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
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
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
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
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
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,