Monday, February 23, 2015

The Portuguese Connection


In 1830 Wilson County census  James and Permelia Nickens, John Brown, George and Elisha  Collins, Gideon Goins,  Jacob and Hezekiah Archy or Achy family appear as  Free Colored Persons.   Shadrack Goins and members of the Gibson family are also residing in Wilson County but their families are listed as white. Randall M. Ewing and Daniel Baird both reported a settlement near Lebanon, Tennessee in 1850 who were thought to be Portuguese and was called Malungeon Town. 

From Paul Heinegg;

William Nickens , born say 1750, died in Wilson County, Tennessee, in 1820 leaving ten children [Wilson County Quarterly Court Minutes 1830, 34]. In 1833 his sons Marcus, Andrew and Calvin presented a petition to the General Assembly of Tennessee stating that their parents were from Portugal, had settled in the United States many years since and that "their colour is rather of the mixed blood by appearance." They asked to have the same rights as other citizens of the state. One supporting statement said that their grandfather was from Portugal and another that their father bore the name "of a desent of the Portagee." (Tennessee Legislative Petition 77-1831)

 William Waters

The facts of the case as disclosed by the 
testimony were as follows: The defendant and one Zilpha Thompson were indicted in Ashe County Court in the year 1841for fornication and adultery. The defendants, on the trial, proved that they had been married. The State alleged that the defendant, Wm. P. Watters, was a man of color, and that his marriage, therefore, with a white woman was void. 

The defendant, William P. Watters, contended that he was descended from Portuguese, and not from Negro or Indian  ancestors. 

(Note: Ironically Zilpha Thompson was a descendant of the Cherokee Indian, Ned Sizemore.  - See Zilpha Thompso

Abraham Lincoln defends a Portuguese

In August 1851, William Dungey, a dark-skinned young man of Portuguese descent, married Joseph Spencer's sister. A family quarrel ensued, which became so bitter that in January 1855, Spencer claimed throughout the community that his brother-in-law, "Black Bill," was a Negro........

William Dungey faced losing not only his reputation, but his marriage, property, and right to remain in Illinois. Section 10 of the 1853 law statedthat, "Every person who shall have one-fourth negro blood shall be deemed a mulatto." William Dungey retained Abraham Lincoln to quash the possibility
that he might be judged a "negro" and therefore suffer the severe penalties under the 1853 act.......

On October 18, 1855, the jury returned a verdict of guilty and granted Dungey $600 in damages plus court costs of $137.50. Lincoln charged a $25 fee, which Lawrence Weldon considered minimal

 1667Lower Norfolk County 
Order Book, 1666-1675, fol. 17.

Whereas Fernando a Negro sued Capt. [John] Warner for his freedome pretending hee was a Christian and had been severall yeares in England and therefore ought to serve noe longer than any other servant that came out of England accordinge to the custome of the Country and alsoe Presented severall papers in *Portugell * or some other language which the Court could not understandwhich he alledged were papers From severall Governors where hee had lived a  freeman and where hee was home. Wherefore the Court could find noe Cause wherefore he should be free but Judge him a slave for his life time, From which Judgement thesaid Negro hath appealled to the fifth day of the next Generall Court. [It is not possible to follow this case further owing to the destruc-tion of the General Court records for this period.]

North Carolina State ArchivesGeneral Assembly Session RecordsApril-May, 1760 Box #2Committee of Claims

Cornelius Harnett Esqur was allowed his claim of one pound nine shillings eight pence for holding an inquest on the body of one Menasses, a Portugese.

  Littell's Living Age
March 1849

The legend of their history, which they carefully preserve, is this. A great many years ago, these mountains were settled by a society of Portuguese Adventurers, men and women--who came from the long-shore parts of Virginia, that they might be freed from the restraints and drawbacks imposed on them by any form of government.


Before the Indians were taken to Indian Territory there was a large number of whites and Indians that fled to the mountain between Little Crow Creek and Little Coon. They built Shavis Town, cleared up about 100 or more acres and cultivated it, putting out an orchard. They raised winesap apples, peaches, corn and dug ginseng besides hunting for a living.

The older men were very religious. They were mixed with Portuguese. Willis Shavis named his four sons after the Apostles, Andrew, John, Peter and Nathaniel. The had two Preachers, John Pressley and Brother Forsythe, an Indian. They would preach and convert the young men and girls and bring them down to Little Crow Creek to Baptize them. They believed rightly they were to be buried in baptism in water. They knew the Bible. I don't know where 

1832 - Madison Co. TN
Free man of color, Richard Matthews, seeks permission to marry a white woman. Matthews says he is "of the Portuguese Blood.


"The Roark's are Portugese. They came from the Black Water country, Tennessee, so did the Sizemores and Collets also"
Dickey Diary ~1898


Port Gibson, Miss., May 17, 1878

Dear sir:

       There were three branches of the Gibson connexion which settled in Mississippi at an early day: The parents of Rev. Randall Gibson near Natchez about where the old town of Washington now stands; the family of Samuel Gibson - the founder of the Town of Port Gibson, in this vicinity; and that of Rev. Tobias Gibson in what is now Warren county in the vicinity of Warrenrtown. So far as I know these families all came from the valley of the Great Pee Dee river in South Carolina. Some time in the sixteenth century three ship loads of Portuguese Hugenots voluntarily exiled themselves from Portugal rather than renounce their Protestant faith, and settled in South Carolina, then the Colony of Carolina, in the very region of county where our Gibsons are first found, and, from their elevated intellectuality, morality, religion and enterprise, I have long believed that they were the descendants of those refugee Huguenots, though I do not remember ever to have heard but one of the connexion refer to this as a tradition of the family. I wish we now had the means of demonstrating this theory.

Excerpt From William Labach  - Read here
Reverend John G. Jones was Author of  A Complete Hisotry of Methodism - 1887


Title: Letters to the Secretary of State and others from the Governors, Alexander Spotswood, William Gooch, Robert Dinwiddle and Francis Fauquier, and Presidents Thomas Lee and Lewis Burwell, with enclosures and replies. Depository: Public Record Office / Class: C.O. 5/1344 SR Number: SR 00233 Reel Number: 48 Dates: 1726 - 1783 References: Lists & Indexes, Vol. XXXVI, 29. Andrews Guide 183, List 493. ff. 86-87 Lords of Trade to the Duke of Bedford,
10 Jan 1750/51. Spanish and Portuguese ships driven into ports of Virginia by bad weather. Encloses the four (only adding two) documents listed below: ff. 90-91 Enclosed in the above. Extract of a letter from Thomas Lee to the Board of Trade, 6 Nov. 1750The Spanish and Portuguese ships driven into Virginia ports have proven irrepairable. The masters have been given permission to hire other ships to carry their cargoes to Europe.  


The Expedition of Batts and Fallam:

A Journey from Virginia to beyond the Appalachian Mountains, September, 1671.
From Annals of Southwest Virginia, 1769-1800.

September 5th 1671
''The three gentlemen bore a commission from Major-general Wood "for the finding out tile ebbing and flowing of the Waters on the other side of the Mountains in order to the discovery of the South Sea."
They struck off due west along a trail that was evidently already familiar, and having five horses made rapid progress. On the fourth day 'they reached the Sapony villages, one of which Lederer had visited the year before. They were "very joyfully and kindly received with firing of guns and plenty of provisions." They picked up a Sapony guide to show them to the Totero village by "a nearer way than usual," and were about to leave when overtaken by a reinforcement of seven Appomattox Indians sent them by Wood. They sent back Mr. Thomas Wood's worn out horse by a Portuguese servant of General Wood's whom they had found in the village, and pushed on to the Hanahaskie "town," some twenty-five miles west by north, on an island in the Staunton River. Here Mr. Thomas Wood was left, dangerously ill.''

 On  page 35 of  the Order  Book, Volume I (April 24, 1855-January 30, 1869)  of the Clay County Records (Kentucky State  Archives, Frankfort)    "John Griffin was released from being placed on the Negro list, and hereafter he will be listed as a white man,   proof being made to the satisfaction  of the court that he was of Portuguese descent instead of African descent." 


Member of the Philanthropic Society University of North Carolina -Graduate 1849 Senator from Robeson County 1862
Born 1827

New York Herald
Saturday, March 09, 1872

Wilmington, N.C.
February 29, 1872


........."Giles Leitch  the Judge previously referred to in these letter, gave before Pool's Ku Klux Committee these figures:-

The county of Robeson had about one thousand five hundred white voting population before the close of the war; since the colored population has been
enfranchised there are about three thousand voters in the county; of that 1,5000 additional voting population about half were formerly slaves, and the other half are composed of a population that existed there and were never slaves, and are not white, but who, since 1835 have had no right of suffrage; I think that about one-half of that additional 1,500 voters were this old free and non white population: half the colored population of Robeson county were never slaves at all; in 1835 there was a State Convention which disfranchised
them; up to that time they had exercised the elective franchise; the free negroes had exercised the elective franchise up to 1835; but Robeson county contained a larger number of them than most of the other counties; but really I do not know what these mulattoes of Scuffletown are.

