Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Melungeons 1910-1911 Part II

The Nashville American of  June 26, 1910


By Judge Lewis Shepherd
"The word "Melungeon" belongs to the vernacular of East Tennessee. It was coined by the people of that section of the State many years ago, as a name for a peculiar tribe of people which settled in Hancock County, on Newmans Ridge, shortly after the Revolutionary War.. These people are about the same color as mulattoes, and from their color it was generally supposed that they were mixed blooded. Hence the name "Melungeons.
The term is derived from the French word 'melange," which means a mixture, a medley." Once when I was a young lawyer I represented a Melungeon girl in a very important Chancery litigation in Hamilton County, in which I recovered for her an estate worth about $100,000....
.....In that case it became necessary to ascertain and prove the race and nationality of these people, and I went into that question very fully, and established satisfactorily to the courts - the Chancery and Supreme Courts - the origin of my client's ancestors..... The battle was to determine whether or not the Melungeons had Negro blood in their veins.
...  A colony of these Moors crossed the Atlantic before the Revolutionary war, and settled on the coast in the northern part of South Carolina. They multiplied rapidly and by their industry and energy they accumulated considerable property. The South Carolina people, however, would not receive them on terms of equality; they refused to recognize them socially, and would not allow their children to go to school with them. In fact they believed they were free negroes and treated them as such. By the laws of South Carolina a per capita tax was levied against free negroes and the tax authorities continually harassed them by efforts to collect the tax. Under this rigid proscription of the proud people of Carolina, their condition became intolerable and so they emigrated as a body and settled, after a long and wandering journey, through the wilderness, in Hancock County, Tennessee....
... From the parent colony in Hancock County many of them moved to other counties of East Tennessee.  They are fond of living on the Cumberland table lands. There are several families of them in Bledsoe, Marion, White, Van Buren, and Franklin Counties."

The rest of what Judge Lewis wrote in the article is basically the same thing written in "the Romance of the Melungeons which you can read here. 

In this letter below written in 1910-1911 by John Bell Brownlow, son of the Parson Brownlow who was first to use the term Melungeon in 1840, Brownlow tells Mr. Watson that he received the same information from John Netherland as published by Judge Lewis Shepherd (above), which also is pretty much the same account given of the trials by J. H. Newman.

I'm sure if you're family is Turkish, Jewish, African, or whatever, and you want to convince the Melungeon Community that all Melungeons have the same ancestry as "your ancestor" then you will find a way to spin the above. But facts are facts, and these people writing about the Melungeons a hundred years ago were eyewitnesses to history, they were acquainted with people born in the early 1800s, people who knew who their parents were, who their grandparents were.

DNA does not tell a story, it is one ancestor out of thousands that made up the ethnicity of these people called Melungeons. DNA can NOT prove a nationality or ethnicity, and anyone who suggests that it can is blowing smoke.   It is not to say that some Melungeon families may have had an African ancestor -- but when?  Three hundred years ago -- three thousand years ago? By implying these Indian families may have had an African ancestor and therefore could never be considered Indians for all eternity is one of the most racist arguments I have seen.

This is the response from John Bell Brownlow to the article above by Judge Lewis Shepherd.

Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine -
Page 522   1911


Dear Sir:

Your letter of yesterday received. I happen to have the information you seek. The Nashville American of  June 26, 1910 (since consolidated with the Nashville Tennessean) published a paper of about 10 pages in celebration of its 98th anniversary and in this paper is the true story of a small number of people to be found in a few counties of East Tennessee, as in other sections of the Appalachian region, called Melungeons or Malungeons. I have traveled horse-back before, during and since the Civil War, in the counties where these people live, and have seen them in their cabin homes and from information received independently of what Judge Shepherd says, I am satisfied his statement is to be relied upon.

The foremost jury lawyer of East Tenn. of his generation was the late Hon. John Netherland, the son-in-law of the John A. McKinney, referred to by Lucy S. V. King, and he gave me the same account, substantially, of the origin of these people that Judge Shepherd does.  Netherland was the Whig candidate for Governor of Tennessee in 1859, against Isham G. Harris. He died in the 80's. He was a slave-owner and practiced law in all the East Tennessee counties, which these people live. (John Netherland was the attorney who defended the Melungeons families in the illegal voting trials related here by J. H. Newman.)

Prior to 1824 free negroes voted in Tennessee, and when in that year the State Constitution was so amended as to disfranchise "all free persons of color", it was sometimes made the pretext of refusing the franchise to these people of perfectly straight hair, small hands and shapely feet who bore no more resemblance to a negro than do members of the Spanish or Portugese embassies of Washington. As to whether they voted or not, in the few counties where they were up to the Civil War, depended upon the disposition of the election officers and the closeness of the contest. But I will add that the election officers were very rarely unfair and their right to vote rarely challenged. Sometimes, in a very close contest, some fellow would challenge it and the man would forego exercising his rights rather than fight about it. They have not been of a lawless or turbulent disposition. They realized the prejudice against them because of their dark complexion. Some of them served in the Confederate, and some in the Federal East Tennessee Regiment, but neither side would have accepted them had they believed they had negro blood in their veins.

In my boyhood days they were called Portugese. The word Mulangeon is comparatively modern as to its general use. As a rule they did not go into either army; did not wish to. They preferred agriculture; happy in their mountain cabins. The extract from McKinney's speech is garbled. He truly said the language of the disfranchising clause included these people because it embraced "all free persons of color" but notwithstanding that the majority of them always voted because their neighbors did not regard them as negroes or as having negro blood in their veins. I believe there was some mixture of these Portugese with the Cherokee Indians, but not with negroes. Lying, sensational newspaper correspondents, from the North, originally started this racket to show that Southern whites were given to miscegenating with negroes, and to have something to write about. Some Southern writers have imitated them, magnifying fifty or one hundred fold the number of these people.

Gen. Wm. T. Sherman did some things I disapproved as much as you do, but he hit the nail on the head when he said that "there were some newspaper correspondents who, to create a sensation and for pay, would slander their grandmothers." Of course, some of the people were shiftless and degraded, as are some of all races, but I remember a notable exception by the name of Wm. Lyle. He was a prosperous country merchant who came to Knoxville every year to buy goods of our wholesale dealers and was treated by every one, with the utmost respect. He was spoken of as a Portugese, and bore no more resemblance to a negro than any Spaniard or Portugese. He dressed elegantly, was well informed and as polished and refined as half the members of Congress, and more so than many of them. In the early history of the country, there were many Spanish and Portugese sailors, who settled on the South Carolina and North Carolina coast. One of these was a Spanish ship carpenter by name of Farragut. In North Calorina, he married a poor girl and drifted to this city (then a town of about 1,200 people) where he followed the trade of house-carpenter, and here was born his subsequently famous son, Admiral David G. Farragut. His Spanish father was a dark-skinned man.

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 Chief Justice, A. Q. P. Nicholson, was the Colleague of Andrew Johnson in the U. S. Senate in 1861. Jas. W. Deaderick, after this decision and after the death of Nicholson, also of the bench at the time, succeeded Nicholson as Chief Justice. He was not himself in the army but every one of his seven sons were at the front in the Confederate Army, some of whom were badly wounded and the other three Judges had honorable records as Confederate soldiers. Judge Shepherd himself was a Confederate soldier.

P. S. Lyle is not a Portugese name, neither is that of the American Darbey's French, as was that of their ancestor D.Aublgney.

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