Category Archives: Resources for Research

1942 Correspondence between Walter Plecker and Tennessee State Archivist

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1942 Plecker Letters

Correspondence: Plecker and Tennessee State Librarian

Walter A. Plecker

Walter Ashby Plecker was he head of Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics from 1912 to 1946. He believed “there is a danger of the ultimate disappearance of the white race in Virginia, and the country, and the substitution therefor of another brown skin, as has occurred in every other country where the two races have lived together.” Plecker believed this “mongrelization,” resulted in the downfall of several earlier civilizations. He used the 1924 Racial Integrity Act to classify Virginia Indians and mixed-race individuals as “colored,” and therefore denied basic civil rights under Virginia’s system of segregation.

In August of 1942, Plecker sought help from Tennessee authorities in establishing the ethnic origins of the Melungeons, many of whom lived in Virginia. In a letter dated 5 August 1942, Plecker queried the Secretary of State in Nashville in an attempt to further research the murky origins of the Melungeons.

Correspondence located by S.J. Arthur in Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville.

Dear Sir:

Our bureau is the only one in any state making an intensive study of the population of its citizens by race.

We have in some of the counties of southwestern Virginia a number of so-called Melungeons who came into that section from Newman’s Ridge, Hancock County, Tennessee, and who are classified by us as of negro origin though they make various claims, such as Portuguese, Indians, etc.

The law of Virginia says that any one with any ascertainable degree of negro is to be classified as colored and we are endeavoring to so classify those who apply for birth, death and marriage registrations.

We have a list of the free negroes, by counties, of the 1830 U. S. Census in which we find the racial origin of most of these Melungeons classified as mulattoes. In that period, 1830, we do not find the name of Hancock County, but presume that it was made up from portions of other counties, possibly Grainger and Hawkins, where we find considerable numbers of these Melungeon families listed.
Will you please advise us as to that point and particularly which of these original counties Newman’s Ridge was in.

Thanking you in advance and with kindest regards, I am

Very truly yours,
W. A. Plecker, M.D.
State Registrar

Tennessee’s State Librarian and Archivist replied to Plecker on 12 August 1942.

My dear Sir:

The Secretary of State has sent your letter to my desk. You have asked us a hard question.

The origin of the Melungeons has been a disputed question in Tennessee ever since we can remember.

Hancock County was established by an Act of the General Assembly passed January 7th, 1844 and was formed from parts of Claiborne and Hawkins counties.

Newman’s Ridge, which runs through Hancock county north of Sneedville, is parallel with Clinch River and just south of Powell Mountain. The only map on which we find it located is edited by H. C. Amick and S. J. Folmsbee of the University of Tennessee in 1941 published by Denoyer-Geppert Co., 5235 Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, listed as [TN 7S]* TENNESSEE. On this map is shown Newman’s Ridge as I have sketched it on this little scrap of paper, inclosed. But we do not have the early surveys showing which county it as originally in. It appears that it may have been in Claiborne according to the Morris Gazetteer of Tennessee 1834 which includes this statement: “Newman’s Ridge, one of the spurs of Cumberland Mountain, in East Tennessee, lying in the north east angle of Claiborne County, west of Clinch River, and east of Powell’s Mountain. It took its name from a Mr. Newman who discovered it in 1761.”

Early historians of East Tennessee who lived in that section and knew the older members of this race refer to Newman’s Ridge as “quite a high mountain, extending through the entire length of Hancock County, and into Claiborne County on the west. It is between Powell Mountain on the north and Clinch River on the south.” Capt. L. M. Jarvis, an old citizen of Sneedville wrote in his 82nd year: “I have lived here at the base of Newman’s Ridge, Blackwater, being on the opposite side, for the last 71 years and well know the history of these people on Newman’s Ridge and Blackwater enquired about as Melungeons. These people were friendly to the Cherokees who came west with the white immigration from New River and Cumberland, Virginia, about the year 1790 … The name Melungeon was given them on account of their color. I have seen the oldest and first settlers of this tribe who first occupied Newman’s Ridge and Blackwater and I have owned much of the lands on which they settled.. They obtained their land grants from North Carolina. I personally knew Vardy Collins, Solomon D. Collins, Shepard Gibson, Paul Bunch and Benjamin Bunch and many of the Goodmans, Moores, Williams and Sullivans, all of the very first settlers and noted men of these friendly Indians. They took their names from white people of that name with whom they came here. They were reliable, truthful and faithful to anything they promised. In the Civil War most of the Melungeons went into the Union army and made good soldiers. Their Indian blood has about run out. They are growing white… They have been misrepresented by many writers. In former writings I have given their stations and stops on their way as they emigrated to this country with white people, one of which places was at the mouth of Stony Creek on Clinch river in Scott County, Virginia, where they built fort and called it Ft. Blackamore [sic]after Col. Blackamore who was with them … When Daniel Boone was here hunting 1763-1767, these Melungeons were not here.”

The late Judge Lewis Shepherd, prominent jurist of Chattanooga, went further in his statements in his “Personal Memoirs”, and contended that this mysterious racial group descended from the Phoenicians of Ancient Carthage. This was his judgment after investigations he made in trying a case featuring the complaint that they were of mixed negro blood, which attempt failed, and which brought out the facts that many of their ancestors had settled early in South Carolina when they migrated from Portugal to America about the time of the Revolutionary war, and later moved into Tennessee. At the time of this trial covered by Judge Shepherd “charges that Negro blood contaminated the Melungeons and barred their intermarriage with Caucasians created much indignation among families of Phoenician descent in this section.

But I imagine if the United States Census listed them as mulattoes their listing will remain. But it is a terrible claim to place on people if they do not have negro blood. I often have wondered just how deeply the census takers went into an intelligent study of it at that early period.
I have gone into some detail in this reply to explain the mooted question and why it is not possible for me to give you a definite answer. I hope this may assist you to some extent.

Sincerely,
Mrs. John Trotwood Moore
State Librarian and Archivist

Plecker replied on 20 August 1942:

Dear Mrs. Moore:

We thank you very much for your informative letter of August 12 in reply to our inquiry, addressed to the Secretary of State, as to the original counties from which Hancock County, Tennessee, was formed.

We are particularly interested in tracing back, as far as possible, to their ultimate origin the melungeons [sic]of the Newmans Ridge section, especially as enumerated in the free negro list by counties of the states in the U. S. 1830 census. This group appears to be in many respects of the same type as a number of groups in Virginia, some of which are known as “free issues,” or descendants of slaves freed by their masters before the War Between the States. In one case in particular which we have traced back to its origin, and which we believe to be typical of the others, a slave woman was freed with her two mulatto sons and colonized in Amherst County in connection with a group of similar freed negroes. These sons were presumably the children of the woman’s owner, and this seemed to be the most satisfactory way of disposing of them. One of those sons became the head of one of the larger families of that group. All of these groups have the same desire, which Captain L. M. Jarvis says the melungeons have, to become friends of Indians and to be classed as Indians. He referred to the effort which the melungeon group made to be accepted by the Cherokees, apparently without great success. It is interesting also to know the opinion expressed by Captain Jarvis that these freed negroes migrated into that section with the white people. That is perfectly natural as they have always endeavored to tie themselves up as closely as possible either with the whites or Indians and are striving to break away from the true negro type.

We have a book, compiled by Carter G. Woodson, a negro, entitled “Free Negro Heads of Families in the United States in 1830,” listing all of the free negroes of the 1830 census by counties. Of the names that Captain Jarvis gave, we find included in that list in Hawkins County, Solomon Collins, Vardy Collins, and Sherod (probably Shepard) Gibson. We find also Zachariah Minor, probably the head of the family in which we are especially interested at this time. We find also the names of James Moore (two families by this name) and Jordan and Edmund Goodman. In the list for Grainger County we find at least twelve Collins and Collens heads of families. This shows that they were evidently considered locally as free negroes by the enumerators of the 1830 census.

One of the most interesting parts of your letter is that relating to the opinion of the Judge in his “Personal Memoirs,” seemed to have accepted as satisfactory certain evidence which was presented to him that these people are of Phoenician descent from ancient Carthage, which was totally destroyed by Rome. We have in Virginia white people, descendants of Pocahontas, who married John Rolfe about 1616. About twelve generations have passed since then, and we figured out that there was about 1/4000th of 1% of Pocahontas blood now in their veins, though they seem to be quite proud of that. If you go back to the destruction of Carthage in 146 B. C., or to the destruction of Tyre by Pompey in 64 B. C., when all characteristic features of national life became extinct and with it racial identity, you will see that the fraction of 1% of Phoenician blood would reach astronomical proportions and be totally lost in the various mixtures of North Africans, with which the Carthaginians afterwards mixed. The Judge also speaks of the inclusion of Portuguese blood with this imaginary Phoenician blood. It is a historical fact, well known to those who have investigated, that at one time there were many African slaves in Portugal. Today there are no true negroes there but their blood shows in the color and racial characteristics of a large part of the Portuguese population of the present day. That mixture, even if it could be shown, would be far from constituting these people white. We are very much afraid that the Judge followed the same course pursued by one of our Virginia judges in hearing a similar case, when he accepted the hearsay evidence of people who testified that they had always understood that the claimants were of Indian origin, regardless of the documentary evidence reaching back in some cases to or near to the Revolutionary War, showing them to be descendants of freed negroes.

We will require other evidence than that of Captain Jarvis and His Honor before classifying members of the group who are now causing trouble in Virginia by their claims of Indian descent, with the privilege of inter-marrying into the white race, permissible when a person can show his racial composition to be one-sixteenth or less Indian, the remainder white with no negro intermixture. We have found after very laborious and painstaking study of records of various sorts that none of our Virginia people now claiming to be Indian are free from negro admixture, and they are, therefore, according to our law classified as colored. In that class we include the melungeons of Tennessee.

We again thank you for your care in passing on this information and would be delighted if you ever visit in Virginia and in Richmond if you will come into our office. Miss Kelley and I would be greatly pleased to talk with you on this and kindred subjects and to show you the work which Miss Kelley is doing in properly classifying the population of Virginia by racial origin. She is doing work which, so far as I know, has never before been attempted.

Very sincerely yours,
W. A. Plecker, M.D.
State Registrar

1943 Walter Plecker letter about “Mongrel Virginian” family names

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1943 Plecker List

Letter Distributed to County Officials Listing Mixed-Race Surnames

NOTE:

The head of Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics from 1912 to 1946, Walter Ashby Plecker, believed “there is a danger of the ultimate disappearance of the white race in Virginia, and the country, and the substitution therefore of another brown skin, as has occurred in every other country where the two races have lived together.” This “mongrelization,” in Plecker’s view, caused of the downfall of several earlier civilizations. He was determined to prevent this in America, or at least in Virginia.

While no modern anthropologist has been able to establish the existence of a “pure” Caucasian, the official position of the Commonwealth of Virginia was that its citizens, or at least those that mattered, were exactly that. For those of mixed racial heritage, as Helen Rountree writes, “It was now very difficult to be ‘white’ in Virginia and very easy to be ‘colored.’” Many of Virginia’s Indians had long been thought to have, in Thomas Jefferson’s words, “more negro than Indian blood in them.” By the 1920s, whites in Virginia assumed that nearly all Indians in the state had at least some degree of African ancestry. In the interest of racial purity, to prevent these mixed-race people from mixing with “pure” whites, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 categorized all non-whites as “colored.

In January of 1943, Plecker sent a circular to all public health and county officials in Virginia, listing, county by county, the surnames of all families suspected of having African ancestry. The cover letter stated that they were “mongrels” and were now trying to register as white. The names listed in the southwestern Virginia counties included Collins, Gibson, Moore, Goins, Bunch, Freeman, Bolin, Mullins, as well as other local area surnames.


Commonwealth of Virginia
Department of Health
Bureau of Vital Statistics
Richmond

January 1943

Local Registrars, Physicians, Health
Officers, Nurses, School Superintendents
and Clerks of the Courts

Dear Co-workers:

Our December 1942 letter to local registrars, also mailed to the clerks, set forth the determined effort to escape from the negro race of groups of “free issues,” or descendants of the “free mulattoes” of early days, so listed prior to 1865 in the United States census and various types of State records, as distinguished from slave negroes.

Now that these people are playing up the advantages gained by being permitted to give “Indian” as the race of the child’s parents on birth certificates, we see the great mistake made in not stopping earlier the organized propagation of this racial falsehood. They have been using the advantage thus gained as an aid to intermarriage into the white race and to attend white schoools, and now for some time, they have been refusing to register with war draft boards as negroes, as required by the boards which are faithfully performing their duties. Three of these negroes from Caroline County were sentenced to prison on January 12 in the United States Court at Richmond for refusing to obey the draft law unless permitted to classify themselves as “Indians.”


Some of these mongrels, finding that they have been able to sneak in their birth certificates unchallenged as Inidans are now making a rush to register as white. Upon investigation we find that a few local registrars have been permitting such certificates to pass through their hands unquestioned and without warning our office of the fraud. Those attempting this fraud should be warned that they are liable to a penalty of one year in the penitentiary (Section 5099 of the Code). Several clerks have likewise been actually granting them licenses to marry whites, or at least to marry amongst themselves as Indian or white. The danger of this error always confronts the clerk who does not inquire carefully as to the residence of the woman when he does not have positive information. The law is explicit that the license be issued by the clerk of the county or city in which the woman resides.

To aid all of you in determining just which are the mixed families, we have made a list of their surnames by counties and cities, as complete as possible at this time. This list should be preserved by all, even by those in counties and cities not included, as these people are moving around over the State and changing race at the new place. A family has just been investigated which was always recorded as negro around Glade Springs, Washington County, but which changed to white and married as such in Roanoke County. This is going on constantly and can be prevented only by care on the part of local registrars, clerks, doctors, health workers, and school authorities.

Please report all known or suspicious cases to the Bureau of Vital Statistics, giving names, ages, parents, and as much other information as possible. All certificates of these people showing “Indian” or “white” are now being rejected and returned to the physician or midwife, but local registrars hereafter must not permit them to pass their hands uncorrected or unchallenged and without a
note of warning to us. One hundred and fifty thousand other mulattoes in Virginia are watching eagerly the attempt of their pseudo-Indian brethren, ready to follow in a rush when the first have made a break in the dike.

Very truly yours,

(signature)
W. A. Plecker, M.D. State Registrar of Vital Statistics


Page 2 – SURNAMES, BY COUNTIES AND CITIES [illegible] VIRGINIA FAMILIES STRIVING

Albemarle:
Moon, Powell, Kidd, Pumphrey

Amherst: (Migrants to Allegheney and Campbell)
Adcock (Adcox), Beverly (this family is now trying to evade the situation by adopting the name of Burch or Birch, which was the name of the white mother of the present adult generation), Branham, Duff, Floyd, Hamilton, Hartless, Hicks, Johns, Lawless, Nuckles (Knuckles), Painter, Ramsey, Redcross, Roberts, Southwards (Suthards, Southerds, Southers), Sorrells, Terry, Tyree, Willis, Clark, Cash, Wood

Bedford:
McVey, Maxey, Branham, Burley (See Amherst County)

Rockbridge: (Migrants to Augusta)
Cash, Clark, Coleman, Duff, Floyd, Hartless, Hicks, Mason, Mayse (Mays), Painters, Pultz, Ramsey, Southerds (Southers, Southards, Suthards), Sorrell, Terry, Tyree, Wood, Johns

Charles City:
Collins, Dennis, Bradby, Howell, Langston, Stewart, Wynn, Custalow (Custaloo), Dungoe, Holmes, Miles, Page, Allmond, Adams, Hawkes, Spurlock, Doggett

New Kent:
Collins, Bradby, Stewart, Wynn, Adkins, Langston

Henrico and Richmond City:
See Charles City, New Kent, and King William

Caroline:
Byrd, Fortune, Nelson. (See Essex)

Essex and King and Queen:
Nelson, Fortune, Byrd, Cooper, Tate, Hammond, Brooks, Boughton, Prince, Mitchell, Robinson

Elizabeth City & Newport News:
Stewart (descendants of Charles City families).

Halifax:
Epps (Eppes), Stewart (Stuart), Coleman, Johnson, Martin, Talley, Sheppard (Shepard), Young.

Norfolk County & Portsmouth:
Sawyer, Bass, Weaver, Locklear (Locklair), King, Bright, Porter

Westmoreland:
Sorrells, Worlds (or Worrell), Atwells, Gutridge, Olliff.

Greene:
Shifflett, Shiflet

Prince William:
Tyson, Segar. (See Fauquier)

Fauquier:
Hoffman (Huffman), Riley, Colvin, Phillips. (See Prince William)

Lancaster:
Dorsey (Dawson)

Washington:
Beverly, Barlow, Thomas, Hughes, Lethcoe, Worley

Roanoke County:
Beverly (See Washington)

Lee and Smyth:
Collins, Gibson, (Gipson), Moore, Goins, Ramsey, Delph, Bunch, Freeman, Mise, Barlow, Bolden (Bolin), Mullins, Hawkins (Chiefly Tennessee Melungeons)

Scott:
Dingus (See Lee County)

Russell:
Keith, Castell, Stillwell, Meade, Proffitt. (See Lee and Tazewell)

Tazewell:
Hammed, Duncan. (See Russell)

Wise:
See Lee, Scott, Smyth, and Russell Counties.

“Memorandum Concerning the Characteristics of the Larger Mixed Blood Racial Islands of the Eastern United States” by William Harlen Gilbert, Jr., Part 1 (1946 article)

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1946 Gilbert Article

Memorandum Concerning the Characteristics of the Larger Mixed-Blood Racial Islands of the Eastern United States

Note from Webmaster: The following article contains several inconsistencies in style and citation which were found in the original publication, and have been reproduced here as accurately as web formatting will permit.

William Harlen Gilbert, Jr.
Library of Congress

published in Social Forces 21/4 (May 1946): 438-477.

Prefatory Statement

In many of the eastern States of this country there are small pockets of people who are scattered here and there in different counties and who are complex mixtures in varying degrees of white, Indian, and Negro blood. These small local groups seem to develop especially where environmental circumstances such as forbidding swamps or inaccessible and barren mountain country favor their growth. Many are located along the tidewater of the Atlantic coast where swamps or islands and peninsulas have protected them and kept alive a portion of the aboriginal blood which greeted the first white settlers on these shores. Others are farther inland in the Piedmont area and are found with their backs up against the wall of the Blue Ridge or the Alleghenies. A few of these groups are to be found on the very top of the Blue Ridge and on the several ridges of the Appalachian Great Valley just beyond.

No satisfactory names has ever been invented to designate as a whole these mixed outcasts from both the white and Negro castes of America. However, their existence can be traced back practically to the beginning of settlement by whites in the various areas in which they occur. The early white settlers called these racial intermediates “free colored” or “free negroes” and considered them frequently as mere squatters rather than as legitimate settlers on the land. The laws were interpreted to the disadvantage of these folk and they were forbidden to testify in court. Acts were passed to prohibit their immigration from other States and they were considered as undesirables since they bridged the racial gap between free whites and slave Negroes.

After the Civil War these mixed folk were still classified as “colored” or as “mulattoes” but they were frequently encouraged to develop their own institutions and schools separate from the Negroes. In recent years there are some indications that the numbers of these intermediate mixed populations are growing rather rapidly and that they may total well over 50,000 persons at the present time.

There is little evidence for the supposition that they are being absorbed to any great extent into either the white or the Negro groups. Their native breeding grounds furnish a seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of population which periodically swarms into cities and industrial areas. The characteristics of illiteracy, poverty, and large families mark them as members of the more backward section of the American nation. Draft boards and the armed forces have found it difficult to classify them racially for military service. As a sizable native minority they certainly deserve more attention than the meager investigations which sociologists and anthropologists have hitherto made of their problems. A recognition of their existence by social scientists can hardly prejudice their social prospects since the vast majority cannot possibly hope to pass as “white” under the present social system. In the hope of enlisting the interest of scientific bodies and foundations in research on these mixed groups, then, the following brief memorandum outline of ten of these mixed “racial islands” is presented.


I. Brass Ankles and Allied Groups of South Carolina

Location: These peoples are located mainly on the coastal plain area of the State. They are called by a variety of names, depending on the county, but show a general resemblance to each other. They are termed Brass Ankles (possibly from the Spanish abrasado, toasted brown) in Dorchester, Colleton, Berkeley, Orangeburg, and Charleston counties; Croatans or Cros in Morlboro, Dillon, Marion, and Horry counties; Red Bones in Richland; Red Legs in Orangeburg; Turks in Sumter; Buckheads in Bamberg; Marlboro Blues in Chesterfield, and so on. Still other nicknames are “Greeks,” “Portuguese,” Clay-eaters, Yellow-hammers, Summerville Indians, or simply “those Yellow People.”

