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Southeastern Native Americans with Jewish DNA

The substantial presence of Jewish, Middle Eastern and North African DNA in Cherokee descendants has been highly publicized, but several POOF members were also surprised to learn that they had Jewish or Middle Eastern ancestry. They wondered if they were really Cherokees rather than being Chickasaws, Creeks, Choctaws, Shawnees or Seminoles. The answer we now have is, “Probably not. There are several ways that your ancestors and Sephardic families could have intermarried.”

We are making a lot of progress in the research to explain Sephardic and Iberian ancestry among Muskogeans and Shawnees. At the beginning of the project in the spring of 2013, it seemed to be a question that might never be answered, but the answers came in the 17th and 18th Century archives. The historic evidence has been concealed, forgotten or ignored, but it is readily available on the internet and Colonial Era books. Here are the possible ways that Sephardic and Ashkanazi colonists joined your family tree.

1. Dutch & Scottish Jewish traders: Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jewish traders, based in New Amsterdam and the Delaware Bay began traversing the entire length of the Great Appalachian Valley, early in the 1600s. Immediately, the Shawnee, Tamahiti and Yuchi in that region would have been in direct contact with these traders. It was common practice for traders to marry into the families of their favorite clients. Dutch place names survive in several locations in the Southern Highlands. There is even a landmark in the Atlanta Metropolitan Area with a Dutch name.

A large number of both Sephardic and Ashkanazi Jews immigrated to Scotland when it went Protestant. The Calvinists in Scotland believed that the Jews were “God’s Chosen People” and therefore it was their duty to give them sanctuary. Most of these Scottish and Ulster Scots Jews changed their last names to Scottish or English forms. Many eventually migrated to English colonies in the New World. Many of those, who emigrated, became Indian traders. Isolated from their Jewish communities, they lost their ancestral religious traditions. When the Great Awakening swept through early 19th century America, their descendants typically became Methodists, Baptists or Disciples (Disciples of Christ.)

2. French colonists with Jewish ancestry: When expelled from Spain and Portugal, many Sephardic Jews first went to France. They associated with the Protestants there. Most of those, who did not later migrate to the Netherlands, changed their names to traditional French forms. Some converted to Protestantism, while others both attended Huguenot services and observed Jewish traditions. The situation in France for Protestants and Jews became increasingly unpleasant in the 1600s. Officially, neither group could legally immigrate to a French colony, but many did, by pretending to be Roman Catholics. The contrabandeur, Jean La Fitte, was a Sephardic Jew.

Many Jewish families prospered in New Orleans and Mobile. Many more French Huguenot and Cryptic Jewish Frenchmen became marines, so they could be posted in remote locations away from the suspicious eyes of the French church officials. Captain Jean Baptiste Marchand, was from a Sephardic Jewish family that converted to Protestantism. Apparently, Marchand at least publicly converted back to Catholicism. Otherwise, he could not have been an officer. So those who pride themselves on being descended from Marchand and Seloy also carry the DNA of the Children of Israel.

3. Chickasaw silver mines: James Adair’s Chickasaw wife apparently was of substantial Sephardic heritage. Many historians strongly suspect that Adair himself was of Jewish ancestry, since he was fluent in several dialects of Hebrew and could write in Hebrew. His wife’s mother town was Ustanauli (or Eastonolee.) which was in northwest Georgia. The Chickasaw town of Eastanolee moved to western Tennessee when the Cherokees decided to make their town’s location the site of the Cherokee capital, New Echota.

Why Adair’s wife would be substantially Jewish seemed to be a conundrum until Marilyn Rae discovered a Chattanooga newspaper article from the 1920s. During the 1600s there was a silver mining operation at Fort Mountain, east of the site of New Echota. The arched tunnel extends several hundred feet into the mountain. So unknown to virtually everybody, including the stalwart Melungeon researchers, there was ALSO a Jewish mining colony in northwest Georgia in addition to several in the Georgia gold fields to the east.

