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History and Tidbits
The term "Melungeon" has generally been applied to a widely distributed group of people associated with the general region of Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Kentucky in the United States, but generally regarded as particularly concentrated in the general area of Eastern Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and Northwest North Carolina. References are also made to Melungeon groups in Ohio and Louisiana. Although definitions of what exactly constitute a Melungeon differ, these are a mixed-race people.
Some have been described as being "swarthy" or at least somewhat dark-skinned in appearance, but the physical characteristics of Melungeons differ greatly. Because this is a mixed race group of people, and because the exact racial characteristics vary, it is impossible to pin down a precise Melungeon appearance. In addition, again because of the mixed race nature of Melungeons, even siblings can differ greatly in their physical characteristics. That is demonstrated by the photo that accompanies this article.
Melungeon identity is assumed to involve a mixture of some combination of Western European, Native American, and sometimes African ancestry, with early assertions of "Portuguese" or "Portuguese Indian" background being widely claimed. The term "tri-racial isolate" has been academically applied to this group, but this term is problematic in that not all Melungeons claim a tri-racial identity and, in many cases, these families appear to be anything but "isolates."
Stories and claims abound as to how this group of people descend from Portuguese, or Turks and/or Moors, who navigated to the American shores with the Portuguese, and who intermarried with Native Americans prior to English settlement.
Some of the most prominent surnames that have been claimed as potentially associated with a Melungeon identity include Bowling (Bolin), Bunch, Chavis (Chavez), Collins, Epps, Evans, Fields, Francisco, Gibson, Gill, Goins, Goodman, Minor, Mise, Moore, Mullins, Osborn(e), Phipps, Reeves (Rives, Rieves, Reeves, Reaves), Ridley (Riddle), Rodrigues, Stowers, Vanover, Williams, and Wise. This extremely partial list should not be taken as suggesting, however, that every family using this surname is necessarily considered to be Melungeon.
Some of the sources and discussions pertaining to the Melungeons suggest that, in some cases, there may be a relationship to a specific Native American group. One of those groups that figures prominently consists of those generally defined as Saponi.
In addition, alternate names exist for Melungeons, one of the most prominent being Guineas, another being Black Dutch. Sometimes the "Black" designation will appear in front of a Melungeon surname, not necessarily to indicate sub-Saharan African ancestry, but merely to designate a tendency toward somewhat dark skin.
- Melungeon Cemetery: Carmel, Highland County, Ohio (YouTube video; pertains to Melungeon families who migrated to Ohio)
- Melungeon Core DNA Project (FamilyTree DNA). This site is self-explanatory about the DNA projects hosted and currently underway. The site has list of known surnames.
- Melungeon DNA Project
Probably the best-known book concerned with this subject is N. Brent Kennedy, The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People: An Untold Story of Ethnic Cleansing in America (Mercer University Press, 1997) (Google Books link).
Many have taken issue with Kennedy's conclusions, probably most notably Virginia Easley DeMarce:
- DeMarce, Virginia Easley. "Review Essay: The Melungeons," National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 84, No. 2 (June 1996):134-139. FHL Book 973 B2ng
- DeMarce, Virginia Easley. "Looking at Legends - Lumbee and Melungeon: Applied Genealogy and the Origins of Tri-racial Isolate Settlements," National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 81, No. 1 (March 1993):24-45. FHL Book 973 B2ng
Others have, however, concluded that, based on recent reevaluation of records pertaining to Melungeon families, the phenomenon is much as Kennedy described. Kennedy's book is a part of a series of books about Melungeons published by Mercer University Press. Those books, as well as other printed materials on the subject, are listed below.
A 2011 best-seller by Daniel J. Sharfstein deals with the not-uncommon phenomenon of black families in early America making the migration toward reinventing themselves as white. This book, titled The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White (Penguin Press, 2011), discusses Melungeons as a mixed-ancestry group.
Another prominent book concerned with the subject of the Melungeons is the first non-fiction book by Lisa Alther, who has previously been known as a best-selling novelist. The book is Kinfolks: Falling Off the Family Tree - The Search for My Melungeon Ancestors (Arcade Publishing, 2007). This book highlights the difficulties of researching families with Melungeons roots.