Numbers: Estimated to run from 5,000 to 10,000 in the State.

Organization: Family groups only. In some areas have own schools which are nominally white. Family names are Boone, Braveboy, Bunch, Chavis, Crock, Driggers, Goins, Harmon, Russell, Scott, Shavis, Swett, and Williams.

Environment and Economy: Originally lived in isolation in such areas as “Hell-hole Swamp” north of Charleston and in other swampy coast lands. Some were also isolated in the sand hills between the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain where pine barrens predominate. Hunters, fishers, and cultivators.

Physique: Indian, white, and Negro types. Physical structure adapted to vigorous out-of-doors life.

In-Marriage: Tendency to pass over into white group noticeable. In-marriage marked.

Religion: Protestant. Attend white churches and also colored.

Schools: Certain schools, nominally white, are set aside for them. Teachers are difficult to get. Some go to white schools but this does not automatically give equal status.

Military draft: Apparently classified as white.

Voting and Civil Rights: Have voted for many years. All good Democrats.

Relief: WPA period helped to break down isolation of these groups.

Cultural Peculiarities: No data.

Social Status: Recognized as “near white.”

History: Many theories regarding their origin. Numerous Indian tribes were here such as Cusabo, Yasmassee, etc. Have only attracted attention of writers recently, although known locally at the Civil War period.


Bibliography

Berry, Brewton, “The Mestizos of South Carolina,” American Journal of Sociology, 51 (July 1945), pp. 34-41. (Dr. Berry is preparing a book on these folk after extensive research in the field)

Heyward, DuBose, Brass Ankle (a play), (New York, 1931).

Milling, C. J., Red Carolinians, (Chapel Hill, 1940). Pp. 3-4, 64.

“Note on the Brass Ankles,” American Speech (April 1943).

Shelby, G. and Stoney, S., Po’ Buckra (New York, 1930). (Fiction).

United States Writers Project. South Carolina, a Guide to the Palmetto State (New York, 1941), pp. 22, 286, 312.

Wallace, D. D., The History of South Carolina, (New York, 1934), 4 vols., v. II p. 508, v.III, p. 475


II. Cajans and Creoles of Alabama and Mississippi

Location: Cajans in the hilly areas of Washington, Mobile, and Clarke counties as well as adjoining parts of Mississippi. Creoles in Mobile and Baldwin counties around Mobile Bay in Alabama. Name “Cajan” derived from fanciful resmblence to the Louisiana Cajuns or Acadians. Creole name derived from “Creole colored” or “Creole mixed.”

Numbers: Cajans said to be “several thousands.” Creoles may be of similar number.

Organization: Cajans have family groups only. Chief family names are Byrd, Carter, Chestang, Johnson, Jones, Rivers, Smith, Sullivan, Terry, and Weaver. Creoles in Mobile had their own fire company and other organizations. Their chief family names (formerly indicated by special designation in the city directory) are Allen, Andry, Balasco, Ballariel, Battiste, Bernoudy, Cassino, Cato, Chastang or Chestang, Collins, Gomez, Hiner, Juzang, Lafargue, Laland, Laurendine, Laurent, Mazangue, Mifflin, Nicholas, Perez, Ponquinette, Pope, Reid, Taylor, and Trenier. The relationships between family names shared by Creoles and Cajans is not clear,

Environment and Economy: Cajans are a poor hill people of the wooded country who subsist by lumbering, turpentine extraction, and various odd jobs. Creoles are urban folk in the main and do oyster opening, cigar making, cotton sampling, and various other kinds of artisan work.

Physique: Creoles are a mixture of Latins, Negroes, etc. The Cajans are a mixture of white, Indian, and Negro types.

In-Marriage: No data.

Religion: Creoles are primarily Roman Catholic, while the Cajans are mostly Protestants (Baptist and Methodist).

Schools: Cajans have their own schools though the first 7 grades in the three counties where they live. Creole schools situation not known excepting that educational opportunities have been much better than among Cajans.

Military Draft Status: No data.

Voting and Civil Rights: No data.

Relief: The Cajans have been in need of relief.

Cultural Peculiarities: Cajans have individual patois and magical art. No data concerning Creoles.

Social Status: – Position of both groups is apparently between that of whites and negroes.

History: Legendary origin of Creoles is explained as due to union of Caribbean pirates with Indians and Negroes. Cajans have a similar tale. Family names shared by both occur in Mobile census lists of 1830 for free colored.


Bibliography

Bond, Horace M. “Two Racial Islands of Alabama,” American Journal of Sociology, XXXVI (Jan. 1931), 552-567.

Brannon, Peter A. “Cajans,” Dictionary of American History. 6 vols. (New York, 1940), vol. 1, p. 267.

Carmer, Carl. Stars Fell on Alabama (New York, 1931), pp. 255-269.

Frazier, E. Franklin. The Negro Family in the United States (Chicago, 1940), pp. 237-240.

Writers Program (U.S.) Alabama, a Guide to the Deep South. American Guide series (New York, 1941), pp. 367-368.


III. Croatans of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia

Location: Center in Robeson County, North Carolina around Lumberton. Are also found in neighboring counties of Bladen, Columbus, Cumberland, Macon, Hoke, and Sampson. In Person County, North Carolina are the allied group sometimes called “Cubans” or “Croatians” and these extend over into Halifax County, Virginia. In South Carolina, Croatans are found in Marlboro, Dillon, Marion, and Horry counties. Origin of the name “Croatan” attributed to “Croatoan” which was connected with Sir Walter Raleigh’s Lost Colony. Also these people have been termed “Cherokee Indians of Robeson County” and “Sioux Indians of Lumber River.”

Numbers: Were said to total 3,640 in 1890 and in Census of 1930 were numbered as over 13,000. Census of 1940 did not enumerate them separately. Apparently they are still increasing at a rapid rate.

Organization: Family groups and other institutions. Possess own churches, schools, etc. Family names are Allen, Bennett, Berry, Bridger, Brooks, Brown, Butler, Chapman, Chavis or Chaves, Coleman, Cooper, Dare, Gramme, Harrias, Harvie,Howe, Johnson, Jones, Lasie, Little, Locklear, Lowry, Lucas, Martyn, Oxendine, Paine, Patterson, Powell, Sampson, Scott, Smith, Stevens, Taylor, Viccars, White,Willes, Wilkinson, Wood, ands Wright.

Environment and Economy: Originally dwellers in the swamplands of the Lumber River, they became cultivators of cotton, tobacco, and corn over a wide area in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Physique: Measurements by Dr. Carl Seltzer for the Office of Indian Affairs in 1936-1937 of a hundred or more individuals showed a definite minority of marked Indian type. The remainder are white and negroid. They are said to be malaria resistant.

In-Marriage: Law of the State of North Carolina does not permit intermarriage with Negroes nor, in effect, with whites.

Religion: Protestants.

Schools: Separate and special schools were organized for them in 1885. They now have their own school boards, teachers of their own race, and a special normal school.

Military Draft Status: No data.

Voting and Civil Rights: Disfranchised in 1835, they were again allowed to vote after the Civil War. Said to be Democrats.

Relief: No data.

Cultural Peculiarities: Folklore and dialectic traits.

Social Status: Between white and Negro.

History: First came to the attention of the public during the Civil War due to the exploits of the famous Henry berry Lowry. They have been derived by various authors from Raleigh’s Lost Colony, from Latin sailors shipwrecked in North Carolina, and from Croatia.


Bibliography

Baxter, James P. “Raleigh’s Lost Colony,” The New England Magazine (Jan. 1895), pp. 565-587.

Bellamy, John D. Remarks in the (U. S.) House of Representatives, Thursday, Feb. 1, 1900 (Wash. D.C., 1900)

Cobb, Collier. Early English Settlements on Hatteras Island, North Carolina Booklet (Oct. 1914), XIV,91-99.

Croatan, or Croatoan. Encyclopedia Americana (New York, 1944) Vol. 8, pp. 214-15.

Estabrook, A. H. and McDougle, I. E. Mongrel Virginians, the Win Tribe (Baltimore, 1926).

Fitch, Wm. E. “The First Founders of America with Facts to Prove that Sir Walter Raleigh’s Lost Colony Was Not Lost.” Paper read at meeting of New York Society of the Founders and Patriots of America held at Hotel Manhattan, Oct. 29, 1913 (New York, The Society, 1913).

Foster, Laurence. Negro-Indian Relationships in the Southeast (Phila., 1935), p. 16.

Frazier, E. Franklin. The Negro Family in the United States (Chicago, 1940), pp. 235-237.

Harper, Roland M. “The Most Prolific People in the United States,” Eugenical News, XXIII, No. 2 (March-April 1938), 29-31.

Harper, Roland M. “A Statistical Study of the Croatans,” Rural Sociology, 2, No 4 (Dec. 1937) pp. 444-456.

Hearn, W. E. et. al. Soil Survey of Robeson County, N. C. in U. S. Bureau of Soils. Field Operations with Report, 1908, pp. 294-295. (Also issued as Document No. 1569, 60th Cong., 2nd Sess.)

Johnson, Guy B. “Personality in White-Indian-Negro Community,” American Sociological Review, IV (1939), 516-523. (Dr. Johnson has a large amount of manuscript notes on the Croatans based on field work with this group and which he hopes to prepare for publication at a future date.)

Jurney, R. C. et.al. Soil Survey of Person County, N. C. 1933. Pub. No. 14. Bureau of Chemistry and Soils, Series 1928, U. S. Dep’t Agri. p. 2.

Lawrence, Robert C. The Sons of Robeson (Lumberton, N. C., 1939), pp. 111-120.

Lucas, John P. Jr. and Groome, B. T. The King of Scuffleton, a Croatan Romance (Richmond, 1940).

McMillan, Hamilton. Sir Walter Raleigh’s Lost Colony (Wilson, N. C., 1888).

McNickle, D’Arcy. Indians of Robeson County, N.C. MSS.

Melton, Frances J. “Croatans: The Lost Colony of America,” Mid-Continent Magazine, VI (July 1885), pp. 195-202.

Mooney, James. Croatan. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 30, Vol, 1 (Handbook of American Indians).

Morgan, Ernest W. A Racial Comparison of Education in Robeson County N. C. M. A. Thesis MSS, University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, N. C., 1940).

Norment, Mrs. Mary C. The Lowrie Hostory (Wilmington, N. C., 1873).

Parsons, E. C. “Folklore of the Cherokees of Robeson County, N. C.” Journal of American Folklore, 32 (1919) pp. 384-393.

Perry, Wm. S. “The First Christian Born in Virginia,” Iowa Churchman (Jan. and Feb., 1893).

Reuter, E. B. The Mulatto in the United States (Boston, 1918), p. 85.

Reports of Committees of the House of Representatives for the 2nd Session of the 42nd Congress, 1871-1872. Report No. 22, part 2. testimony taken to the Joint select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late insurrectionary States. North carolina (Washington, D.C., 1894) pp. 283-304.

Report on Indians Taxed and Indians not taxed in the United States at the 11th Census: 1890 (Wash. D. C., 1894). Croatan, pp. 499-500.

Swanton, John R. “Probable Identity of the Croatan Indians” Mimeographed Report to the Office of Indian Affairs (Wash. D. C., 1933).

Townsend, George A. The Swampy Outlaws: or the North Carolina Bandits (New York, 1872).

U. S. Congress. House Committee on Indian Affairs. School for Indians of Robeson County, N. C. Hearings, Feb.14, 1913.

U. S. Congress. House Comittee on Indian Affairs. School for Indians of Robeson County, N. C. Hearings, April 5, 1912.

U. S. Department of the Interior. Indians of North Carolina. Letter from the Secretary of the Interior transmiting…a Report…by O. M. McPherson (Wash. 1915), Sen. Doc. 677, 63rd Cong., 3rd Sess. (An inclusive series of documents on Croatans).

Webb, Mack. An Echo from Sir Walter Raleigh’s Lost Colony. Read, Vol. 16, No. 4 (April 1944) pp. 116-117.

Weeks, S. B. “The Lost Colony of Roanoke: Its Fate and Survival,” Papers of the American Historical Association (1891). V, pp. 239-480.

Wilson, E. V. “Lost Colony of Roanoke.” Canadian Magazine (April, 1895). IV, pp. 500-504.

Writers Project (U .S.), North Carolina, a Guide to the Old North State (Chapel Hill, 1939), pp. 27-28, 537.


IV. Guineas of West Virginia and Maryland

Location: Primarily centered in Barbour and Taylor counties, West Virginia. Also, small scatterd families in Grant, Preston, Randolph, Tucker, Marion, Monongahela, and Braxton counties, West Virginia. Said to have originated in Hampshire County, West Virginia. A few occur in Garrett County, Maryland. Have recently migrated to canton, Chillicothe, Zanesville, Akron, and Sandusky in Ohio and to Detroit, Michigan. Word “guinea” said to be an epithet applied to anything of foreign or unknown origin. Other names applied locally are “West Hill” Indians, Maileys, “Cecil” Indians, “G. and B.” Indians, and “Guinea niggers.”

Numbers: Estimated to be from 8,000 to 9,000.

Organization: Have own schools and churches in Barbour and Taylor counties. Have an annual fair at Phillippi, West Virginia. Family names are Adams, Collins, Croston, Dalton, Dorton, Kennedy, Male (Mayle, Mahle, Mail), Minard (Miner), Newman, Norris, and Pritchard.

Environment and Economy: Many are coal miners, hill cultivators on sub-marginal lands, truck farmers and dairy farmers, domestic servants, and in cities industrial workers. Original habitat was inaccessible hilly area on a horseshoe bend of the Tygart River, the so-called “Narrows.” Live in compact settlements in this area.

Physique: Sharp and angular features characteristic. Originally a mixture of white and Indian types to which Negro has been added. Deformities of the limbs and other congenital defects.

In-Marriage: Has been pronounced in the past. Now said to intermarry with Italians who are also called “Guineas” in this area.

Religion: Mainly “Free Methodists” in Barbour and Taylor counties.

Schools: Have special schools classed locally as “colored.” Considerable tension over attendance at white schools in Taylor County. In Barbour County two schools have been burned down due to troubles.

Military Draft Status: In Taylor County (Grafton and vicinity) have almost uniformly gone into the white status.

Voting and Civil Rights: Have voted since organization of the State. Now hold balance of power in Barbour County.

Relief: Received during the Depression.

Cultural Peculiarities: Folklore, annual fair.

Social Status: Courts have pronounced them “colored.” Regarded as mulattoes. Do not associate as a rule with Negroes or whites.

History: Claim English descent from Revolutionary ancestors. Building of Tygert River Dam in 1937 scattered them in Taylor County due to flooding of original settlements.


Bibliography

Maxwell, Hu. The History of Barbour County (Morgantown, West Virginia, 1899) pp. 510-511.

Gilbert, Wm. H. Jr. “Mixed Bloods of theUpper Monongahela Valley, West Virginia,” Journal of the Washington Academyof the Sciences, 36, no. 1 (Jan. 15, 1946), pp. 1-13.


V. Issues of Virginia

Locations: Amherst and Rockbridge Counties. Name is derived from the term applied to free Negroes prior to the Civil War.

Numbers: Said to be about 500 in 1926.

Organization: Family groups only. Chief family names are Adcox, Branham, Johns, Redcross, and Willis.

Environment and Economy: A highlands fold of the Blue Ridge foothills they are mostly renters who cultivate tobacco in shares. Chief stronghold on Tobacco Row Mountain.

Physique: A mixture of white, Indian, and Negro types.

In-Marriage: Has been characteristic of the group.

Religion: Protestants. Episcopal mission has been maintained at Bear Mountain for many years. Has a school center for these people.

Schools: No organization aside from Mission.

Military Draft Status: No data as to color classification.

Voting and Civil Rights: No data.

Relief: No data.

Cultural Peculiarities: Traditions of Indian descent. Folklore not studied.

Social Status: Said to be below that of whites.

History: Ancestors of these people were in this area as far back as 1790. Local genealogical records very complete. Issues seem to have attracted little save local notice.


Bibliography

Estabrook, A. H. and McGouble, I. E. Mongrel Virginians, the Win Tribe (Baltimore, 1926) pp. 13-181.

Frazier, E. Franklin. The Negro Family in the United States (Chicago, 1940), pp. 240-242.

Gray, Rev. A. P. “A Virginia Tribe of Indians,” Southern Churchman LXXII, No. 53 (Jan. 4, 1908), p. 6.

Sams, Conway W. The Conquest of Virginia, The Forest Primaeval (New York, 1916), pp. 395-396.

William Gilbert article, part 2

Published by:

VI. Jackson Whites of New Jersey and New York

Locations: Orange and Rockland Counties in New York; Bergen, Morris, and Passaic Counties, New Jersey. Name said to be derived from term “Jackson and White” which are common surnames. Another derivation is from “Jacks” and “Whites,” the terms for Negroes and Caucasians. Still another idea is that Jackson was a man who imported some of the ancestors of these people during the Revolutionary war. In one part of this area are the so-called “blue-eyed Negroes” who are said to be a race apart from the rest.

Numbers: Estimated to be upwards of 5,000.

Organization: Family groups only. Family names are Casalony, Cisco, De Groat, De Vries, Mann, Van Dunk, etc.

Environment and Economy: These are mainly a hill people of the Ramapo Hills. They raise a few crops at favorable spots and do hunting. Many have migrated to the lowlands and to industrial and mining areas.

Physique: In some areas apparently pure white types are found while in others negroid types dominate. Inn still other areas Indian mixed types seem to predominate. Albinism and deformities have been indicated.

In-Marriage: Due to environmental limitations this has been marked.

Religion: Protestant in the main. Presbyterians have had a mission among these people.

Schools: In New jersey, white schools have been attended. No data on New York. Tend to concentrate in a few schools.

Military Draft Status: No data.

Voting and Civil Rights: No data.

Relief: No data.

Cultural Peculiarities: Dialectic peculiarities, home-made utensils, folklore.

Social Status: Regarded as “colored” by white neighbors.

History: Traditionally derived from Tuscarora and Munsee Indians, Hessians, English, Negroes from West Indies, etc. First described by Speck in 1911.


Bibliography

Beck, Henry C. Fare to Midlands: Forgotten Towns of New Jersey (New York, 1939), pp. 73-89.

Donoghue, Frank L. “Jackson Whites Tribal Reserve Broken By War,” New York Journal American (March 24, 1942), pp. 226-229.

Frazier, E. Franklin, The Negro Family in the United States (Chicag, 1940), pp. 226-229.

“The Jackson Whites,” Eugenical News, XVI, No. 12 (Dec., 1931), p. 218.

“Native Sons,” Letters, Time, Inc. Vol. II, No. 15 (July 22, 1935), p. 1-2.

The Negro in New Jersey. Report of a Survey by the Interracial Committee of the New Jersey Conference on Social Work in Cooperation with the State department of institutions and Agencies (Dec., 1932), p. 22.

Speck, Frank G. “The Jackson Whites,” The Southern Workman (Feb., 1911) pp. 104-107.

Storms, J. G. Origin of the Jackson Whites of the Ramapo Mountains (Park Ridge, N.J., 1936), MSS.

Swital, Chet. “In the Ramapos.” Letters. Time, Inc. Vol. II, No. 15 (July 22, 1935), pp. 1-2.

Terhune, Albert Payson. treasure (New York, 1926).

“Twelve toes race of People Bred in North Jersey’s ‘Lost Colony,’” Philadelphia Record, June 6, 1940, p. 1.

U. S. Federal Writers Project. New jersey: a Guide to the Present and Past. (New York, 1939), pp. 124, 505.

U. S. Writers Program, New Jersey. Bergen County Panorama (Hackensack, New Jersey, 1941), pp. 179-180, 305.

“Who are the Jackson Whites?” The Pathfinder (Sept. 5, 1931), p. 20.