I think they are a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, and Indian; about half of them have straight black hair, and many of the characteristics of the
Cherokee Indians in our State; then, as they amalgamate and mix, the hair becomes curly and kinky, and from that down to real woollen hair; I think they are mixed Portuguese, Spaniard and Indians; I mean to class the Spaniards and
Portuguese as one class, and the Indians as another class; I do not think that in class of population there is much negro blood at all; of that half of the colored population that I have attempted to describe all have been always
free; I was born among them, and I reckon that I know them perfectly well."

Excerpt from the 1871 North Carolina Joint Senate and House Committee as they interviewed Robeson County Judge Giles Leitch about the ‘free persons of color’ living within his county:
Senate: Half of the colored population?
Leitch: Yes Sir; half of the colored population of Robeson County were never slaves at all…
Senate: What are they; are they Negroes?
Leitch: Well sir, I desire to tell you the truth as near as I can; but I really do not know what they are; I think they are a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese and Indian… 
Senate: You think they are mixed Negroes and Indians?
Leitch: I do not think that in that class of population there is much Negro blood at all; of that half of the colored population that I have attempted to describe all have always been free…They are called ‘mulattoes’ that is the name they are known by, as contradistinguished from Negroes…I think they are of Indian origin.
Senate: I understand you to say that these seven or eight hundred persons that you designate as mulattoes are not Negroes but are a mixture of Portuguese and Spanish, white blood and Indian blood, you think they are not generally Negroes?
Leitch: I do not think the Negro blood predominates.
Senate: the word ‘mulatto’ means a cross between the white and the Negro?
Leitch: Yes sir.
Senate: You do not mean the word to be understood in that sense when applied to these people?
Leitch: I really do not know how to describe those people. 


Such, for example, are the Pamunkeys of Virginia, the Croatan Indians of the Carolinas, the Malungeons of Tennessee, and numerous other
peoples who in the days of slavery were regarded as free negroes and were frequently hunted down and enslaved. Since the war they have tried hard by act of legislature and other wise to establish their Indian ancestry.

Wherever these people are found there also will the traveler or investigator passing through their region encounter the tradition of Portuguese blood or descent.

Very interesting article -- Read here

''James Mooney main interest of study was of the Cherokee people. Many say that Mooney wrote the most accurate accounts of the Cherokee culture and history. James spent years living with the Cherokee people in North Carolina. He was able to gain their acceptance and trust, which allowed him to write more first hand accounts. This made his work more reliable and very accurate. This was also very beneficial to others who have not and will not ever experience tribal life.''Swimmer and, in time, the other shamans and populace of the Eastern Band, concluded that the courteous white man who came to visit and talk with them each year was “u-da-nu-ti;” that is he was “a man of soul” who had the correct “emotional attitude.”

 Mooney on Melungeons;

Charles James McDonald Furman papers, 1804-1903.
''The manuscripts record Furman's investigations of common Redbone family names like Goins, Chavis, and Oxendine, and his correspondence with authorities on similar and possibly related ethnic groups. Hamilton McMillan of Red Springs, N.C., sent material concerning the Croatan (Lumbee) Indians, and Dr. Swan Burnett (husband of the children's writer Frances Hodgson Burnett) sent an article from American Anthropologist dealing with the Melungeons of East Tennessee. One of Furman's clippings recounted James Mooney's theory of possible Portuguese ancestry for the Pamunkeys, Croatans, Melungeons, and other groups.''

Getting to Know Your Dead Bell's Bend Neighbors

''Let's consider the poor census-taker who went out to Bull Run in 1910 (which is in Scottsboro, which I know we're supposed to pretend is so far away from Bell's Bend, but for the sake of this post, let's be honest about it all being right together there).  Here he found William and Mary Collins (with their daughter Hazel) and Thomas and Mary Barnes (with their eight children), who he at first classified as "w" for white and then we see the "w" traced over and replaced with a cursive "b" for black.

Right below them is Sarah Thompson (and forgive me here, because I can't read the handwriting very well), but she appears to have at first been classified as "mul" (for mulatto) and that is smeared away and replaced with "w" and her daughter, Vinia, is firmly a "w" without seeming question.  And who knows what to make of Curtis Pentecost's wife Ida or daughter Molly? He is a "w," but they are both "d"s.

To help clarify the mess for whoever tried after him to make sense of it all, written elegantly in the margins by each of these families is "Portuguese."


Depositions in an 1812 court case strongly suggest that, having disposed of his patent sometime before 1769, Thomas Ivey moved south into what became Marion District, South Carolina and died there some years later. Thomas Hagans, born about 1765 and identified as a grandson of Thomas Ivey and his wife Elizabeth, refused to pay his assessed tax as a free non-white in Marion District, South Carolina in 1809. At his trial in 1812, two white men testified on his behalf. The testimony of John Regan, a longtime neighbor of Thomas Ivey Jr., suggests that Thomas Ivey Sr. left Bladen County sometime in the late 1760s and removed to South Carolina. The testimony of Robert Coleman, a longtime resident of Marion District, suggests that Thomas and Elizabeth Ivey lived in Marion District for several years before their deaths.  Both men testified that Thomas Ivey was “understood” and “generally reputed” to be of Portuguese descent and that his wife Elizabeth was a free white woman.

Note;  Adam IVEY lived south of the James River in the neck of land bounded by Upper Chippoakes Creek and Wards Creek. This neck included what was later the parish of Martins Brandon, in which Adam Ivey apparently lived at his death, in what would later become Prince George County. It was quite close to Surry County, Upper Chippoakes Creek being the later boundary between Prince George and Surry  --  John Utie, Jr.  born about 1619 London repatented his fathers 1250 acres in 1638. In 1639 he assigned 100 acres of land to Thomas Gibson, land which Utie acquired in 1624 and named "Utopia" located at the head of Chippoakes Creek   - the Chavis family- George Gibson also lived on Chippoakes Creek...and the Poythress family associtated with Hubbard Gibson lived not far from Wards Creek.

 More Here


Statesville, North Carolina
November 28, 1905

An Interesting and Important Case in Buncombe Court

Ashville Dispatch

The mandamus proceeding instituted by Robert Gilliland against the Buncombe county board of education to compel the reinstatement of his children in the white schools of county was this afternoon decided  in behalf of the plaintiffs, the Gilliland girls.

The issue submitted by the court to the jury was, "Are the  infant plaintiffs entitled to admission into the white schools of Buncombe county?" After fifteen minutes deliberation the jury answered "yes"

Although the issue was not so stated it necessarily results that the jury found that the plaintiff Gillilands and Grahams, and their connections, numbering probably 500, are of untainted white blood, and that the defendants failed to make out a case of negro ancestry to the satisfaction of the jury.

The children were forbidden the white shcools on the ground that a remote ancestor on their mother's side was a negro, it being admitted that they were otherwise entitled to admission into the white schools. the defense endeavored to show that the Gillilands have in their neighborhood borne of the reputation of being part negro and that the Grahams, Mrs. Gilliland's family, two or three generations ago, had enough of the physical characteristics of the negro to warrant this belief.

The plaintiff on the other hand endeavored to show, and did show, to the satisfaction of this jury, that hose reports are groundless and are based upon the fact that Jeffrey Graham, the great-grandfather of the plaintiff was a Portuguese.

It seems that for some reason these children had never attended the public schools and when an effort was made to send them they were refused on the ground of negro blood.  Action was then brought to force their admission.  The case was very important because it affected a large number of respectable and well-to-do-people.


Randolph County, NC Deed Book 63 Page 227 as follows: "Cumberland County, NC. Personally appeared before me, Archibald A. Johnson, an acting Justice of the Peace in and for said county in the state aforesaid, Flora McDonald and Catherine McBryde, both of whom are well-known to me to be respectable and truth-telling women and after being duly sworn according to law doth say that they are acquainted with DANIEL GOINS, late of the county and state aforesaid, that they know his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, that his great-grandfather (JOHN HARMON) was a native of Portugal, and was always called a Portugan, and he was of the color of the natives of that place, and that he and his sons and grandsons always exercised the right of and passed as white in every respect." Signed Flora McDonald, aged 88 years and Catharine McBride, aged 83 years. Dated 16 July 1884. 



Beore the Indians were taken to Indian Territory there was a large number of whites and Indians that fled to the mountain between Little Crow Creek and Little Coon. They built Shavis Town, cleared up about 100 or more acres and cultivated it, putting out an orchard. They raised winesap apples, peaches, corn and dug ginseng besides hunting for a living.

