If we want a better understanding of the United States Civil War, we need a comprehensive overview of the southern culture which existed before the four years of the civil war.  This article is written for the purpose of connecting us to a few more variables that influenced elements of southern culture in the United States, starting with the following quote.

“Dearest brother and friend…About America I know nothing, we are still where we were before, that means, without news, the whole affair is so interesting that it has taken hold of me entirely.  To give you an idea of the stubbornness of these people and the degree of their spirit of rebellion, one need no other example to make a point than the Quakers of Pensilvania.  They fall in with the party, they are also without arms, and like their religion, object to sermons and consequently to submitting to any law.  They have no leader, but their military course and their actions are ruled by inspiration as in their private lives.”…Queen Sophia Charlotte, of England, wife of King George III from a letter that she wrote to her brother, the Grand Duke Charles II.

Queen Sophia Charlotte (b. 19 May 1744, d. 17 Nov 1818).  As princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Sophie Charlotte was descended directly from an African branch of the Portuguese Royal House, Margarita de Castro y Sousa. Six different lines can be traced from Princess Sophie Charlotte back to Margarita de Castro y Sousa.

Sophia Charlotte married King George III of England (b. 4 Jun 1738, d. 29 Jan 1820).  They married in 1761 shortly after her 18th birthday.  At the time of the publication of the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776, in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, one of the strongest bastions of the Quaker Movement, George and Charlotte had been married for about fifteen years.

Not all Quakers looked like the man on the Quaker Oats box.  Quakers were one of the most radical religious groups to emerge as a result of the Protestant Reformation during the 16th century.  The Quaker movement started in mid-17th   century England with the teachings of George Fox.  Many of their members were probably descendants of the Muslim and Jewish communities; forced to convert to the Catholic faith during the era of the Reconquista (abt. 801- abt. 1492) and from the era of the Inquisition from the 15th to the 19th century.  These new converts to Catholicism were often accused of secretly continuing the practice of the Muslim and Jewish faiths.  They were eventually forced to leave Spain and Portugal.  Many relocated to Britain and Wales.  Later some of them were among the first settlers in the West Indies and in what would become British Colonial America.  Quakers believed in the equality of all people and in the equality of men and women.  Often Quakers married across ethnic lines.  In the American colonies some early Quakers were of mixed ethnic origins which included African, Indigenous American and Northern/Southern European origins.  I have found this to be the case within my own Quaker DNA heritage.

The name “Swarthmoor/Swarthmore” has its roots in early Quaker history. In England, Swarthmoor Hall near the town of Ulverston, Cumbria, (previously in Lancashire), was the home of Thomas and Margaret Fell, in 1652 when George Fox, (b. 1624, d.1691), fresh from his epiphany atop Pendle Hill in 1651, came to visit. The visitation turned into a long association, as Fox persuaded the couple of his views.  Swarthmoor/Swarthmore was used for the first meetings of what became known as the Religious Society of Friends (later colloquially labeled “The Quakers”).

No one mentions it today but one only need study the etymology of the word Swarthmoor/Swarthmore which provides a unique understanding of the meaning of Swarthmoor.  The following definitions are provided by an Online Etymology Dictionary:

Swarthy (adj.)

“Dark-colored,” especially of skin, 1580s, unexplained alteration of smarty (1570s), from swart+-y (2). Related: Swarthiness.

Entries linking to swarthy

Swart (adj.)

Old English swear “black, dark,” of night, clouds, also figurative, “wicked, infamous,” from Proto-Germanic swarta-(source also of Old Frisian, Old Saxon, and Middle Dutch swart, Dutch zwart, Old Norse svartr, German schwarz, Gothic swarts “dark-colored, black”), from PIE root swordo- “dirty, dark, black” (source of sordid). The true Germanic word, surviving in the Continental languages but displaced in English by black.  Of skin color of persons from late 14c. Related: Swartest.

schvartze (n.)