VII. Melungeons of the Southern Appalachians

Locations: Original center of dispersal was said to be Newman’s Ridge in Hancock County, Tennessee. From thence are said to have spread into other counties such as Cocke, Davidson (Nashville), Franklin, Grundy, Hamilton (Chattanooga), Hawkins, Knox (Knoxville), Marion, Meigs, Morgan, Overton, Rhea, Roane, Sullivan, White, Wilson, Bledsoe, and Van Buren. In southwest Virginia they are known also as Ramps and occur in the counties of Giles, Lee, Russell, Scott, Washington, and Wise. Some are said to have migrated to southeastern Kentucky and a few went to Blountstown, Florida, just west of Tallahassee. One of two writers mention that they have gone westward to the Ozarks. The name is said to be derived from the French “Melange,” mixed or from the Greek “Melan,” black.

Numbers: Estimated to run from 5,000 to 10,000. Birthrate high.

Organization: Family groups only. Original family names were Collins, Gibson or Gipson, Goins, Mullins or Mellons. Other names mentioned are Bolen, Denhan, Freeman, Gann, Gorvens, Graham, Noel, Piniore, Sexton,Wright.

Environment and Economy: Originally pioneer cultivators in the Appalachian Valley lowlands they were said to be driven to the ridge by the white settlers. Newman’s Ridge, Clinch Mountain, Copper Ridge, and the Cumberland Range in eastern Tennessee were their chief habitats. Their means of living originally included hunting, fishing, ginseng root gathering, herb gathering, charcoal burning, and in the very earliest times river boat carriage and cattle driving.

Physique: Characteristics range between Indian, white, and occasional negroid types. Stoic endurance of out-of-doors life notable.

In-Marriage: Considerable intermarriage with whites in recent times. Originally married only within the group.

Religion: .Presbyterians have had missions among them for many years at Vardy and Sycamore (Sneedville P. O.) in Tennessee. Some are Baptists. Hymns peculiar to mountain folk sung.

Schools: Attend white schools in Franklin, Marion, and Rhea counties in Tennessee after winning lawsuits regarding their racial classification. In southwest Virginia attend white school when they go at all. Most are said to be illiterate.

Military Draft Status: Illiteracy is said to be a bar to their military service in some places.

Voting and Civil Rights: Disfranchised in Tennessee by Constitution of 1834. Have voted since the Civil War. Republican in politics.

Relief: Were given food and clothing in Virginia during the Depression of the 1930’s.

Cultural Peculiarities: Magic and folklore said to be important. Funeral rites formerly involved building a small house over a fresh grave.

Social Status: Said to approximate the white level in many areas today.

History: Several theories or origin. Some derive from the Croatans, some from Portuguese, Negro, and Indian ancestry. Appeared in east Tennessee shortly after the American revolution. First modern notice under the name “Melungeon” in 1889.


Bibliography
 

Addington, L. F. “Mountain Melungeons Let the World Go By,” Sunday Sun, Baltimore, July 29, 1945, Section A, p. 3, cols. 3-6.

Aswell, Jas. R., E. E. Miller, et. al. God Bless the Devil: Liar’s Bench tales (Chapel Hill, N. C., 1940), pp. 207-243.

Ball, Mrs. Bonnie S. America’s Mysterious race. Read vol. 16 (May 1944), pp. 64-67.

Ball, Mrs. Bonnie S. “Mystery Men of the Mountains,” Negro Digest 3 (Jan., 1945), pp. 64-67.

Ball, Mrs. Bonnie S. “Virginia’s Mystery race,” Virginia State Highway Bulletin 2, no. 6 (April 1945), pp. 5-7.

Ball, Mrs. Bonnie S. “Who Are the Melungeon?” Southern Literary Messenger 3, no. 2 (June 1945), pp. 5-7.

Burnett, Swan M. “A Note on the Melungeon,” American Anthropologist 2 (Oct., 1889), pp. 347-349.

Caldwell, Joshua W. Studies in the Constitutional History of Tennessee. 2nd ed. (Cincinnati, 1907), pp. 115, 185, 213.

Century Dictionary and Encyclopedia. (New York, 1906), “Melungeon” defined, vol. 5, p. 3702.

Converse, Paul D. “The Melungeons,” Southern Collegian (Dec., 1912), pp. 59-69.

Converse, Paul D. “The Melungeons,” Dictionary of American History (New York, 1940), pp. 371-372.

Crawford, Bruce. “Letters to the editor.” Coalfield Progress (Norton, Va. July 11, 1940).

Crawford, Bruce. “Hills of Home” (fiction), Southern Literary Messenger, 2,no. 5 (May 1940) pp. 302-313.

Dromgoole, Miss Will Allen. “The Malungeons,” The Arena, 3 (March 1891), pp. 470-479.

Dromgoole, Miss Will Allen. “The Malungeon Tree and Its Branches,” The Arena, 3 (May, 1891), pp. 745-775.

Hale, W. T. and Merritt, D. L. A History of Tennessee and Tennesseeans (2 vols,. Chicago, 1913), 1, chapt. 16, “The Melungeons of East Tennessee,” pp. 179-196.

Haun, Mildred. The Hawk’s Done Gone. (New York, 1940), pp. 15-16, 145-166.

Heiskell, Mrs. Eliza N. “Strange People of East Tennessee, “ Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock, Jan. 14, 1912), p. 11, cols. 3-7.

Journal of the Convention of the State of Tennessee convened for the purpose of amending the Constitution thereof. Held at Nashville (Nashville, Tenn., 1834), pp. 88-89.

King, Lucy S. V. Article in the Nashville American, 98th Anniversary Number, 37, no. 12717 (Nashville, June 26, 1910).

“Melungeons, The” Boston Traveller (April 13, 1889), p. 6, cols. 5, 6.

Moore, J. T. and Foster, A. P., eds. Tennessee, the Volunteer State, 1769-1923 (5 vols,, Chicago, 1923), I, pp. 790-791.

Mynders, A. D. “Next to the News” Chattanooga Times (June 17, 1945), Sect. 2, p. 10. col. 3.

Report on Indians Taxed and Indians not Taxed in the United States at the 11th Census, 1890 (Wash. D.C., Dep’t of the Interior, Census Office, 1894), p. 391

Shepherd, Judge Lewis. Romantic Account of the Celebrated Melungeon Case. Reproduced typewritten copy of article inChattanooga Times, 1914. Said to be part of a small book of memoirs of the author.

United States Writers Project. Tennessee, a guide to the State (New York, 1939), “Melungeons in Oakdale, Tennessee,” p. 362.

Weeks, S. B. “Lost Colony of Roanoke,” Papers of the American Historical Association, 5 (1891), footnote pp. 132-133.

Wilson, Goodridge. “The Southwest Corner,” Roanoke Times (Feb. 25, 1934).

Wilson, Samuel T. The Southern Mountaineers (New York, 1906), p. 11


VIII. Moors and Nanticokes of Delaware and New Jersey

Location: Nanticokes are around Millsboro in Sussex County, Delaware. Moors are centered in Chesterwold, Kent County, Delaware, and at Bridgeton, Cumberland County in southern New Jersey. Name “Moor” traditionally derived from shiwrecked Moorish sailors.

Numbers: Moors about 500 in Delaware, Nanticokes about 700.

Organizations: Nanticokes are incorporated. Moors have no organization other than the family. Moor family names are Carney or Corney, Carter, Carver, Cioker, Dean, Durham, Hansley or Hansor, Hughes, Morgan, Mosley, Munce, Reed,.Ridgeway, Sammon, and Seeny. Nanticoke family names are Bumberry, Burke, Burton, Clarke, Cormeans, Coursey, Davis, Drain, Hansor, Harmon, Hill, Jackson, Johnson, Kimmey, Layton, Miller, Morris, Moseley, Newton, Norwood, Reed, Ridgeway, Rogers, Sockum, Street, Thomas, Thompson, Walker, and Wright.

Environment and Economy: Originally both groups may have been swamp hunters and fishers. Now are truck farmers.

Physique: Indian, white, and negro types occur. Drooped eyelids inherited in the family strain.

In-Marriage: Customary.

Religion: Protestants. Some sections among Nanticokes have own churches.

Schools: Moors attend colored schools. Nanticokes have own school with teacher paid by the state.

Military Draft Status: No data.

Voting and Civil Rights: No data.

Cultural peculiarities: Utensils and implements formerly made locally by the Nanticokes. These people also have their own medicine and folklore.

Relief: Not needed apparently.

Social Status: Uncertain.

History: Nanticokes first noticed about 1889, Moors about 1895.


Bibliography

Babcock, Wm. H. “The Nanticoke Indians of Indian River, Delaware,” The American Anthropologist, I (1889), pp. 277-82.

Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edit., 1910-11, v. 7, p. 948, article “Delaware.”

Fisher, George P. “The So-Called Moors of Delaware,” Milford (Del.) , June 15, 1895.

Frazier, E. Franklin. The Negro Family in the United States (Chicago, 1940), pp. 229-231.

Negro in New Jersey, The. Trenton 1932. Section on Moors, p. 21.

Speck, Frank G. Indians of the Eastern Shore of Maryland (1922), n.p.

Weslager, C. A. Delaware’s Forgotten Folk (New York, 1943).


IX. Red Bones of Louisiana

Location: The parishes of Natchitoches, Vernon, Calcasieu, Terrebonne, La Fourche, and St. Tammany. The term “Red Bone” is derived from the French Os Rouge for persons partly of Indian blood. As called “Houmas” along the Coast and “Sabines” farther west. In Natchitoches are the “Cane River Mulattoes.”

Numbers: Considerably over 3,000 and with a tendency to rapid increase.

Organization: Family groups and settlements. There are a limited number of French family names.

Environment and Economy: The coastal groups are farmers, sugar cane workers, cattle raisers, hunters and fishers. Those on the inland prairies are farmers raising corn and other crops. The groups at Slidell north of Lake Pontchartrain seem to merge gradually into the Cajans of southern Mississippi.

Physique: Mixed French, Indian, Anglo-Saxon, and Negro.

In-Marriage: Tendency to marry within the group has long been marked.

Religion: Mainly Roman Catholic. Some Baptists.

Schools: Colored or special.

Miltiary Draft: No data on classification by color.

Voting and Civil Rights: No data.

Relief: No data.

Cultural Peculiarities: Many old Indian customs and traits preserved.

Social Status: Once treated as full social equals by the French, they have long since fallen into the status of Mulattoes in some parts, of Indians in other places.

History: Derive from early border conflicts of authority and the banishment of mixed race persons from Texas. Intermarriage of French and Indians a marked feature of colonial period.


Bibliography

Saxon, Lyle. (a Novel), (Boston, Houghton Miflin, 1937).

Shugg, Roger W. Origin of the Class Struggle in Louisiana (Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1939), pp. 43-45.

U.S. Writers Program of the WPA, Louisiana, a Guide to the State (1941), pp. 80, 638.


X. Wesorts of Southern Maryland

Location: Most of these people are in Charles and Prince Georges counties, Maryland. A few have migrated to Washington, D. C. and the Phildalphia metropolitan area.

Numbers:Evidence available seems to indicate from 3,000 to 5,000. They have a high birth rate.

Organization: None beyond family groups. Family names are Butler, Harley, Linkins, Mason, Newman, Proctor, Queen, Savoy, Swan, and Thompson.

Environment and Economy: Are primarily tenant farmers or small landowners growing tobacco and other crops. Near the city they are truck farmers and in town are artisans, petty traders, and repairmen. Originally located near the Zekiah and other swamps many are still excellent fishermen.

Physique: Characteristically white and Indian with occasional marked Negroid types. Albinism, short teeth, hereditary deafness, and nervous disorders occur in some strains.

In-Marriage: A marked characteristic for many years.

Religion: Manly Roman Catholic as are the whites and Negroes who adjoin them.

Schools: Attend negro schools but in one or two neighborhoods a majority of school attendance is made up of children from this group.

Military Draft Status: Some are classified as white, others as Negroes.

Voting and Civil Rights: – Appear to have voted freely for a long period. Formerly Democrats they have tended to be Republican for the last 50 years.

Relief: Not much given to them.

Cultural Peculiarities: Folk medicines and herbalism, animal nicknames, annual festival on August 15th.

Social Status: Somewhat above that of the Negro but below the white.

History: Appear to be in part descended from several small Indian tribes of colonial times. The name originated about 1890. Romantic legends of Spanish shipwrecked sailors, French-Canadian traders, etc. Family names connected with the “free colored” or “free mulatto” names of 1790.


Bibliography

Anonymous. “Wesorts, Strange Clan in Maryland,” New York Times (Mar. 19, 1940).

Dodsen, Linda S. and Woolley, Jane. “Community Organization in Charles County, Maryland,” Md. Agric. Exp. Sta. Bull. No. A21 (College Park, Maryland, Jan. 1943), p. 297 et al.

Footner, Hulbert. Maryland and the Eastern Shore (New York, 1942), p. 357.

Gilbert, Wm. H. Jr. “The Wesorts of Southern Maryland, An Outcasted Group,” Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, 35, no. 8 (Aug. 15, 1945), pp. 237-246

Hodge, F. W. 35th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1913-14 (Wash. D. C., 1921), p. 17.

Maynard, Theodore. The Story of American Catholicism (New York, 1941), p. 76.

Semmes, Raphael. Captains and Mariners of Early Maryland (Baltimore, 1937), p. 303.

Warner, Eugene. “Upper Marlboro is Proud of Its Old Charming Homes,” Washington Times-Herald (Aug. 28, 1939), p. 11.

White, Roxana. “They Stand Alone: The Wesorts of Charles County,” The Sun (Baltiimore, Nov. 12, 1939), sec. 1, p. 2.


Concluding Statement

Besides the major minority groups characterized in this memorandum there are many other mixed Indian peoples in the eastern United states no less worthy of notice. A Partial list of these follows:

Massachusetts: Mashpee, Pequot, Wampanoag
Rhode Island: Narragansetts
Connecticut: Mohegan, Pequot
New York: Shinnecock, Poosepatuck
Virginia: Adamstown Indians, Chickahominy, Issues, Mattapony, Nansemond, Rappahannock, Skeetertown Indians, etc.
North Carolina: Machepunga
Alabama: Creeks
Mississippi: Choctaw
Louisiana: Houma, Chitimacha, Choctaw, Coushatta

These groups, together with those already scetched in this memorandum would, if thoroughly studied, provide the answer to a number of questions. For one thing they should demonstrate how detribalization affects Indians and what becomes of Indians presumably “freed” from the supervision of the Federal Government or never really under its jurisdiction. These examples show how outcast or pariah peoples come into existence and provide a ready parallel to the Untouchables of India and the Eta of Japan.

It is extremely urgent that a program be devised as soon as possible for the assimilation and betterment of the condition of these native American backward minorities. It is true that much good work along those lines has already been done religious bodies and private agents but the real solution of the problem must await public recognition and government. A local, State, and Federal policy will have to be developed after the public conscience has been awakened to the need. And this awakening rests on a thorough investigation and widespread public knowledge concerning these groups.

“Sons of the Legend” by William Worden, 1947 article

Published by:

Sons of the Legend

by William Worden

Saturday Evening Post, October 18, 1947

Surrounded by mystery and fantastic legends, the Malungeons live on Newman’s Ridge, deep in the Tennessee Mountains. The story of a colony whose background is lost in antiquity.

About the people of Newman’s Ridge and Blackwater Swamp just one fact is indisputable: There are such strange people. Beyond that, fact gives way to legendary mystery, and written history is supplanted by garble stories told a long time ago and half forgotten.

Today, even the legend is in the process of being forgotten, the strange stories are seldom remembered and the people are slipping away to cities and to better farms, there to tell anyone who ask s them, all they can about where they came from, but never to tell who they are. Because they do not know.

Newman’s Ridge lies beyond Blackwater Swamp, and Blackwater lies beyond Sneedville. Sneedville, war-swollen to a population of about 400 persons, is the county seat of Hancock County, Tennessee, just below Virginia, in the mountains through which no principal highway runs, no railroad has tracks, and only a single, insecure telephone line with five or six connections straggles. To get to Sneedville, on outsider can drive up the wandering bank of the Clinch River from Tazewell though Xenophon, which can be missed if the traveler is not looking carefully; or he can go over the switchbacks of Clinch Mountain from Rogersville to Kyle’s Ford and down the river from the east. Either pinestudded route is beautiful. Neither has ever been used by very many people who did not live in Sneedville.

Nothing much ever happened in Sneedville. There is no industry, no mining now. Only once did the town ever get its name into newspapers farther away than Knoxville, when once some years before the war, Charlie Johns, a lank mountaineer, married Eunice Winstead, who was certainly not more than thirteen years old and was variously reported as being only nine. Their pictures and story made most of the United States newspapers in a dull news period.

Charlie and Eunice still live near Sneedville, but nothing has been written about them for a long time. They do not want anything more written.

From Sneedville, a few small roads lead northward toward the swamp and the ridge. One is passable, when the weather permits, through Kyle’s Ford all the way to Vardy, where Presbyterians maintain a mission school. But weather does not permit with any regularity. There are in Rogersville a few tall, olive-skinned people with dark eyes and high cheekbones, small hands and feet and straight black hair, the men gaunt, the young women often remarkably beautiful.

In Sneedville on a “public day” when a lawing of some interest is under way in the county courthouse, many country people come to town from the rich farms along the Clinch River bottoms. Walking among them along the one muddy main street or leaning against the stone wall around the courthouse square will be other dark people — old women withered or excessively fat, inclined to talk very fast in musical voices, old men spare and taciturn, thinlipped, rather like Indians, but not quite like them. Either they have some Latin characteristics or the effect of the legend is to make the stranger think they have. Some few of them — the daughters of these people are very often lovely, soft and feminine, in striking contrast to the bony appearance of most mountain women — live in the town. Of them, their neighbors will say, “Well, they don’t talk about it, but I happen to know her pappy used to make whiskey up on the ridge;” or “He might not tell you, but he never came to town from Vardy until he was growed.”

But for all that some of them live there, these are strangers in Rogersville, strangers in Kyle’s Ford and Sneedville. They are not fully at home where the telephones are or the highways go. The small roads lead up out of Sneedville across the swamp and end at the base of Newman’s Ridge, nearly twenty miles long, a mile or so across at its most narrow point, virgin except for small clearings which dot its high slopes — clearings with log houses in them, corn patches growing beside the doors. That is, those houses that have doors. Many have no floors and some have no doors; only burlap hanging across the openings in cold weather.

Here, beyond where the roads end, in the clearings on the ridge, the dark people are at home. This is the Malungeon country. This is the country where no one ever uses the word “Malungeon.” As a matter of fact, nobody is entirely sure what the word is. Perhaps “Melungeon,” from the French “melange,” meaning “mixture;” perhaps from melas, a Greek word meaning black. Its origin, like that of the people it specifies, is lost now. Already, it is entirely meaningless to most people even within a few dozen miles of Newman’s Ridge; and presently, like the people of the ridge, who are constantly drifting away, intermarrying outside, never going home, saying nothing of the little ridge history they may know, it may be entirely forgotten. Except for a few curious people who like mysteries without answers.

The mystery of the Malungeons is basically simple. When the first Yankee and Scotch-Irish mountain men drifted down the Clinch River from its sources in Virginia toward the place where it meets the Holston to make the Tennessee River, they found in the rich farmland of the Clinch valley a strange people already settled. They were dark, tall, not exactly like Indians, certainly not at all like the escaped Negroes lurking on the outskirts of white slave-holding settlements. Even then they kept to themselves, had little to do with Andy Jackson’s men and the others, the trappers, adventurers and farmers who came down the line of the river.

When they were first seen is doubtful. One Tennessee history notes that the journal of an expedition down the Tennessee River in the 1600’s recorded an Indian story of a white settlement eight days down the river. The Indians said the whites lived to themselves, had houses and owned a bell which they sounded often, especially before meals, when all of them bowed their heads toward it. The journal was not clear about whether the location was on what is now the Clinch River. It could have been. These people could have been the Malungeons. But there is no record that any white man saw them.

Certainly they must have been there fairly early in the eighteenth century. Hale and Merritt’s History of Tennessee and Tennesseans says a census of the settlements in 1795 listed 975 “free persons” in the East Tennessee mountain area, distinguishing between them and the white settlers. As there never was any considerable number of Negroes in the mountains, these must have been the strange people of the Clinch valley.

