Life in Possum Holler

Saline County, Arkansas, United States
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29 October 2007

Racial mixtures of the Upper South

"Our Legacy:Racial mixtures of the Upper South," Columnists -, By Janice Hayes-Williams, For The Capital. Published October 25, 2007. Follow link for full article.

The ethnicity of many blacks in the United States and in particular Maryland can be tied to the Indian population that was removed from this area hundreds of years ago. Relations between blacks and Indians can be traced back to the 1600's with the emergence of slavery.

The relationship between the colonists and the Native Americans began somewhat agreeable but diminished in less than 200 years. Because of the intermarriages of Native Americans with whites and blacks, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th century racial categories evolved.

In Maryland counties such as St. Mary's, Charles, Prince George's, and Calvert there were large numbers of individuals that were not of two races but three. The Catholics kept very good records and called these people Indians, partly because of were they lived. Anthropologists called them "Wesort's;" census enumerators called them mulattoes and today sociologists call them "Tri-Racial Isolates." During the 18th and 19th centuries these individuals in Maryland were also called "Free People of Color," "Free Negro" or mulatto.

Throughout the South there are numerous tri-racial isolate groups formerly enumerated as mulattoes; they are: "Brass Ankles" of South Carolina, "Guineas" of West Virginia, "Haliwas" and "Lumbees" of North Carolina, "Melungeons" of Tennessee and Kentucky, "Red Bones" of South Carolina and Louisiana and "Turks" also of South Carolina.

A few summers ago on a trip to Point Lookout here in Maryland, I had the opportunity to see one of the original muster rolls of soldiers who came from Blackistone Island in St Mary's County, now called Clements's Island. Most interesting was the fact that the men who came from Blackistone Island to fight during the Civil War listed their race not as White, Negro or mulatto, but "Griffe." Because many of these men had the last name Blackistone, I called Mr. Blackstone here in Annapolis and asked him "What in the world is a Griffe?"

He explained without hesitation that these were the people that inhabited Blackistone Island for 200 years and were of three races - European, African and Indian, a tri-racial isolate. Mr. Blackstone is a descendant of these people.