Arrival of Gypsies in AmericaThis is a featured page

Extracts written by Ian F Hancock

Romani people, commonly known as Gypsies, have been in the Americas since 1498, when Columbus brought some on his third voyage to the West Indies. Their subsequent forced transportation brought most Gypsies across the Atlantic.
During the colonial period, western European nations dealt with their "Gypsy problem" by transporting them in large numbers overseas; the Spanish shipped Gypsies to their American colonies (including Spanish Louisiana) as part of their solución americana; the French sent numbers to the Antilles, and the Scots, English, and Dutch to North America and the Caribbean.
Cromwell shipped Romanichal Gypsies (i.e.,Gypsies from Britain) as slaves to the southern plantations; there is documentation of Gypsies being owned by freed black slaves in Jamaica, and in both Cuba and Louisiana today there are Afro-Romani populations resulting from intermarriage between freed African and Gypsy slaves.

Roma in the United States have been called the "hidden Americans" because they remain by choice largely invisible.
There are two reasons for this:
FIRST The United States is made up of minority groups of all complexions, and so it is easy for Gypsies to present themselves as American Indians, Hispanics, or southern Europeans, and they usually do this rather than identify themselves as Gypsies.

SECOND Most Americans know very little about actual Roma but a great deal about the Hollywood "gypsy" (with a small "g"), and since people fitting the romantic gypsy image are not actually encountered in real life, the real population goes unnoticed.

The most complete list of gypsies sentenced to transportation appears in "Directory of Scots Banished to the American Plantations, 1650-1775", by David Dobson,1984,Baltimore, MD Genealogical Publishing Co. includes 16 Scottish Travelers forming 3 groups sentenced in 1682, 1715 and 1739.


Gypsies came during colonial times, often forced by the Spanish to move to South America. Gypsies also came during World War I and World War II. Most of them settled in the metropolitan area of Barranquilla.

Several groups, all known to outsiders as "Gypsies," live today in the United States.

In their native languages, each of the groups refers to itself by a specific name, but all translate their self-designations as "Gypsy" when speaking English. Each had its own cultural, linguistic, and historical tradition before coming to this country, and each maintains social distance from the others.

The Rom arrived in the United States from Serbia, Russia and Austria-Hungary beginning in the 1880's, part of the larger wave of immigration from southern and eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Primary immigration ended, for the most part, in 1914, with the beginning of the First World War and subsequent tightening of immigration restrictions (Salo and Salo 1986). Many people in this group specialized in coppersmith work mainly the repair and retinning of industrial equipment used in bakeries, laundries, confectioneries, and other businesses. The Rom, too, developed the fortune-telling business in urban areas.

Two subgroups of the Rom, the Kalderash ("coppersmith") and Machwaya ("natives of Machva," a county in Serbia) appear in the photographs in Carlos de Wendler-Funaro's collection. De Wendler-Funaro identified some, but not all, Kalderash as "Russian Gypsies." Another group he identified as "Russian Gypsies" seem to be the Rusniakuria ("Ruthenians"), musicians and singers who settled in New York.

Ludar The Ludar or "Romanian Gypsies," also came to the United States during the great immigration from southern and eastern Europe between 1880 and 1914. Most of the Ludar came from northwestern Bosnia. Upon their arrival in the United States they specialized as animal trainers and showpeople, and indeed passenger manifests show bears and monkeys as a major part of their baggage. Most of de Wendler-Funaro's photographs of this group were taken in Maspeth, a section of the borough of Queens in New York City, where the Ludar created a "village" of homemade shacks that existed from about 1925 to 1939, when it was razed. A similar settlement stood in the Chicago suburbs during the same period.

Romnichels The Romnichels or English Gypsies, began to come to the United States from England in 1850. Their arrival coincided with an increase in the demand for draft horses in agriculture and then in urbanization, and many Romnichels worked ashorse-traders. After the rapid decline in the horse trade following the First World War, most Romnichels relied on previously secondary enterprises, "basket-making," including the manufacture and sale of rustic furniture, and fortune-telling. Horse and mule trading continued to some extent in southern states where poverty and terrain slowed the adoption of tractor power (Salo and Salo 1982).

