Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Political Melungeons

The term Melungeon has been spelled many different ways and has as many different meanings. The Malengin character in Spenser's Faerie Queene so named from his craftiness and trickery is one,or possibly the people from one of the towns named, Malungin, Malengin,etc. 

Malengin is trickery 'a trickster', to get something by deceit, and was used as early as the 1300s-- found in French dictionaries in the 1600s-- a favorite word of Thomas Mallory and his King Arthur --etc., it was a common word used for someone deceitful not only in France but England as well. 

Castle of Malengin

Malengin Islet  - Phillipines

This map of Mulungin,India [now Pakistan] is located near Gilgit which was a trading town on the old Southern Route of the Silk Road. 

The definition of 'mixture' attached to these people is not documented, it is anyone's guess, who was called Malungens and why they were called that. 

Wikipedia definition of Melungeon;
"Melungeons" as; "Melungeon (/məˈlʌndʒən/ mə-lun-jən) is a term traditionally applied to one of numerous "tri-racial isolate" groups of the Southeastern United States; historically, Melungeons were associated with the Cumberland Gap area of central Appalachia, which includes portions of East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and Eastern Kentucky. Tri-racial describes populations thought to be of mixed European, sub-Saharan African and Native American ancestry. Melungeons were often referred to by other settlers as of Portuguese or Native American origin.

Then they (those all powerful,know it all editors) write;
"Scholars and commentators have not agreed on who should be included under the term Melungeon." (Scholar - a person who has studied a subject for a long time and knows a lot about it : an intelligent and well-educated person who knows a particular subject very well. -- Websters)

Apparently these Wikipedia 'authors' agree these people of intelligence who have studied this subject for a long time and know a lot about it cannot agree on who the Melungeons were, yet they KNOW they were tri-racial and lived in Tennessee.

Many people have placed the Melungeon origin on Newmans Ridge and a select group of families, but in fact, before the word was used, or used to refer to these people, the Editor of the WHIG, Parson William Brownlow, in Tennessee used the term to describe his Political Opponent of Washington 1840.

And while there is no proof, it is a strange coincidence, that these people on Newmans Ridge were visited by the journalist shortly after being charged with illegal voting, proving they were Portuguese, and this is, in fact, the very first time the word 'Melungen' appeared to describe these people. 

The bottom line is Scholars, intelligent researchers, etc., do not know where or why this term evolved to describe these people, not only in Eastern Tennessee but in Virginia and in other states as wekk. There are many different scenarios from where this word was first used, why it was used, etc. To mean a mixed race, tri-racial etc., was only one of them. 

Polictical Melungeons - Molungeons, Moulugens etc. 1856 - 1912 

Governor Henry Wise who spent 1828-1830 practicing law in Nashville, Tennessee before returning to Virginia was quoted in 1863; 
"Whether their own children were sold may be imagined from an anecdote long current in Virginia, relative to ex-Governor Wise, who, in a certain law case where he was opposed by a Northern trader, decided of a certain slave, that the chattel, being a mulatto, was of more value than 'a molungeon.' And what, in the name of God, is a molungeon?' inquired the astonished 'Northern man.’ 'A mulatto' replied Wise, ' is the child of a female house-servant by 'young master' --a molungeon is the offspring of a field hand by a Yankee peddler."
Political Melungeons 1856-1869 

  • The platform of Feb 1856 which expunged and ignored the 12th section and in a letter which goes expressly for restoring the Missouri Compromise. The Mulungeons of Richmond endorsed the 'late convention' at Philadelphia too; but will any southern man-- a Stuart or an Imobdin even -- endorse this letter for the restoration of the Missouri Compromise.'' 
  • when the Sheriff came to count up the votes at the close of the polls, they counted but five -- and if I had received the vote of one ''Molungeon,'' and he had been authorized by the Constitution to vote, and had 'had' a majority of only one--- it would have been difficult to tell, whether I was most indebted for my election to the "Molungeon" or to the Chief Justice of the U.S.; and if my competitor had received six "Molungeon" votes, or the votes of six worthless and degraded locofocos (supposing they could be any such) they would have more than balanced these five of the first men of the State could boast....
  • Thirteen congressional electors, fifty senatorial electors, and three hundred and sixty county electors have been notified to hold themselves in readiness to repel the Dragoon of Rockbridge. Botts too, will dash to the rescue at the head of a noble band of"Molungeons and Eboshins" as soon as the weather becomes sufficiently warm to render his odoriferous forces efficient.
  • "the "Government organ," however, announces that the observed of all observers were four negroes, "of genteel exteriour, and with the manners "of gentlemen, who joined in the throng that 'crowded the Executive Mansion, and were coridaly received by the President of the Untied State,'' The Molungeon Chronicle adds; -- We are not aware that anybody was hurt on the occasion, and we rejoice that we have a President who is a democrat in fact, as well as by nature."
  • The election which will take place on the 6th day of July next, by appointment of the President, will decide whether the people of this State are to be cursed with the Underwood abomination, called a Constitution, as it came from the hands of the Molungeon Convention, or whether it will be modified by having the test-oath and disfranchising clauses stricken out -- whether Walker or Wells will be our Governor, and whether proper men will be elected to represent the State in the Legislature.

