Walter Plecker



I believe in today’s day and age it is not only disturbing but shocking that the paper genocide of the Virginia Indians which began with Walter Ashby Plecker is being resurrected via the internet. Plecker who was head of the Virginia Registrar’s Offiice for thirty four years believed there were no true Indians left as they all had been ’tainted’ by the African blood. There are some who apparently believe that Walter Plecker was appointed by the Governor of Virginia and therefore simply doing his job but this is ridiculous when one reads the many letters he wrote, the many threats of imprisonment to doctors, nurses, midwifes and clergy and his many speeches. In 2004 STYLE WEEKLY published an article; The Black & White World of Walter Plecker (1) and wrote;

“In 1932, Plecker gave a keynote speech at the Third International Conference on Eugenics in New York. Among those in attendance was Ernst Rudin of Germany who, 11 months later, would help write Hitler's eugenics law.

In 1935, Plecker wrote to Walter Gross, the director of Germany's Bureau of Human Betterment and Eugenics. He outlined Virginia's racial purity laws and asked to be put on a mailing list for bulletins from Gross' department. Plecker complimented the Third Reich for sterilizing 600 children in Algeria who were born to German women and black men. "I hope this work is complete and not one has been missed," he wrote. "I sometimes regret that we have not the authority to put some measures in practice in Virginia."

Plecker’s work appears to be gaining strength by adopting the idea that the ‘one drop’ of African blood invalidates any claim to Native American ancestry. In other words if there is any trace of African ancestry they are no longer “Indians” but become Free African Americans. When the Native tribes mixed with the English they certainly did not become English and no one called them whites nor when they mixed with the French, Germans, etc. They were still ‘called’ Indians.

There are many Cherokee living on Cherokee lands in Oklahoma that probably have more ‘white’ blood than these so called ‘Free African Americans’ yet they are, and always have been, called Native American Indians. Not so with the Virginia and Carolina Indians, even the remote possibility of ‘one drop’ and they are stripped of their heritage.

Although these online records contain numerous qualifiers (2) there is no doubt the ‘African American’ ancestry will be passed down for many generations and the Native American ancestry will be written out of their history.


(1)  Style Weekly

(2)  Qualifiers are often necessary, such as when your evidence or your claim is open to doubt. In such cases, using a qualifier allows you to present your findings with what we can call "confident uncertainty," which reflects a need to be cautious and critical about the data you're presenting. Sometimes you may be required to present your ideas before you have had a chance to fully interpret your research findings. At other times, you may want to remind readers of the limitations of your particular research. UNC EDU


Walter Plecker Letters

A Series of Letters Relating to The Melungeons of Newman's Ridge

Commonwealth of Virginia
Bureau of Vital Statistics
State Department of Health
Richmond, VA

December 26, 1929
William T. Adcock
Amherst Virginia.
Dear William:
I received your letter of October 30th 1929 in which you say that "We have decided to lose the last drop of blood we have in us before we will be classed as colored".

In order to know upon what grounds you considered yourself white, I wrote to you twice asking you to tell us who was your mother and who was her mother. You did not reply to either letter as we certainly expected you to do if you are attempting to maintain that they are white. I did not however ask you that because we did not know but simply to see what you would say.

The old birth records which we have, made by the Commissioners of the Revenue as they visited the homes of the people to assess them for taxes gives your family history clearly. The Commissioners of the Revenue knew every family perfectly well, just what they were, and where they came from.

These records show that your father Elisha Willis was a colored man. The old tax records also gave him as colored. Your mother Margaret Adcock was the daughter of Belinda (sometlmes called Malinda) Branham, recorded as a mulatto, and Wiliam Adcock. Belinda your mother was a daughter of Creasy Branham.

We have in our office a copy of Woodson's list of "free negroes" of the 1830 U. S. Census which gives Creasy Branham of Amherst County as a free negro.

Responsible people of Amherst County, now living, make the same statement. She was generally known as "a little brown skinned negro who lived to be nearly one hundred years old".

In 1899 you took out a license to marry Mary (or Polly) Branham. This license gives both of you as colored.
The record of the birth of your wife Polly Branham December 25, 1875 gives her as colored and the daughter of Marshall and Arnetta Branham.

With the evidence as given above I am compelled under the 1924 Act to list you and your children and all other descendants of Creasy Branham or Elisha Willis or their blood relatives as colored.