Also schvartzer, “black person” (somewhat derogatory), 1961, Yiddish, from schvarts “black” (see swarthy). Perhaps originally a code word to refer to black servants when they were within earshot, as its German cognate, Schwarze, is said to have been used:

In Baltimore in the 80s of the 19th century, the German-speaking householders, when they had occasion to speak of Negro servants in their presence, called them die Blaue (blues). In the 70s die Schwartze (blacks) had been used, but it was believed that the Negroes had fathomed it.

Moor (n.)

“North African, Berber, one of the race dwelling in Barbary,” late 14c., from Old French More, from Medieval Latin Morus, from Latin Maurus “inhabitant of Mauretania” (Roman northwest Africa, a region now corresponding to northern Algeria and Morocco), from Greek Mauros, perhaps a native name, or else cognate with mauros “black” (but this adjective only appears in late Greek and may as well be from the people’s name as the reverse).

Also applied to the Arabic conquerors of Spain. Being a dark people in relation to Europeans, their name in the Middle Ages was a synonym for “Negro;” later (16c.-17c.); being the nearest Muslims to Western Europe, it was used indiscriminately of Muslims (Persians, Arabs, etc.).  Cognate with Dutch Moor, German Mohr, Danish Maurer, Spanish Moro, Italian Moro. Related: Mooress.


To disassociate the word Swarthmoor/Swarthmore from its etymology is the same as disassociating the word “colored” from its long known meaning in the denomination of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church.  The members of this branch of the Methodist Episcopal Church were people of mixed ethnic heritage.  The denomination changed its name to the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in 1954.

Research into the early meeting records of Quakers in Colonial and Antebellum America clearly validates that some Quaker communities included people of mixed ethnic heritage as with family members of my Quaker ancestors.  The question we should be asking is what inspired the reforms that Quakers favored during the Protestant Reformation?  It could be that since many of their members had early ties to African Moors and African Jews, possibly they drew their understanding that the presence of God is in all people and that men and women are equal, comes from many of the elements of African spirituality.  After all they were called Quakers, reminiscent of the importance of movement/dance as a way to connect with the Devine in African Spirituality.  This is just a hypothesis that I hope some inquisitive young scholar might pursue.

A Few of My Quaker Ancestors Maternal & Paternal


*Joseph Gates Hackney (b. 1676, d. 1736) & Mary Freeman, free woman of color (b. 1680, d. 1731), 7th great grandparents.

*Aaron Harlan (b. 1685, d.1732) & Sarah Heald (b. 1692, d.1747), Quakers in Pennsylvania.  7th great grandparents.

*Joseph Hackney (b. 1700, d. 1745) & Charity Harlan (b. 1713, d.1764), 6th great grandparents.

*Esther Boyd (b. 1750, d. 1824) & Robert Wallace (b. 1744, d. 1812), 7th great grandparents, Pennsylvania Quakers

*James Hackney (b. 1783, d. 1860) & Jane Boyd (b. 1783, d. 1860), 4th great grandparents, listed in the 1850/1860 censuses.  He is listed as “black”, she is listed as “mulatto”.  Their grandchildren are listed as “black” or “mulatto” depending on complexion, in the 1860 census.


*Morgan Howell (b. 1595, d. 1679) & Mary Edwards (b. 1596, d. 1666), my 11th great grandparents.

*William “Welsh” Howell (b. 1645, d. 1709), among the earliest settlers in Pennsylvania and Mary Francis Vicars (b. 1642, d. 1710).  Mary arrived in America (Pennsylvania) in 1684, most likely by way of Barbados and was probably a free woman of color.  They were my 9th great grandparents.

*Joseph Howell (b. 1703, d.1749) & Margaret Stirling (b. 1705, d. 1749), my 8th great grandparents and Varina Howell’s 4th great grandparents.

