"As it is, the whole community was hijacked by yellow journalists seeking personal fame and glory for such a long time, we may never get a truly clear and untainted history of them. In much of the material related to Appalachian areas in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, the more outlandish, bombastic, and fantastic, the better, and no one cared about the truth."This simply is not true. The earliest research into the Melungeon History was not written by 'yellow journalist' but by anthropologists, ethnologists, and historians such as the noted ethnologist James Mooney, Croatan/Lumbee historian Hamilton McMillan, and Tennessee born Dr. Swan Burnett who working with Doctor Pierce of Newmans Ridge and Dr. Gurley of the Smithsonian was the first to publish his findings in 1889, before Will Allen Dromgoole even thought of visiting the Melungeons.
The Rev. C.H. Humble, Professor Stephen B. Weeks, John B. Brownlow, Daniel Baird, Robert E. Ewing, Judge John Lea, etc., were not 'yellow journalists' and their contributions were printed in reputable magazines and in 'letters to the editors' - not to sell papers.
One thing is clear from the early research of the late 1800s and early 1900s was many, if not all, agreed the Melungeons were Indians who mixed with the Portuguese, Whites and Blacks. This is the same story told in their "legend" in 1848 and published in dozens of Newspapers across the country and none of these articles contained the story of 'the dance' which appeared in LITTEL'S LIVING AGE. This 'story' seems to have only been added by Eliakim Littel, perhaps to sell more magazines.
While it is true there were many articles published to sell newspapers,such as Mahala Mullins giving birth to quintuplets in her 60s, or that she was murdered by rival moonshiners, etc., many of the early newspaper articles were at least based on the research of the early anthropologists, ethnologists, and historians. Here are a some examples of Melungeon History that was NOT written by 'yellow journalists.
"In the neighborhood three of four miles south of Sneedville was Alexander Treat, Solomon Mitchell, John and Lincoln Amis, the Bouldens, Andersons, Bryants and Collinses. A settlement was also made at an early date at Mulberry Gap, where a little village sprang up. Newmans' Ridge, which runs through the county to the north of Sneedville, and parallel with Clinch river, is said to have taken its name from one of the first settlers upon it. It has since been occupied mainly by a people presenting a peculiar admixture of white and Indian blood."
In February of 1889 Swan Burnett spoke on the Melungeons before the Anthropological Society of Washington D. C - This is the first published account [found to date] of the Melungeons since 1848.
"It should be stated, however, that there is a disposition on the part of the more thoughtful of those among whom these people live to give some credence to their claim of being a distinct race, a few inclining to the Portuguese theory, some thinking that they may possibly be gypsies, while yet others think that they may have entered the country as Portuguese or gypsies and afterward some families may have intermingled with negroes or Indians or with both. So far as I have been able to learn, however, there was not at any time a settlement of Portuguese in or near North Carolina of which these people could have been an offshoot. [See EARLY CONTACTS for the possible Portuguese Connections] Those that I have seen had physical peculiarities which would lend plausibility to any one of the foregoing theories.
They are dark, but of a different hue to the ordinary mulatto, with either straight or wavy hair, and some have cheek bones almost as high as the Indians. The men are usually straight, large, and find looking, while one old woman I saw was sufficiently hag-like to have sat for the original Meg Merriles. As a rule, they do not stand very high in the community, and their reputation for honesty and truthfulness is not to be envied. In this, however, there are said to be individual exceptions. "
In October of that same year it was published in the American Anthropologist with a footnote;This was picked up and published by numerous newspapers but was this research on the Melungeons by Burnett produced to sell newspapers? I think not. Burnett was a noted opthamologist in Washington D.C. and was researching eye diseases of people of Caucasians and of African Americans.
"Since the above communications was read before the Society I have received from several sources valuable information in regard to the Melungeons; but the most important contribution bearing on the subject, as I believe, is the little pamphlet published by Hamilton Mc Millan, A. M., on “Sir Walter Raleigh’s Lost Colony” (Wilson, N.C., 1888). Mc Millan claims that the Croatan Indians are the direct descendant of this colony. What connection I consider to exist between the Melungeons and the Croatan Indians, as well as other material I have accumulated in regard to the Melungeons, will be made the subject of another communication which is now in preparation. "
His research would have naturally taken him to Newman's Ridge where he had heard of the Melungeons at his father's knee. He was aided by Dr. J. M. Pierce, of Hawkins county, Tennessee, and to Dr. Gurley, of the Smithsonian Institution.
