Sunday, July 29, 2012

Were The Melungeons Indians?

I started researching Melungeon families in 1988 but never heard the word until I went online in 1996.  One of the first books I bought was MELUNGEONS: EXAMINING AN APPALACHIAN LEGEND by Pat Spurlock Elder, which is still the best book out there on Melungeon families. 

I wrote to the author and she wrote back, in fact we have had a few emails over the years and I was truly saddened when I learned she had donated her research. She remains one of the best researchers on this subject.

One of the first things I learned from Ms Elder is you can find evidence to support any theory on the history of Melungeons and their kinfolks.  Brent Kennedy convinced many people they descended from Turkish sailors and named people like Elivs Presley as possbile Melungeons which is still being published today.  Tim Hashaw wrote they descended from the 19 African slaves who stepped off the boat in 1619 although history records them as stepping off the boat and into obscurity.

Elizabeth Hirschman and Donald Panther Yates have them descended from 'Jews from Scotland.'  Jack Goins, Roberta Estes and Janet Crain and Penny Ferguson write they descend from 'Sub Saharan men and white women' based on Y and mtDNA results that represents a mere 1% of the participants DNA.

There are no slave papers, manumission papers, runaway slave ads, nothing that proves they descended from anyone,  nothing more than a few DNA results and 'they were called mulatto or free people of color.'

From my research there seems no doubt the Melungeons descended from the Native Americans. They are recognized as Indians by the U.S. Government found in Senate Documents, Census records, draft records, etc.  
There are numerous documents that state the Melungeons are a branch of the Croatan/Lumbee Tribe of Robeson County, North Carolina, these are just a few of the documents that state they were Indians. 

Most of these were 'eyewitnesses to history' and many of them were used to document the Melungeon surname list generated by the Core Melungeon DNA Project administrators.


Goodspeed's History of Tennessee-1886
Hancock County
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.
Swan Burnett -This article was read before the Anthropological Society of Washington D. C on February 5, 1889 and published in the American Anthropologist in October of that year.

Swan Burnett -This article was read before the Anthropological Society of Washington D. C on February 5, 1889 and published in the American Anthropologist in October of that year.
October 1889
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.

July 17, 1890
--Red Springs, North Carolina
Hamilton McMillan
'The Croatan tribe lives principaly in Robeson county, North Carolina, though there is quite a number of them settle in counties adjoining in North and South Carolina. In Sumter county, South Carolina, there is a branch of the tribe, and also in east Tennessee. In Macon county, North Carolina, there is another branch, settled there long ago. Those living in east Tennessee are called "Melungeons", a name also retained by them here, which is corruption of 'Melange', a name given them by early settlers (French), which means mixed.''

Exhibit B7.
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,

Morning Oregonian, (Portland, OR)
Tuesday, October 14, 1890; pg. 3
The Mysterious Tribe Known as Melungeons
On the Ridge, the real stronghold of this peculiar people, life is a great deal harder than in the swamp or on Blackwater creek.  They live more like Indians than the dwellers in the valley, and are entirely content with their life.  I visited several huts, spending a month among them, living on corn bread, honey and black, sugarless coffee.

They were as utter strangers the day I left as on the day I arrived among them.  Calloway Collins in an Indian if ever one set foot on Tennessee soil.  He is very fond of his red skin, high cheek-bones and Indian like appearance.

The Nashville Daily American
Written for the Sunday American
By Will Allen Dromgoole
August 31, 1890
Many of the Malungeons claim to be Cherokee and Portuguese. Where they could have gotten their Portuguese blood is a mystery. The Cherokee is easily enough accounted for, as they claim to have come from North Carolina, and to be a remnant of the tribe that refused to go when the Indians were ordered to the reservation. They are certainly very Indian-like in appearance

A Strange People
By Will Allen Dromgoole
Nashville Sunday American
September 1, 1890
The owner was a full-blooded Indian, with keen, black eyes, straight black hair, high cheeks, and a hook nose. He played upon his violin with his fingers instead of a bow, and entertained us with a history of his grandfather, who was a Cherokee chief, and by singing some of the songs of his tribe. He also described the Malungeon custom of amusements.