But the other settlers apparently were unwilling to admit that they dark people were Caucasians, and the dividing line between “whites” and “Malungeons” began to be drawn — by the whites. Forty years later the division became serious. In the Tennessee Constitutional Convention of 1834, East Tennesseans succeeded in having the Malungeons officially classified as “free persons of color.” This classification was equivalent to declaring them of Negro blood and preventing them from suing or even testifying in court in any case involving a Caucasian. The purpose was fairly obvious and the effect immediate. Other settlers simply moved onto what good bottom land the Malungeons had, and the dark people had no recourse except to retire with what they could take with them to the higher ridge land which no other settlers wante d and where no court cases could arise. Some may have been on Newman’s Ridge previously, but now the rest climbed the slopes to live, taking with them their families, a few household possessions, some stock and a burning resentment of this and other injustices, such as the fact that their children were not welcome in the settler’s schools, only in Negro schools, which they declined to attend.

On the ridge they built their small houses — log shacks without floors and sometimes even without chimneys — planted corn, and distilled whiskey. Now and then moving in he night in Indian fashion they descended on the richer farms of the valley. Now and then when strangers approached the ridge too closely or ventured into Blackwater swamp, they used the long rifles which seemed almost like parts of their bodies, so naturally were they carried. Now and then, valley farms lost cattle or hogs or chickens and never found any trace of the missing stock. Now and then, strangers failed to come back from the ridge or the swamp.

When the Civil War split the border states county against county and family against family, few of the Malungeons went to either army. They stayed home, brooding on their mountainside.

In the valleys, farm women told their youngsters, “Act purty or the Malungeons’ll get ye.” There is no record that they ever “got” any children, but old men still live who remember when no wandering hog was safe and few chicken yards secure.

What happened after the war is not entirely clear; nor the reasons for it. Revision of the state constitution took care of the old segregated status of the Malungeons, but nobody now seems certain exactly what made them welcome in the towns again.

Hale and Merritt, in their history, have the most fantastic explanation. They say, without giving any authority, that the Malungeons struck gold. Just when and just where are difficult to decide. The history declares flatly that the strike was made somewhere on Straight Creek, where ovens were built for refining the metal and for manufacture of technically counterfeit twenty dollar double eagles. But the counterfeit coins, the history continues, actually had nearly thirty dollars worth of gold in them and were welcomed by most storekeepers in the area. The storekeepers gave face value, more or less, for them, then sold the coins as gold by weight. Naturally, Malungeon business was more than welcome.

The only catch to the story is that nobody except Hale and Merritt ever seems to have heard of it. No other history mentions it and no trace of the coins remains in East Tennessee — at least, not in any of the expected places. Nor does Straight Creek appear on available maps. Milum Bowen, storekeeper at Kyle’s Ford, says he has known the Melungeons all his life and “they’re real friends if they’re your friends, but will do you some kind of dirt at night if they don’t like you.” He has traded constantly with them during most of his seventy-some years, but never saw or heard of any such coins.

Only one ghost of a clue is in the memory of anyone in the area. That is a rumor — no on of the dozen people who will tell it as a rumor seems to know where it comes from — that there is silver — not gold, but silver — somewhere in the lowering mountains which ring Hancock County, somewhere in the half-mapped, heavily wooded ridges. “People say,” they tell a stranger, “that it’ll be found again someday.”

Whether there was gold or whether there was none, the Malungeons, after the Civil War, seemed to enter a new phase of their lonesome existence. Bushwhacking declined, some few Malungeons came off the ridge to go to school, many more turned to distilling for their principal source of livelihood. Of all the stories of moonshining in the Hancock County mountains, the best seems to be the often-retold tale of Big Haly Mullins, a very real woman who became a legend herself. Milum Bowen testifies to the fact that Big Haly really did exist, really did make whiskey and most certainly weighed 600 or 700 poounds.

The legend is that in the early years of this century, Federal revenue agents time and again followed the steep paths to Big Haly’s cabin, time and again found aging whiskey and the still for making it, and found Haly, peaceful and alone, waiting for them in her cabin. Each time she admitted ownership of the still and whiskey, and each time they officially arrested her.

There they stopped. Big Haly was in her cabin and was too fat to be got out the door. Even if they had been able to get her through the door, they had no method for getting her down the ridge to any court for trial. She was much too heavy for any combination of men who could go together down the trail, she was much too heavy for any mule, and she would not or could not walk.

So the revenuers went away and Big Haly resumed making whiskey as soon as the still could be repaired — that is to say, her myriad of relatives, who had vanished into the hills as soon as the Federal men left the highway, returned and began making whiskey again under Haly’s directions, shouted from inside the cabin.

At least one supporting fact is attested by Bowen. When Mrs. Mullins died, he says, Malungeon relatives knocked the fireplace out of the end of her cabin in order to get her body outside for burial. It just would not go through the door.

Toward the end of the 1800’s one person made an extended study of the Malungeons. This was a Nashville poetess, Miss Will Allen Dromgoole, who spent some months living with the dark people in the mountains and reported her findings in two articles in the Arena magazine, published in Boston in 1891.
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Miss Dromgoole noted several strange facets of the Malungeon life, some of which she thought indicated Latin origin. Especially, she noted that there was a special veneration for the Christian Cross shown along the whole ridge. She thought this strange, in view of the fact that the ridge people, if they were religious at all, leaned toward the shouting types of Protestantism which used the cross symbol little, if at all. Too, she said the Malungeons commonly made and drank brandy rather than whiskey. This seems open to some doubt, as no one in the area makes any brandy now, and no one remembers any of it ever coming off Newman’s Ridge or out of Blackwater Swamp. Possibly Miss Dromgoole was a teetotaler and no authority on the subject. She also noted a common habit of burying the Malungeon dead above the ground, with small, token houses over the graves, much as the Spanish and Indian Catholics bury the dead in the Southwestern United States and Alaskan Indians, converted to Greek Catholicism, do in Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. Again, Miss Dromgoole’s word must be taken for it, because no such graves are in evidence now.

Several peculiarities mar the poetess’ account of the dark people. One is that she changed her mind. In the Arena article of March, 1891, she rejected the theory that the Malungeons might be Negroid, basing her rejection on their appearance and on what she stated as a fact — that continuance of such blood would be impossible because octoroon women never have children, and Malungeon families were traceable for numerous generations. She said then that she did not know where the Malungeons had come from or of what blood they were, although she was inclined to believe they were basically Portuguese.

Three months later, however, Miss Dromgoole signed another article on the same subject in the same magazine. But this time she had decided, among other things, that octoroon women were not necessarily barren after all. She no longer found the Malungeons interesting, friendly or pathetic. In June they were dirty, thieving, untrustworthy, decadent and not mysterious at all. In June she knew their exact history. There had been, said Miss Dromgoole, two wily Cherokee Indians with a big idea. First, they borrowed names from white settlers in Virginia and called themselves Vardy Collins and Buck Gibson. Then, in the woods near a Virginia settlement, Vardy covered Buck with a dark stain, led him to a plantation and there sold him as a “likely nigger,” receiving in payment $300, some goods and a wagon with a team of mules. With this loot he promptly vanished into the forest again.

Whereupon Gibson made his way to the nearest fresh water, washed off the dark stain, then calmly walked off the plantation a free man protesting that he knew nothing of the sale of any “likely nigger” and certainly was not one.

In the forest, Gibson met Collins at a rendezvous where they split the loot and went their separate ways. Miss Dromgoole’s article gives no hint of her authority, but she states flatly that Collins came to Newman’s Ridge, Tennessee, where he begat a large family by a wife whose ancestry was not specified. Subsequently, an English trader named Mullins came to the ridge and married one of the Collins family. A free or escaped Negro, one Goins — this is still quoting Miss Dromgoole — married another daughter and settled in Blackwater Swamp; ansd a Portuguese, one Denham, arrived from no one knows where, married still another Collins to establish one more related family on the ridge.

Miss Dromgoole completed her estimate of the Malungeons by noting that the most common names among them wre still those four, along with Gorvans, Gibbens, and Bragans, or Brogan, and that all the families used a strange system of identifying their members, a system in which the wife of Jack Collins would be known as Mary Jack, his daughter as Sally Jack and his son as Tom Jack. She did not say what she thought this system proved, if anything.

Miss Dromgoole is gone and there is no practical method of checking her theories or even her facts now. But her final estimate of the Malungeons did not please them, and they had a sort of revenge. Milum Bowen remembers that the ridge people created a jingle about the poetess and repeated it endlessly to each other. “I can’t remember the rest of the words,” he says, “ but the last of it was ‘Will Allen Damfool.’”

Actually, Miss Dromgoole’s theory of origin for the dark people has as much to support it as any of the others, which is virtually nothing except that the dark people do exist. Many theories have been advanced. One, which the Malungeons themselves like especially, is that they are descendants of the lost Roanoke colony in Virginia — although the only plausible link with that colony is the English-sounding names the Malungeons now bear. They could be the Lost Colony, of course. But there is no real indication that they are.

Woodson Knight, a Louisville, Kentucky, writer, professed to find in 1940 an indication in these same names that the people might be Welsh, and was bemused by the possibility that those along the Clinch River might have descended from the retainers of a certain early Welsh chieftan, one Madoc, who with his ship “sailed from the ken of men into the Western Sea” in the days of the Roman Empire’s decline. Which could be, of course, but lacks any supporting evidence whatsoever.

Unquestionably the oddest theory of all was advanced by J. Patton Gibson, a Tennessee writer, and given an odd twist by Judge Lewis Shepherd, of Chattanooga. Shepherd’s connection with the malungeons came through his employment as attorney for a half-Malungeon girl in a land case near Chattanooga. The land had been owned by a Caucasian who married a Malungeon woman who somehow had wandered far from her native Hancock County mountains. A daughter was born, and subsequently botht the mother and the father died, the latter in an asylum. His relatives sent the child away and claimed the land, basing their claims on the theory that the Malungeon woman had been of Negro blood, that the marriage therefore had been illegal under Tennessee statutes and that the child was illegitimate and wothout rights of succession to the property.

Shepherd was employed as attorney for the girl, by this time nearly grown, and brought back to Chattanooga by friends of the dead man. Like so many of the people who have written and spoken of the subject of the Malungeon mystery, Shepherd nowhere quoted his authorities, but what he told the jury was that the girl in question had no Negroid characteristics and that she, a Malungeon, was a descendent of a lost and hounded people, originally Phoenecians, who migrated to Morocco at the time the Romans were sacking Carthage. From Morocco, he said, they eventually sailed to South Carolina, arriving there before other settlers. But when lighter neighbors came, these people could not get along with them because the light South Carolinians insisted the Malungeons were Negroes, and even attempted to impose a head tax on them as such, as well as barring their children from Caucasian schools. So they fled toward the mountains and stopped only when they reached Hancock County, Tennessee. There was nobody then, and there is nobody now, to support in any way his theory or to argue with him on any basis except improbability. But he did win the court case.

One more theory is worth repeating along with the more curious. Among others, James Aswell, magazine writer and Tennessee history expert, has repeated it as a possible explanation for the Malungeons. This is: that about the time of the Portuguese revolt against Spain, numerous Portuguese ships were playing the Caribbean as pirates or near-pirates. A common method of disposing of unwanted crew members was to maroon them, sometimes on the Florida keys or coast. Some crews also mutinied, and one may well have burned its ship, attacked some small Indian village ashore and taken the women, then fled west to the mountains to escape Indian wrath.

That these Portuguese could have reached the Hancock ridges is obviously quite possible, especially if their marooning or mutiny should have taken place on the North Carolina coast. To say that they did reach the ridges is another matter. The only evidences of it are the dark and Latin features of the present-day Malungeons — the differences between Indian and Latin are often difficult to distinguish, the rumors of cross veneration and near-Catholic habits of burial, and the possibility mentioned by some writers that a name such as Bragans might as easily originally have been Braganza as Brogan.

Whatever they are — Welsh, English, Phoenician, Portuguese or just Indian — the Malungeons still are on Newman’s Ridge, in Hancock, Rhea and Hawkins counties of Tennessee, and a few across the border in Virginia. Many are scattered by ones or twos, miles from the isolated ridge to the occupied for so long. There are known to be hundreds and maybe thousands with variously diluted blood. And where they came from nobody knows. The old people left no records, no implements, books or relics to help in solving the mystery. They were uneducated, often illiterate people, and even what little the grandfathers knew or had heard of their own origin died with them, except for scraps of oral stories.

The descendants are still farmers, for the most part, still have occasional trouble about their color. Within the last dozen years, disputes flared briefly in certain Hancock County districts about whether Malungeon children should go to white or Negro schools and during both wars of this century, Malungeons have had color trouble upon reporting to Southern cantonments. They still make a certain amount of tax-evading whiskey somewhere up the dim ravines, and now and then are hauled into court for it. Generally, they still avoid schools, except for the mission at Vardy, from which the Rev. Chester F. Leonard sends a few on to the University of Tennessee or to church colleges. One such college, Maryville, has records of half a dozen entered, none graduated. Mr. Leonard, incidentally, says “The group is so intermingled that one cannot be sure of a typical specimen.”

In the small Tennessee hill towns, now and then, a dark man will talk to a stranger, tell a few incidents heard or seen on Newman’s Ridge or advise him, “See ___. If anybody knows, he will.” Only ___ never does. A lovely woman may even, looking straight at the visitor with gray eyes, say, “My own grandfather had some Indian blood and perhaps some Spanish. We don’t know much about the family, but there is a story that some of De Soto’s men…”

The lady may have small hands and feet, high cheekbones, straight hair and olive skin, and a regal carriage. She may talk for some time and tell much that is written in no books, some hearsay, some the most fanciful legend. But one word she will never say. She will never say,

“Malungeon.”

“Geographical Analysis of White-Negro-Indian Racial Mixtures in the Eastern United States” by Edward T. Price, 1953 article

Published by:

Geographical Analysis of White-Negro-Indian Racial Mixtures in the Eastern United States

by Edward T. Price, Los Angeles State College

The following is from the Association of American Geographers Annals Vol. 43 (June 1953) pp 138-55. Reprint permission granted with acknowledgment.

A strange product of the mingling of races which followed the British entry into North America survives in the presence of a number of localized strains of peoples of mixed ancestry. Presumed to be part white with varying proportions of Indian and Negro blood, ** they are recognized as of intermediate social status, sharing lot with neither white nor colored, and enjoying neither the governmental protection nor the tribal tie of the typical Indian descendants. A high degree of endogamy results from this special status, and their recognition is crystallized in the unusual group names applied to them by the country people.

 

The chief populations of this type are located and identified in Figure 1, which expresses their recurrence as a pattern of distribution. (1) Yet each is essentially a local phenomenon, a unique demographic body, defined only in its own terms and only by its own neighbors. A name applied to one group in one area would have no meaning relative to similar people elsewhere. This association of mixed-blood and particular place piques the geographic curiosity about a subject which, were it ubiquitous, might well be abandoned to the sociologist and social historian. What accounts for these cases of social endemism in the racially mixed population?

The total number of these mixed-bloods is probably between 50,000 and 100,000 persons. Individually recognized groups may run from fewer than 100 to as many as 18,000 persons in the case of the Croatans of North Carolina. The available records, the most useful being old census schedules,(2) indicate that the present numbers of mixed-bloods have sprung from the great reproductive increase of small intial populations. The prevalence in each group of a small number of oft-repeated surnames is in accord with such a conclusion. The ancestors of the mixed-bloods have been free people (usually “free colored” in earlier censuses) for as long as their history can be traced; it is extremly unusual to find any evidence of slavery in their main ancestral lines.

The mixed-bloods are heterogeneous in physical appearance. Some of the population in some of the groups are unmistakably negroid in some characteristics. Proof of Indian ancestry rests more on tradition than on present appearance. The dark-skinned strain, however, does not seem to be due entirely to Negro blood; other negroid traits seem less clearly prevalent than darkness of skin. Skin colors among the mixed-bloods vary from white to brown, but few are as dark as an unmixed Indian.

LARGER MIXED-BLOOD STRAINS


The Croatan Indians of North Carolina

Figure 2 The Locklears in Halifax County are apparently not recognized today.

Probable ancestors of the Croatan Indians were reported along the Lumber River at the time of the area’s first settlement by Scotch people in the early 1730’s,(3) and they may be identical with a lawless band of swamp-dwellers reported in 1754. (4) At least sixty-five family heads can be identified in the census of 1790, but the groups seem to have remained relatively obscure until after the Civil War when one member of the group acquired notoriety for his exploits as an outlaw.(5) The Croatans’ demand for status found a champion in the person of Hamilton McMillan, a member of the legislature which conferred on them the title of “Croatan Indians,” later changed to “Cherokee Indians of Robeson County” (6) over the protests of the Cherokees of eastern North Carolina. The Croatans have had their own Indian school system, separate from both white and Negro, culminating in the State Teachers’ College at Pembroke. The census has tabulated them as Indians since 1890,and has shown their amazing rate of growth. (7) The Croatans are mostly small farmers engaged in growing cotton, tobacco, and corn in the western part of Robeson County, where they dominate the rural settlement. Even in their center of Pembroke, however, the business is mostly in the hands of whites, and the Croatans are resentful of their own lack of influence and status. (8) The latter is closely related to apparent or suspected presence of Negro blood, a matter which has internally compartmented the Croatan society itself. The Croatans appear in numbers in several nearby counties, and “Croatan” as a designation of race appears occasionally in the marriage records of even more distant localities.

A popularly held theory that Raleigh’s Lost Colony survives in one of the mixed-blood groups usually centers on the Croatans. It is difficult to tell whether this idea has been a tradition among the Croatans, or was only popular for a time in the late nineteenth century as a device for gaining status. The case built by McMillan(9) for historical continuity of the Lost Colony and the Croatans seems to have been successfully refuted by Swanton. (10) McMillan also lists the names of the members of the Lost Colony, alleging a similarity to Robeson County names. (11) Such a similarity was not evidenced by names in the census of 1790, nor are the most frequent Croatan surnames on the Lost Colony list at all. Indeed Locklear and Oxendine, the two most common names, covering nearly a third of the Croatans,(12) seem to be virtually unique to the Croatans. They were not reported among whites in the 1790 census, and so few free colored families of those names appeared outside of Robeson County in either 1790 or 1830 that an origin among the Croatans is indicated (Fig. 2).

The density of free Negroes in 1830 was greater in Robeson County (where they were mostly Croatans) than in any other county in the southern half of North Carolina. Whatever aberration from the usual bi-racial pattern resulted in the Croatans evidently had a quantitative as well as a qualitative aspect. Whether this process was immigration, a conservative lack of emigration, high fertility, or simply an early start is an unanswered question.


The Melungeons

The Melungeons(13) centering in Hancock County, Tennessee, are sometimes said to derive from the Croatans, but the comparison of names suggests only a tenuous connection. The Melungeons reached Newman’s Ridge and Blackwater Valley (in Hancock County) among the first settlers, apparently In the 1790’s. The number and ages of family heads bearing the names of Collins, Gibson, and Goins in 1830 suggest that several households with these names were involved in the original migrations from North Carolina and Virginia. By 1830 the Melungeon colony included 330 persons in 55 families in Hawkins County (from which Hancock was formed) and 130 persons in 24 families in adjoining Grainger County. Because of them Hawkins County showed more free colored persons in the 1830 census than any other county in Tennessee except Davidson (Nashville) and more free colored families named Collins than any other county in the United States. A few Melungeons persisted until 1830 in Ashe County in northwestern North Carolina; the records of that area contain the earliest references to Vardy Collins, (14) said to be the first of the Melungeon settlers.

A few of the Melungeons of today resemble Indians, but more are impossible to distinguish from white mountaineers. A caste distinction persists to a considerable degree, though the Melungeons are not segregated in schools. Melungeons are found in some numbers in Lee, Scott, and Wise County, Virginia, Letcher County, Kentucky, and in Graysville, Tennessee, and occasionally on and west of the Cumberland Plateau. In these more distant localities they are not always identified as Melungeons, but bear the characteristic surnames. Historical records do not supply proof for their likely relationship to the Hancock County group, and some of these other settlements are also very old. The name of Goins is particularly associated with Melungeons living south and west of Hancock County.


The Redbones of Louisiana

Five parishes of southwest Louisiana– Calcasieu, Rapides, Beauregard, Vernon, and Allen–include in their population a strain of mixed-bloods identified as Redbones. Louisiana, with its French background, is probably the state where mixture of white and Negro blood has been most typical; a number of concentrations of such peoples are recognized. The markedly English names of the Redbones and their Protestant religious affiliations (usually Baptist) demarcate the Redbones from all these other Louisiana mixed-bloods, with whom this study is not concerned.
The Redbones appear clearly in the earliest census records of the area as free colored persons, usually the only free colored persons with English names in the present areas. Later records identify the same persons as mulattoes; when the listed birthplace is outside of Louisiana, South Carolina is usually the state. Olmsted in 1857 (15) mentions a wealthy mulatto family of Ashworths near the border in east Texas, which is quite likely connected with the Redbones of the same name. Evidently the Redbones were mixed in blood when they came as cattle-grazers to this last-settled corner of Louisiana. Further support for believing their origin to be South Carolina stems from the facts that Redbone is an old Carolina term for mixed-bloods, (16) that several Redbone names occurred among free Negroes of South Carolina, and that several names of South Carolina mixed-bloods occurred with the Redbones in earlier censuses.