I want to warn you that the Racial Integrity Law of 1924 makes it a penitentiary offense for anyone with a trace of negro to marry a white person or to register in the Bureau of Vital Statistics as white. All midwives or heads of families who attempt to register "free issues" or colored births or deaths as white, are liable to be indicted on a felony charge.
Yours very truly,
W.A. Plecker
State Registrar


August 5, 1930

Mr. J. P. Kelly
Trustee of Schools
Pennington Gap
Lee County, Virginia
Dear Sir:
Our office has had a great deal of trouble in reference to the persistence of a group of people living in that region known as "Melungeons", whose families came from Newman's Ridge, Tennessee. They are evidently of negro origin and are so recognized in Tennessee but when they have come over into Virginia they have been trying to pass as white. In a few instances we learn that they have married a low type of white people which increases the problem.

We understand that some of these negroes attempted to send their children to the Pennington Gap white school and that they were turned out by the School Board. Will you please give us a statement as to the names of the children that were thus refused admittance into the white schools and the names and addresses of their parents. If possible, we desire the full name of the father and the maiden name of the mother.

As these families originated out of Virginia, our old birth, death, and marraige records covering the period, 1853 through 1896, do not have them listed by color as are those whose families have lived in Virginia for a number of generations. They are demanding of us that we register them as white, which we persistently refuse to do. If we can get a statement that the School Board has refused them admittance into the white schools, we can use that as one of the grounds upon which we would refuse to classify them as white. That, of course, is a matter of history and does not involve any individual but the whole School Board, the responsibility thus being divided up while few individuals who write to us as to their negro characteristics are willing to have their names used or to appear in court should it become necessary. This makes it very difficult for us to secure necessary information to properly classify them in our office. If the School trustees will co-operate with our office and will refuse them admittance into the white schools and give us information when such refusals are made, we can withough great difficulty hold them in their place, but this co-operation is very essential.

I do not know who is the Clerk of the School Board or who would be the proper one to apply to but your name has been given to me.
Yours very truly,
W.A. Plecker
State Registrar

August 5, 1942

Secretary of State,
Nashville, Tennessee.

Dear Sir:

Our bureau is the only one in any State making an intensive study of the population of its citizens by race.

We have in some of the counties of southwestern Virginia a number of so-called Melungeons who came into that section from Newmans Ridge, Hancock County, Tennessee, and who are classified by us as of negro origin though they make various claims, such as Portugese, Indians, etc.

The law of Virginia says that any one with any ascertainable degree of negro is to be classified as colored and we are endeavoring to so classify those who apply for birth, death and marriage registrations.

We have a list of the free negroes, by counties, of the 1830 U. S. Census in which we find the racial origin of most of these Melungeons classified as mulattoes. In that period, 1830, we do not find the name of Hancock County, but presume that it was made up from portions of other counties, possible Grainger and Hawkins, where we find considerable numbers of these Melungeon families listed.

Will you please advise as to that point and particularly which of these original counties Newmans Ridge was in.

Thanking you in advance and with kindest regards, I am

Very truly yours,

W. A. Plecker, M. D.
State Registrar.


August 12, 1942

Mr. W. A. Plecker,
State Registrar
Bureau of Vital Statistics
Richmond, Virginia

My dear Sir:

The Secretary of State has sent your letter to my desk for reply.

You have asked us a hard question.

The origin of the Melungeons has been a disputed question in Tennessee ever since we can remember.
Hancock County was established by an Act of the General Assembly passed January 7th, 1844 and was formed from parts of Claiborne and Hawkins counties.

Newman's Ridge, which runs through Hancock county north of Sneedville, is parallel with Clinch River and just south of Powell Mountain. The only map on which we find it located is edited by H. C. Amick and S. J. Folmsbee of the University of Tennessee in 1941 published by Denoyer-Geppert Co., 5235 Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, listed as [TN 7S]* TENNESSEE. On this map is shown Newman's Ridge as I have sketched it on this little scrap of paper, inclosed. But we do not have the early surveys showing which county it as originally in. It appears that it may have been in Claiborne according to the Morris Gazetteer of Tennessee 1834 which includes this statement: "Newman's Ridge, one of the spurs of Cumberland Mountain, in East Tennessee, lying in the north east angle of Claiborne County, west of Clinch River, and east of Powell's Mountain. It took its name from a Mr. Newman who discovered it in 1761."

