The Malungeons who inhabit the mountainous districts of Tennessee, Virginia and the Carolinas, have long been an interesting study of ethnologists. Theory after theory has been advanced as to their origin, and some of the most scholarly men of the country have given thought and investigation to the subject.
J. H. Newman, who has lived among the Malungeons in Hancock county, Tennessee, for sixty-seven years and who has given long and intelligent study to the question of the origin of these strange people gave your correspondent the following interview of the result of his research;
"The origin of these people goes back to the aborigines of North America who came here from Virginia, and they are the descendants of friendly Indians ad half breeds left in Virginia when the Indians all went West from there under treaties made with the white people, and as is their habit, they would all go together, and settle together and as the whites advanced their frontiers west these people [Malungeons] were with the front and came here to Newman's Ridge and Blackwater about the year 1800, or possibly a few years later. Some of them were in the war of 1812 and the nearest that can be reckoned from a traditional point would be about the close of the war of 1812. they began to settle Newman's ridge and Blackwater [Hancock county, then Hawkins county, Tennessee]. At this time these people had lost their Indian vernacular and spoke English, and they speak it yet.
"What is the traditional idea of these people themselves, from their parents and grandparents and older ones? It is that they are of Cherokee blood; that their ancestors were Indians, and many of them have gone to the Cherokee nation and have sued in the Cherokee Council for land and annuities, and they have obtained them They made their proof here among our people and old citizens, that, according to the best traditional evidence, they are of Cherokee blood, and those here now boast of their Cherokee blood.
They were indicted for illegal voting when this country was Hawkins county, and had their trial in Rogersville, and this was over forty years ago, probably fifty years ago, and in the trial Hon. Thomas A R Nelson, the Attorney General, who prosecuted them for illegal voting put the one on trial whose skin indicated he could easily convict, as being of African descent. He was old Wyatt Collins. The charge against them all was that they were of African descent and had not passed the third generation and were not entitled to vote. Col. John Netherland defended the Malungeons, and when old Wyatt Collins was put to the jury, Netherland admitted that his client voted as charged, but the only evidence that the Attorney General had was the color and features of old Wyatt, who stood erect six feet high, high cheek bones, hair straight as a horse's tail. Attorney General Nelson told the jury to look at him and judge whether or not he was a negro of African descent and had not passed the third generation. Now Mr Netherland, for the defense stated: I make protest of this old man as to whether he is a negro or not, and I want to show his hair, hands, and feet. 'Now, Wyatt,' said Netherland, ' I will show your features against Mr. Nelson's who is prosecuting you, and I want you to show your naked foot beside Mr. Nelson's. So Wyatt sat down and pulled his moccasin off and showed his naked feet [but Mr. Nelson would not show with him], and his feet and general features were as delicate and nice as a lady's and presented to the jury the very opposite of the African features. Then it was that the Portuguese race was brought in -- the jury found a verdict of not guilty, and all the other cases took the same course. Mr. Nelson asked Mr. Netherland what race of people he called his clients. Mr. Netherland answered Portuguese; then it was, and not until then, the name of Portuguese was given these people. The North Carolina branch of these people are African and whites, and they came here long after the settlements were made and within the knowledge of the oldest of the present generation. These people, their blood and nationality are known, and the mystery of the Virginia emigrants above described is the subject now under discussion.
"The origin of the North Carolina branch of the race is well known here among the oldest of the present generation, and to those who have fully investigated the Virginia branch of this peculiar people their origin is just as well known. They have all the features of the Indians, their habits, are those of the Indian, and they are of Indian blood. They are found in the mountain fastnesses, in the gorges and on the tops of the high ridges, in their rude huts and places of abode, and many of them are found now in valleys and level lands, in good and comfortable domiciles, and with an abundance of everything the earth brings forth. They all love music and dancing and have their regular frolics like the tribes had of the green corn dance, the buffalo dance and the war dance. However, many of them are refined and belong to the Christian churches, and they have among them ministers of the gospel who preach well and seem to feel the fervor of religious work as much as those of any people. They have their churches and school- houses, and are keeping step with the progress of the age. There are many incidents that could be related of their early settlement here, much as wife swapping and other habits, now abandoned. These people as a whole are true and reliable and among the kindest and most hospitable people that can be found.