The Real Untold Story of the Melungeons
The Melungeons of the Pee Dee River
No matter what you've read, no matter where you read it,
no matter what you have heard, no matter who has said it.
There is but one documented case of Melungeons
Swan Burnett who had been working with Doctor Gurley of the Smithsonian, and Doctor Pierce of Hawkins County, Tennessee read a paper before the Anthropological Society of Washington D.C on February 5,1889 on the Melungeons of Newmans Ridge which was published in numerous newspapers around the country.
On March 11th Mr. Lawrence Johnson of Meridian, Mississippi wrote to the editor of the ATLANTA CONSTITUTION. He recognized these people called Melungeons from his time in South Carolina, he was born 1821 and raised in Chester County, his grandfather had fought in the Revolution. He wrote;
"Near a month ago an article appeared in The CONSTITUTION named Melungeons. I laid it aside in order to correspond with the writer, but the paper got destroyed and the name and address had not been noticed with care, and are forgotten. Excuse me then for addressing him through the same medium.
His name Melungeons is a local designation for this small peculiar race. Their own claim to be Portuguese is more generally known. Their original site is on the Pedee river in South and North Carolina . They were once especially strong in Georgetown and Darlington districts of the latter.Johnson doesn't mention Newman's Ridge, doesn't mention Hamilton County or even Wilson County but he had heard of the Melungeons, back when he lived in South Carolina.
Dromgoole had had not been to Newman's Ridge, she had not written any articles on the Melungeons yet. There had been a journalist in 1848, stayed at Vardy's Inn and wrote the Legend of the Melungeons of Newmans Ridge, the Portuguese Indians. And then there was the Solomon Bolton Case.
Spencer Bolton was the father of Solomon, born on the PEE DEE RIVER in 1735
Fayette Observer Fayetteville, North CarolinaNovember 22, 1845
Extreme Old Age -- A writer in the Highland Messenger says he had justvisited Spencer Bolton, a resident of Buncombe county, who is now almost onehundred and ten years of age! He was born on Big Pee Dee River, in SouthCarolina, and is still sound in mind and body. He was in severalskirmishes under Marion in the Rebolutionary war. Has been for 65 years a member of the Methodist Church. Health generally good. In early life, principaldiet bread, rice, potatoes, and milk; slept on straw beds; generally upbefore day-light; and much accustomed to bathe in cold water. To the influenceof these habits he ascribes his long life.
Hamilton County Tennessee 1874
Judge Lewis Shepherd defended descendants of
Solomon Bolton, son of Spencer Bolton.
Solomon Bolton, son of Spencer Bolton.
William McGill (Justice of the Peace, Hamilton County TN)
Q. 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.
Rev. D. D. Scruggs
Q. State to what race of people Bolton belonged, and state fully all the facts in connection with your acquaintance with him and his family?
A. He belonged to the Spanish race of people I think. I am positive that it was either Spanish or Portugese. I was Tax Collector in the District at one time and amongst other things I was required to levy a per capita tax on all Negroes and I recollect distinctly that it was not levied by me upon him. He, Bolton was a dark skinned man with very straight hair and long nosed, thin visaged man-At the time referred to when I was tax collector, some parties reported to me that Bolton was of mixed blood. Thereupon I proceeded to investigate the matter by calling in three citizens living in his neighborhood, among whom were a Mr. Young, Mr. Miles, and other to assist me in deciding the question; the decision was in favor of Bolton, to the effect he had no Negro blood in him. About the same time my attention was also called in an official capacity to a Mr. Dempsy who claimed to be a Portugese, and the decision in his case was that he was of mixed blood, but I gave him the right of appeal but he left the country. Bolton and Dempsey were not in any way connected.
Q. State whether or not you know of any of Bolton's family-- his father or other in the state of North Carolina or other place
A. I was in South Carolina once and saw his father. I knew most of his family. I was on business in South Carolina. His father, or a man claiming to be his father came to me to inquire after his son Solomon Bolton whom he said was living in this County
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. They told me that he was a member of Baptist Church there in good standing and was received in good society. I saw nothing to the contrary.
