Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Martha Collins - 1907

The Mystery of the Melungeons.

Nashville Tennessean Sunday Magazine 
September 22, 1963
By Louise Davis 

Miss Martha Collins, vice-president of the Citizens Bank of Sneedville, sat at her trim-lined desk in the air-conditioned, modernistic bank and pondered questions we asked her. Obviously it was not a subject to dismiss lightly, nor to discuss with strangers who might write misleading stories. A fair-skinned, blue-eyed woman whose calm efficiency at running the bank was sharpened in 25 years of training under her distinguished father’s presidency, Miss Collins weighed her words, spaced her sentences precisely ------- figuring interest. 

“I used to regard the stories about Melungeons as a part of mythology,” Miss Collins, a college graduate who is descended from one of the oldest families in the region, said. “But my sister said, “No, there is some truth in it.” Miss Collins rose from her desk and walked thoughtfully to the vault to withdraw a letter postmarked 1907. It had been written to her by one of her uncles. Elegant in vocabulary and charming in sentiment, the letter related some of the family stories about their origin. Written by J. G. Rhea, the letter told of one of the legends that persists to explain the presence of the dark-skinned people in the area: they are descendants of the Spaniards and perhaps Portuguese men in DeSoto’s party who ventured from Florida into parts of North Carolina and Tennessee in search of gold in 1540. 

According to this story, some of the men became lost from DeSoto’s party, were either captured or befriended by Cherokee Indians, intermarried with them, and left their descendants in Rhea, Hawkins, and Hancock counties in Tennessee and neighboring counties in Virginia. “Navarrh Collins….a fine old patriarch….said to be of Portuguese descent, was one of the early settlers.” Rhea wrote. “He settled on Blackwater Creek and owned Vardy Mineral Springs.” Vardy, a community centered around a neat cluster of white frame church, school and missionary teacher’s residence, got its name from Spanish settlers, tradition says. 

Navarrh, Rhea said, was a variation of Navarre, a region in Spain. When Navarrh Collins opened Navarrh Mineral Springs, a long-ago health resort in the valley, the name was soon contracted to Varr and they Vardy.There is nothing of the backwardness of the traditional mountaineer in the letter, and it is obvious that Hancock County has—and for generations has had—its artistocracy, some of whom took pride in their Spanish and Portuguese ancestry as well as in their Scotch-Irish blood. But there are no Spanish or Portuguese names in the community now. There is no peculiarity of vocabulary to set the Melungeon apart from other citizens of comparable education and background. 

From:

J. G. Rhea
Griffin, Georgia
April 14, 1918

To:
Miss Martha B. Collins
Bristol Tenn

Dear Niece

Read the letter HERE

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