Sunday, September 2, 2012

Portuguese on the Pee Dee

The 1794 Petition in Prince Georges, Georgetown, South Carolina contains the names of the Bolton and Shoemake families, both named in the 1874 court documents as being Portuguese/Melungeons in Hamilton County, Tennessee. The testimony proved these families came over the mountains to Newmans Ridge and spread out from there. Along with the Bolton and Shoemake we find the Goins, Oxendine, Linegar, Ivey, and Gibsons named in this petition coming over the mountains to Newmans Ridge where they very likely mixed with the Indian Gibson, Collins, Bunch etc., families already living there.

Only when you include the history of these Melungeon families do you have a full and true picture of the Melungeons, for these are the families identified as Portuguese in numerous records in Arkansas, Texas, California, Alabama, Tennessee, etc.  

This letter below, written in March of 1889 by Mr. Johnson shows that when he read of these Portuguese people on Newmans Ridge called Melungeons he immediately identified them as the families who lived on the Pee Dee River.


February 5th of 1889 Swan Burnett read his piece “A Note on the Melungeons before the Society of American Anthropologists. It also was printed in the Boston Traveler and appeared five days later in the Atlanta Constitution.  Burnett’s article was published in October of 1889, Vol. 11, pp 347-349, "American Anthropologist Magazine." 

After appearing in the Atlanta Constitution in February a Mr. Laurence C. Johnson wrote to the editor on March 11, 1889 with the history of the ‘Melungeons’ as he knew it. This appeared prior to Dromgoole. Mr. Johnson was not selling newspapers, writing an article or selling a book. It appears he was simply responding to the article by Swan Burnett and telling an honest account of the Melungeons, as he knew it. I believe this story is an important one in the way that it is told. 

Atlanta Constitution
March 11, 1889
The Melungeons

Meridian, Miss.,
March 11– Editors Constitution

Near a month ago an article appeared in The CONSTITUTION named Melungeons. I laid it aside in order to correspond with the writer, but the paper got destroyed and the name and address had not been noticed with care, and are forgotten. Excuse me then for addressing him through the same medium.

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.

Among these once was a Salee Rover, which was sold for the distribution of the proceeds as prize money. The crew consisting mostly of Moors, with a sprinkling of Arabs and negroes, were turned ashore free. Their complexion and religion prevented immediate absorption by the white race, and they found wives among Indians, negroes and cast off white women at a time when many of these last were sold by immigrant ships for their passage money. They became a peculiar people. They were the free people of color of the Pedee region so true to Marion during our revolutionary struggle and no other race in America retained such traditionary hatred of the British.

Your correspondent [whose name I am sorry to have forgotten] having a taste for ethnological studies will confer a favor upon that branch of early post-colonial record and legislative proceedings of South Carolina. He will find it sustained by the appearance of these people if he can find a few pure specimens–their physical structure, their hair, their teeth, and general features, though every trace of their Moslem religion and north African dialect may have long been lost.

Very respectfully,

Laurence C. Johnson

About the Author
Lawrence Clement Johnson was born August 21, 1821 in Chester County, South Carolina.   He died Ausust 14, 1909 at the Confederate home  (Beauvoir) in Gulfport, Mississippi.  He was the son of Dr. Benjamin Brown Johnson and Jane Milling Young Johnson.  He was the grandson of William Johnson, Revolutionary War soldier of Charleston, South Carolina and  was a Lieutenant in Company F. 9th Mississippi Infantry CSA. 
Johnson was a pioneer in the discovery and description of the phosphate fields of Florida and in 1886, he wrote a paper entitled "The Structure of Florida" and presented it at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in New York.
He lived in Holly SpringsMississippi (Marshall County) and by 1860 held the position of Clerk of the Circuit Court in Marshall County.  In 1882, he was hired as an Assistant Geologist.
Johnson married Mattie McLain, daughter of Rev. Robert McLain and Laura Brown McLain in Clarke CountyMississippi.  The following year, Johnson's young wife died within a month of giving birth to their daughter, also named Mattie.  Their little girl only lived three years.  Johnson never remarried. He is buried in Enterprise CemeteryClark CountyMississippi beside his late wife and daugher.


Information provided by- Peggy Johnson Carey

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