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 &other
Q. State whether or not you know a preacher named Dyke? If so, where did he live, how was he related to Solomon Bolton, and what race of people did he belong to? How was he treated and recognized in this and Hamilton County?
A. I knew the preacher Dyke, have heard him preach. He lived some where about Kelly's Ferry Marion County. I do not know the relation he sustained to Solomon Bolton. I have heard he was a cousin, but don't know of my own knowledge how that is. He claimed to be of the same race of people that Solomon Bolton claimed to be - Portuguese and Spaniard perhpas, I do not remember positively.
Q. Describe the size, build, complexion and general appearance of Solomon Bolton?
A. He was a common sized man-rather chunky. He was dark complexioned, some said he was part negro, and some said one thing and some another, but he said he was a Portugese.
Q. Describe the complexion and general appearance of Bolton, the color of his hair, eyes and skin, and then state what race of people he belonged to, to the best of your opinion?
A. Bolton had dark hair-He was common sized man. He had dark skin. I cannot say I have an opinion as to his race. It was talked in the neighborhood that he was part negro, but he claimed he was Portugese.Judge Lewis Shepherd won this case and it was upheld on appeal. Shepherd, when telling the story 'of his clients' he wrote;
- In truth, these people belonged to a peculiar race which settled in East Tennessee at an early day and in the vernacular of that country, they were known as “Melungeons,
Many of these families living on the Pee Dee River in 1754 when they were identified as '50 mixt families' by the Militia had removed from Chippoakes Creek in Charles City/Surry County, Virginia. The Ivey, Collins, Gibson, Goins, Sweat, Chavis etc., are all found on Chippoakes Creek, Indian traders, trappers, packmen etc. The Core family of Gibsons, Melungeons of Newman's Ridge are kin to the Gibsons of the Pee Dee, proven by DNA.
- South Carolina had a law taxing free Negroes so much per capita, and a determined effort was made to collect this of them. But it was shown in evidence on the trial of this case that they always successfully resisted the payment of this tax, as they proved that they were not Negroes. Because of their treatment, they left South Carolina at an early day and wandered across the mountains to Hancock county, East Tennessee; in fact, the majority of the people of that country are “Melungeons,:” or allied to them in some way.
Tobias was born in 1771 to Jordan Gibson and Mary Middleton who lived on the Pee Dee River, brother of Gideon Gibson of the Pee Dee, removed to Natchez in 1781. These two have been confused with the older set of Jordan and Gideon brothers, the Regulator.
“His circuit embraced all the settlements on Watauga, Nollichucky, and Holston Rivers, including those in what is now Greene, Washington, Carter, Johnson, Sullivan, and Hawkins Counties, Tenn., and Washington, Smyth, Russell, and perhaps Scott and Lee Counties, Va., with one or two appointments on the head waters of New River, in Grayson County, Va., and Ashe County, N. C.” (Holston Methodism from 1783 to 1788, p. 94.
These families came over the mountains from South Carolina to East Tennessee, probably the same route the families had taken almost 30 years before on their way to Natchez .
Rev. John G. Jones-1867
...from memory and a few scraps of memoranda, what little I know of these three leading Gibson families. First; the parents of Rev. Randall Gibson came to the Natchez county (as it was then called), about 1781. In order to avoid the hostile Indians in what is now Western Georgia and Eastern Alabama, immigrants from the Carolinas traveled over land to the Holston River in East Tennessee, where they built family boats and descended the Holston and Tennessee Rivers, etc. Randall Gibson was then about fifteen years old, and I have heard him relate this fact in connection with an attack made on their boat by hostile Cherokee Indians.
These Gibsons were in East Tennessee on the Holston before their kinfolk were in Wilkes County. Note Tobias circuit the Watagua, Nolichucky, and Ashe County, formed 1799 from Wilkes. Tobias' cousin John Gibson, Indian trader, son in law of the Chickasaw trader and author of The History of the American Indians was in Wilkes County in 1774 on the tax list of Benjamin Cleveland.
NEXT - The Families of the Pee Dee
Celebrated Melungeon Case - The Petition The Trial The Story & Solomon Bolton