Immigration Research

Who Are the Black Dutch?

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The term “Black Dutch” is something you may encounter in your genealogy research, or maybe you’ve heard it mentioned in your family as being part of your ancestry? But what does it mean, exactly? Who were the Black Dutch? If you’re just getting started on your genealogy adventure, you may not know. This is the explanation you need.

I found it very interesting to learn that the Black Dutch were not one particular race. That is the most important thing to remember. It is a term that is used in historical documents to refer to several different groups. Knowing your ancestral origins and some of your family history will help you put the term “Black Dutch” in context with your own family.

The Dark-Skinned Dutch Immigrants

The most common designation of “Black Dutch” refers to Dutch immigrants to New York who had swarthier complexions than most other Dutch. The darker complexions were usually due to intermarriage or out of wedlock births with Spanish soldiers during the Spanish occupation of the Netherlands. Many of these so-called “Black Dutch” are still in New York today while other families migrated south and west to other states. DNA studies have shown that these people are of mainly European descent, with little, if any, African or Native American DNA in them.

The Sephardic Jewish Immigrants

Sephardic Jewish merchants came to the Netherlands from Spain and Portugal in the 15th century after being expelled from those nations. Some of them were admitted to England during Oliver Cromwell’s occupation of it in the 17th century during the English Civil War. Many of these eventually came to the American colonies and settled in New England and in the south.

The Sephardic Jewish immigrants often mixed with free or enslaved Africans and bore children with them. Sometimes, the men stayed with their mixed-race families, especially if the woman was free, while other times, they abandoned them for Jewish wives. The descendants of these Sephardic Jewish immigrants and the Africans in America with whom they bore children were also historically referred to as “Black Dutch.”

Native Americans

Some Native Americans, particularly the Cherokees of the Carolinas, identified themselves as Black Dutch in order to avoid being sent west to reservations. Giving themselves this designation also allowed them to buy and own land in the east, something that was only permitted to those of European descent at the time. These Natives denied their ancestry, sometimes for generations, because they were concerned their land would be taken from them and they would be sent west. Today, though, most Natives who identified as Black Dutch have become open about their ancestry. If you have a Native in your family who identified as Black Dutch in order to stay in the east and buy land, you will probably know it through family records and strong oral tradition.

The Germans

The term “Dutch” has long been used for German immigrants, as the Germans called themselves the Deutsche people. This easily Anglicized into “Dutch,” and both German and Dutch immigrants became known by the same designation. The Pennsylvania Dutch are the descendants of German immigrants, and many groups of them, particularly the Amish, still speak various versions of German today. Like the dark-skinned immigrants from the Netherlands who settled in New York, German immigrants to Pennsylvania and other areas were also referred to as “Black Dutch” if they had darker than usual complexions. The surnames of these Black Dutch have remained decidedly German even to the present day, making it easier to identify a Black Dutch ancestor who was really a German immigrant than possibly for any other group of people referred to as Black Dutch.

The Black Dutch in the South

As many northern families who were referred to as Black Dutch immigrated south, the original meaning of the term became lost through the generations. Many southern people today claim to have Black Dutch ancestry, usually believing they have an ancestor who bore children with a Native American. In most cases, this is incorrect. However, it was not uncommon for people in the south to have children with Africans during the 18th and 19th centuries, and these mixed-race families gradually integrated into their communities. Most of the southern Black Dutch do not have German or Dutch ancestry at all, but are of English or Irish descent, with maybe some African mixed in.

How to Research Your Black Dutch Ancestors

Since “Black Dutch” is an American term, you will be doing all of your research in American records. It was a common term in legal and personal documents from the 1600’s through the early 1900’s in this country. If you come across it in your research, or if you’ve been told you have Black Dutch ancestry, the easiest thing to do is to get a DNA test from one of the inexpensive companies that now does this for genealogists. It will tell you where your ancestors came from in the past several hundred years, and this will allow you to narrow down the ethnicity of your own particular brand of Black Dutch.

Knowing this will make following the paper trail to your original Black Dutch ancestor easier. You can follow the line of ethnicity back through census records, court records, wills, church records, and even old newspaper records. Eventually, you will find someone in your line who is identified as Dutch, Jewish, German or even outright Black Dutch. Further research on that ancestor will reveal their origins in most cases. This will allow you to prove or disprove family lore, and learn the true meaning of “Black Dutch” as it pertains to your family.


  • My Great-Grandma always said she was Black Dutch Indian. Insisted she was not Cherokee but was Black Dutch Indian. Her name was Nancy Margaret (Shockey) Drewry (born 11-19-1894/died 2-118-1985 in Witt Springs Arkansas) She traveled by covered wagon from West Virginia. Her parents were Jacob Franklin Shockey (b 1832-1886/) & Emily Susan (Lower) Shockey. I believe the Black Dutch Indian came from Emily Susan (Lower) Shockey. Emily died young & the only information I have about her is the name. One of my Great-Great Aunts wrote a story about the travel by covered wagon from West Virginia to Arkansas but only God knows where that story is today. I meet all 6 of my Great-Grandma’s siblings. If only right? I also have all of her siblings names. Does anyone have any information about the Shockey or Lower family from West Virginia? There is no way I can afford to do a DNA test on my income. Wish I could I want to be able to say I am Native American & it be true. My heart & soul is. It would be so great to learn more about these ancestors of mine.