4. Talasee Creeks: The homeland of the Talasee Creeks during the Late Mississippian Period was the Little Tennessee River Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. They spoke Itsate and were closely associated with their neighbors, the Chiaha. Their name, meaning “Offspring of Tula,” suggests that they either were the descendants of the original occupant of Etowah Mounds (E-tula) or else claimed descent from Teotihuacan in Mexico.

The Talasee were pushed out of the Smokies in the early 1700s by the suddenly powerful Cherokee Alliance. They originally settled in northeast Georgia. Those who did not want to join the Creek Confederacy soon continued southward to the Okefenokee Swamp region when their lands in Georgia were sold to the new colony of Georgia. Eventually, the Okefenokee Talasee became known as Seminole. Their descendants live in Florida and Oklahoma today.

The northeast Georgia Talasee formed a major province of the 18th century Creek Confederacy. Their principal chief, Hopoithle Mikko, wisely led them to be allies of the Patriots during the American Revolution. When much of his province was ceded to Georgia in 1785, Hopoithle led a major portion of his people to what is now Russell County, AL. Later, some of the Talasee established a second town near Wetumka. So if you are a Creek with heritage from either one of those areas, you could be Talasee.

Here is where it gets interesting. I spent the winter and spring of 2010 camping along the Little Tennessee River Gorge. While there, I discovered an inscription written in the Sephardic Ladino dialect that memorialized a Jewish wedding on September 15, 1615. The boulder was at 5400 feet, overlooking the gorge. It just dawned on me the other day, that I was also overlooking the original provincial capital of the Talasee. It is quite probable that the descendants of that Jewish wedding and their Jewish neighbors moved south to Georgia. They could have been mixed-heritage people from the very beginning, since mostly men traveled to the mountains to be miners.

5. Bohurons: The Bohurons were a particularly warlike band of “Indians” in northeast Georgia, who mostly had Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic and Dutch names. ALL local and state histories in Georgia label the Bohurons as being a band of Cherokees in northeast Georgia. This puzzled me since the Bohurons were located in land owned by the Creek Confederacy until 1818. Well, when you actually read the book that these 20th century histories claim to quote, the book clearly states that the Bohurons were members of the Creek Confederacy within the Talasee Province. They apparently were descended from the European gold miners in the Georgia Gold Fields. If your Creek ancestry was from the Georgia Mountains via Russell, Tallapoosa or Elmore Counties, Alabama, you could well carry Hebrew, Spanish, Arab, Turkish or Dutch DNA.

6. Sweet Home Alabama: The most consistent argument by some people against the presence of large numbers of Europeans and Middle Easterners in the 17th century Appalachians is the question, “Okay, where did they go? Early Tennessee pioneers, John Tipton and John Sevier, mentioned seeing a few Jewish villages, but there were not many Sephardic Jews in northeastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, when the region opened up to Anglo-American settlers.”

Paddle down the Tennessee River into northern Alabama, though, and you will find thousands upon thousands of Alabamans, who proudly trace their ancestry to a Dutch ancestor, who was one of the earliest settlers in the rugged, stony terrain, south of the Tennessee River. It was unsuited for the development of cotton plantations. Some families openly claim that their ancestor was a Dutch Jew from eastern Tennessee or western North Carolina. Most say that their ancestors were Black Dutch. However, Svart Duits (Black Dutch) was the term that polite Dutchmen called their new Jewish neighbors.

In the late 20th century several thousand Black Dutch descendants in the Lawrence County, AL area formed the New Echota Cherokee Band. It is now Alabama’s largest “Native American” tribe. Where they are located was always occupied by the Chickasaws, but the local histories have been thoroughly Cherokeenized to place the Cherokees in that locale when de Soto came through. Actually, Hernando de Soto probably didn’t come through there, but one has to keep up with the Jones in North Carolina.

