Several groups, generally known to outsiders as "Gypsies," live today in North America.
In their native languages, each of the groups refers to itself by a specific name, but most translate that name as "Gypsy"
when speaking English. The distinct groups of Irish Travelers and Scottish Travelers do not refer to themselves as Gypsies,
however. Each of these groups had its own cultural, linguistic, and historical tradition before coming to this country, and
each maintains social distance from the others. They differ from one another in social organization: form of marriage, internal
politics and social control. With the exception of the Hungarian-Slovak musicians, Gypsy and Traveler groups share elements
of economic organization. The Rom and Romnichels share elements of an ideology which stresses the separation of pure from
impure and Gypsy from non-Gypsy. The Rom, Romnichels, and Hungarian-Slovak musicians share a linguistic prehistory, but their
ethnic languages are not, for practical purposes, mutually intelligible. The scattered and, for the most part secondhand,
reports of Gypsies in North America before the middle of the 19th century, while frequently repeated, have not been examined
critically nor verified independently. What has been demonstrated is that the present populations of North American Gypsies
and Travelers date from immigrations of 1850 and thereafter.
The terms used here, Black Dutch, Ludar, Rom, and Romnichel, are those members of these
groups use to refer to themselves. In keeping with linguistic convention, the term Romani (also spelled Romany in the literature)
is used to refer to any or all of the Romani dialects or languages. We use "Gypsies" to refer to the totality of all groups
except the Irish and Scottish Travelers, and where the identity of the group is unverified.
In some recent works the terms Rom, Roma and Romani (as a plural noun) have been used
to refer to the totality of "Gypsy" groups, that is, to replace the term "Gypsies."
The following brief descriptions are intended to help acquaint readers with the groups
referred to in the works entered in the bibliography and with the terminology found in the literature; they are by no means
full discussions of each culture.
The Romnichels, or Rom'nies,
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 urban transportation. Many Romnichels worked as horse traders, both in the travel-intensive
acquisition of stock and in long-term urban sales stable enterprise. 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. The slight literature on this group was produced steadily but sporadically
from 1880 to 1920; after that date material appeared rarely until the 1980s. With the exception of one language study, this
literature is intended for a popular audience; only recently has scholarly work treated this group. The literature usually
refers to this group as English Gypsies. The Romnichel language, which native speakers refer to as Rom'nes (used as a noun),
uses common Romani lexical terms in a matrix of English grammar and syntax. The literature refers to this language as Angloromani
The Rom arrived in the United States and Canada from Serbia, Russia and Austria-Hungary
beginning in the 1880s, as 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. Many in this group specialized in coppersmith work, mainly the repair and refining
of industrial equipment used in bakeries, laundries, confectioneries and other businesses. The Rom, too, developed the fortune-telling
business in urban areas.
Virtually all the anthropological and sociological work on North American Gypsies concerns
the Rom, an emphasis which has led a British observer to label the North American academic tradition "Kalderashocentric,"
Kalderash being one of the Rom subgroups. The first work covered in this bibliography to concern the Rom appeared in 1903.
Material appeared sporadically after that, and steadily from 1928 onward. This group is also referred to in the literature
as Nomads, Coppersmiths, Nomad Coppersmiths, Vlach (or Vlax) Gypsies, or by reference to a country from which they immigrated
to North America, as Brazilian Gypsies, Bulgarian Gypsies, and so forth. The individual subgroup terms Kalderash and Machwaya
are also used. While in the Kalderash dialect of the Romani language, Rom is both singular and plural, the Machwaya dialect
has plural Roma, which is also found in the literature. The inflected language of the Rom belongs to the "Vlach" branch of
the Romani language family. Native speakers refer to "speaking Romanes" (adverb) "in the Gypsy fashion."
A group of Rom who began immigrating to the United States and Canada from eastern Europe
in the 1970s is represented primarily in the police literature, where they are referred to as Yugoslavian Gypsies.
The Ludar, or "Rumanian Gypsies," also emigrated to North America 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 North America they specialized as animal trainers and show people, and indeed passenger manifests show bears
and monkeys as a major part of their baggage. Only a handful of items covering this group have been published, beginning in
1902. The ethnic language of the Ludar is a form of Romanian. They are occasionally referred to as Ursari in the literature.
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
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.
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
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.