You can read the rest of his report here;
Shortly after this article appeared in the Atlanta Journal Mr. Lawrence Johnson wrote to the editor;
"His name Melungeons is a local designation for this small peculiar race. Their own claim to be Portuguese is more generally known. Their original site is on the Pedee river in South and North Carolina . They were once especially strong in Georgetown and Darlington districts of the latter. Though called Portuguese – this does not indicate their true origin. I have no doubt local traditions, and the records still to be found in the Charleston library will give the true account. As dimly recollected, for I never made search with a purpose in view, it was thus in the primary colonial times of the Carolinas, Winyaw Bay was the best and most frequented harbor on the coast, and Georgetown more accessible, was more of a commercial town than old Charlestown., to that port British cruisers sometimes brought prizes. "Mr. Johnson recognized the families on the Pee Dee River as the same people Swan Burnett mentioned in his research. It is unclear if he recognized the word 'Melungeon' or the 'Portuguese' people but his letter was in no way meant to sell newspapers.
You can read the rest of his letter here;
A year after Burnett's article appeared in newspapers he had exchanged research with Hamilton McMillan and McDonald Furman, both of whom has been working closely with the Smithsonian on the remnant Indian tribes and the mixed race people. This letter is known as EXHIBIT B7 Senate Documents regarding the Croatan Indians.
LETTER OF HAMILTON MCMILLAN TO INDIAN OFFICE, JULY 17, 1890.
RED SPRINGS, N. C., July 17, 1890.T. J. MORGAN, Esq., Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Washington.
MY DEAR SIR: Your letter of July 14 ultimo just to hand. The communication and report from the Bureau of Ethnology to which you refer were never received, and your letter just received conveys the first intimation of their having been sent. Had they been received I would have responded with pleasure.
I enclose to you to-day a copy of a pamphlet containing much of interest in this connection. The pamphlet was written very hastily nearly two years ago in order to give the North Carolina Legislature some information, as the Croatans were asking some legislation in their behalf.
The Croatan Tribe lives principally in Robeson County, N. C., though there are quite a number of them settled in counties adjoining in North and South Carolina. In Sumter County, S. C., there is a branch of the tribe and also in East Tennessee. In Lincoln County, N. C., there is another branch, settled there long ago. Those living in East Tennessee are called "Melungeans," a name also retained by them here, which is a corruption of Melange, a name given them by early settlers (French), which means mixed.
While it might be argued that Dromgoole's article was meant to sell newspapers there is no doubt she did visit and live among these people called Melungeons in the summer of 1890. Her descriptions of the families; Portuguese, white, Indian and African is the same story told in their 'Legend' to the journalist in 1848, almost 50 years earlier and almost identical to the story told to the Rev. C. H. Humble [who will be discussed later.] These articles reported by Dromgoole and the letter by McMillan would be used by the United States Census Bureau and published as a Government document.
After Dromgoole's articles appeared the newspapers there were numerous exchanges in the LETTERS TO THE EDITORS -- these letters, while appearing in the newspaper were not meant to 'sell' the newspaper.
