Redbone (ethnicity)

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Redbone is a term historically used in much of the southern United States to denote a multi-racial individual or culture. In Louisiana it may also refer to a specific geographically and ethnically distinct group.


The term had various meanings according to locality, mostly implying multiracial people.[1] In Louisiana, the Redbone cultural group consists of the families of migrants to the state from South Carolina following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803[1] who have ancestral ties to the Melungeons. The term Redbone became disfavored as it was a pejorative nickname applied by others; however, in the past 30 years the term has begun to be used as the preferred description for some creole groups, including the Louisiana Redbones.

Louisiana Redbone Cultural Group[edit]

The Louisiana Redbone historically lived in geographically and socially isolated communities in the southwestern Louisiana parishes, ranging from Sabine Parish in the northwest and Rapides Parish near the center of the state down to Calcasieu Parish in the southwest,[1] and also including parts of Orange County, Texas and Newton County, Texas. This area is roughly coextensive with what was once known as the Neutral Ground or Sabine Free State, when no US state exercised jurisdiction over the area from the Calcasieu River on the east to the Sabine River on the west.[2] Families ancestral to the Louisiana Redbones came primarily from South Carolina (where they were at times classified in some census records as "other free persons").[1]

The Louisiana Redbones were referred to as either "Ten Milers"[3][4] or as "Red Bones" [5][6][7][8] in the 19th century. (The term "Ten Miler" was taken from the name of the Ten Mile Creek[9] which flows through Allen Parish, Louisiana.) However, the term "Red Bone" was also used to refer to individuals of mixed race with some African American ancestry who were not a part of what is currently considered the "Louisiana Redbone" community.[10]

In the frontier of Southwestern Louisiana, the settlers successfully resisted classification as non-white. In 1837 and 1849, several of the members of the Redbone community were indicted for illegal voting on the charge that they were of color rather than white. The state court found them all not guilty in both instances, thus establishing that the Redbone community would be legally considered white.[3] However, references to the Redbone community and its members in 19th century newspapers tend to be wildly divergent, ranging from making no mention of racial make up,[3][11] to stating that the members were white,[3] to stating that the members were African American[12][13] to stating that the members were of Indian extraction [14] to the assertion that the members were of unspecified mixed race.[15] These newspaper references do have the commonality of all pertaining to violent actions either within the community or perpetrated by members of the community.

The ambiguity as to the origins of the members of the Redbone community and the prevailing cultural attitudes held by those living in the same region as the Redbone community but who were not part of the community can be shown clearly in a letter written in 1893 by Albert Rigmaiden, Calcasieu Parish Treasurer, to McDonald Furman, a South Carolinian who conducted private ethnological research.[16] Rigmaiden wrote that he was unable to explain how the name Redbone originated and stated that "they are neither white nor black & as well as I can find out, the oldest ones came from S.C many years ago. . .they are not looked on as being -- Negros -- Indian nor White people. . ."[17]

During the days of the Jim Crow Laws, the schools located in the geographic location of the Redbones accepted Redbone students as white and a review of United States Census records in the late 19th and early 20th century shows that families traditionally considered as members of the Redbone community were mainly recorded as white. Additionally, according to the marriage records and census records, individuals who were from these families married either other members of the Redbone community or individuals who were listed in the census records as white.[18]

Though their descendants now number over 20,000 and are dispersed to other states, especially eastern Texas,[19] academically the group has been termed "largely unstudied."[1]

In literature[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Everett, C.S. "Brass Ankles/Red Bones," Vol. Ed. Celeste Ray, 6 Encyclopedia of Southern Culture (University of North Carolina Press 2007), pp. 102-104
  2. ^ See Adams-Onís Treaty.
  3. ^ a b c d The Baton Rouge Daily Advocate, 28 August 1857 p. 2
  4. ^ New Orleans Time Picayune, 9 September 1877
  5. ^ New Orleans Times Picayune 6 August 1891 p.8
  6. ^ New Orleans Times Picayune 5 August 1891 p.1
  7. ^ The New York Times 5 August 1891
  8. ^ New Orleans Times Picayune 3 July 1897 p.8
  9. ^
  10. ^ New Orleans Times 31 July 1874
  11. ^ New Orleans Times Picayune 3 July 1892
  12. ^ The Springfield Daily Republican 28 August 1857
  13. ^ The New York Times 28 August 1857
  14. ^ New Orleans Times Picayune 6 August 1891
  15. ^ New Orleans Times Picayune 5 August 1891
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ See Regulator-Moderator War

External links[edit]