The Melungeons
A Peculiar Race of People Living Hancock County 
The Knoxville Journal
As to their origin--- well that is where the mystery comes in.  While they have the appearance of Mulatto, Portuguese, and Indian all mixed in different and various proportions,

Report on Indians Taxed and Indians Not Taxed in the United States (except. Alaska) at the Eleventh Census: 1890. 
Washington, DC: US Census Printing Office
Such are the remnants called Indians in some states where a pure-blooded Indian can hardly longer be found. In Tennessee such a group, popularly known as Melungeans, in addition to those still known as Cherokee.

American Notes and Queries - 
Edited by William Shepard Walsh, Henry Collins Walsh, William H. Garrison, Samuel R. Harris 
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.

By Will Allen Dromgoole
The Arena ; v. 3 (May, 1891), p. 749-751.
The original Collins people were Indian, there is no doubt about that, and they lived as the Indians lived until sometime after the first white man appeared among them

The Magazine of American History  with Notes and Queries 
Volume XXV  
Page 258 
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. 

M. R. Buttery
Sheriff of Hancock County
Sneedville, Tenn
May 10, 1897
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.  

A Visit To The Melungeons
C.H. Humble
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

Should you .ask any of these people concerning their origin, all they can say is that they were told that their ancestors came from North Carolina and had Indian blood in their veins. 

Indian blood mingled somewhat with Caucasian will account for all the peculiarities of color, feature, hair, carriage and character possessed by these people.

The Malungeons and Their Curious Customs
There is a Mystery as to Their Origin
Claims of Indian-Portuguese Descent Discussed
Their Chief Occupations Are Farming, Milling, Hunting
and Digging Medicinal Roots

September 20, 1897
Times Picayune (Louisiana)
The Malungeons at first sight seem to be a cross between white and Indians.  They are of a copper color with prominent cheek bones, coal black hair, straight noses, black eyes and an air of intelligence.  Some say that they are of Moorish descent.  Their color and foreign appearance weighed 

Lewis Jarvis
Hancock County Times
Vardy Collins, Shepherd Gibson, Benjamin Collins, Solomon Collins, Paul Bunch and the Goodmans, chiefs and the rest of them settled here about the year 1804, possibly about the year 1795, but al these men above named, who are called Melungeons, obtained land grants and muniments of title to the land they settled on and they were the friendly Indians who came with the whites as they moved west. They came from the Cumberland County and New River, Va., stopping at various points west of the Blue Ridge. Some of them stopped on Stony Creek, Scott County, and Virginia, where Stoney Creek runs into Clinch River.

The white emigrants with the friendly Indians erected a fort on the bank of the river and called it Fort Blackmore and here yet many of these friendly “Indians” live in the mountains of Stony creek, but they have married among the whites until the race has almost become extinct. A few of the half bloods may be found-none darker- but they still retain the name of Collins and Gibson, &c. From here they came to Newman’s Ridge and Blackwater and many of them are here yet; but the amalgamations of the whites and Indians has about washed the red tawny from their appearance, the white faces predominating, so now you scarcely find one of the original Indians; a few half-bloods and quarter-bloods-balance white or past the third generation.

The old pure blood were finer featured, straight and erect in form, more so than the whites and when mixed with whites made beautiful women and the men very fair looking men. These Indians came to Newman’s Ridge and Blackwater. Some of them went into the War of 1812-1914 whose names are here given; James Collins, John Bolin and Mike Bolin and some others not remembered; those were quite full blooded. These were like the white people; there were good and bad among them, but the great majority were upright, good citizens and accumulated good property and many of them are among our best property owners and as good as Hancock County, Tennessee affords. Their word is their bond and most of them that ever came to Hancock county, Tennessee, then Hawkins County and Claiborne, are well remembered by some of the present generation here and now and they have left records to show these facts. 