The older men were very religious. They were mixed with Portuguese. Willis Shavis named his four sons after the Apostles, Andrew, John, Peter and Nathaniel. The had two Preachers, John Pressley and Brother Forsythe, an Indian. They would preach and convert the young men and girls and bring them down to Little Crow Creek to Baptize them. They believed rightly they were to be buried in baptism in water. They knew the Bible. I don't know where they knew the Bible very few could read or write.

Note;  Wilis Chavis/Shavis apparently came from Marion Dist, SC., same settlement as Bolton, Perkins, and John Shumake/Shumate who had land on an Indian Reservation not far from there, possibly from the same settlement.

Thomas Hall

MAURY COUNTY, TN - COURT - Thomas Hall, Proof of Race Affidavits

Contributor's Notes:  I would like to share these two Tennessee documents.
Document number one is a Proof of Race affidavit document acquired by my Great Great Grandfather Thomas Hall, on September 19, 1835, in Maury County, Tennessee when he appeared before Justice of the Peace, James L. Crawford.

The second document seems to be a certification by William E. Erwin, Clerk of the Court of Pleas and quarter session for Maury County, that James L.
Crawford had full authority to issue the Proof of Race document. This
document was dated October 13, 1835.

On June 26, 1843, these documents were filed in Marion County at Yelleville,

In 1850 he moved to Oregon County, Missouri and they were recorded there and filed on February 13, 1850, by J. R. Woodside, Clerk of that county. The
documents were recorded again in Howell County, Missouri on May 5, 1890. at 9: o'clock A.M. by T.B. Carmical, Recorder.
This was recorded after Thomas Hall's death on December 30, in 1888, in
Howell County, Missouri.  This was filed after his death because his
children's children were expelled from school because they were dark and
caused of being Negroes.  There were several trials in Missouri and Oklahoma.  The trials proved that they were of Portuguese descent and not Negroes.


1835 Proof of Race affidavits from MAURY County, Tennessee

Recorded in Oregon County, Missouri 1850   
Recorded in Howell County, Missouri 1890

State of Tennessee Maury County
I William E. Erwin Clerk of the Court of please and quarter sessions for said County  do hereby certify that James L Crawford  is an acting justice of the peace in and for said County of Murry in the State of Tennessee  duly commission and qualified according to law and that all his official acts are intitled  to full faith and credit given under my hand and the seal of my
office at office this 13 day of October 1835  and 60th year of American Independence Wm  E  Erwin clk.

Filed February 13, 1850    J. R. Woodside    Typed exactly as written:
State of Tennessee Maury County  this day personally appeared before me James L: Crawford one of the Justices of the peace in and for said county THOMAS HALL and made proof by private testimony that the said THOMAS HALL is intitled to all of the privileges of a private citizen  THOMAS HALL great grand father on his fathers sid was a poutagee and his great grand father on his mothers sid was a inglish - man, and THOMAS HALL grand on his fathers sid was of the poutagee desent, and his grand father on Mothers sid was an Irishman and his own father was of the poutugee  decent and his mother was a white american born woman.  sworn to and executed before me this the 19th dayof september
James L. Crawford  J.P.               his               
                            PRESCOTT   X   NUPANS   (seal)
                              LONNEY   X    HALLS   (seal)

Aug. 23, 1906   West Plains, Missouri

Are They Negroes?

Questions About Henderson Halls  Descendants.

In the Indian Territory Wesley Hall -- His Children Were Excluded from the White School..

 In the taking of depositions here Saturday all these facts were brought out. In addition it was shown that Jeff Hall has photographs and locks of hair of a number of his ancestors and he even introduced land titles which were given members of his family in Tennessee before the war showing conclusively that they were not negroes, for blacks could not own land in those days.

 Wherever they have gone the Halls have had difficulty with the school boards for refusing to permit their children to attend the white schools. In every instance they have won their case for they are able to prove that they are of Portuguese origin instead of having negro blood course through their veins, as many might believe from their appearances.

See Thomas Hall 

The Bedford Connection  - Patricia Monroe

See Also  A Stranger And a Sojourner - Peter Caulder

David Collins and family is also found in the West Plains, Howell County, Missiouri 


Abstracts of Depostions for Plaintiff

Joshua F. PERKINS vs John R. WHITEDavid R. KENNICK, age 77

Has known the PERKINS family 49 years. Knew Johnson HAMPTON, Wm. LINDSY & Jacob PERKINS on Roan Creek. I taught school at Perkin’s school house. Johnson HAMPTON said they were Portugese & he had seen Jacob’s father & his mother a scotch woman. Jacob’s color and
features described of little darker than Joshua. Jacob and his family associated white peoples, clerked at elections & voted & had all privileges. I lived in 2 ½ miles, never heard them called anything else
than Portuguese.

Thomas COOK, aged 75

I knew old Joshua PERKINS. He was a dark skinned man, darker than Joshua. Tall and spare. He resembled an Indian more than a negro. Was generally called a Portugese

Nancy YOUNG, aged 66

I knew George PERKINS. My father and mother knew the PERKINS in South Carolina and always said they were Portuguese & the mother a white woman.


I was well acquainted with Joc PERKINS, father of Joshua. A yellow man _ said to be Portuguese. They did not look like negros. I have been about his house a great deal and nursed for his wife. She was a little yellow & called of the same race. Had blue eyes and black hair.

Samuel VANCE, age 54

Hannah PERKINS, a daughter of Joseph, examined as a witness in the Circuit Superior Court at Burnsmith (?), after a contest & the examination of witnesses. Wm. DUGGER said he had seen old Jock & his hair curly not kinky like WOODFIN’s, & said they were Portuguese & Old Jac had been sworn before his father. My Father-in-Law Johnson Hampton said they were not Negros,but Portuguese.
Bedent BEARD, aged 88

I knew the paternal grandfather of plaintiff. A little darker than Joshua. He was not a negro. Form and features different. Hair resembled Moran not negro. By common report Jacob was a Portuguese. Lived not far above the mouth of Roane's Creek. Have known them 40, and by reputation, 60 years. Privileges. His wife a white woman.

Sarah STOUT p.21,
aged 70--Lee County Va. I have seen old Jock, the father of Joshua, who said they came from Peedee S.C. He was a dark skinned man with slim face, slim nose and dark colored hair. He was dark skinned as the blackest of the family. All the PERKINS had white wives and were reputed
Portuguese. John GRAVES a white man and the main school teacher.
These are just a few of the depositions from this trial.  


The Celebrated Melungeon Case
A. B. Beeson
Page 174Q. were you well acquainted with Solomon Bolton, the grandfather of Martha, complainant in the Cross Bill, and, if so, state what race of people he was or appeared to be. also give a description of his person and complexion and appearance.A. I was. He was called a Malungeon. He was a small spare made man, with low, flat head, had a dark complexion, rather a flat nose, turned up at the end. He wore his hair short, and it was always inclined to curl or kink.

Q. In the neighborhood in which he lived did he associate with white men or free negroes as his equals?A. His general association was with the Malungeons-his own people. I never saw him associate with whites except when he had business.Q. How many different families in this County or adjoining Counties did you know of the same race or character of people -name them?A. I don't now how many- several. but the Perkins- the Goins, Mornings, Shumakes, Menleys &others.
William McGill (Justice of the Peace, Hamilton County TN)

Was this character that of a white person or negro, or of what race did he have the character of being?A. He was a mixed blooded man in some way, that was his character. We generally called them Malungeons when we talked about the Goins and them—the Goins that were mixed blooded.

Page 51 -55
June 9, 1874
Lucinda Bolton Davis [Daughter of Solomon Bolton- Solomon son of Spencer Bolton born 1735 on the Pee Dee River]

Q. From what race or nationality of people was your and Jemima Simmerman's father descended? What was the nationality and race of your mother?
A. My father was a Spaniard and his mother a blue eyed German.

Deposition of Arch Brown
Q. State whether or not the father of Solomon Bolton was regarded and treated as a citizen of South Carolina, or as a colored man?  You will also state his church relations-to what church he belonged and how he was received by society, so far as you were able to determine.
A. They told me there that he was a very respectable citizen there.  I asked if he was not a colored man and they told me he was not, but was a Portagese

August 29th 1874
John Boydston
Q. State how they were treated and recognized by their neighbors and acquaintances as to their pedigree, and how they held themselves out, as white people, or otherwise? Stat how that was?
A. Solomon Bolton never claimed to be a white person. He claimed to be a Portugese himself, but his neighbors considered him to be a part negro.

Jno E. Godsey
Page 128-132
April 10th 1875

Q. Of what race of people did Solomon Bolton claim to be?  How was he treated and recognized in the community where he lived?
A. Spanish. He was treated as any other white man, when he was sober. He was always admitted to the table with white families of people whenever he was as far as I know, and recognized as a white man.

