Daily Archives: October 14, 2016

Published by:


Ties That Bind – Revisited

by Brent Kennedy

This article is a follow-up of sorts to a speech I made at the Melungeon Fifth Union in Kingsport, Tennessee in June of 2004. In that speech I talked of Melungeon origins, kinship and genetics findings in my own family. For those interested in the background for this commentary, here’s a link to the text of that presentation:

Fifth Union Presentation: June 2004.

Brent Kennedy with his mother-in-law, the late Laverne Vaughan, an enrolled member of the White Earth Band of the Minnesota Ojibwa.

First, a note of importance: for the purpose of the discussion here I am putting aside any family connections I have to those wonderful people known as “Melungeons.” I do not, nor can I speak for all Melungeon related families. Other Melungeon descendants may show vastly different “origins” than I do – that’s the nature of admixture over time. Some will be more European, others more Native American, or Mediterranean, or African, or what have you. Every human being is truly special…related to all other human beings, but a unique individual in every aspect. So please bear in mind that what I write here relates tomy specific family and to my specific heritage as an Appalachian whose most recent Old World ancestors arrived here in the late 1700s (a fact which, according to some, should consequently make me almost exclusively “northern European”).

In fact, I was harshly criticized by one major reviewer in the mid-1990s for questioning what she considered to be impeccable records indicating an exclusive northern and/or western European heritage for all my family lines. My work – and the theories I proposed of Portuguese and Turkish and East Indian origins – in her own words, “belied” my true ancestry. This was a pretty serious charge and, in essence, laid the groundwork for a decade of animosity, hurt feelings, and needless bickering that could have been avoided. One can be of many heritages and postulating a Portuguese or Turkish or East Indian possibility does not automatically exclude all others, at least in my way of thinking. Human beings can be, and generally are, a mix. Also, the written record, as crucial as it is, is subject to error because (1) the winners write history, and (2) people make mistakes, sometimes accidentally and sometimes not. Oral tradition, physical phenotypes, and genetic traits and conditions should also be taken into account, with or without supportive historical documentation explaining the presence of those traits (but all too often have not been – just ask Native Americans).

Nancy Kennedy and son Brent, 1950

In short, common sense ought to play at least some part in drawing conclusions about both populations and historical events. To me this was common sense, but the fact that the official records didn’t spell out these ancestries in a traditional, easily accessible format proved an insurmountable obstacle for this particular reviewer.

Following that review, I wrote in reply that I remained convinced of what my family – and my eyes – were telling me, and that the major point of my book was to make people aware of the occasional discrepancies between the written record and real-life experience. And, again, that common sense ought to be a part of the research equation. I closed that response with these words: “I will not go away.” Nearly a decade later, as promised, I have not gone away and the truth, at least for my family, is rapidly unfolding. The genetics trail as presented in my first “Ties That Bind” presentation, and the evidence that follows here, provide increasingly powerful proof that this particular critic – and not me – was the one “belying” my family’s ancestry. The people whom she “reinvented” to suit her academic expectations were human beings, real people who lived, worked, had children and did their best to survive. They were not stick figures, nor simply faceless names on a yellowed page that could be treated as academic fodder. The day I read that “review” I made a promise to myself that I would not allow their lives – and their true identities – to be erased. I have paid a price for that promise, as most of you know, but I would absolutely do it again. They deserved no less.

Louisa Hall Nash, Brent Kennedy’s great-great grandmother

I also pledged several years ago to continue to share my personal genetic discoveries whenever possible, as evidenced in my first “Ties That Bind” (referenced above), as well as in other articles and List posts I’ve made. Today I want to share just one more fascinating discovery. This trek isn’t over by a long shot, but bit by bit it unravels itself, just as similar stories are unraveling themselves for thousands of others on similar journeys. Through the capability of DNA Print Genomics to analyze the human body’s entire genetic “book” via the Ancestrybydna 2.5 and EURODNA 1.0 tests (as opposed to singular Y or mtDNA lines), my brother and I now have an even stronger grasp of who we are. In addition to the genetics evidence of non-northern European ancestry which I presented in the original “Ties That Bind,” we now possess new data – data that once again runs contrary to the exclusive “northern Euro-centric” origins assigned to my family by outsiders. But data, nonetheless, that fits perfectly well with the other genetic results we’ve gathered, and certainly with the physical appearance and on-the-ground experience of so many of our family members.

In short, I asked my brother to volunteer his cheek cells for this new analysis, trying to incorporate both of us into the genetics testing arena. Since we share the same parents (and verifiably the same mtDNA and Y sequences), his results would be just as reflective of our ancestry as mine. Richard agreed, we swabbed his inner cheeks, sent off the sample, and waited two months. Here are the results:

From the DNAPrint 2.5:
2% sub-Saharan African
98% Indo-European

From the Euro-DNA 1.0 breaking down the 98% Indo-European):
50% Northern European
25% South Asian (India-Pakistan, etc.)
10% Middle Eastern
15% Southeastern European (Turkish-Greek/Aegean region)

Richard Kennedy, 1973

In other words, we are approximately 49 % northern European, with the other 51% consisting of a mix of south Asian, Turkish-Greek, Middle Eastern, and sub-Saharan African. A far cry from the 100% northern European argued for by this early critic (and a percentage that may be significantly lower than what might have been found in my late mother. In fact, as follow-up we are having both my and my father’s DNA analyzed as well to see if we can better establish the sources of our various heritages. I plan on releasing those results, as well).

To further appreciate my brother’s results, and for comparative purposes, DNAPrint Genomics (http://www.ancestrybydna.com) provides the following “average results” for northern Europeans:

The “average” northern European is:
82% Northern European
05.5% Greek-Turkish (now termed southeastern European)
01.5% South Asian (India-Pakistan)
11% Middle Eastern

And this is an average for modern Europeans: several centuries back one would expect the more “southerly” ethnic admixtures to be even less significant than they are today, with “northern European” genes having been even more dominant then. Too, many modern northern Europeans, including some examples at the above website, test out in the 90% to 95% Northern European range, with generally no south Asian. In fact, here are results of the same test provided to me in confidence from a Turkish friend (both parents from the Anatolian region) and a British friend (now living in the D.C. area):

Turkish Friend
Northwestern Europe 21%
Turkish-Greek/southeastern European 35%
South Asian 32%
Middle Eastern 12%

British Friend
Northwestern Europe 91%
Turkish-Greek/southeastern European 5%
South Asian 0%
Middle Eastern 4%

I also received the following results from an Appalachian cousin who had her father’s DNA analyzed, a gentleman who is related to my mother via a half dozen or more lines and also has no recent (i.e., post-1500s) Old World ancestors to “explain away” his results. This gentleman, now is his late eighties, showed the following:

Native American/east Asian: 35%
Indo-European: 65%

His 65% Indo-European broke down as follows:

Northern European 40%
Middle Eastern 0%
South Asian 5%
Turkish-Greek/Southeastern European 55%

Richard Kennedy and family, 2004

In short, the genetic northern Europeanism of this gentleman constitutes less than one third of who he is.

Whatever the case, my brother’s percentages, coupled with the variety of non-northern European mtDNA and Y sequences discovered in our family (ranging from Middle Eastern to Native American to central Asian to African), should convince even the most die-hard northern Euro-centric proponent that something else has been going on in the southern Appalachians, and likely along the eastern seaboard, for quite some time. I remain absolutely convinced that significant numbers of people of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and South Asian heritage came to this nation under the flags of northern and western European nations, intermarried not only with other, more “traditional” Europeans, but with Native and African Americans as well. They then carried their combined genes and cultures from coast to coast, most becoming lost to “history” as it would be written.

While the DNAPrint and the Euro-DNA are still being refined and will undoubtedly become even more accurate in the future, my brother’s results do not surprise me and, in fact, generally align with what I had expected based on real-life experience. However, had I “bought” into what I have been taught by outsiders all my life (i.e., that Turks and Greeks and Middle Easterners and south Asians were likely never on these shores, or at least hadn’t married into MY family), I probably would be questioning the accuracy of this test. But I stopped buying into it a long, long time ago and I do believe this analysis to be generally on target.

Incidentally, to be sure of my conclusions, I asked Dr. Tony Frudakis of DNAPrint Genomics to review my data and general conclusions before posting this article. While I take full responsibility for the article, he did have this to say:

“I found that Mr. Kennedy responsibly and soundly interpreted the significance and bearing of his autosomal admixture results, and he demonstrated a solid understanding on what autosomal tests can and cannot do and how they should and should not be interpreted.”

Of course, from a “records” standpoint we cannot prove with absolute certainty how these ancestors arrived. For example, does our south Asian come from the Asian Indian wives of Portuguese settlers, or seventeenth century Tidewater Virginia servants with English surnames, or Romany Gypsies, or the self-proclaimed “Portuguese-Indian” ancestors in my family (Reeves, Roberson, Mullins, etc.)? Can this finally explain the eccentric, long standing south Asian names we have in our family (such as “Canara,” the original name for the Indian region known today as Karnataka?). Does our Greek-Turkish/southeastern European/Middle Eastern come from converted Ottomans sent as Spanish and Portuguese settlers, or Jamestown’s textile workers, or Sir Francis Drake’s abandoned Turkish and Greek sailors? The answer to all of the above questions is, I don’t know, and I may never know. But not knowing how they arrived is not proof that they didn’t arrive. They DID come: my brother and I, and undoubtedly others, are living testimony to this fact.

Finally, and importantly, it’s critical to remember that DNA testing can only confirm what you have inherited – it cannot discount or disprove any heritage. For example, with an acceptable level of confidence, I know via privately obtained DNA sequencing that I have Native American ancestry through three of my four grandparents (Native American mtDNA haplotypes). The family oral traditions through these three grandparents, unproved through the official written records, turn out via DNA analysis to have a probable basis in fact. Yet, the Native American DNA found via DNAPrints in my older relatives is absent in my brother and me. Why? Because the percentage of any heritage is cut in half with each succeeding generation. Unlike the analysis of mtDNA or Y-chromosomes (which maintain their basic integrity/haplotype generation after generation), a DNAPrint, or a Euro-DNA Print, cannot always pick up those ancestries, particularly after a certain number of generations have passed. Typically six or seven generations will erase their presence in these tests. My great aunts show their Native American heritage via mtDNA sequences, and also in the DNAPrint in percentages ranging from 2% to 23%. But three generations later and that heritage is no longer traceable in Richard or me. But this does not mean we aren’t descended from Native Americans – we are. Again, we can validate what we have via these tests, but not finding a particular heritage does not necessarily invalidate its existence, and this is important to remember.

Canara Nash, Brent Kennedy’s great-great uncle and son of Louisa Hall Nash

What is also important for us, that is, my family in particular, is that our combined south Asian, Middle Eastern and Greek-Turkish ancestors apparently outnumbered the Native Americans and Africans, and at least matched the northern Europeans in our specific ancestral lines. So much so that in 2005 their combined genes still comprise a bit more than half of what we are. In essence, my brother and I are more than 50% non-northern European, and just as closely linked genetically to the people of the Aegean, Anatolia, the Middle East, and India and Pakistan as we are to Ireland and England. And our Mother and her family were likely even more closely linked. Yet, throughout our lives we have been taught – rigidly taught – that in spite of what our eyes could see, this was not true. In the heart of Appalachia, in front of the very noses of academia, an incredible story has been waiting, indeed begging, to be told, but those who could have helped in the telling were either unable, or unwilling, to do so. Who we were and who we are even today – our basic human identity – had already been assigned to us by the outside world, the winners, in effect, engaged in the traditional writing of “history.”

For more than a century the Melungeons (and other mixed race peoples) have been told that their traditions and their beliefs have little or no merit. History books long ago dismissed and excluded any significant Portuguese, East Indian/south Asian, Ottoman Turkish, Greek, or general Mediterranean genes from their ancestral pools. In clinging to Portuguese or other non-northern European Old World origins, according to this stance, Melungeons were simply harboring a deep-seated psychological need for an “exotic ancestry,” clinging to “myth” in order to make themselves feel special. But the truth is, in my opinion, that the Melungeons were doing nothing more than expressing the basic human need – and right – to preserve and to celebrate one’s full ancestry. Just as the northern European side of me is permitted, even encouraged, to celebrate its heritage (which I gleefully do on each and every Saint Patrick’s Day), so should the south Asian and the Turkish or Middle Eastern or African sides of me be permitted to do likewise. There is no such thing as an “exotic” ancestry and I find it offensive to have that term thrown out again and again in the manner that it has been. In India and Pakistan and Turkey, “English” could be considered “exotic.” This terminology, and the argument it supposedly supports, has grown wearisome, offensive and, as growing DNA and archival evidence increasingly demonstrates, erroneous.

The bottom line remains as it did in my original “Ties That Bind” presentation: We are all human beings, comprised and composed of all those who came before us, creations of God, Children of Abraham. Nothing more, nothing less. Not exotic, not mundane. Simply people wanting to know more about those that came before them, so that they might teach those that come after them. My brother’s and my search for origins is confirming for us who we are, but it should not be viewed as a shortcut to the solution of the mystery of the Melungeons: it is not. A great deal more archival research and further refinements/advancements in DNA sleuthing lie ahead before that day arrives, if it ever does. But, perhaps a little selfishly, I do take joy in the fact that I at least know a bit more about my family’s specific ancestry and the cultural and genetic forces that shaped them, and ultimately me.

In closing, the photographs included in this article may better illustrate why I might have questioned my family being so adamantly labeled by a modern researcher as exclusively northern European.

With appreciation for all those engaged in family research, Melungeon or otherwise.

Brent Kennedy

Nancy Kennedy, 1970

ADDENDUM; 24 April 2005

As promised in the above article, I’m now sharing both my father’s and my DNAPrint and EuroDNA results. As you might recall, my brother’s results were:

DNAPrint 2.5:
Indo-European: 98%
Sub-Saharan African: 2%

EuroDNA (based on his 98% Indo-European):
50% Northern European (northern/western Europe)
25% South Asian (India-Pakistan)
15% Eastern European (Turkish-Greek/Mediterranean)
10% Middle Eastern

In order to gauge both the accuracy of the tests and to hopefully better determine our genetic origins, my Father and I also participated in both the DNAPrint and EuroDNA testing process. My results were as follows:

DNAPrint 2.5:
100% Indo-European

EuroDNA (based on 100% Indo-European):
45% Northern European (northern/western Europe)
25% Middle Eastern
25% Eastern European (Turkish-Greek/Mediterranean)
5% South Asian (India-Pakistan)

My results very closely reflect what we expected, given my brother’s results and the fact that we are full siblings. We also expected my South Asian to be less, as his features show “south Asian” more than mine, though physical appearance isn’t always reflected by measurable genes. In summary, I tested 55%, or thereabouts, non-northern European while my brother tested approximately 52% non-northern European.

Since our Mother is deceased, we could only test our Father. While he has a mixed heritage also, we have assumed that Dad’s results would show more northern European than ours, given his more “traditional” northern/western European appearance. In fact, Richard and I estimated that he would test out at 70% northern European and the remaining 30% a mixture of the others. His actual results were:

65% Northern/western European
15% Middle Eastern
10% Eastern European (Turkish-Greek)
10% South Asian (India-Pakistan)

While we can only estimate our Mother’s DNAPrint and EuroDNA results, based on my and my brother’s results, when coupled with my Father’s more northern European results, we are led to estimate that her results would have approximated 30% northern European, 4% sub-Saharan African, and the remaining 65% or so divided among the remaining Middle Eastern, Turkish-Greek, South Asian categories. Again, exactly what one might expect from her physical appearance. Our hope is to even more closely approximate her likely genetic heritage via the testing of two surviving great aunts.

In short, our experience with the DNAPrint and EuroDNA analyses has been extremely enlightening and absolutely confirming of what we have suspected all along.

Final Addendum: July 9, 2005

As promised, here are the results of the testing of two surviving great aunts, siblings of my late Mother’s parents. A photo of my grandmother’s sister, Helen Nash Mayo, is included, along with a photo of my late grandfather, Taylor Hopkins. I appreciate both of my great Aunts’ willingness to do this as their cooperation has provided me with a rare opportunity to better understand my maternal ethnic heritage.

In each case I have combined the DNAPrint 2.5 and Euro-DNA Print 1.0 for simplicity of understanding. Also, I am using the original genetics nomenclature from the original test results received (i.e., Turkish/Greek as opposed to Southeastern European) to avoid confusion when making comparisons).

From Great-Aunt # 1, a sister to my maternal grandfather Taylor Hopkins (Helena Hopkins Dale):

Taylor Hopkins, 1980

33% Northern/western European

30% Middle Eastern

16% Turkish/Greek

11% sub-Saharan African

7% Native American

3% South Asian (India/Pakistan)

100% (33% northern/western European/67% other mixture)

From Great-Aunt # 2, a sister to my maternal grandmother, Rexie Nash Hopkins (Helen Nash Mayo):

Helen Nash Mayo, 2005

63% Northern/western European

12% Middle Eastern

23% Turkish/Greek

2% Native American

100% (63% northern/western European/37% other mixture)

The results are almost precisely what I had expected.

Incidentally, it’s important to remember that the Northern/Western European results may include the genes of settlers from not only Scandinavia, Scotland and Germany, but also of France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, etc. In other words, any genetic legacy of Portugal and/or of “Mediterranean” Europeans to the west of Greece would most likely be included in the Northern/Western European category.

Again, for my family, the DNAPrint 2.5 and Euro-DNAPrint 1.0 have performed with impressive accuracy, as each generation has fallen into place with predictable, logical results that do not contradict previous findings. I’m sure the science will be continually refined, but I am impressed, to say the least. And again – and importantly – the genetics continue to confirm what my family’s eyes and common sense have always told us.

“American Gypsies’ by Alessandro Ursic (2005 article)

Published by:

American Gypsies

A journey through the lands of the Melungeons, a community that’s been discriminated against for centuries

by Alessandro Ursic

Note from MHA webmaster: This article appeared in an Italian newspaper and on the website PeaceReporter.net. The original article may be seen at http://www.peacereporter.net/dettaglio_articolo.php?idpa=&idc=44&ida=&idt=&idart=3933
This article is a translation from the original Italian. Whether through misunderstanding or mistakes in translation, the following article contains a few inaccuracies. These will be corrected at the end of the article.

The history of the first American colonials is almost comforting: they were Anglo-Saxons looking for their fortune, and for some escaping persecution in their homeland, and thanks to them the America of today was born. An adventure full of tribulations, but one with a happy ending. The majority of pioneers were white, Christian and northern European. But it’s exactly for this that in the New World old prejudices also found their place. A developing society that through the course of centuries brought together immigrants from every continent, yet those that were different have been systematically marginalised. Segregation of Afro-Caribbean’s is well known. Those that are “different” were not categorised by racial means. It wasn’t obvious like with the others. It didn’t effect the same number of people. But just because of this it was no less cruel. And still today, in an out of the way zone in the Appalachian mountains that stretch between Eastern Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia, there are those that can tell the story.

The origins of the name Melungeons.

An etymologically bastardised word, not pure, like the origins of those that it has labelled. It’s the name that baptised a small agricultural community, that no-one -not even themselves- knows where it came from. White but olive skinned, for sure not White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Turkish? Maybe. Descendants of Portuguese or North African sailors? Could be. Europeans mixed with African slaves and Native American tribes? Very probable. In the rigid racial separation between whites and blacks of the Eighteen hundreds, the Melungeons were indecipherable. They were a closed society, still today their descendants all have the same surnames: Collins, Mullins, Gibson, and Goins. They didn’t have the same rights as whites. They didn’t want to be aligned with blacks. Up until the point they became of type of “American gypsy.” Seen as shady, unreliable, and unable to assimilate. “If you’re not good, the Melungeons will come and take you away,” white mothers would say to their naughty children.

Breaking a taboo.

