The Racially-Mixed People of the Ramapos: Undoing the Jackson White Legends

The Racially-Mixed People of the Ramapos: Undoing the Jackson White Legends

American Anthropologist
Volume 74, Number 5 (October 1972)
pages 1276-1285
DOI: 10.1525/aa.1972.74.5.02a00190

Daniel Collins
North Carolina State University

A review of the literature fails to validate the Jackson White legends which traditionally have accounted for the presence of a racially mixed collectivity in the Ramapo Mountain area. Extant oral traditions supporting the least documented and most pejorative aspects of the legends serve to maintain isolation and threaten the continuation of the Ramapo Mountain community of racially mixed people.

AMONG LOCAL PEOPLE of the Ramapo Valley, which crosses the New YorkNew Jersey border at Suffern, New York, the term “Jackson White” denotes a group of mixed breed persons who are held to have descended from the amalgamated issue of renegades, outlaws, and whores of various colors who at various times throughout the eighteenth century sought the sanctuary of the Ramapo Mountains. The name “Jackson White” connotes a racial anomaly spawned by inbreeding and intermarriage, born into ignorance and degeneracy, and condemned to poverty, feeblemindedness, and suspicion.

The difficulty of distinguishing between legend and history has hampered the establishment of a settled account of the racially mixed people of the Ramapo Mountains. They have been defined by one state agency as “a race of people of mixed Negro, Indian, and White blood inhabiting the Ramapo Mountains in the Northern part of New Jersey and extending over the border into the adjoining section of New York State” (Vineland Training School 1911:1). That a people known as “Jackson Whites” inhabit the rugged Appalachian foothills called the Ramapo Mountains is true; whether or not they constitute a “race of people” and what the historical components of that people are until most recently have been open questions.

There have been three clusters of people referred to as “Jackson Whites” in the valley. In the northern portion “Jackson Whites” have been located around Sloatsburg, Ladentown, and Haverstraw, New York. The other two clusters are centered in the southern portion at Ringwood and Stag Hill (Mahwah) New Jersey.

The physical characteristics of the racially-mixed people are varied as would be expected. Hair textures are both kinky and straight. Skin pigmentations range from brown through red-brown, tan (called “coffee” locally), white, and albino. Some have facial characteristics which appear to be distinctly Indian, and others seem more Caucasian or Negro in their conformation…

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