Friday, September 7, 2012

Melungeons ~ Voting ~ Politcs

"In this contemporary political cartoon,
"true Whigs" (left) enjoy their hard cider,
while "ruffled shirt Matty" (center) loses
himself in the "feminine pleasures" of opium.
Meanwhile, the undecided voter (right)
 is taking a leak for some reason." 

"Historians say the 1840 campaign is the first 'modern
day' election.  It was the  first election for buttons, pins, fireworks, name calling and political caricatures."

Not surprising then Parson Brownlow first used the word Melungeon to describe a political opponent.

The Conventions are over and all the pretty, flowery, speeches have been made.  President Barack Obama is likely unaware of his Melungeon ancestry, or perhaps doesn't care.  Much was made of his undocumented descent from the 'first enslaved African' but nothing was written of his Melungeon Bunch ancestors who fought for their right to vote.

Whether you are a Republican or Democrat and whether you are voting for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney you may not know the Melungeons were typically known as Republicans and have a long history in the political arena. Many times their right to vote being challenged;

A. Kelly testified in the 1874 "Celebrated Melungeon Case" involving descendants of Solomon Bolton;
Q. Were you acquainted with Solomon Bolton? If so, when and how long did you know him and where did he live?
A. I was acquainted with Solomon Bolton. I got acquainted with him about thirty years ago. and knew him until he left here several years ago. He lived in several places in Marion and Hamilton Counties.
Q. State whether or not you knew of Solomon Bolton's voting in any elections in Marion County? If so, in what elections did he vote?
A. He always voted. I never heard of his vote being challenged or questioned until I think about the year 1840 his vote was challenged.  My father and I got the law and showed it to the Judges of the election. They decided he was a competent voter, and I never heard his vote questioned after that time.

A Note on the Melungeons
It was before the war-during the time of slavery-that the right of a number of these people to vote was called in question. The matter was finally carried before a jury and the question decided by an examination of the feet. One, I believe, was found to be sufficiently flat-footed to deprive him of aright of suffrage. The others, four or five in number, were considered as having sufficient white blood to allow them a vote. Co. John Netherland, a lawyer of considerable local prominence defended them.  (Swan Burnett 1890)


Brownlow's Whig
Jonesboro, Tennessee

Oct., 7, 1840

NEGRO SPEAKING! (Click Here for original scan)

We have just learned, upon undoubtedle authority, that Gen. Combs, in his attempt to address the citizens of Sullivan County, on yesterday, was insulted, contradicted repeatedly, limited to one hour and a half, and most shamefully treated, and withall an effort was made, to get an impudent Malungeon from Washington City, a scoundrel who is half Negro and half Indian, and who has actually been speaking in Sullivan, in reply to Combs!  Gen. Combs, however, declined the honor of contending with Negroes and Indians - said he had fought against the latter, but never met them in debate! 

This is the party, reader, who are opposed to the gag-law, and to abolition! Bigotry and democracy in Sullivan county, well knowing that their days on earth are numbered, are rolling together their clouds of blackness and darkness, in the person of a free negroe, with the forlorn hope of obscuring the light that is beaming in glory, and a gladness, upon this country, through the able and eloquent speeches of Whig orators. David Shaver replied to Gen. Combs, we are informed. This is the same Davy, Mr. Netherland gave an account of, some time since, and who, Col. James gave us the history of, in an address, at our late convention. When Davy had finished, the big Democratic Negro came forward, and entertained the brethren. These two last speakers were an entertaining pair! 

Brownlow's Whig
October 21, 1840

Well when the hour arrived, Hall  and the Indian Negro rode up together, and behind them, a short distance, was McClellan and ''Show Miller" Shaver -- the Locos did not say which of these four worthies were to speak.  Senter spoke, and handled the 'Negro,' who it seemed, had been eating, sleeping, and riding with these, his brethern, "his kinsman according to politics!"

Brownlow's Whig
October 28
Reprinted from the Tennessee Mirror

With astonishment we have understood that a half Negro, and half Indian has been speaking to the citizens of Sullivan on the subject of politics! This surely is  a great insult, and ought not to be tolerated, by any honest man in the Union.  Surely this is exaggeration, and cannot be!  What!  A NEGRO lecture on enlightened community!  It cannot be!

Brownlow's Whig

We can assure the editor of the "Mirror," that an infamous Negro has been speaking in Sullivan County -- no mistake, for we have seen and conversed with several gentlemen who seen and heard the vile scamp.  And he was put up by the DEMOCRATIC party, and by that party sustained, and now apologized for, on the ground of his having some Indian blood in him, and having been raised by JACKSON!

