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Origin of Mohr

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“The traces of our black ancestry are visibly existent in a hundred surnames” — David MacRitchie

“Some family names that designate an ancestor who had SKIN DARKER than his companions are MURRELL and MORRILL”

“If the ancestor had a very dark complexion, the name was likely to become MOHR, SWARTZ, SWART, SCHWARTZ or SCHWARZ in Germany”

SOURCE: (Elsdon Cole Smith, ‘American Surnames’; 1986)

In Shakspeare’s time the audience at the Globe accepted the word as meaning “a black man,” and either then, or later on, it became tautologically extended into “blackamoor.”

The common people of the country are not likely to have known much about ultra-British “Moors,” not enough at any rate, to have made the word an everyday term for a black man…

Nor can the Moors of heraldry be explained sufficiently by the theory that the founders of families bearing Moors as supporters, and Moors’ heads as crests, had won their spurs in assisting the Spaniards to expel their Moors…

The bearing is too common among ancient coats to admit of this explanation…

And the heraldic representation of a “Moor or Negro-man” does not suggest Granada…

The features are ugly and irregular, and the hair, though longer than that of a pure negro, is woolly…

The head is encircled by a fillet or chaplet, and there are “pearls pendant” from the ears…

The complexion is, of course, black…

Such men are indifferently styled “Moors” and
“Saracens”

Their presence in the armorial bearings of ancient families can only be due to the cause which made “savages,” “wild-men,” or “wood-men” so common among the supporters of old North European and especially Scottish shields,—the exploits of the founder of the family in the long conflicts with the people of “Heathenesse.”

There is yet another form in which this name of Moor or Mor has reached us, and it is found in Galloway, a province in which the Picts remained until almost recent times, being known as Picts, and speaking their language, so lately as the reign of Queen Mary…

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In this district the word is ” Morrow.”

And there is a tradition of the presence of one of this race living in some part of Galloway, at an uncertain period, which has been preserved by McTaggart, in his Gallovidian Encyclopedia…

This straggling specimen, was probably one of the last of unmixed blood, and if the others of his race were possessed of similar characteristics, it is easy to see why they were remorselessly hunted down…

He is locally remembered as the “Black Morrow,” which of course is Black Moor, Moray, or Murray…

Tradition has him a ‘Blackimore,’ says the yeoman-chronicler, “and says he haunted the forests south of Kirkcudbright; there he stopped during the day, sallying out on the neighbouring country at night, and committing horrible outrages…

In Gaelic, “Black Morrow” becomes “Mor Dubh.”

This is the shape in which the name appears in the quaint letter of John Elder, the “Redshank” priest, to King Henry VIII, often quoted by Scottish antiquaries, and printed at length in the Collectanea de Rebus Albanicis…

He brings it in in the following passage:—

“Now, and pleas your excellent Maiestie, the said people which inhabited Scotland afoir the incummyng of the said Albanactus (as I have said), beinge valiant, stronge, and couragious, although they were savage and wilde, had strange names, as Morewhow & Mordachus”

The black warrior of the West Highland tales, Mordubh, is plainly another of this race…

It may be remarked here, parenthetically, that the “Moor” who was killed by Maclellan in Galloway was probably a precursor of the “Black Morrow” of peasant tradition, who was perhaps one of the last of that very clan…

And further, the application of the terms “gipsy” and “moor” to the same individual reminds one that Diarmaid’s ciuthach or ciofach was compared with giobag, a gipsy, and that the Kentish “black-tan” and the Gaelic dubh-shiubhlach, or black vagrant, were gipsies also…

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A tradition of a black man living in Scotland within the memory of man, was noticed in treating of the “Moors,” who are in all probability of the same race, substantially, as the other black Europeans, under whatever name…

A counterpart to the Black Morrow of Galloway is to be seen in a traditional “Black Knight,” who is said to have lived near Ashton under Lyne, “holding the people in vassalage, and using them with great severity.”

This legendary “blackamoor” must ante-date the Galloway ruffian, for the latter evidently belongs to a period when he and his race were almost wholly subdued, and only able to commit their outrages under cover of night, whereas the former was distinctly “the lord of the manor”

It has been seen that the topography of our country, and many other word-witnesses in our speech, all testify to the presence of a black race not yet blended with the white…

And other evidences—of history, of legend, and of custom— have been adduced…

But of the traditional memory of the “blackamoor,” still visibly impressed upon the minds of our peasantry, very little has been said…

The Black Morrow, who, from his forest den, ravaged the neighbouring country, and the Black Knight of Lancashire, who “held the people in vassalage,” and “used them with great severity,” were two aistinct specimens…

But they can be matched with many others…

Accepting this conclusion, then, as, in the main, correct, we have before us undeniable evidence—historical and ethnological of the immemorial presence of the blacks in Britain…

The black “giants” of the Welsh, and other tales, are “hateful” and “horrid.”

The Welsh Black Oppressor, and the Black Knight of Lancashire are fierce tyrants, the cruel foes of all white people…

At a later date, when the whites were gaining the ascendancy, and the blacks were cut up into straggling bands, or lurking, like the Black Morrow of Galloway, in solitary dens and forest-shades, out of which they issued by night, intent on murder and rapine,—even at this stage of their history, the blacks were the dreaded enemies of the whites…

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Indeed, it is of this epoch that the popular imagination has most retained the impression. The days of the “black oppression” are so remote that their memory only lives in half-forgotten legends…

Not so the time when the black castles were owned by another race, and their former masters were skulking among woods and caves…

So vivid was the fear of them, and so lasting its impression, that children of the nineteenth century, peering into dark recesses, timorously,—or peasant girls, seeing suddenly their own image, reflected by the candle from the dark window-pane,—shiver all over with apprehension at the vision of the dreaded
“black man”—a mere imaginary bugbear to them, but a real terror to those from whom they inherited the feeling…

We have seen that a contemporary writer describes the Borderers as always making their expeditions during the night, and lying in concealment during the day…

This Sir Walter also corroborates… And it is also a characteristic of the Black Morrow, or Blackimore, of Galloway tradition, who may have been of the Black Douglas clan…

It is a characteristic, also, of all the “black-men,” once so greatly feared by timorous peasant-girls and young children; although such black men—as belonging to a distinct type—are now non-existent, or nearly so…

Such black robbers were all, in the often-quoted words of Falstaff “minions of the moon.”

“Hence the emblematic moons and stars (says Scott), so frequently charged in the arms of border families.”

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