Author Archives: mha

Frank Sweet presentation, 2004

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Afro-European Genetic Admixture in the United States

Frank Sweet’s June 17 presentation at Fifth Union was entitled “Americans Are More Racially Mixed Than They Imagine.” The link below connects to a similar presentation made a short time before Fifth Union, comeplete with graphs and pictures.



Since retiring as electrical engineer and school librarian, respectively, Frank and Mary Lee Sweet have interpreted living history as a hobby / business under the name “Backintyme.” They don period dress, perform 19th century music (banjo, guitar, percussion), and tell anecdotes from Florida’s past at museums, libraries, private functions, and state and national historic sites. Their website is at In support of this activity, Frank has published eleven historical booklets that are currently sold at museum and state park gift shops throughout Florida. Backintyme’s special area of interest is in the origins, and unfolding of North America’s odd “race” notion. Frank earned a Master’s in Civil War Studies from American Military University in Manassas, Virginia in the fall of 2001. As of this writing, in June 2004, he is a Ph.D. candidate in U.S. history at the University of Florida in Gainesville Florida. His dissertation title is “A Brief History of the One-Drop Rule.”

Jerry Warsing presentation, 2004

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The East Asian Factor

by Jerry Warsing
Presented at Fifth Union
Kingsport, Tennessee
Friday, 19 June 2004

Who are the Melungeons? I only learned of their existence in approximately the year 1996. I quickly learned their origins were shrouded in secrecy, and felt some people knew something about who they were, but were for some reason reluctant to make the knowledge public. I also felt most were truly ignorant of their heritage, and wanted to know who they were. I saw that the HERITAGE was lost, but felt it had only recently been lost. SECRETS ALWAYS make me very curious. I learned early that people, like governments, shroud what they consider unpopular, illegal, or prejudicial in secrecy. People hide facts about themselves that can bring harm or prejudice upon themselves. If that is done for 4 or more generations, heritage is lost. I quickly made it my quest to try to determine the ORIGINS OF THE MELUNGEONS. I don’t like secrets. I like truth. That search has taken me on some interesting journeys through cyber-space, books, dusty libraries, and even my own mind.

I have to tell you something about myself to explain my interest in this project. I began working on this by determining the SECRETS of my own ancestry. To solve the riddle of my ancestry. From the earliest time I sensed secrecy in my heritage. My grandmother told me some of my ancestry when I was around 5 or 6 years of age and I was interested at the time, but didn’t know enough to ask questions. My grand mothers name was Laura Jane Walls. Her maiden name was Laura Jane Trent, and her mothers name was Arminda Collins. One of Arminda Collins younger brothers was Samuel Collins, who was the father of Eula Collins Conley. Many of you have heard of her. Although I have many Melungeon genes through the Collins, Mullins, and I believe Trents, I don’t consider myself Melungeon, as I don’t have the heritage. Anyway, around late 1944 or early 1945 I saw my grandmother reading a newspaper, and to this day I remember the headlines “Hitler killed millions of Jews and Gypsies !” My grandmothers comments were, almost proudly, “He didn’t get them all – My people are all over the world now!” I asked her what she meant. What she said made me feel proud. She said “my people , the Romani, are all over the world now”. (I understood later she was speaking of the Gypsies, and that Gypsy is a derogatory name for Romani.) I asked her “Don’t you mean Romans?” I had heard of Romans, but had not heard of Romani. and she said “No. Romans are something else. You have to put an “ I “ on the end of Roman to spell what we are. Our people are like one huge extended family. A week or so later she told me – in a sing song voice – the oral history which had been passed to her – It was about her ancestors being forced to settle under Henry VIII, about Wm and Mary, Elizabeth Ist, etc., and also of being forced to go to Holland, and eventually coming to America. She also told me of “bad acts” committed against her people who had remained in England by Oliver Cromwell. They were “unmentionalble”, she said. One of the “unmentionable acts”, I later learned, was to send them to the Caribbean as slaves to work the sugar cane. My people weren’t sent to the Caribbean, but part of my peoples extended family were sent there. As my grandmother and I really never discussed this anymore, I soon forgot about it. Looking back now – what she told me made me feel proud at the time.

Fast forward: Around 1996 I read a brief article written by Dr. Kennedy which was published in the Richmond, Virginia, Times-Dispatch with some information about the upcoming First Union. He mentioned names of families that were some of the people of a group known collectively as Melungeons. I didn’t remember ever hearing or reading the word before. Two of those family names were Collins and Mullins, and I recognized the names as being some of my own family names. I grew up in southern West Virginia, and lived the first 7 or 8 years of my life with my mother and my grandmother. I know I’m not Melungeon, as I don’t have the heritage. I do have some of the genes. I’m not Rom, or Gypsy either. I at one time thought I was. Dr. Ian Hancock, head of the Romani Union, told me I’m not Rom. I didn’t like it at the time, but now I understand – although I have a little heritage, and have some of the genes, its not much. I didn’t like it at the time, but now I accept it. I do know who I am. So; I said to myself. I’m not Melungeon, I’m not Romani. Who am I?? I had my own DNA test done about a year ago to see if I might have the East Asian DNA, and to my surprise discovered that I have 12% native American DNA, and of course the rest being Indo-European. No EA. NOW I know who I am. I have always known that diversity in genes is good. So; I have American Indian genes, and I have Indian- Indian genes. And I have European genes. Can anyone have more diverse genes than that?? I had long suspected Black genes, but didn’t have them. I’m sorry I don’t have – I firmly believe DIVERSITY of ones genes make for a more complete person.

Can anyone have more diverse genes? Yep. My little girl does. She is 6% American Indian, part Rom (INDIAN – Indian) part Tatar (Mongolian), and part European (Russian, English, French, Irish, Portuguese, Etc). She is ALL Mongrelian. I’m just part Mongrelian.

What REALLY got me into this was the apparent MYSTERY of the origins of the Melungeons. I knew enough to know that mystery and SECRETS – whether about people, politics, or whatever, generally are an attempt to hide something considered unfavorable by others. People and governments maintain secrets to hide truth. Some people who know about what I’m doing have asked me why I have been working on this. As one of my favorite writers – Paul Krugman, who is a syndicated OP-ED columnist might say – the reason, folks, is to FIND THE TRUTH, AND BE ABLE TO TALK ABOUT IT.

Who are the Melungeons? The Melungeons are composed of at least several assimilated core groups : 1. Native Americans 2.Croatians (area of the former Yugoslavia) 3. English people from the so called ‘Lost Colony’ 4. Portuguese 5. Spanish from the Spanish colony of Santa Elena and the abandoned Spanish Forts 6. Various ship wrecked peoples who traveled inland to get away from the violent dangers of the Atlantic coast 7. Rom who were originally sent to America by the English as indentured servants, and also Rom who were freed of enslavement by the English in 1719 from the Caribbean and dumped at Port Elizabeth in the Carolinas. Incidentally, many of the existing Melungeon black genes probably came from the black overseers who took Rom slave girls as concubines. This information is from The PATRIN, a Rom Web site.8. East Asians; Mongol and Chinese people who had been shipwrecked off the coast of North Carolina and Virginia probably due to a hurricane. They were shipwrecked while attempting to colonize the east coast of the present United States.

This is about the EAST ASIAN FACTION of the Melungeons. The quest itself has been interesting. I have had support from others; particularily Gavin Menzies, author of the book 1421, The Year China discovered America. Gavin immediately understood my search as one that complemented his work, and might even VALIDATE his findings. He funded our recent DNA study of the Melungeons, and has given me much more assistance.

Ladies and gentlemen, among other things we HAVE VALIDATED the work of Gavin Menzies. We have discovered EA DNA among the Melungeons; and coupled with confirming information from others that MORE EA DNA does exist among Melungeons, Menzies work has been VALIDATED.!

Ladies and gentlemen, if you are interested in this heritage, you should read Gavin Menzies book 1421, The Year China Discovered America. It’s a book on which Menzies worked many years – its well documented, and contains literally THOUSANDS of pieces of information which proves the Chinese were not only here, but also discovered and explored the rest of the world in the early 1400’s. Menzies has also discovered without doubt the Croatians were on the coast of Virginia as early as 1440, and that the Portuguese settled Puerto Rico as early as 1444. That’s new public information, and will probably be presented in a revised book, and possibly in a PBS special which will be presented later this Summer or Fall.

I’ve been working with Menzies for the past couple of years. I have found the Chinese DID settle America without doubt. I have found PROOF of one place they settled, and that place is RIGHT HERE IN MELUNGEON AMERICA! WE HAVE EAST ASIAN DNA right here! We are sure they came, and we are sure they are still here. Yes, folks, Columbus did come to America, but he came 70 years after the Chinese, and he came using Chinese maps! He DID NOT come to the Appalachians. Columbus – til his dying day – believed he had actually reached some part of East Asia when he landed on Cuba, and spent a few days there. I finally understand why he thought that – the people he encountered were actually Chinese who had been there for around 3 generations – I wondered about his confusion ; now I UNDERSTAND why he was confused!

I have forever been dissatisfied with the complacent, pat history presented concerning Pre-Colonial and Colonial History of America. I have always had questions about settlement of the East Coast of America. I have always had questions about what happened between 1492 when Columbus supposedly discovered America, and 1608 when the English settled Jamestown. I know where there are voids in information there are secrets. There was a void of over a hundred years in discoveries – Oh, there was mention of John Cabot and Henry Hudson, but not much more. There was no mention of Spanish settlement. Those same history patterns were not only in elementary and high school history, but also in college history. I always wondered ‘WHY’? I discovered the answer to that ‘WHY’ several years ago.

The answer is this; the slant of the writing of history, like political writing and news, is determined by whomever controls the MEDIA. History is part of Politics (Who gets what, and when they get it). As a consequence of the slant of history, modern Melungeons have known very little about their ancestry (except through oral history) until recently. History is periodically rewritten. The time has come for pre-colonial American History to be re written again.


Fast forward: Around 1996 I read a brief article written by Dr. Kennedy which was published in the Richmond, Virginia, Times-Dispatch with some information about the upcoming First Union. He mentioned names of families that were some of the people of a group known collectively as Melungeons. I didn’t remember ever hearing or reading the word before. Two of those family names were Collins and Mullins, and I recognized the names as being some of my own family names. I grew up in southern West Virginia, and lived the first 7 or 8 years of my life with my mother and my grandmother. I know I’m not Melungeon, as I don’t have the heritage. I do have some of the genes. I’m not Rom, or Gypsy either. I at one time thought I was. Dr. Ian Hancock, head of the Romani Union, told me I’m not Rom. I didn’t like it at the time, but now I understand – although I have a little heritage, and have some of the genes, its not much. I didn’t like it at the time, but now I accept it. I do know who I am. So; I said to myself. I’m not Melungeon, I’m not Romani. Who am I?? I had my own DNA test done about a year ago to see if I might have the East Asian DNA, and to my surprise discovered that I have 12% native American DNA, and of course the rest being Indo-European. No EA. NOW I know who I am. I have always known that diversity in genes is good. So; I have American Indian genes, and I have Indian- Indian genes. And I have European genes. Can anyone have more diverse genes than that?? I had long suspected Black genes, but didn’t have them. I’m sorry I don’t have – I firmly believe DIVERSITY of ones genes make for a more complete person.

Can anyone have more diverse genes? Yep. My little girl does. She is 6% American Indian, part Rom (INDIAN – Indian) part Tatar (Mongolian), and part European (Russian, English, French, Irish, Portuguese, Etc). She is ALL Mongrelian. I’m just part Mongrelian.

What REALLY got me into this was the apparent MYSTERY of the origins of the Melungeons. I knew enough to know that mystery and SECRETS – whether about people, politics, or whatever, generally are an attempt to hide something considered unfavorable by others. People and governments maintain secrets to hide truth. Some people who know about what I’m doing have asked me why I have been working on this. As one of my favorite writers – Paul Krugman, who is a syndicated OP-ED columnist might say – the reason, folks, is to FIND THE TRUTH, AND BE ABLE TO TALK ABOUT IT.

Who are the Melungeons? The Melungeons are composed of at least several assimilated core groups : 1. Native Americans 2.Croatians (area of the former Yugoslavia) 3. English people from the so called ‘Lost Colony’ 4. Portuguese 5. Spanish from the Spanish colony of Santa Elena and the abandoned Spanish Forts 6. Various ship wrecked peoples who traveled inland to get away from the violent dangers of the Atlantic coast 7. Rom who were originally sent to America by the English as indentured servants, and also Rom who were freed of enslavement by the English in 1719 from the Caribbean and dumped at Port Elizabeth in the Carolinas. Incidentally, many of the existing Melungeon black genes probably came from the black overseers who took Rom slave girls as concubines. This information is from The PATRIN, a Rom Web site.8. East Asians; Mongol and Chinese people who had been shipwrecked off the coast of North Carolina and Virginia probably due to a hurricane. They were shipwrecked while attempting to colonize the east coast of the present United States.

This is about the EAST ASIAN FACTION of the Melungeons. The quest itself has been interesting. I have had support from others; particularily Gavin Menzies, author of the book 1421, The Year China discovered America. Gavin immediately understood my search as one that complemented his work, and might even VALIDATE his findings. He funded our recent DNA study of the Melungeons, and has given me much more assistance.

Ladies and gentlemen, among other things we HAVE VALIDATED the work of Gavin Menzies. We have discovered EA DNA among the Melungeons; and coupled with confirming information from others that MORE EA DNA does exist among Melungeons, Menzies work has been VALIDATED.!

Ladies and gentlemen, if you are interested in this heritage, you should read Gavin Menzies book 1421, The Year China Discovered America. It’s a book on which Menzies worked many years – its well documented, and contains literally THOUSANDS of pieces of information which proves the Chinese were not only here, but also discovered and explored the rest of the world in the early 1400’s. Menzies has also discovered without doubt the Croatians were on the coast of Virginia as early as 1440, and that the Portuguese settled Puerto Rico as early as 1444. That’s new public information, and will probably be presented in a revised book, and possibly in a PBS special which will be presented later this Summer or Fall.

I’ve been working with Menzies for the past couple of years. I have found the Chinese DID settle America without doubt. I have found PROOF of one place they settled, and that place is RIGHT HERE IN MELUNGEON AMERICA! WE HAVE EAST ASIAN DNA right here! We are sure they came, and we are sure they are still here. Yes, folks, Columbus did come to America, but he came 70 years after the Chinese, and he came using Chinese maps! He DID NOT come to the Appalachians. Columbus – til his dying day – believed he had actually reached some part of East Asia when he landed on Cuba, and spent a few days there. I finally understand why he thought that – the people he encountered were actually Chinese who had been there for around 3 generations – I wondered about his confusion ; now I UNDERSTAND why he was confused!

I have forever been dissatisfied with the complacent, pat history presented concerning Pre-Colonial and Colonial History of America. I have always had questions about settlement of the East Coast of America. I have always had questions about what happened between 1492 when Columbus supposedly discovered America, and 1608 when the English settled Jamestown. I know where there are voids in information there are secrets. There was a void of over a hundred years in discoveries – Oh, there was mention of John Cabot and Henry Hudson, but not much more. There was no mention of Spanish settlement. Those same history patterns were not only in elementary and high school history, but also in college history. I always wondered ‘WHY’? I discovered the answer to that ‘WHY’ several years ago.

The answer is this; the slant of the writing of history, like political writing and news, is determined by whomever controls the MEDIA. History is part of Politics (Who gets what, and when they get it). As a consequence of the slant of history, modern Melungeons have known very little about their ancestry (except through oral history) until recently. History is periodically rewritten. The time has come for pre-colonial American History to be re written again.

How did the East Asians get here??

Admiral Zheng He (Cheng Ho) (1371-1433), who had made at least 6 previous voyages for the Ming Dynasties Emperor Zhu Di, and had explored the world, discovering America at least as early as 1421 was ordered by Emperor Zhu Zhanji (1425-1435), the new emperor, to conduct a 7th expedition. It appears to have been an expedition to colonize the world. It also appears to me to have been a banishment of a defeated people from mainland China. Cheng Ho, as were his followers, were defeated Mongols primarily from the Chinese Province of Yunnan. They were Muslims who the Ming Dynasty had not been able to assimilate into Confucian society.

I also believe the Emperor had included amongst the colonists others he did not want in China, such as people with unknown diseases or physical impairments. Its my opinion Machado-Josephs originated in Yunnan, and was transported through Chinese trade routes which were later inherited by the Portuguese. Menzies has lots of information on the existence of early Machado-Josephs in Yunnan, and without prior contact with the Portuguese.

As many of you know banishment of defeated peoples – ones that aren’t killed – has always been a way used to maintain domestic order and tranquility. What immediately comes to my mind is the deportation of the Huguenots from France in the 17th century.

The 7th voyage met with disaster. Cheng Ho again went to the west – this time with 400 ships, many as big as his flagship. The ships carried as many as 100,000 people – men, women, and children – also everything necessary to establish colonies from seeds for planting to mongolian ponies. They even had horse ships. Cheng Ho’s flag ship was 475 feet long. As a comparison, Christopher Columbus flagship, the Santa Maria, was only 78 feet long. Cheng Ho commanded on his 7th and final voyage a fleet of 400 ocean going ships that included hundreds of sailors per ship other than the colonists. They carried homing pigeons in case of shipwreck. Marco Polo reported the Chinese had four masted ocean going craft with 60 cabins and 300 men crews. Its known many of Cheng Ho’s ships had 7 masts. It is also noteworthy the ships carried gardens and all provisions required so as not to depend on barbarian suppliers.

The Armada set sail in the Spring of 1431, and sailed toward the Cape of Good Hope the southern tip of Africa. They traded as they went, and dropped off people along the way as colonists to establish trading centers. Those people who were dropped off are today known as the ‘Overseas Chinese’. When the armada rounded the southern tip of Africa, it encountered a violent storm. Half the ships turned back because of the storm, and the other half were not heard from again in China. Most of them, however, I believe did make it to the East Coast of what is now the United States where they apparently encountered a hurricane, as years later many wrecked ships which met descriptions of the huge Chinese junks were found by others from Florida all the way to Greenland. One ship, which met the description of a hugh chinese junk, was found during the time of George Washington (over 300 years later) deep in the Dismal Swamp of Virginia. Its remains were excavated in 1929 by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, but we have not yet been able to retrieve copies of any of the documents.

