September 02, 2011

The myth of Churchill's Iroquois ancestors

Is it true that Churchill and Clinton are Cherokee? A Winston Churchill website has this posting in its "Myths" section:

Churchill Had Iroquois Ancestors

I don't know where the Cherokee claim came from, but the Iroquois claim apparently comes from this:In Jennie: The Life of Lady Randolph Churchill, Vol. 1, Ralph G. Martin wrote that Randolph S. Churchill in his biography of his father noted that the mother of Jennie's grandmother Clarissa was one Anna Baker whose "mother's maiden name is not recorded in the genealogies" and "is believed to have been an Iriquois [sic] Indian."So we're talking about Anna Baker and her mother. The latter would be Churchill's great-great-great grandmother.

Unfortunately for the rumor-mongers, the posting describes Anna Baker's birth to her parents Joseph and Experience Martin:Joseph Baker, born at Jamestown, Rhode Island on 12 February 1738 or 1739, married one Experience Martin in Swansea, Massachusetts on 4 September 1760. Experience Martin was the daughter of Eleazer Martin of Swansea (died 1749) and his wife, also named Experience, who, as a widow, was recorded in a land transaction of 30 March 1776. Circa 1761 Joseph and Experience Baker, together with Joseph's brother William and two male cousins, George Sherman Sr. and Jr., migrated to Sackville in the newly created British Province of Nova Scotia, where Anna reputedly was born. They were all living at Sackville in 1770, but later returned to New England. The ancestry of Joseph Baker is well documented.If Anna's mother wasn't an Indian, maybe the father of Anna's child was:Biographer Martin went on to suggest "the possibility that Anna Baker may have been raped by an Indian and that [her daughter] Clarissa Willcox may have been half-caste" which, even for prurient writers, is quite a stretch. There were no Iroquois Indians in Nova Scotia where Anna likely spent much of her young womanhood. While there were certainly Iroquois in upper New York State, where she moved as a 25-year-old wife and mother, her husband's will mentions their daughter "Clarind Willcox" and her sisters, which in itself seems definitive. Of course it is possible that Clarissa may have been an illegitimate half-Indian, with the Willcoxes bringing her up as a daughter; but this is harder to believe than the simple, forthright facts as recorded by her colonial family in their probate records. The absence of proof does not make a story untrue; but it does not establish it, either.The author's conclusion:It is just as possible that other children, confronted with a dark complexioned Anna Baker, teased and even convinced her that she had Indian blood as that she really was, however improbably, part-Indian.Comment:  In short, Churchill seems to be one of millions of people who have an "Indian princess" in their backgrounds. Yet the previous posting was willing to list him as a "famous Cherokee."

Once again, this is how Indian cultures get appropriated and assimilated into the mainstream. If everyone's an Indian, there's no reason to recognize tribal sovereignty or separate Indian nations. Indians can forfeit their land and treaty rights and disappear into the "melting pot."

For more on identity issues, see Law Students Commit "Ethnic Fraud" and Red Shirt vs. Gover.


dmarks said...

But it might turn out from this that Winston Churchill is really more of an Indian than Ward Churchill.

That is, very little compared to none at all.

Anonymous said...

There is alot more Indian blood out there than Americans would like to admit within their family bloodlines. There was a time when other bloodlines were denied such as Jewish or Irish or names were changed to be accepted into the populous fold. African Americans; Latinos and many Eurpopean immigrants married into, or had offspring that were from indigenous peoples, its just that being of mixed blood, or "half breed" was not accepted by either side. Today, everyone wants to claim Indian blood without the sufferage, racism or violent acts committed to Indians of past and present America.

Anonymous said...

dmarks: Had to laugh at that. To me, Ward Churchill demonstrates something really nasty: Everybody knew he was a fraud, but he was allowed to continue, until he criticized America. Granted, it was tasteless ("little Eichmanns"), but that's not my point. My point is, not to defend him, but to show a case of black (Churchill) and grey (the people who waited until they had political reason to oust him).

Anon: Yeah, but that was before it was decided we weren't really devil-worshippers and instead had super-magikal powers to commune with nature, control the weather, and speak to and transform into animals.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous- I would have to disagree with you. I think there is a lot LESS Indian blood out there than Americans would like to admit within their family bloodlines. As the author of this blog mentioned, there are a lot of Americans who claim to have an "Indian Princess" in their family lineage. More than likely these family myths stem from an ancestor of European decent that had dark hair and olive skin who may have been teased or associated as having Indian blood because of their physical features. Believe it or not, not all Europeans have blond hair and blue eyes! Also, you  have to consider that unlike South and Central America,  it was deemed socially unacceptable in the United States for whites and nonwhites to bear children together. While Native American ancestry is markedly high amongst African Americans and individuals who are able trace their ancestry to areas such as Oklahoma and the Southwest, I think it would be inaccurate to claim that large swaths of Caucasian Americans have distant Indian ancestry. As is the case with Jennie Jerome, quite a few of these claims are based upon speculation, conjecture and family lore; all of which probably have no legitimate bearing.

 Large scale Jewish immigration to the US didn't occur until the 1920s. Furthermore,  most Jewish immigrants from Germany and eastern Europe were confined to Ethnic enclaves primarily in New York (Harlem, Lower East Side, Brooklyn). Also, historically speaking, Hispanic Americans constituted a relatively insignificant percentage of the population. 

Finally, according to DNA Tribes only 2.5 percent of white Americans have Indian blood. Need I say more? :)…

Anonymous said...

To be Native is more in the heart than in the blood or DNA. I am Dene !