Wayne Winkler

Wayne Winkler, Melungeon from his mother’s side, is a man that for the last ten years has been working to reclaim an identity that has been negated for the last two centuries. Challenging the indifference of the elders that say to the young: “If you had had to suffer the discrimination that we did, you wouldn’t be so proud today.” In 1995 Winkler founded the Melungeon Heritage Association. The same year he organised a meeting of those that had the same origins. “I expected fifty or so people, but six hundred came. The following year, two thousand.” Winkler remembers the first time he heard that terrible word. “I was 12 years old, I was in a shop with my brother and my grandmother, a Melungeon. At a certain point a client called her a ‘black squaw,’ a double insult because to call an Indian woman a squaw is like calling her a prostitute. That evening I asked my father what Melungeon meant, he took me aside and explained. But the discussion was taboo in my family.”

Indifference of a peoples.

Today Winkler’s curiosity is now shared by more than a thousand members of his association. There’s the desire to understand, to dig deep into their past. Anything but easy; for the elderly the word Melungeon remains an insult. They don’t speak willingly. It’s for this reason that journalists, who in the last 10 years have descended on the county of Hancock in Tennessee, fifty thousand inhabitants almost all with Melungeon origins, have got the impression that it’s an un-welcoming and impenetrable place. Knocking at the doors of small spartan houses asking, “Excuse me, but do you happen to be Melungeon?” It’s like going to the house of an elderly Afro-American person in Alabama and asking them, “Do you happen to be black?”

Where they come from.

DruAnna Overbay of the Vardy Community Historical Society

The origins the Melungeons is still unclear. The only sure thing was discovered by Winkler, it was the first documented use of this name in 1813. The term could have six different meanings, none of which are positive. There’s the possibility that it’s derived from the French mélange, mixture. From the Greek melos, black. From the Portuguese melungo, sailor. From the Arabic, melunjinn or the Turkish meluncan, “dammed soul”. Or from the ancient English melengine, malicious. Words all of different origins, each one supports his theory. Winkler has written a book on the topic, he believes that the first Melungeons were Portuguese sailors from the era of the great explorers (and, therefore, also North African, Indian). Another Melungeon author, Brent Kennedy, in his two books on the origins of this community looks towards Anatolia. But he’s talking about late Fifteen hundreds, Sixteen hundreds. Documents don’t exist that would give a precise identification. The only accepted fact is, that from wherever they came, these pioneers settled in the poorest rural zones of the Appalachians –a land only useful for small stock farming and subsistence agriculture, certainly not for plantations- and here they integrated more easily with the other “differents”: the black slaves and the native Americans. A kind of union between the marginalised. It has given birth to a mixture that Winkler and Kennedy call “tri-racial.”

Centuries of hostility.

Brent Kennedy with a photograph of his mother

Discrimination had already started in the Seventeen Hundreds. At the end of the century, in order to find themselves some peace, hundreds of Melungeons went south to the valleys of Tennessee, because at that time the State was one of the few that allowed free men to vote. In reality though once the Melungeons were settled there, their right to vote was taken away. Children couldn’t go to school: they were not allowed to go into white’s schools, and they didn’t want to go to those of the black. There were episodes of intimidation; houses of undesirables were set fire to. But even when there wasn’t violence, discrimination continued. Often the Melungeons weren’t even called Melungeons, but called, disparagingly, as “those people that live in Hancock county.” Living in that zone, even if you were pure white, was already a sign of guilt. Some young people from Hancock, not Melungeons, left school, fed up with having the mickey taken out them because they came from, “that place where those people live.” It was like that in the Nineteen Thirties, then the Presbyterian church founded a school in Hancock county that accepted anyone, also Melungeons who had been refused by all other institutions. In 45 years of work, hundreds of young people were given the opportunity to get an education

The desire for normality.

The emancipation continued into the Nineteen Seventies, when in America the civil rights movement emerged. With the aim of opening up to tourism, (the region was still poor by United States standards), the people of Hancock county decided to prepare a theatrical show about their situation. The show lasted for seven consecutive seasons, grabbing the attention of the surrounding areas and also the big daily newspapers. For the first time, the Melungeons started to talk. Claude Collins, one of the 150 remaining pure Melungeons, remembers that not everyone was in agreement about this public opening up. “During the time of the show it was me that spoke the most to journalists. Many of them didn’t want to collaborate and they looked down on me. I also received a number of threats for doing this.”

New friends.

Claude Collins of the Melungeon Hertiage Association and the Vardy Community Historical Society

In the Seventies the community again became forgotten. But interest was revived in 1994 by a book written by Brent Kennedy, Melungeon on his mother’s side, and his theory on Anatolian origins. Kennedy started his research when he discovered he had sarcoidosis, an illness that strikes, above all, those from the Mediterranean and Middle East. He had a DNA analysis and discovered that 55% of his genetic makeup wasn’t European but Middle Eastern, Greek-Turkish and from Southeast Asia. “Look at the ‘photo of my mother,” he says showing a 30 year old ‘photo. That’s to say particular face: Afro-American shape, oriental eyes and a yellowish complexion. Kennedy’s father was white and Brent isn’t like his mother. “I have much fairer skin –he says- but my brother could easily be Arabic.” Whether the Anatolian theory is right or wrong, Kennedy’s book has revived Melungeon pride. It has brought together apparently distant lands: in the last few years showing an article from a Turkish magazine, Kennedy declares that dozens of young people have become pen-friends with their Turkish contemporaries. University exchange programmes have been initiated between students. The Ambassador from Ankara came to visit last year. The Turkish city of Cesme and that of Wise in Tennessee are twinned: in Cesme there even a ‘Wise Street.’

Excellent relatives.

The desire today of the Melungeons for an identity pushes them into looking for possible famous ancestors. Winkler and Kennedy sustain that it was highly probable that ex president Abraham Lincoln, was Melungeon: that’s to say that from his facial characteristics and the fact that he was born in eastern Kentucky. Also recognised as being from Melungeon origin the actress Ava Gardner, daughter of a poor tobacco farmer from North Carolina. But the most famous Melungeon of all time, whose mother was from eastern Tennessee, could be none other than the King of Rock, Elvis Presley. “There are links,” declares Winkler. Accepting this as fact is almost impossible for him as well: in written documents the word Melungeon doesn’t exist. But his smile says that he would like to believe it to be true.

Corrections from MHA

Many opinions were expressed in the above article. However, there were a few factual errors which we would like to correct.

Wayne Winkler was not the founder of the Melungeon Heritage Association. Many people were involved in the formation of MHA; Winkler says he played “a minor role” in founding the organization, which was chartered in 1998.

The first Melungeon gathering occurred in Wise, Virginia, in July 1997.

Hancock County, Tennessee, has fewer than 5,000 residents, and not all of them are of Melungeon descent.

The first documented use of the term “Melungeon” was located in the minutes of Stony Creek Primitive Baptist Church in 1813. Jack Goins made the discovery.

The outdoor drama “Walk Toward the Sunset” was staged from 1969 to 1976 in Sneedville, Tennessee. However, the play was not produced in 1972 or in 1974 due to financial problems (1972) and the gasoline shortage (1974).

“Barbados Link May Provide ‘Smoking Gun”” by Brent Kennedy, 1997 article

Published by:

Barbados Link May Provide “Smoking Gun” Clue to Melungeon Surnames

by Brent Kennedy

Melungeon ancestry possibilities have expanded to include significant numbers of “English” and “Scotch” settlers who came to South Carolina in the late 1600s and early 1700s, but not from England. Although these people held English citizenship, their actual ethnic make-up was far different from the prototype Anglos of that period. These settlers were from Barbados, ethnically mixed people seeking better lives in the mainland colonies.

These so-called “freedmen” tended to be a mixture of English and Scotch, native Barbadians (i.e. Indian), Portuguese Jews, other Mediterranean people, and Africans. And, most telling, their surnames match those English names that most commonly show up among the earliest Melungeon populations. It would seem likely that, over time, these ethnically mixed “Englishmen” would have indeed moved northward and admixed with Melungeon ancestral groups in the Carolinas and Virginia. There are many related documents detailing the movements of these early settlers, but one will suffice for this first announcement (this document kindly provided by Angela Andrews of the University of Virginia). John Camden Hotten’s work on the Barbados settlers provides the following astonishing surname list of “English” settlers from Barbados: (see below for Library of Congress citations)


Portuguese Jews

Lockbeare (Lockleare)

These surnames are virtually a directory of Melungeon surnames, and can potentially play a major role in demonstrating how specific English and Scotch-Irish names popped up among the various Melungeon populations. It also reaffirms how the official U.S. census records can be misleading regarding race, ethnicity, and actual origin. These people were all legitimate “English” and “Scotch-Irish” settlers, and would have passed this heritage along to their offspring. But ethnically they were of mixed European, Middle Eastern, Indian, and African origin. One more lesson in the flaws of unquestionably accepting the written census record as “fact.”

Additional data relating to the possible Barbados connection will be posted in the near future, but hopefully this first post will spur others to look more carefully as the often mentioned “West Indies” connection within their families.

Brent Kennedy
2 December 1997

The original lists of persons of quality, emigrants, religious exiles, political rebels, serving men sold for a term of years, apprentices, children stolen, maidens pressed, and others, who went from Great Britain to the American plantations, 1600-1700.
Hotten, John Camden,1832-1873,ed. [E187.5 .H794 LH&G ]
New York, Empire State Book Co. [n.d.]
580 p. 26 cm.


FIRST EDITION: The original lists of persons of quality; emigrants; religious exiles; political rebels; serving men sold for a term of years; apprentices; children stolen; maidens pressed; and others who went from Great Britain to the American plantations, 1600-1700.
1874 Hotten, John Camden,1832-1873,ed. [E187.5 .H79 ]
London, Chatto and Windus, 1874.
2 p.l., [vii]-xxxii p., 1 l., [35]-580 (i.e. 604) p. 25 cm.

Omitted chapters from Hotten’s original lists of persons of quality and others who went from Great Britain to the American plantations, 1600-1700 : census returns, parish registers, and militia rolls from the Barbados census of 1679/80
edited by James C. Brandow.
Baltimore : Genealogical Pub. Co., 1982.
xi, 245 p. ; 23 cm.
Includes index.

The original lists of persons of quality, emigrants, religious exiles, political rebels, serving men sold for a term of years, apprentices, children stolen, maidens pressed, and others who went from Great Britain to the American plantations, 1600-1700; with their ages, the localities where they formerly lived in the mother country, the names of the ships in which they embarked, and other interesting particulars, from mss. preserved in the State Paper Department of Her Majesty’s Public Record Office, England.
1962 Hotten, John Camden,1832-1873,ed. [E187.5 .H7945 ]
Baltimore, Genealogical Pub. Co., 1962.
xxxii, 580 p. 23 cm.

” ‘Black Dutch’ – A Polite Euphemism” by Darlene Wilson, 1997 article

Published by:

Black Dutch” – A Polite Euphemism?

by Darlene Wilson

Note: This article, slightly revised here, appeared in the winter 1997-98 issue of the Appalachian Quarterly, published by the Wise County Historical Society.

My mother’s family (surname ‘Albert,’ mostly in and around Pulaski Co., VA) always said that they were of ‘Black Dutch’ ancestry but no one then or now living could explain, to my satisfaction, what that meant. Many of her aunts, uncles, and siblings looked more Native American than any other ethnicity; by the end of summer, one great-aunt of mine who loved to garden looked a lot like surviving pictures of that much-noted Melungeon matriarch, Mahala Collins Mullins who, as a young woman, appeared to be a medium-dark mulatto.

As is typical of many Appalachian families, my mother’s people only bothered to trace the one male line that could be linked:

1) to a ‘name’ on a ship’s manifest– in this scenario, an original ‘Albert’ left Germany c. 1700– and,

2) to a Revolutionary War pension record– here, one of Albert’s grandsons apparently made his way down the Valley of Virginia after the War looking for land.
About HER mother’s ancestry or about her paternal grandmother’s ancestry, my mom knew very little. Other family members also were reluctant to speculate about any other family-surname than that one Albert who was, they insisted, “Black Dutch.” One suggested that there had been an insulated people connected to the famed “Black Forest” and perhaps therein lay the term’s origin.

Since beginning my research, I’ve found that my family’s origin-story was not unique– ‘Black Dutch’ was used in southwest Virginia, southern W.VA, east Tennessee, and east Kentucky, in a context that OFTEN (but NOT always) served to explain away the dark-featured, swarthy, (good) looks of family members who would be right at home (in the sense of physical appearance) among ‘Indians’ (native Americans), Middle Eastern or Arabic countries, or those in African communities, especially in the north part of that continent along the Mediterranean Sea.

Historically the combination of the word ‘Black’ and one of European/ethnic self-signification is quite common. Last year, university-based scholars on the electronic list known as H-Albion (for British historians) got into a discussion about the origins of the term ‘Black Dutch’, which was exciting because there were so many different, conflicting opinions expressed and, as I recall, the LIST did not reach any consensus. We were reminded of the Black Irish and of several ‘color-ful’ communities in northern Europe, especially Scandinavia– in fact, according to the contributors, anywhere that Spanish or Mediterranean ships could get to, sailors are believed to have left their genetic ‘mark’, so to speak. The debate turned to one over which came first (chronologically): did Spanish sailors visit Finland and Holland to ‘seed’ it or did the Vikings bring back a few specimen (and/or speci-women) from other-colored harbors?

For my family, a different scenario seems plausible– I think that first Albert to arrive in western Virginia linked up with a native-appearing woman, probably Cherokee or Monacan in culture and upbringing, who offered him some ‘protection’ in that she knew the terrain and had stalwart ‘brothers’ in other clans/families who could help him carve out a ‘place’ in the mountains within which they too would be safe. At that time, Thomas Jefferson and many other Anglo-American leaders recommended ‘amalgamation’ and marriage between natives and the former colonists– Patrick Henry even broached a plan to his colleagues in Virginia’s General Assembly to give fifty acres and a cow to any “white” who married an Indian.

At the very same time, an educational campaign was launched and conducted (by religious leaders and government agents) to teach native men and women how to ‘adopt’ white lifestyles– these lessons included keeping women out of the corn-fields and adopting Southern patterns of chattel slavery. By all accounts, descendants of the Cherokees had to be ‘taught’ to hate (and enslave) African-Americans and to turn their backs on those they had previously welcomed as simply other human beings. Only a handful of Cherokees actually prospered as slave owners, however, and most rejected the practice of slavery as inhumane and contrary to their spiritual views.

In the aftermath of the so-called “Nat Turner revolt,” attitudes hardened toward mixed-ancestry people throughout the 1830s and the southern states passed harsh measures to control their lives or to banish them from white(r) communities. By 1840, anybody who resembled Albert’s wife or mother-in-law could be ’rounded-up’ and herded out West with all the other descendants of post-contact-Natives. If you had certain features or skin-tones (even the palest of ‘yellow’ if the record-keepers didn’t like you or your daddy or mama), you and your children could be ’rounded-up’ and sold into slavery. The term ‘Black Dutch’– especially if it had indeed become familiar to other Europeans as the H-ALBION list-members argued so forcefully– was thus at-hand when, suddenly, people felt compelled to deny their more-colorful, mixed-ancestry. And there were literally thousands and thousands of Southern residents who shared this problem. So, I’d argue that Black Dutch was a “polite” euphemism for being “of mixed-ancestry” only if it were accepted by local- and military-authorities– if not, going deeper into the upcountry South could be a family’s only recourse. The mountainous region that would be named “Wise County” became one such safe destination, a sanctuary for those who needed more time to get “white-enough” according to these new racial categories.

(For further reading on the historical use of red, white, and black terminology, I recommend the recent essay by Nancy Shoemaker, “How the Indians Got to Be Red” in The American Historical Review, June 1997, Vol. 102, Number 3, pp. 625-644. Ms. Shoemaker’s footnotes point to literally dozens of significant readings and offer a handy guide to the vast literature on race and race-language in America.)

Darlene Wilson
28 January 1998

“`Black Indian’ Lists Prove Helpful” by Brent Kennedy, 1998 article

Published by:

“Black Indian” Lists Prove Helpful

byBrent Kennedy

January 25, 1998

W. A. Plecker’s list of “mongrel Virginians” proved quite helpful in our recent efforts to demonstrate how Melungeon mixed-race families migrated westward from eastern Virginia, and how many Appalachian surnames correspond with Plecker’s list of “mongrel” surnames of eastern Virginia.

While Dr. Virginia DeMarce and I have had our differences over the degree of expansiveness of the Melungeon population (and its original ethnic make-up), I continue to hold her general research skills in high regard. My criticisms of DeMarce have never been related to the accuracy of her work in relation to the written record, but simply that her work has invariably excluded significant data – and population groups – that were either not reflected at all, or inaccurately reflected, in the written record. To demand that official census records, or written tribal/clan histories, be produced to verify one’s existence, is to effectively “erase” the vast majority of Native American, African, and Melungeon/mixed-race heritage. Most people in these populations were not encouraged– and many were actively prohibited– to learn to read and write, thus ensuring that their histories would never be “properly” recorded. And the ruling whites of the time were generally recording records in only four classifications: white (northern European), red (Native American), black (sub-Saharan African), or mulatto (a combination of the first three). There was no option for Arab, Jew, Berber, Turk, etc., save to be pigeon-holed into one of the first three, or to be assigned to the last “catch all” category.

While I take pride in all my ancestors who indeed fit into the first three, as well as the mulatto category, I also demand the right to recognize other possible origins, irregardless of where our Government census officers placed them. They, too, were human beings whose lives were important. Just because they’re dead doesn’t render them irrelevant. I insist on remembering ALL of my ancestors as accurately as possible, to be able to celebrate their blackness, their whiteness, their redness, and, yes, even their Middle Eastern brown-ness if the evidence points in that direction. Which it most certainly does. Our early shores were far more ethnically diverse than many researchers have understood. And this has been my major disagreement with the position taken by DeMarce – not criticizing her work because it is inaccurate, but because it it hasn’t gone far enough. An entire layer of our heritage is missing.

But my position on this issue does not mean that I throw out the baby with the bathwater. I STILL respect Virginia DeMarce’s work and STILL respect her early efforts at educating Americans about their mixed-race heritage. One area of her research that I find interesting and especially valuable is her work on the so-called “Black Indians.” The Black Indians were generally considered to be a mixture of Native Americans and Africans. While I believe this to be true, I suspect that many so-called Black Indians also reflect Melungeon heritage as well and, in certain locales, came to wear the label of Melungeon. The lists of surnames among the Black Indians could prove quite helpful to those interested in researching possible Native American and/or Melungeon genealogical connections. They are especially interesting when cross-checked with the Barbados data postedelsewhere on this website.

While I have not yet had time to pursue each of the possible connections, it is quite interesting (and probably not coincidental) that the majority of my family surnames (i.e., nearly ALL of them) are to be found among either the Melungeon surnames or the lists of so-called “Black Indians.” Many of their original sites (such as the Orange County, Virginia/Saponi connection) also fit perfectly with the ancestral homes of many of my own ancestors. It’s a fascinating journey and all Melungeon descendants should review these data for possible hints at their own origins.

These lists represent the names of Freedmen adopted through the Dawes Commission, with a time frame of 1898 through 1916. For the full lists the reader may visit: http://members.aol.com/angelaw859/freename.html.

For me personally, my possible “Black Indian” surname connections follow and, as the reader will note, the number of connections does indeed appear to exceed mere coincidence:

Black Creeks (20 related surnames):
Collin (Collins)
Colly (Colley)

Black Choctaws (22 related surnames):

Black Chickasaws (17 related surnames):

Black Cherokees (17 related surnames):

Black Seminoles (10 related surnames):

“North From the Mountains” by John Kessler and Donald Ball, 2000 conference paper

Published by:

Carmel Melungeons 1

North From the Mountains: The Carmel Melungeons of Ohio

by John Kessler and Donald Ball

Paper presented Saturday, 20 May 2000, Third Union, University of Virginia’s College at Wise, Wise, Virginia.