*Governor Richard Bond Howell (b. 1754, d. 1802) & Keziah Burr (b. 1758, d. 1835), Richard was my 1st cousin 8x removed.  Richard and Keziah were the grandparents of Varina Howell Davis (b. 1826, d. 1906).  A certificate of removal (change of residence) was provided to Keziah, 11 Nov 1788.  She moved from Chesterfield Philadelphia to reside in Burlington NJ with her husband.

*Joseph Havrill Howell (b. 1770, d. ?) & Patty Stanford , 5th great grandparents lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1790.

*Freeman Rex Howell (b. 1777, d. 1870), 2nd cousin 7x removed.  Listed in the 1820 census as a “free man of color;” head of household of a family of 8.  Lived in Granville, NC from 1820-1860 as a free family of color.  Freeman is a direct descendant of Morgan and Mary Howell listed above.

*William Burr Howell (b. 1795, d. 1863), my 2nd cousin 7x removed and father of Varina Howell Davis, my 3rd cousin 6x removed.

What can be said of Quakers often holds true of other religious and social groups in Colonial North/South America and West Indies cultures.  I hope this article sheds a better understanding of the complexity of southern culture and family structure.  There were many variables that determined one’s status in southern culture.  It cannot be reduced to simply black vs white and/or slave vs free.

Perhaps it would be helpful to extend our concept of the founding white fathers, to the “ethnically diverse founding families”.  Then our understanding of American history would go beyond the over simplification of the human story viewed only through eyes of contention.  The time has come for us to comprehend that our ancestors were complex fallible yet hopeful human beings that sought to forge a society which calls upon its citizens to think critically and to appreciate the process of living our lives with the goal of leaving the world a better place than when we first arrived, not only for ourselves and our kin, but for our neighbors and their kin as well.

Sure there have been times that we have gravely fallen short of our goals but if you are reading this article, it is a testament that we have had more successes than failures.  We can make a new effort to embrace our history without allowing ourselves to be jaded by pessimists and fear mongers.  There are far more stories of success that have not been told than we can begin to imagine.  We can discover those stories together and be inspired by them to continue and to improve the legacy of our ancestors.

Barbara Marthal

Barbara Marthal is an author and storyteller who focuses on the relationship between white and black Southerners and her own Southern heritage.


  • Joyce says:

    When I think of the founders, race doesn’t come to mind. I think in terms of the few valiant souls such as Patrick Henry who took a stand for subsidiarity. Had the Hamiltonians not prevailed, and later, the Lincolnians, slavery would have been phased out in the South. Mary Chestnut, Southern diarist and close friend to Miss Marthal’s cousin Varina Davis, wrote that in the mid-19 th century, it was preposterous that anyone would think he could rightfully own another human being. And it is true that down through history there has been more co-mingling of the races in the South than is commonly supposed. Interesting and thought-provoking essay.

  • Joyce says:

    I meant to say slavery would have been phased out without unconstitutional Federal intervention, the unlawful coercion of a central govrrnment.

  • Barbara says:

    It is commonly believed by many white people that they have mixed Indian blood. They claim they’re part Cherokee. However for some reason they can’t get any casino money.

  • Jeffrey K Kerner says:

    Thank you so much for this timely and insightful article. The Northern moralist attitude of superiority has been a curse upon the land. I come from New York and believed all the lies I was taught by the marxist professors in college. It was only after coming across the Abbeville Institute and its eye opening history from the Southern perspective that I came to see the light. Thanks again for your geneological and historical scholarship

  • Having been raised, extremely poor, in the backwoods of the lowcountry of South Carolina, our neighbors were Blacks and Whites and we had a Native American couple that lived about a half mile off.
    If any of us had food and crops, we all had food, and no one went without. We had no crime and if one person was sick ar hurt, we all pitched in to gather their crops and tend their animals.
    Those days of togetherness, care, and brotherly love, I fear, are little known today, but the memories of those times and those people, sustain my faith today.

  • Joyce says:

    Nicki, strong community ties, such as those you describe, are being destroyed by the lunacy of a tyrannical neo-Marxist Federal regime that promotes DEI and other great evils. It is time for peaceful dissolution.

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