OK. Menzies traced the EA DNA to the shores of America. I traced it to the Appalachians. How did I get it to the Appalachians and the Melungeons? I did it by studying maps – I noticed and studied names of places and names of peoples. I studied characteristics of Melungeons and others – and I read some early english writing.

Captain John Smith’s writings and descriptions of the time he was held prisoner by Powhatan was particularily revealing. Powhatan described to him people who had earlier built two story stone houses and abandoned them during his lifetime. I knew the Chinese built with stone. They were referred to as the Oceanye Ho. The spelling was essentially reversed on the work that I read, but seen with a mirror it would have said Oceanye Ho. Also, a Chinese scribe writing English would write in reverse. To me that meant Ocean People of Ho. I concluded they were survivors of one of the Chinese shipwrecks at the very least, and maybe survivors of an actual Chinese settlement. John Smith also mentioned seeing a Chinese Lacquered box while a prisoner of Powhatan. Only the Chinese made lacquered boxes at that time. Other peoples started doing it almost 300 years later during the 18th century. From what John Smith said I concluded that those people had indeed been followers of Ho, and had probably moved inland. Coincidentally, I spent my high school years in a small town in WyoMing County in southern West Virginia named Oceana. It was pronounced at that time OCEANA, but all the old timers called it OCEANYE. I always wondered at the time why a town would be spelled one way and pronounced another. I have since concluded that is where the OCEANYE HO settled for a while after they left Tidewater Virginia. I also believe it’s a possibility SHAWNEE might be a corruption of OCEANYE. I know for a fact the SHAWNEE did travel east to west down the Guyandotte River to the Ohio river. That’s some oral history, too. Oceana is on the Clear Fork of the Guyandotte about 6 miles from the main river. We haven’t done DNA studies on the SHAWNEE yet, but I hope to do it at some later time. The majority of Shawnee now live in Oklahoma, as they were moved there during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Remember the ‘Trail of Tears’?

I also know SHAWNEE and MINGO are related. Shawnee prisoners taken at the battle of Fallen Timbers protested to their captors that the were ‘not Indians’. WORDS: There are several MING words in the East. I don’t believe its coincidence. I believe the words described the people in some way. Words such as Wyoming, Lycoming, and Mingo are three of interest to me. Mingo County and Wyoming County are adjacent counties in southern West Virginia. I believe Mingo is a corruption of MING HO, or Ming Dynasty followers of Cheng Ho. While studying maps, I found an area on the Atlantic coast near South Port, North Carolina, named the Mingo area. I tried getting additional information from the South Port Chamber of Commerce, but they stated they knew nothing about it. I also notice on a map of North Carolina a small town near I –95 named Mingo. Obviously, I concluded, the Ming Ho had made land fall at the vicinity of South Port, and had eventually moved inland to the Appalachians for protection from all the traffic of maurauders, pirates, etc. traveling up the Atlantic shore. I believe the EA DNA found amongst the Melungeons came from descendants of the Ming Ho people – who are now known as the Mingo Indians.

The word Wyoming, which is a County name in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York, and of course is the name of a western state, the State of Wyoming. The word means , supposedly, ‘of the great plain’ in the language of Delaware Indians. I ask myself WHY do the people of the state of Wyoming name themselves using a word common to the language of Delaware Indians ? Delaware Indians are from the Atlantic coast of the present United States. Also, the Poconos of New York/Pennsylvania are not on a plain, and of course neither is Wyoming County, West Virginia. I have another definition of the word – that definition is ‘Ming people from the great oceans’. ( A Plain)

Other clues which led me to the Melungeons?? There are lots of them; from the so-called Melungeon squat (the Melungeon squat refers to the fact Melungeons, when doing ground work, would invariably squat on their haunches, rather than kneel or sit. Chinese do the same thing , and both would do it hours at a time), to the slanted eyes of some of the people. Many Melungeons actually resemble after almost 600 years Mongolian people from the Yunnan countryside in China today!. ANOTHER WORD WE ALL KNOW: USENS! Usens means ‘Our People’ in Mongolian, and it means essentially the same thing in Appalachianese.

How did the Melungeons get here?? Simple. They walked toward the sunset; except those who were riding mongolian ponies!!

Questions? Read Gavin Menzies book – he has thousands of documented answers throughout. Other good books to read would be the one by Dr. Kennedy, The Melungeons , and Wayne Winklers book Walking Toward the Sunset.

Thank you all for attending my presentation. For those of you who did not attend, above is basically what I said. Unfortunately, I forgot to leave my e-mail addresses so here they are:; and If you have questions, thoughts or whatever please don’t hesitate writing me. Please use if you write during the month of July as I will be able to access only that one then. I’m going to be in Mexico during the month of July, and probably won’t have much time then to correspond, but please write me anyway, and I’ll do my best. We are also very interested in obtaining names and addresses of people who have positive EA DNA. We will pursue all leads! If you have EA DNA PLEASE contact me! If you want to know where to get a DNA test please contact me.

Thanks !

Jerry Warsing is a West Virginia native with several family connections to the Melungeons. He holds a BA Degree from Marshall University in Comprehensive Social Studies and Education, has been working for two years as a researcher for Dr. Gavin Menzies, author of 1421: The Year the Chinese Discovered America.

David Arnett presentation, 2006

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The Importance of the Melungeon Community to Turkish-American Relations

by David Arnett

Sixth Union
Kingsport, Tennessee
June 9, 2006

I would like to begin by expressing heartfelt greetings to all of you from the great people of Turkey. I am a proud American, of course, and a career Foreign Service Officer of the United States, but I have also spent nine years of my life in Turkey, and I know the tremendous affection that Turks feel in their hearts for all of you. In fact, Turks are much more likely than Americans to know about you, the Melungeons, or Meluncanlar in Turkish.

Of course, not all Melungeons trace their roots to Turkey. We come from many ethnic backgrounds, but I promise you that the Turks embrace you all, just on the chance that some part of your genetic makeup may also be Turkish or perhaps traced to one of the areas that was a part of the Ottoman Empire.

One of the most heart-warming aspects of the Turkish character and tradition is the love of family. Another is the extraordinary sense of hospitality. When these two are combined—family and hospitality—you can begin to understand why Melungeons receive such a warm welcome in Turkey. That welcome is very similar to what you will find in Tennessee, or in my father’s home state, Kentucky, when relatives, kinfolk, return to their homes. Nothing is too good for such visitors. The best food is served, the best china is used, and the host will sleep on the floor if he has to so that his guests can have the most comfortable bed. In Turkey, the poorest villager will offer whatever he has to a visiting stranger, particularly a foreigner, out of a time-honored sense of hospitality and honor.

That sense of honor also still links the Turks with the Melungeons and the people of Appalachia. As a former Army officer, I learned to esteem the ideals of “Duty, Honor, Country.” They are still the highest ideals in the Armed Services of both the United States and Turkey, and I believe that they are still most alive in the general population in this region of the country, where the Melungeons are most prevalent. Of course, a noble sense of honor can sometimes evolve into something destructive, such as with the blood feuds that still existed in my grandfather’s day in Kentucky and still exist today in some of the remote parts of eastern Turkey. The phrase in Turkish is almost the same—“kandavasi” or a “blood matter.”

But a genuine sense of honor is to be admired, and honor and pride are both alive and well today in Turkey. Where we have only one word for honor, there are many such words in Turkish, and those same words are also used for people’s names. Certainly for me, it has been an honor to live and work in Turkey, and an honor also to be among you today.

I have served in Turkey three times, from 1983 to 1987 as the Press Attache at the American Embassy in Ankara, the capital of Turkey; from 1995 to 1997 as the Counselor for Public Affairs at the Embassy in Ankara; and from 2002 to 2005 as the Consul General, or the head of the American Consulate, in Turkey’s largest city and the former capital of the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul.

I would like to tell you a little story, a true story, about my introduction to Turkey and the strong connection that I have felt to the country from the very beginning. It happened in 1983, when I first arrived in Ankara. On my first night in the city, I stepped out on to the balcony of my high-rise apartment and looked out at the lights of the city twinkling within the bowl-shaped area in which it lies and up in the surrounding hills. It was a beautiful evening, and, when I lifted my eyes from the city lights to look at the early night sky, I was truly surprised to see in perfect clarity the crescent moon and a single star that lay just to the side of it. That crescent and that star on a field of red comprise the Turkish flag, and I had thought that they were only symbolic. But there in the sky above me lay that same crescent moon and star together, and I had the feeling that I was being welcomed home somehow, that the country’s flag had been planted above me somehow as a sign of welcome and return. I never again saw the moon and star aligned so perfectly.

I had not heard of Melungeons at that time, and I had no idea at all that I might also trace my roots to Turkey. It was during my second tour in Turkey, in 1995 or 1996, when I first began to hear a fascinating legend about the crew of a Turkish ship that had found itself on the eastern coast of the United States centuries before and had worked its way inland and settled in the broad Appalachian region. I have heard two versions, (1) that the ship foundered off the coast, and (2) that the ship was captured by the British from the Spaniards after the battle of Lepanto and brought to the New World. In any case, I found the story interesting, but I did not focus on it, because I thought that it had no direct bearing on me. I was pleased, though, as an American diplomat stationed in Turkey, to learn that Americans with possible Turkish heritage were coming to Turkey and being very warmly received.

In 2004, in Istanbul, I was invited by the Turkish-American University Association to attend a lecture on Melungeons, and I was fascinated to learn that one of the families associated with the Melungeons is the Crow family, since my father’s mother was a Crow. I then remembered that my father’s father was rather dark-skinned with blue eyes and that both of them came from southern Kentucky. My father was born, in fact, within a hundred yards or so of the Tennessee border. The photographs that I have of my grandfather show a man who could easily be Turkish.

In 2005, with that information in hand, I began to mention to my Turkish friends that it might even be possible that I too shared in their Turkish heritage. I mentioned this also in an early farewell speech and said that although I could not be at all sure that I had Turkish blood in my veins, I would definitely carry Turkey always in my heart. The next day, the possibility that I might be partly Turkish was carried on the front pages of the national press and on the television news channels. Given the huge interest that had been generated by the media, I arranged to have a DNA test conducted through the labs in Oxford, England. To my great pleasure, the results indicated that I share my genes on my father’s side with a full 25% of the Turks. And that is in part why I stand before you today.

The other reason is to emphasize the very great importance of Turkish-American relations and the role that the Melungeon community can play in strengthening and improving those relations.

Turkey is important to the United States. Like the United States, Turkey is a remarkable melting pot of civilizations and cultures. It lies at the heart of nearly every regional issue of concern to the United States. Whether one discusses current events in the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, or Europe itself, Turkey is an important key to both regional and world stability. Turkey and Israel have long been the only real democracies in the Middle East region. And Turkey’s ties to Israel are important factors in the search for lasting peace in the region.

The United States strongly supports Turkey’s entry into the European Union, and we view its success as a secular democracy as an essential element in the prevention of any potential “clash of civilizations.” Turkey is one of our strongest and most reliable NATO allies. It is the only Muslim-majority country in NATO. We can boast of over fifty years as NATO allies and as many years of joining hands around the world to bring peace and security to troubled regions. We used to say: “From Korea to Kosovo.” Now we say: “From Korea to Kabul.” Add to that two centuries of commercial interaction and a century and a half of educational exchange, and our countries are linked as allies, trading partners, and friends.

The primary focus of American policy in Turkey is to support Turkey’s efforts to achieve the ambitious economic and political goals that the Turkish people have set for themselves. By becoming an official candidate for membership in the European Union, Turkey has signaled strongly that its place is in Europe. Just as important, all Turkish citizens will benefit from an open, transparent, democratic system that respects their individual rights and freedoms. Turks are justifiably proud of what they have achieved over the past few years, and the United States will continue to support the process of reform.

Inflation in Turkey is lower than it has been in a generation, and real interest rates have declined sharply. Turkish companies are exporting at record levels. Total annual trade between the United States and Turkey is at a level of some 9 billion dollars.

With nearly 12,000 Turkish students enrolled in U.S. universities, Turkey sends more students to the U.S. than any other European country. Turkish students are currently enrolled in all fifty U.S. states.

We are also engaged together in many places around the world to achieve solutions to regional conflicts. Turkey’s role in Afghanistan is a case in point. Turkey has successfully commanded the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul twice, and participated in the initial training of the Afghan National Army. Turkey is an important donor for reconstruction. The inauguration of the Kabul-Kandahar highway, built by U.S. and Turkish companies, is a good example of our common approach.

Turkey can certainly serve as an example of a country with a large Muslim-majority population that is also democratic and secular. We refrain from saying that Turkey is a model, but rather an example, because it has its own unique history and a founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who was one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century. We also do not speak of our own country, the United States of America, the oldest continuous democracy in the world, as a model for the rest of the world, because we have our own unique history. There is no perfect democracy, because people are not perfect. But the genius of democracy is that it accepts that people are not perfect and provides for peaceful change.

The U.S. and Turkey have worked together closely to address our various interests over the Iraq issue. Turkey has legitimate regional security concerns, and we have sought to address them. We have repeated very often that we stand firm on maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq, that we are opposed to a separate Kurdish state, and that our vision is of an Iraq where all ethnic groups, the Turkomen certainly among them, will have their rights, representation and access to the nation’s wealth protected.

On June 12, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell sent a message to the City of Istanbul at the opening ceremony for our new Consulate there. These are his words: “The United States and Turkey are great nations. As Ataturk said, we have both been inspired by democratic ideals, and this experience indeed deepens our friendship. Both Turks and Americans are focused on the future, a future that will be a very bright one for the Turkish people despite the many challenges you face today. It will be bright for the same reason that my country’s future is bright: because innovative people freed to use their creativity and initiative can produce wonders.”

Hundreds of thousands of Americans visit Turkey every year. At the Consulate General in Istanbul alone, we processed more than 65,000 visas for Turkish citizens each year, and many thousands of Americans have made Turkey their permanent home. Turkey is a beautiful country with spectacular tourism sites, enviable weather, great cuisine, and people whose hospitality is known throughout the world.

We want the great and sovereign Republic of Turkey to remain exactly what it is—a strong secular democracy that is perfecting the democratic rights of its people and moving ever closer to full integration with Europe.

Just as the Ottoman Empire once extended from Central Europe through the Middle East and North Africa to the Arabian Gulf and the very borders of South Asia, Turkey today forms a bridge between Europe and Asia, a bridge between the ancient and modern worlds, and a bridge between Islam and the West. It is also one of the most beautiful and interesting countries in the world.

So, what problems could possibly exist between us? Unfortunately, there are some. Most of them began with the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Our government believed that the Turkish Parliament would approve the movement of our 4th Infantry Division and Turkish troops through southern Turkey and into northern Iraq as a major part of the battle plan. In fact, both governments expected approval, and so did both militaries. However, on March 1, 2003, despite the yes votes outnumbering the no votes, the small number of abstentions meant that the motion to approve did not have the support of a majority in the Parliament that day. In fact, Turkey did approve the dispatch of many thousands of troops to Iraq on October 7 of that year, but that offer was eventually declined because of the opposition of many in Iraq itself.

The March 1 decision came as a shock and disappointment to many in Washington. Although our relations later improved, they have not been as close as before. Today, there are other concerns in Washington, focusing on high-level Turkish contacts with Syria and Hamas, at a time when unified world opposition to their activities in Lebanon and Palestine has been sought, and there are questions about Turkish policy in regard to Iran.

On the Turkish side, the fears that led to the rejection of the March 1 motion never materialized. There was no influx of Iraqi refugees into Turkey. The Turkish tourism industry and the Turkish economy as a whole have boomed since that time, although it was feared that both would be badly damaged.

However, on July 4, 2003, an event occurred that poisoned the relationship on the Turkish side. A small contingent of Turkish soldiers in the northern Iraq city of Sulaimaniye was arrested by American troops who were acting on reports that they were planning destabilizing actions in the region. As is customary with such arrests, they were handcuffed and bags were placed over their heads while they were transported to American facilities. Within a day or so, they were released, and high-level meetings were held between our two militaries in order to discuss the incident and avoid anything similar in the future.

That might have been the end of it, but reports were leaked to the Turkish media, and the entire country became inflamed by what was perceived to be a serious breach of Turkish honor. All of the polls in Turkey continue to confirm that the institution held in the greatest esteem by the Turkish people is the military. To dishonor the military is to dishonor the entire nation. To this day, many Turks believe that the Turkish uniform was dishonored that day, although their soldiers were actually in civilian clothes.

Nevertheless, that single incident has grown in the Turkish consciousness into a huge black mark against the United States. That has been coupled with a widely accepted but decidedly false belief that the United States supports the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq, which might tempt Turkish Kurds to demand their own state within the current boundaries of Turkey. That combination of beliefs has led to several popular books and films in the last year and a half in Turkey that have depicted the United States in very ugly terms and undermined the friendship between our two countries.

So, yes, there are some problems. And what does that mean for the Melungeon community, and how can we help?

There are at least two major points of convergence between Melungeons and the Turks. The first is the search for identity and a longing to belong to a wider community. The second, of course, is the genetic link in many of us and a shared physical heritage. I would like to explore both for a few minutes.

I believe it is true that nearly all of the world’s peoples are of mixed race and ethnic heritage. One of the differences with Melungeons is that we are well aware of that. And there is no doubt of that really with the people of the United States and Turkey. We are a land of immigrants, and modern Turkey is the heir of probably the greatest empire that the world has ever seen, the Ottoman Empire, which encompassed vast territories in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia, and a great mixed population drawn from all of those areas.