Abstract. Recent research into the history, origins, and lifeways of the Carmel Indians of Highland County, (south-central) Ohio, has produced the most comprehensive study to date of this little known Melungeon-related settlement since the studies of Berry (1963), Gilbert (1949), Morgan (1946; 1955), and Price (1950a; 1950b). This effort draws upon archival sources, firsthand observations of the group as it existed in the 1940’s and early 1950’s, and more recent fieldwork. The present comments have been extracted from a more detailed study of this group scheduled to be released by Mercer University Press in late 2000.

Notice: The present summation of research on the Carmel Melungeon settlement of southern Ohio is released and made available with the express permission and authorization of Mercer University Press, Macon, Georgia. This material is copyrighted and may not be reproduced in any manner for other than personal use.


Ladies and gentlemen, it is truly a pleasure to be here today and share with you the results of a portion of our research on one of the lesser known Melungeon settlements. By way of introduction, I am Don Ball, archaeologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Louisville, Kentucky, and with me is my collaborator and co-author, John Kessler, who was raised on a farm near Carmel and interacted on an almost daily basis for nearly 20 years with the folks we will be discussing. The present observations represent but an extended extract of the information presented in a book-length study of the Carmel settlement scheduled for release later this year by Mercer University Press in Macon, Georgia.

To the casual tourist and many area residents alike, the countryside surrounding the small, sleepy crossroads settlement of Carmel nestled at the very edge of the Appalachian foothills in Highland County, southern Ohio, may seem an unlikely place to initiate research into an obscure group which originated in the mid-Atlantic seaboard. As is the case with the majority of the estimated 200 such mixed-blood groups recorded throughout the eastern United States, relatively little scholarly attention has been specifically directed to the study of the Carmel Melungeons. The earliest published reference to this group appears to be but a simple, brief mention of its existence in a general guide to the State of Ohio prepared by the Ohio Writer’s Program (1940:509). Such historical and ethnographic information as is available appears principally in the studies of Price (1950a; 1950b), Morgan (1946; 1955), Gilbert (1949:426-427), and a scattering of comments in other sources (e.g., Ayers 1971; Berry 1963; 1978; McBride and McBride 1990). Though insightful, none were either intensive or systematic.

As will be discussed in much greater detail herein, it is a working premise of this effort that the settlement commonly known as the “Carmel Indians” is related to, and derived from, the better known Melungeons of southern Appalachia, themselves the subject of some investigation and much speculation since the late 1800’s. Tracing the long and winding route traveled by the ancestors of the Carmel natives as they crossed the rugged Appalachian mountains and ultimately came to settle in the Ohio hill country, the present comments will focus on the history, lifeways, and current status of this settlement. The Carmel group has been traditionally viewed as “Indian” by area Whites and, indeed, made claims to Indian inheritance on its own behalf.

For present purposes, it is more than appropriate to clarify the identification of the Carmel enclave as “Melungeon”. A number of scholarly and popular writers alike have restricted the area of occupation of the Melungeons to a relatively limited portion of Appalachia generally consisting of Hancock and Hawkins counties, Tennessee, and Lee, Scott, and Wise counties, Virginia. Such a perspective ignores the residency of genetically comparable and similarly named families throughout an area covering at least 29 adjacent counties variously located in northwestern North Carolina, southwestern Virginia, northeastern Tennessee, and southeastern Kentucky. Accordingly, this paper takes the position that the population scattered across this broad area is de facto Melungeon, be they derived from the “core” area of Melungeon occupation or, alternately, from the same source areas in the mid-Atlantic coastal region. It is ill founded to presume that any given family named Gibson or Collins ­ two “core” surnames encountered within both the “classic” Melungeon heartland and Magoffin County, Kentucky, the source area for the Carmel population ­ are necessarily unrelated. Were, for example, one of these families to move from Magoffin County to Hancock County, they would promptly be deemed “Melungeon”. Merely living in an outlying county within this region makes them no less so. Simultaneously, it would be erroneous to assume that genetic variation of particular population pockets did not occur within this region. Thus, the Melungeons living along the Tennessee-Virginia border were genetically similar ­ but not identical ­ to those living elsewhere.

Situated at the foot of Long Lick Hill, the small crossroads settlement of Carmel (pronounced “Car’-mul”) is located in Brush Creek Township in the southeastern corner of Highland County, (southwestern) Ohio. This hamlet is literally at the edge of the Appalachian escarpment. To the south and east, heavily dissected, forested hill country predominates. To the north and west, the gently rolling topography is more influenced by till plain formations. Hillsboro, the county seat, is approximately 50 miles east of Cincinnati and an equal distance southeast of Dayton. It is situated less than 30 miles due north of the Ohio River.

Never formally platted as a town, Carmel as a community has always been small and rural in nature. Settled as early as 1823 by the holders of land grants for Revolutionary War service, the community was granted a post office in 1856 (closed 1921). A mercantile store was established on the southwestern corner of the crossroads as early as 1870. In addition to the post office, in its “heyday” in the 1890’s and turn of the century, this trading center had grown to a population of 80 persons and hosted four retail establishments (grocery and general stores), a resident attorney, two blacksmith shops, a Methodist Church, and a flour mill situated on nearby Rocky Fork Creek.

By the 1940’s, electricity and telephone service was available during this period but many persons had neither. Water was from individual wells. The store was the social center for the immediate area. Other local attractions were the church on Sunday, the occasional tent revival which used the field next to the school, and election day. The years have witnessed the continuing decline of Carmel’s role in the affairs of the adjacent countryside. The settlement’s population was estimated to be but 30 persons in 1970 (Ayers 1971:289).

Situated about 0.8 mile south of Carmel along SR 753 was a small settlement referred to locally as Coon’s Crossing. This was an aggregation of houses and shanties, many of which were occupied by Melungeons. This small settlement at the proverbial “wide spot in the road” remains little changed with the exception that many early “shanties” have been replaced with used mobile homes.


The first concentration of persons classified as “Mulatto” in Brush Creek Township appear in the 1870 census. As recorded for that year, these residents consisted of six households varying from 3 to 14 individuals in size with a total population of 40 individuals. Three households represented two surnames each. The surnames present at that time (with number of individuals) were: Gipson (17); Jackson (1); Matthews (9); Nichols (5); Perkins (4); Philips (3); and Wairmine (1) (Breakfield 1995:1, 3-5). Both the appearance of multiple surnames within households and the general proximity of these households to one another serve to suggest that these persons represented extended families of related individuals.

The correlation of age and place of birth information as extracted from the census schedules is of particular utility in documenting the appearance of the group in Ohio. The general migration of the Brush Creek mixed-bloods is clearly shown by virtue of six out of seven of the oldest residents (50+ years) having been born in Tennessee or Virginia (the implications of these states in the history of the group will be discussed below) while 23 of 33 individuals under the age of 50 stated their place of birth as Kentucky. Of the nine persons born in Ohio, seven were under the age of 10 years while only two individuals over the age of 10 were born in that state. The oldest of these, Margaret Gipson, was 21 years old. This information suggests that various families in the group may have experimented with living in other areas of the state as early as 1849 prior to moving to Highland County. As shown by the census schedule, some families had apparently moved to Ohio, returned to Kentucky, and once again decided to move across the Ohio River. Within the cluster of young persons under 10 years born in Ohio, the oldest child was six years old at the time of the census further suggesting the likelihood that the group had settled in Brush Creek Township as early as ca. 1864.

Though speculative and circumstantial, such a settlement date is supported by the events surrounding the Civil War. Southern Ohio was little affected by the comings and goings of clashing armies. Indeed, through the war years the farm economy of Ohio prospered in response to feeding an ever increasing Union military force (Jones 1962:5). The likely resultant need for farm labor in Brush Creek Township (and other areas) and the point of origin of the mixed-bloods in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, an area not known for strong Confederate sympathies, served to foster an environment which would at least tolerate their movement into the economically marginal hill country.

Their occupancy in the foothills of Highland County simultaneously afforded a desirable juxtaposition of familiar rugged terrain of little economic use to local farmers and access to construction material, food, fuel, and sources of paid employment. Area farmers in turn gained a source of labor which did not demand higher wages and, indeed, may not have sought or desired steady work (Price 1950b:285). Price (1950a:193) estimated the population of this diffuse group in the Carmel vicinity to be approximately 150 in the late 1940’s. For the same time period, Beale’s examination of the 1950 Federal census schedules revealed a total population of 450 individuals distributed through three counties; specifically, this figure included Champaign County (60; classified as White and Negro), Hardin County (260; classified as White, Indian, and Negro), and Highland County (130; classified as White) (Beale 1957:194).


Though the reasons for their migration specifically to Highland County remain both obscure and conjectural, the roots of the Carmel colony in Magoffin and adjacent parts of Floyd counties, Kentucky, are well established on the basis of both documentary and oral historical evidence (cf. Price 1950a; 1950b). As suggested by available census schedules, marriage records, and interviews conducted by Price in the 1940’s, movement between the two areas had long been prompted by a desire to seek employment opportunities north of the Ohio River while maintaining their familial ties to the Kentucky mountains.

Price’s examination of applicable census schedules and other records revealed that the ancestors of the Magoffin County (established 1860) group were present in Floyd County (which then included Magoffin County) by 1810. The 1820 Floyd County census listed several of these families as “Free Person[s] of Color” while in the 1850 and subsequent schedules they were variously enumerated as White, Mulatto, and Indian. In general, their racial mixture was evidently a matter of long standing and had occurred prior to their entry into Kentucky. As noted in the census schedules, these mountaineers were variously born in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee (Price 1950b:288).

Within Magoffin County, the major concentration of the mixed-blood population was formerly (1940’s) reported to reside along Big Lick, a branch of Middle Creek in the eastern part of the county, and nearby portions of Middle Creek, a tributary of the Big Sandy, which extends into adjacent portions of Floyd County (Price 1950a:201; 1950b:286). In the past, other members of the group were reported to live along Mason Creek (a tributary to the Licking River) about 2 miles (3.2 km) south of Salyersville, the county seat. Various Gibson, Gipson, and Nichols families resided along Mason Creek.

The predominate names encountered along Big Lick were Cole and Perkins. Price observed that: the Big Lick, in reality a short narrow branch, is the only concentration of them. It contains six houses and some very poor sites for farms, but a map of 1915 showed 16 houses in addition to the school. A former teacher at the school said that it had 68 pupils in 1925, some of them grown, but none advanced beyond the third grade; the school’s enrollment of 23 in 1947, over half of whom actually lived on the Big Lick, also indicated the population decrease. This area was dominated by the Cole family and is yet known as the “Cole Nation” (Price 1950b:286-287).

Aside from Price’s observations, the only other description of the Magoffin County enclave encountered in the literature reviewed was a short commentary by Jean Patterson Bible. She remarked that:

Of the Magoffin County Melungeons, a friend from Gifford, Kentucky, writes that “All of the old timers here are of the opinion that the first Gipsons came to Magoffin County from Virginia in the early 1800’s. There are about two hundred in the county today [i.e., ca. 1975], I would guess. The most prominent family name is Gipson and then there are the Coles, Mullinses, Fletchers, and Nicholses. All of them are usually referred to locally as “Gipsons” rather than Melungeons. They are still a very dark and handsome people. They are clannish through necessity but warm up to anyone who will treat them fairly and without prejudice Many have moved away and intermarried. They go to Michigan and Ohio mostly, and some of them are very skillful in trades of carpentry and bricklaying” (Bible 1975:31).

All of the areas discussed by Price (Big Lick, Middle Creek, and Mason Creek) have become increasingly developed and reflect predominately modern (post-World War II era) homes intermixed with sporadic small business establishments. One vestige of the mixed-blood presence in the area is a sign reading “Gibson Hollow Road” adjacent to Mason Creek Road about two miles south of Salyersville.

During the 1940’s, Price estimated their numbers within Magoffin and Floyd counties to be approximately 200 (1950a:200). However, based upon a surname analysis of the 1950 census schedules for Kentucky, Beale (1957:193) documented a total of 670 (classified as White and Negro) in Magoffin County and 1,680 (classified as White) in Floyd County.


It is of note that the remnant “Indian” population of Magoffin County is but one link in a long and virtually unbroken chain of such groups spanning much of southern Appalachia and occupying parts of four states. Numbering in excess of 15,000 individuals according to the 1950 census (cf. Beale 1957), the Melungeons are broadly dispersed throughout many Appalachian counties. Within Kentucky, their numbers reside in Lawrence, Johnson, Magoffin, Floyd, Pike, Knott, Perry, Letcher, Owsley, Knox, and Bell counties. In Tennessee, they have been recorded in Hancock, Carter, and Sullivan counties. Virginia hosts their numbers in Lee, Scott, Wise, Russell, Washington, Smythe, Giles, Patrick, and Henry counties. In North Carolina, they reside in Ashe, Watauga, Surry, Stokes, and Rockingham counties (cf. Beale 1957; Holliday 1998; Price 1950a:136a; 1951:257). Significantly, this broad area encompasses Hancock County, Tennessee, and Lee, Scott, and Wise counties, Virginia, long considered the heartland of the Melungeons.

Based upon his analysis of census data referable to the history and origins of the Melungeons, Price observed many years ago that the early appearance of a limited number of surnames ­ notably (but not restricted to) Collins, Gibson, and Goins as early as the 1790’s ­ tended to “suggest that several households with these names were involved in the original migrations from North Carolina and Virginia” (Price 1953:141). In terms of reported surnames, there is no clear one-to-one correlation between and among many of these enclaves in general or the Magoffin County and Carmel settlements specifically with the “classic” Melungeon settlement area. There is a sufficient overlap of surnames within these groups ­ particularly in the mountainous areas to the west of Hancock, Lee, and Wise counties ­ to surmise that some areas in northeastern Tennessee and southeastern Kentucky were simultaneously settled over an extended period of years by individuals from both the traditional Melungeon heartland and related mixed-blood families from the ancestral homelands of the Melungeons situated to the east along the Virginia-North Carolina border and elsewhere in the mid-Atlantic coast region. Research undertaken and recently published by Elder (1999:201-294) has led her to separate typically Melungeon related surnames into three broadly defined categories. Her studies suggest that the earliest “core-group surnames” associated with the first settlers along the Tennessee-Virginia border are Collins and Gibson/Gipson. These were subsequently followed by those with the “secondary core-group surnames” of Bell, Bolling (and variant spellings), Bunch, Denham (and variant spellings), Goins (numerous variant spellings), Miner/Minor, Mullins, and Williams. The third group of surnames including (but not limited to) Barnes, Cole, Delp(h), Fields, Freeman, Gorvens/Gorvan, Graham. Hale/Haile, Lawson, Maloney/Melons, Moore, Nichols, Noel, Piniore, Sexton, and Wright are interpreted as families who later moved into the area and married members of the “core” families or who were erroneously designated as Melungeons by earlier researchers. Significantly, the association of the Collins and Gibson/Gipson surnames with both the Tenneessee-Virginia border area and the Floyd (later Magoffin) County settlements further strengthens the familial and genetic ties between these two spatially removed populations.

As it relates to a correlation between Magoffin County and the principal Melungeon settlement area, the following surnames are held in common: Collins; Gibson; Gipson; and (possibly) Barnett. Significantly, a comparison of Melungeon surnames with the rolls of Cherokees residing on reservation lands (cf. Blankenship 1992a; 1992b) prompted Price to observe: “there is no reason to believe that the Melungeons are Cherokee Indians who left the tribe” (Price 1950a:186) thus serving to reinforce the mid-Atlantic rather than Appalachian origins of these widespread settlements.


Of the 33 known or possible Melungeon surnames examined in our study, eight could be potentially linked to spatially removed mixed-blood populations, predominately situated in the coastal states of Delaware, Virginia, and both Carolinas. Specifically, these names are: Bunch, Collins, Gibson, Goins, Harmon, Nickols, Perkins, and Williams. The geographic location of the various groups with similar surnames is of note. The simple fact that two or more groups bear a similar name does not necessarily indicate a movement of people from one to another. Rather, it may suggest that these groups received members from an outside source.

Indeed, an examination of but a sampling of surnames associated with numerous mixed-blood populations in the southeastern United States generally (and mid-Atlantic coast specifically) reveals many surnames held in common and provides a reasonable foundation to interpret the westward dispersal of some members of these groups as but a manifestation of massive pioneer movements both preceding and following the American Revolution. Though the term “Melungeon” has typically been restricted by students of the region to those mixed-bloods localized in Hancock County, Tennessee, and Lee, Scott, and Wise counties, Virginia, the numerous yet spatially dispersed mixed-blood communities ultimately established throughout a broad and unbroken multi-state region may be viewed as the interrelated products of both westward migration and resettlement within the mountains of Appalachia.

The implications appear rather clear. Of the eight surnames presently traceable to other mixed-blood populations, six (75%) are associated with various, generally smaller, settlements within the mid-Atlantic coastal states of Delaware, Virginia, and both Carolinas. Specifically, these names are Bunch, Collins, Gibson, Goins, Harmon, and Williams. Proceeding for the moment on the assumption that the core Melungeon population resulted in part from direct migration by members of these groups, available evidence points toward two surnames which stand out as restricted in their appearance to but a single mid-Atlantic coast parent group: Gibson, associated with the Occaneechi-Saponi of North Carolina, and Williams, also known among the Brass Ankles of South Carolina. While this possible and indeed likely connection between the Brass Ankles of South Carolina (cf. Berry 1945; 1963; Gilbert 1946:439; 1949:421-422; Price 1950a:293; Taukchiray et al. 1992) and the Melungeon population at large deserves further attention, the present effort will focus on groups which may have specifically contributed to the ancestry of the Magoffin County, Kentucky, and Carmel, Ohio, enclaves. In this regard, only one surname appears to be potentially traceable to a single point of potential origin ­ Gibson, one of the more widely dispersed and frequently encountered “classic” Melungeon family names. This name is known to have been associated with the Occaneechi and Saponi along the Virginia-North Carolina border as early as the 1750’s (Hazel 1991).

Based upon his analysis of documentary sources referable to the origins of the Melungeons in Hancock County, Tennessee, Price studied the geographic distribution of three frequently encountered group surnames: Collins, Goins, and Gibson. Indeed, the observable concentration of these three names associated with a sizable “free colored” population in the region to the east of the Tennessee mountains, prompted him to remark:

on the basis of those [Melungeon surname] data and the Virginia and North Carolina birthplaces of many of the Melungeons, I am inclined to believe that the chief Melungeon source area lies in the Virginia-North Carolina border counties of the Piedmont. Further study in this direction is strongly indicated. The possibility that a general society of marginal mixed-bloods circulated in the southern Seaboard states, touching most of the Piedmont and Coastal Plain groups, cannot be rejected (Price 1950a:190; emphasis added).

Indeed, between the years 1790 and 1816, an estimated 200,000 North Carolinians alone joined the exodus into the newly opened western lands (Cathey 1966:18). Mixed-bloods amongst this number were simultaneously drifting with the western bound tide of humanity and, as suggested by Heinegg (1997:1-26), attempting to escape from an ongoing series of increasingly repressive laws passed by the state assemblies along the mid-Atlantic coast.

Though Price appropriately observed the concentration of these and many other mixed-blood populations along the old colonial boundary line, he did not attempt to explain the cause of this phenomenon. Historically, there was good reason for such a peculiarly configured settlement area (recall the Goinses being distributed over a 150 mile length of the border). In actuality, there were two distinct borders between the colonies (later states) of Virginia and North Carolina. Upon their creation, each colony had been granted a Crown charter specifying its boundary. Though the error may plausibly be attributed to the quality of the maps available to Crown officials, the mandated points which established the legal border between the two colonies began at two overlapping points some 30 miles apart on the Atlantic coast and extended due west. This 30 mile wide “no man’s land” was claimed by both and effectively administered by neither (the history of this long standing dispute is discussed in greater detail in Boyd 1967). Throughout its length, the area provided a refuge to many of the region’s socially displaced and economically disadvantaged residents. The authority of sheriffs and other public officials was heeded or not dependent upon whim and circumstance. An excellent early account of this area and its occupants appears in William Byrd’s report of a 1728 survey along the length of the border from the Atlantic shore into the mountains (Byrd 1967). Indeed, even deep in Appalachia, continued proximity to the Virginia-Tennessee (then North Carolina) border may well have been a significant factor in the selection of an area for settlement by the first Melungeons in the region.

