The Legend of the Mysterious Jackson Whites

FOR MANY YEARS NOW THERE HAVE BEEN STORIES of a degenerate race of people who live an isolated existence in the Ramapo Mountains.  As far back as the Revolutionary War, New Jerseyans have heard tales of a group of outcasts who take refuge in the northeastern hills of the state and inbreed to the point of mutation. The group has come to be known as the Jackson Whites.

Most commonly associated with the Ramapo Mountain peoples of Mahwah, Ringwood, and the southern New York state towns of Hillburn and Suffern, the moniker “Jackson Whites” has always been used as a derogatory name.  Who the term refers to, and how it has endured until the present, is most likely due to some less than scholarly texts that have transcribed legends as fact.

The document that was probably responsible for solidifying the Jackson Whites’ legend was a 1936 book entitled The Origins of the Jackson Whites of the Ramapo Mountains by John C. Storms.  Relying more heavily upon the day’s prevailing mythology than on personal investigation, Storms, a newspaper editor, exercised his penchant toward over embellishment and romanticism.  It was Storms’ contention that Tuscarora Indians were the first ingredient in a racial stew of people that would come to be known as Jackson Whites.

The second strain in the Jackson Whites’ bloodline, according to Storms, was contributed by Hessian mercenaries fighting for the British during America’s Revolutionary War.

“With no interest in the outcome of the military struggle, unfamiliar with the theory of ‘liberty’ for which the Americans were fighting, it is not to be wondered at that they proved unfaithful, and deserted the army at every opportunity.

In the fighting that took place in the vicinity of New York City, from the camps scattered throughout this region, and at the marches across New Jersey, these men, known by the general name of Hessians, fled to the nearest place of safety – the Ramapo Mountains. There was no possibility of escape, no opportunity to return to their native land, so they made for themselves homes in their retreat, mated with those they found already there, and reared families.”

The third supposed element in the Jackson Whites’ lineage was derived from English and West Indian Women who were forcibly brought to New York to serve as concubines for British soldiers. In 1783, the stockade of women was evacuated and the prisoners beat a hasty retreat along with British soldiers and Tories.

“Across the Hackensack Meadows, up the Saddle River valley, these derelicts made their way on foot....Pillaging of orchards and deliberate raids on fields and gardens provoked the farmers, who drove the wanderers on with hard words and often with harder blows, all of which was retaliated.  No one wanted these unfortunates...

At last, with Oakland past, the crowd entered the Ramapo Pass and soon found itself in a country that, while wild and inhospitable in character, yet offered the boon of peace; there was no one to drive them away.”

It would be escaped slaves, who, according to Storms, would contribute the final piece to the Jackson Whites’ ancestral puzzle.

“…it frequently happened that these escaped slaves would seek their own freedom, and the most accessible place and most secure was the fastness of the Ramapos...These people carried with them names of former masters, white acquaintances, or those that they had adopted.  Thus we sometimes find family names among them that are borne by prominent and socially acceptable white persons.”

Subsequent literary references to the Jackson Whites only reinforced the mythology.  The famous canine story writer Albert Payson Terhune of Pompton Lakes vilified his mountain dwelling neighbors in his 1925 book, Treasure.  And in his epic 1947 poem, "Paterson," William Carlos Williams concocted his own version of the Jackson Whites legacy, drawing obvious inspiration from the Storms history.

The Ramapough Mountain people will tell you a variety of stories to explain their own ancestry, intertwining elements of the Dutch, Hessian, and Tuscarora Indian sagas into their legacy. Most insist they are members of the Ramapough Lenape Indian Nation. They have been petitioning the Federal Government to be recognized as a legitimate American Indian tribe.  They have been recognized by the state governments of New Jersey and New York as such, but the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs has denied their petitions.

It is almost certain that the legends of the Jackson Whites were started by the white neighbors of the Ramapos to stereotype the mountain people.  While the Ramapough show a fierce pride in their unique identity, you would be hard pressed to find a person in Mahwah, Ringwood, or Hewitt that would call him or herself a Jackson Whites.  “Those people,” it would seem, are always to be found just over the next mountain.

