The purpose of this article is to reveal the factual history of the Melungeons using the same records early historians used to locate and Identify the Melungeons. These records establish the beginning of the only settlement of people who were known and called Melungeons 1800-1900. They were identified in court, newspapers and census records as free persons of color and it was common knowledge who some of them were and where they lived. The records included in this article are the only reason we are discussing Melungeons today, because if not for these records in Tennessee no one would have known the Melungeons ever existed. Military, land, tax and court records established the fact that the Melungeons came with and were part of the original pioneer settlers as they moved west. No records have been found calling them Melungeons in all the other places they lived prior to settling on Newman Ridge and Blackwater areas of East Tennessee and adjoining Lee County, Virginia. This gives credence to the old witnesses who said they were given this name by their white neighbors who lived here among them.
Hopefully all who are interested in the Melungeons will read this and begin their own research. Researching Melungeons from a historical and genealogical standpoint is identical to researching any other family. If you have a Melungeon ancestor, he or she will eventually show up. Also, you do not need to be a Melungeon descendant to research Melungeons. Some of the early authors of Melungeon books and magazines were non Melungeon descendants, such as William Warden, Henry Price, Bonnie Ball, and Jean Patterson Bible, just to name a few. Other researchers who are not Melungeon descendants believe they share Melungeon ethnicity and culture.
The Gowen Research Foundation formed the first organized Melungeon Research team in 1990, headed by Evelyn McKinley Orr. As a member of this team we examined old and new theories on the Melungeons. Ruth Johnson’s article in Vol 2, 1990 Gowen Newsletter “Proud to be a Melungeon” detailed where the historical Melungeons were located. Evelyn Orr’s Article July 1994 on her distant grandfather seemed to be the spark that ignited the Turkey theory “Was David Goings A Turkish Melungeon?” “Research Find Offers Portuguese Angolans as Melungeon link” was written by the editor Arlee Gowen in the Jan 1999. Almost all the old theories were examined and discussed by this research team. A valuable collection of family history and genealogy was gathered during this time, but no mystery concerning the Melungeons was solved. This little bit of history is to show the part this organization played in Melungeon research and reunions held by the Gowen foundation.
The Gowen Research Foundation Newsletter May 1997 in an article written by Dr. Charles K. Stallard, announced that Melungeon researchers convened to form the first family meeting, “but referred to as First Union. “ The event will be held in the heart of Melungeon country in the town of Wise, Virginia on July 25, 26 and 27” This was the beginning of the Melungeon Heritage Association at Wise.
Surfing the Internet for the last few months and visiting Melungeon web sites, Rootsweb message boards etc., and reading the various definitions on the Melungeons, I am convinced that the Melungeons historical identity has been distorted. Researchers who insist upon historical documentation to identify the Melungeons are accused of using propaganda to promote their definition of who the Melungeons were. I'm sure you have seen the following quote on various websites."
“One can always define the word Melungeon to mean only the residents of one particular ridge -- this is common propaganda technique known as "victory by definition"
Notice that the person and or persons who make these statements always use the word Melungeon. Where did they get this word? Was it not the same word originally given to those residents of that one particular ridge mentioned? This statement is pure propaganda used to support their version of who the Melungeons were. My challenge to such statements is to ask the proponents of this new Melungeon definition to present a written document that predates the old ones named in this study. Which begs this question, who was the old historians and authors who visited and wrote about these recently created “Melungeons”? Comparable documents to the ones I will use in this study should be presented, if they exist.
Also, lost in theories and broad definitions is the history of several other clans because the use of "Melungeon" as a generic term ignores the history of the Melungeons, and the history and traditions of each of the groups that existed in our history as mapped by Dr. Edward T. Price in 1950. The Lumbee have been known by many names, including Croatan, "The Cherokee Indians of Robeson County," and "The Siouan Indians of the Lumber River." Outsiders never called this group of people “Melungeon,” nor did they call themselves Melungeon on any records I have seen. The Jackson Whites of NJ/NY, the Guineas of West Virginia and the Brass Ankles of South Carolina, the Ramps of the Fort Blackmore and Dungannon in Scott County, Virginia all may be genetically related to the Melungeons, but all have entirely different histories, and traditions. There was a Goins family who testified in Superior Court in North Carolina in 1915 that they did not call themselves Croatians but Melungeons. It’s very possible this Goins family migrated to NC from Tennessee because the Croatans were never called Melungeons and they also wanted to change their name because people where calling them Cro.
This word was used for almost 100 years before it made our dictionaries. The Melungeons were first defined in a dictionary in 1892. "One of a very dark people living in the Mountains of Tennessee. By Dr. Isaac K. Funk. New Standard dictionary of the English Language, p 1548. (The Portuguese Making of America" by Manuel Mira, page 25). Let us examine the records and see why this dictionary definition is still correct today.
Everything I know had a beginning as described in Genesis, “In the beginning was.” What was the beginning date of the Melungeons? The main body of the people who came to be known as Melungeon lived in Louisa County, Virginia and started their migration in late 1740’s to the Flat River area of Granville County which became Orange County, NC in 1753. They left this area beginning in 1767 and set out for the backwoods sections of Virginia and NC on the New River. From there they came down the Clinch River, some stopped at Fort Blackmore for a few years but most of them came on to Hawkins County, TN in 1790’s.
