I’m posting this because I’ve hit a bit of a wall and I’m hoping someone who can help will see this and reach out to me.
While researching Backroads of Paradise (by which, of course, I mean reading the WPA’s 1939 Guide to the Southernmost State and putting 5,000 miles on a RoadTrek as I traveled around Florida, looking for scraps of yesteryear), I learned — from the Guide — about a group of people called the Dominickers.
In A Guide to the Southernmost State, under the entry for Ponce de Leon, Zora Neale Hurston wrote this:
PONCE DE LEON, 45.2 m. (64 alt., 382 pop.), is the Site Of Ponce De Leon Springs, one of many ‘fountains of youth’ named for the Spanish explorer. In adjacent back country live’Dominickers,’ part Negro and part white, whose history goes back to the early 1860’s. Just before the War between the States, Thomas, a white, lived on a plantation here, with his wife, two children, and several Negro slaves. After his death his wife married one of the slaves, by whom she had five children. As slaves often took the name of their masters, her Negro husband was also known as Thomas. Of the five children, three married whites, two married Negroes. Today their numerous descendants live in the backwoods, for the most part in poverty.The men are of good physique, but the women are often thin and worn in early life. All have large families, and the fairest daughter may have a brother distinctly Negroid in appearance. The name originated, it is said, when a white in suing for a divorce described his wife as’black and white, like an old Dominicker chicken.’ Dominicker children are not permitted to attend white schools, nor do they associate with Negroes. About 20 children attend a one-room school. As no rural bus is provided, the pupils often walk several miles to attend classes. An old cemetery, containing a large number of Dominicker graves, adjoins the school.
“These people are sensitive, treacherous and vindictive. They never start a disturbance but if any one bothers them – the whole family will do childish things to get revenge, to steal a hog or mutilate a crop is as good as a want. They are pathetically ignorant and an entire family will work hard for little compensation.
“The women are low in stature, fat and shapeless, they wear loose-fitting clothes and no shoes. One woman 74 years of age has never owned a pair of shoes. When a person is the smaller type his is almost dwarf-like in size. There seems to be no in-between size. The people move from one hut to another, often living alone for awhile and then moving back into the family group. Men, women and children work in the fields. Some houses are scrupulously clean while others are filthy. They just live from day to day – certainly not an ambitious group. Each generation marries into the lower class of white people, their original group will soon be extinct. Common law marriage is practiced, as a matter of fact – most of them “take-up” with each other.
“Local people claim that the Domineckers are 95 percent Negro. This statement is absurd. They are about three fourths white and one eighth Negro and one eighth Indian.”
At first, I dismissed the final three sentences as racism, but I nevertheless found myself fascinated with her assertion that “the original group will soon be extinct” and started doing some research. That research led me down a fascinating path, not the least of which involved spending a lot of time tracing migrations and census records.
It became clear early in my research – both from reading anecdotal accounts and the census research – that Hurston’s assertion that the Dominicker people were mostly white wasn’t accurate; it appears they were mostly Indian (the surviving Dominicker people refer to themselves as Indian, hence my word choice).
This made me want to go deeper and learn more, because if their story is as incredible as I believe it to be, it needs to be told.
I’m hoping people who have Google alerts for “Dominicker” will reach out to me. One of the descendants has already found me through a link to a talk I give about what I know so far – and I’m hoping this post will find the right people.
I’d also welcome information from any researchers who can help me find more source material, although I suspect it’s scarce. At one point, a website about the Dominickers existed, but it went dark a few years ago. I do have a link to William C. Hood’s The Dominickers of Holmes County, Florida, in which he references Hurston’s unpublished notes, but I can’t find the source material for this (although I would swear I had access to it at one time.) I also have a copy of Indians of North Florida and follow the appropriate Facebook groups; I’m looking for something more recent and more personal.
Ideally, I’d like to meet some of the descendants and review what history they know, because that will help me piece to together the paper records in a meaningful way.
Email me if you can help, and thank you, respectfully, in advance.