From a Friend of the Jackson Whites

You may hear a lot of legends but if you were to meet some of these people they'd share their food and drink and they'd make you part of a friendship, which is deep and will always be there for you.  They don't take you and make you disappear deep in the woods.  They're not kidnappers.  They don't rape or kill people.

Their men are tall, big and strong. They provide for their families and the women love their children.  The kids grow up together and it’s a shame because of all this kind of publicity they get cornered out.  They don’t belong.  That's how they grow and feel about the outside world.  You probably work with one and don't even know it.  All they are are mixed breeds just like us.  None of us are really American.  At least they have the American Indian blood in their veins despite how it got there.

I know because I date a Jackson White.  My boyfriend worked for nine years in the same place.  Takes  care of my two girls from my previous ex and expects nothing back.  He's never hit or yelled at me for anything in the past fiveyears. He's honest and trust worthy and doesn't go out cheating and is always home helping with cooking, cleaning, etc.  And I'm NOT MISSING in the woods. This man can fix, build, paint, figure out anything and shouldn't be hurt over an article subjecting Jackson Whites as ghouls.

I'll take you to meet them any day and bring your cameras.  You'll find they are proud people.  May not have a lot of money, but they have electric, cable, water, phones, etc.  You should also see the Christmas lights at Christmas time.  Does this sound like a bunch of Hillbillies hiding out in the woods to you?  A Friend and Family Member of the Jackson Whites

As Normal As You Are

How do people get the idea that the people of the Ramapo Mountains were murderers?  These people were not murderers and they are normal like you and me.  I am a science major at Stanford.  I have studied things about New Jersey since I was a child.  The name came about when back in the 1800s slaves that were shipped here for slavery and were raped by their "masters."  These people were not inbred.  The name Jackson came about when the man who had started it all whose last name was Jackson.  These did not result in people being mentally retarded or any abnormalities. You can read all the books and articles you want but I think I would know more about them because I am a Ramapo Mountain Indian and I am as normal as you are. –Evelyn

Those Beautiful Mountain People

Growing up in Suffern and having spent much time in nearby Mahwah, my own observation of the so-called "Jackson Whites" is that they are a very peaceful and beautiful people, but living without many modern amenities.  Of course, their community had its share of alcohol and fighting incidents, but the percentage of these incidents (compared to their numbers) never seemed particularly notable.  I do remember that many of the Jackson White women were very beautiful, with slender and yet very strong bodies, strong straight shoulders, incredible slate-grey eyes which could stop you in your tracks, and a beautiful light tan skin color.

Simply due to the very different lifestyles, and to the wide difference in income level between the two groups, there was some residual animosity and fear toward the Jackson Whites from the recently-emigrated "suburban dwellers" in Mahwah, Ramsey and Suffern.  This fear created some hostile folklore about the Jackson Whites, much of it untrue.  Vinny

Defending (?) the Jackson Whites

I went to school with these people.  They work for the Wanaque Reservoir, drive our school buses, were our lunch aides in our elementary schools, and are overall a big part of our community.  Granted they are their own people.  If you don’t bother them, they aren’t gonna bother you.  How would all of you people like it if your home and family were known as freaks of nature?  All of their lives they were looked at as dangerous or made fun of for poverty or inbreeding.

A couple of interesting facts I learned from talking to my Jackson-White schoolmate in high school was that they do in fact inbreed, or have done so in the past, but usually only with cousins.  Also, the police only go up there if someone is dead because they will be attacked under other conditions.

Most of them never finish high school, but two out of the five with whom I grew up, and who were in my grade, finished high school and one of those two is now in college!  The women are the people who usually don’t finish high school, and it’s usually because they get pregnant.

Anyway, it has really bothered me to hear that people are traveling up there and bothering them. I mean they’re human too.  Oh, and about that electricity, they have phones and cable, which is more than I have.  I have a phone and electricity, but no cable!  Liz from Caldwell College

Uploaded 09/11/2008
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