To the southeast of Lawrence County, however, is a much larger area that was owned by the Creek Confederacy until 1814. Just as many or more “Black Dutch” from northeastern Tennessee and Georgia settled there. Their descendants seem equally divided between claiming Dutch ancestry or Creek ancestry. Those Black Dutch descendants, who look the most like the “Cherokees” in Lawrence County are the ones most likely to claim Creek Indian ancestry, because they think that is what an Indian is supposed to look like. Well, by the 21st century most of us Americans are Heinz 57 varieties anyway.

7. Mother Nature: There is always the possibility that somewhere in your past that two people met and fell in love. To them race, skin color or religious traditions were secondary to being with the person that they cared so much about. In that case, no complex historical explanation is necessary.

And now you know!

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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.



    Mr. Thornton,
    Please advise. I grew up in Charleston, West Virginia identifying with my father’s Crow, and Blackfeet (Scottish, African American) lineage. My mother claimed Cherokee, and another nation, which she can no longer remember (due to age/health), and because of the nature of our relationship, I don’t recall (Jewish of German descent, African American).
    Several years ago, I took one of my daughters to a dermatologist. He asked to see the palms of my hands. Like a good patient, I showed them to him. Then he asked if I was Cherokee or another Nation, to which I answered, “My mother says we’re Cherokee.”
    He explained to me, that he and a colleague had conducted, and published research that showed when African blood mixes with only Cherokee, or the other tribe, it produces freckles around the lips, and/or hands.
    How should I pursue the information? My main focus is to become a tribal member for artistic qualification purposes.
    Your attention is appreciated.


    I had my DNA done twice by two different organizations with the same results. I am Jewish, but as I suspected, had a large percentage of Asian heritage: Japanese, Korean the largest, next Southeast Asian, Syrian, etc. I also came up with a little over 10 percent Ojibwe (Chippawah) heritage. The Asian didn’t surprise me because if Jews came from anywhere in the Russian areas, there would be Siberian, which crossed over to the Americans and became American Indians, Japanese, close enough to the Russian trading areas and Syrian, not unusual for Jews to have midEastern heritage since that is where we originated. Aside from traders in the Americas, just glancing at a map would give one the ability to have the Asian heritage, whether it bacame Native American or something else. I also came up with Mesizo. How? I figured out that the Spanish Conquistadors, and Christopher Columbus in particular (speculation that at least his mother’s family was Jewish) had Jews on his ship from the Inquisition. These Jews could have easily left children behind or stayed themselves. Of course, Ghenis Khan and the Ottomans went through Europe spreading their seed. It would be a rare find to find a group that is pure, unless they were completely isolated from the beginning


      Which test let you know that you were Ojibwe?


    Good, concise, if simplified, piece, Richard. Keep up the important work! Knowledge is the Fire that lights the way.


      There is “NO” such thing as Jewish DNA, Judiaism is a religious belief, stop trying to create false narratives and propaganda!

      • That’s true. There is no such thing as a Jewish DNA test marker . . . only certain combinations of Middle Eastern DNA test markers that are typical of some people who practice the Jewish faith . . . but not all.


        Actually, modern Jews are a secular people.


    We should also remember that Jews, Berbers (Moors), and Arabs mixed in NW Africa and Iberia, which the Muslims dominated for seven centuries. From there, their genes enter most of the royal and noble houses of Europe. Therefore, anyone with ancestry in Iberia, the British Isles or western France has a very good chance of showing genetic markers associated with Jewish, Berber, and Arab databases. They came with the Spanish, French, AND British colonists.


    Found the article interesting. I am from the San Luis Valley in Colorado. In the 1980s there was a woman from San Luis who contracted a rare form of breast cancer– that only “Jews” get. An article in the Wall Street Journal told her story. As it turns out the majority of the Hispanic population of the south end of the San Luis Valley are “Conversos”; Jews that were forced to convert during the time of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand or Spain. These people were deported to colonize New Mexico. —- which was in my mind a death sentence from the Catholic church, as the lands they were sent to were inhabited by the Ute and Commanche tribes.

