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)
“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
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.
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.
(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
Walter Plecker Letters
A Series of
Letters Relating to The Melungeons of Newman's
Commonwealth of Virginia
Bureau of Vital Statistics
State Department of Health
December 26, 1929
William T. Adcock
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
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,
August 5, 1930
Mr. J. P. Kelly
Trustee of Schools
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
Yours very truly,
Secretary of State,
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,
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
A. Plecker, M. D.
August 12, 1942
Mr. W. A. Plecker,
Bureau of Vital Statistics
My dear Sir:
The Secretary of State has sent your letter
to my desk for reply.
have asked us a hard question.
origin of the Melungeons has been a disputed question in Tennessee ever since we
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:
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
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.
John Trotwood Moore
State Librarian and Archivist
August 20, 1942
Mrs. John Trotwood Moore
State Librarian and Archivist
State Department of Education
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
of the most interesting parts of your letter is that relating to the opinion of
the Judge mentioned, in his "Personal Memoirs," who
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
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
W. A. Plecker, M. D.
September 10, 1942
W. A. Plecker, M. D. Registrar
Bureau of Vital Statistics
Department of Health
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.
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
Thank you for the circulars inclosed and I
wish you full success with your undertaking.
John Trotwood Moore
State Librarian and Archivist
Local Registrars, Physicians,
Clerks of the Courts
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
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
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
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.
W.A. Plecker, M.D.
State Registrar of Vital
Page 2 - SURNAMES, BY COUNTIES AND CITIES -
VIRGINIA FAMILIES STRIVING TO PASS AS "INDIAN" AND/OR WHITE
Moon, Powell, Kidd, Pumphrey
Amherst: (Migrants to Allegheney and
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,
McVey, Maxey, Branham, Burley (See Amherst
Rockbridge: (Migrants to
Coleman, Duff, Floyd, Hartless, Hicks, Mason, Mayse (Mays), Painters, Pults,
Ramsey, Southerds (Southers, Southards, Suthards), Sorrell, Terry, Tyree, Wood,
Collins, Dennis, Bradby, Howell, Langston,
Stewart, Wynn, Custalow (Custaloo), Dungoe, Holmes, Miles, Page, Allmond, Adams,
Hawkes, Spurlock, Doggett
Collins, Bradby, Stewart, Wynn, Adkins,
Henrico and Richmond City:
See Charles City, New Kent, and King
Byrd, Fortune, Nelson. (See
Essex and King and Queen:
Nelson, Fortune, Byrd, Cooper, Tate, Hammond,
Brooks, Boughton, Prince, Mitchell, Robinson
Elizabeth City & Newport
Stewart (descendants of
Charles City families).
Epps (Eppes), Stewart (Stuart), Coleman,
Johnson, Martin, Talley, Sheppard (Shepard), Young.
Norfolk County &
Weaver, Locklear (Locklair), King, Bright, Porter
Sorrells, Worlds (or Worrell), Atwells,
Tyson, Segar. (See Fauquier)
Hoffman (Huffman), Riley, Colvin, Phillips.
(See Prince William)
Beverly, Barlow, Thomas, Hughes, Lethcoe,
Beverly (See Washington)
Lee and Smyth:
Collins, Gibson, (Gipson), Moore, Goins,
Ramsey, Delph, Bunch, Freeman, Mise, Barlow, Bolden (Bolin), Mullins,
Dingus (See Lee County)
Keith, Castell, Stillwell, Meade, Proffitt.
(See Lee and Tazewell)
Hammed, Duncan. (See Russell)
See Lee, Scott, Smyth, and Russell
Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924
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