The Redbones probably number 3000 or more. They are not segregated in schools, though several rural areas and two or three villages are predominantly Redbone in population. Many of the Redbones have drifted into the towns to take various jobs in recent: years. In spite of the absence of any official recognition or rigid segregation, the Redbones form what is essentially a caste; and they are homogeneous in economic class, the small subsistence farm or labor in forest or mill providing the livelihood.
The term Redbone suggests Indian blood, which is reported to have been evident among some of the older Redbones. The status the Redbones hold and the appearance of many of the Redbones today suggest an admixture of Negro blood. No one is called a Redbone to his face, but the term is universally understood in southwest Louisiana, and the members of a Redbone family will be so tagged as long as they continue to live in the area.

The nucleus of American settlement in Alabama was a small enclave on the west bank of the lower Tombigbee and Mobile Rivers which, in the early nineteenth century, was surrounded by Spanish Mobile to the south and Indian tribes on the other sides–Creek, Choctaw and Cherokee. (17)

Into this frontier came a free colored man named Reed, said to have been a mulatto from Jamaica; he married a slave woman, also a mulatto, whose freedom he later purchased, (18) and the two operated a cattle-penning center in conjunction with an inn along the road into Mississippi. The Reeds had eight children, 56 grandchildren, and at least 202 great grandchildren; (19) by today the eighth and ninth generation has appeared, and the descent of the Reeds is innumerable. A free colored couple named Byrd, who probably came into the area a little later, are known to have produced 119 great grandchildren, and a Weaver family traced back to two family heads has been equally prolific.

About half of the population of over 2000 Cajans in Mobile and Washington Counties in Alabama bear the names of Weaver, Reid, and Byrd. The descendants of these families were not numerous until after the Civil War, but their previous status of freedom and their mixed race may account for their subsequent separation from the other Negroes. Certainly their rapid growth in numbers and their intermarriage of one family with another help to explain the recognition by the white population which ultimately resulted in borrowing (with a slight rnodification in spelling) the term Cajan from Louisiana to identify them.
Today the Cajans live in a clearly circumscribed rural area of the pine forests containing about 175 square miles. Their children attend special schools provided by the counties. Perhaps another 2000 Cajans have managed to slip into towns or cities where they are not actively thrown with the core of the group.

The Cajans have not only survived, but have steadily grown in this area of change and instability. After the cattlegrazers came the lumber and railroad camps. Geronimo’s Indians were detained at nearby Mt. Vernon in 1890. (20) Each of these transient groups and many others may have contributed blood to the Cajans.

The exhaustion of the forests has left the slim leavings to the Cajans. Many of them are squatters on large landholdings; most of them work in the forest industries, lumbering, turpentining, hauling logs, operating sawmills. Increasing population in an area of depleted resources cannot continue indefinitely. Some of the Cajans leave the region and pass as white in distant localities; these are usually the lighter-skinned. A conservatism tends to hold most of them near home. The emigration has not kept up with the growth by reproduction, but it probably balances occasional intermarriage with whites to keep most of the residual Cajan population moderately dark-skinned.


The Issues of Amherst County, Virginia

A concentration of several hundred Issues (a term applied to Negroes freed before the Civil War) has long been recognized at the eastern foot of the Blue Ridge near Amherst, Virginia. They are mostly a laboring group, working on the tobacco farms of the Piedmont and the apple orchards of the slopes above and as domestic servants. The mulatto ancestors of the Issues were in the area by 1785, but little is known of their history; one of the group was mentioned as a free mulatto in 1848. (21) The idea that the group has some Indian blood persists, however. (22)
Emigration, especially to New Jersey during the War, has reduced the number of Issues materially. This movement seems to be the result of the assiduousness of the Virginia Department of Vital Statistics in its campaign to label as Negroes in all official records those with any fraction of Negro ancestry. This threat to their previous intermediate status was distasteful. A possibly related group have been mountain farmers on Irish Creek on the western side of the Blue Ridge; they have not been excluded from white schools in Rockbridge County.


The Guineas of West Virginia

Most of the Guineas (23) live in Barbour and Taylor Counties in north central West Virginia, but they are known in several other counties also. This is an area of very few other colored people; though the Guineas attend the colored schools, they have resisted this segregation and would probably resist more forcibly if the schools had more Negro children and Negro teachers. The 1600 or more Guineas in Barbour and Taylor Counties are mostly peasant farmers, coal miners, day laborers, and domestic servants. A very few are wealthy. They live in several rural concentrations where their ownership of land dates from early in the nineteenth century, (24) in others where they have more recently replaced whites, and in some numbers in the towns.

Several surnames belong almost exclusively to Guineas in this area, but nearly half the group are named Mayle (formerly spelled Mail, Male, etc.). (25) There are several traditions of Indian blood among the Guineas, but the records confirm only the “colored” and mulatto mixtures. The records of the Guineas’ ancestors all trace back to Virginia (then including West Virginia); they were in the western part of the state well before 1800. The mixed-bloods seem to have reached this area from several different directions before their increase to the present population. The Mayles, and perhaps other Guinea families came from Hampshire County, where they may have been people of some means. Just when the Mayle family became mixed-blooded is not clear, but it evidently occurred before 1810, when they had already started moving westward into the Plateau. The census evidence indicates that all of the Mayles of the Guinea group, numbering over 700 in Barbour and Taylor Counties, are either actual or legal descendants of one man. Most of the Guinea settlement in Taylor County has developed from Barbour County in the last two generations, and more recently the Guineas have settled in some numbers in several Ohio cities and in Detroit.


The Wesorts of Maryland

A vaguely defined mixed-blood group known as Wesorts (26) form part of the population of the southeastern peninsula of Maryland west of Chesapeake Bay, within an hour’s drive of Washington. Their number is estimated at between 750 and 3000. Their children attend both white and colored schools. Twenty-six Wesort surnames have been identified, most of which were among the 54 family names of free colored persons in the area in 1790; most of the names were also, common among whites of the area at the same time.


The Moors and Nanticokes of Delaware

Two mixed groups, probably related to one another, live chiefly in Delaware. (27) The Moors numbering about 500, are in a suburb of Dover, and the Nanticokes. numbering about 700, live in the southeast part of the state near the estuary of the Indian River. The former support themselves from various wage jobs, while the latter have retained their modest farms in the Indian River Hundred. Most of their children attend an assortment of special schools, both public and private, which has resulted from internal differences and misunderstandings with officials.

The Nanticoke leaders have recently tried to revive their Indian birthright through the formation of the Nanticoke Indian Association. In spite of the fact that their economy has made use of a surprising number of Indian culture traits, (28) there is little evidence at hand to connect them directly with the aborigines of Delaware. Their claim to Indian status seems neither stronger nor weaker than that of several other mixed-blood groups.


The Jackson Whites of New York and New Jersey

The Jackson Whites, the only large mixed group of the North, is the only one whose members have been willing to throw in their lot with the Negroes, though they do not class themselves with the colored population at large. Though within easy commuting distance of New York City (Bergen County, New Jersey, and Rockland County, New York), their existence has apparently depended historically on a refuge in the fault-bounded Ramapo Hills. Their names of Mann, DeGroat, DeFreese, and Van Dunk suggest a relation to the Dutch settlers of New York; all of these names but the last are old (29) in the area, while a de Vries appeared in a seventeenth century reference (30) as a free Negro.

The early history of the Jackson Whites is obscure, and no hypotheses or theories (31) seem to find much confirmation in records. The people seem to have supported themselves on the mountain during the nineteenth century by farming and producing forest products such as charcoal, baskets, barrel staves, brooms, and wooden tools. (32) Missionary work on the mountain and increased job opportunities in the lowlands have made the Jackson Whites a part of modern society. Most of them have moved into the lowland towns and taken jobs in the shops and mills. Segregation in a colored grade school in one of the New York communities was ended in 1947. Traditions among the Jackson Whites themselves indicate either a very diverse ethnic background or a complete confusion over the actual truth.


SMALLER GROUPS OF MIXED-BLOODS

Nineteen separate groups of mixed-blood peoples have been identified on the Coastal Plain of South Carolina. (33) Typically they live somewhat apart from other groups in rural settings with their own clusters of shacks. Their employment is mostly in agricultural labor. In most cases special schools are provided.

The groups may have formed around the small lowland Indian tribes as nuclei, picking up both white and Negro blood. (34) Characteristic names are recognized in each locality, but certain names tend to be common in several counties, sometimes linking the South Carolina groups with Croatans and other larger groups. The South Carolina mixed-bloods, on the whole, are said to be making gains toward white status. A number of group names–e.g., Brass Ankles, Redbones; Redlegs, Buckheads, Turks–are applied locally to these peoples. Their social differentiation seems to be a pattern of long standing in South Carolina.

North Carolina is also prominent on the map of mixed-bloods. Its school directory lists 27 Indian schools. (35) Goins is the chief surname among a scattering of alleged mixed-bloods in Surry, Stokes, and Rockingham Counties, North Carolina, and adjoining Patrick County, Virginia. Though one Indian school is maintained for these people, they have, in at least one case, won suit for admission to white schools. Usually they attend white schools and are distinguished only socially by their neighbors. Their total number is at least several hundred. The compact land ownership around Gointown in Rockingham County suggests it as being of longest standing as a center for this strain; land records carry them back in that part of the county to its formation in 1786. A similar situation occurs in Moore County in southern North Carolina with the difference that the Goinses and their associates are classed as Negro, but mix little with other Negroes.

Magoffin County in the Kentucky Mountains has a small mixed-blood population considered to be of Indian mixture. (36) They are noted in the county as mountain farmers with large families whom they are able to maintain without apparent means of support. The people have been in the county as long as records have been maintained. Their surnames have all been associated with Melungeons in the records, though some of the early Magoffin County mixed-bloods were themselves born in Virginia and North Carolina. A colony of the Magoffin County group planted itself near Carmel, Ohio, about the time of the Civil War. At the very edge of the Appalachians, they built their shacks in the hills where they obtained shelter, wood, game, and ginseng, providing farm labor at times on the more fertile plains. Some of the group are now rooted in Carmel, but close contact is yet maintained with relatives in Magoffin County.

Ohio has a second small group living in the rich Corn Belt land of Darks County. Admittedly part Negro, members of this group are descended from ancestors who began settlement there by 1822. A number of families, all of whom came from the southeast, apparently found here an escape from the anomalous position of the free Negro in the slave states. The colony is fairly prosperous although the farms are somewhat smaller than the average about them; subdivision through inheritance probably accounts for this condition.

Other small mixed-blood groups are indicated on the map in Figure 1.


INTERPRETATION OF MIXED-BLOOD DISTRIBUTION

The mixed-blood groups generally appear to have arisen from diverse sources. Where records are available, they indicate that the ancestors of the present mixed- bloods, coming into their present areas at the time of American settlement, were themselves mixed. The mixing must have had a beginning, of course; the old records are lacking for the easternmost groups where settlement was earlier. The surnames of the mixed-blood people are usually distinctive in their areas; if their names are taken from white people, such event seems to pre-date settlement in the present areas.

The mixed-blood groups are not closely associated with particular physical refuge areas in most cases; more broadly, however, Figure1 shows that most of them live in the Coastal Plain and Appalachian Provinces–areas generally marginal in soil fertility and irregular in utility, accessibility and settlement. Though typically, but not entirely, a Southern phenomenon, mixed-blood groups are not typical of the old Cotton Belt, but rather outline its edges. Borders of some nature seem to be favorite locations. The Redbones near the old Texas border, the Jackson Whites, Issues, and Carmel groups near borders between hills and plains, the Cajans on the old Spanish frontier, and many groups near state boundaries may be locationally related to the meeting of two worlds.
The conservative nature of these groups is evidenced by the fact that the boys who saw service during the second World War, usually in white units, have regularly returned to their homes. One stream of mixed-bloods does leave the focal areas to pass as white in cities and elsewhere, ultimately losing touch completely with the original group. The home areas often present limited opportunity in the economic niches open to the mixed-bloods. Some expand in a real extent, some in replacing white groups, but generally their populations are restricted, and their increase as identifiable mixed-bloods does not approach their actual reproductive growth.

Many of the mixed-blood groups seem unrelated or unimportantly related one to the other. Perhaps they represent similar responses to similar social conditions, each in a different area. The records of the surnames and birthplaces, however, tie a number of the groups together: the Croatans and many small groups of the Carolinas and Virginia; the Melungeons; the Redbones; the mixed-bloods of Magoffin County; and the two small groups mentioned in Ohio.

Though certain facts concerning the origin of these peoples have been traced, the questions of who they were and why they displayed this unusual clannishness have hardly been touched. The relationships mentioned suggest the hypothesis of a colonial mixed-blood society having origin in Virginia and the Carolinas, consisting of a number of localized concentrations as well as floaters who served to maintain or effect both blood and social ties between the sedentary groups. Though the early groups certainly grew by accretion, chance colonization of a few members of this society in a new location may have been the necessary condition for a new localization of the same type. They seem to have moved westward into and across the Appalachians with the general stream of population. It is difficult to trace specific parenthood of one group by another, but numerous interrelationships are indicated by the records.


ORIGIN OF THE MIXED-BLOOD GROUPS

The records needed to probe the origin and nature of this society are, if ex- istent, not available through the common indices and card catalogues. Perhaps they may be accidentally turned up. Some suggestive fragments are herewith presented.


The Goins Family

Figure 3

The name Goins seems to be a peculiar marker of these mixed-bloods. It has already been mentioned in connection with the Melungeons and certain strains in North Carolina. It is prominent among the mixed-bloods of Darke County, Ohio, and was associated with the Redbones in what is now Calcasieu Parish. It is a minor name among the Croatans and is the chief name among a mixed-blood group with a special school in Williamsburg County, South Carolina. Further, Goins is an unusual name; though many whites are named Goins, it occurred with a much greater frequency among free colored persons in 1830 (2.8 per thousand) than among the population at large in 1790 (0.1 per thousand in six populous Southern and Middle states.

Over a hundred free colored families named Goins were well scattered in 1830 through the South and southern parts of the Northern border states (Fig. 3). The two greatest concentrations occurred in the Melungeon area and the North Carolina-Virginia Piedmont where so many are found today. The former was almost certainly derived from the latter. (37) The concentration in central Virginia may be older than these, but is not known to have persisted. The Goins name arrived in Virginia early, (38) one “Tho. Gowen” having been listed as a passenger on the Globe in 1635. (39) One account of the better known branch of the family (40) has them spreading southward from a center in Stafford County, Virginia. A colored servant, Mihill Gowen, was released after four years of service in 1657; (41) It may be noted that Gowen had not been the name of his mistress. The same unusual name (Mihil Goen) crops up again in 1718 in James City County as former owner of escheat land being patented by another man. (42) A muster roll of a Granville County, North Carolina, regiment in 1754 singled out five men in one company as mulattoes; three of them were named Gowen. (43) A roster of North Carolina Revolutionary soldiers of 1778 lists a Gowan as a mulatto. (44) A 1792 entry in a deed book of Fairfeld County, South Carolina, (45) records the fact that Levi Goyen made his friend John Goyen his attorney for handling a parcel of land in “Daverson Co. N.C. aforesaid land being first in the hands of David Goyen decd. free Mallatto went to Cumberland River in the year 1770 and were killed by the Indians in the year 1780 and left the said Mallatto Levi Goyen his proper heir….” The records available leave open the possibility that a branch of the Gowen family emerged as free mixed-bloods in the seventeenth century. Russell uses Milhill Gowen (46) to illustrate his contention that the early Negro servitude was usually an indenture rather than a permanent slavery. Can the mixed-bloods have had such an origin as free men, maintaining ever since the social barrier against the freed slaves? Certainly such a phenomenon as the Goins family must have a definite story behind it, but has it made its way into the records?

No real center of the Goins mixed-bloods can be identified antedating their concentration in the upper Piedmont. It is understood that the settlement of these counties was mostly from Virginia; this is in keeping with the above observation on southward spread of the Gowen family. The oldest Goinses recorded in the North Carolina portion of this district in the 1850 census were born in Virginia.


The Chavis Family

Figure 4

Another widespread name among mixed-bloods is Chavis (Chavous, Chavers, probably Shavers, etc.) (Fig. 4). Whereas Goins was more frequent among free colored people than whites, Chavis was also more numerous among the free colored. One free Negro of the name rose to fame as an educator. (47) Chavis is a prominent Croatan name. It has been reported in South Carolina as a mixed-blood name, e.g., In Orangeburg County, and its association with the Melungeons and Redbones is suggested by the records. A Granville County muster roll of 1754 lists three members of the family, one as a Negro, the other two (at least one a son of the first) as mulattoes. (48) Colored slaveholders of the name were identified in Virginia by Jackson (49) in Charlotte County and Russell (50) in Mecklenburg County. They are identified as South Carolina frontiersmen in 1751 and 1752. (51) Again an interesting story should unfold could the family and name be traced to their beginnings.

A number of other names seem to be frequent tracers of people of these mixed- blood castes, not only in the Carolinas and Virginia, but also in other states to their west. Bass, Epps, Scott, Bell, Sweat, and Revels are good examples. In addition there are less definite suggestions or fewer cases of still other names of which the following may be given as examples: Bolton, Braveboy, Cumbo, Harris, Newsom, Russell. Many of these names are common among whites and are of no use in the present connection unless identified as separate from their occurrence in the population at large.

An example of the suggestive co-occurrence of several of these names may be found in a document of 1822. (52) A list of free people of color in Richland District, South Carolina, delinquent in the personal tax expected of them in 1821 and 1822 includes prominently the names of Oxendine, Locklier, Chavis, Sweat(Redbones and South Carolina groups), Gibson (Melungeons), and Jacobs. The last name is important in a mixed-blood group in Richland County today, a group of localized residents known as Sandhillers; it is also the name of probably a few hundred Croatans. Accompanying the list of delinquents is a petition to the House of Representatives on the estate of the then late district sheriff, begging release from the payment of the uncollected tax because “the time allowed by the Law for the return of these Executions is so short, and the difficulty of finding them on account of the peculiar situation of their place of residence, is such, that it was impossible for the Sheriff to collect…. (53) A seclusion of the mixed-bloods in an inaccessible location is definitely implied, yet their separation was not so perfect that the sheriff did not have a list of their names. The people with whom the sheriff was timid about dealing were likely the ancestors of the present Sandhillers; they almost certainly included some Croatan families, and the names suggest connection with other mixed- bloods too.

The social attitude of these mixed-bloods must have been such that they found it congenial to take up with others of their own kind. They seem to have persisted in the static societies of rural areas stimulated perhaps by tradition of Indian blood or pride of early freedom. (54)

Notes to Price Article

Notes to Edward Price article

**Grateful acknowledgement is made for financial assistance in the preparation of this paper from a special fund at the disposal of the Geology and Geography Department of the University of Cincinnati; it was used for field study in the Carolinas and Virginia in the summer of 1950 in the interests of running back the origins of mixed-blood groups previously studied elsewhere.

*The word blood is used throughout this paper to denote composition of racial ancestry.

1For a useful summary of these groups see W.H. Gilbert, “Memorandum Concerning the Characteristics of the Larger Mixed-Blood Islands of the Eastern United States,” Social Forces, XXIV (1946): 438-447.

2Original schedules of the United States Censuses not destroyed are available in the National Archives, Washington, D.C., in volumes identified by state, county, and year. Two indexed publications are particularly useful: U.S. Census Bureau, Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790, Washington, D.C., 1907-8; C. G. Woodson, Free Negro Heads of Families in the United States in 1830, Washington, 1925.

3Guy B. Johnson, “Personality in a White-Negro-Indian Community,” American Sociological Review, IV (1939): 519

4J. R. Swanton, “Probable Identity of the Croatan Indians,” Senate Reports, 73rd Congress, 2nd Session, Calendar No. 229, Report No. 204, Washington, 1934: 5.

5Johnson, op cit, 517-518.

6Ibid, pp. 518, 520.

