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I was going to wait to start this thread until I had actually seen a few of the main sources on the Ben Ishmael, primary and otherwise, but having found what appear to be reliable quotes from a couple of these books on the net I thought I'd go ahead and at least start it.

My first replies below give a little background on who the Ben Ishmael were. This to me is one of the most fascinating topics that's come out this recent discussion.

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This article seems to be the main (though secondary, as opposed to primary) source for most of the info I've been able to find on the Ben Ishmael Tribe on the net.

From "The Ben Ishmael Tribe: A Fugitive 'Nation' of the Old Northwest" by Hugo P Leaming in The Ethnic Frontier: Essays in the History of Group Survival in Chicago and the Midwest, Peter Jones, Melvin Holli (eds.) (1977)

The Tribe of Ishmael, or Ishmaelites, was a tightly knit nomadic community of African, Native American, and "poor white" descent, estimated to number about 10,000. Fugitives from the South, they arrived in the central part of the Old Northwest at the beginning of the nineteenth century, preceding the other pioneers. After a century of fierce culture conflict with the majority society, the tribe was forcibly dispersed.

The earlier migrations of the tribe had been involuntary, but they now pursued a nomadic way of life as a central feature of their distinctive culture. Their annual migratory route was northwest from Indianapolis to the Kankakee River south of Lake Michigan, from there south through eastern Illinois to the vicinity of Champaign-Urbana and Decatur, and finally due east, back to Indianapolis. This triangular route is about 350 miles as the crow flies. Every spring many hundreds of small carts set off, filled with children and the elderly, drawn by donkeys or horses (usually scrawny in latter years), the Ishmaelite men and women walking alongside. In the late spring (until "Indian Removal" in the north in the 1830s) there was joyful reunion with the Native Americans of the Kankakee. During the summer the tribe moved south, and when fall came they turned again to winter quarters. The migration was repeated every year for nearly a century.

Already mentioned was James Whitcomb Riley's "Little Orphant Annie," who came to stay as a bound girl and terrorized her master's children with supernatural lore. That she was Ishmaelite is supported by her characterization as a "little gypsy" and "from a wild country settlement" in Riley's essay which amplifies the poem.

A much more significant use of the Tribe of Ishmael in literature is not a regional work but a classic of the national literature, James Fenimore Cooper's novel
The Prairie. The tribe, identified by name, is the center of action and theme.

An Ishmaelite could be seen at one time as a childish but lascivious "Negro," a violent and savage "Indian," a shiftless and feeble-minded poor-white, and - most unspeakable - a mongrel product of the defilement of racial purity. This was a deadly mix that conjured up the nightmarish events of the war upon the Ishmaelites.

To the majority people the shantytowns became a scandal, the annual migration an invasion by the "Grasshopper Gypsies," as they called them, and both were a cause of trouble for the authorities and alarm for the citizenry.

It is appropriate - and not coincidental - that what came to take on world significance, a battery of genetic theories and eugenic proposals in the service of "scientific" racism, can be historically traced to the war on the Ishmaelites as one of its earliest sources.

In 1905 a bill was introduced in the Indiana Legislature, and in 1907 the first compulsory sterilization law in the world was enacted by the state of Indiana.
Something closer to a primary source, this from Amos G Warner, American Charities (1908.) I have verified that this book existed as early as 1894 though, so provided this text also appears in the earlier version it would appear that this was written before the eugenics laws after which the Ben Ishmael apparently dispersed. This also adds some credence to the idea that Mike posted earlier that one of their primary "campsites" was in the Indianapolis area.

Members of this extensive group have had a pauper record in Indianapolis since 1840. They have been in the almshouse, the House of Refuge, the Woman's Reformatory, the penitentiaries, and have received continuous aid from the township. The Ishmaels are intermarried with 250 other families of similar habits and tendencies. In the family history are murders, a large number of illegitimacies, and out of the 1092 individuals whose cases have been investigated, 121 are known to have been prostitutes. The members of the family are generally diseased. The children often die young. They live by petty stealing, begging, ash-gathering. In summer they 'gypsy,' or travel in wagons east or west. We hear of them in Illinois about Decatur, and in Ohio about Columbus. In the fall they return. They have been known to live in hollow trees on the river-bottoms, or in empty houses. Strangely enough they are not intemperate. The individuals already traced are over 5000, interwoven by descent and marriage. They under-run society like devil-grass.
Stephen, I owe you big time for doing this and getting this stuff going. It is exactly what I was hoping to do but time presses! I must needs get dinner on the table!

