I never felt that I belonged in my birth family. From an early age, I sensed that I was different and somehow out-of-place. I was the dark-haired child in a household full of blonds. My dad had dark hair, too — but, he was always away at sea — working to support our family. It took me years to discover that what I had inherited from him went way beyond my looks and disposition.
While my mother’s well-documented family tree stretched back to include Dutch settlers arriving in New Amsterdam in the 1600’s — my dad’s family was much more of a mystery. I remember him showing me an old sepia-hued photograph of a husband and wife who looked very Native American. They had dark eyes, dark complexion, and long dark hair. Evidently, my great, great, great grandmother was a Nanticoke Indian.
Nanticoke Indians of Delaware
The Nanticoke Indians of southern Delaware — also known as the Tidewater People — are an Algonquian tribe that was first encountered by Captain John Smith in 1608. They lived on the peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay – but, in the late 1700’s many of them moved up the Susquehanna where they ultimately became affiliated with the Iroquois.
The Nanticoke were distinguished from neighboring tribes by their darker complexion. According to their tradition they intermarried with a crew of Moorish sailors — Spanish Privateers aka pirates – who became shipwrecked along the southern coast of Delaware.
Although the Nanticoke fished and trapped for subsistence – these were unsettled times and their way of life was being turned upside down by the encroaching European settlers. According to a missionary who wrote about Native American culture at the time
They are also said to have been the inventors of a poisonous substance, by which they could destroy a whole settlement of people, and they are accused of being skilled in the arts of witchcraft…I have known Indians who firmly believed that they had people among them who could, if they pleased, destroy a whole army, by merely blowing their breath towards them.
Now that’s some powerful magic. Knowledge that was probably used for both good and evil – depending on whose side you were on.
My inheritance reflects the victories, defeats, and hard won battles of all my ancestors. These karmic traces inform who I am and how I see the world. In this legacy is a gift that’s longing to be expressed through me. How lucky am I to be part of this family?
I am much like you. My grandfather was Nanticoke. For some reason no one wants to acknowledge it.