While appropriately noting various well established surnames (Collins, Gibson, Goins, etc.) within the Melungeons as a group, Price (1950a; 1951) did not specifically attempt to account for their presence. Recent significant research by Paul Heinegg (1997) has done much to explain the origins of both these surnames and at least a substantial portion of the parent Melungeon population. Drawing upon voluminous primary sources, Heinegg has documented the genealogies of numerous free African American families from the late 1600’s until ca. 1800. Indeed, a number of frequently encountered Melungeon surnames and eight of the nine surnames specifically associated with the Magoffin County enclave may be traced to free African American families in Virginia, North Carolina, and other mid-Atlantic colonies (Table 6). Heinegg’s research has clearly demonstrated that these families not only grew rapidly but also tended to move extensively throughout much of the mid-Atlantic coast region. It is this group that likely constituted the “general society of marginal mixed-bloods [which] circulated in the southern Seaboard states” hypothesized by Price (1950a:190).

But be the result of such first generation unions Black-White, White-Indian, or Indian-Black, they were increasingly little welcomed into “proper”, racially segregated society in either the colonial (cf. Morgan 1952; Watson 1975) or Ante-bellum (cf. Avirett 1901; Burwell 1895; Hundley 1860; Page 1897) era south. Effectively unwanted by the economically and socially dominate White society around them, such individuals had little choice but to align themselves with Indians, freed Blacks, or form their own communities based on mixed blood lines. The disputed border area offered a place to do just that.


The historical and anthropological evidence discussed herein suggests that in general a significant portion (though not necessarily all) of the ancestry of the Magoffin County, Kentucky, and Highland County, Ohio, enclaves originated principally from an admixture of African Americans and Whites in the early colonial period (from the late 1600’s until about 1800) and secondarily from an admixture with presently unknown Native American groups in the mid-Atlantic coast region. Though African American and White ancestry is clearly demonstrated by the presently known genealogy of Stephen Perkins (Table 7), one of the earliest mixed-blood arrivals in Floyd County, Kentucky, the specific degree of genetic inheritance in any given individual or family was likely subject to a high degree of variation (cf. Pollitzer 1972) but in general reflected (in this order) White, African American, and Native American genes. As some of these families (e.g., Bunch, Gibson, Goins, Moore, and Williams) are known to have originated as early as the middle to end of the 17th century, there was ample time for their numbers to have both increased and moved into the mountain homeland of the core Melungeon settlement area as early as
1802 (cf. Everett 1999:361) and Floyd County, Kentucky, prior to 1810.

In light of eight of the nine surnames associated with the families comprising the “core” of the Magoffin County enclave having ties to known free African American families originating in the mid-Atlantic coast region during the colonial era (cf. Table 6), there can be little doubt that the classification of those families present in Highland County as “Mulatto” at the time of the 1870 census was essentially correct in accordance with the racial criteria of that period. This contention is further supported by the undated (but likely late 19th century) burial of “a colored child named Nichols” in the Mull family cemetery located generally south of Carmel.

The specific degree of Native American genetic presence within the group remains unknown but is likely minimal. Elder (1999:162-169, 180, 295, 352, 353) has attempted to tie the early Collins and perhaps Gibson families in the Tennessee-Virginia border area to the Monacan/Saponi of western Virginia. The relationship of similarly named families in Floyd and Magoffin counties, Kentucky, to these or other tribes is presently unknown. There is presently no evidence to support the origins of the Carmel settlement among any remnant Shawnee which may have remained in southern Ohio nor does a comparison of Cherokee and Melungeon surnames in general provide any evidence that either the Magoffin County or Carmel populations received any significant degree of genetic input from that tribe.

Established in Carmel about 1864, this mixed-blood settlement was always rather small and maintained ongoing contact with the parent population in Magoffin County, Kentucky, throughout its existence. At an unknown date ­ but likely beginning relatively early in the 20th century ­ there was an outmigration from Carmel to Hardin and Champaign counties, Ohio, and (later) Michigan further to the north.

Historical data, however, is but a skeleton upon which is overlain the flesh and blood of living people. John will now present a series of firsthand observation drawn from his long association and personal observations of the Carmel Melungeons.


Located at the edge of the Appalachian escarpment, the portion of Highland County, Ohio, in and around Carmel was curiously insular and atavistic with the effects of the depression continuing in the area until well into World War II and beyond. For example, during that war one couple (non-Melungeon) living in the hills between Carmel and Fort Hill, while aware that the nation was at war, was under the impression that “Kaiser Bill” was again the source of hostilities. The idea of Japanese participation was completely outside their comprehension. Electricity and indoor plumbing in many homes (including ours) was absent, education was generally eighth grade or less, and with the exception of religion or superstition, activities were pragmatically rather than abstractly motivated. A surprising percentage of the roads were unpaved. Store bought bread was a treat; dry (soup) beans and cornbread were staples; and most people went “to town” only once a week (if then), usually on Saturday night. Law enforcement was minimal. In consequence of this isolation, local mores, old stories, legends, and associated lore tended to persist. It is noteworthy that the culture and mores of the area were more southern than might have been thought to prevail in a “Yankee” state and though the county seat (Hillsboro) in the neighboring “flatlands” was a scant 15 miles west-northwest of Carmel, little was known there of the Melungeons who lived in the area including adjacent portions of Pike County.

Most of my childhood and adolescence – excluding a period during World War II – was spent in the Carmel area. I lived on the family farm near Fort Hill and Carmel or in the nearby village of Sinking Spring. My observations and experience extend from the late 1930’s into the late 1950’s. My parents, both born in 1893, were for all practical purposes lifelong residents of the township as were their antecedents. This provided me with knowledge of the group extending from the 19th century into the post-World War II era. Many of my observations of the group are contemporaneous with the work of Gilbert (1949), Morgan (1946), and Price (1950a; 1950b). The Melungeons were a familiar part of my personal landscape as they were with my parents (especially my mother during her formative years) and throughout their lives.

My mother’s familiarity with and knowledge of this group support the idea that it had resided in the area for a long time and that its social status had been established prior to her birth. Further, her tales and personal recollections lend credence to Price’s (1950a; 1950b) proposal that the settlement was established about the time of the Civil War.

My father once told me that members of the group were initially “brought up here to build the Milt Cartright place”. Situated southeast of Carmel, this house (now gone) was reputed to be a station on the underground railroad. My father also said that when the original group was “brought up” (indicating southern origins) they were considered to be Indians, indicating Seminoles; I have no knowledge of the basis for his statement. It is possible that, as his forebears were somewhat removed from the Carmel area, his information was in error or skewed. Unfortunately, my mother, who grew up more locally, never commented on the origins of the group.

Although mentioned by Price (1950a:195-197, 205-206; 1950b:284) as a convention, I actually never heard of intercourse between the community of Carmel and Salyersville, (Magoffin County) Kentucky, until the late 1940’s or early 1950’s. This, however, is somewhat mitigated by the fact that at times and to escape the results of some transgression one of the group would be said to have “run off to Kentucky”. I suppose, granting Price’s accuracy, this would have been Salyersville. Running off to Kentucky was not necessarily confined to this group. Many of the area residents were from Kentucky. Beginning about 1900 (or before), there had been an influx from there of persons having varying degrees of respectability; thus, some of those not considered to be members of the group also “ran off to Kentucky”. It was rumored that certain of these people used the Ohio River as a barrier to pursuit, either by interests in Kentucky or Ohio.

Racial Origins. The group was considered to be a mixture of Indian, Caucasian, and possibly Negro. Those of the group who expressed a preference opted for Indian. To the best of my knowledge, no reference was made to any specific tribe. Interaction with the Black community (located primarily in Hillsboro) appeared to be non-existent. Nothing I heard or saw indicated any cultural relationships with Negroes.

Physical appearance of group members varied. The usual was dark (swarthy) skin, dark eyes, straight dark hair, and (for males) slender to medium build. The women were sometimes stocky. Cheek bones were often prominent and some individuals had prominent noses. With some exceptions, male facial hair appeared to be sparse. Light and wavy hair was also represented as was light skin. For example, Robert Gibson with whom I spent considerable time was slender, light skinned with light wavy hair and high prominent cheek bones. He had green eyes. His wife was slim and dark skinned with dark eyes and straight black hair. Norman Gibson, with whom I also associated, was slender and swarthy. He had high prominent cheek bones, straight black hair, and a prominent nose. His wife was lighter skinned and stocky with brown hair and eyes. Her nose was less prominent and her face was round.

I never really discussed with or heard reference to origins from group members. There were a few indications that the group considered themselves to be Indian. Non-Melungeon residents variously used the terms “Carmelite” and “half breed” as descriptive epithets for group members. Discussions of Negro origin took place away from group members. I really doubt, however, that locally anyone really believed there was a preponderance of African ancestry in this group.

The gross physical characteristics considered to be Negroid by the layman were minimal to lacking. It is my opinion that it would have been very difficult for a group member to pass as Black and that if a portion of their ancestry was Negro, the incidence thereof must have been minimal. Whatever their genetic inheritance, these people simply were not phenotypic Africans.

Social Organization. Although they were most likely forced to be cohesive due to their perceived ancestry, they appeared to be generally more comfortable within their group than without it. The close knit nature of the group was reasonably apparent. To exemplify, during the 1920’s a pig was clubbed to death and stolen from our farm by persons unknown but group members were suspected. According to family accounts, the group “patriarch” (known to the community as “Sugar Grant”) was jailed by the county sheriff with the result that three group members confessed and produced the meat from the butchered hog.

The term “patriarch” as used herein is thought to be a reasonably appropriate descriptor. So far as I know, the person so considered was not chosen through ceremony. Rather, he (and in the case of one “matriarch” within the group, she) was an older member whose combination of family relationship, age, and experience conferred a degree of status and informal influence which combined respect, mentorship, and protection.

Social Position. Although group members were perceived to be different primarily because of their ancestry, their economic status and folkways guaranteed their position at the bottom of the social ladder. In many instances, the core Melungeon group was the standard by which the actions of others were measured – i.e., “no better than”, “worse than”, or “the same as”. The group was always considered to be a separate population similar, for example, to contemporary cultural colonies of Vietnamese refugees in many larger American cities (though not with the same degree of resentment at their presence). Persons who interacted on their social level were still considered to be separate. If these persons interacted on that level and with the group they were “the same as”. This did not indicate identity, it merely indicated comparison. This lends weight to the contention that the basis for comparison was primarily ancestry.

Note on Folkways and Mores. It is difficult to isolate or restrict activities to the local Melungeon group. Many of the activities, beliefs, and vernacular ascribed to the Melungeons were, in fact, shared by others in the area. Regardless, the group was probably the most atavistic in a generally backwards area. However, of a certainty, such things common to the group as subsistence living, thievery and other illegal activities, acceptance of common superstitions, and illiteracy were neither restrictive nor unique. In truth, I have often suspected that the only things truly unique to the Melungeons were their origins and tendency toward cohesiveness. For every action or belief of a Melungeon, I believe that I could have found its local analog in a non-Melungeon individual.

Group Names and Population. The surnames firmly associated with this group were: Nichols (established); Gibson or Gipson (both pronounced “Gip’-son”; well established; these family represented the most individuals); Perkins (established; two families); Gilmore (later, during my experience – new arrival); and Fuget (later, during my experience – new arrivals?). Of these, Gibson/Gipson, Nichols, and Perkins were the most common and quite possibly represent the earliest migrants. I also heard the name Jackson mentioned by members of my family. However, as I knew no Melungeons so named, I suspect this was a family which disappeared locally before my time. Although a few Wisecups and Crums were also included; these names were primarily non-Melungeon. Their inclusion was the result of fairly recent inter-marriage. Without recourse to census schedules, I would estimate the population about 1950 as less than 100 individuals and probably less than 50. There were also some later arrivals from eastern Kentucky whose status was unclear. They lived in the Carmel area, interacted with the group to a slight degree, yet seemed to be economically and socially advanced compared to the core group.

Speech/Folk Lexicon. The speech norm used by the group could only be described as “southern hillbilly”. In addition to a brogue and phraseology which seems to have been indigenous to the area (for example, “crik” for “creek”), the group members tended to put their own construction on common words exemplified as follows: ain’t / “haint”; pretty near / “pertinear”; hair / “har”; can’t / “caint”; if / “iffin”; haunt / “hant”; flower / “flare”; wife / “wuman”; yellow/ “yaller”; and ran / “run”. “Yell” and “hollow” were both rendered as “holler”. Additionally, there was a tendency to sound the vowel “I” as a nasal “a”, a characteristic noted in persons from eastern Kentucky. Words of this nature, however, were not restricted to the group; others – myself included – used some or all of them. Use of the nasal “a”, however, appeared to be restricted to some of the later Melungeons and other arrivals from Kentucky.

Residences and Furnishings. In general, the cabins described by Price (1950a:192-193; 1950b:282, 284) were typical of the Melungeon residences found in the area. However, similar homes were extant in the Fort Hill area and occupied by families other than the subject group. In either case, most of these structures would have been considered sub-standard even by the standards of that era. Log construction, while represented, was probably atavistic; the more “modern” domiciles appeared to be of vertical board and batten (probably poplar) construction and unpainted. There was also a tendency for Melungeons to occupy Caucasian homes which had been vacated.

I was never personally inside a Melungeon home while same was occupied. Business was usually conducted outside of the house in the “yard” as a matter of course or at the visitor’s car. However, based on the economics of the area and visits to similar but non-Melungeon dwellings I would hazard the following observations. The cook stove was typically wood burning. Some lucky individuals might have had a kerosene cook stove which tended to produce less heat in the summer. The heating stove was also wood burning. These were not elaborate in nature but rather were of relatively simple cast iron construction or a lighter barrel type. I never heard much about fireplaces but have little doubt that they were used in the 1800’s and early part of this century. Most homes had but one or two kerosene (coal oil) lamps.

Beds were typically of the iron bedstead variety. Depending on the number of children, any additional beds were probably shared by as many as could be crowded in. Sometimes children slept with parents as well. I also suspect in some cases that bedding for some of the children was simply a “straw tick” on the floor. Bed bugs were not unknown in those days and I truly believe that they were to be found in many homes in the area. As they weren’t hard to come by but were very hard to eradicate, there is no reason to suppose that Melungeon households were not so blessed. As most cabins were short of or totally lacking in closet space, free standing clothes presses and/or bureaus were used. Tables and chairs/benches ranged from homemade to cheaper, possibly hand me down, manufactured furniture.

Laundry, Bathing, and Sanitary Facilities. The washboard was a functional aspect of most households but, contrary to contemporary images of mountaineers, it did not serve as a musical instrument. I believe this device was the predominate laundry contrivance in most Melungeon homes. The implications in terms of type of clothing and bedding and cleanliness thereof are fairly obvious. Wash water was heated and washings were done outside the cabin. During the winter, smaller amounts of material might be washed indoors and dried around the stove.

As there was no indoor plumbing, water had to be “packed in” from the nearest source. This was done by the bucketful and the water bucket served as the reservoir for potable and wash water. Thus, opportunities for bathing and personal hygiene were limited. Toilets were generally non-pit type privies.

Subsistence and Employment. The major forms of subsistence were hourly labor, sharecropping, and foraging. These activities were not unique to the group. Members of non-group families pursued largely the same methods. Seining fish and poaching with gun, snare, and deadfall were not sole Melungeon pursuits, nor were herb gathering, farm labor, sharecropping, timber work, or (later) welfare. Missing articles (for example: corn, gasoline, the contents of our fruit cellar, hunting dogs, and livestock) typically generated heavy suspicion on the part of the locals. In all justice, these suspicions were not without foundation; however, there were others who were equally capable of such depredations.

Most work was associated with either agriculture or timbering. The predominant occupation was agricultural labor which in my youth paid about $.75 per hour. The primary crops worked were corn, tobacco, and hay, with tobacco being the most labor intensive. Some individuals would raise tobacco “on the shares”, in other words the landowner provided the land and fronted some or all of the expenses and the tenant provided the labor. Following the stripping and sale of the crop (November through January), the proceeds were divided in accordance with the prior agreement. This meant that the tenant would have a windfall of cash sometime in the late fall or winter leading to a tendency toward profligate spending (“living high on the hog”) followed by the more normal destitution. It was my personal observation that with few exceptions they were good, cheerful, and dependable workers (when supervised) and possessed significant endurance. Few of them, however, actually operated farm machinery. To the best of my knowledge, going “up north” to work in such places as the Urbana, Ohio, onion fields as reported by Price (1950a:196; 1950b:284) did not achieve any significance until the late 1940’s/early 1950’s time frame.

Insofar as entrepreneurship went, the only business known to me (by word of mouth) was a bootlegging trade (i.e., illegal sale of liquor) engaged in by the wife in one household. The veracity of this is not provable; it was a “common knowledge” thing.

Recreation. Due to their position at the bottom of the economic and social ladder, most recreational pursuits were low cost and many were associated with subsistence. Fishing and hunting were popular. I suspect that some of the pilferage which was done had a recreational component. Drinking and “honky tonking” were desired activities but limited by income. Religious revivals (often of the “tent” variety) were also popular. Organized sports such as fast pitch softball (the number one outdoor game for athletic males in the area) were not popular with the group.

Most members of the group used tobacco both for smoking and chewing. This included many of the women as well as the males. “Alice” (aged 16 and married) was a confirmed chewer (she also smoked). Some of the older women were pipe smokers.

For a time, there was a weekly auction at Coon’s Crossing just south of Carmel. As I recall, it was held on Saturday night and the Melungeon community was well represented. The articles sold, in retrospect, had little value. The most expensive item I saw was a .22 caliber single shot rifle that had definitely seen better days. Other items included used clothing, some furniture (also used), old tools, and various bric-a brac.

Superstitions and Beliefs. Some individuals expressed belief in witches (e.g., “so-and-so’s wife is a witch”), tokens (i.e., “signs and wonders”, portents of dire happenings), ghosts, hair balls (supernaturally accelerated weapons constructed by witches and used as missiles), haunts, and various “things that go bump in the night”. Of these, the hair (“har”) balls were the only manifestation which appeared to be unique to the group.

Additionally, one of the group (Logan Gibson, a male of long residence) always wore a string tied around his head. The story was that his skull had been split in a fight (he was clubbed) and that it was permanently so, hence the string to hold it together. Whether this is true, an individual eccentricity, or acceptable in terms of group belief is unknown to me.

Health and medicine. Morgan (1946:29-30) makes note of a “doctor woman” within the settlement who was particularly knowledgeable of medicinal plants to be found in the surrounding hills. Otherwise, the legitimate local medical people were few and mostly of doubtful competence.

Based on the medical services available and group use of them, it is my opinion that any longevity of group members was the result of serendipity and perhaps natural selection rather than the application of medical science. Certainly the medical attention they received appeared to be of the “rough and ready” variety and probably more reminiscent of the 19th rather than the 20th century.

Religion. It is difficult to quantify the religious beliefs of the group. By default, when they participated the choice was fundamentalist and/or charismatic Protestant. They most probably all had a concept of an afterlife involving reward and punishment. It is perhaps noteworthy that most of the clergy to whom they were exposed were only slightly (if at all) better educated or trained than their parishioners. Therefore, blind faith and fear triumphed over intellectual or philosophical considerations.

Child Rearing. Children were viewed as a normal consequence of sexual activity. With few exceptions, the vast majority of families had but one to four children. Based upon limited personal observation, children were typically undisciplined and parental guidance was manifest only if the child became an irritation. I also noted that sometimes threats were made by reference to a third party; “You’d better be good or the booger man will get you” or “So and so will cut your ears off”. I suppose that slaps and switches were also used but I never witnessed same. Breast feeding was the usual method for sustaining infants and there was little to no hesitation about doing so in public when the need arose.

