GENEALOGICAL HISTORY OF THE MELUNGEON FAMILIES

By Mark French Jr.




Uncle Wash Osborne of Copper Ridge near Dungannon in Scott County gave me more information about the Melungeons than anyone else. Uncle Wash’s full name is George Washington Osborne.

From what I gathered from Uncle Wash, the Melungeons started coming to Wise and Scott Counties about 1820. These people came in about equal numbers from Kentucky from Newmans’ Ridge and lower end of Lee County. A few came from North Carolina.

The first Collins family, who came to Scott County from Newmans Ridge were white.

From Kentucky came the following families; Collins, Gibsons, and Sextons. From Newman’s Ridge; Collins, Littons and Bollings. Very few people with these names came from Newman’s Ridge.

From Blackwater, Tennessee came the Sweeneys, Adkins, Lucas, Bollings, Goins and Baldwins.

Also the Melungeons came to Scott County from Letcher County, Kentucky near Whitesburg at a place called Lick Rock. These people lived in large numbers. Uncle Poke Gibson came to Scott from Letcher about 1820. He claimed to be Portuguese Indian. A few Littons came from Newman’s Ridge who are member of the Melango Tribe. There are two groups of Littons members of the Melango Tribe who live in Scott County and the Littons of Wise County who are not members. The Littons of Wise are no relation to the Littons of Scott.

The Bollings, who are numerous in Scott and Wise Counties, came from Newman’s Ridge. The have all the features of the Indian race.

Old Jack Bolling, the originator of this family, is believed to have come from a low life grade of Indian. He married a melungeon by the name of Collins or Sexton but this is the first and last crossbreed in the family. His people were strong and spoke half-broken English. He was pure bred Melango and had no other blood in him. In this case word Melango pertains to Indian blood only.

The Baldwins came to Scott County from Blackwater, Tennessee.

They came from an Indian tribe there and the first Baldwins here were full-blooded Indian but in this region mixed with Negro slaves and Gibson and Sextons which leaves a variously diluted blood.

Most of this set of Baldwins live in Scott County. The present members of this name are one-third Indian, one-third Portuguese and one-third colored. Another group, the Coins, who are very near full Indian came from Blackwater, Tennessee. The Goins, a high-minded group of people, are believed to be mixed with white people. They settled among the white people of Scott County in the last one hundred and forty ears. The Sweeneys who came from Blackwater, are a fighting tribe when in anger; other wise, they are a peaceful group. They are not as dark as some of the other members from Blackwater. Nerve is one of their outstanding traits not being afraid of anything. Years ago Old man Nichols gave several of them a good beating and thence they scattered. A few settled in Russell, a few in Lee, a few in Wise, a few in the lower end of Scott, a few at Newman’s Ridge and others went down to the home of their forebears Blackwater Swamp, Tennessee.

The Adkins family of Indian origin came from Blackwater, Tennessee. Some of them have migrated from Scott County to Letcher and Pike County. A Kentucky family name which belongs to the Melango tribe is the “Lucas’ facial features are large and massive with ruddy cheeks. It is believed they are descended from Portuguese Indians and Irish. The name Lucas is of Irish origin.

Another family which originated from the melungeons is the Moores. The Moores came in to this county from Newman’s Ridge about 1807. The originator of the Moores here was old Eth Moore. The family name of this forebears had the Irish prefix O and was spelled O’Moore. Eth Moore always said he was one-third Portuguese Indian. Of course the other two-thirds consisted of Irish and don’t know what. The Moores of Wise County are descendants of Eth Moore.

Eth Moore had tolerable dark skin, broad cheek bones, broad face, very pretty eyes black as a cat, a nose three inches long, very flat and wide as a opossums. He spoke with an indistinct tone since his words came through his nose. Eth Moore, a school teacher, a man of knowledge and brilliant mind, lived during the slave days but kept no slaves as he considered them too irresponsible to have on the place.

The name Eth was a shortening of the name Ethan. The Moore set of Scott County, who are descendants of old Eth Moore, are people o good business sense. Usually the men and women are very good looking.

Another name of the Melango tribe of this region is the Frenches.

The Melungeons migrated to the Southern sections of this country such as Newman’s Ridge and Wise and Scott Counties from the North. They migrated to Scott County in about equal numbers from Newman’s Ridge and Letcher County, Kentucky. To Newman’s Ridge the Indian tribe came from Blackwater Swamp, Tennessee and the Portuguese Indian element came from someplace in the North. They migrated down here from the North in all probability because it was very cold up there and were in need of blankets and warm houses and had not money to buy the blankets nor the industry to build warm houses. Therefore they migrated further south where no blankets and warm houses were needed. Of course, blankets and warm houses were needed during winter season of the year but winter season was of short duration.

I have separated the Melango families into the different groups as follows:

1. Purebred Indian groups from Blackwater, Tennessee a. Coins b. Bollings c. Sweeneys d. Adkins e. Minor

2. Indian group from Blackwater who married in other Melango Tribes a. Baldwins

3. Melango groups from Kentucky a. Collins b. Sextons

4. Indians and whites from Newman’s Ridge a. Bollings b. Collins

5. Portuguese Indian and white from Newman’s Ridge a. Collins

From Newman’s Ridge a. Moore’s—married Sextons and Gibson during first generation

6. Portuguese Indian from Kentucky a. Gibson

Under the column Portuguese Indian and white are the few people who came from Newman’s Ridge called Collins. In Scott County they married among the Sextons and Gibsons. By intermarrying among these other people their blood became variously diluted. We know definitely that the blood of the descendants of Collins of Newman’s Ridge consists of Portuguguese Indians and white. The first Collins from Newman’s Ridge were reported to be white.

Now the descendants of old Eth Moore in the generations since 1835 who married in families other than Melango have very little Melango blood in their veins. Of course, blood of the descendants of those who married the Melangoes in the last one hundred and twenty years in Scott County is variously diluted.
,/p> Under the column Purebred Indian group from Blackwater are the Minors. The Minors, a fighting people, show more of the Indian than any other Indian group in Scott County. They claim to be Portuguese Indian stock. They are of large stature, tall of black complexion and very strong. I believe the Minors are of three-quarters Indian and on-quarter Portuguese. The are of the type of people whose word is their bond. In Scott County some of them own large stock farms and have prospered.


The story of the Spanish ship wreck was verified by Samuel Sexton. It was repeated to him by Aunt Caroline Collins who heard it from her father, Johnny Sexton, who came to America on a ship which carried Spanish bullion. Johnny Sexton came to Stone Mountain from Eastern Virginia. His family was of Spanish descent. I do not have the Spanish shipwreck story readily was available to insert in this paper.

I read an interesting article in the October 18 issue of the SATURDAY EVENING POST called “The Legend” written by Elizabeth Worden of Washington D.C. It gives different theories advanced by different people about the origin of the Melungeons of Blackwater Swamp and Newman’s Ridge, Tennessee. I do not have a copy but gave it to Hamp Osborne who writes an article called “Hillbilly” in a Scott County newspaper.

I meant to go down to Slant and talk to John Sallings about the Indians from Blackwater but failed to do so. Of course, I doubt if he could tell me anything about the mixed group of Melungeons. John Sallings is now deceased, dying two or three years ago.

This paper was originally written on November 22, 1947, in Columbus, Ohio. This corrected edition was written on February 20, 1964 I sent the first copy to To Clay of Coeburn, Virginia in November, 1947.

Mark French Jr. Clintwood, Virginia 



Documenting the Melungeons