7See R. M. Harper, “A Statistical Study of the Croatans,” Rural Sociology, II (1937): 444-456, and “The Most Prolific People in the United States,” Eugenical News, XXIII (1938): 29-31.

8Johnson, op cit, p. 522.

9Sir Walter Raleigh’ Lost Colony, revised edition, Raleigh, 1907 (earlier edition, 1888).

10Op. cit, pp. 3-6.

11>Op. cit, p. 35.

12Lists of students at Pembroke State College, taken from Catalog II, No. 4, June, 1949 give the following percentage frequencies for the most common names: Locklear 17, Oxendine 13, Lowrie 9, Sampson 6, Chavis 5, Dial 4, Maynor 4, Hunt 4.

13Edward T. Price, “The Melungeons: A Mixed-Blood Strain of the Southern Appalachians,” Geographical Review, XLI (1951): 256-271.
14The earliest is from the April term of Wilkes County (then containing Ashe) Court, 1790, case 10, State vs. Vardy Collins: case 11 was State vs. Jordan Gibson.

15Frederick Law Olmstead, A Journey Through Texas, New York, 1857, pp. 386-7.

16Stephen B. Weeks, “The Lost Colony of Roanoke: its Fate and Survival,” Papers of the American Historical Association, V (1891): 466; Brewton Berry, “The Mestizos of South Carolina,” American Journal of Sociology, LI (1945): 34.

17Peter Joseph Hamilton, “Early Roads of Alabama,” Transactions of Alabama Historical Society, II (1897-8): 47.

18Harry Toulmin, Digest of Alabama Laws, New York, 1823, p. 642.

19Lineage book of mixed-blood families (typewritten ms.) prepared for Mobile School Board, ca. 1931.

20U. S. Census Office, Eleventh Census, Report on Indians Taxed and Indians Not Taxed, Washington, 1894, p. 132.

21John Jaquelin Ambler, ms. journal, Amherst, 1848, p. 60.

22The group is anonymously examined in Arthur H. Estabrook and Ivan E. McDougle, Mongrel Virginians, Baltimore, 1926.

23Gilbert, “Mixed Bloods of the Upper Monongahela Valley, West Virginia,” Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, XXXVI (1946): 1-13.

24Deed books of Barbour and Harrison Counties.

25Based on school census and voter registration; in the latter the following families had the given percentages of the total number of Guineas: Mayle 45, Croston 11, Kennedy 10, Dalton 8, Newman 7.

26Gilbert, “The Wesorts of Southern Maryland, an Outcasted Group,” Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, XXXV (1945): 237-246.

27C. A. Weslager, Delaware’s Forgotten Folk, Philadelphia, 1943.

28Frank G. Speck, “The Nanticoke Community of Delaware,” Contributions form the Museum of the American Indian, II (1915), No. 4.

29Constance Crawford, The Jackson Whites, M.A. thesis, School of Education, New York University, 1940, p. 41.

30George H. Budke, “The History of the Tappan Patent,” The Rockland Record (Rockland County Society of the State of New York), II (1931-2): 35.

31See J. C. Storms, Origin of the Jackson Whites of the Ramapo Mountains, Park Ridge, N.J., 1945.

32”Community of Outcasts,” Appleton’s Journal, VII (1872): 324-329.

33Berry, Op. cit., pp. 34-41.

34Ibid, p. 35.

35Educational Directory of North Carolina, 1949-1950, Publication No. 273. Issued by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Raleigh. Only two of these schools are more than two counties removed from the Croatan center; at least two other such Indian schools have existed in the past.

36Edward T. Price, “The Mixed-Blood Strain of Carmel, Ohio, and Magoffin County, Kentucky,” Ohio Journal of Science, L (1950), 281-290.

37A census taker in Lee County, Va., in 1870 recorded county of birth (whereas only the state was requested). A mulatto Goins family had adults born in Surry and Ashe Counties, N. C., and children born in Hancock, Grainger, and Knox Counties, Tennessee. All except the last are mixed-blood localities of some importance.

38This statement is based on the identity of the names Goins and Gowen (along with Going, Gowings, Goyne, etc.), which are certainly indistinguishable in the records. Those who wold derive Goins from the Portuguese Gôes, of course, present a problem of different nature (lining up with those who suggest Chavez as the derivation of Chavis, discussed below; the suggestion of an Iberian origin for the mixed-bloods is widespread, but not supported by direct evidence). Goins is also said by McMillan (op. cit., 40) to have been derived from O’Guin in Robeson County.

39John Camden Hotten, The Original Lists of Persons of Quality…and Others who Went from Great Britain to the American Plantations, 1600-1700, London, 1874, 119.

40(Mrs.) A. Evans Wynn, Southern Lineages, Atlanta, 1919, pp. 319 et seg.

41John H. Russell, “The Free Negro in Virginia, 1619-1865,” Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, XXXI (1913): 47 and Ms. Court Records of York County, 1657-1662, p. 45, filed in Virginia State Library, Richmond.

42”Patents Issued During the Regal Government,” William and Mary Historical Quarterly Magazine, 1st series, XII (1904): 189.

43The State Records of North Carolina. Goldsboro, N. C., 1886-1907, XXII, 372.

44Roster of Soldiers from North Carolina in the American Revolution, Durham, 1932, p. 600.

45Deed Book A, p. 162, filed in courthouse at Winnsboro.

46Loc. cit.

47E.g., see John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom, New York, 1947, p. 227.

48The North Carolina State and Colonial Records, XXII, p. 379.

49Luther P. Jackson, Free Negro Labor and Property Holding in Virginia, 1830-1860, New York, 1942, p. 216.

50James S. Russell, “Rural Economic Progress of the Negro in Virginia,“ Journal of Negro History, XI (1926): 559.

51Kenneth Wiggins Porter, “Negroes on the Southern Frontier,” Journal of Negro History, XXXIII (1948): 74.

52Filed with documents under head of “Free Persons of Color” in the South Carolina State Archives, Columbia.

53Present writer’s italics.

54Since the compilation of this article, Mr. Calvin Beale of the Census Bureau has informed me of the results of his examination of these mixed-blood groups as they appeared in the 1950 Census. They could be identified with reasonable accuracy from a list of the known surnames, by their sequence on the list, and by evidence of intermarriage obtained from maiden names. The data tend to confirm most of the population estimates and to strengthen considerably the evidence of connections between certain groups. The Magoffin County group seem to be twice as numerous as estimated (500 or more), and a number of small concentrations previously unknown to me were discovered in this manner.

“American Triracial Isolates” by Calvin Beale, 1957 article

Published by:

1957 Beale article

American Triracial Isolates: Their Status and Pertinence to Genetic Research

by Calvin L. Beale
originally published in Eugenics Quarterly
4/4 (December 1957): 187-196.
Used with permission of author

 

In the 1950 Census of Population, 50,000 American Indians are listed as living in states east of the Mississippi River. These people do not constitute the sole biological legacy of the aboriginal population once found in the East, of course. The remnants of many tribes were removed west of the Mississippi where they retain their tribal identity today. Nor is it uncommon to meet Easterners, thoroughly Caucasian in appearance and racial status, who boast of an Indian ancestor in the dim past. Other intfusio9ns of Indian blood were absorbed into the Negro population, and in this context may also be referred to with pride even if they afford no differential social status.

It is another class of people, however, that engages the attention of this article – a class more numerous than the Indians remaining in the East, more obscure than those in the West, less assured than the white man or the Negro who regards his link of Indian descent as a touch of the heroic or romantic. The reference is to population groups of presumed triracial descent. Such isolates, bequeathed of intermingled Indian, white, and Negro ancestry, are as old as the nation itself and include not less than 77,000 persons. They live today in more than 100 counties of at least 17 Eastern States with settlements ranging in size from less than 50 persons to more than 20,000. Their existence has furnished material for the writings of local historians, folklorists, journalists, and novelists. Occasionally, they have come to the attention of cultural anthropologists, sociologists, and – here and there – a geographer or educator. Attention to the triracial isolates by geneticists is largely confined to the last three years, however. It is the object of this discussion to describe the nature, location, and status of such Indian-white-Negro groups in Eastern States and to indicate the potential interest they hold for the field of human genetics.1

Although the precise origin of these groups is unknown in most instances, they seem to have formed through miscegenation between Indians, whites, and Negroes – slave or free – in the Colonial and early Federal periods. In places the offspring of such unions – many of which were illegitimate under the law – tended to marry among themselves. Within a generation or so this practice created a distinctly new racial element in society, living apart from other faces. The forces differed from place to place. Some groups subsequently dispersed or were assimilated during the 19th century. Some waxed in numbers, others waned. Most have persisted to the present day.

A majority of the triracial isolates originated in the Atlantic Coastal Plain. Their members were among the early pioneers in the Appalachian Plateaus and the Tennessee River Valley. Many left the South and moved to Northern States such as Ohio and Indiana, especially when restrictive measures were passed against free nonwhite people in Southern States during the 1830’s. Thus it happens that the majority of the groups in the Trans-Appalachian States are related to others remaining in the South Atlantic States, although contact between them has lapsed.2 None of the Northern groups seem to have colonized to the west, however.

The habitat of the mixed-blood people has been typically rural and geographically isolated. It is difficult to find such a settlement that is not associated with a swamp, a hollow, an inaccessible ridge, or the back country of a sandy flatwoods.3 Many modern developments have helped reduce their isolation, but this isolation factor appears to have been of major importance in fostering and perpetuating the existence of the groups. Legal disputes over their racial status for purposes of school attendance, vital statistics registration, and other public matters have been numerous in Southern and Border states. In many groups educational attainment is low, income is inadequate, and reliance on public welfare programs is high. The incidence of illegitimacy, common-law marriage, petty larceny, and other socially disapproved practices has been frequent enough in certain locations to type the racial hybrids unfavorably in the public mind.

The racial status of the triracial people varies greatly, both as conceived in the minds of the people themselves and in the eyes of their white or Negro neighbors. Occasionally they occupy no more than a peculiar status among the Negro population. Some are regarded as a separate race, known either as Indian or by a local colloquial name. Where such is the case in Southern States, they often have their own segregated schools. In North Carolina, where they are most numerous, this practice extends to a separate State college. Other groups have achieved a measure of acceptance as white. It seems impossible to reconstruct for each community the circumstances that have determined the present status. Physical appearance and local traditions of origin may well be the most important.

It is well to make clear that the designation of these groups as triracial is often the conclusion of the investigator rather than a reflection of public opinion in the area concerned. In general all local informants will agree that the mixed population is partly white. (Blue eyes are commonly in evidence to validate this.) The white informant will insist that the mixed-blood people are partly Negro. Perhaps he will agree that they are partly Indian, perhaps not. The mixed-blood individual will usually insist – with vehemence, if necessary – that there is no Negro ancestry in his family (although he may not make this claim for all other families in the settlement) but that he is partly Indian. In a minority of communities unmistakable elements of Indian culture have between found. Presence of Negro ancestry may or may not be evident in some families from the occurrence of Negro hair forms or facial features. If evident, it tends to jeopardize claims of the group to non-Negro status. In sum, the groups described are with few exceptions considered only of white and Indian descent by their members but are regarded to be partly Negro by neighboring whites or Negroes.4 Investigators frequently report the opinion of elderly persons that the average skin color of younger members of triracial isolates is lighter than that of earlier generations. This is not surprising in view of the fact that in most groups social relations with Negroes are discouraged and marriage to a Negro may result in ostracism. Relationships with white persons entail no such group displeasure.

Characterization of the triracial groups has its limitations, for thy have emerged over a large geographic area under varying cultural conditions. With the usual footnote that there are exceptions, it can be said that they are a highly inbred class of people. It is this feature that most warrants the interest of students of human heredity.

The conditions of social and physical isolation – both imposed and voluntary – that fostered the emergence of mixed racial communities typically limited the choice of marriage partners within a relatively small number of surnames. Scattered data on marriage records attest to this. In Halifax County, North Carolina, between 1819 and 1860, 14 out of 29 male members of the leading family in a triracial group for whom marriage bonds were filed married females of the same name.5 Of 35 marriages recorded for persons having the key surnames of a mixed-racial community in Cumberland County, New Jersey, 9 were to spouses of the same surname and 17 to spouses of just one other surname.6 In two families of the so -called “Guinea” community of Barbour and Taylor Counties, West Virginia, 102 of 112 marriages from 1856-1931 were to other persons in the racial isolate (about 11 surnames).7

Presumably as a result of such close marrying practices, genetically determined diseases and defects of unusual frequency have been reported among a number of the triracial isolates. The Jackson Whites of New Jersey have long been noted for albinism and polydactylism.8 Some of the Moors of Delaware suffer from microphthalmia9, and hereditary deformities of the joints are reported among the West Virginia mixed bloods.10

The most notable evidences of inbreeding and hereditary difficulties have been reported for an isolate in Southern Maryland termed colloquially, “Wesorts.” These people number about 4,000, including those in Washington, D.C., of whom at least one-fourth bear one surname, with a dozen names accounting for most of the rest of the population. An excellent measure of consanguinity in the group is provided by the fact that at least 90 percent are Roman Catholic and ecclesiastical dispensation is required by that faith for marriages of known first or second cousins. In one major parish over a 104-year period, one sixth of the marriages involving at least one Wesort required such a dispensation.11

The Indian tribes of Southern Maryland left the area before the end of the 17th century, but some Indians of mixed descent, or married to non-Indians, apparently remained. A triracial group evolved. Some knowledge of the original tribal clan structure was handed down, but the triracial people became part of the larger society as a poor farming and laboring element regarded as colored.

Maintenance of racial separateness by the Maryland group is notable for it has been achieved without the assistance of institutionalized aids such as separate schools and churches. By law the children had to attend the “regular” colored schools. The people have attended the same churches as the general population but for a long period sat by custom in a particular section of the church.

The Wesorts are variable in appearance, including substantial variation within sibships. In general, they are somewhat darker than most of the other triracial peoples, and Negroid hair forms and facial features are not uncommon. However, some can pass as white and as a group they are distinctly lighter and more Caucasian than the neighboring Negro population, which itself has a substantial infusion of white ancestry. Some are pointed out as showing Indian characteristics.

In 1945 Gilbert, a cultural anthropologist, reported on the group and mentioned hereditary difficulties ascribed to it.12 About three years ago, the existence of the group as a distinct breeding population and the widespread incidence of hereditary disease within it were first recognized by medical researchers through admissions to Washington hospitals. An intensive survey of the population was subsequently undertaken under the sponsorship of the National Institutes of health and is still in progress. Results reported from this work indicate exceptionally high incidence of dentinogenisis imperfecta and albinism.13 The former is a dental defect, transmitted as a simple dominant gene, which has various manifestations. It is an unsightly affliction and commonly results in the necessity for full artificial dentures in early adulthood. Many other hereditary conditions such as lop ears, polycystic kidneys, deaf mutism, glaucoma, syndactylism, polydactylism, congenital cataracts, convergent and divergent strabismus (nonparalytic eye squint), and hyperstatic bone disease have been found in the group and are being assessed. Two or more of the conditions often occur in the same person. “Due to several centuries of in-marriage, many genetically recessive traits have become manifest and many genetically dominant traits have become concentrated in certain lines of the clan.”14Fertility is high notwithstanding the heavy load of inheritable handicaps. Cohorts of women of recently completed childbearing averaged better than five and one-half children per female beginning life in the cohort.

It may be that the intensity of inbreeding and notable constellation of hereditary effects evident among the Wesort group will be found to represent the extreme example of such conditions in the Indian-white-Negro isolates.15 In any event, it illustrates persuasively the attention which American triracial isolates merit from geneticists, and which, strangely, they have not previously received.

The statistics in Table 1 show the location, size, and racial status in the 1950 Population Census records of nearly all rural and small town triracial groups know to be still in existence. Folk-names for the groups are also given where known. These data were compiled by the writer while employed by the Bureau of the Census, in order to appraise the results of the Bureau’s efforts to introduce consistency into the classification of triracial isolates. In past censuses, variation in the listing of such groups had produced obvious inconsistencies in race statistics from one census to another. In 1950, the Bureau instructed enumerators to “Report persons of mixed white, Negro, and Indian ancestry living in certain communities in the Eastern United States in terms of the name by which they are locally known.”16 Such persons were then to be classified for publication purposes among “other nonwhite races,” that is, other than Negro, American Indian, Chinese, Japanese, or Filipino.

In 116 counties checked, the population of triracial character was estimated at 77,000 persons, on the basis of race entries, enumerators’ notes, and through the use of extensive surname data on th4e groups assembled from a variety of sources. Of this number, 33,000 were enumerated as Indian, 29,000 as white, 14,000 as Negro, and 1,000 under colloquial race names or with the race entry blank. More than 40 percent of the total live in North Carolina. It was not feasible to make the investigation in cities of more than 20,000 inhabitants. Undoubtedly all of the groups have made some contribution to urban migration, but it is the native rural environment that status as a separate race or endogamous group is most common.

Relatively few instances were noted in the 1950 Census records where enumerators employed colloquial race terms, although there was an increase from previous censuses in the use of “Indian” as the race name for triracial people. On reflection, it is not surprising that colloquial terms were not employed more freely by the enumerators. They exist for the great majority of the groups but are usually offensive to the people so-termed. Examples include: Croatan, Brass Ankle, Red Bone, Red leg, Free Jack, Bushwhacker, Dominicker, Guinea, and Issue. Common politeness or self-interest may have led many enumerators to list groups as Indian or white. Field investigations by the writer and others substantiate that certain of the communities have acquired a public status as white or Indian even though they continue to be regarded informally as having some Negro ancestry. In the numerous instances where the racial status of an isolate has not been static – at least as reflected in census records – the direction of change over the years seems invariably to have gone toward a lighter classification. For example, the so-called “Melungeon” people were commonly listed as mulatto prior to the Civil War. In various censuses after the war Melungeons in many counties were classified as Indian. By 1950, all but a very few of them were listed as white and are known to be accepted officially as part of the white population in their local areas.

Fertility rates in the triracial isolates appear to be exceptionally high. Reliable inferences can be drawn on this subject for those Southern groups who were tabulated in the published reports of the 1950 Census as “other nonwhite races.” This population of 33,000 includes the majority of mixed bloods who were listed as Indian or by a colloquial term in the original schedules but few who were listed as white or Negro. The ratio of children under 5 years old per 1,000 rural women 15 to 49 years old among these people was 825 (standardized for age to distribution of total United States women).17 This is nearly double the ratio of 417 for total women in the nation. It also exceeds the high fertility ratios of the rural Spanish-speaking population of the Southwest (755) and the Negro rural-farm population of the South (771). In fact it is the highest fertility ration for 1950 known to the writer for any racial or ethnic group in the United States.

When translated into its potential for yields an estimated generation replacement index of 259 percent per 100 women. In other words, under continuation of fertility and morality conditions current in 1945-1950, the triracial population would increase by over two and one-half times in the course of each generation. Such a rapid increase is no longer containable in the rural homelands of the groups. It portends a wider distribution for them in the future and growing contacts in urban settings with people unacquainted with their curious history. In several large cities to which migration has tended to cluster and form a visible social group, as many immigrant peoples have done before them. However, the clannish aspect of their lives seems ultimately to weaken, and marriage outside the group begins. Meanwhile, as definable population groups of large family size, developed from relatively few family lines, and still practicing close marriage, the triracial groups offer unusual opportunities for the study of genetic diseases and factors affecting the persistence of population isolates.


Although the precise origin of these groups is unknown in most instances, they seem to have formed through miscegenation between Indians, whites, and Negroes – slave or free – in the Colonial and early Federal periods. In places the offspring of such unions – many of which were illegitimate under the law – tended to marry among themselves. Within a generation or so this practice created a distinctly new racial element in society, living apart from other faces. The forces differed from place to place. Some groups subsequently dispersed or were assimilated during the 19th century. Some waxed in numbers, others waned. Most have persisted to the present day.

A majority of the triracial isolates originated in the Atlantic Coastal Plain. Their members were among the early pioneers in the Appalachian Plateaus and the Tennessee River Valley. Many left the South and moved to Northern States such as Ohio and Indiana, especially when restrictive measures were passed against free nonwhite people in Southern States during the 1830’s. Thus it happens that the majority of the groups in the Trans-Appalachian States are related to others remaining in the South Atlantic States, although contact between them has lapsed.2 None of the Northern groups seem to have colonized to the west, however.