The original line between North Carolina and Virginia was changed in 1779-80 throwing a large settlement who had considered themselves to be in Virginia into North Carolina. Tennessee was part of North Carolina until it ceded to the United States in 1789. It was then known as the Southwest Territory until admitted to the Union in 1796. North Carolina issued and perfected entries to the land in question until 10 years after Tennessee came into being (Overton’s Tennessee reports, Vol. 2)
The first U.S. census was conducted in 1790. Under the law the census takers were required to list the number of inhabitants within their respective districts, omitting Indians not taxed, and separating free persons from all others, also, the sex and color of all free persons. Tennessee, then known as the Southwest territory was included. The schedules have been lost and only the totals are known. The territory had a population of 35, 691 persons, 6,271 free white males 21 years and upward, 10, 277 free males under 21, -15, 365 free white females, - 3, 417 slaves, and 361 other free persons. Historians believe most of these people were living in East Tennessee. Other free person enumerated in this census confirms that a free settlement of non-whites, a dark skin race or colony of people was living in East Tennessee. (Vanishing Colony Of Newman Ridge, Henry Price)
By 1810 it was certain that a colony of dark-skinned people inhabited the ridge land and valleys near the Clinch River in what is today Hancock County, TN., but was part of Hawkins County until 1844. The 1810 Hawkins County Tax list for Puncheon Camp Valley included; Benjamin Collins, Vardemon Collins, James Collins, Henry Collins, Jordan Gibson, Obedah Goodman, Jordan Goodman, John Fields, Yearby Gibson, Shepard Gibson, Charles Gibson, Tiry Gibson, Royal Gibson, Valenting Collins, and Jesse Gibson. Most of these were related families who can be found on previous tax and land records with the notation “mulatto, or free person of color.”
The national census for the year 1820 proves that other free persons on the 1790 census definitely meant “Free Persons of Color” and Hawkins County for that year showed 310 free persons of color.
In comparison the 1820 Census of Scott County, Virginia, list 8 free colored males and 5 females for a total of 13, only three of these were from the Stony Creek Fort Blackmore area. This combined with the 1830 census show that almost all the Melungeons on Stony Creek moved to Hawkins County, or others areas by 1830.
The 1830 Hawkins County census showed the number had grown to 331 Free Persons Of Color. In order to save space I will only use the last names of these FPC families. 3- Bowlin, families, 15 Collins families, 13 Gibson families, 2 Goins families, 1 Goodman family, 2 Minor Families, 2 Moore families, 2 Mullins families, and one family each of the following Mosley, Nichols, and Williams.
The 1830 census of adjoining Lee County, Virginia shows 5 families enumerated as free persons of color 1- Collins, 1 Culliah? 1-Swan, and 1- Thomas. Most of the first Melungeons settlers in Lee County had already moved to Hawkins County by 1830. One of the more famous ones was Sheppard Gibson.
The 1830 census of Scott County, Virginia also shows an increase from 13 to 27 free colored. These Lee and Scott County census covers the area that became Wise County formed in 1856 from the eastern part of Lee.
Hawkins County Historian Henry Price, Vanishing Colony of Newman's Ridge, used this method of locating and identifying the Melungeons in census and tax records. Will T. Hale History of Tennessee and Tennesseans” page 180 concurs, “In the census taken in 1795 the Melungeon must have been with the 973 free persons of color.”
Dr. Edward T. Price Geographical Review, Vol, 41, No 2, April 1951, P. 141 writes “The Melungeons reached Newman Ridge and Blackwater Valley (in Hancock County) among the first settlers, apparently in the 1790’s. Price called these groups he mapped social isolates. Some of his explanations, or descriptions were: 1-The people must be racial mixtures of white and non-white groups, Indian and or Negro 2-they must have a social status differing from that accorded whites, Indians or Negroes in the area in such a way as to throw them generally together in their more personal relationships; 3- they must exist in such numbers and concentration as to be recognized in their locality as such a group and be identified by a distinguishing group name, some of those named and mapped included the Melungeons. Historically, the term "Melungeon" referred to families in Hancock County, Tennessee and a few in neighboring Lee and Scott Counties Virginia.
Will Allen Dromgool wrote in her article The Malungeons Boston Arena, May 1891 that John Sevier encountered the Melungeons while attempting to organize the state of Franklin (1784). She wrote they called themselves Malungeons and claimed to Portuguese. No such letter has been found written by Sevier, but John Sevier did encounter them in fact he stayed all night with a Gibson on Friday Nov 26, 1802, although this Gibson’s first name was not revealed, but according to the location described this person was most likely a Melungeon Gibson which gives credence that John Sevier may have written a similar letter with the correct date being after 1802.