Keep on keepin' on with the googlefruits on this and other topics as you wish, I am deeply appreciative!
From what I've found the McCulloch piece was actually issued as a pamphlet. And you earlier mentioned transmission, the language and facts here are so close to the Warner entry that it looks like Warner had a copy of McCulloch's pamphlet when he was writing his book. This points out the sometimes bottleneck nature of the transmission of information. Unfortunately, McCulloch seems to be one of our main sources of info that we now have on these people, and he's very far from an objective observer.

The last line is indeed chilling, and many of the mentions of the Ben Ishmael Tribe I've come across focus heavily on the eugenics laws. There are also many associations with what Hitler was doing not much later. Hard to believe that Indiana actually passed eugenics laws as recently as my own grandmother's lifetime. That's one aspect (along with the aforementioned Klan activity) that does not engender my Hoosier nostalgia.
And FUCK ME for not bookmarking it but out of one of my prior links I found an image archive which contained photos of eugenics propaganda PHOTO DISPLAYS, something one might see set up in a booth at a fair or something. The pics were part of an educational website about the whole eugenics thing.

Oh, thank heavens, the link was this post, which essentially recounts the essay I read oncet upon a time in Gone to Croatan. To the best of mmy recollectin' the recounting is fair and conveys the ideas I retain from the original piece.

Here is the link to the Eugenics Archive pics. Follow the pagination links at the top of the page, and the images are zoomable, so clicking gives you a larger rez version.

DO NOT 'view the images our new website,' it does a root redirect to a fucking flash-based monstrosity which hides the filenames and pathing and suchlike.
Devil-grass! I gotta get me summa dat!
Shantytowns! These are our people, people!
Oh, and let me also emphasize a couple of things about the materials I have seen on this topic in the past and my interpretation thereof.

First, the migratory aspect of the Ben Ishmaels and their early arrival in the area we now know as Indiana is why I referred to them as a 'Maroon colony.' This is pursuant to Wilson/Bey's TAZ stuff.

Second, and this is again derivative of Wilson/Bey's interest in 'Moorish Science,' there is an emergent body of scholarship exploring the role of Islam in American slave populations. There are multiple slave narratives which were executed in Arabic by literate Muslims, and there are apparently documented instances of imams being sent deliberately into slavery in South America in order to provide religious education to the kidnapped and exported Muslims of West Africa.

So the thesis is that as a hidden thread in American and African-American culture (viz. my FEZ!), Islam has as many contributory threads to American culture and African-American culture as spiritualities involving possession and so forth (the base of belief systems that become vodoun and santeria).

Wilson relates Moorish Science to the Ben Ishmaelites and Moorish Science to each of the twentieth-century American strands of Islam. In the piece Holly cites above, the Ishmaelites "are not intemperate to excess." Other accounts mention frequent prayer, aversion to eating pork, etc; the argument is that a folk Islam fought through, at least until the arrival of eugenics.

There is something about all this that is relating in my mind to the theme of social entrapment and circumscribed possibilities which I see in our state's music.
In February PBS showed a doc that outlined a case study of a particular slave who did maintain his Muslim identity in secret and it later re-emerged once he gained his freedom: Prince Among Slaves
Fucking cool, must catch that.
The Hitler thing is at least partially because the Nazis gave very public credit to the state when they passed their own laws. It's not accidental that these laws passed in the state at the height of influence of the post-Birth of a Nation Klan, whose success was a direct inspiration - aesthetically, politically, and financially - to the Nazis. A big part of the funding for organizations such as the Nazis and the Klan came from the sale of required elements of regalia to the membership.
I hadn't pursued anything W/T/R 'Melungeon' until yesterday; either. Google shows a thriving interest in the topic, often in genealogy-related areas. I did not note much in the way of information that looked to come from academic oor journalistic sources, which, really (no disrespect Holly, I'm just making an observation concerning how authority is constructed in our society) shouldn't be too surprising.

Hm, given any sort of reasonable set of primary source documents on ANY of these topics, there's some brownie points out here to be had!

Um, maybe what I mean is GOLD STARS.


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