Foraging. Several wild plants having economic, medicinal, or nutritional value grew in the area and were foraged by members of the group. My mother once described encountering women of the group foraging “wild onions” (in actuality, this would have been wild garlic). The explanation given was that the leaves were dried and used as a substitute for pepper. The root bark from sassafras trees was also one of the plant resources sought by the Melungeons. This was used to prepare a tea. At any rate, foraging was in earlier times an apparently significant (and not always legal) portion of their economy.

It is notable that the Great Depression, tradition, and perhaps other factors (for example, perennial poverty) resulted in a locally jaundiced view of fish and game laws and consequently “sportsmanship” took a back seat to subsistence. This attitude was at least as true of the Melungeons as it was with others in the area.

It remains a truism of our worldly existence that time is the most fleeting commodity known to humankind. Don will now present some brief comments on the current status of the Carmel settlement and some closing remarks.


Fieldwork in and around the community of Carmel, Ohio, during September of 1996, in concert with information furnished by local historians and residents familiar with Highland County’s Carmel Indians, yielded several useful insights regarding their status of the since the era recorded by Berry (1963), Gilbert (1949), Morgan (1946), Price (1950a; 1950b), and personal observations presented herein. Though still very rural in nature with several active farms in the “flat” lands at the foot of the hill country (observed crops included corn, soybeans, and tobacco but apparently diminished from pre-1960 levels), field observations clearly revealed that the character and face of the landscape in and around Carmel have changed dramatically in the past half century. These changes include significantly diminished agricultural activities. Development of the nearby Fort Hill State Memorial and road improvements have done much to simultaneously reduce the area’s relative isolation and facilitate the intrusion of the prosperity and population of the era following the Second World War.

While sporadic older, more substantially built frame homes may yet be encountered in the region, the ramshackled log and frame “shacks” which traditionally served as homes to a relatively transient population are nowhere to be seen. Homes all along the network of area roads have been clearly and prominently marked with readily visible “street” numbers to facilitate locating residences in keeping with contemporary requirements for mail delivery and public services. Few mailboxes in the area, however, displayed the names of their owners. Of those which did, none were observed bearing the anticipated names of Gibson, Gipson, Nichols, or Perkins.

Conversations with local historians and area residents familiar with the group indicated that but a few families (apparently not over two or three) yet remain in the hill country in the vicinity of Carmel. One of their number is known to have moved to nearby Hillsboro and established a furniture store. Some have reportedly moved to various other communities in the nearby region (Chillicothe was specifically mentioned) seeking economic opportunities. Specific population figures for the disperse remnants of the Carmel “Indian” settlement are not available. An admittedly crude but still suggestive approach to determining their current numbers was undertaken by means of examining a commercially available electronic compilation (CD format) of residential telephone listings in the United States prepared by American Business Information (1995). A review of listings for the larger communities in Highland and the adjoining counties to the east (Adams, Pike, and Ross) revealed that a total of 98 households had published listings in the names of Gibson, Gipson, Nichols, and Perkins.

Though the simple listing of a telephone number in one of these surnames does not de facto indicate that all such individuals are related to the Carmel mixed-blood settlement, the known outmigration of their numbers in concert with reasonable proximity to the source area would reasonably argue that many of these telephones are in fact associated with the residences of group members. For present purposes, it is taken as a working assumption that unrelated individuals in this count of households are offset by those group members who do not have a telephone, have an unlisted number, or females who have married non-group spouses and now bear other surnames. A conservative estimate of three persons per household times 98 households yields a population of 294 or approximately 300 persons distributed over portions of four adjacent counties.

The matter of group identity poses several interesting questions. Among local Whites with whom the authors spoke, the group continues to be generally viewed as “Indian”. Further inquiry among area residents typically elicited the response that the enclave was derived from the Shawnee though few persons claimed any extensive knowledge of the group’s history. Conversely, passing conversations with individuals living in and near Salyersville, Kentucky, revealed that in that area the ancestry of the group was traditionally perceived as Black. None of the persons with whom we spoke in and near Carmel expressed any opinion or comment regarding Black genetic influence within the group; rather, it appears that in recent decades the Carmel population has been generally viewed by local Whites as reflecting Indian and White admixture.

Beyond purely genetic identification and history, contemporary social perceptions regarding the group varied widely. One lady in Hillsboro informed us that the group constituted a “proud people” while another tended to view at least some of their members personally known to her over a period of years as malingerers and basically lazy. The truth is likely to be found somewhere between these extremes. All area informants were in agreement that few of their numbers remain in Highland County and none were aware of any concentrated population of group members in or near Carmel or Brush Creek Township. Though the remaining members of the group continue to be viewed as genetically distinctive, culturally and socially they continue to be perceived as similar to if not indistinguishable from many poorer Whites in the same area.

It is worthy of note that a number of families with surnames associated with the mixed-bloods (cf. Price 1950b:282, 286) yet reside in and near Salyersville and adjacent Magoffin County. But a cursory examination of contemporary area telephone listings (Table 9) reflects a total of 85 such listings in the communities of Salyersville, Royalton, and Ivyton. In common with the estimates reported herein for the area surrounding Carmel, a conservative estimate of three individuals per household would yield a population of at least 255 individuals. Additional members of the group likely reside elsewhere in Magoffin County and adjacent Floyd County.


The present comments have attempted to discuss but selected aspects of the history, origins, and lifeways of but one of many poorly documented Melungeon enclaves scattered throughout the vast expanses of Appalachia. In common with the paths traveled by other such groups across the landscape, the road leading the Carmel Melungeons to Ohio was long in the building. A brief review of that journey is appropriate. As based in large part on surname analysis as recorded in various public documents, available information suggests that at least the majority of the families who were to come to form the aggregate Melungeon and related mixed-blood populations predominately originated in the Mid-Atlantic states of (primarily) Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina as early as the mid- and late-17th century.

Families bearing surnames long associated with the Melungeons ­ Bunch, Collins, Gibson, Goins, and others ­ are known to have begun congregating along the Virginia-North Carolina border at least as early as ca. 1750 and it is likely that these families had begun to establish roots in that area dating to at least ca. 1700 as evidenced by their sheer numbers and the linear extent of their occupation along the disputed border land between these two colonies. Available genealogical and historical information and census schedule data supports their tri-racial (White, Negro, and Indian) origins though the specifics of admixture between and among their widely dispersed settlements would likely have exhibited marked degrees of variation by virtue of topographic constraints and the historical circumstances which likely brought together many unrelated mixed-bloods into a relatively restricted gene pool.

With the opening of western lands for settlement soon after the early days of the American Revolution, a flood of pioneers ­ including the numerically ever increasing mixed-blood population ­ rushed into the vast mountainous domain of Appalachia along the border in route to the Cumberland Gap. In light of their social circumstances, it may be speculated that in their early participation in the western movement maintaining physical proximity to the border remained a very real consideration in their selection of the core Melungeon settlement area. Though the exact date of their arrival in what was to become Hancock County, Tennessee, is unknown, their presence in the area was well established by 1790.

Data derived from tax records and census schedules suggests that mixed-blood individuals had settled in Floyd County, Kentucky (which then included the area which was to become Magoffin County in 1860), prior to 1810. Price’s study of census records for several counties in southeastern Kentucky suggests population movements between and among enclaves within the region as well as the continued arrival (at least into the mid-19th century) of yet additional mixed-blood families from the east coast source area during these early formative years. Restless feet in concert with population pressure on limited local resources appear to have prompted some members of the Magoffin County group to explore the resources and job markets of Ohio at least as early as 1849. It is known that they were established in the Carmel vicinity prior to 1870 and possibly as early as 1864. Likely due to the availability of at least seasonal employment on some of the larger farms in the area, the locale selected as a place of settlement in Ohio effectively represented the last, northernmost bastion of Appalachian topography. Such an edge area environment afforded the opportunity to exploit both the natural resources with which they were familiar and provided access to both cash employment and manufactured goods in the immediately adjacent farm country.

The population pressures which prompted the establishment of the colony about the time of the Civil War continued unabated for many decades. The marginally productive farmsteads maintained in the mountains of Magoffin County could ill sustain an ever growing number of sons and daughters with no prospects for acquiring productive farms of their own in the area’s rugged, mountainous topography. Despite the comparative economic advantages afforded by Carmel, it, too, had a finite carrying capacity for an outflow of migrants for a period in excess of 80 years.

By the late 1940’s, Gilbert generally and Price specifically note an outflow of people from Carmel in the form of those individuals seeking employment not locally available. The extent of this outpouring from Carmel is clearly documented by Beale’s study of the 1950 census records which show but 130 members present in Highland County, a figure dwarfed by the combined total of 320 members residing yet further north in Hardin (260 members) and Champaign (60 members) counties. The relative size of these outlying settlements suggests a multi-generational emplacement of the group.

It may be speculated that the decline of the Agrarian Dominance era and the following economic depression prompted members of the group to establish these colonial outposts. This trend was probably exacerbated by an ongoing increase in the adoption of mechanized farming at the local level. As Carmel had apparently received the overflow population from its mountain homeland, so these settlements actively received the overflow of people from two source areas. Later in their history, members of the group are known to have settled in Michigan. The role and importance of these outlying northern settlements in the history of the Magoffin County and Carmel Melungeons has been significantly understated in the existing literature and deserves more detailed study.

Culturally, little but their physical appearance distinguished these racially mixed settlers in the hill country of Ohio from any other arrival from the mountains of Kentucky. In ways great and small, they were neither more nor less than relocated mountaineers attempting to adapt previously learned subsistence strategies to a piece of familiar natural environment while surrounded by a very unfamiliar cultural environment. The demise of the Carmel settlement may generally be attributed to two interactive sets of circumstances: those caused by others and those brought about by themselves. External factors such as the decline of agrarian pursuits and the impacts on society during and after World War II generated circumstances which by their very nature could only be coped with, not radically altered. Others, however, were at least partially self-inflicted. The fluctuating nature of wildlife populations coupled with increasing stress on habitat and depletion of local floral resources such as ginseng produced undependable situations which could not support unregulated exploitation to the degree that had perhaps previously been the case. As neither the land nor local farmers could or would support their numbers and they became increasingly aware of a “better world”, there was little viable option but to relocate. As they could not return to Magoffin County with any but meager prospects of earning a living, the only place to go was further north.

Despite vague allusions on the part of the Carmel Melungeons to Shawnee and Cherokee ancestry, available information reflects no firm, demonstrable historic affiliation between the Carmel and Magoffin County enclaves to any tribe currently recognized by the Federal government (cf. Bureau of Indian Affairs 1998). There is no readily available evidence to support either any social organization beyond the routine informal interactions of families related by kinship and marriage or the multiple criteria required for formal recognition (cf. Bureau of Indian Affairs 1994).

The central concept of racial identity rises paramount in the process of examining the Carmel community. While there is little question that the ancestry of the Carmel group is firmly rooted in the free African American population which developed in the colonial era (cf. Heinegg 1997), it is intriguing that such a background was patently ignored or understated both internally (emicly) and externally (eticly). It is a distinct possibility that the descendants of the earliest mixed-blood settlers in Carmel tended to seek out the lesser of two perceived “evils” in opting to espouse and emphasize their Native American genetic heritage as a means of social survival in a day and age of racial intolerance. In simple terms, in the area in which they lived it was better to be viewed as Indian than Black. By so doing, as both individuals and as a group they could internalize at least a small degree of the dignity and self-worth denied to them by their neighbors while deflecting speculation as to the totality of their actual lineage.

For all practical purposes, the Carmel “Indian” settlement has disbanded. Though minor numbers of the group apparently continue to reside in the general area near Carmel, they are an ever declining minority on the contemporary Highland County cultural landscape and represent but a pale vestige of their former presence in the region. Available information supports neither any degree of on-going social cohesiveness beyond the level of normal family interactions nor is it known if group members yet residing within the area have maintained their traditionally close ties with Magoffin County, Kentucky. In light of the degree and extent to which their numbers have dispersed across the Ohio landscape to as far afield as Michigan and likely out-marriage to a degree never before experienced as a group, it is reasonable to conclude that this small pocket of mixed-blood descendants is being rapidly absorbed into the general population of the region. Though the specifics of their genetic heritage may possess some continuing genealogical interest on a family by family basis, their identity as a “distinctive” group in the area has effectively drawn to a close and with it a tradition of living off the land has been supplanted by one which merely lives upon it.

We sincerely appreciate your kind attention and would be pleased to address your questions. Should we run short of time, please see us after we adjourn.

Donald Ball is a native of middle Tennessee. He holds a B.S. degree in history from Middle Tennessee State University, and an M.A. in anthropology from the University of Tennessee – Knoxville, where he first became interested in Melungeons. Previous publications have appeared in the Tennessee Anthropologist, Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin, Ohio Valley Historical Archeology (of which he serves as editor) and other professional outlets. He works as an archeologist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Louisville.

John Kessler was raised in the Carmel community of southeastern Highland County, Ohio, where he attended school and worked with several of the Carmel Melungeons. He holds a B.A. in wildlife conservation from Ohio State University and worked for many years as a biologist for the Ohio Division of Wildlife and for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He has done private consulting work in the areas of endangered species and wetlands ecology. He is currently retired.


American Business Information, 1995 88 Million Households Phone Book (set of 3 compact discs/Windows version). Omaha, Nebraska.

Avirett, James Battle, 1901 The Old Plantation: How We Lived in Great House and Cabin Before the War. F. Tennyson Neely Company, New York, Chicago, and London.

Ayers, Elsie Johnson, 1971 Highland Pioneer Sketches and Family Genealogies. H. K. Skinner and Sons, Springfield, Ohio.

Beale, Calvin L., 1957 “American Triracial Isolates: Their Status and Pertinence to Genetic Research.” Eugenics Quarterly [now Social Biology] 4(4):187-196.

Berry, Brewton, 1945 “The Mestizos of South Carolina.” American Journal of Sociology 51(1):34-41.

_____, 1963 Almost White. Collier Books/Collier-Macmillan Ltd. New York and London.

_____, 1978 “Marginal Groups.” In Handbook of North American Indians: Volume 15 -­ Northeast (Bruce G. Trigger, editor), pp. 290-295. Smithsonian Institution, Washington.

Bible, Jean Patterson, 1975 Melungeons Yesterday and Today. East Tennessee Printing Company, Rogersville.

Blankenship, Bob, 1992a Cherokee Roots ­ Volume 1: Eastern Cherokee Rolls (2nd edition). Published by the author, Cherokee, North Carolina (covers tribal rolls from 1817-1924).

_____, 1992b Cherokee Roots ­ Volume 2: Western Cherokee Rolls (4th edition). Published by the author, Cherokee, North Carolina (covers tribal rolls from 1851-1914).

Boyd, William K., 1967 “Introduction to the First Edition.” In William Byrd’s Histories of the Dividing Line betwixt Virginia and North Carolina, pp. xxiii-xxxix. Dover Publications, New York (originally published 1929, North Carolina Historical Commission).

Breakfield, Genevieve (transcriber), 1995 1870 Census, Highland County, Ohio. Southern Ohio Genealogical Society, Hillsboro.

Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1994 25 CFR Part 83 ­ Procedures for Establishing That an American Indian Group Exists as an Indian Tribe: Final Rule. Department of the Interior. Federal Register 59(38; February 25):9,279-9,300.

_____, 1998 Indian Entities Recognized and Eligible To Receive Services From the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs. Federal Register 63(250; December 30):71,941-71,946.

Burwell, Letitia M., 1895 A Girl’s Life in Virginia Before the War. Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York.

Byrd, William, 1967 William Byrd’s Histories of the Dividing Line betwixt Virginia and North Carolina. Dover Publications, New York (originally published 1929, North Carolina Historical Commission).

Cathey, Cornelius O., 1966 Agriculture in North Carolina Before the Civil War. State Department of Archives and History, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Elder, Pat Spurlock, 1999 Melungeons: Examining an Appalachian Legend. Continuity Press, Blountville, Tennessee.

Evans, E. Raymond, 1979 “The Graysville Melungeons: A Tri-Racial People in Lower East Tennessee._ Tennessee Anthropologist 4(1):1-31.

Everett, C. S., 1999 “Melungeon History and Myth.” Appalachian Journal 26(4):358-409.

Gilbert, William Harlen, Jr., 1946 “Memorandum Concerning the Characteristics of the Larger Mixed- blood Racial Islands of the Eastern United States.” Social Forces 24(4):438-447.

_____, 1949 “Surviving Indian Groups of the Eastern United States.” In Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for 1948, pp. 407-438. Government Printing Office, Washington.

Hazel, Forest 1991 “Occaneechi-Saponi Descendants in the North Carolina Piedmont: The Texas Community.” Southern Indian Studies 40:2-29.

Heinegg, Paul, 1997 Free African Americans of North Carolina and Virginia (3rd edition). Clearfield Company, Inc., Baltimore, Maryland.

Holliday, Mack, 1998 Troublesome Creek Cemeteries Located in Perry County, Kentucky. T M C Printing Company, Paintsville, Kentucky.

Hundley, Daniel Robinson, 1860 Social Relations in Our Southern States. Henry B. Price, New York.

Jones, Robert L., 1962 Ohio Agriculture During the Civil War. Publications of the Ohio Civil War Centennial Commission No. 7, Ohio Historical Society, Columbus.

Kennedy, N. Brent, 1997 The Melungeons ­ The Resurrection of a Proud People (2nd/revised edition). Mercer University Press, Macon, Georgia.

Lerch, Patricia Barker, 1992 “State-Recognized Indians of North Carolina, Including a History of the Waccamaw Sioux.” InIndians of the Southeastern United States in the Late 20th Century (J. Anthony Paredes, editor), pp. 44-71. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa and London.

McBride, David N. and Jane N. McBride, 1990 Cemetery Inscriptions of Highland County, Ohio (reprint of 2nd edition; originally published 1972). Southern Ohio Genealogical Society, Hillsboro.

Morgan, Edmund S., 1952 Virginians at Home: Family Life in the Eighteenth Century. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia.

Morgan, Violet, 1946 Folklore of Highland County. Greenfield Printing & Publishing Company, Greenfield, Ohio.

_____, 1955 Squaw Winter: A Love Story Based on the Indian Folklore of Highland County (novel). Greenfield Printing & Publishing Company, Greenfield, Ohio.

Ohio Writer’s Program, 1940 The Ohio Guide. Oxford University Press, New York.

Page, Thomas Nelson, 1897 Social Life in Old Virginia Before the War. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York.

Pollitzer, Williams S., 1972 “The Physical Anthropology and Genetics of Marginal People of the Southeastern United States.”American Anthropologist 74(3):719-734.

Price, Edward Thomas, Jr. 1950a “Mixed Blood Populations of the Eastern United States as to Origins, Localizations, and Persistence.” Ph. D. dissertation, Department of Geography, University of California, Berkley.

_____, 1950b “The Mixed-blood Strain of Carmel, Ohio, and Magoffin County, Kentucky.” Ohio Journal of Science 50(6):281-290.

_____, 1951 “The Melungeons: A Mixed-blood Strain of the Southern Appalachians.” Geographical Review 41(2):256-271

_____, 1953 “A Geographic Analysis of White-Negro-Indian Racial Mixtures in the Eastern United States.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 43(2):138-155.

Taukchirey, Wesley Durant, Alice Bee Kasakoff, and Gene Joseph Crediford, 1992 “Contemporary Native Americans in South Carolina.” In Indians of the Southeastern United States in the Late 20th Century (J. Anthony Paredes, editor), pp. 72-101. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa and London.

Watson, Alan D., 1975 Society in Colonial North Carolina. North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, Raleigh.

“The Saga of the Carmel Indians” by Craig Springer, 2006 article

Published by:

The Saga of the Carmel Indians

Crossroads town once was home to a proud people of mixed heritage.

by Craig Springer
reprinted with permission from Country Living, August 2006, 32-33.