Tennessee historian Daniel Baird wrote to the AMERICAN of Sept. 15, 1890
"Several families are still to be found in Smith, Wilson, Rutherford, and Davidson Counties. There is nothing in their family names to give the student of ethnology a clue to their origin. In a locality in Wilson County known forty years ago as 'Malungeon Town', the most common names were Richardson, Nickens, and Collins. In Rutherford County not far from Lavergne, the principal Malungeons were Archers, Lanterns, and Blackmans. One of the latter family has sold fish in the north end of the market house in this city (Nashville) for many years, and some of the same family reside a few miles out on the Nolensville Turnpike. "A pretty fair speciman of the Malungeon tribe is a young fellow named Bernice Richardson, now serving a life sentence in the state prison for self-confessed complicity in the murder of M.T. Bennet of Lebanon.Randall M. Ewing, attorney and another Tennessee historian wrote on September 21, 1890;
''When he attended law school at Lebanon Tennessee, in 1851: " there was a colony of people residing within a few miles of Lebanon who were locally, and so far as I know generally, called Malungeons. They seemed to be a hard working, harmless, inoffensive people, a dark red or copper color, and jet black, straight hair... these people claimed to be of Portuguese descent.''Dromgoole's articles were also reviewed in American Notes and Queries - Edited by William Shepard Walsh, Henry Collins Walsh, William H. Garrison, Samuel R. Harris. While the story of Vardy and Buck, the two Cherokees, adventures in Richmond is credited to Will Allen Dromgoole's article The Melungeon Tree and Four Branches she apparently read the LETTER TO THE EDITOR of American Notes and Queries in March of 1891.
December 5, 1891
Malungeons (Vol Vi, p. 273) -- The lateness of these details (sent to tthe New York Sun from Sneedville, November 20) may make them acceptable to you in the above connection:
" The first inhabitants of Hancock county, or, to be accurate, of what is now called Hancock county, were the strangest, most mysterious people that have ever settled any part of this country since its discovery. They are still there in greater numbers than ever before, and in as great mystery. These people are called Malungeons. They are a revengeful race, part white, part Indian, part negro. The negro strain is not spread through the whole race, as are the Indian and Caucasian strains, but is confined to a few families.
"These Malungeons are tall, broad, powerful people, with straight black hair, swarthy complexions, small eyes, high cheek bones, big noses and wide flat mouths. They look more like Indians than like white men. They are proud of their Indian blood and will kill any man who come calling them negroes.
"They came from North Carolina early in this century, and could not then explain how they originated. Of course there are many stories, but none seems to be satisfactory. In 1834 an attempt was made to bar them from voting because of the alleged negro blood. They carried the matter into the courts, and the man who was the test plaintiff proved that he was Indian and Portuguese and had no negro blood in his veins. After this the matter was dropped and the Malungeons were allowed to vote.
"It is from these Malungeons that the feud spirit came. They were cunning, malicious, implacable, murderous. They were the original makers of illicit corn whisky. They taught the art and the hatred of Government taxes to all the mountain peoples of this region. They were the first to fight the revenue officers and the last to give up open defiance.
"When they came they settled on the slope of Newman's ridge, in the Blackwater Creek Valley, and on the opposite slope of Powell's Mountain. they kept to themselves for many years, and had no intermarriages with the other settlers until the last twenty or twenty five years. They all had arms; they fought among themselves and resisted to the death outside interference. A decade or so before the civil war they were making moonshine whisky in the dark hollows of Powell's Mountain; they were carrying on bitter feuds and were setting a most vicious example to the early white settlers, who, by their very coming to such a shut-in part of the world, rapidly lost touch with civilization.
"Of these Malungeons there were originally three families-- the Gibsons, the Mullins, and the Collinses. Early in the history of this race a great feud arose between the Gibsons and the Collinses. Old Buck Gibson and Vardy Collins put their heads together and made a great plot. Gibson fixed Vardy with soot or paint so that he looked like a genuine negro. Then they went up into Virginia, Gibson offering Vardy for sale. He soon found a purchaser. As Vardy was a finely built, strong man, Gibson got $1100 for him. Of this $500 was in cash and the balance in a team, a wagon and store goods.
"With a few farewell words of praise for his fine negro, Gibson set out southward. In a day or two Vardy made his escape, washed himself, and fled fast and successfully on the trail of Gibson. There was pursuit, but Vardy was not recognized or else was not overtaken. When he got back to Powell's Mountain he found Gibson in the full enjoyment of the proceeds of the trick. Vardy called on him for a division of the spoils. Gibson flatly refused, after putting him off several times.
"This began a bushwhacking war between the two families, which kept up, with intervals of peace, until the breaking out of the civil war. Sometimes the Collins tribe and the Gibson tribe joined hands against the common foe, the revenue officers. But these breathing spells only gave further foment to a hatred which was kept alive at stills. the civil war put an end to feuds for so long that new causes had to spring up before a properly conducted feud could be again set on foot.