Excerpts from the diary of John Sevier * note* additions by this author Mon. Nov. 1802 Mr. Fish went on to Hawkins C. H. Self and Genl. Rutledge crossed Clinch (?) Mountain at Loonys Gap (?) traveled down lower creek to Abs. Loonys (*Absolem Looney)came up with the surveyors at Daws (*Doswell) Rogers plantation. The line crossing at Waddels ford on Clinch River near mouth of Shelby’s creek one mile above - lay there all night. Mr. Fish retd. brought with him $50 Recd from Nelson sheriff of Hawkins out of which I received 18 dollars.... Wed. 24 Lay here this day & night Genl. Martin & Majr. Taylor arrived. Thur. 25 Rained Lay at Robers Fry. 26 Clear day. We all sit out from Robert's crossed Newman's Ridge& lodged all night on black water creek at Gibsons...Mssrs. Fish and Taylor left us. Sat. 27 We st Y Crossed Powells mountain and lodged at Sanders mill 7 miles...Left the surveyors coming on from Blackwater. On our route today passed Daniel Flanarys on No. side of mulbery Gap. Mulbery creek runs down into Powels River between Powels Mountain and Waldens Ridge. Sun. 28 We measured the Cross line and found our course on quarter too far to the So - Lodged at same place. ( From microfilm, Tennessee State Library and Archives. [Sevier Family Papers, 1790-1822) Available at the McClung Museum ( From microfilm,Tennessee State Library and Archives courtesy Joanne Pezzullo)
Looney’s Gap was the main road from Rogersville, Tennessee across Clinch Mountain and on to the Grainger County Line; it began in what is today Stanley Valley near Fishers Creek. The route Sevier took to cross Newman's Ridge and Powell Mountain to Mulberry Creek would be on the east side of Sneedville and west end of Vardy. The location of the old road from Sneedville to Blackwater Creek was a gap in the ridge and this gap can be seen today. At the foothill of said gap was Vardy Springs, where Vardy’s boarding house would eventually be located near the spring and Blackwater Creek. They stayed near this location at a Gibson’s, and then went across Powell Mountain to Mulberry Gap; this is probably near the same road today. Then notice the route taken on Sat 27 Daniel Flanery may be the area marked on today’s map as Flannery’s Ford on Powell River. This was probably a survey of Hawkins County since the Hawkins County Sheriff Nelson gave them $50. This area in Mulberry Gap, extending to and including land on the North side of Powell River was in Hawkins and adjoining Grainger County, Tennessee. A Flannery’s Ford on Powell River can be located today on a map. It’s north of Mulberry Creek on the Powell River and west of Jonesville in Lee County, Virginia.
On April 8, 1780 North Carolina issued a land certificate to James Gaines who assigned 150 acres to John Wolfe. Who assigned 110 acres to Vardiman Collins. Vardy obtained a Newman Ridge Grant from Tennessee on Nov 5, 1811 and registered it on Oct 9, 1816, the date of the Wolfe assignment to Collins is unknown. (Location/description. On Blackwater Creek between Newman Ridge and Powells’ mountain Being corner of his occupant survey then with Humphery & Johnson line north to Morning Gibsons entry.)
North Carolina also issued a similar Grant to Henry Grimes on August 7, 1784. Grimes like Wolf, did not occupy the land but assigned the certificate to Shepard Gibson, who obtained a Tennessee Grant in 1814. (Location. On the North side of Clinch Mountain on Blackwater Creek beginning on a cond line between Benj Collins and said Gibson then extends into Lee County, Virginia ) The 1810 Tax list of Hawkins County included Vardy Collins and Shep Gibson. They were likely living on this land before they obtained a Tennessee Grants, they were likely here in 1802, and other Gibson’s were also in this area:
"Rheubin Gipson for persevering wickedness such as cursing and swearing and getting drunk is excluded from membership of this Church-he lives at blackwater congregation and has received a letter from this church and keeps it and has joined another church. (Sept 22,1804 Minutes of Stony Creek Church)
Although Reubin Gibson was on the 1802 Tax list of Russell County, VA and a member of the Stony Creek Church he may have moved to the Blackwater area in the summer of 1802. Reubin could be the Gibson where Sevier and his party stayed on Sept 26, 1802. Sevier probably knew him because a Reubin Gibson signed the petition to form the State of Franklin and from my research I believe he is the same person and was probably a son of Thomas and Mary Gibson Sr.
Thomas Bledsoe was stationed at Fort Blackmore [1779-80] as an Indian scout during the Revolutionary War; he names Sevier as one of his commanding officers. This places Sevier at the location where Lewis Jarvis places the Friendly Indians who became the Melungeons and this also suggests that Sevier knew the Friendly Indians.
(Note; This south fork of Blackwater Crk begins in Snake Hollow and runs through Vardy in Hancock County, Tennessee to the Virginia line. The north fork begins in the valley between Stone Ridge and Powell Mountain in Lee County, Virginia, These two creeks, the south fork and north fork comes together in Blackwater, Lee County, Va. Then flows down through Hancock County where it empties into the Clinch River about 2 mile west of Kyles Ford,TN. The original Blackwater Church was located on this section of Blackwater Creek near Kyles Ford in Hancock County, TN. Newman Ridge extends about 28 miles, if one starts below Sneedville and travels past Kyle’s Ford to Flower Gap in Lee County, Virginia, so this Newman Ridge Blackwater Area includes almost all the land boundary of Hancock County that lays on the north side of the Clinch River.
These census and tax records combined with other records such as the testimony from men who lived in this time period and knew the Melungeons. Dr. Swan Burnett (describes the Melungeons Oct 1889 in American Anthropologist) Judge Lewis Shepard and Attorney Lewis M. Jarvis, not only do these records prove where the Melungeons were located; some also name the heads of these families in Hawkins County. We know by land and tax records that the vast majority of these FPC were living in the Blackwater area of Tennessee. This fact found on censuses, land and tax records and is affirmed by Attorney Lewis M. Jarvis born 1828 who lived in the area and was probably acquainted with Vardy Collins and several other known Melungeons. He gives the history and migration of the Melungeons in an interview with the Sneedville, Tennessee Times in 1903;
“They have been derisively dubbed with the name Melungeon by the local white people who lived here among them. The Melungeons were the friendly Indians who came with the whites around 1795, they came from the Cumberland and the New River stopping at various points west of Blue Ridge some stopped on Stony Creek, where Stony Creek empties into the Clinch River.” He names the following Vardy Collins, Shepard Gibson Benjamin Collins, Solomon Collins, Paul Bunch and the Goodman chiefs, and the rest of them settled here in 1804 he also names these who were in the war of 1812-14, James Collins, John Bolin and Mike Bolin who were quite full blooded and some others not remembered.” (Jarvis interview 1903 Sneedville Times.)