    • That’s very interesting Jill. There is a famous tragic story from the those days in New Mexico. An entire Converso family in New Mexico was hauled in chains all the way to Mexico City and burned at the stake in front of a large jeering crowd. Apparently the Inquisition was making an example of them for the other Conversos. There is also another explanation. These people were the wealthiest family in New Mexico. The church grabbed all their belongings and real estate.


    Anyone heard of the “Hanukkiah ” earthwork, in southwest Ohio? I find It fascinating, although not much info is available, and the site has long since been destroyed. Search for the picture, it is stunning. National Archives Photograph RG77 144.20 Below is all I have on it.

    Ohio’s East Fork or “Hanukkiah” Earthworks

    J. Huston McCulloch

    National Archives Photograph RG77 144.20

    The ancient earthworks depicted above once lay along waters of the East Fork of the Little Miami River in Ohio, about 20 miles above its mouth near Milford, and about 25-30 miles east of Cincinnati. They have long since been plowed level, and their orientation and exact location are unknown.
    Ohio had dozens of such large-scale earthworks, attributed to the Hopewell Culture of circa 100 BC to 500 AD. However, most of them incorporated relatively simple geometrical structures, primarily circles, squares, octagons, and extended parallel walls. The East Fork Works are unusual for their complexity.

    The above map is a portion of one drawn in 1823 and attributed by Warden (1834) to Maj. Isaac Roberdeau, head of the Bureau of Topographical Engineers, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The complete original map, depicted below, is preserved in the Cartographic and Architectural Branch of the Military Archives Division of the U.S. National Archives in Alexandria, Va., Record Group 77 (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fortifications File), drawer 144, sheet no. 20. The 5″ scale at the lower left represents 2000 feet. However, the map consists of two sheets of identical paper glued together, so it is not entirely clear whether this scale pertains only to the Milford Works on the left panel, or to the entire map, including the East Fork Works on the right panel. A less detailed survey of the same works depicted on the Roberdeau map, made circa 1803 by Gen. William Lytle of Cincinnati, had previously been published in Williamson’s (1811) Observations on the Climate in Different Parts of America.

    National Archives Photograph RG77 144.20

    In an important new book entitled Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans, Anthony F.C. Wallace, University Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, at the University of Pennsylvania, notes that in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson was impressed by William Lytle’s early maps of the East Fork and Milford Works, and requested more information about “Those works of Antiquity” (Wallace 1999, p. 139 and n. 18). Wallace includes the photograph of the more detailed 1823 Corps of Engineers map presented above (pp. 140-1).

    Jefferson’s Presidential interest in these specific earthworks may explain why the Corps of Engineers would have taken the trouble in 1823 to map structures that had no conceivable contemporary military value. The fact that the 1823 map depicts precisely those earthworks surveyed by Lytle c. 1803 strongly indicates that there was a more than coincidental link between the two surveys.

    Roberdeau’s 1823 map is the ultimate source of Panel 2B of Plate 34 of Squier and Davis’s 1848 Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley. In 1894, Cyrus Thomas, who was unaware of this primary source, dismissed the Squier and Davis diagram as “largely imaginary.” In 1902, Gerard Fowke likewise indicated that the “interior arrangement” induced “some scepticism as to the accuracy of the drawings.” Fowke rotated the Squier and Davis illustration 90 degrees, and nicknamed the structure the “Gridiron”.

    Thomas and Fowke did not indicate precisely what it was about the East Fork Works that they found so questionable. Subsequently, however, David Berry of Columbus, Ohio has noted that the structure inside the walls looks remarkably like the nine-branched lampstand or menorah used to celebrate the Jewish festival of Hanukkah (or Hanukah, or Channukah, etc). In Israel today, this Hanukkah menorah is called a hanukkiah (or hanukiah, or channukiah, etc), to differentiate it from the seven-branched temple menorah, a more ancient symbol of Judaism. Eight of the nine lamps of the hanukkiah represent the eight days an oil lamp is supposed to have miraculously burned, despite the fact that it was filled by a jar that had only enough oil for one day, after an historical seige of Jerusalem was lifted in 165 B.C. by Judah Maccabbee. The ninth lamp, the shammes or “servant,” traditionally stands either higher than or aside from the other eight, and is used to light the others on the eight days of Hanukkah. It should be noted that the upper portion of the outer structure of the East Fork Works bears a curious resemblance to an ancient oil lamp. The original oil lamps of the hanukkiah are now commonly replaced by candles, as in the U.S. postage stamp to the right.

