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Hebrew speaking Indians in the Southern Appalachian Mountains

Hebrew speaking Indians in the Southern Appalachian Mountains

Rabbi Menashe Ben Israel, Chief Rabbi of Amsterdam, recorded an intriguing story in his book, Mikveh Yisrael, written in 1650. He related a conversation that he had with a Jewish Dutch explorer of the Americas. The explorer related how he made contact with some Native Americans in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, but after trying to communicate with them in every possible European language, he had no success. Being a Jew, as was his first mate, these two began to talk among themselves in Late Medieval Hebrew. To his utter amazement, upon hearing him speak Hebrew to his first mate, the Native American chief responded in kind and stated, “Shema Yisrael.”

As we have mentioned in earlier articles,   many Sephardic Jews, who fled the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal,  ended up in the Netherlands.  There, they were called Svart Duets or Black Dutch.  These Black Dutch played a major role in the rise of the  Netherlands to a world power. They opened up trade routes within the interior of North America and constituted a very high percentage of Dutch naval captains and officers.  It was a Dutch vessel that transported a shipload of English colonists to the coast of Georgia in 1621, so they could join the predominantly French Protestant colony of Melilot (1565) in Northeast Georgia.  Nodoroc, the dormant mud volcano in Northeast Metro Atlanta, is a Dutch* word, meaning “swamp smoke.”

*Nodoroc is the Anglicization of words in Late Medieval Duets, not modern Nederlandische.  Overnight, some Dutch readers questioned the translation made by our expert POOF linguist, Marilyn Rae.

Needham and Arthur Expedition (1673)

This is certainly not the only reference to European colonists being in the Southern Highlands during the late 16th and 17th centuries.  My book,  The Forgotten History of North Georgia, has several pages of eyewitness accounts.  Here is an example . . .  Abraham Wood was a late 17th century Virginia merchant and explorer.  In a letter describing the Callemaco River, which is now the Tennessee River, Wood stated:

Eight dayes jorney down this river lives a white people which have long beardes and whiskers and weares clothing, and on some of ye other rivers lives a hairey people with darker skin, but not like the Indians . . .”

Wood sent two employees to eastern Tennessee, Robert Needham and Gabriel Arthur,  to establish trade with the Native peoples on the Upper Tennessee River.  Near the confluence of the Holston and French Broad Rivers, they visited a large Christian town built of brick and apparently inhabited by people from Armenia or eastern Anatolia.   There was also a town built of wood, which was inhabited by Africans.  Needham and Arthur encountered several “Spanyards, Portughees and Turkes” on trade routes in present day southwestern Virginia and northeastern Tennessee.

In 1991,  a team of history professors at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill “modernized” the report by Needham and Arthur.  All references to the branches of the Creek Indians in Virginia and Tennessee were deleted.  Those words were replaced by “Charakeys.”   The unethical professors inserted the name of a Cherokee town as the destination of the traders.  They also changed the name of the river to Tanasi.    The Tennessee River did not get that name until 1785.   The professors also deleted most references to the “Spanyards, Portughees and Turkes”.  It is this “modernized” version that one typically sees online and in history books . . . especially those relating to Cherokee history.

Obviously,  the Early Colonial History of the Southeast is very different than what contemporary history books state.

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

13 Comments

  1. csmoke@webound.com'

    my blood relatives cuzns in Oklahoma/Texas have told me they were always told the family is black Dutch. I always thought it was just an expression of the old timers. this keeps getting more complicated…

    Reply
  2. Yep! A whole century of European colonization in the Southeast was erased by 18th and 19th century British & American historians.

    Reply
    • rcs5ster@gmail.com'

      My ethnicity DNA shows Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jewish as well as significant Portuguese, Spanish, and Turkish ancestry. Also, there is Libyan, Berber, Iranian, Egyptian, and Iraqi present. I grew up believing I was Scots-Irish. Native American ancestry was at 8% on one test.

      Reply
      • Very interesting Richard. Do you know where your ancestors were living during the 1700s and 1600s? We could learn a lot from you!

        Thanks for contacting us.

        Richard T.

        Reply
        • rcs5ster@gmail.com'

          They lived in Virginia and North Carolina mainly and migrated to Appalachia in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
          My Native American ancestry was mixed with Hispanic according to one DNA test.

          Reply
      • bettycloerwallace@runbox.com'

        Richard Stewart, do you mind telling us which company or database you used that resulted in your DNA findings?

        Reply
        • rcs5ster@gmail.com'

          I used http://www.dnaconsultants.com owned by Donald Yates. He was involved in testing Melungeon ancestry along with a variety of others such as Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews. Please look at his website. I related his findings for me which were similar to Family Tree DNA reports on some ethnicities. I am neither advocating for his services nor discounting them. Many of my family lines “brick wall” at a certain point in the early 1700s or later 1600s. I have a multitude of unknown wives.

          Reply
          • bwilkes@tuscanyglobal.com'

            Richard, I had very similar results on my test.
            Tracing back through documentary genealogy, I have been able to confirm all of those elements.

            DNA Consultants is the only firm we recommend to our genealogy clients.

  3. larasanders67@gmail.com'

    One line of my family in South Carolina was suppose to be Black Dutch, too!

    Reply
    • Lara, anything that you can tell us about your Black Dutch ancestors, would be greatly appreciated.

      Thanks

      Richard T.

      Reply
      • larasanders67@gmail.com'

        I wish I knew! That side has been a dead end for me! My gr-gr-gr-grandfather William Mayfield b.Nov 5 1825 I think in Chester Co. SC and died 25 May 1900 in Coke County, Texas. He was married to Perlina on the 1860 census record in Chester Co, SC. Family tradition has her last name as Benson. She died ca 1860-65.

        Reply
        • larasanders67@gmail.com'

          I think the black Dutch was Perlina’s side.

          Reply
  4. nomad1392@hotmail.com'

    Question ? Richard with this story, why did you cast doubt on my previous post on the story about Rabbi Menashe Ben Israel sending a a young man to the Dutch colony of what is now New York.
    The story ended with him staying and marrying a native woman and becoming a Mohawk chief. Would it not have been the same in the north east as in the souteast, Jewish people intermarrying with the natives, just wanted to know your thoughts???

    Reply

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