I’m standing in front of a tall, steepled church. Shadows of its eaves angle across white plank siding as the sun moves toward midday. The paint flakes and peels in the hot sun; the air is close with humidity. I’m enveloped in a summer stillness, hemmed by the gentle hills of the Appalachian Piedmont that rose up before me as I drove from the till plains west of here.

The slip of pony hooves on pavement pulling a pack of Amish boys in a buggy breaks the monotony of sounds. The lulling sound of rubber on the road grows louder as an occasional car comes closer, and then speeds on westward toward Hillsboro or points elsewhere. Unless you live here, there’s not a lot of reason to stop. The church shows some wear, and you can’t help but hear and wonder of the footsteps that have passed over the threshold.

It’s one of those crossroads where the cliché about blinking applies. Drive too fast and you’ll miss it, figuratively. Drive too fast and you might plow into an Amish wagon, literally. The Amish folk are recent arrivals to the Carmel, Ohio, area. The little crossroads community sits quietly at the intersection of two highways near the Highland – Pike county line.

The Amish weren’t the first group of people to stand out as “others” in the area. The history of the settlement in that region reaches back at least 400 years, well before Ohio was surveyed in dices of square-mile blocks, on paper anyway. This history predates Ohio’s settlement by European descendents and first-generation immigrants, the Welsh and Germans, the Presbyterians and Quakers. This sleepy rural area was once home to the “Carmel Indians,” a little-known and little-studied ethnic group whose history turned ethnographers and genealogists into real pathfinders. The story of the Carmel Indians is a generous helping of Americana; they exemplify the alloy poured off the great melting pot of American culture.

The Carmel Indians were a collection of a few family groups that landed in Highland County immediately after the Civil War. They migrated from Magoffin County, Kentucky. Kentucky’s influence on southern Ohio isn’t any mystery. Although the greatest influence on Ohio’s demography from the Bluegrass State occurred from a mass exodus circa 1920 to 1970, the Carmel Indians were well-established in Ohio by a couple of generations before the greatest influx of Bluegrass blood to the Buckeye State had happened.

The Carmel Indians were a concentration of Kentucky migrant families who landed where they did probably for the same reason people always get up and move: economic opportunity. According to Highland County native John Kessler, co-author of North From the Mountains: A Folk History of the Carmel Melungeon Settlement, there’s some indication that the vanguard families came to the area to work for a particular farm, the Cartwrights, circa 1865. But people stay tethered from whence they came. That tether connected on the other end to Magoffin County, from where more families migrated to the Carmel area. Kessler’s book tells the story of the Carmel Indians and his experience as a youth, and his perception as an adult looking back through the lens of time.

The “otherness” of the Carmel Indians was typified by their dark complexion. But they weren’t necessarily all Native American. They were locally rumored to come from stock of remnant Shawnee, those who stayed behind when other Ohio Indians were removed to reservations. But that’s not warranted, or so says Kessler’s co-author, anthropologist Don Ball. According to Ball, the Carmel Indians were a unique community in Ohio, and coiled in the double helix of their DNA was a history of enslavement, indenturement, opportunity – and ultimately, freedom and assimilation.

While locally known as “Indians,” Ball says their blood was much richer; ethnographers called them “tri-racial isolates.” They descended from much older American families ethnically known as Melungeons; the Melungeon population centered in the mountains along the North Carolina – Tennessee state line. They were part white, part Indian, and part black. Backtracking census records shows that over time how they identified themselves changed; they were variously categorized by census takers as mulatto, white, Indian, or Negro. Their heritage is rich and varied.

Ohio State University history professor Dr. Thomas Ingersoll, author of To Intermix with Our White Brothers, a history of Indian-mixed bloods in the U.S., believes that the Melungeon population owes part of its origin to the Spanish settlement of Santa Elena in today’s South Carolina, dating to 1566. Spanish soldiers there intermarried with Native American and black women.

According to Ball, intermarriage between freed black slaves and white indentured servants, as well as intermarriage with Native American tribes on the Atlantic coast during colonial times, explains the origin of the Melungeons, among which were the Carmel Indians. The dispossessed tended to be pushed away socially and geographically n colonial society, and that lends itself to Ball’s understanding of how the Melungeon population came to be centered in southern Appalachia, well outside the immediate sphere of colonial plantation society.

The answers to questions about ethnicity aren’t always black and white. There is some gray area when it comes to understanding genetic purity, if there is such a thing. You probably can recount immediately having heard others say they had distant Indian blood. Family lore, was it? Perhaps there could be some Melungeon blood. In the marrow of our history lies the blood of our origins; blood-history knows no revision.

Ball and Kessler say the Carmel Indians have moved on. As a concentrated viable community, the Carmel Indian families have since disbanded, assimilating, stitching themselves further into the American fabric. Some of the local folks I talked with in the Carmel area say they’d heard of the Carmel Indians but spoke of them in an historical sense. Ball says that post-World War II, when the sons came back from the war, they rode the economic wave of opportunity, and like their ancestors who had come from Kentucky, they too moved away from Highland County.

One person I spoke with said a few members of the old families remain, but there were sensitivities to racial prejudice. Anthropologist ball says this notion is regrettable, that every individual should be proud of who and what they are, but this pride first requires knowing from where they came.

While I paused at the crossroads of Carmel, I reflected on the long link to the past that the local population once embodied, living relics the people are. Inquiring minds wouldn’t have to go off to farflung places to research the arcane and unusual. That could be right here. This little parcel of Piedmont seems all the richer.

Craig Springer, a Butler County native, writes from Edgewood, NM.

You can read more on the Carmel Melungeons at: https://kb.osu.edu/dspace/bitstream/1811/3790/1/V50N06_281.pdf

“The Graysville Melungeons” by Raymond Evans, 1979 article

Published by:

The Graysville Melungeons

from Tennessee Anthropologist, Vol IV, No. 1, 1979.

by Raymond Evans


Located approximately 30 miles north of Chattanooga, the community of Graysville, Tennessee contains one of the most stable Melungeon settlements in the state. Field work in the community conducted in conjunction with archival research demonstrates that the Melungeons, who now compose more than half of the local population, came from Hamilton County durning the latter half of the nineteenth century. Census records and other archival sources indicate that prior to comming to Hamilton County they had lived in Virginia and North Carolina. In Graysville, the Melungeons strongly deny their Black heritage and explain their genetic differences by claiming to have Cherokee grandmothers. Many of the local Whites also claim Cherokee ancestry and appear to accept the Melungeon claim.The racist discrimination common in Hancock County and in other Melungeon communities is absent in Graysville. Here, the Melungeons interact in all phases of community life,and exogamy with local Whites is common practice.- Goins- and the term “Melungeon” is not used by the people or by their neighbors. Recent field observations of the Graysville Melungeons differ in no way from that of any other small southern Appalachian community.


No people in Tennessee have been subjected to more romantic speculation than have the so-call “Melungeons” These dark-skinned people, living in a White world,strongly denied their Black ancestry and attempted to explain their color by saying they were of Portuguese decent (Burnett 1889:347-349) Popular writters have elaborated on this theme (c.f.Willis 1971:2-8;Zuber n.d.)They have been claimed to be descendants of the “Lost Tribes of Isreal (Bible1975:74-80), old world Gypsies (Bell1975:21), mythical “Welsh Indians”(Bible 1975:81-82; Willia 1971: 5) or Arabs (Ball 1945: 5-7;1975 22); others have attempted to link their origin with established historical events. Raleigh’s “Lost Colony” and the DeSoto expedition are two examples (c.f.Peters 1970). In what is possibly the least plausible claim, it is a matter of legal record that the Tennessee courts have excepted “proof” that Melungeons are descendants of settlers from ancient Carthage (Shepherd 1915).

The actual ethnic background of the Melungeons and their place of origin is far less dramatic. Modern genetic studies (c.f.Gilbert 1946:438-477; Pollitzer and Brown (1969:388-400;Pollitzer 1972: 719-734 ) have demonstrated that Melungeons are a tri-racial people with Indian, African, and European ancestry. Similarly, there is no mystery as to their origin. In a momumental study of tri-racial peoples of eastern United States, (Price 1950a:182-190) has used census records and other archival sources to demonstrate that the Melungeons are but one of many groups of loose societies of marginal mixed- bloods which came into being durning the latter part of the eighteenth century.Far from being unique, the Melungeons are but one of the some of two hundred documented tri-racial peoples (Beal1957:187-196;Berry 1963:15).

In Tennessee, public attention has usually focused on the Melungeon communities of the upper East Tennessee. In particular, Hancock and Hawkins Counties are usually regarded as the Melungeon homeland. There are, however, well documented Melungeon communities in Virginia (Bell 1975) and Kentucky (Price 1950) as well as other parts of Tennessee (Walraven n.d.);Brazelton.Roan County, Tennessee; in the Bell’s Bend area of the Cummberland River west of Nashville (Price 1950; and in Werner 1973:44-45).

Regarding the Graysville community, a recent researcher (Bible 1975:29) has observed: “The Graysville aggregate is probably one of the most stable of all Melungeon communities today.” This community is the subject of the present study. The purpose of this paper is not to perpetuate the popular myth of an exotic Melungeon race, but rather to provide an ethnographic description of the culture background and contemporary life of the Graysville Melungeons.The term “Melungeon” is used solely for the purpose of defining the study group and is not intended as a negitive reflection on the ethnic background of any member of the community. The data presented herein were obtained by the author durning an extended study of the community from November 1976 through August 1977, and are based on personal observations, 83 informal interviews with 36 residents of the community and surrounding areas, and a review of available documentary and published material.

Geographic Background

Graysville is a small semi-urban community similar to the hundreds of other country towns characteristic of the Appalachian area. As is often the case in the southern Appalachians, Graysville has no clearly defined boundary between the urban and the rural. There are no paved streets and there is no real busness district. Sprinkled haphazardly among the fading frame dwelling houses are two general purpose “grocery” stores, a TV repair shop, a small community library, a barber shop, three automotive repair shops, and one service station. The community has a school and eight Protestant churches—-four of which are Baptist. There is no local industry. The economy of the area is geared toward small scale farming, mining, and pulp-wood cutting, supplemented with sporadic industrial employment outside the area.

The community is located in the southern part of Rhea County, Tennessee approximately two miles north of Hamilton County line and one mile west of US Highway 27, rugged ridges, typical of eastern Tennessee Valley (Burchard 1913:16-17) surround the town. Lone Mountain in the north, and Black Oak Ridge to the east from two sides of a rough triangle in which Graysville is located. The third side of the triangle is formed by Walden’s Ridge on the west. The Cumberland escarpment, which forms the eastern edge of the ridge, is cut by many streams heading directly against the rim (Nelson1925:18). One of these, Roaring Creek, flows along the southwestern side of Graysville. The central portion of the community sprawls between the base of Walden’s Ridge on the west and the tracks of the Cincinnati, New Orleans, and Texas Railroad to the east.

The town takes it’s name from William GRAY, one of it’s earliest and best known residents, who arrived there after the Civil War.The real beginning of the community was marked when by the comming of the railroad. It then experienced an influx of population from all directions. The post office was established in 1875 with William Gray as the postmaster. In 1884 Henry and William FOX organized the Fox Coal Company, which opened it;s mines in the side of Walden’s Ridge west of town. In addition to coal, a large deposit of tile clay was also mined from an adjoining range of hills and shipped to markets in other areas.A bank was organized and two hotels were established (c.f.Campbell 1940:78-79) In 1835 , an additional demand for coal was created in the area by the establishment the Dayton Coal and Iron Company a few miles to the north. Funded by European investors, the Dayton Coal and Iron operated 375 coke ovens in which coke was made from coal to fuel two large blast furnaces with an annual production capacity of 90,000 tons of foundry and forge pig iron (anonymous 1889:46). After 1900 the Fox Coal Company at Graysville was acquired and expanded by the Durham Coal and Iron Company, and a large coke oven complex was established near Roaring Creek. After an initial period of intense prosperity, the industrial development of Graysville entered a decline following World War 1 and was completely crushed by the economic depression of the 1930’s. Most of the mines were closed. The bank was consolidated with the Dayton Bank, the hotels were closed, and the people began to leave.The present population is less than one thousand persons.

Ethnically, with the exception of the Melungeons component, the community is largely composed of persons of Anglo-Scotch-Irish-descent who have lived in the area for at least three generations. There are no Blacks in the community, and most of the residents, including the Melungeons, tend to express strong racist attitudes in their conversation.

Social cleavage is along religious rather than ethnic lines in Graysville. In 1891, several families of Seventh Day Adventists settled in Graysville. A year later a religious academy was established by the group. A sanitarium was also set up and enjoyed a wide patronage. While these facilities were later moved to Collegedale in Hamilton County, Tennessee, many of the people remain in Graysville and still tend to hold themselves apart of the rest of the community.

The most common surname among the Graysville Melungeons is Goins, being prevalent that the Whites in the surrounding area call all the Graysville Melungeons “Goinses” rather than Melungeons. In fact, the term “Melungeons”is rarely used anywhere in lower East Tennessee.(c.f.Fort 1971) The Goins family are so well known in Rhea County that any dark skinned person, not reguarded as Black ,is said to look like a Goins. Researcher has demonstrated that Goins is also the most common surname found among many tri-racial groups other than Melungeons(Price 1951: 263 and 1953:150).

The name Goins seems to be a peculiar marker of these mixed-bloods. It has already been mentioned in connection with the Melungeons and certain strains in North Carolinas. It is prominent among the mixed-bloods of Darke Co. Ohio, and was associated with the Redbones in what is now Calcasieu Parish. It is a monor name among the Croatans and is the chief name among a mixed -blood group with a special school in Williamsburg County South, Carolina. Further, Goins is a unusual name; though many whites are named Goins, it occurred with much greater frequency among “free persons of Color” on 1830 than among the population at large in 1790 in six populous Southern and middle states..Over a hundred free colored families named Goins were well scattered in 1830 through the South and southern parts of the Northern border states. The two greatest concentrations occured in the Melungeon area and the North Carolina-Virginia Piedmont where so many are found today.

Dromgoole (1891:749) states that among the Hancock/Hawkins County Melungeons the “African branch” of ancestry was introduced by a man named Goins who entered the area shortly after the formation of the state of Tennessee. While she called him a “negro,” it is more likely that he was of mixed black/white ancestry and termed in the language of the day a “mulatto.” This contention is somewhat substantiated by early land records (Werner 1970: 60). Dromgoole indicates that the Goins mentioned came from North Carolina. Both North Carolina and Virginia had several mullatto’s named Goins (spelled Gowen and Goin), who were vetrans of the American Revolution, and it is possible that the individual in question came to Tennessee as the recipient of a land grant for his military service. Colonial records show three men named Gowen serving in a mullato militia unit in 1754, and land records from 1718 show Mihill Gowen as a property owner in James County, Virginia. The same unusual name, Mihill Gowen, was born by a colored servant who gained his freedom in 1657 (Price1953:151). Going back futher, we find the first person named Goins/Gowen is a Thomas Gowne, arriving in Virginia as a passenger on the “Globe” in 1635 (Hotten:1953:151). The spelling of the name suggests that Thomas probably was of Welch origin. Presumably he founded the Goins family in the new world by fathering children with a Black slave or bond servant.

Historical Backgound

Both local tradition and documentary sources agree that the Graysville Melungeons entered the community from Hamilton County, Tennessee sometime after 1880. Census reords show that prior to 1880 there were no perons with Melungeon surnames living in Rhea County (Price 1950:183). There were, however, such persons among the earliest non-Indian settlers in Hamilton County. In 1830, when Hamilton County reported less than 400 families total in the census records, there were four Goins(spelled Gowan, Gowin, or Goens) families present. Each of these families listed colored members (total of 13) and three of them also had white members (total of 6) The most prominent of these first Melungeon settlers in Hamilton County was David Goens, a veteran of the American Revolution. David Goens was born in Hanover County, Virginia. Durning the war he served in the company commanded by a captain Rodgers of Halifax County ,Virginia. After moving to Grainger Co. Tennessee. From Grainger County he moved to Hamilton County, Tennessee where he died in 1834. His younger brother, Laban Goen, came to Hamilton County with him (c.f.Armstrong1931:195-196).

The Hamilton County census of 1840 listed 13 “free Persons of Color” families as residents of the county,8 of which were named Gowin with a total of 53 persons. in 1850, there were 16 “Mullatto”families named Goins(spelled Goins, Gozen, or Gowens) Of this group two members were born in Virginia and one in North Carolina. The rest, some as old as 50, were born in Tennessee.

After the 1850 census the Melungeons in Hamilton County are no longer listed as “free persons of color” or “mullatoes.” A few were reguarded as Black but most were listed as white. Other Melungeon surnames present in the early records are Bolden, Bolin, or Bolton and Collins. Following 1880 there is a decrease in Melungeon names listed for Hamilton County,accompanied by the appearance of them on list from Rhea County (Price1950: 182-183).

With the exception of David and Leban Goens, there is no record of where the individual Melungeons who moved to Hamilton County originated. It is probable, however, that most of them came from the upper East Tennessee area where
Melungeons were numerous by the end of the eighteenth century. While unable to directly trace individuals, Price (1950: 190) has established that the Melungeons came into being around that time as one of several loose societies of marginal mixed bloods, with most of their members entering Tennessee from the Virginia-North Carolina Piedmont area.

There is no record that the early Melungeon settlers in Hamilton County formed a separate community or reguarded themselves as a distinct ethnic group. Many of them settled in the northern end of the county in the Sale Creek area, only about 5 miles from the present town of Graysville. Here there was some intermarriage with the HICKS and FIELDS families who were a European-Cherokee mixed blood group(Werner1973:39-41). Today Sale Creek has few families who call themselves “Black Cherokee” but are reguarded as Blacks by their White neighbors. The Graysville Melungeons emphatically deny any relationship with this group, but it is probable that such a relationship does, in fact, exist.

Some of the Hamilton County Melungeons seem to have been reported as Indians. A newspaper article, appearing in the Chattanooga Times, March 31, 1894, relates to a man names William Bowlin described in the sub-heading as a “half witted Melungeon” and in the text as a ” half witted Indian”. Further in the text he is reffered to as “belonging to that peculiar people called the Melungeons.”

Also in Chattanooga, in 1872, there was a widely publicized court case involving a Melungeon. The case involved a lawsuit challenging the inheritance of some property by a girl whose mother had been a Melungeon named Bolton. The contention was that the girl could not legally inherit the land due to the fact, as she was a Melungeon, her mother had been part Black and since interracial marriages were illegal in Tennessee, the girl was therefore illegitimate. Her attorney, S.L. Shepherd ,won the case by convincing the court that Melungeons have no Black ancestry, but are rather derived from ancient Carthaginians who come from North America by way of Portugal (Shepheard1915: 89-90;Rodgers 1936 and 1941; Mynder 1945).

The first Melungeon to settle in the Graysville Community was George Goins who has children still living in the area. He was born in Hamilton County around 1865. His wife, Cordie, was born in 1876. Her maiden name and place of birth are not known, but her children recall that she claimed to be Cherokee. The children of George and Cordie Goins, Alvin (also known as Albert) and Gracie Goins Patton are the oldest Melungeons living in the community today. Alvin was born in 1903 and his sister was born a few years earlier.

In Graysville, the Melungeons are fully accepted and participate fully in all phases of community life. When schools were segregated, their children attended White
schools without question. Intermarriage between Melungeon and White non-Melungeons individuals in the community is a common pattern.

A less tolerant attitude was reported by an earlier observer (Price 1950: 157-158), who states:

The Melungeons here are characterized by a single surname, GOINS, though several others have been aquired, apparently by intermarriage with the Goins. The group consists mostly of miners and farm laborers and form 30-40 percent of the population of the town.