    Squier and Davis obtained their information from an intermediate, secondary source published in French by the American geographer David Baillie Warden (1834). They were unaware of Roberdeau’s original map. This primary source demonstrates that, despite the objections of Thomas and Fowke, Squier and Davis did faithfully depict the earthworks themselves. However, it also shows that they and Warden added terrain features to Roberdeau’s original map that may in fact be imaginary. Traces of the mound’s outline might still be visible from the air, if a concerted search for it were made. The “Gridiron” name for the structure indicates, if nothing else, that Fowke had more interest in football than in ancient history.

    The bottom and left sides of the East Fork Works were originally labeled “200 Feet”, but this is impossibly small given that the vertical “candle sticks” of the “menorah” are each labeled as being “66 Ft” apart, for a total width of 528 feet between the centers of the two outside “candle sticks.” Someone later added an additional zero to each of the 200’s, so that they now read 2000 Feet. This would correspond well to the scale at the bottom of the left panel, but it is not clear that this was intended to apply to both panels. Furthermore, it would mean that the “menorah” and the outer walls must have been drawn on a very different scale, even though Lytle’s map shows them in essentially the same proportion. If the “menorah” is correctly labeled and the outer walls are on the same scale, the base would be about 902 feet long, measured center to center and including the small redoubt.

    In 2006, Frank Otto resolved this discrepancy of scale by proposing that the map was made by a draftsman back in Washington who was working from field notes that gave the length of the left and bottom walls as 900 feet, but misread the 9s as 2s, as is sometimes easy to do. The Milford works may then have simply been turned so as to fit the largest sheet of paper that was available. The East Fork Works, drawn to a different scale and oriented “upside up” with no necessary relation to north, but with a fancy caption that applies to both works, were then attached to make a single map.

    For further details, see McCulloch (1996) , now available online.

    The Milford Group

    The left portion of the full map, displayed above, represents the Milford Group, also depicted in Panels 1 and 2a of Plate 34 in Squier and Davis. Although north is not indicated, it must be about 70 degrees counterclockwise from the top for this portion of the map in order to place the East Milford Works (the smaller square and irregular circle) in their known orientation. The principal river is identified as the Little Miami, and the river joining it at the bottom is identified as its East Fork.

    This primary source demonstrates that Squier and Davis drew the extension and “wing” to the Milford Works on much too small a scale. The connecting circle must in fact have been on top of the high knoll in the center of Milford, and the “wing” must have extended into south Milford. They also detached the West Milford Works from the plan, and somehow inverted the original diagram in mirror image. For further discussion, see McCulloch (1996).

    McCulloch, J. Huston, “Ohio’s ‘Hanukkiah Mound'” , Ancient American, Vol. 3, # 14 [Sept/Oct 1996], pp. 28-37. Click on title for online PDF.
    Squier, Ephraim G., and Edwin H. Davis, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley: Comprising the Results of Extensive original Surveys and Explorations. Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, Vol. 1. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, 1848.

    Wallace, Anthony F.C., Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans, Harvard University Press, 1999.

    Warden, David Baillie, “Recherches sur les antiquities de l’Amerique du nord,” in Henri Baradere, ed., Antiquites mexicaines: Relation des trois expeditions du capitaine DuPaix, Jules Didot, Paris, 1834. (3 vols.: text in Vol. 2, plates in Vol. 3.)

    Williamson, Hugh, Observations on the Climate in Different Parts of America, 1811.
    Maintained and written by J. Huston McCulloch
    Send comments to:
    Last revised 8/19/06


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