We have generally celebrated our mixed ethnic heritage in the United States, but modern Turks have not yet done the same. Against all odds at the end of the First World War, the great Turkish general and statesman Ataturk, himself a man with blond hair and blue eyes from Salonika, rallied his countrymen from the heart of the Turkish homeland, Anatolia, and beat back the Western powers that had tried to divide the country with the Treaty of Sevres and defeated the various minority groups that tried to secede and establish separate countries on what remained of Turkey. With the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, Ataturk and his followers achieved their hard-fought independence and established the modern Republic of Turkey.

But it was held together by the will of Ataturk and a strong nationalism based upon pride in being a Turk. The most famous of so many revered statements by Ataturk is this: “How happy is the one who says I am a Turk.” Minorities have been viewed as threats that might fracture the unity of the new country. In addition, Ataturk disbanded the Caliphate, or the spiritual leadership of Islam that had been vested in the Sultan in Istanbul until 1923, and he also outlawed various religious orders in the country, in a successful attempt to steer Turkey toward the modern West and away from what he considered the backward ways of the traditional Arab world. He also championed the emancipation of women, Western dress, the Latin alphabet instead of the Arabic, and a series of other reforms that thrust the country into the 20th century and headlong toward the West.

And today, 83 years later, there is a national identity crisis in Turkey that is also being played out in the political world, because the reforms certainly changed the shape and practice of the state, as well as the surface of Turkish life throughout the country, but they left several unresolved questions to this day. For example, if the country is truly secular, then why does the government regulate religious practice and expression? In a true democracy, should the military have the right to intervene in political affairs? Should the country really fear the differences expressed by minority groups as threats to national unity, or should it not embrace those differences as they enrich the wider society? These and many other similar questions are being debated in Turkey today as a government with Islamist roots faces a skeptical military establishment and resistance from the secular establishment.

As Turks struggle with their internal identity, they are also compelled to re-examine their external or international identity. Turks will point to the map to help people understand their strategic situation. For example, during the Cold War, they were surrounded by the Soviet Union, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Warsaw Pact-member Bulgaria and NATO-ally but traditional rival Greece. The situation is better today, but relations are mixed with Russia, rather tense with Armenia, uncertain with Iran, Iraq, and Syria, and still not warm with Greece. The current government of Turkey appears to believe that Islam can be the unifying force that will create good relations with its Arab and Persian neighbors, but history does not provide much support for that view, and the Arabs have not forgotten that they were ruled by the Turks for centuries. At the same time, whenever Turkey reaches out to regimes considered totalitarian or terrorist or both by the West, it risks losing the friendship of Europe and the United States.

The U.S. has long supported full Turkish membership in the European Union and continues to do so, in the strong belief that such membership will anchor Turkey firmly and finally in the West and complete Ataturk’s vision of a country with a strong secular, liberal democracy that can proudly take
its place among the world’s most modern democratic states.

The polls in Turkey used to indicate that nearly 70% of the population supported Turkish membership in the EU, but that support has been steadily declining as new opposition to their membership has arisen in Europe, while some conservative forces in Turkey fear the loss of their traditional privileges if Turkey should become a member of the EU.

At the moment then, there is both a personal and national search for identity taking place in Turkey, and a genuine longing, I believe, to find or to create a wider sense of community and belonging. And isn’t that what we are doing here today as well—searching for identity and creating a sense of community?

In their search, Turks embrace anyone with Turkish roots. With the fall of the Soviet Union, Turkey reached out strongly and vigorously to the Turkic people of Central Asia in the newly independent states of Azerbaizan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. They expected that their ethnic connections would lead to enormous growth in trade and an economic windfall for Turkey. Indeed, many Turkish companies have done well in Central Asia, but the huge windfall never materialized.

Turkey has championed the Turkomen people in northern Iraq following the fall of Saddam, in part from a genuine sense of brotherhood, and in part because the Turkomen provide political leverage for Turkey in the Kurdish region of Iraq, a region that continues to haunt Turkish policy-makers.

The Turks have even claimed kinship with Native Americans, pointing to Turkish words in tribal languages, identical carpet designs, and other cultural and social similarities. And here, of course, we are back with Melungeons and the research of Brent Kennedy and many others. We do not have to speculate, as I have heard some Turks do, about a land bridge from Siberia and a crossing by Turkic peoples from Asia thousands of years ago, because there is a simpler and more convincing explanation known to all of us here—that Turks entered the country a few centuries ago from the east, not thousands of years ago from the north.

Just as Turks have reached out to other Turkic peoples around the world, they are indeed reaching out to you. What better way could there be to help mend the frayed edges of Turkish-American relations than to celebrate Turkish-Americans and welcome long lost relatives back to the ancestral fold?

The exact number of Turkish-Americans in the United States is not known. I have heard estimates ranging from 75,000 to 400,000. But that is before Melungeons are taken into account. There are some 100 Turkish-American Associations that I am aware of in the United States, and I believe that all of them would be very pleased to welcome any of you as members. The two largest federations are the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) and the Federation of Turkish American Associations, and both can be located easily through the Internet.

Most Americans, in fact, know very little about Turkey, and that is partly because until now there have been relatively few Turkish-Americans, as opposed to other much larger hyphenated American ethnic groups. There are no Turkish-Americans in our Congress, for example, although there is now a substantial Turkish caucus comprised of Members who are well aware of the importance of Turkish-American relations and the importance of Turkey to global peace, as well as the peaceful integration of Islamic traditions and the modern world.

Turkish-American organizations are backing the campaign of a Turkish-American running for Congress this fall in Maryland. I expect that there will be many more such candidates in the future. And I anticipate that many of you will be asked for your support in the future in regard to Turkish-American issues and concerns as word of the Melungeons and their numbers spreads in the American consciousness.

Regardless of your political beliefs, however, and regardless of whether you have any ancestral connection to Turkey, I hope that as many of you as possible will travel to that great country and experience the homecoming that will be offered to you as soon as you reveal that you are a Melungeon. Your very presence in Turkey and your interest in Turkish culture, history, and tradition can do wonders for the Turkish-American relationship.

Finally, I would like to say a few words about the genetic connection. In many cases, it is impossible to know exactly how or when other influences were added to our genetic makeup. In my own case, I thought that perhaps there would be indications that I had ancestors from the Mediterranean and even the eastern Mediterranean. But the DNA results came back with specific mention of Turkey. However, it is known that Turkic peoples also made their way as far north as Finland, and there appear to be similarities between Turkish and Finnish, particularly in sentence structure and grammar. That might help explain why my own DNA results also mention 20% Norwegian and a full 40% from the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia, the Sami. Arnett is actually a Scottish name, and it seems reasonable that the Vikings of Scandinavia brought my own bloodline to Scotland along with the Turkish element. It is known that the Vikings visited Istanbul, or as it was known then Constantinople or, as it was known to the Vikings then, Miklegard. In fact, Viking mercenaries served the Byzantine emperors of Constantinople for over two centuries. Did Turks return with the Vikings on their ships up through the Black Sea and the rivers of Russia back to Scandinavia? Did some Vikings establish themselves in Turkey (Asia Minor) and return many years later? Or am I related to that substantial part of the Turkish population that came from Central or Eastern Europe perhaps, or another part of the Ottoman Empire? It is probably impossible to know, and I am simply content in the knowledge that my own mixed heritage includes a strong connection to modern Turkey.

For those of you with Turkish genes, I recommend strongly that you visit the modern Republic of Turkey and help solidify the important links between our two great countries. For those fellow Melungeons who do not have Turkish genes, I recommend that you also visit the modern Republic of Turkey and help solidify the links between our two great countries. Both groups will be rewarded by extraordinary beauty, unbelievable historical riches, fascinating archaeological discoveries, warm hospitality and friendship, unmatched cuisine, and the knowledge that you are playing an important role in bridging differences between cultures and religions and avoiding the threatened “clash of civilizations.”

The contacts and the friendships that you make will be lasting, and you personally can play an important role in strengthening and deepening Turkish-American relations. And you will know, as I know, that the Turks are perhaps the most warm-hearted and friendliest people in the world.

In closing, there is a Turkish proverb that I would like to bring to your attention. I think it speaks to us both as individuals and as nations. I quote: “Ayrilikla olumu cekmisler, ayrilik agir gelmis.” In English: “They weighed separation and death on the scales, and separation was found to be heavier.”

Ladies and gentlemen, the Melungeons are together here in Kingsport. We are bringing together the elements of our own lives and ending the separation that has been felt in our families. I can think of no other group that is better qualified to lead the way in helping all people and all nations lose their sense of separation. I am very proud to be among you. Thank you very much for your time and attention today.

James Nickens presentation, 2006

Published by:


Melungeon Genesis

The Indian Ancestry of the Melungeons

A Summary of the Lecture Series Delivered Before the
Melungeon Heritage Association 2000 – 2006 Regarding the
Indian Ancestry and Other Origins of the East Tennessee Melungeons

James H. Nickens
Virginia Indian Historical Society
Melungeon Heritage Association
Mid-Atlantic Native American Researchers

Sixth Union
June 8-10, 2006
Kingsport, Tennessee


My first encounter with the Melungeons was through a daily newspaper. The reference was to a mysterious people living in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee, a historic people of unknown origin. Until then I had never heard the word Melungeon. A trip to the Bull Run Library in Manassas, Virginia produced a copy of a book about Melungeons written by Brent Kennedy. To my astonishment I found the name Niccans (Nickens) listed by Kennedy as a Tennessee Melungeon surname.

In late October of that same year I received a call originating from the Meherrin Tribal Pow Wow in Winton, North Carolina. Rose Powhatan, a cousin from the Pamunkey Tribe of my Gr Gr Grandfather, had met a dancer there who was a Tennessee Indian Commissioner by the name of James Nickens. Rose was certain that James and I were related, and stated that “from the looks of you two, you have got to be cousins”.

That night I received a call from James, better known as Eddie, and the Tennessee connection was made. Later conversation with Eddie’s father, Thomas Nickens, revealed that his ancestors were of the Meherrin Tribe, who in Tennessee had called themselves “Portagee” since the time that Indian removal was threatened in the 1830’s. At that time, an ugly component of American thought was that the only good Indian was a dead Indian.

Thomas gave me the address of a Florida cousin, Dr. Carolyn Nickens , an anthropologist by training. In a letter of December 29, 1999, Dr. Nickens related an incident which had taken place about 15 years earlier, when she accompanied a Collins descendant to Sneedville, Tennessee on a heritage quest. There they met “a very old man whose name was Bill Grohse”. To Carolyn’s surprise, Grohse stated “You do know that Nickens is a Melungeon name.”

Until that time, The Virginia Indian Historical Society had devoted its efforts to the genealogical tracking of a close kinship group from the Jamestown era Rappahannock Indian Nation to the old Cuttatawomen Indian Town, and thence to the Meherrin, Chowanoke, and Nansemond, with earlier links to the Lower Cherokee and the Shawnee of Winchester, and later links to the Catawba, Pamunkey, Tuscarora, and the supposedly “extinct” Nanzatico and Chiskiack people. With the letter from Carolyn Nickens, our attentions took a sharp turn to the west into the great state of Tennessee, home of the Melungeons.

Tennessee was a lay-over point in the migration of coastal Indian people to the western Indian Nations. In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, migrants from east of the Appalachian Mountains pushed westward into contested Indian Lands. The new United States Government erected The Territory of the United States Southwest of the Ohio River. Revolutionary war veterans were encouraged to settle these territorial lands. Much of this territory today lies in the state of Tennessee.

Among the pioneers were specific Indian descendants of specific colonial era tribes of Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas. Many were patriots in the American Revolutionary cause. Others had good reason to see the colonials as their true enemy, and supported the King by default. It is no accident that the names Bass, Collins, Gibson, Hart, Minor, Riddle, and Sizemore are prominent among the Tories, Loyalist, and North Carolina Regulators.

These citizen Indian migrants came in kinship groups, acquired land, established farms, and raised families. One such group settled a remote area in the mountains of East Tennessee. These were reputed to have been “the friendly Indians who came with the whites as they moved west”, and who had helped to build Fort Blackmore.

Over time these settlers were joined by and intermarried with other migrants from the east. The citizens of this distinctive community came to be recognizable by their relatively darker skin tone and unexplained exotic physical features. Local whites noted the unique nature of this community and gave a name to the swarthy mountain people – Melungeons .

The ethnic identity and origins of the Melungeon people have perplexed investigators of every stripe for more than a century. Imaginative theories have suggested Phoenician, Carthaginian, Portuguese, Turkish, and early Welsh origins. Others believed the Melungeons were a lost tribe of Israel or survivors of the Roanoke Colony. Speculation grew that Melungeons were descended from Spanish explorers or shipwrecked Portuguese sailors. Court cases established Melungeon as a distinct yet problematic racial identity – that of a relatively dark mountain people formerly classified as Free People of Color but later reclassified as white. Melungeons thus became the stuff of legend.

The earliest responsible first hand accounts are consistent in identifying the Melungeon patriarchs as the Indians Vardeman Collins and Sheppard Gibson. Among later migrants were descendants of “Gowin the Indian“ of York County, Virginia. Many and varied physical descriptions have been recorded of the Melungeons. Among those recorded descriptions are “Indian “, “not as dark as the Indian “, and “a race of light skinned Indians”. Note was later made of a dark skinned exotic strain with straight black hair, further adding to the Melungeon mystery. This strain has proven to be of particular interest.

The systematic investigation of the Melungeons began by lumping the Melungeons with a variety of so-called mystery people, populations which fell outside of the white-black-mulatto racial construct. The term Tri-Racial Isolates was adopted in reference to these aloof rogue elements of American society. The uninformed assumption was made that these populations were some ill defined mixture of the perceived races, presumably Indian, white and Negro.

The conclusions of the Tri-Racial Isolate theorists are marred in four critical areas:

1. Lack of sufficient knowledge of Indian history

2. Lack of knowledge of Indian genealogy

3. Failure to identify Indian people outside of a historical tribal context

4. A race driven paradigm which ignores ethnicity

In short – Insufficient Research.

Minimal genealogical effort and research into Indian history would have clearly identified the so-called Lassiter Tribe as Chowanoke Indians. These same Chowanokes, who settled among the Alabama Choctaw in Mobile and Washington Counties, Alabama were called Cajans by tri- racial isolate proponents. They are still there among the Choctaw.

In fairness to Tri-racial isolate theorist, it should be noted that the research upon which their theories were based occurred in a timeframe which predated the information age. The information disseminating power of the internet is not to be understated.

Genealogical examination of colonial records has demonstrated that not one single group in the south, formerly termed a Tri-racial Isolate group, is composed of only Indian, white, and Negro components. Most, if not all, have been shown to include the descendants of seventeenth century East Indian and Gypsy ( Rom ) Virginians. These are not new findings discovered in some obscure archaic source. This information has been available to the Virginia public for more than two hundred years, ignored by scholars who apparently preferred an American history composed only of white, slave, and free “African American“ components. Such a “preferred history” ignores the diverse ethnic fabric of colonial America, and disposes of Indian people in favor of a simple race-driven black-white social construct.

Given that those populations previously referred to as Tri-racial Isolates have been proven to be neither tri-racial nor isolated, it is the considered opinion of this investigator that Complex Ethnic Populations be coined as the more accurate and appropriate descriptor. It should be noted that each Complex Ethnic Population has an ancestry and history unique to that group.

The Melungeon Genesis lecture series is presented as an historical road map to the origins of the Melungeon people of East Tennessee. The genealogical focus is placed upon the Collins, Gibson, and Goins families. Several aspects of American ethno history have been chosen for presentation in this series. These topics have been selected because of their historical importance bearing on the evolution of the Melungeon people. The narrow focus of this series is directed upon that Melungeon population in the environs of Newman’s Ridge in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Tennessee. Melungeon Genesis is an evolving and ongoing effort. This one’s for Brent.

Third Union

May 18-21, 2000
University of Virginia’s College At Wise, VA

Jamestown & Some History Relevant to the Origin of the Melungeons 1607-1705

The recorded oral history of the Newman’s Ridge Melungeons states that they were originally migrant Indian people, citizen Indians, from east of the Appalachian Mountains. Distinguished by their swarthy skin color, Melungeon people were victorious when challenged unsuccessfully in several court cases. The issues revolved around the questions of whether Melungeons were a people of color, more specifically if the hint of skin color may have been the result of distant Negro ancestry. Creative notions of Carthaginian, Phoenician, and Portuguese ancestry found their way into print. Still in the 1890’s a Tennessee legislator defined the Melungeon as a “dirty Indian sneak.”

Today we will examine some of the historical factors which have contributed to the formation, historical experience, and unique identity of the Melungeons people.

I. The Multiethnic Character of Jamestown: 1607 – 1624

A. The English and British Islanders

B. Poles and Germans, who preferred to live with the Indians rather than the English

C. White Christians enslaved at Jamestown
1. The first slaves of English America
2. An aspect of Jamestown history which historians have chosen to ignore

D. Italian glassmakers, a Swiss metallurgist, a French boy

E. “20 and odd negors” brought to Jamestown

F. “William Crashaw an Indean Baptized“ – American or Asian Indian?

G. “John Phillip A negro Christened in England“ who provides testimony in court

II. The Multiethnic Character of Virginia : 1625 – 1705

A. “Moors, Mohammedans, Infidels, Jews, Turks, East Indians, Indians, and Negroes” in seventeenth century Virginia law
1. “Armenians out of Turky“ imported for the Virginia silk industry
2. “Frank ye Spanyard“
3. Nicholas Silvedo and John Sherry – The only two surnames recorded for men identified as being Portuguese
4. Francisco ye Indian/Frank Cisco ye Indian – ethnic origin unknown
5. The “Indian“ by the name of “Jack of Morrocco” – A Indian or a white Moor?