These people are grouped under the general term “the Goins” and the better known term “Melungeon” is applied by the relatively few who link them with the broader group. Some of these people are distinctly dark in skin and claim to be Cherokee Indian ancestry; probably more appear White and belong to the sort of hereditary proletariat elsewhere described. The fringes of Graysville are frayed with small painted and unpainted houses and shacks which are occupied by this class of people.

The Graysville residents make it clear that the Goins people are shiftless and thriftless, slow and unambitious, but not objectionable. If they fight, they fight with each other; when they are put in jail, it is usually for drunkeness, never for serious social crimes. They form a rather docile laboring group, never making trouble or trying to push their own cause. This lack of interest, noticeable even in the children, irritates their teachers, and their lack to thrift, as usual, justifies those who would say “You can’t do anything to help people like that.”

Occasional families are found in Dayton or in other parts of the county. Their residence in Graysville goes back as far as anyone can remember. There is no obvious reason for this concentraction, though some of the Goins have given the local welfare office the report that they moved from Hamilton County because they were excluded from white schools there. Right to attend white schools in Rhea County is said to have been established in a lawsuit of the 1890’s when a Melungeon ancestry was shown not to be negro. Some have been employed on farms for a long time, and some of the older people remember certain Goinges as mountain-dwellers and expert hunters.

Additional observations on the Graysville community were made by Warner (1973:44-45) as follows:

Oral tradition in Rhea County holds that the Melungeons first came there because in Hamilton County they were classified as non-White and were not allowed to attend white schools. Another story, which may variation of this one, states that they came there, not from Hamilton County but from North Carolina and South Carolina, because they were not allowed to vote. The first of these stories is partly supported by the fact that the town of Graysville, which once had a very large Melungeon population (30-40 percent at the time of E.T. Price’s writing) is extremely close to the county line dividing Hamilton from Rhea County,as if the people had moved no farther than absolutely necessary. The dates,however, are inconsistent. If the Goins in Hamilton County ceased to be classified as non whitein 1850, that would not give them a reason to move to Rhea County shortly before 1880. A possible explanation is that the census classification did not conform to every day practice, or that Melungeons were present in Rhea County before 1850 but for some reason were not recorded in
the census.

The most resent researcher to comment on the community (Bible 1975:29-30):

Still others settled in Hamilton County, Tennessee, but mainly today have intermingled with the non Melungeon population to such extent that they can no longer be identified. A sizable number moved from there several generations ago to Graysville, a small village in Rhea County at the foot of Walden Ridge, reportedly because they did not want their children to go to school with negroes.

Largely Goinses sprinkled through with a few additional names from intermarriage, they are generally considered Melungeons, although they do not refer to themselves by the name. Usually they speak of their mixed Indian and white ancestry. Even though smaller than it formerly was, the Graysville aggregate is probably one of the most stable of all Melungeon communities today. While a number go from time to time to the North and East in search of better paying jobs in industry, quite a few have returned to Graysville to settle down when they reached retirement age.

Each of the above quoted writers included the comment on the Graysville Melungeons as a part of their broad study on Melungeons, or Triracial groups in general. While they briefly visited the community, they derived most of their data from non-Melungeon whites, many of whom were not residents of the community and whose personal contact with Melungeons was limited to social work, teaching, etc. This over-reliance on indirect sources has resulted in a few misconceptions which will be considered below.

While the Goins families, as noted by Price, do in fact make up the majority of the easily recognized Melungeons in the community, they do not have the single traditional Melungeon surname. In addition to the Goins families, well established Melungeon surnames gained through exogamous marriage include HAMBRICK, LEFFEW, PATTON, and HENDERSON.

Although Price and Bible appear to feel that the Graysville Melungeons are declining in numbers through migeration and assimilation, this is not altogether an accurate picture. While the community is affected by out-migration, largely for economicreasons, the numbers of people leaving are consistent with that found in any other Appalachian group. Furthermore, most of those who leave Graysville eventually return. Neither does the well established practice of exogamy diminish the population. If, for example, a Goins brother and sister each have children, the off-spring of both will be equally Melungeon even though her’s will have a non-Melungeon surname, while his retain the name Goins. This being the case, it is presently estimated that approximately two-thirds of the population of Graysville have some degree of Melungeon ancestry, or are related to the Melungeons through marriage.

The physical characteristics noted among the Graysville Melungeons vary greatly. While precise ethnic categorization is beyond the capabilities of the author, a few general observations may be noted. Based on appearance, it appears that the strongest genetic factor in the background of the Graysville Melungeons is northern European. About half of them have very fair skin, with light brown hair or blond hair. Some have blue eyes. This is particularly true of the younger members of the community. Some have dark skin, but no more so than many non-Melungeons who spend much of their time outdoors. There are a few with slight negroid features such as wide nose, thick lips, etc., and some who have a somewhat similar appearance to Cherokee-White mixed bloods. Two women in the community exhibit Cherokee-like features. As a general statement, however, it may be said that few of the Graysville Melungeons would be noticably different from residents of any Appalachian community.

The Graysville Melungeons apparently feel no special kinship with other Melungeon communities in the state. When asked directly if they had relatives in Hancock or Hawkins Counties most responded that they did not. One, however, did state that she had heard of “some people up thar with the same name as us,” Goins, but was unaware of the degree of relationship. None of the people in the surrounding area associate the Graysville Melungeons with any other older Melungeon communities.

Most of the Graysville Melungeons interviewed by the author, including those who are currently “on the welfare,” have performed exceedingly hard manual labor most of their lives. Furthermore, they ususally express a willingness to do so again if job opportunities with decent pay present themselves. those who are currently employed in regular jobs in instudtry have a remarkable record of low absenteeism. One man interviewed remarked he had worked at a particular manufactoring plant in Chattanooga for more than ten years without missing a single scheduled workday, and had been late for work only two times. This record is made even more remarkable by the fact that this man did not own a car and depended on” hitching a ride or walking” to make the daily round trip of sixty miles.

Regardless of their source of income, most Melungeons are unable to follow any form of savings program. Food is a major expense item. Food items purchased on a routine basis include such staples as flour, meal, diied beans of the pinto variety, chunks of pork fat called “sowbelly” or “fat back” processed animal fats called lard, potatoes, and commercially canned foods –ususally corn and beans. In season they grow numerous vegetables and melons for their own consumption and also supplement purchased foods with a variety of wild plants.

There are three other types of regulary purchased items which, while not food, are reguarded as essential by most Melungeons. These are tobacco, coffee, and alcoholic beverages.In the nineteenth century it was noted that they were addicated to “their filty habit of chewing tobacco” (Dromgoole 1891: 474) and a more recent writer (Yarborough 1972) quoted a melungeon woman as saying “We both chew tobacco. I do because I don’t what to smell his (her husband’s) breath.” Among the Melungeons the use of tobacco is almost universal. One one occasion, while visiting a family, the author was asked for a cigarette by a nine year old child. Both parents were present and assured me it was alright, adding that he had been smoking for two to three years. While the younger Melungeons smoke cigarettes, the older people prefer to take their tobacco orally. Powered tobacco called “snuff” is favored by most women, and is considered to be more refinded and “lady-like” Men usually use chewing tobacco which has been pressed into a compact, rectangular cake called a “plug”, or a few leaves of tobacco twisted together called a twist”. Most homes have an ash-filled containter for spitting location in the room where guests are recieved. It is also a common practice for individuals to carry a small tin can filled with ashes with them for the same purpose. It is a sure sign of social acceptance when a Melungeon man produces his “plug” or “Twist” and ask “Wud ye keer fer a chew?”

All Melungeons regardless of sex or age are fond of coffee. Dromgoole (1891: 476) observed that: “Coffee is quite common among the Melungeons, they drink it without sweetening, and drink ir cold at all hours of the day or night.” In Graysville is is still the case. Every home has a large coffee pot which is filled in the morning and kept on the stove all day. Neither cream or sugar is used.

Many earlier writters have stressed the Melungeons fondness for alcholic beverages (c.f.Dromgoole 1891:474; Ball 1975:68; Cole and Looney 1934:25; Peters 1970) and they are frequently described as being involved in the distilling or selling of illegal whiskey commonly refered to as “moonshine” (c.f.Hale and Merritt 1913:182; Dabney 1974:138-139; Price 1951:258; Ivey 1975:1-8). In the Graysville community the use of alchol has somewhat ambiguous position.On the other hand, most of the Melungeons are members of religious sects which strongly damn any use of alchol as a heinous “sin,” and the term “drunkard” or “sot” is considered hightly derogatory.

In the purchase of clothing the Melungeons patronize the lower priced discount stores that specialize in cheap material or factory seconds. The most common costume for a woman is a cotton print dress. The men prefer trousers made of denim material or bibed overalls with a brightly colored shirt. Woman and children frequently do not wear shoes, especially in their home areas durning summer.

Major electric items such as stoves, refrigerators, wash machines and television sets are usually used when purchased. Most Melungeons have learned to be fix-er-uppers.

For understandable reason few Melungeons have bank accounts and even fewer are eligible for conventional loans. Nevertheless, most have a charge account at the local store for groceries. On several occasions after becoming familiar with the community, the author was asked for the loan of a dollar er two. On each of these occasions a particular date was suggested for repayment and in every instance the loan was repaid.

Family Structure

Melungeon families, as have been observed in other areas, are commonly rather large. In Hancock County it has been said that Melungeons start having sexual relations as soon as they are old enough, regardless of blood kinship, marry at an early age, bring into the world as children as nature allowes, then in the end to die no better off than their parents who lived before them .

Melungeons are extremely fond of children and there is no such thing as an unwanted child among them. Many regard their children as their hope for security when they grow old. One Melungeon woman has been quoted as saying “I have 6 living children and I had ten mishaps….It don’t hurt me much anymore. Well, a body just has to have children and say nothin about it. Why I don’t care if I have that many more. If you have a lot of children when you get old you have somebody to take care of you.” (Cole and Looney 1934:22-23)

Relationships between extended family members and in-laws are friendly. A typical house-hold may contain the husband and wife with 5-6 children, the the husband’s mother; the wife’s younger sister with two illegitimate children, and one to two of the wife’s brothers who stay from time to time.

The Melungeon male is quick to announce that he is the “boss” of his household. He is customarily served first at meal times and frequently has a special chair which other family members relinguish when he is present.In most cases, however, when it comes to practical matters, it is the wife who primarily controls the family.

Melungeon children recieve little to no encouragement from their parents in reguard to their school work. The parents are functionally illiterate in many cases. Few homes subscribe to publications of any kind, and in most homes the only book will be the ever-present Bible, and it is reguarded more as a cult object than an example of literature. The young child is praised when he learns to count to one hundred and write his name, but beyond that the parents show little interest. This lack of interest in education is similar to that mentioned by other observers of mother Melungeon communities (c.f.Ball 1975:68; Dromgoole 1891:477).

Popular writers like to dwell on the gross sexual immorlity of the Melungeons. In a typical example, Cole and Looney (1934:24) state: “Euraka, the oldest daughter of Amos Gibson is pregrant. Her brother who is a year older than she is is supposely the father of the child.” Similar stories are told regarding some of the Graysville Melungeons by persons outside the community. However, none of the stories can be substantiated. A check with the county authorities in Dayton reveals the fact that in the past five years there have been five criminal prosecutions for incest in the county. None of these cases involved the Melungeons and none occured in Graysville.

There is, however, a somewhat casual attitude toward marriage on the part of some of the Melungeons, and illegitimate births are fairly common. In these incidents there is no social stigma attached to either the mother or child. As she grows older, it is customery for the neighbors of the woman with a illegitimate children to call her a “widow” without reguard to whether or not she has been previously married. In addition to the universal reason for extra-marital sex, the situation in Graysville is further complicated by the fact that in the past years many males were forced to spend a great deal of time outside the community for economic reasons. The great love Melungeon women have for children is another factor. Cole and Looney (1934:23) quote the neighbors of one such woman as saying “she never had no husband–she had to get her young’uns the best way she could.”

Transition to Oral Culture

VOCAL TRAITS…..The eariliest writer to publish personal observations on Melungeon speech (Dromgoole 1891:475) remarks that “they do not drawl like the mountaineers but, on the contrary, speak rapidly and talk a great deal.” She further added “the laugh of the Melungeon women is most exquisitely musical jingle, a perfect ripple of sweet sound”.

These traits are present, at least to a degree, in the Graysville Melungeons.There is considerable difference in vocal habits used by individual Melungeons– in particular those who have lived in other parts of the country. Most have a tendency to be somewhat laconic in the presence of strangers. However, when this natural reserve is broken down, or when the individual becomes excited or emotional, the speech becomes very rapid. The “musicial” quality of female laughter as noted by Dromgoole is also present among the Melungeons of Graysville Melungeons. It is, however, more usually found among the younger women. The laughter of some of the older ones could better be described as a harsh cackle.


In Melungeon folkspeech vowel substitution is common. This trait has been noted among the upper Tennessee Melungeons by a recent writer (Davis 1976:172) who observed:

They was always three in her vocabulary, and yonder was Yander. Potatoes was taters, and Maryland, where one of her daughters lives was Murland.

These, as well as numberous other examples of vowel substitution, are to be found among the Graysville Melungons. Thus far “Fer” or”Fur” , while fire becomes “far”. Had is pronounced “hed”; just becomes “jist”; itch becomes “eetch;” come is “cum;” iron is “arn;” whip is “whup;” brush is “brash;” etc.

When two vowels sound are joined in a single syllable to form what is called a diphthong, the Melungeons will usually drop one of the sounds all together. Thus pronouncing hair as “hear;” bear as “bar;” boil as “bile;” chair as “cheer;” etc.

While not as common as vowel substitution, consonant sounds are also frequently interchanged with others. For some reason the “th” sound is occasionally replaced with “f”. Thus, thunder becomes “funder;” teeth is teef;” three is “free;” etc.

The dialect of the Melungeon is a cross between that of the mountaineer and the negro–a corruption, perhaps of both. The letter R occupies but small space in their speech, and they have a pecular habit of omitting the last letter, sometimes the last syllable of their words. For instance “good night” is “goo night, “give” is “gi,” etc. Their dialect is exceedingly difficult to write, owning to their habit of curtailing their words.

In addition to this obmission of final sounds in words, the Graysville Melungeons are also prone to omitting the beginning sounds. For example despise is often pronounced “spise;” except becomes “cept;” examine becomes “zamine;” etc.

It should be emphasized that the above peculiarities in pronounciation are uniformally used by the Graysville Melungeons. In fact, most Melungeons are perfectly aware of the conventional pronounciation of any given word. It is possible to hear the same individual, at different times, pronounce the word “just” as “jest,” “jus.” “jist,” or correctly as “just.” There is an apparent unconcious attempt to modify one’s speech to conform to that of a particular listener, in much the same manner that an American-born child of Italian parents will speak correctly in English in school, mixed Italian and English slang in the streets, and broken English with many Italians words in the home.


The grammer of the Melungeon folks speech is especially rich in verbs. Many of these are created directly from nouns or adjectives. Thus, when a man is going hunting he will frequently announce that he is going “squirrelin’.” A girl who is developing promiscuous habits is said to be “mannin’,” and when a man puts away his money, he “pockets” it. When a man takes a woman to bed , it may be said that he has “bedded” her. Going to shop for food is called “marketin’.”

Many verbs taken on an unusual form in the past tense. Thus drank becomes “drunk;” stank is “stunk;” swam is “swum;” dropped is “drapt;” etc.

The use of double negatives or triple negatives are very common. When one is short of funds, he would say “I ain’t got no money.” A girl who is chaste is said to be one who “ain’t never done nothin’ yet.”


The claim has been made that the Melungeons speak with Elizabethian English (Ball 1975:70), and while this is an obvious exaggeration, there are numerous archaisms to be found in Melungeon speech. Some of these are recognizable as Elizabethian or Chaucerian or even pre-Chaucertain words or terms. For example the pronound “hit” (it) dates English itself, being defined as early Anglo-Saxon neuter of “he” (Kephart 1976: 687). Other early English words include “ax” (ask) and “kag” (keg). A few additional words or expressions in everyday life of the Graysville Melungeons that were also used by Chaucer are “afore” (before), “atwixt” (between), “awar” (aware), “heap”(large quanity), “peart” (lively), and “stout” (strong).

The author encountered only two words in use among the Graysville Melungeons which are of non-English origin. Both of these words relate to foods. The first of these is “Kraut” which is German and applies to a concoction made from cabbage. The second one os “okra” which is the name of a vegetable and is of African in origin.

Some common words take on a different meaning when used by Melungeons, as “ruin” for injure, “sorry” for bad, “favor” for resemble, or “stump” for stumble. When a Melungeon asks to be “carried” somewhere, a ride in your car is what he desires.

Traditional Material Culture

Melungeons are a very practical people, and as such see no value in preserving traditional crafts when there is an easier way to obtain the desired results. The home making of clothing is an excellent example to make all of her clothing in the home. This was usually done entirely by hand with nothing but needle, thread, and scissors. It was necessary to purchase the cloth, since even among the oldest women now living there is no tradition for spinning and weaving. A favorable source of cloth was “flour sacks.” It seems that at that time a company which processed flour sold their products in bags made of brightly colored “print” material designed for the use of clothing.

In making the dresses, formal patterns were not used. The woman simply estimated the desired size as she cut the material and sewed it together. Then additional folds were adjusted and sewed to make it fit snugly. In addition to dresses for herself and her daughters, the woman frequently made shirts for the men of the family out of the same material. As sewing accessories, every woman kept a button-box and a cloth-box for future use. The larger cloth box contained discarded clothing, scraps left over from dress makingand any other bits and pieces that could be found. This also served the women as sources of rags to be used for towels, wash cloths, and sanitary napkins. In another respect of home crafts, the scraps from the cloth-box were also used to make quilt tops. The quilts did not have decorative designs or geometric patterns. Scraps of cloths of various sizes and colors were merely sewed together til a rectangular section big enough to cover the bed was achieved. This was the quilt top which was then placed over a plain cloth bottom, usually made by sewing plain white flour sacks together, with a layer of cotton between. This was then streched over a rectangular wooden frame held in place with wooden pins. The frame was commonly suspended by cords from hooks in the ceiling of the room. When she had time she would lower the frame and “quilt” it together by sewing through the three layers. When other duties demanded her attention, she would raise the frame and have it out of the way. Completion of the quilt usually took several weeks.

Traditional Substinence and Medical Patterns

One form of tradition culture still unchanged in the Graysville Melungeons is the family vegetable garden. Almost every family, even those in a highly urban setting, is able to find space somewhere for a garden in which they grow corn, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, cabbage, and other vegetables and fruits for home use. All the work is done by hand. A heavy digging implement called a “mattock” is used to break up the soil in preparation for planting. This is done in the late winter, ususally by the men of the family. Once the garden has been dug-up, most men leave the actual work of planting and harvesting to the women and children. Planting occurs in early spring and is dictated by the phases of the moon. During the growing season, hoes are used to remove grass and weeds from around the plants. If the garden is large, there will usually be a hoe for each member of the family. Some of the food grown in this matter is preserved for future use in glass jars, but most is consumed fresh as it is harvested. It is customary to schedule the plantings in such a manner as to have small amounts of each item becomming ready for use throughout the summer.

Another traditional activity centers around the collection of wild plants for food and medicial purposes. The food plants consists of several varieties of wild greens, berries, and nuts.Durning the summer the Melungeons gather blackberries, raspberries, dewberries, and huckleberries. In the fall, they gather wild grapes,(often called fox-grapes) hickory nuts and black walnuts. These foods, with the vegetables from the family garden, make up the bulk of the diet during four or five months of each year. Most of the wild plants are collected from the uninhabited slopes of Walden’s Ridge. Typically,each family has a particular area on the mountain to which they return year after year,sometimes for generations, to collect these foods. These areas are not secret, since most of the members of the community know where each family goes to gather. It is, however, considered a matter of ethics not to collect foods from an area known to be used by another family.