Jno L. Divine
Page 133-137
Q. Of what race of people was Solomon Bolton?  What did he and his family claim as to be his nationality?  How was he treated and recognized in the community where he lived?
A. I don't know of my own knowledge what race of people he belonged to. I often heard Bolton say that he was Portugese. I have often heard his wife say the same thing. He was treated and recognized in the community in which he lived as such.

For more go here


T. J. Russell

Clark Ashworth

January 26, 1910
To the Journal:

The Ashworth family had a peculiar history that to a certain extent, militated against them. The grandfather of Clark Ashworth was a native of South Carolina, and the family originally came from Portugal, and were of the Moorish race. A very dark complexion, but had hair on their head, instead of wool, like that of African negro; though, the complexion was about as dark. This fact often caused them to be taken for negroes. An effort was made to disfranchise the family at one time during the days of the Republic. And their friends took the matter up in the Congress and had a law passed, declaring that the law relating to free negroes in the Republic of Texas, did not apply to the Ashworth family. See Act of Congress, date Dec. 12, 1840. H.D. Art. 2571.

 Clipping Here

These are but a few of the documented mention of Portuguese families in  early records.  To Be Continued

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Making the Blog More Interactive

 Making the Blog More Interactive

Joanne Pezzullo has long authored her excellent Melungeon blog and web site, and lately I've joined her blog as a co-author with a few modest contributions of my own. But we are not receiving nearly enough input from the person whose opinion matters to us the most. Which would be you!

If you have any requests for future articles, questions you'd like answered, suggestions for new blog features, or any other comments, please let us us know! The two best ways to do this are:

One; Write to us at:

Two: Comment on our Facebook page:  ThePeopleCalledMelungeons

 Of course you can always simply comment on this or any other blog post!

Thank you!!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Best of - Will Allen Dromgoole

The Mysterious Tribe Known as Melungeons

On the Ridge, the real stronghold of this peculiar people, life is a great deal harder than in the swamp or on Blackwater creek.  They live more like Indians than the dwellers in the valley, and are entirely content with their life.  I visited several huts, spending a month among them, living on corn bread, honey and black, sugarless coffee.  They were as utter strangers the day I left as on the day I arrived among them.

 The Saponi village was a musket shot from Fort Christiana (which taught 77 children), the village cabins were all joined making a circle with
3 passages 6 feet wide each, the doors all faced inside the circle
 while the center of the circle was a tree stump which the 12 head men spoke on.

 Calloway Collins in an Indian if ever one set foot on Tennessee soil.  He is very fond of his red skin, high cheek-bones and Indian like appearance.  His cabin has two rooms, connected by a kind of shed.  There are dirt floors in one room and the shed, but the other room has a floor of oak logs with the bark still on them and laid side by side, just as they came from the forest.  A bed of dry, last year's leaves was the only furnishing the room could boast.

The cooking and eating were done in the connecting shed, and a large coffee-pot always occupied a low shelf just above the table, for Calloway, like most of the Malungeons, is a slave to coffee and drinks it instead of water throughout the day and night.  Calloway himself is a king, a royal good fellow, who, seated upon a great stump that marks the fate of a giant beech that grew precisely in the center of the site selected by the Indian for his shed, or hallway,  would entertain me by the hour with his songs and banjo-picking and stories of his grandfather.

The man's very instincts are Indian.  He sleeps in leaves, inside or out, as he feels inclined.  He smokes almost unceasingly; so often, in fact, that his wife, Ann Calloway, finds it necessary to cultivate a 'torbacy spot'' for her ''ole man ter smoke up.''


The records show that by act of the Constitutional Convention of 1834, when the “Race Question” played such a conspicuous part in the deliberations of that body, the Malungeons, as a “free person of color,” was denied the right of suffrage. Right there he dropped from the public mind and interest. Of no values as a slave, with no voice as a citizen, what use could the public make of the Malungeon?

In appearance they bear a striking resemblance to the Cherokees, and they are believed by the people round about to be a kind of half-breed Indian.
In Western and Middle Tennessee the Malungeons are forgotten long ago. And indeed, so nearly complete has been the extinction of the race that in but few counties of Eastern Tennessee is it known. In Hancock you may hear them and see them almost the instant your cross into the county line. There they are distinguished as the Ridgemanites or “pure Malungeons.” There among whom the white or negro blood has entered are called the Black Waters.”

Their complexion is a reddish brown, totally unlike the mulatto. The men are very tall and straight, with small sharp eyes, high cheek bones, and straight black hair, worn rather long. The women are small, below the average height, coal black hair and eyes, high cheek bones, and the same red-brown complexion. The hands of the Malungeon women are quite shapely and pretty. Also their feet, despite the fact that they travel the sharp mountain trails barefoot, are short and shapely. Their features are wholly unlike those of the negro, except in cases where the two races have cohabited, as is sometimes the fact. These instances can be readily detected, as can those of cohabitation with the mountaineer; for the pure Malungeons present a characteristic and individual appearance. On the Ridge proper, one finds only the Pure Malungeons; it is in the unsavory limits of Black Water swamp and on Big Sycamore Creek, lying at the foot of the Ridge between it and Powell’s Mountain, that the mixed races dwell.


Many of the Malungeons claim to be Cherokee and Portuguese. Where they could have gotten their Portuguese blood is a mystery. The Cherokee is easily enough accounted for, as they claim to have come from North Carolina, and to be a remnant of the tribe that refused to go when the Indians were ordered to the reservation. They are certainly very Indian-like in appearance. The men are tall, straight, clean-shaven, with small, sharp eyes, hooked noses, and high cheek bones. They wear their hair long ( a great many of them) and evidently enjoy their resemblance to the red man. This is doubtless due to the fact that a great many are disposed to believe them mulattos, and they are strongly opposed to being so classed. The women are small, graceful, dark and ugly. They go barefooted, but their feet are small and well shaped. So, too, are their hands, and they have the merriest, most musical laugh I ever heard. They are exceedingly inquisitive, and will ask you a dozen questions before you can answer two.


The ridge proper is the home of the Malungeons. I visited one house where the floors were of trees, the bark still on them, and the beds of leaves.  The owner was a full-blooded Indian, with keen, black eyes, straight black hair, high cheeks, and a hook nose. He played upon his violin with his fingers instead of a bow, and entertained us with a history of his grandfather, who was a Cherokee chief, and by singing some of the songs of his tribe. He also described the Malungeon custom of amusements.

I also visited the cabin of a charmer, for you must know these people have many superstitions. This charmer can remove warts, moles, birth-marks, and all ugly protuberances by a kind of magic known only to herself. She offered to remove the mole from my face for 10 cents, and became quite angry when I declined to part with my lifetime companion. “Tairsn’t purty, nohers,” she said; “an ‘t air ner sarvice, nurther.” I cannot spell their dialect as they speak it. It is not the dialect of the mountaineers, and the last syllable of almost every word is omitted. The “R” is missing entirely from their vocabulary.

There is also a witch among them who heals sores, rheumatism, “conjures,” etc. They come from ten miles afoot to consult her.  They possess many Indian traits, that of vengeance being strongly characteristic of them. They, likewise, resemble the negro in many things.


Somewhere in the eighteenth century, before the year 1797, there appeared in the eastern portion of Tennessee, at that time the Territory of North Carolina, two strange-looking men calling themselves "Collins" and "Gibson". They had a reddish brown complexion, long , straight , black hair, keen, black eyes, and sharp, clear-cut features. They spoke in broken English, a dialect distinct from anything ever heard in that section of the country.

They claimed to have come from Virginia and many years after emigrating, themselves told the story of their past. These two, Vardy Collins and Buck Gibson, were the head and source of the Melungeons in Tennessee. With the cunning of their Cherokee Ancestor, they planned and executed a scheme by which they were enabled to "set up for themselves" in the almost unbroken Territory of North Carolina.  This story I know is true. There are reliable parties still living who received it from old Vardy himself, who came here as young men and lived, as the Melungeons generally did to a ripe old age.

The original Collins people were Indian, there is no doubt about that, and they lived as the Indians lived until sometime after the first white man appeared among them. All would huddle together in one room, sleep in one common bed of leaves, make themselves such necessary clothing as nature demanded, smoke, and dream away the good long days that were so dreamily delightful nowhere as they were on Newman's Ridge.

The Collins, as I said; those who followed the first-comers accepting the name already provided them. There was no mixture of blood: they claimed to be Indians and no man disputed it. They were called the "Collins Tribe" until having multiplied to the extent it was necessary to divide, when the descendants of the several pioneers were separated, or divided into clans.

