A Black Dutchman and the Racial Discourse of the Dutch in America, 1850–1920

Following the American Civil War, a Dutch-American immigrant soldier returned to his home in Holland, Michigan, with a freed slave whom he had adopted. The adopted child, named Siras, was then raised in a Dutch immigrant household where he learned the Dutch language and the tenets of Dutch Calvinism. Although Siras was clearly well regarded by locals, he could not escape the racial stereotypes and prejudices of the Midwest and spent his entire adult life working as a hotel porter. Siras remained the only black man among the Dutch and a challenge for what it meant to be both Dutch and American. A micro-history of Siras, rooted in primary sources, sheds light on a larger discourse of Dutch-American ethnic and national identity. Dutch American immigrants of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries generally avoided contact with blacks, expressed implicit racial superiority, and defined themselves in reference to black as an ‘other’.