  • My grandmother often referred to my grandfather as “Black Irish”. I have searched and searched and can find little to no reference to this term. While there seems to be a fair amount of information on the term “Black Dutch” I can find no corresponding data on “Black Irish”. Can you enlighten me?
    Many thanks!

  • According to Harold O’Kelley’s book Four Families Through Georgia he interviewed my great-grandmother’s sisters who said that their grandmother was called ‘black dutch’. They claimed that she was short with long black hair, black eyes, smoked a corn cob pipe, and couldn’t speak proper English even in old age. The family tradition was that she was Cherokee however a recent DNA test proved NO Native American blood at all. In fact the only one that was surprising was 2% Iberian. Were Portuguese or Spanish ever referred to as black dutch? That family line, btw, seems to be fairly well-established as an old English family (Cothern) with well-researched members from that time. Where could this information come from? Did they just make it up? Seems a bit elaborate to make up, doesn’t it? So frustrating. :/

  • I just rec’d my DNA report and learned after being told all my life that on my mothers side that we were Black Dutch. However, my DNA shows that I am 41% Great Britain,19% Europe West,etc. Very surprising.

  • My great grand Mother was “Black Dutch ” and the 2 or 3 photos we have of her she is extremely dark. I just got the results from my DNA test and it however zero American INDIAN heritage. Have great Britain, Scandinavian, irish, and well you can see. I also have American Indian from my dad’s side but apparently I didn’t get any of it….unless the DNA test FROM is bs.

  • I thought I was native american from research of black dutch, did a DNA test and it came up as South Asian, Jewish, Irish, and Eastern European.. with some Western European. So I think the term may just confuse people like me. I just say I’m European. XD

  • My father is from southwestern PA, USA. The family name is Murray and it is a huge tree. Oral family history indicates we are Scots/Irish. However, when I had my father’s DNA tested (and mine), it indeed confirms that but also shows Native American. I know we may never find out how it ties in with the family but does anyone have any information on a Native American connection with the surnames: Murray, Fair, Mankamyer, Hochstetler, Bittner. Any help is appreciated.

  • My ggggrandmother . Diantha Pickert Kisner, was a ggranddaughter to Nicholas And Eva Claes. However, my dna does not reveal any African bloodline. Diantha & WIlliam Kisner always lived in Montgomery and Lewis counties of NY. This is interesting tho. Joyce J.

  • I am also a descendant of Bart and Eva. My ggg grandmother Diantha Pickert married William Kisner . She was the daughter of Bartholomew and Marie Catherine Pickert. Have you seen the name Kisner in your findings?

  • Thank you for this article. I have never heard of “Black Dutch”. I wonder if it is possible one of my ancestors could be. I have a photo of her with her husband and I feel she could have something other than Caucasian. From DNA I have Shawnee blood, and it is my belief on another line possibly Choctaw, and/or Cherokee, but she is from a different line than that surname. Does anyone know if the Womack line could be from Black Dutch? The Womack line married into a German line.

  • My maternal grandfather told me he was part Black Dutch. He explained it was the Indonesian people that migrated into Holland as domestic workers and many married Dutch people. I have no way to prove or refute it other than a DNA test. I do have Cherokee and Dutch claimed on my paternal side also.

  • i was adopted to my mothers parents and my dad told me that we are black dutch gypsies from germany. im glad you mentioned the gypsies!

  • Among the conqueror nations, the Spaniards were especially fond of “spreading their seed” among their subjects. Seeing as to how Spain ruled the Netherlands for over a century, there was a lot of time in which to accomplish this.

  • My grandmother used to say we were black dutch ….I believe her ancestors came from around the black sea…Hungary I think it was…today is the first time I’ve decided to google black dutch.

  • My mom told me that my family has black Dutch in our blood line. I also have German, Irish, Cherokee-blackfoot, Italian, and white, and many more heritage in me

  • Thank you for your article. My grandma always told me we are Black Dutch. I recently discussed this with a genetic match from Poland who told me his grandmother also told him they are Black Dutch. I alwsys believed we had a Jewish connection somewhere as I had heard the term being used in Jewish ancestry also.

  • I am descended from the daughter of a dutch man names Nicolas “Clas” and an African slave eva Claesen van Scenectedy who married a British soldier Bart Pickert. Their children and grandchildren married into many German families , and later their descendents were many of the UEL Tories who settled Ontario. These German named descendents may also have been termed “black Dutch” .

  • I think it is a bit strange that German Gypsies, who make up a great deal of the people known as “Black Dutch” are not mentioned at all.

  • Thank you for the article. It answered a question I have had for years. My great grandfather would refer to my sister and myself as his little dutch girls. It never made sense to me as his parents where German he was the first of their children born in the USA the older ones all born in Germany also.

  • Our grandfather always said we were “Dirty Dutch”. Is this the same as Black Dutch? We are of German descent (originally Gerrit Jansen VanOldenburg 1600, changed to Garrison over the years).

  • Hi William,
    Thank you for your very helpful work, article on Black Dutch, and other lines of information regarding genealogical research. I appreciated your past efforts and your previous search on my behalf. This article presents new possibilities and new avenues for investigation. However, my fifth great grandmother remains a mystery beyond her horsemanship, and swarthy complexion. However, the last point may be something that could now bear fruit if viewed with a DNA search and timelines of Dutch and other populations in MD, VA, and PA.

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