Then came the Ben clan, the Sol clan, the Mitch clan, and indeed every prominent head of a large relationship was recognized as the leader of his clan, which always bore his name. There was, to be sure, no set form or time at which this division was made. It was only one of those natural splits, gradual and necessary, which is the sure result of increasing strength.

They were still, however, we must observe, all COLLINSES, The main tree had not been disturbed by foreign grafting, and while all were not blood descendants of old Vary they, at all events, had all fallen under his banner and appropriated his name.

The tree at last began to put forth branches, or rather three foreign shoots were grafted into the body of it; the English...or whites....Portuguese....and African.
The English branch began with the MULLINS tribe, a very powerful tribe, next indeed for a long time to the Collins tribe, and at present the strongest of all the several branches, as well as the most daring and obstinate.

Old Jim Mullins, the father of the branch, was an Englishman, a trader, it is supposed, with Indians. He was of a roving, daring disposition, and rather fond of the free abandon which characterized the Indian. He was much given to sports, and was always "cheek to fowl" with the Cherokees and other Indian tribes he like to mingle. What brought him to Newman's Ridge must have been, as it is said, his love for freedom and sport, and that careless existence known only to the Indians.

He stumbled upon the Ridge settlement, fell in with the Ridgemanites, and never left them. He took for a wife one of their women, a descendant of old Sol Collins, and reared a family known as the MULLINS tribe. This is said to be the first white blood that mingled with the blood of the dusky Ridgemanites.
The Mullins tribe became exceedingly strong, and remains today the head of the Ridge people. The African branch was introduced by one Goins who emigrated from North Carolina after the formation of the state of Tenn. Goins was a Negro, and did not settle upon the Ridge, but lower down the Big Sycamore Creek in Powell's Valley.

He took a Melungeon woman for his wife (took up with her),and reared a family or tribe. The Goins family may be easily recognized by their kinky hair ,flat nose and foot, thick lips, and a complexion totally unlike the Collins and Mullins tribes. They possess many Negro traits, too, which are wanting to the other tribes.

The Portuguese branch was for a long time a riddle, the existence of it being stoutly denied. It has at last, however, been traced to one "Denham", a Portuguese who married a Collins woman.

It seems that every runaway or straggler of any kind whatever, passing through the country took up with abode temporarily or permanently, with the Melungeons, or as they were then called the Ridgemanites. They were harmless, social, and good-natured when well acquainted with one--although at first suspicious, distant, and morose. While they have never encouraged emigration to the Ridge they have sometimes been unable to prevent it.

Denham, it is supposed, came from one of the Spanish settlements lying further to the south. He settled on Mulberry Creek, and married a sister of Old Sol Collins.

There is another story, however, about Denham. It is said that the first Denham came as did the first Collins from North Carolina, and that he (or his ancestors) had been left upon the Carolina coast by some Portuguese pirate vessel plying along the shore.

So we have the four races or representatives among, as they then began to be called, the Melungeons; namely, the Indians, the English, the Portuguese, and the African. Each is clearly distinct and easily recognized even to the present day.
This , then, is the account of the Melungeons from their first appearance in that part of the country where they are still found .......

And this is the Melungeons according to Will Allen Dromgoole - 1890.  Her research has been accepted as early as 1890 when the U.S. Census Bureau wrote her account into the "Indians Taxed and Not Taxed" report, until the recent 2012 Melungeon paper publshed by Estes, Crain, Goins and Ferguson.

The "Legend of the Melungeons" as pubished in 1848 gave their history.  They were, they said, Portuguese Adventurers who mixed with the Indians and upon migrating to Tennessee had mixed with the whtes and blacks to form their present race.  They didn't lie, didn't leave out the 'black' and didn't try to 'hide their ancestry'.  They gave the 'Four Branches' just as they told this to William Allen Dromgoole forty some years later.

Their story has yet to be written, stalled by books, papers, etc., researchers  rewriting their history, providing 'mysterious ancestries' and connections and ignoring who these people said they were for more than fifty years.

DNA is now proving their story to be true. The Goins do, in fact, carry the Sub Saharan ancestry. Vardy Collins (R1a)  and Buck Gibson (R1b) DNA has came back European.  "Varieties of R1b, a common Y-DNA haplogroup in western Europe, are found in abundance among Portuguese men. About 60 percent of Southern Portuguese and about 83 percent of Northern Portuguese belong to the subclade of R1b known as the Atlantic Modal Haplotype (AMH). There are even some areas in Portugal where the AMH is found in about 90% of men." [Portuguese Genetics]

Records have been uncovered proving the Indian ancestry of the Gibsons as well as the Native DNA of the Sizemore, Helton, Hooker, Riddle, Freeman and others. Many of these descendants of Collins, Gibson, etc., are indeed showing the Native American blood in their autosomal DNA results.

Records found recently have uncovered little pockets of these Portuguese people lving in regions other than Newmans Ridge.  Melungeon research has came a long way in the last 15 years shredding just about everything that has been written about them since the 1940s, making earlier research outdated.
Perhaps the next 15 years will provide us with more answers, perhaps I will have to once again shift my research to a new area but that's alright, as long as their real story gets told.

Will Allen Dromgoole - Articles 

Historical Articles

Monday, February 9, 2015

Will Allen Dromgoole

Boro Poet Dromgoole Helped Bridge Generations 
By Mike West
Murfreesboro Post
February 9, 2009

During her life, Will Allen Dromgoole was a prolific writer and poet.

While she wrote more than 7,500 poems, 5,000 essays and published 13 books, her most famous poem was “The Bridge Builder.”

Written around 1900, “The Bridge Builder” is often reprinted and quoted by motivational speakers, pastors and even the Boys Scouts. Its words grace a number of real bridges like the Bellows Fall bridge in Connecticut.

Dromgoole, 1860-1934, was born in Murfreesboro, the last child of John Easter and Rebecca Blanche Dromgoole. Her father was mayor during the Civil War and often found himself negotiating between locals and the Federal troops occupying the town.

Dromgoole changed her middle name to Allen when she was 6, and throughout her life was known as Will Allen or "Miss Will." In 1876 Dromgoole graduated from the Clarksville Female Academy and studied at the New England School of Expression in Boston.           

She began her writing career after the death of her mother and will caring for her aging father.

She published her first novel, “The Sunny Side of the Cumberland,” under the name Will Allen in 1886. Her first short story was published that same year and awarded a cash prize by Youth's Companion in 1886.

Her life then took an unusual twist for the day. She studied law with her father and won terms as engrossing clerk for the Tennessee State Senate. But an unflattering series of articles she wrote about the Melungeons of East Tennessee caused her defeat in 1889 and 1891 and she relocated to Texas where she wrote for newspapers.

She returned to Tennessee in 1897 and was hired in 1902 as a staff writer for the Nashville Banner, where she wrote a popular column, “Song and Story” for 31 years.

With the outbreak of World War I, Dromgoole became one of the first (if not the first) women to join the U.S. Navy where she served as a yeoman warrant officer at Norfolk, Va.

She returned to the staff of the Banner in 1918 where she worked until her death in 1934.

Dromgoole is buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in Murfreesbor.

Her poem still often quoted:

The Bridge Builder
By Will Allen Dromgoogle

An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.

Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim, near,
“You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again will pass this way;
You've crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you this bridge at the evening tide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head:
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”

And she wrote about Melungeons.  Quite a lot, in fact.  More on that to follow!

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Black-and-White World of Walter Ashby Plecker


The Virginian-Pilot
August 18, 2004

Lacy Branham Hearl closes her eyes and travels eight decades back to what began as a sweet childhood.

There was family everywhere: her parents, five siblings, nine sets of adoring aunts and uncles and more cousins than she could count. They all lived in a Monacan Indian settlement near Amherst, their threadbare homes circling apple orchards at the foot of Tobacco Row Mountain.As Hearl grew, however, she sensed the adults were engulfed in deepening despair. When she was 12, an uncle gathered his family and left Virginia, never to see her again. Other relatives scattered in rapid succession, some muttering the name "Plecker."

To Continue Reading, Click Here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Walter Plecker and His Melungeon Hitlist

Walter Plecker's writings on Melungeons and his infamous Melungeon name list:

To Read, Click Here!!

Do bear in mind that Melungeons were just one among his many targets.  The cultural damage -- and documentary genocide -- he inflicted upon Virginia's Indians continues to haunt them to this day:

Richmond Times Dispatch
Chief Cook Denies Kin With Heathen Race -- No Action Taken
By William G. Southall

Chief Cook of the Pamunkey Indians last night literally fell on the field of battle in a verbal clash with his paleface neighbors.

The aged man took the floor to protest before the House Committee and General Laws against the provision of the Norris racial integrity bill which classified as colored all Virginians who are not pure white. 

