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The Delaware-'Moors': A Tri-Racial Group

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  • multiracialbookclub
    The Moors of Delaware: A Look at a Tri-Racial Group An intermingling of races was one of the products which occurred with the early European exploration and
    Message 1 of 1 , May 3, 2006
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      The Moors of Delaware :
      A Look at a Tri-Racial Group

      An intermingling of races was one of the products
      which occurred with the early European exploration
      and settlement of the North American continent.

      Stemming from these earlier interminglings, there
      exists within the Eastern United States today, in
      numbers totaling between fifty thousand and one
      hundred thousand persons, a variety of surviving,
      localized strains of mixed blood peoples.

      Those called the Moors or the Delaware
      Moors are a group of such descent.

      In a June, 1953 article, the geographer, Edward T.
      Price, mapped the locations of the chief populations
      of racially mixed groups in the Eastern United States

      Through the particular geographic distributions of
      these groups, Price indicated how environmental
      circumstances, such as swamps or inaccessible
      and barren mountain country, favored their growth.

      Many of the groups are located along the tidewater
      of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts where swamps,
      islands, or peninsulas have protected them and
      kept alive a portion of the aboriginal blood which
      greeted the first white settlers on these shores.

      Other pockets of these groups are located farther
      inland, in the Western Piedmont area, backing
      up against the Blue Ridge and Alleghenies.

      A few of the groups are to be found along the top
      of the Blue Ridge , and on several ridges of
      the Appalachian Great Valley just beyond.

      In addition to mapping the distribution and indicating
      environmental circumstances pertaining to these
      racially mixed groups, Price also noted a number
      of common phenomenon related to them.

      These groups have been presumed to be part white,
      with varying proportions of American Indian and
      Negro blood, although a lack of solid documentation
      concerning the origins of a good number
      of the groups makes determination
      of racial composition uncertain.

      Due to their particular racial mixtures, these groups
       are recognized as of intermediate social status,
      sharing lots with neither writes nor blacks,
      nor enjoying the government protection or
      tribal ties of typical Indian descendants.

      Old census records have indicated that the
      present number of mixed bloods have
      sprung from great reproductive increases
      of small initial populations of the groups.

      The predominance of a limited number of surnames
      within each group at present is in line with such a
      conclusion, and is also indicative of their high
      degree of endogamy, resulting from their
      intermediate status and their relative geographic
      isolation from the mainstream population.

      Characteristics of generally lower educational and
      income levels, as well as large families, tend to further
      mark the racially mixed groups as members of the
      more backward sector of the American nation.

      While all of the aspects mentioned above are
      descriptive of similarities between the various
      racially mixed groups distributed throughout the
      eastern United States , one must also realize that
      each group is essentially a unique phenomenon.

      Each one stems from a particular intermixture
      of races, and is related to a specific locale
      with recognition of the group crystallized by
      a name applied, either by the group itself or,
      by the people surrounding them in their region.

      The phenomena which Price noted as common
      denominators in his analysis of racially mixed
      groups generally hold true for the people
      called Moors, who reside in the Kent and
      Sussex Counties of Delaware , and across
      the Delaware Bay in Southern New Jersey .

      Concentrations consisting of members of this group
      are located in lowland, tidewater areas of the two
      states, areas which are basically rural, even today.

      Moors make up the largest portion of the total
      population, (a little over three hundred persons),
       of the small community of Cheswold,
      Kent County , Delaware .
      (Cheswold is about five miles north
      of the larger state capital, Dover ).
      These people also inhabit the rural
      area surrounding Cheswold.
      A number of Delaware Moors make their homes
       in and around the small town of Millsboro ,
      and along the north shore of the Indian
      River in Sussex County , Delaware .

      In addition to the Moors living in and around
      Cheswold and Millsboro , Delaware , a similar,
      but more dispersed, number of Moor families
      live in rural, southern New Jersey .

      One finds Moor families in the farming
      territory outside of Bridgeton , Millville ,
      and Vineland , New Jersey .