Backtracking the Melungeons using church, tax, land and military records proves Jarvis stated migration pattern is correct. Not only do tax records from the lower district of Russell County, Virginia list these families they were also recorded in the Stony Creek Church minutes, in 1813 which also shows the movements of these people as they traveled back and forth from Stony Creek Church to the Blackwater Church in Hawkins County, Tennessee. The exact date this name Melungeon was given to these former church members is unknown. Perhaps the former church members who migrated first to Hawkins County beginning 1802 were given this name because these ladies were using the word and the church clerk recorded it which suggest the people labeled Melungeon had already been given this name by 1813. Some of the people who became know as Melungeons joined the Stony Creek Church at Fort Blackmore, Virginia beginning in 1801.
At this time Fort Blackmore and the Stony Creek area were in the lower district of Russell County, Virginia. The 1802 tax list enumerated them with number of tithes; Valentine Collins 1, Charles Gibson 1, David Gibson 1, James Gibson 2, James Gibson 0, Martin Gibson 1, Molly Gibson 2, Rubin Gibson 1, Samuel Gibson 1, Sharud Gibson 1, Thomas Gibson 1, William Gibson 1, Willis Gibson 1, Benjamin Bolen 1, William Bolin 1. (Virginia State Library and archives)
Since there is no written record of this word Melungeon in the places of their birth such as Louisa County, VA, or in the places they lived prior to settling in East Tennessee, one must assume the statement by Attorney Lewis Jarvis is correct they were dubbed Melungeon by their white neighbors who lived here among them. This statement is also in agreement with others in that generation and suggests the name was given to them here. This would place the time this name was applied to them between the date of their migration 1790’s and 1813 when the word was first found in writing in the 1813 minutes of Stony Creek Church and Jarvis plainly states they were the Friendly Indian who helped build Fort Blackmore. The church clerk spelled it “Melungin.” A lady in the church accused another lady of housing the Melungeons, This accusation is factual evidence they were applying this word to a person, or persons and it suggest that person being housed may not have been living in the area.
What makes this name so unique is the first 3 times it can be found in writing it is spelled differently 1- Melungin 2- Malungeon 3- Melungeon. And almost every time it was used in a derogatory manner. Another reason researchers have studied them so thoroughly is because of the mystery of the word itself. No one knows for sure the true definition of this word, but it was first applied to a group of pioneer settlers who settled in the mountains of East Tennessee and adjoining Blackwater area of Lee County Virginia beginning in the 1790’s.
This word was used in political campaigns in Tennessee, one candidate accusing the other of being a Melungeon. Notice the spelling is different and is the second time this word has been found in writing. “We have just learned, upon undoubted authority, that General Combs, in his attempt to address the citizens of Sullivan County, on yesterday, was insulted contradicted repeatedly, limited to one hour and a half and most shamefully treated, and withal an effort was made, to get an impudent Melungeon from Washington City, a scoundrel who is half Negro and half Indian, and who has actually been speaking in Sullivan, in reply to Combs! General Combs, however, declined the honor of contending with Negroes and Indians -said he had fought against the later, but never met them in debate! This is the party, reader, who are opposed to the gag law, and to Abolition! Bigotry and democracy in Sullivan county, well knowing that their days on earth are numbered, are rolling together their clouds of blackness and darkness, in the person of a free Negro with forlorn hope of obscuring the light that is beaming in glory and gladness, upon this country, through the able and eloquent speeches of Whig orators. David Shaver replied to Gen. Combs, we are informed. This is the same Davy, Mr. Netherland gave an account of, some time since, and who, and Col. James gave us the history of, in an address, at our late Convention. When Davy had finished, the big Democratic Negro came forward, and entertained the brethren. These two last speakers were an interesting pair!” (Jonesboro Whig Oct 7, 1840)
We know by the available land and tax records that several who may have been called Melungeon in the early census records of Hawkins County migrated to other places in Tennessee and the use of the word Graysville Melungeons, and a few newspaper articles suggesting other similar groups, some of these may be genetically related, but no one can show a record that they were called Melungeons. Many of the ones who were known as Melungeons also moved away. One was Matilda Gibson widow of Shepard “Buck” Gibson. After Buck died, Matilda migrated with the youngest children to Kentucky, a descendant from this group has traced her family back to Newman Ridge and ole Buck Gibson and was surprised when she discovered her forbearers were part of a legend and were called Melungeon.
The Gibson’s in Magoffin County, Kentucky were called Brown People, etc., while their blood relatives in Highland Co. were called Carmel Indians and their blood relatives in Morgan County were called nothing. Also, the Coles and Nickells are descendants of Valentine Collins. They migrated to Floyd/Morgan/Magoffin Counties, in Kentucky-Valentine Collins had 26 people in his household in 1820, half probably his daughter [Biddy] and William Cole and family. They live next door in 1830, both with 13 people in the family.(courtesy Joanne Pezzullo)
Oliver Goins, born 1848 in Hancock County, Tennessee and a grandson of Zephaniah Goins migrated to Harlan County KY and married Rebecca Cole. Some from this Cole family claim to be part Indian. Some of these were original Melungeons and others were descendants of the Melungeons. No written records have been found where any of these families were called Melungeons in the areas they migrated to, which is very good evidence this name was given to their forbearers as stated in writing by the old witnesses.
I do not condone nor subscribe to any theory or position that separates any group of human beings from any other group, but the written records is not a theory and they do separate the historical Melungeon. They cannot be identified by the same methods as other Appalachian settlers at this time, although they went to the same churches and schools and fought in the same wars, but they did not enjoy the same freedoms as afforded their white neighbors. They were treated differently and called Melungeon by some of their neighbors. Marriage records reveal Melungeons married into their own related families at twice the rate of whites in this same community. It was their neighbors who dubbed them Melungeons and tried to take their basic rights away.
