I can’t say why some of Richard Thornton’s revisionist claims are cycling back around again, but I’ve come across a couple of web postings related to a 2011 article Thornton published claiming that the Irish had a colony in South Carolina, and he later described the people of this colony as “hybrid Gaelic” people who had mated with Native Americans and produced biracial offspring. Yes, he actually describes them as racial hybrids.
Thornton, you will recall, is the leading advocate of the evidence-free claim that the Maya had a mining colony in Georgia.
In support of his analysis, Thornton describes the work of People of One Fire, a Native American research group that Thornton fails to inform readers he works with as an editor. He is not an unbiased observer of their work. Worse, apparently quite a few members of the People of One Fire group, comprised largely of Creeks, have adopted a Creek fundamentalist point of view designed to deny that the Cherokee played a role in Georgia history before the contact period. Scholars generally believe that the Cherokee migrated from the north sometime after 1000 CE; Creek fundamentalists support a date after 1400 or 1500 in order to support the view that all of the pre-Columbian mounds and ruins in the area are Creek and nothing is Cherokee. It is an open question, with different arguments for different dates. I don’t know how any of it squares with Thorton’s claims that the area’s ruins are Mayan except that any advocacy of a non-Cherokee origin helps support Creek goals in a perceived rivalry with the Cherokee. (The two groups fought a war in the 1700s that the Creek lost, and in the War of 1812 the Cherokee and Creek took opposite sides. You will recall, too, that Thornton feels the Cherokee are in a conspiracy with the U.S. government to suppress his work.)
So anyway, People of One Fire claims to have analyzed every Spanish text explorers ever wrote about the American South and to have “translated” every mangled Native name and title as Creek or some other area tribe’s language. They concluded that no words were Cherokee. But they decided that Peter Martyr d’Anghiera’s reference to a North Carolina area called “Duhare” (De orbe novo 7.2 and 3.), typically considered to refer to the Cape Fear Indians, was a Gaelic word since they could relate it to no Native American language. Now, mind you that Peter Martyr was writing in Latin from reports composed in Spanish of attempts to render in Roman letters Native words often heard secondhand through translators. Worse, some of the peoples the Spanish met later merged with other tribes or died out, leaving behind nothing of their pre-contact languages.
The claim, specifically, is that “Duhare” originates in one of two ways: as “Place of Clan Hare” or as “du’hÉir,” meaning “place of the Irish.”
I am not aware of a Clan Hare, though there is an O’Hare or O’Hair family whose name derives from O’hÉir, which would be the same root as the second proposed etymology for Duhare.
But here’s the rub: People of One Fire and Richard Thornton put enormous weight on Peter Martyr’s third-hand place name being phonetically accurate enough to translate from Gaelic to English. Yet “Duhare” is an Anglicization of his original Latin text, made by later translators, beginning with Gomara, who abridged and translated Peter Martyr for Historia de las Indias (ch. 43), where he translates the word as “Duhare.” Which is fine, of course, but it’s not precisely what Peter Martyr wrote in his three mentions of the name. In the original Latin text of De orbe novo 7.3 he referred to the giant chief Datha “in provincia Duharae,” which, given standard Latin first declension forms, gives us the province of “Duhara” in the nominative. Yet back in 7.2, he gives “Duhare” as an accusative, and then gives the name again as “Duharhe.” Despite these varying forms, there is one constant: All three forms clearly imply that the final vowel was meant to be pronounced, as is standard in Latin. Only an Anglicized version would drop the pronunciation of the final vowel. If we pronounce the name according to Latin rules (“Doo-AH-ray”), or (assuming the word form was delivered in the Spanish explorers’ own language) historical Spanish pronunciation (“Doo-HAH-ray”), the similarities to the Gaelic fade. The “Éir” is meant to be pronounced “Ire,” as in Ireland, and doesn’t reconcile with the Latin or Spanish pronunciation of “ar” without special pleading that renders any argument from accuracy moot. The proposed Gaelic original also clearly has no terminal vowel, so why should we accept this identification and no other? If the argument comes from accuracy, this must fail.
But that’s not all. Peter Martyr wrote that the people of Duhare were “white” and possessed of a chief named Datha who was a “giant.” Thornton sees his name as the Gaelic word for “painted.” Further, the Duhare made “cheese” from deer milk gotten from domesticated deer herds, so Thornton connects this to the Scots-Gaelic folktales of reindeer herding. Therefore, the Duhare people must be Irish!
There is no archaeological evidence of domestication of deer in South Carolina in the time period under discussion, nor is there any evidence of a dairy industry. (Indeed, most Native Americans are lactose intolerant and therefore “hybrid” Irish 500 years after colonization would have a hard time surviving on cheese.) There is no evidence of imported reindeer either. Peter, or more accurately his two sources, Ayllon and Chicora, were likely reporting a distorted story of a tribe that survived in large measure on deer hunting. There is a small chance that Peter might have been right, since he stated that the Duhare locked fawns in their houses so that the mothers would come back each evening to see them—a far cry from the reindeer-herding lifestyle of the ancient Scots a thousand years earlier.
“Datha” does not exactly mean “painted” in Gaelic. The word “dath” means “color,” “stain,” or “dye,” and is related to the verb “dath,” “to stain.” The word “datha” is the past participle of “dath” and means “colored,” “stained,” or “tinged.” However, “dathan” could refer to paint, in the sense of a color used to tinging. But given the broad tolerance we’re asked to accept for the accuracy of “Duhare,” I can’t see how we can distinguish “Datha” from similar-sounding words like “Datan” (“foster-father”), “Data” (“handsome”), or “Dathag” (“parasitic worm”).
Thornton tries to strengthen the connection by asserting that Peter said Datha “covered his skin with pigments or tattoos,” but there is nothing in Peter about that. He only says that Datha was “gigantic,” had a tall wife, traveled in a litter, and had a stone palace.
That leaves only the whiteness of their skins, to which Thornton adds that they had full beards unlike Native Americans, whom he accuses of having patchy facial hair. To take the latter first, Thornton is again making up things not in the text: Peter speaks nothing of Duhare beards, noting only that the people had long brown hair. As to skin color, Peter never implied they were of the same race as the Spaniards (indeed, such concepts of color-based race had yet to fully form); his use of color is relative, describing various tribes in shades ranging from white to light brown to dark brown to black—all for a race English writers deemed “red”! Peter only meant that they were lighter than surrounding peoples.
Specifically, Peter uses the word “candidos,” to describe their skin. This word means “pale,” “light colored,” “fair,” or “bright.” In this sense it gained the secondary meaning of “brilliantly white” because it was the word for specially-cleaned Roman togas. It is distinct from “albus,” the typical word for “white” and the one I find used to describe Europeans in old books of scientific racism, as in Linnaeus’ four races: Europeus albus, Asiaticus luridus, Americanus rufus, and Afer niger, all named for colors. In short, Peter meant that the Duhare were paler in complexion than their neighbors, not that they were Caucasian.
One final fun fact: After Gomara adapted Peter Martyr for his Historia, a seventeenth-century French translation of Gomara was made that completely mangled the story, turning the deer into women and stating that the Duhare people ate cheese made from breast milk!
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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