Medical plants are available for almost every complaint. They are used with as much regularity, and probably with about the same success, as are non-prescription drugs used in contemporary urban society. Most of the plants used produce a tea or tonic, but some are simply chewed in the natural state. Most babies are given a tea made from boiling catnip leaves as a general purpose tonic and to induce better sleep habits. Two infants ailments, called “thrash” and “hives,” are treated with teas made from ground ivy leaves and “wahoobark”, respectively. There is a wide variety of remedies for stomach trouble,including teas made from boiling ginseng roots, butterfly roots, or leaves of the goldenseal plant. Similar results are said to be obtained by simply chewing dogwood bark or the leaves of the wintergreen plant. Colds are treated with a tonic made from the boneset plant;and pneumonia is said to respond to tea made from elderberries. Cuts and burns are treated very effectively with a salve made by crushing the buds of the Balm of Gilead tree. Chewing pine bark relieves diarrhea, while peppermint leaves pervent vomiting and poplar bark gives one a better appetite. Sassafras bark is chewed to help “stomach trouble,” and the roots of the plant are boiled to produce a popular “blood tonic”. It is felt that the blood of a person becomes thick durning the winter due to cold weather. This in turn, produces a lazy, sluggish feeling in the spring. Drinking the “blood tonic” made from sassafrass root will thin the blood and return the patient to his or her former self.

References Cited

Armstrong, Zella, 1931 The History of Hamilton Co. and Chattanooga, Tennessee, Lookout Publishing Co. Chattanooga

Ball, Bonnie S., “Who are the Melungeons ” The Southern Literacy Messenger, 1945

_____, The Melungeons, privately published 1975

Ball, Donald B., 1977 “Observations on the Form and Function of Middle Tennessee Gravehouses” Tennessee Anthropologist

Barr, Phillis Cox, 1965 “The Melungeon’s of Newman’s Ridge”

Beale,Calvin L., 1957 “American Tri-Racial Isolates”

Berry, Brewton, 1963 Almost White, Collier Books, London

Bible, Jean Patterson, 1975 Melungeons of Yesterday and Today, E Tn. Printing Co.

Botkin B.A. (editor), 1949 A Treasury of Southern Folk-Lore Crown Publishing

Burchard,Ernest E., 1913 The Red Irons of East Tennessee

Burnett, Swan M., “A Note on the Melungeons” American Anthropologist

Campbell,Thomas J., 1940 Records of Rhea County, Rhea Publishing, Dayton

Case, Earl C., 1925 The Valley of East Tennessee

Caudill,Harry M., 1963 Night Comes to the Cumberlands Little-Brown, Boston

Cole,William E. and Joe Stephenson Looney, 1934 The Melungeons of Hancock County, Chattanooga Public Library

Dabney, Louisa, 1963 “The Mysteries of the Melungeons”

1972 reprint of above

1975 reprint of above, Pelican Publishing

Dromgoole,Will Allen, 1891 “The Melungeons” The Arena, 1891

_____, “The Melungeon Family Tree and it’s Four Branches” The Arena, 1891

Fetterson, John, 1967 Stinking Creek Dutton, New York

Fort, John, “Ancestry of Melungeon Ferry Pilot May go Back to the Fall of Carthage,” Chattanooga Times, Mon., Feb. 10 , 1941

Gilbert, William Harlen Jr. “Characteristics of the Larger Mixed Blood Racial Islands”

Hale, Will T. and Dixon L. Merritt, 1913 “The Melungeons of East Tennessee” A History of Tennessee and Tennesseeans, Lewis Publishing, Chicago & NY

Hatfield, John M., “The Melungeon Race ” Chattanooga Times, March 5, 1941

Hicks, George L., 1976 Appalachia Valley, Holt,Rinehart,and Winston, NY

Hotten, John Camden, 1874 The Original Lists of Persons of Quality and Others Who Went From Great Britian to the American Plantations, 1600-1700, privately published in London

Hunt, Raymond F., 1966 The Pactolus Iron Works

Ivey, Sanders, 1975 “Aunt Mahala in Folklore”

Johnson, Guy G., 1930 The Speech of the Negro University of Okla. Press

Kephart, Horace, 1976 Our Southern Highlanders University of Tennessee Press

Nordheimer,Jon “Mysterious Hill Folk Vanishing,” NY Times, Feb. 4, 1971

Pearsall, Marion, 1959 Little Smokey Ridge, U of Al. Press

Pollitzer, William S., 1970 “The Physical and Genetics of Marginal People of the Southeastern United States”

Price, Edward T., 1950 “Mixed Blood Racial Islands of Eastern US,” U. of Ca.

_____, 1950 “The Mixed Blood Strain of Carmel, Ohio& Magoffin County, Kentucky

_____, 1951 “The Melungeons”

_____, 1953 “Analysis of White-Negro-Indian Racial Mixture”

Rogers, T.A. 1936 “A Romance of the Melungeons”

Shepherd, Lewis, 1915 “Romantic Account of the Celebrated Melungeon Case”

Stephenson, John B., “A Mountain Community” U of Kentucky, Lexington

Weller, Jack E., “Yesterday’s People” U of Kentucky, Lexington

Werner, Diana, 1970 “The Melungeons”

Wheelock, Amanda Neal, 1941 “Melungeons Recalled” Chattanooga Times

Yarbough,Willard, 1972 “Hancock County Melungeons Disappearing, Still a Mystery”

“Melungeons Yesterday and Today– Thirty Years Later” by Wayne Winkler, 2005 article

Published by:

Melungeons Yesterday and Today – Thirty Years Later

by Wayne Winkler

A few weeks ago, my mother was visiting our home to meet her new grandson. We talked about my late father’s Melungeon family, and my mother mentioned one uncle whom she was pretty certain would never have acknowledged his Melungeon heritage. I went to a bookcase and pulled out a book — Jean Patterson Bible’s Melungeons Yesterday and Today — and showed the title page to my Mom. The uncle in question had signed the book when he gave it to me nearly thirty years ago. It was his way of acknowledging our family heritage. It was also a testament to the impact this slim volume had on our people.

Melungeons Yesterday and Today was published by its author, Jean Patterson Bible, in 1975. Thirty years later, it remains a landmark work. It has served as the foundation for Melungeon researchers ever since it first appeared.

Brent Kennedy, author of The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People, says, “Jean Patterson Bible performed a great service in trying to instill pride among Melungeon descendants, as well as preserving as much of their culture as she possibly could. She provided a strong foundation for later researchers, all without the benefit of electronic research tools exemplified by the Internet, photocopiers, and so on. She is truly an icon in Melungeon research.”


Jean Patterson Bible

Ms. Bible was a native of Hamblen County, Tennessee. She had attended school with some Melungeon children, and later, as a teacher, taught Melungeon students. She later moved to neighboring Jefferson County, where she also knew a few Melungeons. In Jefferson County, Ms. Bible taught history, modern language, and English. She was a prolific history, travel, and feature writer whose articles appeared The New York Times, Baltimore Sun,Atlanta Journal and Constitution Magazine, The American Home, Historical Review and Antique Digest, The Southern Observer, and elsewhere. She wrote a weekly column for the Jefferson City, Tennessee, Standard Banner, and served for 30 years as Jefferson County historian. (In 1991, she published a history of her home county, Bent Twigs in Jefferson County.)

A few of her articles and columns were based on folklore about the mysterious Melungeons, a population most often associated with nearby Hancock County. But her interest increased in the late 1960s when Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City began working with the Hancock County Drama Association to produce an outdoor drama about the Melungeons. As she writes, “…I discovered that there was a great deal more to the story than these apparently ‘mysterious’ people than just a romantic legend.”

As she began serious research on the Melungeons, she discovered the work of researchers Edward Price, Calvin Beale, and Henry Price. She also talked with some of the older people in Hancock County, Tennessee. In this endeavor, Ms. Bible was aided by her friend Miss Martha Collins, president of the Citizen’s Bank in Sneedville, the Hancock County seat, and a descendent of some of the original Melungeon families in the county.

Not everyone was enthusiastic about her research. “From the beginning, I have run into skepticism and even tight-lipped disapproval from a few (an attitude of ‘Why do you want to rake all that up? Why can’t you leave the Melungeons alone?’) A number of my query letters asking about Melungeons have been conspicuously ignored and unanswered. On more than one occasion, I have been rudely told to ‘mind my own business” or words to that effect. Incidentally, none of the people involved in these unpleasantnesses were Melungeons.”

Hancock County residents, whether Melungeon or not, had felt misused by writers in the past. Will Allen Dromgoole’s articles in the Nashville American (1890) and the nationally-distributed magazine The Arena (1891) portrayed the Melungeons in a very negative light. She described the Melungeons as “…exceedingly lazy. They live in hovels to filthy for any human being.” Other descriptions included, “They all drink, men, women, and children, and they are all distillers…,” “They are a great nuisance to the people of the county seat…,” “They are exceedingly shiftless, and in most cases filthy.,” “They are rouges, natural, born ‘rogues,’ close, suspicious, inhospitable, untruthful, cowardly, and to use their own word, ‘sneaky,’” “They are a blot upon our state.”

More recently, William Worden’s 1947 article in the Saturday Evening Post, “Sons of the Legend,” while less overtly racist and contemptuous than Dromgoole’s work, brought unwelcome national attention to the Melungeons and the phenomenon of “tri-racial isolates” (a phrase coined by researcher Calvin Beale). Nearly all of these groups had suffered social and legal discrimination to some degree or another, and whatever tenuous status these groups had managed to attain in their communities was sometimes jeopardized by publicity. After Worden’s article appeared, many non-Melungeons from Hancock County felt the piece reflected badly on everyone the county, as if they all might be “tainted” by this mysterious heritage. One young woman even dropped out of college when her classmates discovered she was from Hancock County, where ”those”people came from.

Despite some initial resistance, Ms. Bible found people in Hancock County and elsewhere who were happy to cooperate, who felt it was important that the Melungeon story be documented before it was too late. Already, outmigration from rural areas and intermarriage with “outsiders” was taking a toll on the various tri-racial communities across the eastern United States. Throughout Melungeons Yesterday and Today, Ms. Bible frequently remarks that the Melungeons are fast disappearing as a distinct people, and that soon, only an occasional dark-skinned descendent will appear to remind us of who the Melungeons once were. Thus, her work was motivated by a sense of urgency: the older people who remembered the bits and pieces of our scanty history would soon be gone, and their memories with them.

One of Ms. Bible’s first discoveries is that the Melungeons were not limited to one small geographical area in east Tennessee and southwest Virginia. She found Melungeon surnames scattered all along the migration routes in Virginia and North Carolina, and researched Melungeon communities in southeastern Tennessee, Kentucky, and as far north as Ohio. She found more recent Melungeon “settlements” – communities of Melungeons who had moved in the 20th century to places like Baltimore or industrial cities in the Midwest.

Ms. Bible was guided in large part by the work of her friend Bonnie Ball, who had known Melungeons in southwest Virginia all her life, and had written about them since the 1940s. She also studied the most recent research by Edward Price, Brewton Berry, Calvin Beale, Henry Price, William Pollitzer, and others. She befriended Bill Grohse, a “transplanted Yankee” who compiled genealogical histories of the early families on Newman’s Ridge and Vardy Valley. Most importantly, she began methodically searching and compiling all the available historical records on the Melungeons.


A grave shelter in a private Melungeon cemetery, from Melungeons Yesterday and Today.

As she writes, “Busy university professors took time to write thoughtful, detailed answers to my questions on history, genetics and anthropology. County historians have dug up facts about Melungeons in their counties. Faded newspaper clippings from historical collections, articles in professional journals, unpublished mimeographed writings, microfilms of long-ago censuses whose original print had sometimes faded almost beyond recognition, valuable old public records such as the Hawkins CountyWill Book I and the early Tennessee Supreme Court Reports whose yellowed pages fairly crackled with age, family letters, graduate theses, a doctoral dissertation, numerous bits of correspondence and clippings from kind people who were willing to share their knowledge with me – all played a part.”

Ms. Bible recounted the varied legends and theories of the Melungeons’ origin, and presented the major theses chapter-by-chapter. As she writes, “If some of the chapters sound like research on a thesis or dissertation while others seem more like feature articles in a popular magazine or newspaper, that is the way the Melungeon story reads to me. It is a ‘mixed bag,” ranging from hard fact to what is almost fiction.”

“Mixed bag” or not, Melungeons Yesterday and Today was the first work to pull all these elements together and provide a baseline of knowledge about the Melungeons, a foundation for all who would later study our people. When I began the research that eventually resulted in my own book, Walking Toward the Sunset, the bibliography from Melungeons Yesterday and Todaywas my primary research tool. Like most researchers, I made the trips to the library and found the articles in journals and on microfilms — not because I mistrusted her quotes, but because historical researchers love to find the original items whenever possible. Thanks to Jean Patterson Bible’s work, though, I knew what to look for – she’d already found the most relevant items and laid the foundation for future researchers.

It is amazing to me to realize that Ms. Bible did not have resources such as the Internet, copiers, fax machines, scanners, and other tools we take for granted today. Many of the articles first unearthed by Ms. Bible are today available online – indeed, many are available on this very website. But it was Jean Patterson Bible who compiled this huge body of information that gave the rest of us a head start on our research.

Lowell Kirk writes in the Tellico Mountain Press, “Jean Patterson Bible, in a book published in 1975, The Melungeons Yesterday and Today [sic], explored the history of the Melungeons and discovered nothing certain about the many confusing legends regarding Melungeon origins, except that the Melungeons do exist!… Although her book provides worthwhile information about the Melungeons, Jean Bible was not a trained nor scholarly historian.”

Ms. Bible did not set out to solve the mystery, but simply to compile what information was available as accurately and completely as possible. Melungeons Yesterday and Today, by Ms. Bible’s own admission, is scholarly in some chapters and less so in others. While Ms. Bible may not be a “trained” historian in Mr. Kirk’s view, her background as an educator served her well in her research, and she succeeded in producing a comprehensive work in which she – and the Melungeons – can take pride.

This is not to say that subsequent researchers have agreed with all of her conclusions. Much has been learned since 1975. Ms. Bible relates the tale that John Sevier discovered the Melungeons were living on Newman’s Ridge at about the time of the Revolution; it appears now that the first Melungeons arrived in that area about a quarter century later than that, and that the Sevier story is probably apocryphal.

Mike Nassau writes, “[Bible] may be faulted for trying to minimize the black element in the Melungeon background, taking the Welsh and Cherokee legends too seriously, and for making the story too pretty and romantic, but as a friend of the Melungeons trying to help them be accepted by bigoted white neighbors, this is more than forgivable.”

Whatever minor shortcomings might be found in Melungeons Yesterday and Today, it is clear that this book was written just in the nick of time, while she – and we — could still benefit from the memories of people like Miss Martha Collins and others who passed on factual information as well as many of the old stories and legends. And it was researched and written at a time when the Melungeons were beginning to take pride in their heritage, and were more willing to share information and accept the knowledge of their ancestry. It is fair to say that such a book could not have been written ten years earlier – or ten years later. Thirty years after its publication, Melungeons Yesterday and Today still stands as a landmark for our people – a work that not only documented our history, but helped make it as well.

Wayne Winkler
May 2005

Lewis M. Jarvis article from Hancock County Times, 1903

Published by:

Lewis Jarvis article

As transcribed by William Grohse, historian of Hancock County, Tennessee

from the Hancock County Times
Sneedville, Tennessee, 17 April 1903

Much has been said and written about the inhabitants of Newman’s Ridge and Blackwater in Hancock County, Tenn. They have been derisively dubbed with the name “Melungeons” by the local white people who have lived here with them. It is not a traditional name or tribe of Indians.

Some have said these people were here when the white people first explored this country. Others say they are a lost tribe of the Indians having no date of their existence here, traditionally or otherwise.

All of this however, is erroneous and cannot be sustained. These people, not any of them were here at the time the first white hunting party came from Virginia and North Carolina in the year 1761– the noted Daniel Boone was at the head of one of these hunting parties and went on through Cumberland Gap. Wallen was at the head of another hunting party from Cumberland County, Virginia and called the river beyond North Cumberland Wallen’s Ridge and Wallen’s Creek for himself. In fact these hunting parties gave all the historic names to the mountain ridges and valleys and streams and these names are now historical names.

Wallen pitched his first camp on Wallen’s creek near Hunter’s Gap in Powell’s mountain, now Lee County, Virginia. Here they found the name of Ambrose Powell carved in the bark of a beech tree; from this name they named the mountain, river and valley for Powell, Newman’s Ridge was named for a man of the party called Newman. Clinch River and Clinch valley–these names came at the expense of an Irish man of the party in crossing the Clinch River, he fill off the raft they were crossing on and cried aloud for his companions to “Clench me”, “clench me”, and from this incident the name has become a historic name.

About the time the first white settlement west of the Blue Ridge was made at Watauga River in Carter County, Tennessee, another white party was then working the lead mines in part of Virginia west of the Blue Ridge. In the year 1762 these hunters turned, coming through Elk Garden, now Russell County, Virginia. They then headed down a valley north of Clinch River and named it Hunter’s Valley and buy this name it goes today. These hunters pitched their tent near Hunter’s gap in Powell’s Mountain, nineteen mile from Rogersville, Tenn. on the Jonesville, Va. road. Some of the party of hunter went on down the country to where Sneedville, Hancock County, now stands and hunted there during that season.

Bear were plentiful here and they killed many, their clothing became greasy and near the camp was a projecting rock on which they would lie down and drink and the rock became very greasy and they called it Greasy Rock and named the creek Greasy Rock Creek, a name by which it has ever since been known and called since, and here is the very place where these Melungeons settled, long after this, on Newman’s ridge and Blackwater.

Vardy Collins, Shepherd Gibson, Benjamin Collins, Solomon Collins, Paul Bunch and the Goodmans, chiefs and the rest of them settled here about the year 1804, possibly about the year 1795, but all these men above named, who are called Melungeons, obtained land grants and muniments of title to the land they settled on and they were the friendly Indians who came with the whites as they moved west. They came from the Cumberland County and New River, Va., stopping at various points west of the Blue Ridge. Some of them stopped on Stony Creek, Scott County, and Virginia, where Stony Creek runs into Clinch river.

The white emigrants with the friendly Indians erected a fort on the bank of the river and called it Fort Blackmore and here yet many of these friendly “Indians” live in the mountains of Stony Creek, but they have married among the whites until the race has almost become extinct. A few of the half-bloods may be found – none darker – but they still retain the name of Collins and Gibson, &c. From here they came to Newman’s ridge and Blackwater and many of them are here yet; but the amalgamations of the whites and Indians has about washed the red tawny from their appearance, the white faces predominating, so now you scarcely find one of the original Indians; a few half-bloods and quarter-bloods-balance white or past the third generation.

The old pure blood were finer featured, straight and erect in form, more so than the whites and when mixed with whites made beautiful women and the men very fair looking men. These Indians came to Newman’s Ridge and Blackwater. Some of them went into the War of 1812-1914 whose names are here given; James Collins, John Bolin and Mike Bolin and some others not remembered; those were quite full blooded. These were like the white people; there were good and bad among them, but the great majority were upright, good citizens and accumulated good property and many of them are among our best property owners and as good as Hancock county, Tenn. affords. Their word is their bond and most of them that ever came to Hancock county, Tennessee, then Hawkins County and Claiborne, are well remembered by some of the present generation here and now and they have left records to show these facts.

They all came here simultaneously with the whites from the State of Virginia, between the years 1795 and 1812 and about this there is no mistake, except in the dates these Indians came here from Stoney Creek.

Notes from William Grohse

L. M. Jarvis – Honorable Lewis M. Jarvis the leading lawyer of Sneedville was born in Scott County, Va. October 26, 1829. He was the son of Daniel Jarvis (born 3/15/1799) and Mary Jarvis, nee Mary Collins, of English and Irish descent. Daniel was born in Giles County, Va. His wife Mary was born in Botecourt County, Va. They were married in 1813. Daniel Jarvis died near Sneedville July 29, 1885.