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tribes joined people african

The term Black Indian is used to describe a broad range of roles and identities that are very different from one another. At one end of the spectrum are people of African ancestry who also have Native Americans in their genealogies but generally have not participated in native society or culture. These include such prominent Americans as Crispus Attucks (a victim of the Boston Massacre in 1770), Frederick Douglass, Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King Jr., Oprah Winfrey, and Tiger Woods. At the other end of the spectrum are people of African ancestry who “went native” by joining an Indian nation and staying there as adopted citizens. These include such interesting and significant persons as Joseph “Black Joe” Hodge, a trapper and trader who joined the Seneca Nation of upstate New York about 1771 and served as interpreter and mediator between them and the English colonists. Perhaps the most celebrated of black people who joined the Indians was Jim Beckwourth. Born in Virginia in 1798, Beckwourth became a “Mountain Man” in the Rocky Mountain area, married a Crow Indian woman, and became a chief of the Crow Nation. His testimony was crucial in exposing the atrocities of the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864. He narrated his biography to one T. D. Bonner, and it was published in 1856.


Such personages as these, however, constitute only a tiny fraction of those who combined African ancestry in some manner with Native American culture. Among the earliest were the “Maroon” populations that developed in the Atlantic coastal areas from Brazil to Virginia, and in the Caribbean, during the time of the slave trade. Some of them had an “Amistad” experience, having seized their slave ships and gone ashore as fugitives. They were soon joined by thousands of escaped slaves, and some took spouses from local Indian tribes. In this manner, they soon came to constitute a hybrid society. Because they spoke different African languages, some of them developed a European Pidgin language. In other cases, they learned a local Indian language that they developed to suit their own purposes, with the addition of some African vocabulary. The northernmost remaining representatives of these Maroon communities are the “Gullah” people of the Georgia Sea Islands, and the most numerous South American group comprises the “Bush Negroes” of Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana). In between, geographically, the most numerous group is the Garifuna, or “Black Caribs,” of Central America and the Caribbean. Altogether, the Garifuna number several hundred thousand people.

As southern slave society expanded along the Atlantic coast of North America in the eighteenth century, the Maroon communities along the coast increasingly came under attack from slave raiders who sold them to southern planters. The Maroons were forced to gradually move south to seek refuge. Some joined with Indian nations, notably the Seminoles of Florida and the Creeks of Georgia and Alabama, who had a history of accepting foreign allies into their Confederacy. Previously, the Creeks had accepted hundreds of escaped white indentured servants, as well as thousands of refugees from devastated eastern tribes, such as the Hitchitis and Shawnees. Individuals or families could be absorbed by the existing towns of the Confederacy, but larger groups of Maroons could negotiate some kind of “client” status. As clients, they paid an annual “tribute” in products or services to their Indian patrons, but were not under their direct control.

The “elite” ranks of southeastern Indian tribes, or those who owned land and livestock, also took on black people, but as chattel slaves rather than clients. These slaves lived under the same conditions that existed under the institution of slavery elsewhere in the United States. Both groups of blacks—slaves and clients—became somewhat “Indianized” in this situation, but the extent varied depending on local circumstances. At the extreme, Seminole blacks, who became known as Freedmen, spoke the Seminole language and participated fully in tribal politics. The man known to history as “Negro Abraham” was the chief negotiator for Seminole treaties with the U.S. government. Fully half the Seminole warriors who defeated the United States in a succession of three wars in the early nineteenth century were black. At the cessation of warfare, some black Seminoles joined the U.S. Army in the Southwest, where four of them earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.

After the Emancipation Proclamation, some confusion developed concerning the meaning of the word freedmen . The term free black was in use during slave times to designate a black who was not a slave. The newly freed slaves tended to use the term freedman to indicate their new status, though the term was already in use among Black Indians. But the Black Indians among the southeastern tribes, who were largely descended from Maroons, resented the implication that they were former slaves, and their descendents are still adamant in reserving the designation for themselves, stating that their ancestors “never were slaves.”

The last major incident of organized Maroon resistance to slavery in North America occurred in 1815, when the British abandoned their fort near Pensacola, Florida, leaving it and its armaments under control of 330 of their Maroon and Indian allies. Eight hundred black warriors from surrounding tribes soon joined them. The fort became known as “Negro Fort” and was attacked by the U.S. Army in March of 1816. After a lucky shot to the powder magazine by the Americans nearly destroyed the fort, the survivors who did not escape were killed or sold as slaves.

Some of the surviving Maroons joined major southeastern Indian tribes, while others fled to one of the small communities in isolated areas of the eastern United States, which became known as “triracial” communities. The people in these communities had ancestry among whites, blacks, and Indians, and they tried to remain inconspicuous to avoid persecution as blacks or removal to Indian Territory as Indians. Some are only now emerging from obscurity, hoping to be recognized as Indians by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. There are more than a hundred such communities, some of the more visible being the Brass Ankles and Turks of South Carolina, the Haliwas of North Carolina, the Melungeons of Tennessee, and the Red Bones of Louisiana. Some of them have Web sites supporting their historical claims.


Most Black Indians attached to the five “Civilized Tribes” of the Southeast (the Seminoles, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Cherokees) ultimately moved with these tribes when they were moved onto reservations in what is now Oklahoma in the 1830s. Their role in tribal government varied, however, from direct participation to a more marginal status, but they were all regarded legally as Indians, for example, when land was distributed to individuals under the Dawes Act in the early 1900s. As tribal claims have arisen since then concerning land and other settlements, Black Indians, or freedmen, have always demanded and received their share.

Ever since Indian Territory became part of the state of Oklahoma in 1907, there has been a steady tendency of Black Indians to melt into the general African-American population, unless there was some issue in the tribe that maintained their attention. In the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, for example, there are a large number of African Americans descended from Black Indians on the Dawes enrollment rosters. Periodically, there have been attempts by racist elements in the Indian tribes to expel their black citizens. One such incident occurred in March 2006, when Cherokee Principal Chief Chad Smith proposed the removal of 2,800 Black Cherokees from the tribal roster.

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about 6 years ago

Thank you for your studies and much needed work and information. please include my email address in any and all so-called black/indian information.

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about 6 years ago