B. Gleanings from Lower Norfolk County, Virginia: 1640-1652
1. Abdola Martin applies for the estate of “Hamet Marsellon decd: a Countryman of his”
2. Marro Mello, who appears to have changed his name to Marro Mills
3. Tawney and Antony, “ Portinguall “ seamen who testified that they had sailed for Robert Page, a trader
4. “Manuel ye Portugesse,” who fathered a child by Ann Watkins
5. “Simon a Turke,” head right of the Indian Trader Francis Yeardley. Yeardley’s father had led an attack with genocidal intentions against the Nansemond Indians. Others leading attacks upon the Nansemond were Capt. Nathaniel Bass and Capt. William Tucker. – reference The Jamestown Roots of Indian Genealogy )

III. The Jamestown Divide – Critical turning points in English-Indian relations resulting in the persistence and survival of a separate and distinct Indian culture in Virginia: 1607- 2000

A. English plan for relations with the Indians
1. 1609 English instruction to kidnap Indian children for the purpose of cultural and religious indoctrination
2. Plan to force labor from the Indians

B. Jamestown policies and actions relating to the Indians
1. Slaughter of captive Paspahegh children in their mother’s presence by Jamestown men under Percy’s command – August 9, 1610
2. Execution of their captive mother, the Queen of Paspahegh
a. Indian reluctance to relinquish children to so savage a people as the English, who make war on women and children
b. Jamestown gives up on the notion that Indians should give their children to the English, stating that the “ungratefull” Indians “love their children too much”.
c. Indians find no reason to trust so perverse a people as the English.
3. The murder of Powhatan’s priests is ordered by Virginia Company of London in an attempt at extinction of Indian culture.
4. Genocide is ordered as an official policy toward Indians, and practiced as a strategy. Jamestown Governor Yeardley attempts the eradication of Indians of any age or sex – in effect war upon women and children

IV. Colonial English policies as the root of 21st Century racism in America

A. Ethnic and cultural condescension by the English of Jamestown

B. Inevitable violence toward the arrogant and greedy English invaders

C. Apartheid as an official practice made part of colonial law
1. Indians forbidden to enter white territory
2. Indians made to wear striped shirts when entering white territory on business
3. Whites forbidden to marry Indians

D. English records begin to refer to Indians outside of a tribal context, citizen Indians, as free Negroes. records – See Helen Rountree 1995 and 1997

E. Indians made part of the 1705 “Black Code”-“ The child of an Indian shall be held and deemed to be a mulatto”

V. The ”racialization” of ethnic Virginians in the seventeenth century

A. The development of a two “race”, white vs. non-white social and cultural paradigm – Negative social engineering in colonial Virginia
1. The political expediency of classifying detribalized Indians as free Negroes, thereby expunging Indian rights
2. The legislative intent by colonial English to form a white upper class and a non- white laboring class

B. The Moors, Mohammedans, Infidels, Jews, Turks, East Indians, Indians, and Negroes found in colonial laws become the generic “Mulatto“ or “Negro“ in colonial records
C. The challenges faced by the historian, and the historical error inherent in the attempt to convert ethnicity into a race construct – “The child of an Indian shall be held and deemed to be a mulatto”. 1705 Virginia law
1. Implications for the historian regarding the interpretation and misinterpretation of racial designations in colonial records
2. Implications for the modern investigator
a. Walter Plecker
1. The racial reassignment of Indians in 20th century Virginia vital records
2. The Virginia Racial Integrity Act as part of the Eugenics Movement made infamous made infamous by Adolph Hitler
b. Paul Heinegg – The twentieth century racial reassignment of all colonial non-whites to the category of free “African Americans”

Fourth Union

June 20-22, 2002
Kingsport, Tennessee

First Session: The Ancestry and Evolution of the Newman’s Ridge Melungeons

I. The Geographic origins of the Indian ancestors of the earliest Newman’s Ridge Melungeons
A. Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland
B. Northern Neck of Virginia
C. North Carolina coastal plain
D. York County Virginia 1670 – “Gowin an Indian “

II. European Ancestry of the Melungeons – Delaware River to Cape Fear River Settlements
A. Swedes, Lowland Scots, European Gypsies*, British Islanders, etc.
B. Delaware River New Jersey and Pennsylvania colonists; reference the Vardeman family and Stephen Holstein, for whom the Holston River was named

III. The Migration to Tennessee
A. Economic Causes
1. Revolutionary War Bounty Land Warrants awarded for patriotic service
2. Availability of inexpensive land
3. Continuing decline of Indian fur trade in coastal areas of Virginia, North, and South Carolina after the Revolutionary War
4. Increased importance of a plantation based economy, in which Indians have historically had little interest

B. Social Causes
1. Social disruption caused by decreasing viability of the Tribe as an economic entity
2. Continuation of seventeenth century loss of Indian girls and women to whites as spouses – the “ beautiful Cherokee Princess” myth
3. Forced indenture of Indian children – See Garrow’s Mattamuskeet Documents
4. Taxation of Indian women while white women were excused from taxation
5. Increased codification of racism by the new American states – the ugly side of “American Freedom”
a. 1785 Virginia race Law under Governor Patrick Henry defining the population as either white or Negro, Indians become Negroes.
b. 1st Census acts – for taking a census of all persons “ both white and black” – Indian ethnic identity is expunged; Indians relegated in American law to status of “blacks”
c. Virginia Law requiring periodic registration and purchase of certificates of freedom for all “ free persons not white “
d. “Free Negro” tax to fund repatriation to Africa – Indians taxed
5. Thomas Jefferson’s 1800 proposal for Indian Removal to the west

Second Session

Chicacoan Indian District – The Northern Neck of Virginia

I. Melungeon Surnames List – A listing of early Northern Neck surnames later found among the Tennessee Melungeons – A pattern of surname dispersal

A. Surnames gleaned from published works of various researchers – a lengthy list
B. Northern Neck surnames later found in Orange County, Virginia
1. McCarty/McCartian, Bolin/Bowline, Indian Harry, Griffin, Collins
2. Reference Orange County Virginia court 27 January 1742/3 “Alexander Machartoon*, John Bowling,, Manincassa, Capt. Tom, Isaac, Harry, Blind Tom, Foolish Jack, Charles Griffin, John Collins, Little Jack, Indians being brought before the Court …….for terrifying one Lawrence Strother & on suspicion of stealing hoggs…..”
a. These Indian defendants appear to be a mix of Northern Neck Indian hunter-traders and Saponi Indians
b. It is not unlikely that intermarriage with the Saponi may have occurred
c. Francis McCartan was recorded as a Chickasaw trader in 1766

C. Northern Neck surnames later found in Louisa County , Virginia
1. Branham, Collins, Donathan, Gibson, Hall /Hale/Haul
2. Reference Louisa County, Virginia Court 28 May 1745 “William Hall, Samuel Collins, William Collins, Samuel Bunch, George Gibson*, Benjamin Brannum, Thomas Gibson*, William Donathan this day Appeared to answer the Presentment of the Grand Jury made against them for Consealling tithables…..”
* This is one of at least two separate and distinct Gibson families which settled Newman’s Ridge in Hancock County, Tennessee

D. Northern Neck surnames later found in relations of East Tennessee Melungeon history
1. Genealogical Accounts
a. Gowen/Goen/Guan, Heard, Minor – See works of Jack Goins; See Thomas Gowen, son of “Gowin the Indian servant of Thomas Bushrod”
b. Millington – See Virginia DeMarce regarding Millenton Collins.
2. Historical accounts of early Tennessee – Blackmore, Bledsoe, Bean, Carter, Donelson, Powell, Robertson, Walker, etc.

Fifth Union

Kingsport, Tennessee, 2004

First Session

Paul Heinegg – Insufficient Research or a Less Than Honorable Agenda?

I. The Racial Reassignment of Colonial era American Indians, East Indians, Gypsies ( Rom ), Turks, and other ethnic groups to the category of “Free African Americans”

A. The Weaver Family – “they seem to like an East Indian“ – Hugh Jones on the Powhatan Indians
1.“Billy”, “Will”, “Jack”, “John Weaver”. Richard Weaver”- all recorded as “East Indy Indians” in at least six court appearances between 1707 and 1711 in Westmoreland and Lancaster Counties, Virginia
2. Weavers receive certificates of Indian descent 1833 Norfolk County Virginia
3. Weavers in 1900 and 1910 Census of Indian Population – Norfolk County, VA
4. Weavers “Indian” 1930 Norfolk County, VA –See Meherrin, Chowanoke, and Nansemond Tribes as well as the Choctaw and Cajan people of Alabama

B. The Goins/Guan/Gowen,Going Family
1. Descended from “Gowin the Indian” of York County, Va.
2. See Jack Goins 2000, Melungeons and Other Pioneer Families

C. Gypsies (Roma) – Surnames withheld
1. Widespread, both in Indian Tribes and Complex Ethnic Populations
2. Early and widespread dispersal suggests a seventeenth century origin and participation in the Indian fur trade.

D. “Simon a Turk” – A genealogical icon

E. The Vena/Venie/Veney Family
1. “Sarah, Andrew, Ned, Sam, Hannah, Milley, Judy, Rachel, Tom, Sucky, Thaddeous, Winney, Charlotte & George Indians”; Northumberland County, Virginia 1791
2. “George an Indian”, “Joe an Indian “, “Tom an Indian “, “Judy Vena a Pauper Indian “, ” Rachel an Indian” – Northumberland County, Virginia
3. 1810 U.S. Census of Richmond County, Virginia
a. Thirteen Vena households totaling 64 “Other Free” people
b. Sixty persons occupy 12 of 13 consecutive Vena households – an obvious Indian community
See Albert Thrasher 1998 for the Vena Family and Saponi Indians of Ohio.

II. Published statements by Heinegg – Insufficient Research or a racial bias against Indians?

A “ Native Americans who adopted English customs became part of the free African American communities”.

B. “There were no Indian communities separate and distinct from the free African American communities”.

C. “Southeastern states solved this problem (light-skinned African Americans) by calling these communities “Indians.”

III. The serious researcher is encouraged to consult colonial court records wherever possible. The records which Heinegg chooses to omit from his genealogical narratives can be more informative and ethnically accurate than those records which he selects for publication.

A. The Walter Plecker syndrome – Expunging Native Americans from official records

B. The Paul Heinegg syndrome – The racial reassignment of Native Americans to the category of “Free African Americans”

Second Session

Current Melungeon Issues

I. The Failed Melungeon Definition of 2004

A. The Myth of the Melungeons vs. the historical record

B. Competing personal agendas, “preferred history”, and the recurring theme of insufficient research

C. Melungeon Drift – The clouding historical perspective by redefining various unrelated Complex Ethnic Populations as being Melungeons.

II. Interpreting and Misinterpreting Results of the 2000 Melungeon DNA Project

A. Understanding the limitations of DNA testing

B. Correctly interpreting DNA findings
1. The Asian Indian factor and the British East India Company
a. East Indians to Virginia by way of England – see Weaver family
b. East Indian Goans by way England and Barbados
2. The Gypsy ( Rom ) factor
a. Properly interpreting DNA with regard to the historic migration of proto-Gypsies out of India, through Asia and Asia Minor into Europe
b. Placing descent from 17th century Virginia Gypsies in proper historical and cultural perspective

Author’s Note: Genealogical data regarding descendants of Virginia Gypsies is being withheld in the hope that it can be offered in a responsible historical context. Suffice it to say that there is no evidence to date of a tribe of Gypsies roaming colonial Virginia, nor did John Sevier encounter a caravan of Gypsy wagons high upon Newman’s Ridge. These comments are made in the hope of dissuading a wave of irresponsible “faction”.

Frankfort Melungeon Gathering

July 30, 2005
Frankfort, Kentucky

Melungeon Myth vs. Melungeon Fact

I. Early research by previous researchers of Melungeon Lore have contributed greatly to our knowledge of that multiethnic effort which was the Making of America. In the twenty – first century America yet struggles to comfortably emulate the Melungeon example ethnic diversity.

A. This investigator was unable to verify any historical data with any possible connection to Melungeon ancestors prior to the invasion at Jamestown in 1607

B. The fruitless Ralph Lane expedition up the Chowanoke River in 1585 stands of this instant as the earliest English record referencing Indian people who may have become Melungeon ancestors – the Tuscarora..

II. Tennessee Melungeons have been demonstrated by genealogy to be an exotic blend of the Indian, white, Gypsy, East Indian, and probable African ancestry. The generally swarthy appearance of Melungeons led to their being described variously as “Indian”, a “ light skinned Indian tribe” and “not as dark as the Indian”. A particularly dark strain of Melungeon was reported as having straight black hair.

A. To date no non-Gypsy East Indian ancestor has been genealogically identified among the Newman’s Ridge Melungeons.
1. Gowin the Indian, and his Goins/Going/Guan descendants are a possibility.
2. Any possible ethnic ties to the Asian Indian Goans of Portuguese Goa are unproven but deserving of further investigation. The residents of Goa identify as Portuguese into this, the twenty first century.
3. It is well worth noting the frequency with which people having an East Indian ancestor appear in court records testifying to their Portuguese ancestry. Such testimony tends to occur in the 1830’s when the Indian Removal was imminent.

C. The exceedingly widespread finding of people of Gypsy ( Rom ) ancestry in
Complex Ethnic Communities throughout the American south is a surprise finding which has drawn no notice whatsoever from the American historian. This egregious omission has left a significant void in American ethno history.

III. Complex Ethnic Populations Versus the Tri Racial Isolate Paradigm

A. Investigators have for sixty years incorrectly assumed that aloof and rogue ethnic groups were some mixture of Indian, white, and Negro people. The term “Tri Racial Isolate” was coined to describe these so-called mystery populations

B. Not a single population in the south, previously described as a Tri Racial Isolate, has proven to be limited to only Indian, white, and African ancestry. The Gypsy, the East Indian, or both are the most common additional ethnicities.

C. It is the suggestion of this investigator that use of the term “Tri Racial Isolate“ be discarded, said term being both inaccurate and inadequate.

D. Complex Ethnic Population is hereby coined as the more accurate descriptor.

Sixth Union

June 8-10, 2006
Kingsport, Tennessee

Old Themes and New Directions: A Review of Seven Years of Melungeon Research by the Virginia Indian Historical Society

I. Review of six previous presentations in the Melungeon Genesis series – 2000 through 2005

II. The Indian Ancestry of the First Tennessee Melungeons
A. The earliest Indian origins of the Tennessee Melungeons are found in specific tribes of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. These tribes persist today.

B. The records of colonial North Carolina are notorious for misidentifying ethnic Indians as some variation of mulatto, colored, or Negro. Virginia and South Carolina records, while imperfect, are noticeably better in this regard. A few exceptions do occur, where an Indian is identified as an Indian.
1. When the record involves the dealings of a Tribe as a political entity, or an individual Indian as a member of a tribe, as in treaties, petitions, and land transactions
2. When the ethnic identity of an Indian is germane to the case in point, as in the case of James Manley. Manley is identified as “Indian” in 1782 court records, and as an “other free person” in the 1790 North Carolina census.
3. Indian families first found in Virginia, later identified as mulatto, colored, or free Negro while residents of North Carolina, can be found recorded again as Indian in Virginia or South Carolina. See Weaver, Canady, Gunn, Lamb, Scott, Griffin, Cornett, Busby, etc.
*A surprise South Carolina finding was the family of William Gray b @ 1814, a “Piscataway Indian.” Both he and his parents were born in Maryland.
4. #3 above bears repeating. This racial peculiarity regarding the records of North Carolina is of great genealogical and historical significance to the present day Chicahominy, Meherrin, Nansemond, Nottoway, Pamunkey, and Piscataway Tribes, as well as to the ethno-historian.

The ageless Calvin Beale, a speaker and lifetime award recipient at the 5th Melungeon Union, was not aware of this quirk in North Carolina’s records.

III. Reexamining the Melungeon Saga – Exploring possible ancestries of the Melungeons

A. Tuscarora ancestry
1. The Lewis M. Jarvis interview of 1903 provided a wealth of information about the ancestry of the Melungeons of Newman’s Ridge. An error of omission, possibly a clerical error or a misunderstanding on the part of Jarvis, has left the Tuscarora ancestry of the Melungeon totally unexplored. In the Jarvis Interview, substitute Cumberland County, North Carolina for “New River and Cumberland County, Virginia.” The genealogical trail will lead to the Scot traders Walter and James Gibson of Cumberland County, NC.
2. A Walter Gibson was among the Tuscarora signing several leases on the Tuscarora Indian Woods Reservation in Bertie County, North Carolina.
3. James, William, Walter & son Sylvanus Gibson and Francis Jourden signed the North Carolina Regulators Petition 9 October 1769.
4. Walter Gibson married Margaret (Peggy) Jordan. The line of Miss Peggy Jordan and Mister Gibson, or his Gibson kin, may have produced a Jordan Gibson and Peggy Gibson. “Spanish Peggy” Gibson is reputed to have been the wife of Vardeman Collins, Melungeon patriarch.
5. James and William Gibson are among the better candidates for ancestor of the Cape Fear River > Cumberland County> Wilkes County, North Carolina > Hancock County, Tennessee clan. (vs .the “ Louisa County” Clan)
6. William B. Groshe provides the link to Jarvis’ omission. Groshe states that the Gibsons were pirates on the Atlantic Ocean. This description more closely fits the Cape Fear River Gibsons, who descend from brothers James and Walter Gibson, Low Country Scots who were ship owners and mariners in the Atlantic trade. I can make no such association for the Gibsons of Louisa County.

B. Spanish Ancestry
1. Francis Yeardley (see Simon Lovena, the Turk), an Indian trader on the Lynhaven River of Lower Norfolk County, Virginia sponsored a coastal trade expedition to the Indians of the fabled Roanoke Island in 1654.
a. This expedition was led by the and mariner, George Durant (Durant sold his Westmoreland County property in 1665 to Thomas and Richard Bushrod – see Gowin the Indian).
b. Yeardley established friendly relations with the Indians of Roanoke and the Albermarle, making large land purchases.
c. The “great emperor of Rhoanoke” took two of Yeardley’s men to the “emperor of the Tuskarorawes”, who then took them to his chief town.
d. There they found a rich Spaniard and his entourage of about 30, who had been living seven years with the Tuscarora. The traders noticed an unusual abundance of copper among the Tuscarora
e. Francis Yeardley married the widow of Adam Thorogood, a Lynhaven trader who lived near “ the trading point”. Their daughter Elizabeth married Dr. Henry Woodward. Woodward initiated and conducted trade with Indians living south of Port Royal.
2. In 1719 the colonial government hired Tuscarora under King Norris to travel King Gilbert of the Coosaboy as emissaries to the Spanish at Saint Augustine. These Tuscarora were from the Roanoke River but were then living at Port Royal. The Indian expedition to Spanish Florida traveled in seven canoes.
3. The Tuscarora-Spanish connection between 1646 and 1719 is deserving of further investigation.

