Mormon History

Fascination With Indians Being Jews - 1819

  Rochester Telegraph April 6, 1819


It has long been the enquiry among people of reading and observation, from what nation the Aborigines of this country descended. Some, who have been well acquainted with the customs and usages observed among them, are of the opinion that they sprang from the ancient Israelites. I have lately been led to think this conjecture is correct; and that the scripture history affords probable evidence, that the North American Indians descended from the tribe of Dan, in particular... [a lengthy list of evidence follows] ...

Hence, when we consider the early excision of the tribe of Dan from the people of Israel, for their idolatry; and their craftiness for enterprise, and their disposition to roam abroad in quest of prey, like lion's whelps; is it not highly probable, that they would be the first among the Asiatic nations, that should find their way to this continent?

And though it has been found that they retain a number of ancient Jewish rituals, such as the offering of animals in sacrifice, which they have done in many instances; and others might be mentioned; yet it is not strange that they retain no more of their rites when we take into view their early separation from God's ancient church.

And though their copper color has been supposed to have been caused in part from climate, and from their manner of living in smoky huts, &c. yet is there not at least a great probability that Bilhah, Rachel's maid, from whom the Danites descended, was a woman of colour? She was not the kindred of Laban or Jacob, as we may suppose.

And it was common in those times, for men who were accustomed to a civilized and regular way of living, to buy or, procure servants of other nations -- Thus the patriarch Abraham had servants born in his house, and bought with his money, among whom was Hagar the Egyptian, the mother of Ishmael. She was unquestionably a woman of colour. Hence the Arabs and the inhabitants of the Barbary States, who are undoubtedly the descendants of Ishmael, retain their swarthy complexion down to this present time. Therefore, granting that Bilhah, the mother of Dan, was a person of colour, the red complexion of the American Indians forms no objection against their being descendants from that tribe, but is accounted for on natural principles.

But I leave the subject, to be resumed by some abler pen.

Note: Perhaps the most striking element of the assumptions made in the above communication is that the ancient, Hebrew speaking people, and their descendants, the Jews, were a fair-skinned, Caucasian, people. In actuality, the physical characteristics of those Jews who did not intermix with Europeans were practically indistinguishable from Arabs or many north Africans. Americans of post-Colonial days generally had very little experience with persons of Middle Eastern ancestry and were content to imagine that such ancient persons as Jesus or King David were men of fair hair and fair skin; thus, when Americans of 200 years ago imagined the predecessors of the Indians, they sometimes thought of an "extinct" race of white people, or of white people whose skin had darkened since their arrival in the ancient Americas.