Yet another relatively recent (2005) book which deals with the Melungeon phenomenon (although seeming to avoid use of the term) is Paul Heinegg, Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina from the Colonial Period to About 1820. This is a two-volume set which received an award from the American Society of Genealogists as the best work of genealogical scholarship published from 1991 to 1994. Oddly, however, the book appears to have a tendency to refer to families of mixed race as simply either mulatto or as black, even where indications would suggest at least some Native American ancestry.
A very informative non-print source regarding the Melungeons is the approximately hour-long documentary film titled Melungeon Voices. This film was directed by Julie Williams Dixon with cinematography by Warren Gentry. The film's website is here, and the trailer from the documentary can be viewed in YouTube here.
This film discusses various theories regarding the origin of the Melungeon people, while focusing largely on the people of Newman's Ridge. One strength of the film is that it presents a variety of viewpoints, as well as research evidence. Melungeon Voices points out, in its narration, that genealogical research into Melungeon families can be challenging. Brent Kennedy, author of the book mentioned above, appears in the film as well as other researchers and speakers who figure prominently in discussions about Melungeons.
One of the sources listed below, that of an untitled affidavit in the Eastern Cherokee Application of George Washington Plummer, appears on the surface to only discuss Cherokee ancestry, while more likely addressing Melungeon background, as suggested by other records. This might explain the inability to establish specifically Cherokee ancestry on the part of the applicants, in addition to statements that they were "generally" recognized as white. The affidavit discusses the claims presented in the Sizemore applications, which, according to the document, "number about two thousand, representing approximately five thousand individuals." These were individuals living primarily in "northwestern North Carolina, northeastern Tennessee, southwestern Virginia, and southern West Virginia."
Among the materials listed below, note that some of the period sources, such as those by Dromgoole, are derogatory in nature.
The following are in alphabetical order:
- Alther, Lisa, Kinfolks - Falling off the Family Tree: The Search for My Melungeon Ancestors, New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007. (Google Books link) (Lisa Alther Official Home Page, with photos from the book) (New York Times book review)
- "Area Men on Drama Men" (about the Melungeon drama "Walk Toward the Sunset"), Kingsport Times-News, Kingsport, Tennessee, 29 Apr 1971, p. 4-D.
- Ball, Bonnie Sage, The Melungeons: Their Origin and Kin, Virginia Book Company, 1977.
- Ball, Bonnie, The Melungeons, 1992.
- Bible, Jean Patterson, Melungeons Yesterday and Today, 1975. (Google Books link)
- Bird, Stephanie Rose, Light, Bright, and Damned Near White: Biracial and Triracial Culture in America, Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 2009.
- Brake, Katherine Vande, How They Shine: Melungeon Characters in the Fiction of Appalachia, Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2001. (Google Books link)
- Brake, Katherine Vande, Through the Back Door: Melungeon Literacies and Twenty-First-Century Technologies, Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2009. (Google Books link)
- Burnell, John P., Jr., The Guineas of West Virginia (M.A. thesis, Ohio State University, 1952) (Internet Archive link to complete text)
- Burnett, Swan M., "A Note on the Melungeons," The American Anthropologist, Vol. 2, No. 4, Oct 1889, pp. 347-349 (Google Books link)
- Callahan, Jim, Lest We Forget: The Melungeon Colony of Newman's Ridge, 2000.
- Chamberlain, A.F., "African and American: The Contact of Negro and Indian," Science, 13 Feb 1891, pp. 85-90 (see esp. near end of p. 87 and top of p. 88) (Google Books link)
- Colby, Lester B., "The Lost State of Franklin" ("Little Journeys in Americana" column), Rock Valley Bee, Rock Valley, Iowa, 26 April 1929, p. 9.
- Crowe, Elizabeth Powell, "Melungeon Genealogy" (section), Genealogy Online, 9th ed., McGraw-Hill, 2011, pp. 332-334. (Google Books link)
- "Distinct Race of People Inhabits the Mountains of East Tennessee," The Kingsport Times, Kingsport, Tennessee, 3 August 1923, p. 3.
- Dromgoole, Will Allen, The Malungeon Tree and its Four Branches, 1891. (Internet Archive link)
- Dromgoole, Will Allen, "The Malungeons," The Arena, Vol. 3, 1891, pp. 470-479.
- Eastern Cherokee Application of George Washington Plummer, National Archives (contains a lengthy affidavit about not just Plummer's claim, but those of the "Sizemore claimants" in general, quoting from a number of the claimants; those claims appear to be directly Melungeon-related).