C. Welsh Ancestry
1. Accounts suggesting the possibility of ancient Welsh ancestry for the Melungeons relate to Prince Madoc of Wales who. Madoc is said by legend to have “discovered America in 1170. If indeed there is truth in the Madoc legend, there is nothing to support a connection to the Melungeons.
2. Reverend Morgan Jones was captured by the Tuscarora in 1669. While bemoaning his fate in the Welsh language, an Indian responded in Welsh Jones stayed several months with the Tuscarora preaching the gospel in Welch.

D. Portuguese ancestry
1. Natives of Portugal
a. The vast majority of Portuguese in colonial records occur without surnames. Only two Portuguese are identified with surnames – John Sherry and Nicholas Silvedo.
b. Many people of the Iroquois speaking tribes of Virginia and North Carolina, the Meherrin, Nottoway, and Tuscarora, migrated north to join the Five Iroquois Nations in the 18th and 19th centuries
c. In 1842 the “Chiefs and Warriors of the Tuscarora Nation of Indians residing on the Grand River” Territory Ontario Canada formed a petition. Many of the names are easily recognized as Meherrin and Tuscarora names from Hertford and Bertic Counties in North Carolina. Among them are John Sherry and John and Powerless Silver. (Thanks To professor Heriberto Dixon of S.U.N.Y.) The Silva surname can be found in the Meherrin Pow Wow program today.
2. Goans of India
a. The Gowin, Guan, Goins family?
b. People of demonstrable East Indian ancestry testifying as to their Portuguese ancestry when Indian removal is pending

E. Gypsy ancestry
1. Seventeenth Century immigrants.
2. Consistent with DNA pools found in various Mediterranean and Asian populations
3. Misinterpreted to be immigrants from the Mediterranean region.

F. Cherokee ancestry
1. Documented for few Melungeon families
2. The misuse and misunderstanding of the term Cherokee
a. Cherokee properly refers to a specific Indian Tribe, and those people belonging to and descended from that specific tribe.
b. To the uninformed, Cherokee has in common usage come to refer to any Indian ancestry whatsoever. This generic usage is quite problematic for the Indian genealogist.

G. Catawba ancestry – “Old Ned Sizemore” and the Hart family.
1. Thousands of applications for Cherokee reparations and benefits have been filed by Sizemore descendants without success.
2. A declaration states that Old Ned Sizemore(possibly George Edward Sizemore) was born on the Catawba Reservation
3. The claim filed by Catherine Hart of Ashe County, North Carolina is informative, whether accurate or not.
a. Catherine stated that she was the daughter of John Hart, and that John was the son of James Hart and Catherine Sizemore, the daughter of Ned Sizemore. Sizemore, Hart, and Stamper families were all in Wilkes County, North Carolina as early as 1797. A John Hart made a land entry on the New River in 1804.
b. Another John Hart signed Catawba petitions in North Carolina in 1844 and 1847.
c. In 1849 fifty-six Catawba were among the Cherokee in Haywood County, North Carolina. Among them was a 30 y.o. John Hart. Betsy Hart, 26, was among the Catawba in Greenville District, South Carolina
d. On September 17, 1849 John and Betsy Hart were in “the number and names of the Catawbas” at the Echota Mission. e. In 1850 John Hart signed a petition asking for lands in Greenville District South Carolina.
f. John Hart had probably died by 9 November, 1853 when Betsy and Rebecca Hart were made citizens of the Choctaw Nation
g. Inez Sizemore who married Carl Nickens on the Colville Reservation near Covada, Washington was descended from the Creek Nation, where Arthur Sizemore, testified in 1814 that he was a half Creek Indian.
h. It is not unlikely that many Sizemore descendants harbor Cherokee ancestry. It is only documentary proof which is lacking.

Thanks to Judy Canty Martin, Tom Blummer, Ian Watson, and the Catawba Indian Nation.



It has been brought to my attention that Paul Heinegg has revised his narratives of the Goins, Vena, and Weaver families since the 2004 5th Union presentation. These revisions reflect a minimal nod in the direction of historical accuracy. Heinegg continues to present these families in the context of Free African Americans, and will in all probability continue to do so.

Goins researchers – simply follow the fortunes of the Bushrod family, wealthy Virginia Quaker merchants, in order to connect “Gowin the Indian servant of Thomas Bushrod” to Thomas Gowen of Westmoreland County, Virginia. As a matter of genealogical curiosity, the cases of Indian Will (Weaver) and Martin Guan were both heard in Westmoreland County Court 25 September, 1707 , p74a. Martin may have been the prisoner to whom reference was made when Thomas Goen was accused of “a certaine force & rescue of a prisoner out of the custody of Wm. Chandler Constable for Machotique” 26 January 1708/9.

Sizemore researchers – Anthony Sizeman, files suit for his freedom 6 November 1651 in Lower Norfolk County, Virginia. On 15 January 1651/2 the court ordered
that Sizeman “be sett free from ye sd Holmes and to have his Corne & Cloathes according to ye Custome of ye County….. Sizeman having served Holmes ye full terme he was bound for in England…..” Anthony may have been the immigrant ancestor of Joseph and Samuel Sizemore
found in Chowan County, North Carolina records of 1718 and 1723. Any link between these Sizemores and the Melungeon Sizemore clan remains unproven. Further research is needed in this area.

Bunch researchers – Micajah Bunch was an early Chowan County neighbor of the Sizemores.

Copyright 2006 Virginia Indian Historical Society


A.D. Powell presentation, 2006

Published by:

Melungeons and the Mixed Race Experience

A speech given to the Melungeon “Sixth Union” Conference on 9 June 2006

A. D. Powell

One of the many “hidden histories” of the United States has been the story of the massive government effort to deny the existence of mixed-race people and, especially, the multiracial ancestry within the so-called “white race” (or more appropriately, white caste). Most Americans have probably been taught some form of what sociologists call hypodescent – the idea that the offspring of so-called “interracial” unions inevitably increase the population of the nonwhite ancestral group or, if there is more than one nonwhite ancestral group, the population with the lowest social status.

American history books are filled with sad stories of oppression designed to make students cry for the trials and tribulations of blacks, Indians, Mexicans, Asians, etc. Students are often told, at some point, that there is a “one drop rule” in the United States forcing an unwanted and involuntary blackness on even the whitest people with that tainted ancestry. They are NOT told that this so-called rule is openly violated every day by millions of people. They are NOT told about the partial African ancestry in Hispanics and Arabs. And they are most certainly NEVER told about Melungeons, Redbones, Creoles and numerous internal ethnic groups, sub-cultures and individuals who resisted efforts to push them into the lower caste of a binary racial caste system. If students WERE told these things, they would have to conclude that hypodescent can no longer be forced AND, more importantly, that white racial purity does not exist.

Mixed-race people in the U.S. have always found it difficult to fight against government attacks. We are talking about a diverse population composed of isolated groups and individuals. What do you do when a Walter Plecker of Virginia or a Naomi Drake of Louisiana goes on a crusade to subject you to permanent denigration? What do you do when your state legislature passes a law forcing a different (and false) racial and ethnic identity on your family? All too often, individuals and families have been left alone to cope with the terror of state persecution. Should you speak out and try to rally the public to your cause? The shame and stigma of admitting to an officially tainted ancestry usually eliminates that option. In U.S. history, white racial status and honor have been almost synonymous. Non-white status has been associated with a lack of honor.

You have all probably heard of the heroic efforts of Mrs. Susie Guilory Phipps of Louisiana who, in 1982, mounted a legal challenge to Louisiana’s infamous law stating that anyone with more than 1/32 Negro blood was unworthy of the unspoken but very real “honor” of being “white.” Mrs. Phipps took her case to the U.S. Supreme Court which, in 1986, refused to hear her case. However, Louisiana was so embarrassed by the sympathetic press her case generated, that they eliminated the infamous law that started the case in the first place. The question we should ask here is why did Mrs. Phipps have to fight alone? Louisiana’s racist law of racial classification had victimized thousands of people. Similar laws in other states had victimized untold thousands throughout the nation. Why didn’t they rise up or speak out in support of Mrs. Phipps? When individual blacks, Jews, Hispanics, Asian Americans or American Indians are attacked because of their ancestry, we often see their organizations rise up in outrage and proclaim to the media and nation that an injury to one of them is an injury to all. The response of mixed-race people to attacks on other mixed-race people, however, is to hunker down, keep quiet, and hope you’re not noticed. Isn’t this what happened when Walter Plecker went after the Melungeons? When you don’t officially exist, how can you defend yourself? How can you demand justice? Will Melungeons stand up for a future Mrs. Phipps?

In the mid 1990’s, new organizations came into being to proclaim the existence of mixed-race people and state that we actually do have rights and identities that others are bound to respect. There was the Association of Multi-Ethnic Americans (AMEA) and Project RACE (“Reclassify All Children Equally”), which targeted school districts and state and federal statistics gathers who insisted on forcing multiracial children into monoracial official categories. My emphasis here, however, will be on the activist web sites “Interracial Voice” and “The Multiracial Activist.” They have gone far beyond the mandates of other mixed-race activist groups to critique the American culture as a whole, examine and encourage historical research, and reach out to others who suffered under laws of forced hypodescent.

Charles Michael Byrd, the founder of “Interracial Voice,” was born in Abingdon, Virginia (Washington County) in 1952. Perhaps some of you are familiar with the place. His mother was predominately black with Indian and white ancestry. His father was a so-called “pure white.” Imagine the pain of growing up in Jim Crow Virginia! God and your father’s genes have made you white but, officially, you don’t have any white ancestry! By law, you don’t belong to your father’s family or his race. Officially, you are a “Negro” – black ancestry is all you may officially claim. How can you look white and be “really” black? Are you a genetic freak or mutation? If you cannot claim white ancestry, what else can you be? This is the fate that Walter Plecker, Naomi Drake and their spiritual kin wanted to force on your families.

When Charles was young, family members told him that he was “black” but “light-skinned” (“Light-skinned black” is an oxymoron if there ever was one.). Outside of the family, however, the reaction from blacks was “Who’s the white boy?” Being a white person of mixed ancestry with a “light-skinned black” label does NOT make you “black.” It makes you a helpless white upon whom blacks can safely take out their hatred for and resentment against whites in general without fear of group retaliation. It’s worse for females, who are also subjected to intense sexual harassment.

However, like so many others, Charles underwent a psychological reevaluation of his situation. When the schools of Abingdon were integrated, Charles discovered that his white classmates could not believe that he was part black, much less one of the despised “Negroes.” Doesn’t dark always dominate over light? Aren’t we told in countless books and films that the child of a white and non-white always looks like the non-white parent? The reaction of his classmates was curious, since blacks who support the “one drop rule” insist that it is maintains by a collective repugnance that whites have for “black blood.” But many whites don’t know what they are supposed to believe or enforce in regard to black ancestry in otherwise white persons.

When Charles left the South for the Air Force and later New York City, the “one drop rule” looked even more ridiculous. The city was filled with Hispanics whose African ancestry was obvious but who did NOT call themselves “black” and were not forced to do so. He frequently met Italians, Greeks and other so-called pure whites who would have had a hard time using public accommodations in the Jim Crow South. Charles had to conclude that his former identity as a “light-skinned black” had been based on a lie. Charles decided to devote his time to helping other mixed-race people facing the same or similar struggles.

Contrary to “anti-passing” movies like Imitation of Life or The Human Stain, etc., the so-called black life was in fact “living a lie.” Changing one’s racial caste identity is as American as apple pie.

Do you see a connection here to the white Melungeons who discovered that their ancestors were classified as “free colored” during the antebellum period and later “voted with their feet” to reject Plecker’s efforts to turn them into “Negroes”?

James Landrith came to the multiracial movement from a different background. Born into an officially white family, James joined the Marine Corps and there met his African-American wife, Cheryl. James began to notice that a lot of the open hostility to their marriage came from blacks rather than whites and, moreover, it was blacks who insisted that the white ancestry of his sons counted for nothing. He found, after starting his web site, that angry criticism from blacks outnumbered even the expected negative responses from white supremacists.

Both “The Multiracial Activist” and “Interracial Voice,” along with their many writers and contributors, have engaged in strong critiques of American culture in regard to mixed-race people and reached out to other mixed-race groups of the European colonial diaspora – from the U.S. to Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean and South Africa. If any of us stand together, even if only for a little while, the battle will be so much easier. In the name of this solidarity, we reach out to our Melungeon sisters and brothers today.

I am happy to bring you greetings from Charles Michael Byrd and James Landrith. They regret they could not be here for Sixth Union.

Charles Michael Byrd

Even though I’ve never attended a Melungeon function and have never identified as a Melungeon, I have a high level of affinity for this group. Much of this is due to my own triracial background (red, white and black), and having been born and raised in Abingdon, Virginia in Washington County.

Additionally, while the Interracial Voice website was still active, I came to exchange email communiqués with Brent Kennedy and Nancy Sparks Morrison – both of whom wrote Guest Editorials for IV.

Brent Kennedy first emailed me on July 02, 2002. Actually, Brent’s uncle, Doyle Kennedy, forwarded an email exchange between the two of us to Brent. That conversation centered around a book that I self-published earlier that year entitled “Beyond Race: The Bhagavad-gita in Black and White.” I came across Doyle’s email address in a media article about the Melungeons and contacted him, including a promo for the book. The following is Doyle’s response to me:

Do you consider yourself and your ethnic heritage to be Melungeon, which is a mixture of Cherokee, white, black, and/or other, originally (rather, at one point in time) from the North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee area? I had never heard of Melungeon until a few years ago when my nephew, Brent Kennedy wrote his book, “The Melungeons, The Resurrection of a Proud People”, with the subtitle “The Story of Ethnic Cleansing in America.”

After Brent’s research, and after reading his book, I discovered that my mother is almost certainly part Melungeon (including Cherokee), and that many of my relatives have even closer connections to the Melungeons. I then became very interested in the Melungeon heritage and history.

Doyle Kennedy

My response to Doyle:

Hello. It’s good to make your acquaintance. To be frank, I never heard of a Melungeon until about 6 years or so ago. I was born in Abingdon, Virginia which is the county seat of Washington County and is about 15 miles north of the Tennessee border. We knew that society viewed us as “black,” but we also knew we were something else. Every now and then we’d hear the term mulatto. My maternal great-aunt often told me that back in the 20s or 30s the newspapers would use that term in addition to “black” whenever something happened that warranted press coverage — oftentimes, something bad.

I’ve heard of Brent’s work but have not read his book. Anyway, whatever people call themselves, I sense a growing number of individuals beginning to question not only the race notion but the need for tribal affiliation in general. On the other hand, maybe that’s just me 🙂

Charles Michael Byrd

Later that day, I received this from Brent:

My Uncle, Doyle Kennedy, is to be congratulated for making the contact — we’re increasingly on the same wavelength here, my friend. Attached are some links you might enjoy. Also, my most recent statement (which I’m certain parallels your thinking) can be found at:

Stay in touch — have ordered your book and looking forward to reading it.

My best,

Brent K.

Brent Kennedy, like myself, is a spiritual seeker who knows that true intelligence is being able to discern the difference between that which is temporary – our physical bodies – and that which is permanent – the soul or spiritual spark animating these bodies. At a time when Brent is recovering from a debilitating stroke, my prayers are with him and his family. Whatever the outcome, however, that eternal spark of consciousness that we have all come to associate with the physical form we call Brent Kennedy will be just that – eternal.
In his review of my modest self-publishing effort, Brent wrote:

Charles Michael Byrd is to be congratulated on weaving what every man and woman ought to be doing in terms of “race consciousness” with the greater morality of the Bhagavad-Gita. The Melungeons, a mixed ethnic group, have lived with, and continue to struggle with, the issues presented and discussed so thoughtfully by Mr. Byrd. All human beings – not simply those who consider themselves “mixed-race” — owe the author a debt of gratitude.

I consider Brent Kennedy a brother not only in the struggle to throw off the shackles of forced racial identity but also in the effort to usher in the larger spiritual awareness on this planet. He once told me – in an email that I constantly kick myself in the butt for having misplaced — that he found a translation of the Bhagavad-Gita in his home, and that it must have been his dear mother’s copy. That revelation initially floored me, but, as all things happen for a reason, I came to realize that Brent was not the only spiritual seeker in his family. For those unfamiliar with the text, the Bhagavad-gita is the main source book on yoga, is the essence of India’s Vedic wisdom and is one of the great spiritual and philosophical classics of the world. As I write this, I am also finishing a second more expanded edition of my book for which I intend to find a mainstream publisher. Please wish me success.

I wish to thank A.D. Powell for agreeing to read this to you today, and, perhaps, I can make the journey to next year’s Union. Thank you all.

James Landrith

When I first got involved with the “multiracial movement” in 1996, I had considered myself to be of German, French and English stock solely. I have since learned much more of my familial origins and now know that my Landrith (Landreth) heritage has its origins in Scotland (traced all the way back to 1070), my Lutz and Nye ancestors are of German stock and somewhere lost in time are non-European ancestors that I have been attempting to verify and prove.

So no, I haven’t always known I was Melungeon and I haven’t definitively proven it to my satisfaction either. I had previously thought that I had proven the link via my Lutz family line, but was mistaken. However, I believe I may unfortunately be related via Lutz cousins to Walter Plecker. However, I remain convinced of the Melungeon or Brass Ankles, Black Irish/Dutch or some other MGM population ties due to certain physical characteristics in my European surname family lines and their long-time presence in Virginia (Landreth, Nye, and Lutz branches) since the early 1700s before branching out to Illinois, where I was born.

