The Delaware-'Moors': A Tri-Racial Group
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
Folks, 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.