empted. A wandering redman came upon them there,
and in the name of the tribe ordered them off. They meekly went,
and the Indian hurried back to his kindred to tell of the vile intruders,
with the result that all of this particular group of Conestogas returned
to their camp in Paxton Hollow, which became in a few days their Valhalla.
Shrewd Ulster Scots noticing the Gipsy fires, the movement of Indians,
and the untoward atmosphere of excitement opined some sort of an unfriendly
gesture on the part of the hated Conestogas, and their fancied allies,
and promptly spread the report along the Blue Mountains. The story
of a Bolshevik plot against the Capitol at Washington could not have a
more explosive effect on a legion Post today than this story of probable
Indian reprisals to the self-constituted Regulators of the frontier, chafing
for an outlet for pent-up patriotism. Mounting their horses they
swooped down on the unsuspecting Indians, the Gipsies had vanished, where
their chroniclers do not tell "they put on their invisible garments" to
use their own phraseology, and the Indians were barbarously exterminated,
down to the few remnants housed in Lancaster Gaol for safe-keeping, who
were brained, scalped and mutilated by the same bloodthirsty Paxton boys.
Yet there are some who advocate a monument to the Paxton boys!
The various tribes of Indians inherited a hatred of Gipsies, with the result
that the Chi-kener never ventured into the Indian county until after it
had been thoroughly pacified.
It is hard to imagine that competition for limited resources wouldn
not have also been a cause for conflict as both the Indians and Chicanere
needed good camp sites with fresh water at a time when European encroachment
strained those resources. But "old hates and feuds are buried with
the flesh" as Chi-kener buried their dead "frequently in abandoned Indian
I do not envy the genealogist trying to untangle a story of a grandparent
who claimed to be Indian but appears on no known Indian roles; talked about
migrating to winter camp and made baskets; had dark skin and eyes and wore
her hair in braids; who had a husband who had worn feathers in his hair
and was now buried in an Indian burial ground, especially if that person
descended from a runaway indentured servant who chose to claim to be an
Indian and therefore a Free Person of Color.
Reticence to share oral history
Henry W. Shoemaker wrote that "Gipsy history like
Indian history is oral, it must be gotten from the Gipsies themselves."
But because of discrimination most Gypsies are wary of strangers, reticent
to even admit to their ethnicity, much less provide a history of their
people. Their trepidation was justified. The only other significant
research on German Gypsies was conducted by the Nazis who collected thousands
of genealogies in preparation for a genocidal action against them. "Between
a half and one and a half million"  Gypsies were
I am not saying that the all Melungeons and Black
Dutch are simply Gypsies hiding under another name. There is no evidence
that present day Gypsies have any of the genetic traits common to those
of Melungeon descent such as the Anatolian bump, shovel teeth, Familial
Mediterranean Fever, etc. But neither am I saying that I believe
the Chicanere are the only Gypsy component of the Melungeon. There
are too many intriguing clues. A strong sense of fatalism, of accepting
your lot in life, is shared by both peoples. They are both historically
superstitious. There seems to be a strong and ordered division of
the sexes. Both are metalsmiths. Regarding the Melungeon nomadic
lifestyle, Brent Kennedy asks "Why did our ancestors migrate so readily
and without apparent reason, often to and from the same general areas of
North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia?"
English Ethnomusicologist, Peter Kennedy, finds a great deal of Gypsy influence
in the music of Appalachia and Alan Lomax describes the singing style and
gestures of the Appalachian Mining Union man and singer, Nimrod Workman,
as appearing "Nowhere else but among the Gypsies of Scotland."
My thanks to:
Dr. Ian Hancock and the Romani Archives, Regina Marsh, H. T. Bryer,
Henry Burke, Bob Foster, Brian Raywid, Lalla Weiss, Karla Shahan, Jane
Pierce and the Librarians at the Hamilton Fish Branch Library of the New
York Public Library, Dr. Brent Kennedy, all those at Romnet, the Melungeon
List, the Patrin list, and the Black Dutch list.