Black Dutch

Gypsies from Germany, generally referred to in the literature as Chikeners (Pennsylvania German, from German Zigeuner), sometimes refer to themselves as "Black Dutch." (While the term "Black Dutch" has been adopted by these German Gypsies, it does not originate with this group and has been used ambiguously to refer to several non-Gypsy populations.) They are few in number and claim to have largely assimilated to Romnichel culture. In the past known as horse traders and basket makers, some continue to provide baskets to US Amish and Mennonite communities. The literature on this group is very sparse and unreliable.

Hungarian Gypsies

The Hungarian (or Hungarian-Slovak) musicians also came to this country with the eastern European immigration. In the United States they continued as musicians to the Hungarian and Slovak immigrant settlements, and count the musical tradition as a basic cultural element. The sparse literature on this group begins in 1921. Curiously the proportion of scholarly efforts is higher than for the literature on other groups: three sociological studies (although two are unpublished master's theses), and one survey focused on music.

Irish Travelers

The Irish Travelers immigrated, like the Romnichels, from the mid to late nineteenth century. The Irish Travelers specialized in the horse and mule trade, as well as in itinerant sales of goods and services; the latter gained in importance after the demise of the horse and mule trade. The literature also refers to this group as Irish Traders or, sometimes, Tinkers. Their ethnic language is referred to in the literature as Irish Traveler Cant.
Harper's ethnographic and sociolinguistic studies and Andereck's in the sociology of education are the few serious studies of this group. The popular literature on Irish Travelers includes articles in Catholic periodicals.

Scottish Travelers

The present population of Scottish Travelers in North America also dates from about 1850, although the 18th-century transportation records appear to refer to this group. Unlike that of the other groups, Scottish Traveler immigration has been continuous. Also unlike the other groups, Scottish Travelers have continued to travel between Scotland and North America, as well as between Canada and the United States, after immigration. Scottish Travelers also engaged in horse trading, but since the first quarter of the 20th century have specialized in itinerant sales and services. With the exception of one researcher's master's and doctoral theses and material culture studies, the literature on this group consists almost wholly of warnings to prospective consumers accompanied by information, derived from consumer protection agency records, of doubtful accuracy.

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IsaYonah Further Dialog-more info on Invisible people in America 0 Apr 10 2015, 1:40 PM EDT by IsaYonah
Thread started: Apr 10 2015, 1:40 PM EDT  Watch
Thank you for mentioning that there were "Invisible" people, ones who were "passing themselves off" as Cherokee, Portugese, Italian, etc.
I have been doing family research for nearly 10 years and many of my white lines have been fairly easy to document but I have a set of 2x great grandparents that I lovingly refer to as "the brown people" and I have had the hardest time finding anything on them!

What I've realized is that there was a MASSIVE amount of people, all dark skinned, generally keeping to the very fringe/frontier areas as to not be bothered/harassed or worse by whites, sticking to places like KY, TN, and areas near Indian reservations. They moved A LOT (not necessarily travelers but they sure didn't stay in one place from one census to the next, and I also noticed that the same names come up over and over, Black, Boswell, Brazil (various spellings) Cooper, Gibson, Collins, etc…Even names like Turk or Tartar (I guess trying to keep their heritage alive), and some mixing with the strict "Melungeon" group happened, although not everyone has the African DNA that the researchers now claim makes a true Melungeon.
Most claim Irish, Scottish or Welsh roots.
I'm now fascinated by this huge group (mostly because they have little to no records!) and just wonder how many of them were Travellers, Gyspies, Romany, etc.
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barishey RE Kalderash Roma (page: 1 2) 22 Oct 10 2012, 5:47 PM EDT by kaulocamlo
Thread started: Jun 1 2010, 7:39 PM EDT  Watch
My family are Kalderash and hail from Greece and Poland, another little bit of useful info:)
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silverwolf77563 need answers 2 Sep 30 2012, 11:19 AM EDT by MeKamav
Thread started: Aug 6 2012, 11:46 AM EDT  Watch
Do you think I may have romany blood in me.
My family moves and travels about. We tend to have dark wavy hair. Also we deal with selling scrap metal.
Most of us have lightly tanned skin and light colored stress ie... blue.
I know Roberts is a Welsh surname and is very common among the Romany.
My family is Scottish, Irish, Welsh, French, English, Polish, German. I was also told that we are American Indian.
And some of us especially the females in my family tend to have visions while sleeping. So what do you think.
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