By Will T. Hale

Alton Telegraph



I have heard since boyhood the word “Melungeon.” It is very common in Tennessee, and is often used as a sort of epithet. Also, as a bugbear to frighten children.

To illustrate, middle and western Tennessee is overwhelmingly Democratic politically, while the eastern portion is overwhelmingly Republican.
It used to be the case that a Democratic editor inclined to invective would refer to the East Tennessee Republicans as MELUNGEONS. It was an offensive appellation, but there was no way of preventing its use. Then, if a nurse or mother wanted to force a child to obedience, it was customary to say: “If you don’t behave, the MELUNGEONS will get you.”

I have been trying for some weeks to get some information as to who or what the MELUNGEONS were. This forced me to write to different parts of the State, and to examine old newspaper files. At last I learned that they are a queer race of people living in the mountains of East Tennessee, South Carolina, Virginia, and Kentucky – not one colony but several. No one knows their origin, and their reputation has generally been bad, like that of the Gypsies.


With this partial explanation of what Melungeon means, I’m going to tell how I perpetrated a miserable little joke. Before doing so, however I have to divulge to distant readers a little of the history of what is now known as the “Straight” or “Regular” Democracy of Tennessee.

In 1909 the party became divided into two factions over the liquor question. The prohibition and fair election-law faction supported Ben W. Hooper for Governor, and elected him. The faction charged with being in favor of liquor and opposed to fair election laws with which ninety percent of the negroes voted, called itself the regular, straight, Simonpure Democracy, and voted for the so-called Democratic nominee. The negroes, with badges marked “Straight Democracy” as said, marched to the polls with those who had formerly been known as Democrats and a sprinkling of disaffected Republicans and cast their votes for a thing they called democracy. Of course such a mixture might well be called a mongrel political organization.


Now: I wrote a postmaster up in East Tennessee asking him to describe fully the MELUNGEONS for me – customs, costumes, way of maintaining themselves, and the like. Then I sat me down to wait the reply patiently, thinking it would be a week or ten days before I could receive one. At the end of about three
days I heard from that postmaster. He must have grabbed up his pen about the time he neared the last word in my letter! Doubtless his eyes were red, too, as he wrote. Here is what he jotted down;

“ Dear Sir: There are no such people in this county as MELUNGEONS. We are civilized folks, and better than those who would humble our pride. We want no historian to put anything in history about any MELUNGEONS, as we would consider it a disgrace.”

You understand, he had often heard the word used in derogation. He was sore. I wrote him this soothing letter, believing he is a Republican, and a Hooper man;

“Dear Sir: I am sorry if you took offense at my letter. I meant no reflection on the people of your county, who I feel sure, are in the main most excellent and useful citizens. You must have been in bad humor, and did not
treat me fairly. We, too, have some peculiar people here in Middle Tennessee, a whole lot of them. For instance, there is the political party calling itself Straight Democracy – while I am not proud of it any more than you are of the MELUNGEONS, had you asked me to describe it I should have mustered up courtesy to do it promptly and to the best of my ability.”


Seriously, a prominent citizen of east Tennessee wrote me a pretty lengthy description of the MELUNGEONS from which I take these salient facts;They are of unknown origin and call themselves Portuguese. Are short and stout; have straight hair and black or gray eyes – the Indians eye is always
black. They were in the mountains when the white men came, but during the long wars between the whites and Indians they took part with neither side. Indeed, they claim no affiliation with the red race.

For years they have been known as ‘counterfeiters,’ but strange to say, there was more of the precious metals in their coin than there was in that of the United States government.

As a body, they were as concrete as the Jews. They had no adherence to the Indian religion or rites, but have adhered to the Christian religion, and the cross is with them a sacred symbol. They are generally Baptists in belief. “At one time,” writes my informant, “their coins passed current, even in my recollection.” There is a legend that their silver came from Straight Creek, a tributary of the Cumberland river, which blows into that stream at Pineville, Ky. Ruins of ancient furnaces are still to be seen on the banks of Straight Creek, but have not been used within the memory of any now living. A family named Mullins were the makers of money in that section.


The “Beckler” gold dollars were made by the Melungeon in North Carolina, and some of these coins are still extant, preserved as curiosities. They were made from native gold by a family named Beckler, and were commonly known as “Becklers.”

They have always boasted of their kinship to the whites. Many years ago a decision was handed down by the Supreme Court of Tennessee, holding that they were not negroes.

In the first census of Tennessee there were in the State more than 900 “free persons” other than the whites. There could not have been that early [1795] so many free negroes. No doubt the majority were MELUNGEONS.

At the close of the war between the States there were families of MELUNGEONS in Nashville, Lebanon and Livingston, Tenn. At Livingston a female had twelve children. One of these belonged to the Ku-klux Klan, and was hanged by the Klan because he violated one of its rules – not to commit murder.


A good many years ago there came to my native village a family named Goin, from East Tennessee. They were thought to be half-breed Indians. They were friendly, honest, and industrious. Every second Sunday, in single file, dressed in cheap but clean clothing, they made their way to the Baptist church. I feel sure now that they belonged to one of the two families of Malungeons - The family called “Goin” as I have since learned, designating it from the ones that had no mixed blood in it.


Will T. Hale & Dixon L. Merritt 1913 

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