Early historians of East Tennessee who lived in that section and knew the older members of this race refer to Newman's Ridge as "quite a high mountain, extending through the entire length of Hancock County, and into Claiborne County on the west. It is between Powell Mountain on the north and Clinch River on the south." Capt. L. M. Jarvis, an old citizen of Sneedville wrote in his 82nd year:
"I have lived here at the base of Newman's Ridge, Blackwater, being on the opposite side, for the last 71 years and well know the history of these people on Newman's Ridge and Blackwater enquired about as Melungeons. These people were friendly to the Cherokees who came west with the white imigration from New River and Cumberland, Virginia, about the year 1790...The name Melungeon was given them on account of their color. I have seen the oldest and first settlers of this tribe who first occupied Newman's Ridge and Blackwater and I have owned much of the lands on which they settled.. They obtained their land grants from North Carolina. I personally knew Vardy Collins, Solomon D. Collins, Shepard Gibson, Paul Bunch and Benjamin Bunch and many of the Goodmans, Moores, Williams and Sullivans, all of the very first settlers and noted men of these friendly Indians. They took their names from white people of that name with whom they came here. They were reliable, truthful and faithful to anything they promised. In the Civil War most of the Melungeons went into the Union army and made good soldiers. Their Indian blood has about run out. They are growing white... They have been misrepresented by many writers. In former writings I have given their stations  and stops on their way as they emigrated to this country with white people, one of which places was at the mouth of Stony Creek on Clinch river in Scott County, Virginia, where they built fort and called it Ft. Blackamore after Col. Blackamore who was with them... When Daniel Boone was here hunting 1763-1767, these Melungeons were not here."

The late Judge Lewis Shepherd, prominent jurist of Chattanooga, went further in his statements in his "Personal Memoirs", and contended that this mysterious racial group descended from the Phoenicians of Ancient Carthage. This was his judgment after investigations he made in trying a case featuring the complaint that they were of mixed negro blood, which attempt failed, and which brought out the facts that many of their ancestors had settled early in South Carolina when they migrated from Portugal to America about the time of the Revolutionary war, and later moved into Tennessee. At the time of this trial covered by Judge Shepherd "charges that Negro blood contaminated the Melungeons and barred their intermarriage with Caucasians created much indignation among families of Phoenician descent in this section."

But I imagine if the United States Census listed them as mulattoes their listing will remain. But it is a terrible claim to place on people if they do not have negro blood. I often have wondered just how deeply the census takers went into an intelligent study of it at that early period.

I have gone into some detail in this reply to explain the mooted question and why it is not possible for me to give you a definite answer. I hope this may assist you to some extent.


Mrs. John Trotwood Moore
State Librarian and Archivist

August 20, 1942

Mrs. John Trotwood Moore
State Librarian and Archivist
State Department of Education
Nashville, Tennessee

Dear Mrs. Moore:

We thank you very much for your informative letter of August 12 in reply to our inquiry, addressed to the Secretary of State, as to the original counties from which Hancock County, Tennessee, was formed. We are particularly interested in tracing back, as far as possible, to their ultimate origin the melungeons of the Newmans Ridge section, especially as enumerated in the free negro list by counties of the states in the U. S. 1830 census. This group appears to be in many respects of the same type as a number of groups in Virginia, some of which are known as "free issues," or descendants of slaves freed by their masters before the War Between the States. In one case in particular which we have traced back to its origin, and which we believe to be typical of the others, a slave woman was freed with her two mulatto sons and colonized in Amherst County in connection with a group of similar freed negroes. These sons were presumably the children of the woman's owner, and this seemed to be the most satisfactory way of disposing of them. One of those sons became the head of one of the larger families of that group. All of these groups have the same desire, which Captain L. M. Jarvis says the melungeons have, to become friends of Indians and to be classed as Indians. He referred to the effort which the melungeon group made to be accepted by the Cherokees, apparently without great success. It is interesting also to know the opinion expressed by Captain Jarvis that these freed negroes migrated into that section with the white people. That is perfectly natural as they have always endeavored to tie themselves up as closely as possible either with the whites or Indians and are striving to break away from the true negro type.

We have a book, compiled by Carter G. Woodson, a negro, entitled "Free Negro Heads of Families in the United States in 1830," listing all of the free negroes of the 1830 census by counties. Of the names that Captain Jarvis gave, we find included in that list in Hawkins County, Solomon Collins, Vardy Collins, and Sherod (probably Shepard) Gibson. 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 twelve Collins and Collens heads of families. This shows that they were evidently considered locally as free negroes by the enumerators of the 1830 census.

