The Redbones are a mysterious and elusive clan of families who through familial relationship migrated from early Colonial America through unknown territories and foreign lands of the newly developing American South. There are many theories of just how the Redbone peoples arrived on these shores and just who exactly we are. Sketchy, disjointed and whitewashed to a large extent, stories of; “Porty-gee adventurers”, African Slaves, undesirable castaways, cryptic ethnic and religious outcasts, indentured elements, maroons and fugitive Moors amalgamating and assimilating into nearly every tribe of Indigenous peoples in North America. These mysterious stories, legends, familial association and relation combine to paint a crudely perplexing and intricately complex history. Familial kinship and migrate bondage, class warfare and ethnic racism throughout our history has distorted not only our memories, our folklore and cultural but taken our oral and documented histories, as well. It has also created a one of a kind American breed, a proud and defiant ancestry who have played a pivotal roll, in many cases in the development of the American South.
The Redbones, unlike many of the other, less known or more marginal ethnic groups of America can trace their lineage through a considerable majority of these same ethnically challenged clans. The Redbones are a colorful group who’s history and ethnic origins are only now being studied and documented. Very little has been established concerning this marginal ethnic clan who appear in early Virginia records as Free African Americans, Free People of Color, Mestizo, Mulatto, Free Other and numerous other “classifications” applied to many people of other than white” descent. .But, the ever migrating Redbones were never enslaved and later in the lower colonies, they were, in fact also slave owners themselves. The Redbone people were a prosperous group who were not always considered on the “white-right” side of the law or popularity polls of the time. Some Redbones, for many advantageous reasons were not always on the side of the US Government either. US and European power struggles in the colonial south were a force in and of themselves. Powerful struggles for premiss and dominion over land and trade thrusting the lower colonies into chaos of war, strife and cut throat land grabbing and smuggling. Feud like ethnic wars burst out across the lands, causing the Redbone to kept on the move in waves of small bands and migrating families. The Redbone not always choosing what might later be considered the “right” choice of sides to be loyal too gained notorious reputations. Stories of pirate activities on the coast of the Carolina’s and continued association in the Gulf of Mexico’s slave and smuggling activities. Scores of Redbones raiding into Spanish Mexico, stealing the Crown’s Mustangs, pillaging Spanish churches and Villa’s for relics and riches. Many a posse, vigilant mob, Spanish explorer and conquistador have chased the Redbone back and forth across the Sabine River in a customary hail of gunfire. The early Goins family served as Texas Rangers, Indian agents and played a large roll in the Texas independence. The Nash and Perkins families were known as great traders of the period and wheel rights, wagon masters, coopers and the Ashworth family were known to have invented the Texas cattle industry, Aaron and James Ashworth reputed to have in the 1830’s more than 30,000 head of cattle in the big thicket area of East Texas. Many aspects and dynamics of clashing cultures and ethnic differences, as elaborate and crazy as all these stories may sound to you or I in the 21st century they came together in a time and place in history to create the authentically unique Redone.
But to clear the air and set the records straight, the Redbones are a fiercely proud people who never like intrusion or prying into such issues as our ethnic roots or mysterious heritage or likely any other aspect of their personal or clan’s familial past. I do not reckon to ferret into the soul of a Redbone, we are as proud a people and deserving of every respect of being honored as truly, an American breed. Their loyalties and services to the settlement and development of the United States is a testament to their fortitude as a clan and as honorable people. Their reputation however has been tarnished with violence, racism, pride and discrimination, ignorance and ethnic differences. They don’t lay down lightly and let anyone “take” anything from them and especially anyone outside the familial clan. And, they regard their heritage in the tightest clutches of their grasp. Most, never recognize they can let go now, it’s okay. I am sure, it will take us several generations more to over come but deserving-ly so, we will evolve if not for ourselves but for our children and descendants who might one day make some connective understanding to their personal heritage, health or personal pride.
Stories get lost, secrets are kept and ethnic and possibly religious differences are a secret worth keeping, hiding, killing or forgetting for. Our families lived through slavery in the south pushed into the borderlands and regions of the Carolina’s through Georgia territory, some migrating via The Cumberland Road down the Natchez Trace, others migrated through Spanish and British Florida’s but a great many of the families ended up in the last southern frontier, Louisiana and East Texas boarder region. Migrating into that place seeking freedom from the ever encroaching white settlers dragging their restrictive laws and prying “ethnic” curiosities, against all ethnically diverse peoples and their dedication to slavery with them. The white man’s desires and aggressively growing greedy struggles for more land, commerce, premiss and power ever pushing the Redbone along what was essentially, an exodus out of the colonies our “trail of tears” if I could. That being said, I think that we can all agree, racism’s, prejudices and class warfare have been occurring here since the fist white men stepped upon these shores. One sheriff in the Parish of Rapides Parish, La. lamented when inquired, “The Redbones have the laziness of the Negro and the savage vindictiveness of the Indian” and ” as you can well imagine, it is not pleasant to live among such folks”. And, the reports only get worse. Every documented evidence of the people known as Redbone that exists to current scholar has some derogatory connotations from the white perspective. All historical references and articles reference a “mysterious” origin of race and ethnicity, prying and reporting “peculiar” and outrageous behaviors. No regard was ever given to the truth and only the perspective of the white societal reporters from the white perspective was represented.
How did we get our name, “Redbone” well, somewhere someone wrote, “the Negros first called us that name” and perhaps they were the first but many have used it since. The stigma perhaps has been too much for the Redbone to accept? The name Redbone has always had a reference to our African heritage and associated with a “lower class” white person, sadly, this stigma, real or imagined, it has been the crutch of many a Redbones. I suppose the name stirs deep gut wrenching association with a past they would soon leave behind themselves. Each one seems to be on a different path of acceptances. I am proud of many of my people and sorely disappointed in a majority of them. Generational gaps and relic research methods has nearly rendered the Redbone culture and people extinct, white washing and throwing up disjointed outbursts of disgust and continued denial has only served to muddy up the waters further. However, this attitude and behavior only proves their stubborn will and authenticates a Redbone heritage, even in denial they so characteristically reveled a true identity.
It is a treacherous and slippery path to a truth so heavily guarded and dismissed. However treacherous the path, we at Redbone Heritage Foundation hear the call from yesteryear, of ancestors forgotten. The call is for truth, justice, understanding and acceptance. We welcome all participation and interest. We hope that Redbones and the causal visitor will take away a new sense of American’s complex and rich heritage and perhaps an understanding of the Redbone people.