On 25 Jan 1846 the following Collins were charged for voting in an election, which was held 7th day of August 1845; Solomon, Ezekiel, Levi, Andrew, Wyatt, and Vardy Collins. Also charged were Zachariah Minor and his brother Lewis. These are the head Melungeon families and no doubt the only ones who voted in this election. In fact I have yet to find any known Melungeons who voted before or after this. According to several records, John Netherland defended them which led to a hearing in Circuit Court almost every 6 months beginning in early 1846 and ending in two separate jury trials held in Rogersville on Saturday 29 Jan. 1848 where both juries ruled they were not guilty. If they had been found guilty their land could have also taken, because the charge was: They were free persons of color and had no right to vote or sit on a jury against a white man, this places them as sojourners in land. (Hawkins County Circuit Court records 1842-1848)
Also charged for illegal voting at this same time (Jan. 1846) was James E, Hale, called Esau Hale. His conviction by the grand jury was the same as the Melungeons ‘Not a free white man 21 year of age and thus not being a citizen of the United States and a citizen of the said county where he voted for representative to congress and Governor of said state. Esau Hale pleaded guilty and was fined, he had no personal belongings so was sent to jail and later declared a poor debtor unable to pay and was released from jail. Esau was believed to be a descendant of a freed slave, the 1834 law was directed at them and according to several historians was not directed toward the Melungeons, but these court records establish that the Melungeons were not accepted as equal to free white people they were tried and identified as “Free Persons of Color” and were treated in these court cases the same as a freed slave was treated.
Will Allen Dromgoole misquoting Col. John A. McKinney from Rogersville." said he speaking of free persons of color, It means Malungeons if it means anything, although fleecy locks and black complexion marks everyone in the African race, so long as he remains among the white race, as a person doomed to live in the suburbs of society. ( Last paragraph page 470 and first sentence page 471. The Malungeons Arena May 1891, Will Allen Dromgoole in ) John A Mckinney addressed this issue June 19, 1834 at the convention, which was concerning sending the slaves back to Africa “*Although it may be true that fleecy locks and black complexion do not forfeit natures claims, still it is true that those locks and that complexion mark every one of the African race so long as he remains among white men.” “He is a stranger in the land of his nativity, he is an outcast in the place of his residence.” (Journal of the convention of the State of Tennessee, statement made Tuesday June 19, 1834 (courtesy Konnie Hoover and Betty Griffith) Even more suprising Dromgoole admits Melungeon is not in the records. "So, much, or so little, we glean from the records. From History we get nothing; not so much as the name,--Malungeons." (2nd paragraph page 471. The Malungeons Arena May 1891, Will Allen Dromgoole )
Military records also establish that men who later became known as Melungeons fought in the same wars as their white neighbors. Several were in the battle at Point Pleasant against the Shawnee Indians and the following Pension Applications give their places of birth and the other locations before they came to East Tennessee. One who made this journey from Louisa County, Virginia to Stony Creek at Fort Blackmore and on to Newman Ridge was Charles Gibson. The following Revolutionary War Pension Application draws us a road map of their migration to Newman Ridge. Application R 3995 filed by Charles Gibson applied 19 Jan. 1939 in Hawkins County, Tennessee while living on Newman Ridge and near the age of 100, Charles gives the location of his enlistment as Salisbury North Carolina, and place of birth Louisa County, Virginia. Benjamin Collins, Jonathan Gibson and Jordan Gibson all swore that Charles Gibson was reputed to be a Revolutionary War Soldier in their neighborhood;
“Application S2142 of Lewis Collins -Applied 16 August 1834 in Hawkins County, TN while living in Grainger County TN. First entered the service in 1778 In South Carolina while living on the Broad River there. “Then moved back to New River where my father lived and enlisted there in 1780”. Tax list of Montgomery County, Virginia suggest he was the son of John Collins. At least two of the sons of John Collins Sr. migrated to Hawkins County and Lewis moved on to Grainger County, TN. Note; Lewis Collins was captured at a Rock house on the New River as a Tory, An affidavit of Joseph Collins in the pension application of the widow of Capt. Selethial Martin. ‘Was a young boy when Capt. Martin came to the New River and captured a group of Tories camped at a Rock House on the river, two of those captured were Lewis Collins and David Gibson, I have often heard them tell how they made their escape. Dowell and Edmund Collins applied 17 Feb 1853 as heirs of Lewis Collins.
Joseph Collins married Nancy Collins 1796 in Grayson County, Virginia. Both were still alive and enumerated on the 1850 Census of Grainger County, TN.
The 1810 census of Grainger County, TN records these families: Lewis Collins 10 free colored; Griffin Collins 11 free colored; Joseph Collins 9 free colored; Dowel Collins 5 free colored. Lewis Collins brother John remained in Hawkins County, so it is up to family researchers to trace their blood lines some from the same families may have been recognized as Melungeons, while others may have been recognized as Cherokee, etc, etc.
Application of James Moore (S1705) enlisted in Surry county, NC later moved to Hawkins County, Tennessee and applied for his pension, Note: James Moore was enumerated on the 1830 census of Hawkins County, TN as free-colored living among the Collins and Gibson’s. Vardy Collins testified that James Moore was reputed to be a Revolutionary War Soldier in their neighborhood.