- Elder, Pat Spurlock, Melungeons: Examining an Appalachian Legend, Continuity Press, 1999. (Google Books link)
- "Farm for Hubby: Indian Girls Desire to Marry Pale Faces - Liberal Offers Made," Moberly Evening Democrat, Moberly, Missouri, 22 November 1900, p. 1.
- Gamble, John, "Melungeon Line Almost Extinct," Kingsport Times, Kingsport, Tennessee, 26 Nov 1964, p. 9-C.
- Goins, Jack Harold, Melungeons and Other Pioneer Families, 2000.
- Hashaw, Tim, Children of Perdition: Melungeons and the Struggle of Mixed America, Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2006, 2007. (Google Books link)
- Heinegg, Paul, Free African Americans of North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina from the Colonial Period to About 1820, 5th ed., Baltimore: Clearfield Company by Genealogical Publishing Company, 2005.
- Hicks, Theresa M., and Wes Taukchiray, South Carolina Indians, Indian Traders, and Other Ethnic Connections: Beginning in 1670, The Reprint Company, 1998.
- Hirschman, Elizabeth, Melungeons: The Last Lost Tribe in America, Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2005. (Google Books link)
- Hornbeck, Shirley Elro, "Melungeons" (section), This and That Genealogy Tips, Baltimore: Clearfield Company by Genealogical Publishing Company, 2000, pp. 7-10. (Google Books link)
- "In Tennessee's Hills: The Mysterious Tribe Known as Malungeons," The Morning Oregonian, Portland, Oregon, 14 October 1890, p. 3.
- Johnson, Mattie Ruth, My Melungeon Heritage: A Story of Life on Newman's Ridge (Overmountain Press, 1997). (Google Books link)
- Kennedy, N. Brent, The Melungeons - The Resurrection of a Proud People: An Untold Story of Ethnic Cleansing in America, rev. ed., Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1997. (Google Books link)
- Kessler, John S., and Donald B. Ball, North from the Mountains: A Folk History of the Carmel Melungeon Settlement, Highland County, Ohio, Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2001. (Google Books link)
- Kiss, Mary, "Over the Coffee Cup," Kingsport News, Kingsport, Tennessee, 29 June 1954, p. 1.
- "Malungeons," American Notes and Queries, Vol. 6, 4 April 1891, pp. 273-274.
- "Melungeon Drama Goes On Despite Money Problems," Kingsport Times, Kingsport, Tennessee, 19 Apr 1972, p. 4-D.
- Mira, Manuel, The Forgotten Portuguese, Portuguese-American Historical Research Foundation, 1998. (Google Books link)
- Mira, Manual, The Portuguese Making of America, Portuguese-American Historical Research Foundation, 2001.
- "Odd Mountain Race: Tennessee People Who Claim Portuguese Descent," Portsmouth Herald, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 22 April 1902, p. 5.
- "Odd Race of People: The Malungeons Live in Eastern Tennessee," Delphos Daily Herald, Delphos, Ohio, 1 July 1902, p. 3.
- "Open Air Drama Puts Everyone's 'Hometown History' on the Map," Kingsport Times-News, Kingsport, Tennessee, 22 Jun 1969, p. 1-D.
- "Outdoor Drama Rejuvenates Town of Sneedville, Tenn.," Daily Middlesboro News, Middlesboro, Kentucky, 9 June 1973, pp. 1, 8.
- Overbay, DruAnna Williams, Windows on the Past: The Cultural Heritage of Vardy, Hancock County, Tennessee, Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2005.
- "Paleface Husbands Wanted: Inducements Temporarily Offered by the Malungeons [sic] Indians," The Boston Globe, Boston, Massachusetts, 6 December 1900, p. 10.
- Podber, Jacob J., The Electronic Front Porch: An Oral History of the Arrival of Modern Media in Rural Appalachia and the Melungeon Community, Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2007. (Google Books link)
- "'Post' Features East Tennesseans," The Kingsport News, Kingsport, Tennessee, 17 October 1947, p. 7.
- Price, Shirley, "The Melungeons Are Coming Out in the Open: Drama Pondered to Raise Their Name 'From Shame to the Hall of Fame' in Hancock County," Kingsport Times-News, 28 Jan 1968, p. 4-A.
- Rawlings, Bill, "East Tennessee Melungeons Have Past Clouded in Myth," Kingsport Times-News, Kingsport, Tennessee, 18 Oct 1959, p. 3-B.