I possess certain physical characteristics such as: Asian Shovel Teeth, Anatolian bump, sleep disorder, unfortunate keloids, etc. My father, his siblings and my grandfather are of a noticeably darker complexion, have striking black hair and tan quite easily in the sun. In fact, when my father was younger and worked on the railroads in Illinois he would darken up significantly from many hours in the sun. That, combined with his black hair, lead some of my mother’s family to believe he was mulatto. I tend to favor my mother’s Jackson line in phenotype. I am noticeably lighter and have brown hair. When some “multiracial” individuals see my photo online they automatically assume I am solely of European ancestry. Of course, these folks tend to be the ones who endlessly obsess over blood quantum and phenotype.

I believe my great-great-grandmother Minnie May Ehrheart Landrith was of MGM descent via her mother or father. My father, grandfather and great-uncle have all said “we are Cherokee” and named Minnie as the source or claimed she was half-Indian. Minnie’s mother was Matilda Nye and her father was Daniel S. Earheart (Ehrhart, Ehrheart). I have confirmed that Daniel’s father was not the source of my MGM heritage as he came to the U.S. from Germany. Unfortunately, I have been unable to produce a name for Minnie’s grandmother. Of course, her name may have been erased from the family tree out of fear or shame by a prior ancestor if she is the source of my MGM heritage. Either way, I believe that is the link. Of course, as my family spent a long time in Virginia prior to moving Westward, there may be several intermarriages with MGM populations in the family tree that need investigating.

When I first got involved with the “multiracial movement” through IV and Project RACE I was intrigued at the prospect of working toward a goal that would affect my children in a positive way as they are both of multiracial heritage. As I read more on IV, I first learned of the Melungeons and also the Metis, possibly through something you wrote. I then began to read more and search for more Melungeon information online. Far too much of the focus of the “multiracial” movement is biased toward first generation biracial individuals. There are hundreds of years of history of “multiracial” populations in this country that existed before Loving v. Virginia. This realization led me to seek out Melungeon and Metis writers for content on TMA and have since published work by Mike Nassau, Nancy Sparks-Morrison, Tim Hashaw, Jason Adams, Helen Campbell and others.

I admire the fact that so many Melungeons and even Metis, some of whom could very easily blend in with their “white” neighbors are willing to stand up and be counted. They are not afraid to shake their family tree to see what falls out. Their example led me to shed my monoracial identity, and acknowledge my heritage, as fuzzy as some of it may be at present. I believe that in order to move past our nation’s unhealthy obsession with “race”, we will first have to come to grips with our significant “multiracial” national heritage. This, despite the objections of some of the first generation “biracial”-centric organizations, will involve incorporating that long history into the greater “multiracial” movement. The Multiracial Activist is not only about the children growing up in a post-Loving environment. TMA sees all mixes as part of larger picture and recognizes the significant struggles and strifes that older “multiracial” populations have had to endure.

Mattie Ruth Johnson presentation, 2005

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Ruth’s Four Branches

Presented by Mattie Ruth Johnson

When I first started researching my family history I did not know all the good and bad stories that were out there about us.

Since my ancestors were called Melungeons I became more interested in, what is a Melungeon? We were told as small children we were kin to the Melungeons. Who were they, and, where did they come from? That was my adventure. I wanted to know just who they all were.

As everyone knows by now they were, and are, in all walks of life, and descend from many nationalities here and abroad.

We know there is an English line, Irish, Scotch-Irish, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish, and many different Indian Natives from this country. They weren’t all descendants of the Cherokee’s who descend from the Northern Iroquois Tribe. Die Indians weren’t all brown skinned like the movie westerns portray them.

A lot of these Native Americans married foreigners who were whiter than most Indians, and as the lines come on down became a whiter nation in the United States.
A lot of people will look at me and say, “You don’t look like a Melungeon”. They come in all different shades of color. Most of us have a Melungeon heritage, which to me is a connection to an American Native which seems to have been here before a majority of people showed up in the Carolina’s, Kentucky, and Tennessee from foreign countries.
A few generations back I see dark skinned ancestors with white wife or husband.

I definitely do know that some of my people were descendants of some Cherokees. I have a Gibson line Joseph “Fisher” Gibson who could only speak Cherokee, and his son Keener Gibson had to interpret for him. Keener spoke both English and Cherokee. By the time we get to my great great-grandfather, and my grandparents they all spoke English. My great grand mother here was a Massengill of English heritage, from England.

Another of my 4th generation grandfathers Solomon Collins was said to be highly esteemed and venerable patriarch Later stories surfaced that he crossed into Tennessee because he was afraid the chief would kill him. Don’t know what he did that was so wrong, but he married a Goins and had a large family, and he was referred to as a “thrifty farmer”, and honest. These two ancestral 4th “great-great-grandfathers were Cherokee according to affidavits filed by their grandchildren.

J.G. Rhea in his 80’s wrote a letter in 1918 to his niece Martha Collins that ran the bank in Sneedville, stating that Navarrah “Vardy” Collins was a fine Old Patriarch, said to be of Portuguese Notality (nationality), coming to this country with DeSoto.

He settled on Blackwater near Sneedville and owned Mineral Springs. He sold mineral water, and ran a boarding house, and founded a Church “Vardy Church” He said both Vardy and Solomon Collins were highly respected in their time and both had a fine set of children, and the boys were his churns when he was a young, boy. He goes on to name all the children of both families, stating he visited their homes often.

Vardy’s wife was Margaret Peggy Gibson. She was known as “Spanish Peggy”. There was an invasion of the French and Spanish in the Carolina’s in 1706. Peggy’s father was John Gibson and her grandfathers are said to be Spanish Pirates that came to Tennessee to escape the hangman’s noose. These people were dark skinned like Spaniards and spoke a broken English. There were Scotch-Irish settlers in the area at that time.

This area was first a Territory, then became Virginia, then North Carolina, and then Tennessee.

Then we have the Mullins lines that go back to James “Jim” Mullins, also known as “Hair Lip Jim, and Irish Jim”. Said to be English. One line of Gibson’s I have are from Court County Ireland.


There are many more branches. The Natives weren’t all Cherokee. Most of the men joined the wars of the state they lived in. They only wanted to make a living for themselves and their families.

So it was a big surprise when I read the stories that Dromgoole wrote to find out that the people she was writing about good or bad was some of my ancestors. No matter what she said about them be it good or bad I immediately loved, and understood all of them. I came to realize there is good and bad in all our earlier-settlers for they certainly had a different existence back then than we have had the past 100 years. Most of the Melungeons lived to a ripe old age back then.

Many had moonshine stills and this was one way they made a little extra money. Many fights and shootings occurred. They weren’t all bad though. They had large families. So many that a lot had the Christian name of one of their parents attached to their Christian name in order to designate which family they were from. Still today one of my great-grandmothers is known as Cora “Bum” Collins, named so after her father Morgan “Bum” Collins, so she was called “Cora Bum.”

A lot of the earlier groups weee called Colonies, Tribes, Ridgemanites, later clans.

Dromgoole stated that they married outside their clan. What did she expect? They certainly weren’t marrying each other. She stated the English began with the Mullins “Old Jim Mullins”, a trader with the Indians stumbled upon the ridge settlement, fell in with the Ridgemanites and never left. The Mullins became the head of the Ridge People. They were social, good natured and harmless.

When John Sevier was trying to organize the state of Franklin there was living in Eastern Tennessee a colony of dark skinned reddish brown-compexioned people supposed to be of Moorish descent they were listed as “Free Men of Color”. The earlier Cherokee ancestors of mine were listed as “free persons of color” and white. I feel like moonshine took it’s toll on a lot of them causing fights, and killings.

Dromgoole wrote a pretty bad story of the Melungeons she visited in May 1891, for she got mad at them for charging her the enormous fee of 15 cents a day board. She retracted her story in June 1891. So-in a month they turned from bad to pretty good people.

Some were very poor during those times, while others were pretty well off. All of them did not have mattresses and shoes. They had to go barefooted. They did not have buttons and bows. Those days were hard times for them.

Then came poor old Mahala – a daughter of old Solomon Collins that married one of the Mullins boys. She, like a lot of other Melungeons and people on the mountain had plenty of apple orchards to make moonshine. They sold what they could, and would fight to save their stills.

The story goes how she lived in one house that was on the line of Tennessee and Virginia. When law makers came to arrest her she just moved to the other side of the house. As time went on Mahala had medical problems, and grew so large she wasn’t able to go in and out of the house. She was estimated to be about 500 to 600 pounds.

The Hancock County sheriff sent his deputies to arrest Mahala for making moonshine, knowing good and well she was to big to get out of the house. ‘When the deputy filed his report it stated “she was catchable, but not fetchable”. There are stories of taking her to town before she became unable to get out the door. Her sons hitched two horses to a sled, put her on it, and headed down the ridge to town. Her body was,, so large it took up most of the sled.

Some day I would love to try and paint a picture of Aunt Mahala with a fancy dress, and hat with a blanket thrown across her legs WITH A BIG SMILE riding to town. It makes me laugh, she had such a spirit, then again it makes me sad. She is my third
great aunt x 2.

Around 1730-1740 a lot of these people migrated from North Carolina, and Virginia, coming to East Tennessee (Research by Jack Goins). The Melungeons were said to be the friendly Indians who came with the whites as they moved west. This was noted by Lewis M. Jarvis in 1829. Many old records establish their credibility after many years of being classified as anything else. They were classified as white in the 1840 Hancock county census.

People sometimes used the word Melungeon to discredit someone else. I think this is one reason a lot of people back then weren’t as proud of the name as we are today. Their identity has been diluted by generations of marriages with new coiners, and going to other towns to find jobs. This is the way it should be.

Most of the Melungeons lived off the land. They grew their own vegetables, fruits, raised chicken’s, hogs, and when their meat supply was low they went hunting for more. They did not just have small gardens. They had fields of everything, and had unique ways of preserving foods. They were good at drying and canning foods.

This really meant working year in and year out with the exception of Church and school days. The whole family would participate in the fanning, and chores. Things like feeding the animals, milking, churning butter, chopping cords of wood to last year in and year out.

They didn’t have access to plants, factories, or market places like we have today. The stores carried mostly grain, tools, farming supplies with a few commodities like salt, pepper, coffee, or sugar. We did have a dress shop that carried material. People did not have a lot of money to buy things with. Our mother taught us how to sew at a early age making skirts and blouses. Occasionally we got a ready-made dress. After fanners sold their tobacco crops near Christmas time we could afford to buy a few things. You took care of what you had, and learned to appreciate it.

There were ways of making do with everything. Can you imagine no electricity, no running water, or no refrigeration in the house!

Early ancestors’ ways have certainly passed. You carried water from a well or spring. Had coal oil lamps for light at night!, You cooked your meals the day you needed them!


Mattie Ruth Johnson with then-MHA president Wayne Winkler and Claire Winkler, holding a painting by “Aunt Mattie Ruth” – June 2004

Milk was placed in the edge of a spring, or dairy to keep from from spoiling. Dairies were where your can goods were stored and a handy place to take cover if there was an impending cyclone to your area. They are partially built under the edge of a hill partially under the earth. Nice cool place to make kraut. Back then we did not have plastic bags or push button items. We did have brown paper bags everyone called “Pokes”.

At one time doors weren’t locked. My grand mother Mullins said her family kept having cakes and pies disappearing from their screened in back porch till one day she came home and found a bear there eating them. She ran and got inside the toilet and stayed there until the rest of the family came in from the fields.

Melungeons are like everyone else. They came here and there to make a living, and that is what they have done. No matter which line we go up to, everyone has to go up to some line. Whether they are part of the Lost Colony, Lost tribe, Irish, Portuguese, Turkish, Spanish, German, English, French or the many different Indians- it took all of them to make up this country.

In 1998 I went with Dr. Brent Kennedy and a crew of us to visit Turkey. There I met many people that look a lot like a lot of people here. They were some of the most gracious, and generous people I have ever met. We saw one of the 10 wonders of the world, saw where Christians hid out during Biblical times. We got to walk down the original marble stone road that Jesus’ disciples James, and John walked at Efes (Ephesians) from the Bible. As you may know Turkey was originally Asia Minor from the Bible. While sitting on a boat being taken down the Bosphorus some men started asking me questions. Their interpreter told me what they were saying. One man with a tear in his eye said “Please tell Americans that we are not barbaric like some of our neighbors accuse us of being”, “we are good people and we love Americans”. He was right. I told him I would. Little did I know that I was surrounded by doctors and lawyers, and other town officials. They treated us like royalty. Dr. Turan Yazgan and Turker Ozdogan were our leaders. We passed the Ottomon original homes where some of those people were with groups that came to America. Never did I dream that I would be riding down the Bosphorus to the edge of the Black Sea, with one side being Asia, and the other being Europe, and on out in front of us was the Ukraine, the Black Sea was on out in front of that, and that goes out into the Mediterranean Sea where people came this way coining to America.

Before we left we were taken to Cesme’s Melungeon Mountain. Our Melungeon mountain is a little higher, but the feeling you get there touches your heart. To know the waters below this area is where a lot of people there left coining to America, never to return to their homes. The families came here and had vigils waiting for their brothers, husbands, and sons to return, but they never came back. They were called “the lost souls, people of the damned.” The ones who made it to America became Americans.

Now on our little Melungeon mountain sometimes school fights would break out. One teacher denied using snuff which products were certainly not allowed. When confronted by my sister Nellie she flat out denied it, and while Nellie proceeded to get her purse to prove it, she got after her with a switch. At this point my brother Gale intervened. Nellie grabbed her purse, and threw it against the wall and out popped snuff everywhere. There was no denying this now. She had a whole class full of witnesses.

My sister Gene says I have given you a perfect profile of myself. Of course she was referring to me holding her over the little stream of water near our house. In the center area it was a little deeper, about 2 feet. She was forbidden to go there, just sit on the sides and play in the water since she would not adhere to the rule. I held her over the center where the sun shined through large trees with beautiful sun rays, and you could see the heavens. I told her she would fall that far and would fall forever and ever. After she started crying I stopped. Of course this was to protect her. She was only about 2 years old.

We knew from an early age that the Bible was DAD’S WORD.
If you did something you shouldn’t, and he had it in for you. He would say “I’m laying up to give you a good one, which usually never happened, but this would hang over your head. You better have a good back-up. I did! I worked twice as hard, and all I had to do was ASK HIM A QUESTION ABOUT THE BIBLE. I had his undivided attention, and he forgot the threat.

If the Melungeons weren’t the “Great Mixture” before, they certainly are now. People are finding their ancestors all over the country, not just in America.

Foreign people had it rough too. Coming to America and finding a friendly Native to marry gave them a freedom they did not have in some of those foreign countries. A lot of these people help make America. They came here legally and they worked

The memories of life on Newman’s Ridge will always be precious in my heart. All the people I knew, and my family. Pictures and memories of all of them that I have are places and times I don’t want to fade away.

Time becomes a memory, but your pictures will keep alive those things that are important to you.

The Melungeons have scattered through-out, and most of the older ones have passed on through this world. Take care to preserve your history, and family. The Melungeons have come back strong now.


Sixth Union Presenters

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Sixth Union Presenters

Reading from her upcoming book Washed in the Blood: The Search for My Melungeon Ancestors.

Lisa Alther was born in 1944 in Kingsport, Tennessee, where she went to public schools. She was graduated from Wellesley College with a BA in English literature in 1966. After attending the Publishing Procedures Course at Radcliffe College and working for Atheneum Publishers in New York, she moved to Hinesburg, Vermont, where she has lived for thirty years, raising her daughter. She taught Southern Fiction at St. Michael’s College in Winooski, Vermont. Having lived in London and Paris, she currently divides her time between Vermont and New York City. Alther is the author of five novels — Kingflicks, Original Sins, Other Women, Bedrock and Five Minutes in Heaven. Each has appeared on bestseller lists worldwide. The first three novels were featured selections of the Book-of-the-Month Club, and the five novels combined have sold over six million copies

“The Importance of the Melungeon Community to Turkish-American Relations.”

David L. Arnett retired from the Department of State on November 30, 2005. He was a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counselor. Born in Indiana in 1943 as the son of a career Army officer, he lived in both Austria and Japan in the 1950’s. After graduation from Wabash College as an English major in 1965, he spent four years in the Army with service in the Azores and Vietnam. He received his Ph.D. in English from Tulane University in 1973 and entered the Foreign Service in 1974. His Foreign Service career included tours as a Junior Officer in Munich and Hamburg, Cultural Attache in Copenhagen, Press Attache in Ankara, Public Affairs Counselor in Oslo, Deputy Minister Counselor for Public Affairs in Bonn, Counselor for Public Affairs in Ankara, Minister Counselor for Public Affairs in Bonn/Berlin, and Director of the Office of Press and Public Diplomacy (EUR/PPD) in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs at the United States Department of State. He served as the Consul General in Istanbul from July 2002 to August 2005. He is married to the former Vivi Smiler, who is originally from Norway. He speaks Danish, German, Norwegian, and Turkish.

“MHA – An Exploration in Ethnicity, Ethics and Endurance”

S. J. Arthur, a native of West Virginia, has long identified with her Appalachian heritage. S. J. holds a Sociology degree from Berea College with emphasis on Appalachian studies. S. J. descends from Melungeons on both sides of her family. S. J., a founding member of the Melungeon Heritage Association, is the current President.

“What is Knowable is Known, and What is Known is Knowable: A Paradigm for Ancestoral Research”

“Dr. Bob” was born in Alabama and grew up in Harlan County, Kentucky and Florida. He studied at Columbia Bible College, Warren Wilson College, Gordon College and Seminary, Penn State University, and West Virginia University. He received B.A., M.A., and Doctorate of Education degrees. He began tracing his family’s roots in 1990, and subsequently discovered both Cherokee and Melungeon ancestry. Dr. Barnes has authored several papers and is currently preparing two books for publication. One is The Psalms as Worship and History and the other is A History of Pastoral Training and Leadership Development.

“Finding Self in the Other: A Personal Account of Melungeon Identity.”