“I am a sick man,” he said.  “I left a sick-bed,” he said to come here for the speech I shall make.  It may be that I shall go down in the effort. It makes no difference. I told my people that I would be in Richmond for this hearing if it meant that I should be carried back home in a baggage.  I would die for the Pamunkey tribe.

A Natural Orator

The chief is a natural orator. His is an inherited gift.  Indians have been noted for their picturesqueness of speech since they took over the language of the white man,  The leader of the Pamunkeys last night was impressive as he stood in the Virginia Capitol and pleaded for the preservation of his tribe.  His voice broke at time but always he recovered it and continued his impassioned address.

After he had concluded he went slowly back to his seat in the rear of the hall.  An advocate on the other side of the question propounded an inquiry.  The chef did not answer.  Two or three men came to his side discovered that he was exhausted and assisted him to a long seat upon which he might lie.  Aromatic spirits of ammonia were administered, and the Pamunkey leader finally regained his lost strength.

At times the chief’s speech was tinged with bitterness.

“You talk of granting us land” he cried.  “Do you bring with you from across the sea on foot of soil?  Was not all Virginia ours when you came here?  Some of you boast of being F. F. V’s. I do not. I say that I come from the First Families of America.

God Fearing Folk

“Tell me, would you blot out a nation? God forbid! The charge has been made that we were from the heathen race.  I deny it from the bottom of my soul. We come from  God-fearing folk.  Long before we new the palefaces the Great Spirit brooded over us and died in the belief that we should join our brothers in the Happy Hunting Grounds.”

“Who would have thought.” he concluded dramatically, “that the heart of Captain John Smith, who would “have destroyed all the Pamunkeys, beat in the breasts of the palefaces of this day.?”

Defines White Person

At 12:30 o’clock this morning the committee rose without taking any definite action.

The bill under consideration last night differs from the law enacted at the 1924 session of the Assembly principally in that it defines a white person as one who has not one drop of other blood in his veins, except that persons who trace themselves back to a marriage union between a white person and an Indian contracted prior to 1619, or who have in them an admixture of the blood of Indians belonging to the civilized tribes of Oklahoma or Texas, shall be regarded as white.  All others are to be classified as colored.

This is the objection raised to the bill by the Pamunkey, the Chickahominy, the Mataponi and the Rappahannock tribes.  They would consent, they said, to a law forbidding any intermarriage among the races and providing the severe punishment for violation of the statue.

Opponents of the measure before the House Committee proposed an amendment which would define white, Indian and colored persons.  This suggestion met determined opposition from Dr. W. A. Plecker, Registrar of Vital Statistics, and John Powell; who has labored indefatigably for several years in the cause of racial integrity.  They made the point that thousands of persons whom they regard as mulattos would come forward with the claim of Indian descent, all of whom must be investigated.  Such a burden, they said, would be too much for the department to carry and function efficiently the while.

Recognition of also three races would be out of line with the policy obtaining elsewhere, and would serve no other purpose than to throw out of joint all the machinery of classification.

Dr. Plecker Opens Discussion

Dr. Plecker who holds that there is no Indian in Virginia who does not carry in his veins some negro blood, opened the discussion with a brief explanation of the bill.  Speakers on his side of the question included Delegate Warren, of Portsmouth: Mrs. Fothergill, who was presented as a genealogist; John Powell and Major E. S. Cox.

Representing the opponents of the measure where Senator Douglas Mitchell, who appeared in behalf of the Pamunkeys; Manley H. Barnes, for the Chickahominies George Haw, also for the Chickahominies; Judge Fleet for the Rappahonnocks; M.D. Hart, Roger Gregory, Rev. Mr. Sudduth, Chief George Nelson of the Rappahannocks, and James H. Johnson, a member of that tribe.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Walter Plecker: Master of Documentary Genocide

Documentary Genocide:
Families Surnames on Racial Hit List

By Peter Hardin, Times-Dispatch Washington Correspondent Sunday,March 5, 2000

Long before the Indian woman gave birth to a baby boy, Virginia branded him with a race other than his own.

The young Monacan Indian mother delivered her son at Lynchburg General Hospital in 1971. Proud of her Indian heritage, the woman was dismayed when hospital officials designated him as black on his birth certificate. They threatened to bar his discharge unless she acquiesced. The original orders came from Richmond generations ago.

Virginia’s former longtime registrar of the Bureau of Vital Statistics, Dr. Walter Ashby Plecker, believed there were no real native-born Indians in Virginia and anybody claiming to be Indian had a mix of black blood.

In aggressively policing the color line, he classified “pseudo-Indians” as black and even issued in 1943 a hit list of surnames belonging to “mongrel” or mixed-blood families suspected of having Negro ancestry who must not be allowed to pass as Indian or white.

With hateful language, he denounced their tactics.

” . . . Like rats when you are not watching, [they] have been `sneaking’ in their birth certificates through their own midwives, giving either Indian or white racial classification,” Plecker wrote.
Twenty-eight years later, the Monacan mother’s surname still was on Plecker’s list. She argued forcefully with hospital officials. She lost.

Today, the woman’s eyes reveal her lingering pain. She consulted with civil rights lawyers and eventually won a correction on her son’s birth certificate.

“I don’t think the prejudice will ever stop,” said the woman, who agreed to talk to a reporter only on condition of anonymity.

She waged a personal battle in modern times against the bitter legacy of Plecker, who ran the bureau from 1912 to 1946. A racial supremacist, Plecker and his influential allies helped shape one of the darkest chapters of Virginia’s history. It was an epoch of Virginia-sponsored racism.

A physician born just before the Civil War, Plecker embraced the now-discredited eugenics movement as a scientific rationale for preserving Caucasian racial purity. He saw only two races, Caucasian and non-Caucasian, and staunchly opposed their “amalgamation.”

After helping win passage in 1924 of a strict race classification and anti-miscegenation law called the Racial Integrity Act, Plecker engaged in a zealous campaign to prevent what he considered “destruction of the white or higher civilization.”

When he perceived Indians as threats to enforcing the color line, he used the tools of his office to endeavor to crush them and deny their existence.

Many Western tribes experienced government neglect during the 20th century, but the Virginia story was different: The Indians were consciously targeted for mistreatment.

Plecker changed racial labels on vital records to classify Indians as “colored,” investigated the pedigrees of racially “suspect” citizens, and provided information to block or annul interracial marriages with whites. He testified against Indians who challenged the law.

Virginia’s Indians refused to die out, although untold numbers moved away or assumed a low profile. Now, eight surviving tribes recognized by Virginia in the 1980s are preparing to seek sovereign status from the U.S. government through an act of Congress. About 3,000 of the 15,000 Indians counted in Virginia in the 1990 census were indigenous to the state, experts say.

As they bid for federal recognition, more Indian leaders are talking openly about the injustice of Plecker’s era. They gave a copy of his 1943 “hit list” to Virginia members of Congress along with other data in support of their bid.

Modern scholars have studied Plecker and the racial integrity era. Their findings contributed to this article. Yet he’s not widely known today.

“It’s an untold story,” said Oliver Perry, chief emeritus of the Nansemond Tribe.

“It’s not that we’re trying to dig him up and re-inter him again,” said Gene Adkins, assistant chief of the Eastern Chickahominy Tribe.

“We want people to know that he did damage the Indian population here in the state. And it’s taken us years, even up to now, to try to get out from under what he did. It’s a sad situation, really sad.”
Said Chief William P. Miles of the Pamunkey Tribe: “He came very close to committing statistical genocide on Native Americans in Virginia.”

Chief G. Anne Richardson of the Rappahannock Tribe spoke bluntly: “Devastation. Holocaust. Genocide."

“Those are the words I would use to describe what he did to us,” she said. “It was obvious his goal was the demise of all Native Americans in Virginia. . . . We were not allowed to be who we are in our own country, by officials in the government.”

For people of Indian heritage, Plecker’s name “brings to mind a feeling that a Jew would have for the name of Hitler,” said Russell E. Booker Jr., Virginia registrar from 1982 to 1995. That view “certainly is justified.”

Indeed, one of Plecker’s most chilling letters mentioned Adolf Hitler - and not unfavorably.
“Our own indexed birth and marriage records showing race reach back to 1853,” Plecker wrote U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier in 1943. “Such a study has probably never been made before.

“Your staff member is probably correct in his surmise that Hitler’s genealogical study of the Jews is not more complete.”

Plecker also used haunting rhetoric in publishing a brochure on “Virginia’s Vanished Race” a month before his death in 1947. He asked, “Is the integrity of the master race, with our Indians as a demonstration, also to pass by the mongrelizations route?”

Confronting an Era

On wooded Bear Mountain, miles up a country road outside Amherst, a visitor finds more evidence of the new willingness to confront Plecker’s era head-on.