"But the Malungeons had laid the foundations with their illicit stills and their family hatreds. And the civil war gave every one down that way a taste of fighting. The result of these things has been the 150 and more murders, each of which has something peculiarly tragic to distinguish it from the others." W.H.
December of 1890 the Historical Society met. This was just a few months after Dromgoole's article appeared in the newspapers, yet the information published here is not found in Dromgoole's works. Judge John M. Lea was known as the most knowledgeable historian in Tennessee.
The TENNESSEE HISTORICAL SOCIETY held an interesting meeting in December of 1890 at Nashville, Judge John M. Lea presided.
" Judge Lea addressed the society on the subject of the Melungeons. He outlined the early history of the settlement of North Carolina. A party under the protection of a friendly Indian chief had gone into the interior when the first settlers came to that coast and had been lost. No other settlers came till a century afterward, and they were told of a tribe who claimed a white ancestry, and among whom gray eyes were frequent. This people were traced to Buncomb and Robeson counties, where the same family and personal names were found as in the lost colonies.
They are now called Croatans, on account of a sign they made on the trees to keep their way. The Basques of the Spanish coast have been said to have settled in that country, but this theory was not thought to be trustworthy. It would be impossible for negroes to form a distinct race, because the number necessary for a colony would not have been allowed to run at large. The race has several old English words which are used as they were in England two hundred years ago, and a case of civil rights has been won in court by a Melungeon displaying his person and proving to the court that he was of Caucasian blood. North Carolina gives the Croatians $1,000 a year for a normal school, and they have excellent roads. This colony, whose early history is thus so clearly traced, lies within forty miles of the Tennessee Melungeons. "
In 1897 the sheriff of Hancock County responded to a letter from McDonald Furman, noted historian, in South Carolina.
..... Office Of .........
M. R. Buttery Sheriff of Hancock County
May 10, 1897
Mr. Mc Donald Furman Ramsey, S. C.
Dear Sir: I would have written you sooner but got your letter mislaid.
The man Hatfield you inquire about is no relation to the notorious Hatfield of Kentucky. As to the Melungeons I know of no book containing any history of them. They are a peculiar set of people, most of them are very dark, straight hair and high cheek bones resemble a Cherokee Indian. Since the war they have become civilized and a great many of them are good citizens and good livers. I knew old Sol Collins when I was a little boy and was well acquainted with two of his boys and one his girls. I guess she is the largest woman in the State. She ways about five hundred pounds. If you will write Capt L. M. Jarvis of Sneedville he will write you a good history of the Melungeons.
In the summer of 1897 the Reverend Christopher Humble came to Vardy on Newman's Ridge where he stayed at the Varday Hotel, a guest of Batey Collins. Rev C. H. Humble wrote of his experience with the people known as Melungeons, it varied little from the Legend as told in 1848 and again reported by Dromgoole.
"The first settlers here were the great grand parents, Varday Collins, Shephard Gibson, and Charley Williams, who came from Virginia it is said, though other say from North Carolina. They have marked Indians resemblances in color, feature, hair, carriage, and disposition.
The second settlers were from North Carolina; they were the Goans, Miners, and Bells; they were charged with having negro blood in them and, before the war, were prosecuted on this ground for illegal voting, but were acquitted. They explained their peculiarities by claiming a Portuguese origin.
Later Came Jim Mullens, an Englishman, who married a Collins, and whose son John married Mehala Collins, to be referred to again. Jim Moore, a British sailor, also settled here, and married a daughter of old Charley Gibson, so that while in one sense, they are a mixed people, their names indicate an origin on one side not differing from their neighbors. Their isolation may be due to the seclusion preferred by the Indians and the exclusion on account of suspected negro blood."John Bell Brownlow, son of the Parson Brownlow, who first used the word Melungeon in his 1840 newspaper also wrote a letter to the editor. In his letter he tells of his early days of riding horseback through the mountains and knowing of the Melungeons during the Civil War.