      The location of the Cheswold community does
      not, at first, seem to concur with Price's
      indications that racially mixed groups flourish
      in relatively isolated geographic areas.

      The fact that Cheswold is so near to Dover , and
      also, just west of a major state highway,
      Delaware Route 13, is at variance with that thesis.

      However, farmlands have served somewhat
      as a buffer between Cheswold and Dover ,
      and the Moor community has remained,
      up to the present, a separate entity.

      Information concerning the settlement in Cheswold
      by the Moors is more akin to Price's thesis.

      There are indications that Cheswold was not the
      initial settlement area for this group of Moors.

      Informant Wilson Davis, a Delaware Moor, stated
      that the Moors of Cheswold originally lived about
      ten miles to the northeast at Woodland Beach ,
      a more marshy area along the Delaware Bay .

      According to Mr. Davis, the Moors moved to farm
      farther inland and to settle in Cheswold during the
      last quarter of the nineteenth century, as the
      result of a large storm which inundated much
      of the land surrounding Woodland Beach .

      The Moorish areas in Sussex County , Delaware
      and in southern New Jersey are in more
      sparsely populated, rural regions.

      In both regions, the landscape is covered by truck
      farms or dense pine forests, and neither area
      is crisscrossed by major traffic routes.

      Geography has played some part in setting the Moors
      start from the mainstream American population,
      but the racial composition of this group, linked
      to their origins, has played a more primary role.

      A number of scholars have taken note of this
      group which, for the most part, considers itself
      distinct from both Negro and white races.

      Researchers have examined their mixed blood
      characteristics and have endeavored to
      trace the precise origins of the Moors.

      In discussing the physical appearance of the
      Moors, as well as the Nanticoke Indian
      descendants to whom some Moors
      are related, C.A. Weslager wrote:

      certain facial characteristics...set them
      apart from both whites and Negroes.

      The darkest have brown skins and the lightest
      resemble their white neighbors in complexion.

      Blonde, red and sandy hair may be seen,
      but the majority have brown or black hair,
      either wavy or straight and coarse like
      that of the full blooded American Indian.

      Kinky or woolen hair...is not often seen
      ...straight noses and thin lips are typical.

      Eye colors range from grays and
      blues to dark brown and black.

      Many of the mixed bloods have sharply chiseled
      features, swarthy complexions and straight hair....

      Others are distinctly Indian-like in appearance,
      having high and wide cheekbones,
      even among the same family.

      Light skinned Parent often have
      dark skinned children and vice versa.

      No one has really been able to trace the
      precise origins of the Delaware Moors.

      Legend and historical hearsay
      have suggested possibilities.

      C.A. Weslager, in his book Delaware's Forgotten
      , presents (in his own words) legends of three
      categories which he collected from Delaware Moors.

      One category of legend purports that the Moors
      originated sometime before the Revolutionary War
      through the founding of a colony along the
      Atlantic coast of the Delmarva peninsula by
      a group of dark skinned Spanish Moors.
      Through intermarriage with the local Indians come
      the people called Moors in Delaware and New Jersey .

      A second category of legend Weslager
      refers to as pirate legends.

      These legends stated that Spanish or Moorish
      pirates, in the later eighteenth century, were
      shipwrecked off the Delaware coast in the
      Delaware Bay or near the Indian River Inlet.

      The shipwrecked men were taken in by the Nanticoke
      Indians and came to marry Indian women, thus
      beginning the mixed stock of Delaware Moors.
      Some versions of this legend considered the
      shipwrecked men as Spanish, French,
      or Moorish sailors and not buccaneers.

      Weslager categorizes a third legend type, which
      he found most popular among the Moors…

      In this legend type a beautiful woman
      and a dark-skinned slave or
      slaves are the central characters.

      The woman was wealthy, either Spanish or Irish,
      and lived on a plantation in southern Delaware .
      She purchased one male slave …fell in
      love and had children of dusky complexion.
      Not being accepted by the white community,
      the family sought associations elsewhere
      and consequently, mixed with the Indians
       in the vicinity of the plantation.