Zephaniah Goins application (R4165) Applied in Hawkins County in 1834 and was a member of the Blackwater Baptist Church where several from Stony Creek Church moved their membership to. This area is known today as Kyle’s Ford, Hancock County, Tennessee. All these old soldiers listed above were enumerated as FPC on the 1830 Federal Census. Several from these families, who became known as the Melungeons, migrated to different areas while living in Orange County, NC and then around the New River areas in Virginia and adjoining NC, and some were left behind.
Many of these sons and daughters of the people who became known in history as the Melungeons lost their identity through intermarriages with their white neighbors and the job of finding and locating these families can only be done through family genealogy. Some of these may have mixed with Indian tribes and lived among them. The main body of the ones who became known as Melungeons and carrying Melungeon traits fall into a basic family name grouping which includes Boulden, also spelled Bowlin, Bolen, Bowling, and Bolton, Bunch, Collins, also Collens and Colins, Fields, Gibson, Gipson, Goins also spelled Goen, Goan, Going, Minor, Mullins, Williams, Nichols. Of course by reason of several generations of intermarriage with neighboring white settlers, many other names are blood related to the Historical Melungeons.
Some migrated to other areas and states, etc but their identity can only be determined through research. For example there was one Goins family who migrated to Hawkins County at the same time as the Melungeons families and they were not Melungeons, a family member has documented this family of Goins. They moved on to Indiana before 1830 and no connection to any Melungeon family has been found.
In my Melungeon research I used the oral testimony of several descendants of the historical Melungeon including some who were in William L. Warden’s 1947 Saturday Evening Post article; “Sons of The Legend.” and some of those interviewed did not realize at that time they were considered the Melungeon descendants the author was seeking,
There was a large exodus of people from Hancock County to neighboring Kentucky and Virginia when the coal mines opened and eventually as Henry Price described this: “Their identity has been diluted by generations of intermarriage with outsiders and the lure of better jobs in neighboring towns and states has brought about a general exodus from Hancock County”. At the time Henry Price wrote this Newspaper and magazine articles also point to the fact. that it was common knowledge where the Melungeons were located in 1969-70, and who some of them were.
In late 1960’s they organized an outdoor drama. This was a period of excitement for the Melungeon descendants and the town of Sneedville. “The Melungeons are coming out in the open Drama pondered to raise their name ‘From Shame To The Hall Of Fame in Hancock County, by Shirley Price Times-News Rogersville Bureau. Sunday January 28, 1968” SNEEDVILLE- “sure I’m a Melungeon and proud of it.” Probably for the first time in history, this group of East Tennessee mountain-folk whose history and origin is steeped in legend and mystery.
Heretofore, Melungeons was a fighting word in Hancock County and even in adjoining Hawkins County; you just don’t ask a fellow if he is a Melungeon North of Sneedville, high on a mountain known as Newman’s Ridge, this group of people have lived and survived in what some would call primitive conditions. Their poverty and lack of education has been a product of their isolation -from the worlds outside Hancock County, and more or less from their neighbors in the county itself. Although the drama committee has not decided definitely, possibilities are that the drama will be based on Jesse Stuart’s book “daughter of the legend”.
I attended this drama, entitled “Walk Toward the Sunset” in the first year of it’s showing. This was a powerful story of how the whites drove the Melungeons from the bottomlands to the ridges. It was so powerful that some folks believed they were driven to the ridge land. Most of the old farms have now gone back to the wilderness state as seen by the original settlers.
Melungeons Remain Tennessee‘s Mystery Louisville Courier-Journal by Woodson December 1, 1940- High on the Ridges of Hancock County in East Tennessee, 30 miles south of Middlesboro Kentucky lives a race of strange people whose origin is a matter of conjecture for decades remains a mystery.
Mentioned often by the Tennessee Mountaineers as “sons of perdition” the Melungeons were once ferocious fighters whose rampages into the lowlands infuriated early Scotch- Irish settlers of the Volunteer state and led to many bloody battles. But, that was back in the days when Tennessee was a struggling Western State. The years have changed these dark mountain folk, who insist they are of Portuguese origin into a peaceful but aloof group. They still live in the Cumberland’s but many have drifter out in quest of more abundant livings.
While historians and students of folklore differ widely in their theories of the Melungeons origin, there are many who believe in the Portuguese theory. One member of the race summed up the Melungeons belief when, after feeling the glow of his Saturday portion of corn whiskey, he told James Aswell of the Tennessee W.P.A writers’ project: We come from Portugal. It was a long time ago, but we come from Portugal and were Portuguese. We come in a boat and it was bigger, heaps bigger, than airy ferryboat ever you saw. It was big and they run it with sails all across the water. When the boat came to Land some sort of hardness sprung up betwixt the sailormen and their bosses. Don’t know what it was but the sailormen killed the boss men and set fire to the boat and burned it plum down. So here they were with no way to get back home, so they hunted themselves up an injun town and they run the injun men off into the woods and married up with the injun women. And they later crossed over into Tennessee.” However the early settlers took little stock in this story. Instead they believed the dark hill people to be a mixture of white renegades, runaway Negro slaves, and Indians.
One writer J. Patton Gibson of Sneedville Tenn. Says, “Perhaps these people are the descendants of some ancient Phoenicians who moved from Carthage and settled in Morocco, later coming to South Carolina and from there to Hancock County, Tennessee.” The late Judge Lewis Sheppard of Chattanooga ascribed to this theory, who after years of research was convinced the Melungeons stemmed from a colony of Phoenicians.(Louisville Courier-Journal)
Walter A. Plecker used this history to try and locate Melungeon descendants who had migrated to Virginia.