"Finally, on November 4, and as the election neared, Brownlow printed his last attack, "Keep It Before The People," drawn from this incident.  In the two paragraph column, the malicious slanders directed toward the poor fellow, and thereby the Democrtatic Party, are unrelenting and included "an impudent FREE NEGRO," "this infamous and dissipated MULATTO," this vile NEGRO  -- this KINKY HEADED villian," "an infamous, insulting, and strange free Negro, or runaway slave?"  as well as others.  Adding a touch of ridicule with reprimand, Brownlow concluded by noting that Democratic gentlemen in the southern parts of Virginia had driven this mixed-breed from the region."

Brownlow's Whig
November 4, 1840 

In Sullivan, however, he met with a hearty welcome!  There, they ate, rode, and slept with him; and one of the leaders of that party, furnished him with ARMS to defend himself against the insults of WHITE MEN who might chance to prove so refractory, as not to hear him speak!  Shame on the leaders of this party in old Sullivan. 

This article by the son of Parson Brownlow, Whig Editor, says the Melungeons were Portuguese and Indian..  Writing of the Bolton case where they were proven in court, and upheld by the Supreme Court, to be of Portuguese ancestry he wrote; 

"Finally, the decision of the Supreme Court of Tennessee in 1872, referred to by Judge Shepherd, should be conclusive on this subject. Every one of the five members of that Court was a Confederate and Democrat."   (The Melungeons were Republicans)
 Remnant of an Indian Race  -- John B. Brownlow   1911


The platform of Feb 1856 which expunged and ignored the 12th section and in a letter which goes expressly for restoring the Missouri Compromise. The Mulungeons of Richmond endorsed the 'late convention' at Philadelphia too; but will any southern man-- a Stuart or an Imobdin even -- endorse this letter for the restoration of the Missouri Compromise.'' 

From the Richmond Whig. Letter from Hon. John M. Botts
Date: March 26, 1859
Location: Maryland 
Paper: Easton Gazette 
Article type: Letters

......when the Sheriff came to count up the votes at the close of the polls, they counted but five -- and if I had received the vote of one ''Molungeon,'' and he had been authorized by the Constitution to vote, and had 'had' a majority of only one--- it would have been difficult to tell, whether I was most indebted for my election to the "Molungeon" or to the Chief Justice of the U.S.; and if my competitor had received six "Molungeon" votes, or the votes of six worthless and degraded locofocos (supposing they could be any such) they would have more than balanced these five of the first men of the State could boast...........


Date: March 28, 1859 
Location: Alabama Paper: Daily Confederation 

Thirteen congressional electors, fifty senatorial electors, and three hundred and sixty county electors have been notified to hold themselves in readiness to repel the Dragoon of Rockbridge. Botts too, will dash to the rescue at the head of a noble band of "Molungeons and Eboshins" as soon as the weather becomes sufficiently warm to render his odoriferous forces efficient.

From Our Own Correspondent Fredericksburg,
 January 10, 1864

"The "Government organ," however, announces that the observed of all observers were four negroes, "of genteel exteriour, and with the manners "of gentlemen, who joined in the throng that 'crowded the Executive Mansion, and were cordially received by the President of the Untied State,'' The Molungeon Chronicle adds; -- We are not aware that anybody was hurt on the occasion, and we rejoice that we have a President who is a democrat in fact, as well as by nature."

Staunton Spectator
May 25, 1869

The Duties of Election Day

Summary: Declared that all eligible voters have the duty to vote on election day to ensure the defeat of certain sections of the Underwood constitution and to elect Walker as Governor. Wanted to ensure at least some form of control for white Virginians in the state.

The election which will take place on the 6th day of July next, by appointment of the President, will decide whether the people of this State are to be cursed with the Underwood abomination, called a Constitution, as it came from the hands of the Molungeon Convention, or whether it will be modified by having the test-oath and disfranchising clauses stricken out -- whether Walker or Wells will be our Governor, and whether proper men will be elected to represent the State in the Legislature.


Will Allen Dromgoole - 1890

“Mr.-----,” said I, “please tell me what is a Malungeon?”

“A Malungeon,” said he, “isn’t a _____, and he isn’t an Indian and he isn’t a white man. God only knows what he is. I should call him a Democrat, only he always votes the Republican ticket.”


Indiana Messenger
Indiana, Pennsylvania

March 17, 1897


Politically the Malungeons were Whigs before the war, and since the rebellion they have been Republicans. They are very clannish and in Republican primaries they all support the same man, while at regular elections they vote the republican ticket straight. Their customs have not changed during the last 200 years. 

In September of 1912 Will T. Hale wrote in the Alton Telegraph


I have heard since boyhood the word “Melungeon.” It is very common in Tennessee, and is often used as a sort of epithet. Also, as a bugbear to frighten children.

To illustrate, middle and western Tennessee is overwhelmingly Democratic politically, while the eastern portion is overwhelmingly Republican. It used to be the case that a Democratic editor inclined to invective would refer to the East Tennessee Republicans as MELUNGEONS. It was an offensive appellation, but there was no way of preventing its use. 

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