''Your letter of yesterday received. I happen to have the information you seek. The Nashville American of June 26, 1910 (since consolidated with the Nashville Tennessean) published a paper of about 10 pages in celebration of its 98th anniversary and in this paper is the true story of a small number of people to be found in a few counties of East Tennessee, as in other sections of the Appalachian region, called Melungeons or Malungeons. I have traveled horse-back before, during and since the Civil War, in the counties where these people live, and have seen them in their cabin homes and from information received independently of what Judge Shepherd says, I am satisfled his statement is to be relied upon.
The foremost jury lawyer of East Tenn. of his generation was the late Hon. John Netherland, the son-in-law of the John A. McKinney, referred to by Lucy S. V. King, and he gave me the same account, substantially, of the origin of these people that Judge Shepherd does.'' ....In my boyhood days they were called Portugese. The word Mulangeon is comparatively modern as to its general use.''
James Mooney, with the Bureau of Ethnology, Smithsonian Institute, wrote in, "The Handy Book of American Indians North of Mexico;
"... he thought the Indians of Robeson County ,NorthCarolina, (Croatan/Lumbees) combine in themselves the blood of the wasted tribes, the early colonists of forest rivers, runaway slaves, or other Negroes, and probably stray seaman of Latin races from coasting vessels from the West Indies or Brazilian trade.” In 1897, Mr. Mooney wrote to Charles McDonald Furman that, "He felt that the Croatans, Redbones, Melungeons, Moors, and Portuguese were all local names for mixed Indian races along the Atlantic seaboard, with westward drift into the mountains." And stated, "It would be worth while of local investigators to go into the subject systematically. I think possibly the Indian remnants may have married with the convict apprentice importation of early colony days as well as with the free Negro element." Mr. Furman was considered by Mooney and other officials as the most informed person on the Redbones and Catawba Indians in Privateer Township, Sumter County, South Carolina. He had tried in vain to get the state of South Carolina to study the Redbones, and chastised state officials for being interested in exotic peoples in other countries, but ignoring a most unusual people right here at home. Furman could not define the Redbones and he believed them a separate race of their own.
Stephen B. Weeks was the first professionally trained historian in North Carolina and one of the many men associated with the Smithsonian who studied the people called Melungeons.
THE LOST COLONY OF ROANOKE: ITS FATE AND SURVIVAL.
(Reprinted from Papers Am. Hist. Asso., Vol. iv., No. 4., 1891.)
By Professor Stephen B. Weeks, Ph.D., Trinity College, North Carolina.
At one time the Croatans were known as 'Redbones,' and there is a street in Fayetteville so called because some of them once lived on it. They are known by this name in Sumpter County, S. C., where they are quiet and peaceable, and have a church of their own. They are proud and high-spirited, and caste is very strong among them.
There is in Hancock county, Tennessee, a tribe of people known by the local name of Malungeons or Melungeons. Some say they are a branch of the Croatan tribe, others that they are of Portuguese stock. They differ radically, however, in manners and customs from the accounts which we have received of the Croatans. Four articles in The Arena for the current year, by Miss Will Allen Domgoole on "The Malungeons, a Forgotten People," "The Malungeon Family Tree," "The Disfranchisement of the Malungeons," and "Malungeon Music."
''Mr. McMillan favors the view that they are a part of the colony of Roanoke, and on this question Mr. John M. Bishop, a native of east Tennessee, now living in Washington, writes to the author: "My theory is that they are a part of the lost colony of Roanoke. Your utterances at the recent meeting in this city on the subject of the Lost Colony of Roanoke [meeting of Amer. Hist. Ass'n., Dec. 31, 1890] were so nearly in line with my ideas in this matter that I now write to call your attention to the subject. . . . You will mark the fact that the Malungeons are located on Newmans Ridge and Black Water creek in Hancock county, Tenn., directly in the path of ancient westward emigration. Dan Boone tramped all over this immediate section. . . . The Malungeons, drifting with the tide of early emigration, stranded on the borderland of the wilderness and remained there."
The above articles gives us somewhat of a history of these people called Melungeons, they are not found in 'newspaper articles' and not written to sell newspapers, the authors are not 'yellow journalist.' An in depth look at the genealogies of these people called Melungeons, from the earliest settlements in Virginia to the Pee Dee River, along with the DNA shows how these families were related, where they lived, how they came together and why they stayed together.