August 5, 1942, to Secretary of State,Nashville, TN 2nd paragraph: "We have some of the counties of southwestern Virginia a number of so-called Melungeons who came into that section from Newman Ridge, Hancock County, Tennessee who are classified by us as of Negro origin though they make various claims, such as Portuguese, Indians, etc." Even being found not guilty in court was not enough to stop MD Walter A. Plecker, State Registrar Commonwealth of Virginia.
August 20, 1942 Mrs. John Trotwood Moors, State Librarian, Nashville, Tennessee. In this letter Plecker argues with Mrs. Moore that the Melungeons were Negro after she explained the case involving Judge Shepard where he said they were Phoenician descent he names some of the families he believe are now in Virginia.3rd paragraph “ Listing all Capt Jarvis gave we find also Zachariah Minor, probably the head of the family in which we are especially interested at this time. We find also the names of James Moore, two families by this name. And Jordan and Edmund Goodman. In the list for Grainger county we find at least 12 Collins and Collins heads of families. W.A. Plecker M.D.
Walter Plecker Letter Regarding Melungeon August 5, 1942 Secretary of State, Nashville, Tennessee.
Gene testing: Also described by William S. Pollistzer & William H. Brown, Reprinted by human Biology, Sept. 1969, Vol. 41, no 3.) The term “Melungeon” has been applied for more than a century to a people of uncertain origin and distinctive features who inhabit the Appalachian Mountains where eastern Tennessee and western Virginia join. p389)
A sampling of Melungeons was obtained through the cooperation of a local physician who invited them to participate in a health study in his clinic. In 1990 James L. Guthrie using data from the blood samples taken by Pollistzer and Brown. The Melungeon Fy 3 is closest to those people now living in coastal Europe. North Africa, the Mediterranean Islands, and to central populations of Arabia, India, Africa. Dr. James Guthrie's also did a study using this blood and his 1990 gene frequency study was published in the Tennessee Anthropologist.
Four of the closest matches to Melungeons, a perfect match would be 0.000 Libya (Tripoli*) 0.017 Cyprus (Troodos-Greek) 0.017 Malta* 0.018 Canary Island Spanish 0.019 *The Arab/Berber (Moorish) component of the Spanish/Portuguee of today.
Dr. A.F. Gallegos statement that it is equally important to support gene frequency studies with historical, culture, linguistic, and archaelogical information which might be obtained from the Melungeon group may also be good advice concerning the recent DNA study.(Page 79 The Spanish Pioneers in U.S.A , The Melungeons, by Eloy Gallegos )
This Wise DNA program gained national attention when it made the U, S. News & World Report in the Special Double Issue July 24-31, 2000. " We feel like we are a mix of everything, but that the Mediterranean component was undoubtedly there. So Kennedy and about 100 other people have given hair samples for mitochondria DNA analysis. But DNA has its limits. Mitochondrial DNA reflects only the maternal line, so if the Turkish adventures that Kennedy seeks were all men there would be no trace of them in the mitochondrial record. Indeed when it comes to history, human belief still trumps genes. Brent Kennedy says even if DNA evidence fails to support his Mediterranean hypothesis, he will continue his mission to rehabilitate Melungeon Identity.” The above are exact quotes from the article “Haven’t got a Clue Maybe DNA Will Do” in (U.S. News & World Report: July 2000; author Nancy Shute.)
This author was present at both of Dr. Kevin Jones presentations on his findings at 4th Union held in Kingsport, TN on June 21, 2002, which included some of the following conclusions by Dr. Jones.
1-Brent Kennedy collected many of the DNA samples, others were sent in to the Doctor.
2-Melungeons are a self-defining population.
3-Female lines done locally, compared to the worldwide gene data bank.
4-There was a smaller sample of Y-Male DNA done.
5-There were about 100 female line mtDNA samples tested. ** Part of what was found in the test results, but not necessarily in this order.
6--The Eurasian component dominates 8=Eurasian 90% including about 7% north India, Turkish and Syrian 9=Native American 5% 10=African American 5%Melungeons reflect a Multi-Racial mixed ancestry.
Exotic= 4 Siddi and 2 Turkish plus 1 Syrian.
First I want to plainly state I am not a scientist and I am not disagreeing with the DNA test results as listed above and presented by Dr. Kevin Jones. His statement that Brent Kennedy collected most of the DNA samples, but others were sent in to the doctor is troubling regarding both their definitions of the Melungeons. I do agree with Dr. Jones statement that these test do not prove or eliminate theories on who the Melungeons were.
I became involved in this DNA project when I was ask by Brent Kennedy to give a hair sample at the Melungeon union in the spring of 2000. My involvement in this including assisting Brent Kennedy in collecting some of these samples and the many discussions and exchanges I had with him regarding this DNA project, convinced me that this project had many errors and was not necessarily about Melungeon history. I was told one of the goals was to see if the Coburn/Wise group were related to the Newman Ridge group. I have no problem with a suggestion that various groups may have sprung from the Melungeons, or anyone who claims to be a Melungeon descendant or blood related. I enjoy examining theories on the Melungeons, but when it come to a scientific study, we have every right to challenge opinions that cannot be documented by family genealogy and, or history.
Listed below are some of my own opinions formed from this above stated involvement.
#1-Were the ones selected to give a mtDNA sample questioned to see if their maternal line was Melungeon? The small majority of the ones I know who gave a mtDNA sample their maternal line was not Melungeon.
#2-The one identified Siddi sample did not enter that person's family line until 1850, and tracing this line back to NC no records were found listing this family FPC or mulatto as the Melungeons were listed. Could the other three Siddi DNA results be from this same identified Siddi family?