      Other modifications of this plot said that a
      similar women bought seven couples of
      Moorish slaves whose children intermarried
      with Indian descendants living on Indian River.…

      However, this does not account for the fact
      that most of the surnames of the Delaware
      Moors suggest English descent….

      Although the specific origins of the Delaware Moors
      is unclear, most scholars and the Moors themselves,
      have tended to come to the consensus that the group
      can be identified as being a racial mixture of the
      Indians who once occupied the Delmarva region
      (the Nanticokes and the Lenni Lenape),
      of whites of European descent, and
      of some unspecified African strain.

      Also agreed upon is that the Moors of Delaware
      have come to be related, by blood and marriage
      ties, to the Nanticoke Indian descendants of
      Indian River Hundred, Sussex County, Delaware.

      Returning to Price's thesis concerning tri-racial
      groups, one finds that, as with other groups, the
      Delaware Moors developed their particular racial
      mixture in much earlier times, (in this case,
      during the Colonial period), and that
      the present numbers in the group are
      descendants of that earlier mixed population.

      According, to written sources and informants, it
      has been customary for Moors to marry Moors.

      Because of this endogamy, the Delaware
      Moors today, as a group, consist of
      members of closely interrelated families…

      In terms of occupation, most Moors have been
      tenant- or landowning farmers and have earned
      moderate and respectable incomes from working the
      land, thus not needing higher academic educations.

      The male Moors who entered the labor pool in
      non-farming occupations with no higher education
      found various blue-collar level jobs in construction,
      maintenance, or factory work, for example.

      The Moor women who have worked have
      done so in factory work, as domestics
      or as sales persons in retail stores.

      Some persons who have previously investigated the
      Delaware Moors have considered them no different
      outwardly from other rural or small town Delawareans.

      Other writers have felt the Moors
       maintain their own peculiar traditions.

      When doing field research among the Delaware
      Moors in the early 1940's, C.A. Weslager
      claimed that "beneath the surface lurk shadows
      that can be traced to Indian life of the past…

      It does not appear that a peculiar lifestyle or variant
      traditions have been the elements marking the
      Delaware Moors as an identifiable group.

      Strong family ties and separate social
      structures do seem to be forces
      maintaining a "groupness" among them.

      Informants indicated that most social affairs
      for the Moors are and have been family affairs.

      Both Mrs. Dorothy Carney and Wilson Davis recall
      "Big Thursdays" which were held annually at
      Woodland Beach on the second Thursday in August.

      This was an all-day affair of picnicking
      and entertainment such as swimming,
      dancing, wrestling, and foot races.

      Wilson Davis says that it was strictly a Moor
      affair, a time when relatives from Cheswold,
      lower Delaware , and from New Jersey came
      together and the whole clan had a reunion…

      The clannish nature of the Delaware Moors and the
      existence of their own network of organizations and
      institutions have, in good part, been created by the
      dynamics of prejudice and racial discrimination.

      These elements which in some ways set the
      Moors apart, are not due to significant cultural
      differences between the Moors and
      their mainstream counterparts.

      As with other minorities, the Moors have
      often been barred from the cliques, social
      clubs, and churches of white America .

      Consequently, they have needed to construct to
      a certain extent their own parallel social world.

      There are now many interests served by the
      preservation of this separate communal situation;
      it is doubtless that many of the Moors are
      psychologically most comfortable in it, even though
      they desire that discrimination in such areas as
      employment, education, and housing be eliminated.

      This is slowly happening as the climate of the
      nation of the whole end of the particular regions
      inhabited by the Moors become more
      tolerant toward racial minorities.

      While the Moors have long been behaviorally
      assimilated into mainstream American life,
      they are still in the process of becoming
       structurally or institutionally assimilated.

      As long as there are needs to be served by such
      strong family ties and parallel social structures,
      the Moors of Delaware and southern New Jersey
      will remain a viable and identifiable group.



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