American Isolates

ETHNONYMS: Aframerindians, Creoles, Half-Breeds, Marginal Peoples, Mestizos, Metis, Micro-Races, Middle Peoples, Quasi-Indians, Racial Islands, Racial Isolates, Southern Mestizos, Submerged Races, Tri-Racials, Tri-Racial Isolates

This generic label covers some two hundred different groups of relatively isolated, rural peoples who live in at least eighteen states mainly in the eastern and southern United States. In general, the label and the various alternatives refer to distinct peoples thought to have a multiracial background (White-Indian-African-American, African-American-White or Indian-White, Indian-Spanish) who historically have been unaffiliated with the general White and African-American population or with specific American Indian groups. Estimates place the number of people in these groups at about seventy-five thousand, although some groups have disappeared in recent years through a combination of migration to cities and intermarriage with Whites and African-Americans. The best known of these groups is the Lumbee Indians, numbering over thirty thousand mainly in North and South Carolina.

Classification of a group as an American Isolate rests on (1) real or ascribed mixed racial ancestry of group members; (2) a social status different from that of neighboring White, African-American, or American Indian populations; and (3) identification as a distinct local group with the assignment of a distinct group name.

American Isolates existed prior to the American Revolution, perhaps as long ago as the early eighteenth century, and they increased in number throughout the nineteenth century as they came to public attention in the areas where they lived. Among factors leading to group formation were the presence of offspring of African-American male slaves and White women and the offspring of Indians and free or enslaved African-Americans. Once a small community of multiracial members began, it grew primarily through a high fertility rate and became more and more isolated both socially and physically as its members were rejected by Whites and chose, themselves, to shun African-Americans. The movement of Indian groups west also contributed to their isolation. More recently, isolation was maintained in part through government action, most significantly through the banning of Isolate children from public schools. Most Isolate groups were and continue to be described by outsiders in such stereotypical terms as lazy, shiftless, criminals, violent, illiterate, poor, or incestuous.

Groups known to have still existed in the 1950s and 1960s include the following, listed by state:

While it is difficult to generalize across all Isolate groups or individuals, most live in rural areas and derive their income from farming and unskilled or semiskilled labor. Social status within a group is based on wealth, access to the White Community, primarily through intermarriage, and residence in a settled, named Isolate community.


Berry, Brewton (1963). Almost White. New York: Macmillan.

Blu, Karen (1977). "Varieties of Ethnic Identity: Anglo-Saxons, Blacks, Indians, and Jews in a Southern County." Ethnicity 4:263-286.

Greissman, B. Eugene, subed. (1972). "The American isolates." American Anthropologist 74:693-734.

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