Sunday, November 8, 2009

Newly Found Research

The person who has 'taken the wrong fork in the road' and who refuses to re-evaluate new evidence - clinging to their findings of 5-20 years ago and continues down the same path reminds me of the person who drives aimlessly, obviously lost, but refuses to stop and ask for directions or turn around and take another fork and is doomed to remain lost

In the past three or four years many books, newspapers, magazines, etc., have came online and shed new light on Melungeon research, records have been dug out of the old dusty courthouses and are lending new facts to this research that simply cannot be ignored.

The first record that put a dent in the 'old school' research was the trial in Hamilton County, Tennessee in the 1870s. Judge Lewis Shepherd had published his memoirs and was quoted quite often but it was never clear if these people in Hamilton County were actually called Melungeons at the time of the trial, or if Shepherd decided they were Melungeons after the Burnett and Dromgoole articles.

Reading the transcripts clearly shows these people in Hamilton County, the Perkins, Boltons, Shoemakes, Goins, Manley, etc., were called Melungeons in the 1850s by their neighbors. Research turned up a petition dated 1794 in Georgetown (Marion County) South Carolina with the names of these people later called Melungeons.

Further research shows some of these in the South Carolina group are genetically/genealogically linked to the Newman's Ridge group and expands the research area far beyond Louisa County, Virginia to Orange County, North Carolina. In fact if you research the migration patterns of the Saponi, Cheraw/Saura Cherokee and Catawba Indians you will find they traveled the same routes as the Gibson, Collins, Goins, Bunch etc.

Adding this to the newly found information in the dissertation of Sandra Keyes Ivey in which both Daniel Baird and Robert Ewing state a group of people living in Lebanon, Wilson Co., Tennessee were also called Malungeons as early as 1850 shows this word was found many times outside of Newmans Ridge.

Another important discovery is the widespread use of the word used to describe dark skinned people who were different than the Africans or Mulattoes in the 1850s. Especially used in and near Richmond, Virginia where some of the Indian Gibson family from Charles City County are found living after they were freed from slavery by proving their ancestry from an Indian woman, Jane Gibson.

Coincidentally, or not, their owner David Ross was the owner of the iron works in Hawkins/Sullivan County in Tennessee in the 1790s. It was left to his son, Frederick Ross in 1818 who brought some of the slaves there where he built Rotherwood -- Ross later freed these slaves as were many of the 400 at the Oxford Iron works owned by his father.

This is the same Frederick Ross who preached at Vardy's house. What a small word eh? [These slaves freed by Ross in Hawkins County are also the ancestors of Diana Ross of the Supremes.]

These newly found facts are showing the word was not exclusive to Newman's Ridge -- it neither started -- nor ended there. The 1870s trial shows there were Melungeons in Hamilton County in 1850 and they said they were Portuguese, ditto Wilson County, Tennessee and Newman's Ridge. There were Molungeons in Richmond in 1850s and Malunjins near Dothan, Albama before the Civil War and 'Lungens' in Arkansas.

In 1889 after Swan Burnett's piece -- but *before* Dromgoole's articles had been published, Lawrence Johnson born in SC but residing in Mississippi wrote to the editor of the Atlanta Journal about Burnett's article;

''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 Peedee 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.''

How would Mr. Johnson have recognized the Melungeons of Newmans Ridge in Burnett's article as the people found on the Peedee River? He is clearly describing the Boltons, Perkins, Goins, Shoemakes etc.

In 1890 it was reported from Rogersville; "In Magoffin county, Kentucky, one of the wildest of the eastern subdivisions of the commonwealth there is a community or settlement of people, who claim to be descendants of Portuguese, and the resemblance is said to be striking and complete" --

And the hunt for the real story goes on. Unfortunately there are not many hunters.

Sources for the above can be found at

Or by using the search engine at this site



  1. Good and interesting post Joanne!

  2. My fathers side of the family my Great Great Great Grandmother was Caroline Collins Gibson Smith From Virginia then to Kentucky where my father now lives in West Liberty Kentucky His Fathers, Fathers name was Tandy Hunter.

  3. Perhaps with a few more details I may find them in my files. Do you have birth or marriage dates?

  4. My grandmother said they all changed their names and cut their hair. All of my ancestors but one I found on are from Europe and Great Britian. One was listed as unknown native on a reservation in Georgia.


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