They all came here simultaneously with the whites from the State of Virginia, between the years 1795 and 1812 and about this there is no mistake, except in the dates these Indians came here from Stoney Creek. 

Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology - Ethnology - 1907
page 365
Across the line in South Carolina are found a people, evidently of similar origin, designated "Red bones." In portions of w. N. C. and E. Temn. are found the so-called "Melungeons" (probably from French melangi', 'mixed') or "Portuguese," apparently an offshoot from the Croatan proper, and in Delaware are found the "Moors." All of these are local designations for peoples of mixed race with an Indian nucleus differing in no way from the present mixed-blood remnants known as Pamunkey, Chicka- hominy, and Nansemond Indians in Virginia, excepting in the more complete loss of their identity. In general, the physical features and complexion of the persons of this mixed stock incline more to the Indian than to the white or negro

Date: June 23, 1907
Paper: Dallas Morning News
Peculiar Peoples In America
By Frederic J. Haskins
On Newman's ridge in Hancock County, Tennessee, overlooking the beautiful Clinch River Valley, lives one of the most mysterios people in America.  Through their Anglo-Saxon neighbors or through writers of romance the name "Malungeon" has been given them, a name that the better element resents.  They resemble in feature the Cherokee Indians, and yet have a strong, Caucasian cast of countenance that makes their claim to Portuguese descent seem probable.  They came, so a legend runs, of a bard of Portuguese pirates, who long yeas ago were wrecked on an unknown coast, became adopted into an Indian tribe and were part of the Cherokees who two or three centuries later refused to go West and live on the reservation that a kindly Government offered when it needed their Eastern lands.

Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine - 
Page 522   1911
John Bell Brownlow
In my boyhood days they were called Portugese. The word Mulangeon is comparatively modern as to its general use. As a rule they did not go into either army; did not wish to. They preferred agriculture; happy in their mountain cabins. The extract from McKinney's speech is garbled. He truly said the language of the disfranchising clause included these people because it embraced "all free persons of color" but notwithstanding that the majority of them always voted because their neighbors did not regard them as negroes or as having negro blood in their veins. I believe there was some mixture of these Portugese with the Cherokee Indians, but not with negroes. 

The Melungeons 
Paul Converse 
Southern Collegian
December 1912
Their lips are not noticeably thicker nor their feet broader than those of pure Caucasians, and although their hair is sometimes wavy it is seldom, if ever, kinky. Some of the small boys with their uncombed hair, dirty faces and wide, staring eyes look like young Indians fresh from their smoky wigwams.

July 31, 1923
In the mountains of East Tennessee live a distinct race of people, a race as different from all others on the Western Hemisphere as the negro is different from the American Indian. Moreover this species of the human family is found nowhere else in America. It is the sinister race of the Melungeons, a mysterious race, few in numbers, whose origin is open to speculation, historians say. For many years they were thought to be Indians or a mixture of Indians and white people, whence probably originated their name, Melungeon, which means a mixture, according to the view held by those who have studied them. The history of this peculiar race as traced by the State Department of History, reveals their primitive life in the following way:

Wednesday March 5, 1941
Melungeons Recalled
Mrs. Amanda Wheelock tells of Knowing Several of the Race

To the Editor of The Chattanooga Times:
These people were very dark, and had straight hair and no Negro features.  I bought vegetables and eggs from a Melungeon woman.  She was intelligent and of rather pleasing personality.  Her account of the history of her people was that the were descended from Portuguese sailors who, fleeing from an enemy. Left their boats and escaped into the mountains of North Carolina.  They married into a tribe of mountain Indians and although these Portuguese sailors were a very dark race of people they had no Negro blood.

