African American or Caucasian… Slaves May Provide Genealogical Clues

We know the story but can’t quite place our ancestors as characters in the big picture, as much as we are longing to. I couldn’t help notice though, that the pattern in which housekeeping slaves were kept in Colonial America, resembles that of ancient New Christians.

Fifty years after the Inquisition (1540), there’s record of New Christians emigrating from Portugal to England and having household slaves. (A New Christian was the title given to Jews who converted to Christianity.) If these English New Christians came from Portugal, where it was common to have household slaves, they may have continued this practice in England and obtained them through their Portuguese connections.

Around 1625, England set up enterprises in the Caribbean but still very few African slaves resided in the Atlantic colonies. Indentured Servants (usually Caucasian) were the norm. By 1626, with the help of Portuguese New Christians, the Dutch West India Company began supplying slaves to the early colonists. In 1664, the English captured New Amsterdam and renamed it New York.


Recognizing that your Colonial ancestors had “housekeeping slaves”, or were themselves “housekeeping slaves” could be a clue they descended from New Christians who came from England, having previously emigrated from Portugal. The clue here is the household slaves. Who Provided the Household Slaves? Family? Business Associates? Old Testament Hebrew names give the story more depth. Names like Moses and Samuel paint a little more of the picture. Watch for any hint of Spanish or Portuguese sounding names.

Suellen Ocean is the author of Secret GenealogyA How-to for Tracing Ancient Jewish Ancestry, Secret Genealogy IIUncovering the Jewish Roots of Our Christian Ancestors and Secret Genealogy III From Jewish Anglo-Saxon Tribes to New France Acadians. Available here:


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Suellen Ocean

With a Bachelor of Arts degree from Sonoma State University, Suellen Ocean does her writing from the hills of Northern California. She began writing professionally for print and radio broadcasting in the late 1980's. Her first self-published book led to her becoming "officially" published, when in 1998 she was asked to participate in the anthology, "The Simple Life" through Berkley Books, New York. She is the author of sixteen books on diverse subjects.

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