#3-This was not a Melungeon DNA study as they were defined by historians, but of possible Melungeons descendants. Why did we always hear about the Melungeon DNA study and no mention at all that it was really a study of their possible descendants.
#4-The Melungeons are self Identifying. I believe everyone should have the right to self-identification, but what comes with this right is the obligation to show proof of that identification, this is where family history and genealogy can be used to locate your possible Melungeon ancestors.
#5- I became involved in this DNA study because I have forefathers who are named by historians, one by Walter Plecker in 1942 as Melungeons. They suffered the discrimination that came with this label, so I have an obligation and the determination to seek the truth, especially when it involves science and history.
#6-Reviewing the Melungeon DNA study as a population study, as Kennedy claims it was from day one. The U.S. News article does quote Dr.Kevin Jones “We can see how many maternal lines there are in the population” I don’t know what Jones meant by this statement, or if he actually made this statement. Here is a few Newspaper quotes: - Appalachian ‘Melungeons’ Use DNA Evidence of Exotic Heritage. (“Citizens Tribune, Sunday July 8, 2000,) – “June 20, 2002, Some of the veil of mystery surrounding the mysterious Melungeons was lifted today when the results of a two year DNA study was announced.”
Regarding these two test, mtDNA and Y- Male, neither test will give genetic information about that person paternal grandmother. Jones was quoted as saying he was looking for patterns that existed in the population as a whole and each individual sample contributes to that. He compared these samples to the thousands available through GenBank an international genetic database. How do we know that a similar test done on another southern population that existed for a long time would not give similar results?
Why finding Siddi and Turks in this DNA study may not have been unusual and exotic. Land Grants in Colonial days reveal some of this mix, a vast number of settlers were not English and if the men were here, the women most likely would have been here also. Example: “Tony an EastIndian" and “Tony a Turk” both on page 24. John a "Frenchman" in Lancaster County, 16 June 1662 (Vol 1, p, 437) and "Patrick a Highlander" in Rappahannock County Jan 9, 1662 page 440, "Peter a Frenchman listed with "Ned a Welchman" page 536. Then you have the Celts Ven Cunagky, Morkun Chunaghan, Moragha Donell, Brin Grangrave, Don Grecheare, William Brovek and Teague Neoly just to name a few page 306.and William an Irishman of Nansemond County 5 Oct 1658. (Marion Nugent's Cavaliers and Pioneers)
The tension between the Powhatan cores and the non Indians surrounding them arose from the cultural and physical differences that still persisted. The Powhatan could have met some people from India, for east Indians were occasionally brought to Virginia as slaves. One named Occanouhg, born in Madras,hired himself out to an unscrupulous English ship's captain, who sold him as a slave upon their arrival in England; brought by his "master" to Virginia in 1694, Occanough sued successfully for his freedom in 1707 (Essex County, Orders 3:370,376,379). An East Indian was also implicated, along with a black slave, in a robbery at Gloucester in 1737 (Virginia Gazette (Claiborne) April 22, 1737 reference from Martha McCartney). ).(Pocahonta’s People Helen C. Rountree page 155 courtesy, Penny Ferguson)
These old written records in Tennessee establish the true-recorded identity and history of the Melungeons and they present a challenge to those authors etc., who have identified other groups as Melungeons prior to this group. They should present documented written records that their group was called and recognized as Melungeons in those other places. This history study also establishes the fact that it was once common knowledge where the Melungeons were located and who many of them were. Beginning with the possible John Sevier letter? The 1802 Sevier survey through Melungeon country, The 1813 Stony Creek Church record, the 1846-48 illegal voting trials of the Melungeons.
The 1872 trial where Judge Lewis Shepard, who was then a struggling young lawyer, had a large volume of proof including depositions tending to show that the Boltons were not Black but Melungeons from East Tennessee and that their ancestry went back to ancient Carthage. The Chancellor accepted this theory and young Betsy, then 15 years old, inherited her fathers fortune” (S.L. Shepard: Memoirs of Judge Lewis Shepard Chattanooga, Tennessee Ca, 1914. Also, on page 88 he wrote “The term Melungeon is an East Tennessee provincialism; it was coined by the people of that county to apply to these people”) Dr. Swan Burnett” They deeply resent the name Melungeon given to them by the whites, but proudly call themselves Portuguee” (The Melungeons Oct 1889 in American Anthropologist), Also Will Allen Dromgoole visit to Newman Ridge in 1890, Attorney Lewis Jarvis 1903 interview with the Sneedville Times, Jesse Stewart's fiction “Daughter of the Legend”, the 1947 Saturday Evening Post, “Sons of The Legend” by William L. Warden, and the outdoor drama; Walk Toward the Sunset in the 1970s, every magazine, newspaper reporter and historian have come to the Newman Ridge area to study the Melungeons. I have not located a single old newspaper or Magazine story where another group was called Melungeon.
I can say by the preponderance of the evidence that the Melungeons were; "One of a very dark people living in the Mountains of Tennessee", as first defined in a dictionary in 1892 by Dr. Isaac K. Funk, and nothing has been found to change this historical fact. But we should continue researching and who knows maybe someday, someone will discover an old record that may prove some of this history is in error.
Jack Goins ©2003
For Melungeon Research Historical Melungeons
Below are several interesting DNA sites.
Mitochondrial DNA Concordance Table of Contents
Allele Frequencies in the European Y-STR database
Y-STR Haplotype Reference Database for U.S. Population
Genotype Profiles for Six Population Groups at the 13 CODIS Short Tande
Y Chromosomes Traveling South: The Cohen Modal Haplotype and the Origins of the Lemba the "Black Jews of Southern Africa
Try this site for U.S. Census