It’s the historical center of the Monacan Indian Nation. A one-room log schoolhouse dating to the 1870s is standing. Also there are a simple white church and a small ancestral museum with a new sign proclaiming “History Preserved is Knowledge Gained.”

Tribal activist and researcher Diane Shields digs into her files and pulls out for a visitor a dozen manila folders with photocopies of Plecker’s letters covering two decades.

The Monacans acknowledge the stigma and pain, the second-class status, the lack of economic opportunity and the inferior education inflicted upon them and other Virginia tribes.

Indian children were relegated to substandard “colored” schools. Their parents, wanting to keep an Indian identity, often declined to send them there. Some tribal children studied in lower grades at reservation schools or church-sponsored schools like the one at Bear Mountain.

Even in this history of oppression, some Monacans have found a value: a common identity.
“It’s a horrible thing, what he did to the Indian people,” Shields said of Plecker. “But you know what? It gives me a sense of belonging - because I’m grouped with my own people.

“It kind of backfired with Plecker. He pushed the Indian people closer and gave us an identity.”
Her brother, Johnny Johns, is a tribal leader and electrical technician. He’s 51. Enrolled at Lynchburg College at midlife, he’s been learning about the eugenics movement. Johns, whose surname was on Plecker’s “hit list,” regards him in two ways.

First, there’s “the horror, the terror.” Yet he believes Plecker “did us a favor, because the list of [Indian] names is there. We know who we are. It’s a two-edged sword, a duality.”

Monacan Chief Kenneth Branham, 47, remembers shunning by whites when Indian children were first allowed into public elementary school in the 1960s. School bus drivers sometimes refused to transport them.

Plecker was cruel, Branham believes. But “he kind of drew us together. We were a tightknit group, because there was nobody else we could associate with.”

His tribe, which has grown dramatically in recent years to about 1,100 enrolled members, is using federal grant money to document its history. The Monacans are making their comeback with people like Shields and Johns, who were drawn back from beyond Virginia to their family and tribal roots, the place they now call home.

Among them is Indian activist Mary B. Wade, who learned only in the late 1980s about her Monacan heritage from an uncle in Maryland. Now she’s secretary of the Virginia Council on Indians, a state government advisory panel.

The Monacan tribe owns more than 100 acres on and near Bear Mountain and dreams of buying hundreds more, developing a retirement home and a day-care center.

These Amherst Indians won recognition from the General Assembly in 1989, five years after Lynchburg pediatrician Peter Houck laid out a Monacan genealogy for what was once called a lost tribe. Houck detailed his findings in a book, and the recognition has contributed to a spirit of resurgence among the Monacans.

Indian people of Amherst and adjoining Rockbridge counties were a special target of Plecker.
He wrote in a 1925 letter, “The Amherst-Rockbridge group of about 800 similar people are giving us the most trouble, through actual numbers and persistent claims of being Indians. Some well-meaning church workers have established an `Indian Mission’ around which they rally.”

Across the state in eastern Virginia, home for tribes that once made up the Powhatan Confederation, Plecker evokes diverse reactions from Indian leaders.
“He was just determined to get rid of us,” said Chief A. Leonard Adkins, 73, of the Chickahominy Tribe. “It was hard to believe that a man could do what he did and get away with it.”

A Chickahominy midwife was threatened by with imprisonment by Plecker if she didn’t stop putting `Indian’ on birth records, Adkins said. She decided to stop her midwifery rather than buckle under to him or risk a prison term.

During Plecker’s era, a number of Indians didn’t admit to their cultural heritage or pass down traditions to their children. It was easier for many to adapt to white society, said Chief Barry Bass of the Nansemond Tribe.

“There’s probably a lot who have gone to their grave who still didn’t admit they were Indian. That’s where it hurt,” said Bass, the acting chairman of the Virginia Council on Indians.

Plecker wrote in a 1924 state-published pamphlet, “Eugenics in Relation to the New Family,” that there were no true Indians in Virginia who didn’t have some black blood. He later refined this to apply to “native-born people in Virginia calling themselves Indians.”

His 1943 letter alluding to “rats . . . `sneaking’ in their birth certificates” claimed that mixed-blood groups were intent above all on “escaping negro status and securing recognition as white, with the resulting privilege of attending white schools and ultimately attaining the climax of their ambitions, marrying into the white race.”

Plecker misunderstood the Indians’ culture, said Dr. Helen C. Rountree, an anthropoligist and Virginia Indian expert recently retired from Old Dominion University. Those whom she studied in eastern Virginia believed that if they married a white, the children would be Indians, Rountree wrote in her book, “Pocahontas’s People.”

These Indians did not want to be “white,” she wrote, although they wanted access to the better facilities available to whites and the freedom to marry whites to avoid inbreeding.

In drawing his conclusions, Plecker relied heavily on old birth and death records that indicated only whether an individual was white or nonwhite, said former registrar Booker.

“There was no place to register `Indian.’ Nonwhite was later taken to mean black, by Plecker and by the Racial Integrity Act,” Booker said.

To Booker, the racial integrity era amounted to what today would be called “ethnic cleansing.” Or “documentary genocide.”

“He was convinced he was one of the chosen,” Booker said of Plecker. “He was the original martinet.”

The Plecker Letters

Plecker left a major paper trail.

He gave carbon copies of hundreds of his official letters, neatly typed on “Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Health” stationery, to John Powell, a Richmond-born concert pianist and an outspoken advocate for race-purity measures in Virginia.

Today, the letters offer a rare record of a bureaucrat intruding in individual lives, harassing and intimidating citizens, bullying local officials and stamping out civil rights.

The correspondence is housed in a collection of Powell documents at the University of Virginia’s Alderman Library. Powell graduated Phi Beta Kappa from U.Va. at age 18. He became an internationally known pianist and lectured in U.Va.’s music department.

In one letter, Plecker wrote a Lynchburg woman in 1924 to correct a supposedly false birth report for her child, which had been signed by a midwife.

“This is to give you warning that this is a mulatto child and you cannot pass it off as white,” he wrote.

Plecker apprised her of the new “one-drop” rule, which defined a white person as having “no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian.”

“You will have to do something about this matter and see that this child is not allowed to mix with white children,” Plecker admonished. “It cannot go to white schools and can never marry a white person in Virginia. It is an awful thing.”

To a woman he knew to be from a “respectable” white family in Hampton, Plecker voiced surprise that she would ask about a license to marry a man of mixed African descent.

“I trust . . . that you will immediately break off entirely with this young mulatto man,” he wrote.

Plecker threatened a Fishersville woman with prosecution in 1944 for a birth record he contended hid her Negro lineage.

“After the war it is possible that some of these cases will come into court. We might try this one. It would make a good one if you continue to try to be what you are not,” Plecker warned.

His writing supports the view of leading scholars that Indians were a secondary, not primary, target of the eugenics movement in Virginia.

“The attack on persons of African descent laid the foundation for the attack against the American Indian community in Virginia as a mixed-race population,” wrote an anthropologist, Dr. Danielle Moretti-Langholtz of the College of William and Mary, in a dissertation on the political resurgence of Virginia’s Indians.

Plecker was vehement about preserving the color line.

“Two races as materially divergent as the white and the negro, in morals, mental powers, and cultural fitness, cannot live in close contact without injury to the higher,” he told an American Public Health Association session in 1924. “The lower never has been and never can be raised to the level of the higher.”

Plecker went on, “We are now engaged in a struggle more titanic, and of far greater importance than that with the Central Powers from which we have recently emerged,” he added. “Many scarcely know that the struggle which means the life or death of our civilization is now in progress, and are giving it He concluded, “Let us turn a deaf ear to those who would interpret Christian brotherhood to mean racial equality.”

Rise to Power He had risen to become Virginia’s first registrar at a time when segregationist Jim Crow laws and attitudes already were securely in place in the South.

In the eugenics movement, Plecker and allies found a basis in “science” for their extremist thinking, according to scholars who have studied him.

Plecker was born April 2, 1861, in Augusta County. He died at age 86 in August 1947 when he failed to look before crossing the street on Chamberlayne Avenue in Richmond and was hit by a car.

Schooled at Hoover Military Academy in Staunton, he attended the University of Virginia and graduated with a degree in medicine from the University of Maryland in 1885. For about 25 years, he practiced as a country doctor. After joining the health department of Elizabeth City County, now the city of Hampton, he set up a system for keeping health records and vital statistics, earning that county a national reputation.

In 1912, he came to Richmond to help state officials organize the Bureau of Vital Statistics, and he was tapped as its first registrar. Births, deaths and marriages would have to be reported to the bureau.

“He was a pioneer in the health of the newborn,” said former registrar Booker, who as a youngster delivered the newspaper to Plecker’s Richmond home. “He wrote what I thought was an outstanding book for midwives.”

Plecker was drawn to the eugenics movement, which held that society and mankind’s future could be improved by promoting better breeding.

