Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Core Melungeons, Real Melungeons, Historical Melungeons etc., etc.

Seems everyone is looking for 'real' Melungeons, the 'core' Melungeons or 'historical Melungeons.'  DNA projects, books and articles are popping up like dandelions in the springtime.There doesn't seem to be enough weed killer to get rid of them. 

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

Brownlow's Whig

Malungeon Town

Note On The Melungeons

Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology


Solomon Bolton & The Famous Melungeon Case of Hamilton County, Tennessee



  1. All you have done is link the opinions of people who happen to have lived generations ago. I've read many things you have posted online and cannot fathom that someone can possibly run as hard as you from the truth. You show no proof, just what others have said, yet you argue with the dna that says otherwise. I hope that someday you overcome your "aversion" to having African ancestry. For the record, yes, I am descended from the Melungeons of Hancock Co. Tennessee, my family dna is sub-Saharan. After all of the research I've done I can honestly say that wasn't a surprise. Perhaps if you let the documentation lead you instead of trying to disprove something you would get further.

  2. Oh I see, the people who were their lawyers, tax collectors, sheriffs, etc., the EYEWITNESSES to history who lived along side of them didn't know who they were but these armchair hobbyists in front of computer screens do? You want to talk DNA? Buck Gibson and Vardy Collin were the HEAD AND SOURCE of the Melungeons their DNA is European and there is no record of intermarriage with the African haplogroups which don't mean diddily since their DNA goes back 3000 years. For the record I have no aversion to having African ancestry -- if you have a family with one African haplogroup that leaves 1023 grandparents in the last 10 generations you are leaving out. I've done testing at all 3 companies and have no African - only European and Native American , but DNA can NOT PROVE race or ethnicity, that does not mean I am white, European or Indian. If African DNA means anything then then Buck and Vardy were white cause they had European DNA. You need to do some more research. And for the record I have NO family from Hancock County. I'm sure if you read Dromgoole's article from 1890 you already knew there were some Melungeons with African heritage. I would not want to guess your ancestry, you shouldn't try to guess anyones either. My name is Joanne Pezzullo, if you are proud of your heritage why are you anonymous?

  3. Joanne, I admire your work and grit. It's appalling and intellectually dishonest when the race card is used to try to shut down honest research. Implying racism is a popular weapon used by P.C. types to shut down discussion that does not fit the P,C. narative. Your contribution to the Melungeon story is priceless. Keep up the good work. Bob Degnen

  4. I agree with Joanne, my family is 90% European and has only one man I know Only as penitent who married into my family in the 1800s and claimed melungeon ancestory. My grandfather has had his DNA tested and was actually hoping to find african and telling everyone we had African blood. After having his DNA tested, all that was found was scots Irish, Spanish, and native American. I hate to tell you, but not all melungeons have the same genes, and not all melungeons are part black.

  5. I queried the ancestry of my own maternal grandfather with an open mind - he looked neither African nor South-eastern Indian. He just looked "exotic". We had been told my Great Grandmother Jo was full-blood Cherokee, but I wanted some proof. A long trail ended up showing that my identity as an ostensibly mid-western white boy was skewed - not least by discovering I was a sixth cousin to Barack Obama via the Bunches of Eastern Tennessee. But in discovering my part-African lineage, I also found Native American. Not "Cherokee", though. That was just the "easy" family story. I have since found a convoluted criss-crossing of lines including probably three or four different Indian groups.

    Indians who avoided removal no longer attempted to hold to their original tribal identity. Adrift amongst bigots, like many free people of color, they tried to "pass as white". Painfully conscious of the danger their complexion could bring upon their children and property, rather than admit to being a mish-mash of many things (SOMETIMES including African), they would, if pushed, admit to being part "Cherokee".

    Can everyone just admit that many, many frontiersfolk were simply mixed-race, of any and every possible combination of lineages? Attempting to find a "Pure Melungeon" definition, whether Native, Negro, Portuguese or Jewish, etc. just shows a continued unhealthy obsession with "race" in the USA. There is no "Pure Melungeon". That is the whole point. RB Swafford

  6. Most of the Eastern Tribes had untied with the Cherokee for survival, if not united they were kidnapped etc... which means no matter what the father was if the mother was Cherokee the children would be Cherokee. I'm going to guess that you found your names on the Rolls of the Chickasaw, Creek, Catawba etc., in order to be so sure they were NOT Cherokee. If you are basing your 'African lineage' on the poorly researched paper on ancestors of Barack Obama you might want to do a little research yourself. There are many records for the BUNCH FAMILY in early Virginia that never found their way into that research paper. The Melungeons never 'tried to pass as white' -- that would be sutpid they were brown. They told the journalist in 1848 they were Portuguese who mixed with the Indians AND the whites and blacks. Never claimed they were white and they freel admitted to mixing with blacks so why would they say PORTUGUESE to hide any black ancestry? Think about, kind of stupid isn't it? The Melungeons were Portuguese living along the Pee Dee River who mixed with the Natives of that place .. then later mixed with Natives, blacks and whites in Tennessee, just like they said in 1848, told the same story to Dromgoole in 1890 and Humble in 1898. They never hid anything, they never had to make up any stories. Stay tuned, I have more to say about this.


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