The habitat of the mixed-blood people has been typically rural and geographically isolated. It is difficult to find such a settlement that is not associated with a swamp, a hollow, an inaccessible ridge, or the back country of a sandy flatwoods.3 Many modern developments have helped reduce their isolation, but this isolation factor appears to have been of major importance in fostering and perpetuating the existence of the groups. Legal disputes over their racial status for purposes of school attendance, vital statistics registration, and other public matters have been numerous in Southern and Border states. In many groups educational attainment is low, income is inadequate, and reliance on public welfare programs is high. The incidence of illegitimacy, common-law marriage, petty larceny, and other socially disapproved practices has been frequent enough in certain locations to type the racial hybrids unfavorably in the public mind.

The racial status of the triracial people varies greatly, both as conceived in the minds of the people themselves and in the eyes of their white or Negro neighbors. Occasionally they occupy no more than a peculiar status among the Negro population. Some are regarded as a separate race, known either as Indian or by a local colloquial name. Where such is the case in Southern States, they often have their own segregated schools. In North Carolina, where they are most numerous, this practice extends to a separate State college. Other groups have achieved a measure of acceptance as white. It seems impossible to reconstruct for each community the circumstances that have determined the present status. Physical appearance and local traditions of origin may well be the most important.

It is well to make clear that the designation of these groups as triracial is often the conclusion of the investigator rather than a reflection of public opinion in the area concerned. In general all local informants will agree that the mixed population is partly white. (Blue eyes are commonly in evidence to validate this.) The white informant will insist that the mixed-blood people are partly Negro. Perhaps he will agree that they are partly Indian, perhaps not. The mixed-blood individual will usually insist – with vehemence, if necessary – that there is no Negro ancestry in his family (although he may not make this claim for all other families in the settlement) but that he is partly Indian. In a minority of communities unmistakable elements of Indian culture have between found. Presence of Negro ancestry may or may not be evident in some families from the occurrence of Negro hair forms or facial features. If evident, it tends to jeopardize claims of the group to non-Negro status. In sum, the groups described are with few exceptions considered only of white and Indian descent by their members but are regarded to be partly Negro by neighboring whites or Negroes.4 Investigators frequently report the opinion of elderly persons that the average skin color of younger members of triracial isolates is lighter than that of earlier generations. This is not surprising in view of the fact that in most groups social relations with Negroes are discouraged and marriage to a Negro may result in ostracism. Relationships with white persons entail no such group displeasure.

Characterization of the triracial groups has its limitations, for thy have emerged over a large geographic area under varying cultural conditions. With the usual footnote that there are exceptions, it can be said that they are a highly inbred class of people. It is this feature that most warrants the interest of students of human heredity.

The conditions of social and physical isolation – both imposed and voluntary – that fostered the emergence of mixed racial communities typically limited the choice of marriage partners within a relatively small number of surnames. Scattered data on marriage records attest to this. In Halifax County, North Carolina, between 1819 and 1860, 14 out of 29 male members of the leading family in a triracial group for whom marriage bonds were filed married females of the same name.5 Of 35 marriages recorded for persons having the key surnames of a mixed-racial community in Cumberland County, New Jersey, 9 were to spouses of the same surname and 17 to spouses of just one other surname.6 In two families of the so -called “Guinea” community of Barbour and Taylor Counties, West Virginia, 102 of 112 marriages from 1856-1931 were to other persons in the racial isolate (about 11 surnames).7

Presumably as a result of such close marrying practices, genetically determined diseases and defects of unusual frequency have been reported among a number of the triracial isolates. The Jackson Whites of New Jersey have long been noted for albinism and polydactylism.8 Some of the Moors of Delaware suffer from microphthalmia9, and hereditary deformities of the joints are reported among the West Virginia mixed bloods.10

The most notable evidences of inbreeding and hereditary difficulties have been reported for an isolate in Southern Maryland termed colloquially, “Wesorts.” These people number about 4,000, including those in Washington, D.C., of whom at least one-fourth bear one surname, with a dozen names accounting for most of the rest of the population. An excellent measure of consanguinity in the group is provided by the fact that at least 90 percent are Roman Catholic and ecclesiastical dispensation is required by that faith for marriages of known first or second cousins. In one major parish over a 104-year period, one sixth of the marriages involving at least one Wesort required such a dispensation.11

The Indian tribes of Southern Maryland left the area before the end of the 17th century, but some Indians of mixed descent, or married to non-Indians, apparently remained. A triracial group evolved. Some knowledge of the original tribal clan structure was handed down, but the triracial people became part of the larger society as a poor farming and laboring element regarded as colored.

Maintenance of racial separateness by the Maryland group is notable for it has been achieved without the assistance of institutionalized aids such as separate schools and churches. By law the children had to attend the “regular” colored schools. The people have attended the same churches as the general population but for a long period sat by custom in a particular section of the church.

The Wesorts are variable in appearance, including substantial variation within sibships. In general, they are somewhat darker than most of the other triracial peoples, and Negroid hair forms and facial features are not uncommon. However, some can pass as white and as a group they are distinctly lighter and more Caucasian than the neighboring Negro population, which itself has a substantial infusion of white ancestry. Some are pointed out as showing Indian characteristics.

In 1945 Gilbert, a cultural anthropologist, reported on the group and mentioned hereditary difficulties ascribed to it.12 About three years ago, the existence of the group as a distinct breeding population and the widespread incidence of hereditary disease within it were first recognized by medical researchers through admissions to Washington hospitals. An intensive survey of the population was subsequently undertaken under the sponsorship of the National Institutes of health and is still in progress. Results reported from this work indicate exceptionally high incidence of dentinogenisis imperfecta and albinism.13 The former is a dental defect, transmitted as a simple dominant gene, which has various manifestations. It is an unsightly affliction and commonly results in the necessity for full artificial dentures in early adulthood. Many other hereditary conditions such as lop ears, polycystic kidneys, deaf mutism, glaucoma, syndactylism, polydactylism, congenital cataracts, convergent and divergent strabismus (nonparalytic eye squint), and hyperstatic bone disease have been found in the group and are being assessed. Two or more of the conditions often occur in the same person. “Due to several centuries of in-marriage, many genetically recessive traits have become manifest and many genetically dominant traits have become concentrated in certain lines of the clan.”14Fertility is high notwithstanding the heavy load of inheritable handicaps. Cohorts of women of recently completed childbearing averaged better than five and one-half children per female beginning life in the cohort.

It may be that the intensity of inbreeding and notable constellation of hereditary effects evident among the Wesort group will be found to represent the extreme example of such conditions in the Indian-white-Negro isolates.15 In any event, it illustrates persuasively the attention which American triracial isolates merit from geneticists, and which, strangely, they have not previously received.

The statistics in Table 1 show the location, size, and racial status in the 1950 Population Census records of nearly all rural and small town triracial groups know to be still in existence. Folk-names for the groups are also given where known. These data were compiled by the writer while employed by the Bureau of the Census, in order to appraise the results of the Bureau’s efforts to introduce consistency into the classification of triracial isolates. In past censuses, variation in the listing of such groups had produced obvious inconsistencies in race statistics from one census to another. In 1950, the Bureau instructed enumerators to “Report persons of mixed white, Negro, and Indian ancestry living in certain communities in the Eastern United States in terms of the name by which they are locally known.”16 Such persons were then to be classified for publication purposes among “other nonwhite races,” that is, other than Negro, American Indian, Chinese, Japanese, or Filipino.

In 116 counties checked, the population of triracial character was estimated at 77,000 persons, on the basis of race entries, enumerators’ notes, and through the use of extensive surname data on th4e groups assembled from a variety of sources. Of this number, 33,000 were enumerated as Indian, 29,000 as white, 14,000 as Negro, and 1,000 under colloquial race names or with the race entry blank. More than 40 percent of the total live in North Carolina. It was not feasible to make the investigation in cities of more than 20,000 inhabitants. Undoubtedly all of the groups have made some contribution to urban migration, but it is the native rural environment that status as a separate race or endogamous group is most common.

Relatively few instances were noted in the 1950 Census records where enumerators employed colloquial race terms, although there was an increase from previous censuses in the use of “Indian” as the race name for triracial people. On reflection, it is not surprising that colloquial terms were not employed more freely by the enumerators. They exist for the great majority of the groups but are usually offensive to the people so-termed. Examples include: Croatan, Brass Ankle, Red Bone, Red leg, Free Jack, Bushwhacker, Dominicker, Guinea, and Issue. Common politeness or self-interest may have led many enumerators to list groups as Indian or white. Field investigations by the writer and others substantiate that certain of the communities have acquired a public status as white or Indian even though they continue to be regarded informally as having some Negro ancestry. In the numerous instances where the racial status of an isolate has not been static – at least as reflected in census records – the direction of change over the years seems invariably to have gone toward a lighter classification. For example, the so-called “Melungeon” people were commonly listed as mulatto prior to the Civil War. In various censuses after the war Melungeons in many counties were classified as Indian. By 1950, all but a very few of them were listed as white and are known to be accepted officially as part of the white population in their local areas.

Fertility rates in the triracial isolates appear to be exceptionally high. Reliable inferences can be drawn on this subject for those Southern groups who were tabulated in the published reports of the 1950 Census as “other nonwhite races.” This population of 33,000 includes the majority of mixed bloods who were listed as Indian or by a colloquial term in the original schedules but few who were listed as white or Negro. The ratio of children under 5 years old per 1,000 rural women 15 to 49 years old among these people was 825 (standardized for age to distribution of total United States women).17 This is nearly double the ratio of 417 for total women in the nation. It also exceeds the high fertility ratios of the rural Spanish-speaking population of the Southwest (755) and the Negro rural-farm population of the South (771). In fact it is the highest fertility ration for 1950 known to the writer for any racial or ethnic group in the United States.

When translated into its potential for yields an estimated generation replacement index of 259 percent per 100 women. In other words, under continuation of fertility and morality conditions current in 1945-1950, the triracial population would increase by over two and one-half times in the course of each generation. Such a rapid increase is no longer containable in the rural homelands of the groups. It portends a wider distribution for them in the future and growing contacts in urban settings with people unacquainted with their curious history. In several large cities to which migration has tended to cluster and form a visible social group, as many immigrant peoples have done before them. However, the clannish aspect of their lives seems ultimately to weaken, and marriage outside the group begins. Meanwhile, as definable population groups of large family size, developed from relatively few family lines, and still practicing close marriage, the triracial groups offer unusual opportunities for the study of genetic diseases and factors affecting the persistence of population isolates.


References  

1. Bureau of the Census, 1950, Enumerator’s Reference Manual, 1950 Census of Population, Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office.

2. Bureau of the Census, 1953. Nonwhite Population by Race, 1950. United States Census of Population – Special Reports. Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office.

3. Craig, H. S. 1934. Cumberland County (New Jersey) Marriages. Privately published.

4. Gilbert, W. H., Jr. 1945. The Wesorts of Southern Maryland: An Outcasted Group. J. Wash. Acad. Sc. 35: 237-246.

5. _____. 1946. Mixed Bloods of the Upper Monongahela Valley, West Virginia. J. Wash. Acad. Sc. 36: 1-13.

6. _____. 1949. Surviving Indian Groups of the Eastern United States. The Smithsonian Report for 1948. Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office.

7. Hursey, R. J., Jr., Witkop, C. J., Jr., Miklashek, Doris, and Sackett, L. M. 1956. Dentinogenisis Imperfecta in a Racial Isolate with Multiple Hereditary Defects. Oral Surg., Oral Med., and Oral Path. 9: 641-658.

8. Snedecor, S. T. and Harryman, W. K. Surgical Problems in Hereditary Polydactylism and Syndactylism. 1940. J. Med Soc. New Jersey, XXXVII, 443-449.

9. Weller, George. 1938. The Jackson Whites. New Yorker. 14: No. 31: 29-39.

10. Weslager, C. A. 1945. Delaware’s Forgotten Folk. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.


Notes

1 Excluded from the category described are Indian tribes such as the Narragansett, Shinnecock, or Pamunkey, who absorbed both white and Negro blood, but retained their tribal identity and historical continuity.

2 The most widespread surname among triracial groups has been documented by the writer and others in at least 36 counties of seven states. This is the name Goins and variations thereof.

3 Settlements in Cumberland and Salem Counties, New Jersey, and Darke County, Ohio, are definite exceptions to this generalization.

4 Some groups account for brunette skin coloration by tradition of descent from shipwrecked sailors of Portuguese, Spanish, or Moorish origin. Open acknowledgement of partial Negro descent has been made in a few groups through such means as affiliation with Negro church denominations.

5 Data abstracted for family from State archives.

6 Cumberland County (New Jersey) Marriages, compiled by H. Stanley Craig, 1934.

7 “Mixed Bloods of the Upper Monongahela Valley, West Virginia, ” by William Harlan Gilbert, Jr., Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, Vol. 36, No. 1, January 15, 1946, pp. 1-13.

8 “Surgical Problems in Hereditary Polydactylism and Syndactylism,” by Spencer T. Snedecor and William B. Harryman,Journal of the Medical Society of New Jersey, Vol. XXXVII, No. 9, September 1940, pp. 443-449; “The Jackson Whites, ” by George Weller, New Yorker, Vol. 14, No 31, September 17, 1938, pp. 29-39.

9 Delaware’s Forgotten Folk, by C. A. Weslager, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1943, pp. 15-16.

10 “Surviving Indian Groups of the Eastern United States,” by William Harlan Gilbert, Jr. The Smithsonian Report for 1948, Government Printing Office, 1949, pp. 431.

11 Unpublished data furnished to this writer

12 “The Wesorts of Southern Maryland: An Outcasted Group,” by William Harlan Gilbert, Jr., Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, Vol. 33, No. 8, August 15, 1945, pp. 237-247.

13 “Dentinogenisis Imperfecta in a Racial Isolate with Multiple Hereditary Defects,” by Rudolph J. Hursey, Jr., Carl J. Witkop, Jr., Doris Miklashek, and Lee M. Sackett, Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, and Oral Pathology, Vol. 9, No. 6, pp. 641-658.

14 Ibid, p. 642.

15 Reconnaissance work in other localities, planned by Dr. Witkop and the writer, may determine whether this is true.

16 Enumerator’s Reference Manual, 1950 Census of the United States, United States Department of Commerce, Washington, D. C., N. D. Page 34.

17 All fertility ratios cited are computed from reports of the 1950 Census of Population. Statistics by age and sex for “other nonwhite races” are found in the Special Report, Nonwhite Population by Race, Government Printing Office, 1953, table 7. In the rural South, persons of triracial description comprise about 97 percent of the “other nonwhite races” population.

 

“The Melungeons” by Bonnie Ball, 1966 article

Published by:

The Melungeons

by Bonnie Ball

from Historical Society of Southwest Virginia Publication 2 – 1966, p. 47-52.

A generation ago census records of certain mountainous counties of Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Carolina, and others proved somewhat confusing. This was due to the presence of a strange group of people whose origin was, and has remained, one of the deepest and most fascinating mysteries of American ethnology.

The “Melungeons” who were called “ramps” in certain areas by their neighbors, have characteristics that range from those of the whites and American Indians to Orientals or Negroes. This variation prevented a definite race classification, and has also given rise to numerous theories concerning their origin.

Some had dark, oily skin, kinky hair, upturned noses and dark stoic eyes. Others, even in the same family had coarse bronzed skin, with straight black hair. Still others, close relatives, differed little from their white neighbors, perhaps having brown or light, fuzzy hair, fair or medium skin, and dark blue or gray eyes. Then there were others among them that had smooth, yellowish skin, curly brown or black hair, and dreamy, almost Oriental eyes.

It would be impossible to make any accurate estimate of how many such people were scattered throughout the mountains of the Southern Appalachians, but it can be assumed that their number fifty years ago would have run into at least five digits.

According to Bruce Crawford, a former newspaperman, and leading student of ethnology of the Appalachian area, the Melungeons were officially recognized about 1887 and given a separate legal existence under the title of “Croatan Indians” on the theory of their descent from Raleigh’s Lost Colony of Roanoke Island (North Carolina), a convenient means of disposal, but hardly satisfying to the inquisitive historian.

The older Melungeons insisted that they were Portuguese. I have known the Melungeons from childhood, when three families lived as tenants on my father’s farm in Southwestern Virginia. Their children have been my pupils, and I have done first-hand research on their traits, customs, and past, but can give here only the proposed theories of their origin.

Mr. Crawford’s research revealed that when John Sevier organized the state of Franklin (Tennessee) there was a colony of “dark-skinned, reddish-brown complexioned people supposed to be of Moorish descent.” They were neither Indians nor Negroes, but claimed to be Portuguese.

There is a doubtful theory that the Melungeon was a product of frontier warfare when white blood was fused with the Indian captor’s and that of the Negro slave.

There also persist stories (that are recorded in history) that DeSoto visited Southwestern Virginia in the sixteenth century by way of a long chain of mountain leading into Tennessee. One ridge known as “Newman’s Ridge” (which could have been “New Man’s Ridge”) was once the home of a teeming colony of Melungeons who were strongly believed to have descended from members of DeSoto’s party lost or captured there.

In both Carolinas Melungeons were denied privileges usually granted to white people. For that reason many migrated to Tennessee where the courts ruled that they were not Negroes.

Traditions still persist that the Melungeons were descendants of the ancient Phoenicians who migrated from Carthage to Morocco, whenced they crossed the Atlantic before the American Revolution and settled in North Carolina. If this theory can be accepted, they were pure Carthaginians, and not a mixed race.

In weighing this last statement it is interesting to note that the Moors of Tennessee called themselves Portuguese, that the Moors of North Carolina came from Portugal, and that a generation ago the Melungeons called themselves Portuguese.

Yet there are factors that are puzzling in these assumptions. Such common surnames among them as Collins, Gipson (Gibson), Sexton, Bolen, Goins, and Mullens suggest no Phoenician background. And there is nothing about the word “ramp” to suggest a shy, usually inoffensive race of people. Neither is there any known reason for usage of the word “Melungeon” which is believed to have been derived from the French word “melange,” meaning mixture.

The Melungeons were sometimes shy and reticent toward outlanders, but amiable with neighbors. They were loyal to their kin and employers. While they were fond of whiskey few were boisterous or malicious. I recall a story often told by my father, who was reared only a few miles from Newman’s Ridge, about “Big Mahala Mullens” who lived on the Virginia-Tennessee state line. She grew so obese that she was unable to leave her house, and sat at the door all day selling whiskey to travelers. When she discovered the approach of revenue officials she waddled over to the Virginia side of her house if they approached from the Tennessee side, and vice versa if from Virginia. The act was probably unnecessary, since the authorities could not have removed her from the house. When Mahala died the chimney was torn away in order that she could be removed for burial.

Practically all Melungeons preferred a care-free existence with members of their own clan. For many generations they seldom married outsiders, and virtually all families in each area were related. Nearly all Melungeons, young and old chewed tobacco. They lived largely on bacon, corn pone, mush, and strong coffee. In early spring they gathered “crow’s foot” from the woodlands, and “bear’s lettuce” from spring branches, and ate them raw with salt. They liked wild fruits and berries to eat from the bush, but cared nothing for canning and preserving them. The holiday for Melungeon men was a week in late summer, after the crops were laid by, to be used for a ginseng expedition. No camping equipment was taken along except a water pail, knives, and a frying pan. They slept under the cliffs.

No fisherman could compete with the Melungeons. He simply waded into the stream, shoes and all, and searched with his fingers for fish hiding under stones. It no time he emerged with a nice string of fish.

Theirs was a hardy race, and seldom did they rely on a doctor. They applied many home remedies for injuries and brewed herb teas. Childbirth was a casual matter, usually attended by mountain midwife. Babies, as a rule, grew and thrived without any pretense of comfort or sanitation.

Their religion was of the simple Protestant type. They often attended their neighbors’ churches, and occasionally had a patriarch-preacher in their group. They learned some of the old ballads and gospel songs from memory, for few of them could read or write. They accepted attendance at school, in most cases, an “unnecessary evil.” Church picnics were always attended by Melungeon boys, but my mother once had a difficult time persuading young Willie that he must have a bath and wear a suit in order to participate in a children’s day program. So he appeared, grinning broadly, in my brother’s hand-me-down.

Then came industry to the Appalachians – coal, timbering, and railroads. The change was slow. World War I drew Melungeons into industry as well as military service. Coal towns grew up rapidly, and the Melungeon, like other tenant farmers, loaded up his few belongings on a wagon and headed for the “public works.” A few remained behind and bought little hillside farms. For some reason their number appears to have decreased sharply in the past three decades, probably a result of long intermarriage, or perhaps many have been lost in white blood. Soon they may become just a legend – a lost race.