Dr. Anthony Cavender is a Professor of Anthropology at East Tennessee State University. He specializes in the study of folk medicine and has done research on folk medical beliefs and practices and folk healers in southern Appalachia, Zimbabwe, and the highlands of Ecuador. He is the author of several articles on folk medicine and a book, Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachian, published in 2004 by the University of North Carolina Press.

“Memories of the Vardy School and Mission”

Claude Collins is a retired educator and school administrator from Sneedville, Tennessee. He is a Vardy School alumnus and also attended Warren Wilson College and the University of Tennessee. He was one of the founding members of the Hancock County Drama Association, which staged the outdoor drama “Walk Toward the Sunset” in Sneedville from 1969 to 1976. During this time, Collins served as a spokesman for the Melungeons to the press and visitors. He is also one of the founding members of the Vardy Community Historical Society, an MHA board member, and the recipient of MHA’s first “Lifetime Achievement Award” in 2002.

“The Melungeons in Early Court Documents”

Penny Ferguson, an Appalachian and Melungeon researcher, has been researching Melungeons for 40 years, she visited with William Grohse, and Martha Collins, and many of the older residents in Hancock County, Tennessee (and other areas) over the years. A lifelong resident of eastern Kentucky, with all of her ancestors having lived in eastern KY for 200 years, she finds it a privilege to help research and tell as factually as possible the history and story of central Appalachia.

“Melungeons 101”

Bill Fields was a founding member of the MHA board. He is from Southeast Kentucky (Lesile County) and has done extensive genealogical research into his Appalachian ancestry. For several years he produced Under One Sky, a printed journal featuring research and information concerning Melungeons and other mixed-ethnic people. He still maintains a web site devoted to that topic and maintains an ongoing involvement in a variety of issues of social justice. Bill attended Berea College and, professionally is the program director of a residential facility offering emergency shelter and transitional housing to seniors.

Eloy J. Gallegos is a native of Santa Fe, New Mexico, where his ancestors came to settle the Kingdom of New Mexico in 1598. He is a 1962 graduate of the University of Tennessee, and is married to the former Anne C. Kirk. Prior to 1974, Gallegosa was a research writer for the FBI and a Congressional investigator. Since then, he has devoted his time to the study of early Spanish exploration in America. His books include THE MELUNGEONS: The Spanish Pioneers of the Interior Southeastern United States, JACONA, An Epic Story of the Spanish Southwest, and SANTA ELENA, Spanish Settlements on the Atlantic Seaboard from Florida to Virginia.

“The Melungeons in Early Court Documents”

Jack Goins is a researcher and author of Melungeons and Other Pioneer Families. He is also a co-founder of the Friends of Hawkins County Archives Project, which is preserving court records dating back to the late 18th century.

“Hypothetical Analogy of the Cradle of the Melungeons”

Gwendolyn Hicks Schroeder Higdon is a graduate of Brigham Young University, B.A. majoring in History. She also holds an Associate Degree and Certification in Genealogy. Gwen has authored and published several genealogical books, some are still available. She is the daughter of the late Gilbert Hicks and Mary Osborne, and is the widow of the late Victor Higdon.

“Tracing Sephardic Roots in Specific Melungeon Families”

Beth Caldwell Hirschman is a native of Kingsport, Tennessee. She was born in Colonial Heights, belonged to the Colonial Heights Presbyterian Church and graduated from Dobyns-Bennett High School. She went to the University of Georgia and Georgia State University for her BA, MBA and PHD degrees. She is now a Professor in the Business School at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and the author of several academic articles, papers and books. After stumbling across Brent Kennedy’s book on Melungeons in the Atlanta airport, she discovered that (1) She and Brent are cousins (2) She is descended from Melungeons on both her mother’s and father’s side. She became obsessed with discovering the truth about her background and has spent the past two and one-half years reading around 200 history and religion books, searching through hundreds of genealogies, and gathering DNA from over 20 persons in her own ancestry. Her book Melungeons: The Last Lost Tribe in America was published by Mercer University Press in 2005.

“Hypothetical Analogy of the Cradle of the Melungeons”

Cheryl Higdon Holloway, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in HPE at Eastern New Mexico University, Portales, New Mexico. She is a graduate of Brigham Young University She received her Doctorate Degree from the University of New Mexico. She is the daughter of the late Victor Higdon and the presenter, Gwendolyn Hicks Higdon. She is married to James Holloway, Ph.D. Superintendent of Portales Public Schools.

“Ruth’s Four Branches”

Mattie Ruth Johnson is the author of My Melungeon Heritage, which chronicles her childhood on Newman’s Ridge in Hancock County, Tennessee. Her ancestors include many Melungeons and she has done extensive research on her family lines. She currently lives in Kingsport, Tennessee and works as a nurse. She is also an artist who works in oils and watercolors, and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Melungeon Heritage Association.She has written many articles on the Melungeons and about her life growing up on Newman’s Ridge back in the forties and fifty’s when times seemed harder, and no one had the availability of modern day things like we have today. She will tell a little about growing up and why and how she came to write My Melungeon Heritage.

“An Appalachian Mystery Story”

Ted Klein began his interest in genealogy in the mid-1990’s, after his retirement in 1988 from the Defense Language Institute English Language Center, where he was a specialist in English language training and education for military students from more than 60 allied and friendly nations. He currently teaches English as-a- second language to immigrants for the Adult Education Department of the Austin Community College in Texas. His mother, the late Alma Sioux Scarberry; novelist, newspaperwoman, public relations specialist, etc. was born in Carter County in eastern Kentucky in 1899. Her family were long-time residents of the southern Appalachian mountains of Kentucky, southwestern Virginia and northern Tennessee. Ted’s quest for more information has included some original research on Melungeons and their connections to French-Huguenot refugees, who also came into the southeastern U.S. many years ahead of the Scot-Irish population and others who later dominated the area. He is descended from or related to nine lines of Melungeon families. Ted is a charter member of the Melungeon Heritage Foundation, is a member of the Melungeon Heritage Association and wrote several articles for the Melungeon journal, “Under One Sky.” He attended the first three Melungeon Unions at the University of Virginia at Wise and presented at two of them. Ted taught an applied phonology course at Dumlupinar University June and July of 2001 in Kütahya in central Anatolia in Turkey, one of the likely Melungeon sources.

“Creating a College-level Course in Melungia”

Kathy Lyday-Lee is the chair of the Department of English at Elon College in North Carolina, where she has taught Appalachian literature, literature of the Holocaust, linguistics, grammar, and history of the language for 22 years. She has a B.A. and M.A. in English from Tennessee Technological University, and Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Tennessee. The topic of both her thesis and dissertation was the mountain literature of Will Allen Dromgoole.

“GRAVEHOUSES: Providing Necroethnic Clues for Cultural Continuity among Mixed Racial Populations in Appalachia Possible Ottoman Admixture Elements”

April Mullins Mela was a licensed Social Worker for more that twenty years before becoming an Anthropologist and focusing on what she describes as Melungeoness research. She studied at Randolph Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia and received Jessie Ball Dupont funding for a summer research project in June 2000.her topic was Exploring Melungeons: Race, and Ethnicity in America. She also produced an interesting social theory paper while at RMWC; its title was Understanding Melungeon Ethnogenesis. She graduated with honors in both Sociology and Anthropology in May 2001 and presented her gravehouse research at the Appalachian Studies Conference in 2002.

“Building Your Family History Through Personal Interviews”

Phyllis Morefield was born in Ironton, Ohio, but as an “army brat” attended school in the U. S. and Europe. She received a BS in Secondary Education from Radford College, where she majored in history and mathematics. While teaching in Arizona, a friend prompted to start her family history, which has led to a 25 year “obsession”. As an amateur genealogist, she enjoys teaching and learning new research methods. Phyllis is a founding board member of the Melungeon Heritage Association and currently serves as treasurer.

“Strangers in the Indian Nations”

James H. Nickens, M.D., is a retired Native American physician and studies Native American genealogies. He has extensively studied the genealogies of colonial Virginia Indians and relates this to the study of Melungeons.

“The Invention of Melungeon Ethnicity and Some Multi Ethnic Potpourri”

Evelyn Orr is a lay researcher who in 1989 traced a Goings ancestor from Iowa to Southwest Virginia. She discovered The Melungeons of Appalachia, and that a major surname among them was Goins. Served as Chair of Arlee Gowen’s Gowen Research Foundation’s newly formed Melungeon Research Team 1990-1997 until dissolved. She had contact with hundreds of folks, and received a large collection of previous published data on the Multi Ethnic Mystery groups of early Southeast America. Was a member of Dr. Brent Kennedy’s Melungeon Research Committee 1992-1997 until dissolved, and served on the Board of Melungeon Heritage Foundation 1998-99.

“Memories of the Vardy School and MIssion”

DruAnna Overbay, an English teacher at Jefferson County High School, is the current secretary of the Vardy Community Historical Society, Inc. She is a graduate of the Vardy Community School where her parents Alyce and Drew Williams taught. Her ancestors were instrumental in establishing the Vardy Mission since they donated land to the Presbyterians for the church and the school. She is a direct descendant of Vardemon Collins, who is recognized as a patriarch of the Newman’s Ridge Melungeons and for whom the valley is named. She is also a graduate from Warren Wilson College, the University of Tennessee and Union. She holds an Ed S. degree. She recently compiled the book Windows on the Past, which was published in 2006 by Mercer University Press.

“Melungeons and the Mixed Race Experience”

A.D. Powell has been a writer for both the websites “Interracial Voice” and “The Multiracial Activist.” An amateur historian, she has studied the history of “mixed race” people in the European diaspora for more than 30 years.

“The Triumph of the One-Drop Rule.”
“Informal Follow-Up: History and Molecular Anthropology of the Color Line.”

Since retiring as electrical engineer and school librarian, respectively, Frank and Mary Lee Sweet have interpreted living history as a hobby / business under the name “Backintyme.” They don period dress, perform 19th century music (banjo, guitar, percussion), and tell anecdotes from Florida’s past at museums, libraries, private functions, and state and national historic sites. Their website is at In support of this activity, Frank has published eleven historical booklets that are currently sold at museum and state park gift shops throughout Florida. Backintyme’s special area of interest is in the origins, and unfolding of North America’s odd “race” notion. Frank earned a Master’s in Civil War Studies from American Military University in Manassas, Virginia in the fall of 2001. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in U.S. history at the University of Florida in Gainesville Florida. His dissertation title is “A Brief History of the One-Drop Rule.”

“Images, Ideologies, and Language: A Scholar Looks at Melungeons’ Use of 21st Century Technologies”

Katie Vande Brake is Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences and Professor of English & Technical Communication at King College in Bristol, Tennessee. Her presentation at Sixth Union is drawn from her doctoral dissertation (Michigan Technological University, 2005) titled “Through the Back Door: Melungeon Literacies and 21st Century Technologies.” Vande Brake is the author of How They Shine: Melungeon Characters in the Fiction of Appalachia, originally published in 2001 and recently issued in paperback. Vande Brake lives in Bristol, Tennessee, and Harbert, Michigan.

“Memories of the Vardy School and Mission”

Williams is an alumni of the Vardy School. He and his family moved to Maryland, where he attended high school and college. He is retired from the State of Maryland.

“On Studying ‘Melungeon’ in Academia – A Decade of Progress”

The 2006 Helen Lewis Lecturer, Darlene Wilson is a nationally recognized historian of Appalachia, race and women. She is the founder of APPALNET, a listserv for the Appalachian studies community, and a founding member of MHA. She has also served as Director of Institutional Advancement and Effectiveness, as well as having been a faculty member for Southeast Community College in Cumberland, KY. A respected author, Wilson’s writing has appeared in numerous books and journals including theJournal of Appalachian Studies.

“Melungeons 101”

Wayne Winkler is the director of public radio station WETS-FM in Johnson City, Tennessee, and is the son of a Melungeon father from Hancock County, Tennessee. Winkler produced a nationally distributed radio documentary in 1999 entitled The Melungeons: Sons and Daughters of the Legend. This documentary won a Silver Reel Award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Winkler continued his research, resulting in the book Walking Toward the Sunset: The Melungeon of Appalachia, published by Mercer University Press in Spring 2004. Winkler holds a master’s degree in history from East Tennessee State University and is currently the vice-president of the Melungeon Heritage Association.

“The Moors Revisited, A Contemporary Look At Forgotten Folk”

A descendent of the Delaware Moors—a Tri-Racial Isolate community centered around the towns of Cheswold and Millsboro, Delaware, and loosely comparable to the Melungeons. Artist and professor Kaersten Colvin-Woodruff has been teaching Sculpture and Three-Dimensional Design at Clarion University of Pennsylvania since 1994. She graduated with a Master of Fine Art in sculpture from Arizona State University in 1994. In 1991 she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from The State University of New York at Purchase. Professor Colvin-Woodruff has exhibited her artwork throughout the United States and South America. She creates mixed media sculptures that reflect an interest in the social factors that have shaped and determined race and identity in Early American culture. In engaging this theme she draws upon her own personal and ancestral history.

Brent Kennedy presentation, 2004

Published by:

Ties That Bind

by Brent Kennedy
Presented at Fifth Union
Kingsport, Tennessee
Friday, 18 June 2004

First and foremost, I’d like to dedicate my remarks today to my late Mother, Nancy Hopkins Kennedy, who left this World August 9th, 2002. Like most all mothers she was a truly special lady and we miss her, a whole, whole, lot.

That being said, how many of you have heard me tell the story of my experience some years back with the children at Lincoln Elementary School here in Kingsport? With apologies to those who have heard it before, I’m going to re-tell it today. I’m repeating it for a reason: this little story sums up, at least for me, what the Melungeon odyssey is all about.

It was in 1997, I believe, that I was invited to speak to the combined fourth and fifth grade classes at Lincoln Elementary School. The teachers and students had assembled in the auditorium and I presented the story of the Melungeons, and how my own family fit into the legacy of these so-called “mystery people” of the central Appalachians. I laid out my general beliefs about the Melungeons – beliefs that remain for the most part pretty much the same today as they were then.

Although I simplified it for the children, here, in slightly more adult language, is what I told them.

First, “Melungeon” was, and is, a culture – not a race. However, certain ethnic traits – such as darker skin – undoubtedly helped one along the road to being labeled a “Melungeon.” You could be a Melungeon and have Scots-Irish or English or German heritage just as legitimately as you could have Native American or African or Spanish or Turkish or Portuguese or what have you. Melungeons were not – and never were – simply “this” or “that.”


Second, the Melungeons were a broad based, mixed population with a strong Native American component – and shared common surnames – that moved eastward from the coastal areas. Over time they split off into separate communities, intermarried with other pioneers and developed their own unique histories and ethnic designations.

Third, those groups identifiable today as Melungeons are merely the tip of the iceberg. “Out migration” (that is, leaving home and moving somewhere else) has taken the genes of these earliest pioneers far beyond the Appalachian Mountain range. Melungeon descendants today are to be found throughout this Nation, from its heartland to the mid-west to the Pacific coast. Melungeons, and their kin, helped define who Americans are as a people, even if the vast majority of those who are descended from them have no inkling of their existence.

Fourth, I got into the basics of ethnic characteristics, or what we perceive as ethnic characteristics. I spoke about genetics and physical traits and how science – and our own eyes – could tell us much about who we are and from whence we came. I spoke about visible ethnic traits that we could all see by simply standing in front of a mirror, and I spoke about how these traits could tie us to so-called, “other” people. And how, if provided the information, that almost all of us could quickly discern that “purity of race” is an imaginary and flawed concept.

We talked about epicanthal eyefolds, Asian shovel teeth, and an enhanced external occipital protuberance that provides visible evidence of Asian and central Asian heritage. And how these traits could come from a Native American ancestor, or a Chinese grandmother, or a Turk, or even an Ashkenazi Jew, but all evidence of an Asian ancestry somewhere in our past. And, finally, I spoke of how whites, blacks, Native Americans – and Melungeons – often shared these traits – evidence of an admixture at a level ignored – and even denied – when I was a school boy back in the 1950s and 60s. And I could see these children en masse rubbing the backs of their heads and staring into each other’s eyes with seeming amazement.

And then, I wrapped up my presentation, with a hundred little hands applauding. And, to be honest, unsure of what impact, if any, I’d had.

At that point, the lead teacher asked the children if there were any questions – and there were a few. As I answered their questions, I noticed that far in the back of the auditorium three children kept talking amongst themselves. Finally, one of the teachers walked over, leaned down and spoke quietly to them, reprimanding them for their behavior, I assumed. And then, all of a sudden, these three children – a little “white” boy, a little “black” girl, and a little Korean girl – came bouncing down the aisle of the auditorium, as only children can do, holding hands and smiling from ear to ear.

“These children have something they’d like to announce, Dr. Kennedy,” the teacher said.

And in a moment I will never, ever forget, three little voices proclaimed in unison:

”We’re cousins! We’re cousins!”

Each child – white, black, Korean – had discovered his or her epicanthal folds, enhanced occipital protuberances, and shovel teeth.

Up until that day, these children saw themselves as members of three separate, unrelated “races.” And now, with just a little information, they saw – and delighted in – their newfound kinship.

These children understood the underlying beauty of the Melungeon story. Understood what many adults continue to struggle with; that being, that we ARE all kin. Not just figuratively, but literally. And that if we go back far enough in time – and sometimes it’s a lot less further back than we might imagine – that we stem from the same source. And that’s the real lesson here: that we should be teaching our children to accept and respect others because there really truly are no major differences. Skin color and hair texture and geography of birth are rather insignificant matters when placed against the total backdrop of what it means to be human.

Prejudice continues to be nothing more than self-mutilation.

“We’re cousins!” “We’re cousins!” will be with me for the rest of my life.

As you may have already noticed, my presentation today is different from the usual re-tracing of what we know about the Meungeons and their history. There are enough qualified speakers and enough articles and enough books outlining the theories of how these marvelous people came to be, and I don’t need to repeat it. Suffice it to say that I believe the Melungeons were a multi-cultural, mixed-race/mixed-ethnic population from day one. I believe that Native American, northern European, Mediterranean, African, East Asian and dozens of nationalities come into play, varying to some degree upon each family’s unique history of admixture. Given the historical documents that continue to emerge, there’s no doubt in my mind that England, Spain, Portugal and France, among other nations, were all sending their unwanted human cargo to settle the New World. The first choice for settlers was always someone else’s sons and daughters, with the lower classes and the ethnically and religiously undesirable generally being the first to go. We kid ourselves when we argue otherwise.