He was among eugenics adherents who believed in the supremacy of white genetic stock, the inferiority of other races and the threat that mixing with the white race would lead to decline or destruction.

To push for law to preserve “racial integrity,” Plecker teamed with Powell and Tennessee-born Earnest S. Cox, author of a book titled “White America.”

Powell was a leading founder of the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America, an all-male, native-born group started in Richmond in September 1922 and a year later claiming to have 25 posts statewide. Plecker was a member.

Its goals were preservation of Anglo-Saxon ideals and “the supremacy of the white race in the United States of America without racial prejudice or hatred,” according to its constitution.

“This was the Klan of the aristocracy - the real gentleman’s Klan,” said J. David Smith of Longwood College, a eugenics expert.

Newspaper accounts at the time detailed a link with former Richmond KKK members. The Richmond Lodge of the KKK seceded in 1922 from the national organization, according to news accounts. A lawyer for some of the former Klansmen said the national group was judged to be a “rampant anti-Catholic organization instead of an organization to maintain white supremacy.”

“The Ku-Klux Klan in Richmond organized the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America, and the local organization is known as Richmond Post, No. 1,” the lawyer went on to say in The Times-Dispatch.

Powell wrote in correspondence later that the Anglo-Saxon Clubs had “no connection whatever” with the KKK and were “in no sense unfriendly to the Negro.”

In 1924 the General Assembly adopted race-purity legislation championed by the Anglo-Saxon Clubs and promoted by Plecker, Cox and Powell. It would stand until a landmark 1967 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Racial Integrity Act was one of the nation’s strictest. It defined white person for the first time, using the “one-drop rule,” and went beyond earlier state law against inter-marriage by making it illegal for whites to marry any nonwhites, including Asians.

However, the law permitted persons with one-sixteenth American Indian blood and “no other non-Caucasic blood” to be classified as white. That was a nod to descendants of Pocahontas, some of whom counted themselves among “first families” of Virginia.

Some leading state newspapers, including The Times-Dispatch and The Richmond News Leader, endorsed the race-purity goals.

The Times-Dispatch editorialized in 1924 that race intermingling would “sound the death knell of the white man. Once a drop of inferior blood gets in his veins, he descends lower and lower in the mongrel scale.”

This newspaper also gave Powell a platform, publishing two years later a 13-part series of his articles titled “The Last Stand” and describing what he called Virginia’s declining racial purity.

Plecker, meanwhile, lent support for black separatist Marcus Garvey’s back-to-Africa movement.

Plecker kept trying to narrow loopholes in the Virginia law. The legislature agreed in 1930 to define “colored” people as those “in whom there is ascertainable any Negro blood.”

Framers of the Racial Integrity Act found “a convenient facade” for their race prejudices in the “pseudo-science of eugenics,” said Paul A. Lombardo, a eugenics expert who teaches at the University of Virginia law school.

Lombardo wrote, “The true motive behind the [act] was the maintenance of white supremacy and black economic and social inferiority - racism, pure and simple.”

Enforcing the Act In his more than 30 years as registrar, Plecker stood up to those who disagreed with him, urged him to back off, or got in his way.

They included courageous Indians, a Virginia governor and federal officials.

Some people were imprisoned for violating the Racial Integrity Act, but a number of juries wouldn’t convict. There were legal challenges to the act and Plecker’s enforcement, but it took the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967 to void Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law.

Two of the earliest challenges came in Rockbridge County in 1924.

A circuit judge upheld in the first case the denial of a marriage license for an Indian woman to marry a white man. But in the second case, he set the eugenics backers reeling.

Judge Henry W. Holt heard expert testimony from Plecker before ruling in favor of an Indian woman who had challenged the denial of a license for her to wed a white man.

Holt found no evidence that the woman, Atha Sorrells, was of mixed lineage under a reasonable interpretation of the new law. He questioned its constitutionality and the legal meaning of the term Caucasian.

“Half the men who fought at Hastings were my grandfathers. Some of them were probably hanged and some knighted, who can tell? Certainly in some instances there was an alien strain. Beyond peradventure, I cannot prove that there was not,” he wrote in his opinion.

Drawing on “Alice in Wonderland,” he added, “Alice herself never got into a deeper tangle.”

John Powell shot back with a pamphlet, published by the Anglo-Saxon Clubs, titled “The Breach in the Dike: an Analysis of the Sorrels Case Showing the Danger to Racial Integrity from Intermarriage of Whites with So-Called Indians.”

Holt’s ruling was not appealed, however. An assistant state attorney general warned that the act might be declared unconstitutional.

Absalom Willis Robertson, the Rockbridge commonwealth’s attorney, represented the state. A former state senator, Robertson would rise to fame as a congressman and U.S. senator for 34 years. A conservative Democrat, he was known as an expert on federal finances.

On civil rights, Sen. Robertson opposed the progressive stands of the national Democratic Party and was involved in the filibuster over civil rights legislation in 1963. His son, Republican Pat Robertson, is the conservative television evangelist who founded the Christian Coalition and, in 1988, ran for president.

In an October 1924 letter, Plecker personally had asked A.W. Robertson to represent Virginia “if your charge is not too great, and the Governor will pay the bill.”

Gov. E. Lee Trinkle, too, had written Robertson. “Willis, this law is a new one and I regard it of vital importance. There are a great many of our real substantial white people who fought hard for the Bill and are doing all they can to help out in this situation over the State.”

Asking what Robertson would charge if he were to represent the state, Trinkle added, “I know that you will be more than reasonable because you, like the rest of us, are interested in this movement.”
When Plecker sought to have the race-purity law toughened the following year, the governor advised moderation.

Trinkle wrote Plecker, urging him to “be conservative and reasonable and not create any ill feeling if it can be avoided between the Indians and the State government.

“From reports that come to me,” Trinkle added, “I am afraid sentiment is moulding itself along the line that you are too hard on these people and pushing matters too fast.”

Plecker didn’t yield. The registrar tried to tell U.S. Census officials how to list Indians and urged Selective Service officials not to induct them as whites.

A number of Virginia Indians, struggling to retain their identity, battled to be inducted with whites in World War II, a position Plecker opposed. Through various petitions and channels, the Indians met inconsistent results.

Three Rappahannock men who refused induction with blacks were prosecuted and sentenced to prison, but they later were allowed to pass the war years by laboring in hospitals as conscientious objectors. Yet in a federal court in western Virginia, a judge sided with seven Amherst County Indians who resisted induction as Negroes.

Finally the government, after years of wrangling, generally deferred to registrants to choose their race, an Indian victory that some scholars believe helped pave the way for the civil rights movement.
In the same period, Plecker wrote a letter to Powell that reflected a defeat - and Plecker’s own authoritative gamesmanship.

Plecker had begun putting “corrections” on the backs of birth certificates issued by his bureau before 1924 to remove the designation “Indian.” A prominent Richmond attorney, John Randolph Tucker, representing two Amherst County Indians challenged Plecker’s standing to “constitute himself judge and jury” by making such a change and threatened court action.

Plecker yielded temporarily. “This is the worst backset which we have received since Judge Holt’s decision,” he confided to Powell on Oct. 13, 1942. “In reality I have been doing a good deal of bluffing, knowing all the while that it could not be legally sustained. This is the first time my hand has absolutely been called.”

The “backset” didn’t last long. The General Assembly voted in 1944 to allow the registrar to put on the backs of birth, death or marriage certificates data that would correct erroneous racial labels on the front.

Plecker died in 1947. But his legacy survived. Not until 13 years after the Warren Court’s landmark 1954 desegregation decision in Brown vs. Board of Education was the intermarriage ban in Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act overturned.

Saying Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law was based on racial distinctions, the Supreme Court concluded, “There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification.

“The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification as measures designed to maintain white supremacy.”

In 1975, Virginia repealed its racial definition and segregation laws.

Lasting Damage Virginia tribes preparing to seek federal recognition as sovereign nations have told officials in Washington about the lasting damage sustained in the Plecker era, three centuries after Virginia’s “first people” encountered the European settlers.

A bill being drafted by Rep. James P. Moran, D-8th, would ask Congress to grant federal recognition.
Gene Adkins of the Eastern Chickahominy said it may take beyond the current generation of Virginia Indians to correct the wrongs of Plecker’s era.

“We’re getting [more] advantages, but we still don’t have the same advantages today of the white population,” Adkins said.

Telling the story of Plecker’s mistreatment of the Indians could open more doors, Adkins said.
“It boils down to this: More people will be sympathetic to what we’re trying to do.”

Melungeons at Fort Blackmore

    THE MELUNGEONS  & FORT BLACKMORE SOME NOTES Attorney Lewis Jarvis was born 1829 in Scott County, Virginia and lived in the area and ...