There are a lot of theories out there, who they were, where they came from etc., and each one is open to interpretation. For instance the latest research paper from last year that went viral, and will now go down in the annals of more poorly researched papers on the Melungeons, will have you believe the Melungeons were African males and white women because a few of the families have Sub Saharan DNA.
Vardy Collins and Buck Gibson were the head and source of the Melungeons and they have European DNA. Does this mean the Melungeons were European? Of course not, in fact their ancestry cannot be traced beyond them, no parents, no siblings, aunts, uncles, etc.,. Yet some researchers will tell you the Melungeons have Sub Saharan roots?
Fifteen years ago when I first started researching the Melungeons there seemed to be a general consensus the Melugeons originated on Newmans Ridge. This was bolstered by the research of Jack Goins in which he presented the records of Stoney Creek Church where the Melungeons were first mentioned. Problem is the record was merely a transcription of a transcription. Genealogy 101 tells you to find the original record.
Many of these long held beliefs have been debunked in recent years. No, there is nothing to suggest they were Turkish sailors, they don't have bumps, they don't have knots on their head and they don't have a Melungeon 'squat' or Melungeon diseases. And there is no proof they originated in Louisa County, Virginia, migrated to Orange and then Wilkes County, North Carolina before moving on to Newmans Ridge. Some people refuse to acknowledge they have followed the wrong path.
In 1840 Parson William Brownlow published an article in his paper the "Whig" on the 'impudent Melungeon' from Washington City, [Washington D.C. ] described as 'half negro and half Indian involved in a political debate. Later his son, John Bell Brownlow would write the Meluneons were remnant Indians of Portuguese and Cherokee blood.
In 1848 a journalist from Kentucky arrived on Newman's Ridge and told the legend of the Melungeons. He wrote they were Portuguese adventurers who had mixed with the Indians in the Carolinas and upon their arrival in Tennessee had mixed with the Indians, whites and blacks of that area. It is very likely this jouranlist was drawn to the area to discover who these people who were identified as Portuguese were denied the right to vote in a political election.
In the 1850s the "Melungeons of Richmond" appeared to be a fairly powerful political group and the word is used rather routinely in the Virginia papers. Newspaper through the 1850s and 1860s are peppered with references to these people involved in various political elections.
At this same time living in Hamilton County, Tennessee was a group of these dark skinned people who had come over the mountains from the Carolinas. Years before the illegal voting trials on Newman's Ridge Solomon Bolton had his right to vote challenged. They are the first and only [to date] Melungeon families identified in court records. A little to the north of Hamilton County and just west of Hancock Counut was Lebanon where we find another group of people who were known as Portuguese and also called Melungeons, their little settlement known as "Malungeon Town."
In Dothan, Alabama before the Civil War we find mention of a "community of mixed breed Indians" living along side the Emassees [Yuchi/Euchee] Tribe.
During the Civil War we find in a South Carolina newspaper reporting on the batte at Reams Station near Petersburg, Virginia. Mentioned besides the 'Negroes, Mulattoes, and Ebo-shins, were the Molungeons.
In 1899 we have Mr. Lawrence Johnson of Meridian, Mississippi, an eyewitness to history. After reading an article on the Melungeons of Hancock County written by Dr. Swan Burnett who writes to the Editor of the Atlanta paper;
"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."He is speaking of course of those families from the Pee Dee River whose court records show them to be Portuguese settlers. They came over the mountains stopping off on Newman's Ridge, some remaining there, others moving on to Hamilton County while still others were rounded up and made their way west on the Trail of Tears.
Hamilton McMillan who had lived amongst and studied the people known today as Lumbee Indians wrote in 1889; The tribe once stretched from Cape Fear to Pee Dee and the Redbones of your section are a part of the tribe as are the "Melungeons" of East Tennessee. The French immigrants callled the half breeds Melange or Mixed and the term evidently has been changed to "Melungeons."
Dr. Swan Burnett, after reading his piece on the Melungeons before the Antropological Society in Washington D.C. in February of 1889 added to the published report in October of that year; 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. "
In 1907 the Bureau of Ethnology at the Smithsonian on describing the Croatan Tribe, today known as the Lumbee Indians, wrote; 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."
So who really are the Melungeons? Why does a DNA project not include the Melungeons of Hamilton County, Wilson County, Richmond, Virginia, or Dothan, Alabama? If you were going to study the Cherokee would you confine your research to one village in Tennessee?
Sources for the above can be found at the links below.
Littell's Living Age March 1849
Molungeons & Melungeons
Note On The Melungeons
Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology
AN EARLY UNTARNISHED VERSION OF 'THE MELUNGEONS'
Solomon Bolton & The Famous Melungeon Case of Hamilton County, Tennessee
THE EMASSEEES AND MALUNJINS