All to say, lots and lots of ethnically non-northern Europeans came to these shores and did their best to blend in with the ethnic power structures that were in place. And, for the most part, they succeeded, though in some places the unwanted and the unaccepted became isolated and continued to be just that: unwanted and unaccepted. Social stigmas became attached to thousands of families and those stigmas held fast, in many cases long after the families had, in Darlene Wilson’s words, both legally and physically “whitened up.”

My own family is a prime example. The faces of my relatives – my Mom, my brother, aunts and uncles – belie the official paper trail. In spite of a plethora of northern European surnames, my family, particularly on my Mother’s side, LOOKED Middle Eastern, Native American and African. I was probably less than ten years old when I first began taking note of the inconsistencies. But it all came together on a Saturday afternoon in the fall of 1962 as I sat in the darkened confines of the Coaltown Theatre in Norton, Virginia and watched what was to become a classic film: “Lawrence of Arabia.” The faces of the Arabs and the Berbers and the Turks were NOT exotic to me: they were the faces of my family and it was stunning. I hitch-hiked back to Wise with my now deceased friend and next door neighbor, “Little” Bill Davis, and asked my Mom…why? She had no answers, other than to recount the remembered prejudice that her family – and she personally – had known over the years.

In the forty two years that have passed since that afternoon, I’ve learned a great deal about my “Scots-Irish” family. Yes, we have northern European heritage. And yes, fair skin and blond hair and blue eyes can be found amongst our kin. We’re all speaking English today for a reason: lots of northern Europeans DID come to these shores, and I’m proud of every drop of Celtic blood that runs through my veins. It’s a part of who I am. But the emphasis is on the word, “part.” There are other parts of me, as well. Afterall, if we go back in time just ten generations, each of us has 1024 ancestors. Think about that: 1024 ancestors just ten generations back. How can anyone speak of their racial or ethnic purity? And yet, we do. If I go back even one more generation – i.e., eleven generations – I double the above number of ancestors to 2024. Get my point?

But be that as it may, there is still a lesson to be learned from digging into one’s past, both genealogically and genetically. We need to know from where we came in order to know where we’re going. And, a bit more selfishly, I subscribe to the truism that “that person who fails to remember his or her ancestors, is not likely to be remembered by his or her descendants.” What goes around comes around, as they say. And in my particular case, the search for origins has confirmed in an undeniable, physical way the theoretical lesson presented earlier. DNA, while subject to misuse as is any technology, properly applied can offer marvelous insight into what it means to be human.

For example, with an acceptable level of confidence, I now know via privately obtained DNA sequencing that I have Native American ancestry through three of my four grandparents. The family oral traditions through these three grandparents, unprovable through the official written records, turn out to have a probable basis in fact. I’ve also swabbed the cheeks of about thirty relatives representing a variety of my family lineages. With the result, that I now have mtDNA (maternal) and Y-chromosome (paternal) sequences that place at least some of my direct ancestors in:

Northern Europe (England, Ireland, Scotland)
Extreme Northern Europe (Vikings, as well as the so-called Saami)
Central Europe (Germany, Austria, the Netherlands),
Eastern Europe (the Balkans, Poland, Hungary, Russia)
The Mediterranean (Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Greece and the Aegean, North Africa)
East Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia)
India and Pakistan,
Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.

One mtDNA sequence finds its matches clustered almost exclusively among eastern European (i.e., Ashkenazi) Jews, Lebanese Druze, and Palestinians. Two other mtDNA sequences are classic Native American: haplogroups A and B.

All of which screams to me that, when all is said and done, from an ethnic standpoint, no one really knows who he or she is – other than the fact that we are human beings, comprised of all those who came before us, creations of God, children of Abraham.

So…maybe there’s a reason this “Scots-Irish, Redneck, Appalachian hillbilly can walk through his family graveyards – here in central Appalachia – and see Stars of David on the tombstones of his “German” ancestors. And maybe there’s a reason his brother is constantly “profiled” in today’s world as an Iranian or an Arab. And maybe there’s a reason his Mother looked as if she walked out of the Sahara, while his Father could have played bagpipes in Glasgow, Scotland and never drawn a second glance (other than the fact that his Father had no musical ability whatsoever).

In short, we are bits and pieces of the entire world, with each of us expressing our own “luck of the genetic draw” version of those bits and pieces. We are ALL walking, talking advertisements for the United Nations, even if we don’t know it. We are ONE big human family splintered apart by migrations and time, politics and religion. The mantra of the Melungeon Heritage Association, created by Lisa Savage some years ago, remains as apropos today as it was then: “We Are One People, All Colors.”

So, where to from here?

First, kinship is the key to understanding the Melungeons and their wider history, and by ignoring this kinship we strip these marvelous people of the true impact they’ve had on American culture and history. They were not insignificant. Their lives mattered, or should have – not just to their immediate families, but to this Nation, because they contributed mightily to it. They were more than just a few isolated people on a mountaintop here or there. But accepting their geographic dispersion is a different task than defining them. And, yet, attempting to define them has also proved a necessary, though still, inconclusive undertaking.

For me, the struggle to define “Melungeon” opened a much broader door. I learned that trying to “pin down” or identify a specific or limited ethnic origin for the Melungeons was impossible – because, frankly, none existed. Melungeons have always been a mix of humanity, just like every other human being. One cannot separate the layers of heritage as if unweaving a basket. This beautiful synthesis – the whole being greater than the parts – is what makes us who we are, Melungeon or otherwise. Which means, to some degree, virtually ALL origin theories are correct, with each family bringing its own unique history of admixture to the table. In fact, the only incorrect theories are, in my opinion, those that insist upon one and only one ethnicity that somehow magically “defines” Melungeon.

That’s the conclusion I reached in 1992, wrote about in 1993, and saw published in my book in 1994. I haven’t changed my view on this. For the sake of nostalgia, and for those who may be unfamiliar with my book, here are a few quotes from a decade ago:

From pages 166-169:

Quote #1
“Tracking the movements of Melungeon families is not easy, even for us Melungeons. Since we moved from region to region, and intermarried with so many diverse cultures, it becomes unmistakably clear that while we are still in many ways different from other Southerners, neither are we any longer exactly like the first Melungeons. Time and population movements change who we are. Ethnicity is a dynamic, ever changing concept – to “define” and pin it down with any certainty may be asking the impossible. It is quite slippery, changing in nature and form with each succeeding generation. And in all honesty, the history of the Melungeons is a strong argument for not attempting to define it at all.”

Quote #2
“We truly are, at least today, a mélange of many peoples, and that is our great strength. We are living proof that people of all colors and races can live together in peace and harmony, and that the resultant blend can be far superior to the individual parts. And we are further proof that ALL human beings harbor a racial diversity, known or unknown, that truly ties them to all other human beings. It is an indisputable point. We are all the same.”

Quote #3
“Physically, they remain as they were from the beginning: a diverse group reflecting a mixed ethnic, cultural, and religious heritage. Depending upon the individual, one will see the Jew or the Arab, the Berber or the Spaniard, the African or the Turk, the Moor or the Powhatan or Cherokee Indian, the Scotsman or the German, or occasionally bits and pieces of all these people beautifully blended into one human being. A mosaic of humanity…”

Quote #4
“Whatever the future may hold, regardless of what “truths” may yet be discovered, or what errors in my own work or judgment may later be revealed, I proudly affirm here, and hope that all those with a single drop of Melungeon blood will equally admit, that I am indeed a Melungeon. A Melange, if you will. A mixture of many peoples, and a stronger human being because of it. A child of God, and a brother to all men and women regardless of their creed or color.”

I don’t think I could have made any clearer my early sentiments regarding the ethnic and cultural diversity of our people. And, again for the record, those sentiments haven’t changed. On the contrary, they’ve grown stronger.

I am steadfast in my belief in the broader heritage of Melungeons, but the door has always been open for new research findings and new evidence. This is the way it has to be in the search for truth. I’m also open to criticism and, as many of you know, have certainly had my fair share of it. But that’s okay: it comes with the territory. In the late 1980s and early 90s, not nearly as many people were interested in the Melungeons, and my greatest fear was that too few people would care enough to delve into this intriguing story, and understand the deeper impact it could have on the broader issue of racial and ethnic understanding. I don’t think we have to worry about a lack of interest any longer – and I’ll take all the criticism in the world, seven days a week, in exchange for what we’ve accomplished.

And when I say “we” – let me mention the names of a just a few researchers and spokespeople, Melungeons all, who were standing tall and proud long before I made my way onto the scene. They gave me the incentive and confidence to move forward, and we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude. I apologize in advance for others that I’ve left out, but these directly influenced me. In alphabetical order:

Sharon Bolling
Claude Collins
Scott Collins
Seven Gibson
Jack Goins
Ruth Johnson
R.C. Mullins
Huie Mullins
Willie Mullins
DruAnna Overbay

These folks, and many of their kin, embraced their heritage and were, to trade on a well worn phrase, Melungeon when Melungeon wasn’t cool. Thankfully today, what were once just a few brave souls is now an army. And that army continues to grow, witness those of you here this weekend.

In closing, I thank God every day for letting me be born, and live, and work in this great Nation. As imperfect as our Country has been, and as imperfect as it remains, it is still a Paradise among nations. The mere fact that we can meet here this weekend, and openly discuss its imperfections, is testimony to its greatness. I am proud to be an American and I do not want this sentiment lost in the shuffle of reviewing past injustices.

Here’s to justice and kindness, brotherhood and sisterhood, and to the undeniable fact that:

“We’re cousins! We’re cousins!”

Thank you.

Mattie Ruth Johnson, 2004 presentation

Published by:

ohnson: 6/17/04

Life on Newman’s Ridge

by Mattie Ruth Johnson

Presented at Fifth Union
Kingsport, Tennessee
Thursday, 17 June 2004


Newman’s Ridge

I learned later in life that growing up on Newman’s Ridge was more beautiful that I had imagined as a child. Its beauty, the colorful seasons that came and went. The view, to be able to look our far, far away and see the sunrise and sunset in all their glory. To reach out and feel the moisture of clouds hanging so low.

You could see storms and cyclones long before they came near. If they came our way, and they were severe, you took shelter in the dairy. Dairies are built mostly under the side of a small hill with only the front exposed. This was a safe place to be if the storms were pretty severe.

Sometimes the snows would be so deep we had to dig trenches to the barn and spring. The  animals had to be fed morning and night, and we had to have fresh water daily. During those bad days of winter, schools were out and people stayed in their homes and enjoyed playing their musical instruments. Cooking over the fireplace was fun. We popped popcorn and baked potatoes in the ashes, which certainly gave them a better taste than baking them in the oven.


Mattie Ruth Johnson’s family

As we sat around the living room near the fireplace, we told stories, played games, and had Bible readings. There was always plenty of wood for the kitchen stove and fireplace. Sometimes you could buy coal to burn.

Icicles would form off the roof and sometimes be all the way to the floor of the porch. I remember some being a foot wide, and we children enjoyed breaking them, sometimes eating the smaller icicles. If the snow got too heavy on top of the house, Dad had big long poles for him and my brothers to rake it off. We had a tin roof so snow came off pretty easy.

These were fun days, especially when we could make snow cream, and sometimes play in the snow. If you wore a hole in your shoes you only had a piece of cardboard to put in your shoe until Dad had time to put a new sole on it. Our shoes were the heavy brogan shoes. I remember when we came in with wet shoes Mom would put some in the oven and the rest she turned sideways in front of the fireplace to dry out. This dried them, but the next morning your shoes would be hard as a rock. You had your church clothes and school clothes. Church and school clothes were not worn to work or play in.

During the freezing times Mom had special bricks she heated, wrapped in towels, and placed at our feet when we went to bed. If you had warm feet the rest of your body seemed to stay warm. The fireplace and kitchen stove had to warm the whole house and sometimes the bedrooms would be very cold.

In February we burned tobacco beds to plant our seeds in. This kept grass and weeks out. After planting these seed beds a long mesh cloth covered them to protect them from birds and other animals. By April and May (which was planting time) we had plenty of large plants to set out. You saved some good seeds from year to year. To have a good crop of potatoes, they needed to be in the ground by Good Friday. Then came plowing the fields for planting. The ground had already been turned in the fall, and was now ready to be disked and plowed. A drag was used to break up clods of dirt and made your rows good and soft. We grew all kinds of stuff, and in large quantity. We shared in planting, hoeing, and strewing fertilizer. All plants had to be kept weed-free. We also had a large garden near the house.


Mattie Ruth

After many weeks of working the fields and garden they were “laid by.” This was music to our ears, for this meant you did not have to work them any more. By May we children were ready to go barefooted and could hardly wait to get out of those shoes. Of course we were not allowed to go places without shoes.

Back in those days seasons were mostly true to their name. Winter was winter and very cold. You had spring and everything budded out during April and May. A little cold snap (as they would say) did not kill off all your plants and it did not snow in May and kill blossoms on the fruit trees and vines as far as I can remember – not like today where it gets warm early, causing things to bloom, then freezes and kills the blooms. Happens to me every year. In summer we enjoyed all the different fruits of the trees and vines. You could make your jellies and jams galore.

When harvest time came you canned or dries foods for safekeeping, enough to last until the next season. People lived off the land. We did not have grocery stores to buy fruits and vegetables like today; even if they did, people did not have enough money to buy for large families.

Young adults and children of today have no idea of all the labors of living off the land, for as it turned out, with all the brilliant minds everything was invented and modernized to make life easier for us all. Even with all our moderation we easily take things for granted, for people of these generations have had no exposure to working and living without electrical help. Most things we have today people had back in earlier days, but those things were run by hand. On Newman’s Ridge, we did not have refrigeration until 1949, and then things started to change, replacing what you had with electrical items.

Before electricity, we had to take our clothes near the spring, heat the water and scrub them on a wash board, hang them on lines, and then iron them with an old cast iron which had to be heated on the wood-burning kitchen stove. These were important items to have. People walked up and down the Ridge, for only a couple of men around had vehicles, and my Dad was one of them. There were certain days he went to town and people knew those days and he would pick up anyone who was walking. You either walked or rode a horse, sled, or wagon. Most people walking threw a short pole across their shoulder with a tote bag or sack to put what they bought in to carry back. The stick also served as a walking stick like a cane. People never minded walking up and down those ridges.

We weren’t very familiar with deaths, and never dreamed of a death in our immediate family. Suddenly our mother died and everyone was so heartbroken. Our family and friends were so close, but our lives were shattered and would never be the same. We loved and appreciated each other for we were taught this, but even stronger after her death. This took a toll on all of us. We learned to appreciate life and what we had more. Where she walked and lived became sacred to us all.

My father sold the farm and we moved to Kingsport, Tennessee, where we started a new life much different than what we had been accustomed to. In time each of us would have moved away for jobs anyway. My brothers and sisters got jobs, married, had children, and Dad remarried. I left home and moved with the Echerd family to New Jersey. I enjoyed all kinds of Broadway plays and visited lots of sites there while doing some assistant teaching in schools. After about three years we moved back to Kingsport and I started my nursing career. While living in New Jersey so far away I really missed my family and where I grew up, and I knew by then that my nieces and nephews, all living in big homes with paved streets, had no idea about how life was for us only a few years ago. I wanted to write a story about the way things were so I started making notes about everything I could think of, from a sprig of grass to swinging on a grapevine. I put all my notes in a shoe box starting 1960.

I knew the children would not understand all the things we did, like sweeping the yard ands having buckets of water hanging on the porch with a dipper. “What is a dipper,” one niece asked me. “Why do you sweep the yard?” I realized their view and mine were completely different for they thought there was a yard of grass, and how on earth can you sweep that, and why?

When I started writing my story I separated all my notes starting as early as I could remember – what happened when you lived here or there? I put them into five to ten year time period frames – what went on here or there. Suddenly I had too much for a short story. I had also done some research on our families and I knew we were kin to the Melungeons. I found out the people being written about were my relatives and owned a lot of the land all around us, including where we lived at one time. I found out we were right in the middle of a Melungeon colony. I knew by this time up to my fourth generation grandfathers were part of the Melungeon and were owners of a lot of this land. As a child I was told we were kin to the Melungeons.

I started spreading the word for I was so proud of this. Many a time in the beginning I was put down, but endured for I knew these people and most were good-hearted Christian people that would give you the shirt off their backs, or see to it you had food if you did not. That made me want to write about them more.

As I wrote and rewrote to get my stories straight and in order, a friend of mine, Joanne, and English expert, advised me, but I mostly wanted to use old English which was mostly the way people talked back them.


Mattie Ruth Johnson and My Melungeon Heritage

People started saying, “Why don’t you write a book?” I thought, “Book? I don’t know anything about writing a book” until one day a doctor friend of mine said to me, “Aw, you can’t write no book.” Then and there I thought to myself, “If it’s the last thing I do, I’ll show you” and so I did. You don’t need to count your letters and lines like I started out doing. Today the printers have your book edited and the lines don’t always come out like you have them, close, but even better. They keep your pictures and chapters together and do a layout that all fits in. They want to make sure your book is understood by the reader. I have a lifetime of stories yet to tell. I’m collecting notes now for number two book.

You can take everything you write about and make it readable and into a story. For instance, a chicken: they sing, look after and protect their babies, scratch around, holler and cry when their chicken coop is broken into by a fox, snake or other animal. They sneak off and hide their eggs until they hatch babies, hide under bushed when a hawk flies over. They will wait longer than you can to go back to their nest so you won’t find them. The rooster crows to tell you it’s time to get up. There is more to a chicken than just chicken.

Getting a lot of these stories in a book about a way of life that is no more really fulfilled more than the dream I had. I’m no expert. People keep asking me what happened to the little children and the rest of the family. Hopefully someday the rest of the story will emerge.