The Alabama Lawyer: Official Organ State Bar of Alabama
By Alabama State Bar
Published by The Bar, 1942

One tribe of Indians and a community of mixed breed Indians were unmolested by the whites. These were the Uchees or Emassees, kinsman of the Seminoles or Creeks, who lived at the mouth of the Emassee or O'Mussee or Mercer creek near Columbia, and the Malunjins, a mixed breed community residing some three to six miles northeast of Dothan toward Webb even as late as 1865. Where the Malunjins came from nobody knows; where they were dispersed to is the limbo of forgotten men. B. P. Poyner, Sr., father of Houston County Probate Judge, S.P.Poyner, was born in the Malunjins' community. Some of these mixed breed Indians brought milk to Mr. Poyner's mother while he was an infant.

Mysterious People Inhabit Northeastern Part Of Tenn.

Bill Sanders
Times-News Writer
October 16 1949

On Newman's ridge in Northeastern Tennesee live an unknown people. Only one fact about them is undisputable, that they are strange people.  From there fact turns to legend.

These people are called Malungeons. their characteristics are like those of the Indian in many ways -- an olive colored skin, straight black hair, small hands and feet, and high cheek bones.

By Mark French Jr. 
Also the Melungeons came to Scott County from Letcher County, Kentucky near Whitesburg at a place called Lick Rock. These people lived in large numbers. Uncle Poke Gibson came to Scott from Letcher about 1820. He claimed to be Portuguese Indian. 

The Bollings, who are numerous in Scott and Wise Counties, came from Newman’s Ridge. The have all the features of the Indian race.  Old Jack Bolling, the originator of this family, is believed to have come from a low life grade of Indian. He married a melungeon by the name of Collins or Sexton but this is the first and last crossbreed in the family. His people were strong and spoke half-broken English. He was pure bred Melango and had no other blood in him. In this case word Melango pertains to Indian blood only. 
The Adkins family of Indian origin came from Blackwater, Tennessee. Some of them have migrated from Scott County to Letcher and Pike County. A Kentucky family name which belongs to the Melango tribe is the “Lucas’ facial features are large and massive with ruddy cheeks. It is believed they are descended from Portuguese Indians and Irish. The name Lucas is of Irish origin.

Another family which originated from the melungeons is the Moores. The Moores came in to this county from Newman’s Ridge about 1807. The originator of the Moores here was old Eth Moore. The family name of this forebears had the Irish prefix O and was spelled O’Moore. Eth Moore always said he was one-third Portuguese Indian. Of course the other two-thirds consisted of Irish and don’t know what. 
I have separated the Melango families into the different groups as follows: 

1. Purebred Indian groups from Blackwater, Tennessee a. Coins b. Bollings c. Sweeneys d. Adkins e. Minor 

2. Indian group from Blackwater who married in other Melango Tribes a. Baldwins 

3. Melango groups from Kentucky a. Collins b. Sextons 

4. Indians and whites from Newman’s Ridge a. Bollings b. Collins 

5. Portuguese Indian and white from Newman’s Ridge a. Collins 

From Newman’s Ridge a. Moore’s—married Sextons and Gibson during first generation 

6. Portuguese Indian from Kentucky a. Gibson 

Under the column Portuguese Indian and white are the few people who came from Newman’s Ridge called Collins. In Scott County they married among the Sextons and Gibsons. By intermarrying among these other people their blood became variously diluted. We know definitely that the blood of the descendants of Collins of Newman’s Ridge consists of Portuguguese Indians and white. The first Collins from Newman’s Ridge were reported to be white.

This paper was originally written on November 22, 1947, in Columbus, Ohio


  1. I am a bolin descendant on both sides as john was my gg grandfather on my dads dads side and mike was also so assuming that my g grandfather married his cousin. i saw pictures of them and they like my dad, was black hair, skinny faces, dark, and small and skinny. my dad always said they were cherokee lineage as his mom too was supposed to be. still trying to prove whether they are melungeon or cherokee

  2. Many of the Melungeon families were Cherokee so they would probably be the same. Melungeon really had no meaning except perhaps they may have had the Portuguese ancestry who mixed with the Indians/Cherokee.