- "Rev. Mr. Kesterson: A Tennessee Clergyman with a Record," The Lima News, Lima, Ohio, 9 November 1898, p. 6; also The Oxford Mirror, 3 November 1898, p. 9.
- Schreiner, Dee Armstrong, "Are You a Descendant of the Mysterious Melungeons?" Ancestry, Mar-Apr 1995, pp. 21-23. (Google Books link)
- Scolnick, Joseph M., Jr., and N. Brent Kennedy, eds., From Anatolia to Appalachia: A Turkish-American Dialogue, Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2003. (Google Books link)
- Sharfstein, Daniel J., The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White, Penguin Press, 2011. (Google Books link) (New York Times book review)
- Smith, Barbara Ellen, ed., Women, Race, and Class in the South, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Temple University Press, 1999.
- Steely, Mike, "They're 'Working Up' a Drama," Kingsport Times-News, Kingsport, Tennessee, 24 May 1973.
- "A Strange People of Tennessee: The Malungeons and their Curious Customs," The Daily Picayune, New Orleans, Louisiana, 20 September 1897, p. 8.
- Thacker, Larry D., Jr., "Mysterious Melungeons" (chapter), Mountain Mysteries: The Mystic Traditions of Appalachia, 2007. (Google Books link)
- Walsh, William Shepard, "Franklin, State of," A Handy Book of Curious Information, Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1913, pp. 366-367.
- Weeks, Stephen B., "The Lost Colony of Roanoke: Its Fate and Survival," Papers of the American Historical Association, Vol. 5, 1891.
- Winkler, Wayne, Walking Toward the Sunset: The Melungeons of Appalachia, Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2004, 2005. (Google Books link)
Genealogy and History Websites
Note: These are in alphabetical order.
- African Native Americans: We Are Still Here
- American Indian Melungeon
- Atlanta Melungeon Project
- Beneath Myth, Melungeons Find Roots of Oppression (Washington Post)
- Cyndi's List: Unique Peoples & Cultures
- Examining Melungeon History and Genealogy by Jack Goins
- First Union: The Melungeons Revisited
- The Graysville Melungeons
- The Guineas of West Virginia
- Hancock County, Home of the Melungeons
- History of the Mullins Family of Newman's Ridge
- Jack Goins' Research - Melungeon and Appalachian: My Incredible Research Journey
- Links of Interest (Melungeons)
- The "Lost Tribe" of Appalachia
- Lost People of Appalachia (BBC News)
- Lumbee Indians and Goins Family (Blogspot)
- Melungeon (DMOZ Open Directory Project links list)
- Melungeon (Google Directory)
- Melungeon Cemetery: Carmel, Highland County, Ohio (YouTube video)
- Melungeon Core DNA Project (Family Tree DNA)
- Melungeon Descendants Celebrate their Mysterious Heritage (Biloxi Sun Herald)
- Melungeon DNA Project
- Melungeon Forum
- The Melungeon Health Education and Support Network
- Melungeon Heritage Association
- Melungeon History
- Melungeon History (video lecture by Wayne Winkler, Melungeon Historical Society Conference, 2009, in YouTube), Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
- The Melungeon Indians
- Melungeon Mailing List
- Melungeon Origin (Yahoo Groups)
- Melungeon Page News and Articles (The Portuguese American Historical & Research Foundation)
- Melungeon Resource Page
- Melungeon Voices documentary trailer (YouTube)
- The Melungeons: A New Journey Home
- The Melungeons: My Perspective
- Melungeons, Redbones, and Other U.S. Maroons (video lecture in YouTube)
- The Melungeons: Who Are They?
- Mystery Still Hangs Over Melungeons' Heritage (Tennessee Journalist)
- The Myth of the Black Irish: Spanish Syntagonism and Prethetical Salvation
- One Hundred and Sixty-Nine URLs for Melungeon Research
- Origin of the Melungeons
- Origins of the Melungeon Appalachian Subculture
- Redbones and Melungeons
- So You Were Told You Were Black Dutch or Black Irish
- This and That Genealogy Tips on Black Dutch and Black Irish, Melungeons, Moravians, Pennsylvania Dutch
- Under One Sky: The Melungeon Information Exchange
- Wayfaring Stranger: The Black Dutch, German Gypsies or Chicanere and Their Relation to the Melungeon[s]
- What is a Melungeon?
- What is a Melungeon? (different site)
- Who Were the Melungeons?