One of the most interesting parts of your letter is that relating to the opinion of the Judge mentioned, in his "Personal Memoirs," who

Page 2

Mrs. John Trotwood Moore, con't
August 20, 1942

seemed to have accepted as satisfactory certain evidence which was presented to him that these people are of Phoenician descent from ancient Carthage, which was totally destroyed by Rome. We have in Virginia white people, descendants of  Pocahontas, who married John Rolfe about 1616. About twelve generations have passed since then, and we figured out that there was about 1/4000th of 1% of Pocahontas blood now in their veins, though they seem to be quite proud of that. If you go back to the destruction of Carthage in 146 B. C., or to the destruction of Tyre by Pompey in 64 B. C., when all characteristic features of national life became extinct and with it racial identity, you will see that the fraction of 1% of Phoenician blood would reach astronomical proportions and be totally lost in the various mixtures of North Africans, with which the Carthaginians afterwards mixed. The Judge also speaks of the inclusion of Portuguese blood with this imaginary Phoenician blood. It is a historical fact, well known to those who have investigated, that at one time there were many African slaves in Portugal. Today there are no true negroes there but their blood shows in the color and racial characteristics of a large part of the Portuguese population of the present day. That mixture, even if it could be shown, would be far from constituting these people white. We are very much afraid that the Judge followed the same course pursued by one of our Virginia judges in hearing a similar case, when he accepted the hearsay evidence of people who testified that they had always understood that the claimants were of Indian origin, regardless of the documentary evidence reaching back in some cases to or near to the Revolutionary War, showing them to be descendants of freed negroes.

We will require other evidence than that of Captain Jarvis and His Honor before classifying members of the group who are now causing trouble in Virginia by their claims of Indian descent, with the privilege of inter-marrying into the white race, permissible when a person can show his racial composition to be one-sixteenth or less Indian, the remainder white with no negro intermixture. We have found after very laborious and painstaking study of records of various sorts that none of our Virginia people now claiming to be Indian are free from negro admixture, and they are, therefore, according to our law classified as colored. In that class we include the melungeons of Tennessee.

We again thank you for your care in passing on this information and would be delighted if you ever visit in Virginia and in Richmond if you will come into our office. Miss Kelley and I would be greatly pleased to talk with you on this and kindred subjects and to show you the work which Miss Kelley is doing in properly classifying the population of Virginia by racial origin. She is doing work which, so far as I know, has never before been attempted.

Very sincerely yours,

W. A. Plecker, M. D.
State Registrar


September 10, 1942

W. A. Plecker, M. D. Registrar
Bureau of Vital Statistics
Department of Health
Richmond, Virginia

My dear Dr. Pleckner:

You were most kind to reply so fully to my letter, and you have given me so much information on this vitally interesting subject that I am really grateful.

My husband was so interested in it and had studied it with a view to writing on the subject but never got around to it. I recall that he was interested in an article on the Melungeons that appeared perhaps two years before his death (May 10, 1929) in the Dearborn Independent. I do not have the article but I think it was written by a North Carolina writer. I am sorry I cant be more definite but if there is a file in the State or Public Library it might interest you.

We have Carter G. Woodson's "Free Negro Heads of Families in the United States in 1830", but I have never made a study of it.

Virginia is fortunate to have you and Miss Kelly doing such an important piece of research. I wish Tennessee could borrow you. Anyhow, what you are doing will be, in effect, for all the Southern States and there was never a time when it was more needed.

If I am in Richmond at any time I shall certainly be pleased to stop by your office and talk with you and Miss Kelley. If your work is to be published we shall want to secure a copy for this library.

Thank you for the circulars inclosed and I wish you full success with your undertaking.


Mrs. John Trotwood Moore
State Librarian and Archivist


Local Registrars, Physicians, Health
Offices, Nurses, School Superintendents,
and Clerks of the Courts

Dear Co-workers:

Our December 1942 letter to local registrars, also mailed to the clerks, set forth the determined effort to escape from the negro race of groups of "free issues," or descendents of the "free mulattoes" of early days, so listed prior to 1865 in the United States census and various types of State records, as distinguished from slave negroes.

Now that these people are playing up the advantages gained by being permitted to give "Indian" as the race of the child's parents on birth certificates, so we see the great mistake made in not stopping earlier the organized propagation of this racial falsehood. They have been using the advantage thus gained as an aid to intermarriage into the white race and to attend white schools, and now for some time they have been refusing to register with war draft boards as negroes, as required by the boards which are faithfully performing their duties. Three fo these negroes from Caroline County were sentenced to prison on January 12 in the United States Court at Richmond for refusing to obey the draft law unless permitted to classify themselves as "Indians."