  3. My grandmother's maiden name was Florene Gibson. Her parents were Garrett Gibson and Polly M. Evans, they were all from Nelson Cty,VA. Garrett came from Albemarle Cty,Va and his parents were Randolph Gibson,III and Mary Sprouse.Randolph Gibson's parents were Randolph Gibson,Jr. and Dicey Sprouse. Polly M. Evans came from Nelson Cty, VA and her parents were Tarleton Jackson Evans and Nancy Via. Tarleton J. Evans parents were Tarleton Evans and Susannah Hudson of Nelson Cty, VA. I can't find out who Tarleton Evans parents are. I have a picture of my grandmother Florene Gibson and her mother, Polly Evans. They both have black hair and their skin is dk, high cheek bones . There are Monacan Indians in Amherst Cty. I read a book about them that sd a Wm Evans married a Monacan Indian in the 1700 and settled in Amherst. I was told that the Evans side is where the Indian part comes from, but I can't prove it because I can't find out who my 3rd g-grandfather's parents are. No parents are listed on the marriage bond except for the wife's, Rush Hudson.

    1. Randolph Gibson, II and Dicey Sprouse are my fifth great-grandparents through their son, Benjamin W. Gibson. I am seeking photos or any information on any of these individuals. Any assistance would be appreciated. Thank you, David Walton

    2. 1804 June 4; Gibson, Randolph Jr. & Dicey Sprouse; Bond: John Sprouse. Wit: H. Gates Winston [Rec. of Marr. Bonds, 1780-1806] s-Randolph Gibson, Sr. who gives his consent. Wit: Thaddus Blackely & Janey Blackely & Peter Sprouse [B/C Papers, 1800-07]

  4. Dotson Gibson (John Gibson, Leven Gibson, James Gibson, Elijah Gibson ) was born 1825 Scott, Virginia He Died 1862/1865 Hawkins Tennessee Buried Sol Collins Cemetery Hancock Tennessee He married Mary Gibson 1823-1880 Mary father Joseph Fisher Gibson 1686 Born 1792 Cherokee Nation, Lee Virginia USA, Died 1870 Mother Susannah or Sooky Moore Born 1795 Virginia, Died 1870 Tennessee

    Jarvis Gibson (John Gibson, Leven Gibson, James Gibson, Elijah Gibson, and Dotson Gibson) was born Jun 8. 1841 in Scott, Virginia Married 1860, Hancock Tennessee, and died Mar 27 1911 Lee Valley, Hancock Tennessee He married Huda Bolding Gibson She was born Jan 1840 in Tennessee, and died 1899 in Hancock Tennessee her Mother was Ava Gibson Born 1826,


    William Gibson (John Gibson, Leven Gibson, James Gibson, Elijah Gibson, Dotson Gibson, Jarvis Gibson) was born 26 Dec 1876 Tazewell, Hancock, Tennessee and died 18 Apr. 1955. Columbia, Richland SC He married Harriet Salona Carroll 21 April 1898 Hancock TN. She was born 31 Dec 1877 in Hancock TN., and died 14 May 1954 Gaffney South Carolina. Then Had 11 Children Amanda Eliza, Louisa, Basil, Colby, Dolly Mae, Fred Carson, Maude, Ressie, Edith, Bernice, Cecil


    Dolly Mae Gibson (John Gibson, Leven Gibson, James Gibson, Elijah Gibson, Dotson Gibson, Jarvis Gibson, William Gibson) She was born 26 Mar 1908, Stonega, Wise County, Virginia and died 18 Oct 1977. Beaufort, Beaufort County, South Carolina. Buried Oakland Cemetery. Gaffney Cherokee County South Carolina, She married Wallace Monroe Easler married 27 Apr 1935 Gaffney Cherokee County South Carolina

  5. Dollie Mae Gibson My Mother Bernard Easler of Lawndale NC

  6. My Moth er said she was from Cherokee and Spanish that make Sence

  7. I am looking for any information on Elijah Gibson and Margaret Walker. They are the grandparents to my great great grandmother Eliza (Harris)Raper. She is on the Dawes Roll. any information would be much appreciated.
    Tiffany Gibson


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The First Gibsons

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