Some of these mongrels, finding that they have been able to sneak in their birth certificates unchallenged as Indians are now making a rush to register as white. Upon investigation we find that a few local registars have been permitting such certificates to pass through their hands unquestioned and without warning our office of the fraud. Those attempting this fraud should be warned that they are liable to a penalty of one year in the penitentiary (Section 5099a of the Code). Several clerks have likewise been actually granting them licenses to marry whites, or at least to marry amongst themselves as Indian or white. The danger of this error always confronts the clerk who does not inquire carefully as to the residence of the woman when he does not have positive information. The law is explicit that the license be issued by the clerk of the county or city in which the woman resides.

To aid all of you in determining just which are the mixed families, we have made a list of their surnames by counties and cities, as complete as possible at this time. This list should be preserved by all, even by those in counties and cities not included, as these people are moving around over the State and changing race at the new place. A family has just been investigated which was always recorded as negro around Glade Springs, Washington County, but which changed to white and married as such in Roanoke County. This is going on constantly and can be prevented only by care on the part of local registrars, clerks, doctors, health workers, and school authorities.

Please report all known or suspicious cases to the Bureau of Vital Statistics, giving names, ages, parents, and as much other information as possible. All certificates of these people showing "Indian" or "white" are now being rejected and returned to the physician or midwife, but local registrars hereafter must not permit them to pass their hands uncorrected or unchallenged and without a note of warning to us. One hundred and fifty thousand other mulattoes in Virginia are watching eagerly the attempt of their pseudo-Indian brethren, ready to follow in a rush when the first have made a break in the dike.

Very truly yours,

W.A. Plecker, M.D.
State Registrar of Vital Statistics


Moon, Powell, Kidd, Pumphrey

Amherst: (Migrants to Allegheney and Campbell)
Adcock (Adcox), Beverly (this famiy is now trying to evade the situation by adopting the name of Burch or Birch, which was the name of the white mother of the present adult generation), Branham, Duff, Floyd, Hamilton, Hartless, Hicks, Johns, Lawless, Nukles (Knuckles), Painter, Ramsey, Redcross, Roberts, Southwards (Suthards, Southerds, Southers), Sorrells, Terry, Tyree, Willis, Clark, Cash, Wood

McVey, Maxey, Branham, Burley (See Amherst County)

Rockbridge: (Migrants to Augusta)
Cash, Clark, Coleman, Duff, Floyd, Hartless, Hicks, Mason, Mayse (Mays), Painters, Pults, Ramsey, Southerds (Southers, Southards, Suthards), Sorrell, Terry, Tyree, Wood, Johns

Charles City:
Collins, Dennis, Bradby, Howell, Langston, Stewart, Wynn, Custalow (Custaloo), Dungoe, Holmes, Miles, Page, Allmond, Adams, Hawkes, Spurlock, Doggett

New Kent:
Collins, Bradby, Stewart, Wynn, Adkins, Langston

Henrico and Richmond City:
See Charles City, New Kent, and King William

Byrd, Fortune, Nelson. (See Essex)

Essex and King and Queen:
Nelson, Fortune, Byrd, Cooper, Tate, Hammond, Brooks, Boughton, Prince, Mitchell, Robinson

Elizabeth City & Newport News:
Stewart (descendants of Charles City families).

Epps (Eppes), Stewart (Stuart), Coleman, Johnson, Martin, Talley, Sheppard (Shepard), Young.

Norfolk County & Portsmouth:
Sawyer, Bass, Weaver, Locklear (Locklair), King, Bright, Porter

Sorrells, Worlds (or Worrell), Atwells, Butridge, Okiff.

Shifflett, Shiflet

Prince William:
Tyson, Segar. (See Fauquier)

Hoffman (Huffman), Riley, Colvin, Phillips. (See Prince William)

Dorsey (Dawson)

Beverly, Barlow, Thomas, Hughes, Lethcoe, Worley

Roanoke County:
Beverly (See Washington)

Lee and Smyth:
Collins, Gibson, (Gipson), Moore, Goins, Ramsey, Delph, Bunch, Freeman, Mise, Barlow, Bolden (Bolin), Mullins, Hawkins

Dingus (See Lee County)

Keith, Castell, Stillwell, Meade, Proffitt. (See Lee and Tazewell)

Hammed, Duncan. (See Russell)

See Lee, Scott, Smyth, and Russell Counties.



Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924

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