Ohio Valley Folk Research Project. Publications released in 1960 as of June 15, 1960. (1) “Sage’s Purple Passon” by Ben Hayes, New Series No. 37 (2) “Hair Balls and the Witch” by Melissa Hughes, New Series No. 38 (3) “Uncle Remus in Syracuse” by Lawrence S. Thompson, New Series No. 39 (4) “Hewitt, the Hermit” by James Emmitt, New Series No. 40 (5) “Tobacco Folklore” by Lawrence S. Thompson, New Series, No. 41 (6) “Ox, Capon and the Hare” by Yancy Yadkin, New Series, No. 42 (7) “Hugh Mosher, the Fifer” by Robert L. Walden, New Series, No. 43 (8) “Control of Grasshoppers” by Raymond Embree, New Series, No. 44 (9) “The Lost Silver Mine” by Dr. Carl R. Bogardus, New Series No. 45 (10) “Hog Drive to Evansville, 1879” by Elmer S. Elliott, New Series No. 46 (11) “Johnny Appleseed” by Rosella Rice, New Series, No. 47 (12) “Squirrel Broth” by Merrill C. Gilfillan, New Series, No. 48; (13) “The Undertaker’s Revenge,” by Jean Dow, New Series, No. 49 (14) “The Jackson County Madstones” by Dr. Gwyn Parry, New Series No. 50. (15) “The Feast of Rosea” by Adlyn Keffer, New Series, No. 51 (16) “Song, Legend of PA and WV” by Keysner and Whiting, New Series, No. 52 (17) “Lazy Tom” by Ellen Margolis, New Series No. 53 (18) “The Story of Nelson T. Gant” by Norris F. Schneider, New Series, No

“An Overview of the Phenomenon of Mixed Racial Isolates in the U.S.” by Calvin Beale, 1972 article

Published by:

An Overview of the Phenomenon of Mixed Racial Isolates in the Unites States

by Calvin L. Beale
American Anthropologist 74 (1972): 704-710 1

Mention is made of the decreasing proportion of endogamous marriages in recent times. The essentially rural nature of these racial isolates is pointed out, and the general societal trend of rural depopulation is stated to be affecting their size and continued existence. A suggested list of research needs is offered.

In about 1890, a young Tennessee woman asked a state legislator, “Please tell me what is a Melungeon?” “A Melungeon,” said he, “isn’t a nigger, and he isn’t an Indian, and he isn’t a White man. God only knows what he is. I should call him a Democrat, only he always votes the Republican ticket” (Dromgoole 18901: 473).

Calvin L. Beale

The young woman, Will Allen Dromgoole, soon sought out the Melungeons in remote Hancock County and lived with them for awhile to determine for herself what they were. 2 Afterward, in the space of a ten page article, she described them as “shiftless,” “idle,” “illiterate,” “thieving,” “defiant,” “distillers of brandy,” “lawless,” “close,” “rogues,” “suspicious,” “inhospitable,” “untruthful,” “cowardly,” “sneaky,” “exceedingly immoral,” and “unforgiving.” She also spoke of their “cupidity and cruelty,” and ended her work by concluding, “The most that can be said of one of them is, ‘He is a Malungeon,’ a synonym for all that is doubtful and mysterious – and unclean.” (Dromgoole1891:479). Miss Dromgoole was essentially a sympathetic observer.

The existence of mixed racial populations that constitute a distinctive segment of society is not unique to the United States — needless to say. But this nation must rank near the top in the number of such communities and in their general public obscurity. I refer in particular to groups of real or alleged White-Indian-Negro mixtures (such as the Melungeons) who are not tribally affiliated or traceable with historical continuity to a particular tribe. It is also logical to include a few groups of White-Negro origin that lack the Indian component. The South in particular is rich in such population strains, with all states except Arkansas and Oklahoma having such groups at present or within the twentieth century. (And I would not be surprised to be contradicted on my exception of those two states.)

They are found in the Tidewater areas, the interior Coastal Plain, the Piedmont, the Appalachians, and in the Allegheny-Cumberland Plateaus. They may be Protestant or catholic, of Anglo provenance or French-Spanish. Their mixture may have originated in the area of residence, or they may have come in as racially mixed people. Some are landless, some landed. But they are all marginal men – wary until recently of being Black, aspiring where possible to be White, and subject to rejection and scorn on either hand.

Many themes classically connected with racial marginality occur repeatedly in the history of the groups, such as (to repeat Dromgoole only in part): illegitimate origin; the use of stigmatic group names by the general society; proscription from social intercourse with others on terms of equality; and in particular barriers to upward out-marriage or attendance at White schools; a reputation for violence, drunkenness, and crimes of passion within the group, and for petty thievery against outsiders; the ascription of beauty and sexual attractiveness to the women of the group when young; a reputation for laziness, illiteracy, poverty, and inbreeding; a relegation of settlement to the least desirable land (hilly, sandy, swampy, backwoods); and a preference to withdraw from public attention. These are stereotypes, of course, and exceptions to their validity as public images occur, especially with respect to the mulatto or colored Creole groups of the Gulf Coast.

At least a few of the groups clearly originated in the period well before the Revolution – even in the seventeenth century in Maryland and Virginia. They do not seem to be viewed in public records as communities or elements in society until after the Revolution. Gradually during the nineteenth century, and continuing to the present day, they came to local public notice in one way or another as individual groups, but usually with no recognition of the fact that such communities have been a common phenomenon throughout the East and South. Questions relating to legal racial status, jury duty, voting, taxation, schools, inheritance, census enumeration, civil disorder, crime, and health have been prominent among issues that have brought public attention. Some examples from different times and places follow.

In 1791, the Turks of South Carolina petitioned the legislature to be recognized as White and not as free Negroes. Somewhat later their right to sit on juries was challenged and their patron, General Thomas Sumter, vouched for them (Kaye 1953: 153).

In 1823, another South Carolina group with such classic triracial surnames as Locklear, Oxendine, Chavis, and Sweat was reported as delinquent in taxes but difficult to find because “of the peculiar situation of their place of residence.” (Price 1953:153).

In Mobile, a Creole Fire Company was organized in 1819 and remained independent well into the present century. 3

In 1840-41, North Carolina legislative papers describe how, “The County of Robeson is cursed with a free colored population that migrated originally from the districts around the Roanoke and Neuse Rivers…Having no regard for character they are under no restraint but what the law imposes. They are great topers, and so long as they can procure the exhilarating draught seem to forget entirely the comfort of their families.” 4

In 1842, a member of a group in present day Vinton County, Ohio, that I have heard referred to only as “the half breeds,” sued the township trustees for refusing him the right to vote because he was partly of Negro ancestry. He lost his suit at the county court level but won a reversal in the state supreme court (Thacker vs. Hawk).

In 1856, voting by the free colored people (present day Red Bones) of Ten Mile Creek Precinct in what is now Allen Parish, Louisiana, became a source of public concern. Several were tried for illegal voting – for free Negroes did not have the franchise – but they were acquitted when their colored ancestry could not be proven and the judge would not permit the jury to evaluate them by their appearance (Shugg 1936).

In 1857, Frederic Law Olmstead noted and publicized in his book Journey Through Texas the skirmishes and murders that took place in the Sabine country of east Texas between the “Moderators” and “Regulators” based on friction with the local mixed bloods of Louisiana Red Bone origin (Olmstead 1959: 164-166).

In 1860, the census taker in Calhoun County, Florida, noted, “The Free Negroes in this county are mixed blooded, almost white, and have intermarried with a low class of whites. Have no trade, occupation or town of their own. Their personal property consists of cattle and hogs. They make no produce except corn, peas, and potatoes and very little of that. They are a lazy, indolent, and worthless race” (Free Inhabitants Census 1860). This was the Dead Lake or Scott’s Ferry group, of South Carolina tri-racial origin.

During the Civil War and Reconstruction era, Henry Berry Lowry, a folk-hero of the group now known as the Lumbee Indians, led a band of fugitives and outlaws in Robeson County, North Carolina. Disorder requiring Federal troops continued for some years until Lowry and others were killed (Rights 1947).

In the mid-1880s, this group was provided with separate schools and Indian status by the state – beginning a procedure that spread to several other groups (Ibid).

In 1930-31, the Virginia Registrar of Vital Statistics endeavored to prevent mixed bloods from being accepted as Indians in the U. S. Census. The Bureau declined to change the original returns, but footnoted the published results of the Virginia census in four counties to note that the count of Indians, “includes a number of persons whose classification as Indians has been questioned.” This included the Amherst County “Issues” and several of the groups that the anthropologist Frank Speck had concluded were the mixed survivors of the Powhatan Confederacy.

During the 1950s, the Wesorts of Southern Maryland came to the attention of physicians and dentists in the Washington area because of one of the most serious ands varied complexes of genetic diseases and anomalies ever recorded. 6

In September 1969, a number of Indian (Brass Ankle) parents in Dorchester County, South Carolina, were arrested for attempting to enroll their children in a public school other than the small segregated one that had traditionally been provided them. 7

The establishment of separate schools for the racial isolates was a major factor in maintaining group identity. Typically, the mixed bloods were denied enrollment in white schools and declined to attend Negro schools. In some states, separate public schools were provided for them. This was particularly true in North Carolina where the ultimate in triracial school systems was created – one that included a separate college. In other areas, only the operation of mission schools by churches provided any educational facilities at all. Disputes over the racial background of children attempting to enter either local white schools or the separate schools were common.

So long as segregated public schools were permitted, and so long as small rural elementary schools were common and high school education was not often sought, the separate school pattern was feasible. But in recent decades, the school situation of the mixed-blood communities has changed rapidly, sometimes through law suits, sometimes without. Most of the mission schools have been closed or made part of the public system. Most of the rural one and two room schools have been consolidated into larger integrated schools. Conditions have changed so steadily that without an up-to-the-minute survey it is impossible to speak definitively about the extent of separate schooling that still exists. Essentially it is no longer a characteristic of mixed racial communities.

Where separate schools have been closed, the church is usually the only formal social arrangement that continues to reflect the existence of a mixed racial community, and that reinforces the endogamous marriage patterns of the past. Church separatism has never been complete and is probably declining, but there are still many examples of congregations comprised entirely or largely of mixed racial populations.

Interest in the racial isolates by anthropologists began in the late nineteenth century, stimulated, I should say, by the emergence of the Robeson County, North Carolina, people as Croatan Indians and the suggestion of their descent from the Lost Colony. At the Smithsonian, James Mooney conducted a mail inquiry through postmasters in 1889 in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina seeking information on people of reputed Indian descent. He received responses that related not only to the Powhatan tribes that seem to have been his principal interest, but that also identified the Wesorts, the Guineas of western Maryland, the Amherst County Issues, and the group that later emerged as the North Carolina Haliwa. It is unfortunate that someone could not have followed up all of Mooney’s leads at the time, for it was more than a half-century later before Gilbert produced the first scientific inquiries into the Wesorts and Guineas, and another ten years before I and others visited the Haliwa. Mooney’s replies, incidentally, are still on file at the Smithsonian.

Frank Speck followed in the 1920s and later with extensive inquiry into the eastern Virginia groups – usually regarded as Negroes locally – who appeared to show authentic evidence of Indian origin though cultural survivals. But perhaps because of the tribalized Indian focus of American anthropology, very little later anthropological work dealt with the mixed racial isolates. Sociologists, educators, journalists, geographers, and local historians gave some attention to the groups, and more lately genetic research and accounts by the members of the isolates themselves have appeared.

In terms of today’s research needs, it is already a generation too late to pursue some of the questions that would have been relevant earlier. Some of the smaller groups have for all practical purposes disappeared. The practice or knowledge of handicrafts or of distinctive food habits, hunting practices, or folkways is gone or rapidly disappearing. Increasing outmarriage makes meaningful genetic studies less feasible. And the abolition of legal segregation reduces the likelihood of the groups continuing as separate and readily identifiable elements of local society.

But there is still worthwhile research to be undertaken, whether one is satisfied with knowledge for its own sake or insists on socially significant inquiries. I would suggest the following topics relating to Southern groups as relatively untouched by research or in need of a modern appraisal:

(1) The Goins family. Beyond a doubt, the surname Goins (with its many variations in spelling) is the most widespread and one of the oldest and most reliably indicative surnames of tri-racial origin in the United States. I have documented its existence among mixed bloods in more than thirty-five counties of seven states. The Goinses were mixed in Colonial days in Virginia, and both of the Carolinas. The name is found today among the Lumbee, the Melungeons, the Smilings, the Red Bones, the Ohio Guineas, and in various other parts of Ohio, Tennessee and North Carolina where none of these terms are used. Some are White, some Indian, and some Negro, in current status. An investigation of the Goinses, their origins and traditions, their dispersal through the South and the old Northwest territory and their status today would touch almost the whole fabric of the tri-racial phenomenon.

(2) Socio-psychological studies of the mixed blood people. The precarious social acceptance of the mixed bloods by the White, Negro, or Indian elements of society has created problems of psychological insecurity for many of them that the average person never experiences. Berry touches on this issue in his work, but a study focusing on it is needed (Berry 1963: 212).

(3) Gulf Coast Creoles. Other than Horace Mann Bond’s valuable article of nearly forty years ago (Bond 1931), I have not seen work on the Creole populations of the Gulf Coast (Mississippi, Mobile Bay, Pensacola). These people of French-Spanish and Negro origin have an interesting history, a comparatively high degree of social stability, and respectability in the eyes of the Whites; and considerable documentation is available on their origins and social history. A general research treatment on any one of these groups would be both interesting and useful.

(4) The Tennessee groups outside Hancock County. Most all work relating to Tennessee has focused on the Hancock County Melungeons. But there are a number of other areas in Tennessee where unstudied tri-racial groups are found – sometimes related in the past to the Hancock County people and usually derived from mixed blood origins in the Carolinas or Virginia. In addition, an unrelated Tennessee group of White and Indian descent known as the Upper Cumberland River Cherokee has surfaced in the last several years in Scott County and adjoining McCreary County, Kentucky, asserting its Indianess in a rather vigorous way to officials in Washington.

(5) The Red Bones of Louisiana and Texas deserve research attention. Given the number of people and counties involved, it is surprising that they have not received more. Or perhaps it is not surprising, in view of the sensitivity of the population to the subject of origins.

(6) The Smilings of Robeson County, North Carolina are of particular interest for their interplay is not only with the White and Negro populations but also with the surrounding Lumbee people from whom they appear not to have received full acceptance. The groups has an antebellum origin in Sumter County, South Carolina, but migrated to Robeson. What were the circumstances that impelled this long established population to leave, but that did not affect the Sumter County Turks similarly?

I have not mentioned specific studies of a more conventional anthropological nature, such as Indian cultural survivals or linguistic studies, but here, too, there are still positive results to be obtained, if I may judge from the recent fieldwork in several groups by Claude Medford (personal communication), or Everett’s study of language among the Clifton red Bone community in Louisiana (Everett 1958).

In 1950, I estimated the tri-racial isolates in their rural and small town settings to number 75,000 people I do not think the number is less today, primarily because of the growth of the Lumbee. But many of the isolates – particularly those of non-Indian status – can be said to be in a process of decline or even dissolution. They have with a few exceptions been rural communities, and in the last half century have experienced the same heavy outmigration to a variety of urban destinations as have rural people in general. Thus despite typically high fertility, many of the isolates have dwindled in size. The special racial status is not generally transferred in a group context to urban environments. Secondly, the frequency of outmarriage and assimilation into either the White or Negro populations has greatly increased. I have found this in every group whose marriage records I have examined. 3 Harte has rather thoroughly documented it for the Maryland Wesorts (Harte 1959: 218).

Given this trend, I think the odds are against the survival of groups that do not have a concentrated core of at least several hundred members and that are no longer distinctly different in appearance or status from the local White or Negro populations. Both severe lack of local economic opportunity or rapid local population growth seem to militate against group survival. In the first instance, the population disperses to seek opportunity elsewhere, and in the latter case the intrusion of other people or changes in employment and residential patterns facilitate a breakdown in cohesion.

It will be interesting to observe the fate of the Lumbee in the future, for in this case the local numbers of people involved are large (26,000 in Robeson County in 1970, and 7,000 in nine nearby counties). The local tobacco economy is under some strain, but with an acceptable official social status as Indian, a large pool of potential marriage partners, a fair amount of non-agricultural job opportunities, and a fund of history and legend in which to have some pride, this group – along with several others – may well continue indefinitely in its local setting, although surely not without change.

MHA President Wayne Winkler with Calvin L. Beale, recipient of the MHA Lifetime Achievement Award, June 2004

In terms of today’s research needs, it is already a generation too late to pursue some of the questions that would have been relevant earlier. Some of the smaller groups have for all practical purposes disappeared. The practice or knowledge of handicrafts or of distinctive food habits, hunting practices, or folkways is gone or rapidly disappearing. Increasing outmarriage makes meaningful genetic studies less feasible. And the abolition of legal segregation reduces the likelihood of the groups continuing as separate and readily identifiable elements of local society.

But there is still worthwhile research to be undertaken, whether one is satisfied with knowledge for its own sake or insists on socially significant inquiries. I would suggest the following topics relating to Southern groups as relatively untouched by research or in need of a modern appraisal:

(1) The Goins family. Beyond a doubt, the surname Goins (with its many variations in spelling) is the most widespread and one of the oldest and most reliably indicative surnames of tri-racial origin in the United States. I have documented its existence among mixed bloods in more than thirty-five counties of seven states. The Goinses were mixed in Colonial days in Virginia, and both of the Carolinas. The name is found today among the Lumbee, the Melungeons, the Smilings, the Red Bones, the Ohio Guineas, and in various other parts of Ohio, Tennessee and North Carolina where none of these terms are used. Some are White, some Indian, and some Negro, in current status. An investigation of the Goinses, their origins and traditions, their dispersal through the South and the old Northwest territory and their status today would touch almost the whole fabric of the tri-racial phenomenon.

(2) Socio-psychological studies of the mixed blood people. The precarious social acceptance of the mixed bloods by the White, Negro, or Indian elements of society has created problems of psychological insecurity for many of them that the average person never experiences. Berry touches on this issue in his work, but a study focusing on it is needed (Berry 1963: 212).

(3) Gulf Coast Creoles. Other than Horace Mann Bond’s valuable article of nearly forty years ago (Bond 1931), I have not seen work on the Creole populations of the Gulf Coast (Mississippi, Mobile Bay, Pensacola). These people of French-Spanish and Negro origin have an interesting history, a comparatively high degree of social stability, and respectability in the eyes of the Whites; and considerable documentation is available on their origins and social history. A general research treatment on any one of these groups would be both interesting and useful.

(4) The Tennessee groups outside Hancock County. Most all work relating to Tennessee has focused on the Hancock County Melungeons. But there are a number of other areas in Tennessee where unstudied tri-racial groups are found – sometimes related in the past to the Hancock County people and usually derived from mixed blood origins in the Carolinas or Virginia. In addition, an unrelated Tennessee group of White and Indian descent known as the Upper Cumberland River Cherokee has surfaced in the last several years in Scott County and adjoining McCreary County, Kentucky, asserting its Indianess in a rather vigorous way to officials in Washington.

(5) The Red Bones of Louisiana and Texas deserve research attention. Given the number of people and counties involved, it is surprising that they have not received more. Or perhaps it is not surprising, in view of the sensitivity of the population to the subject of origins.

(6) The Smilings of Robeson County, North Carolina are of particular interest for their interplay is not only with the White and Negro populations but also with the surrounding Lumbee people from whom they appear not to have received full acceptance. The groups has an antebellum origin in Sumter County, South Carolina, but migrated to Robeson. What were the circumstances that impelled this long established population to leave, but that did not affect the Sumter County Turks similarly?

I have not mentioned specific studies of a more conventional anthropological nature, such as Indian cultural survivals or linguistic studies, but here, too, there are still positive results to be obtained, if I may judge from the recent fieldwork in several groups by Claude Medford (personal communication), or Everett’s study of language among the Clifton Red Bone community in Louisiana (Everett 1958).

In 1950, I estimated the tri-racial isolates in their rural and small town settings to number 75,000 people I do not think the number is less today, primarily because of the growth of the Lumbee. But many of the isolates – particularly those of non-Indian status – can be said to be in a process of decline or even dissolution. They have with a few exceptions been rural communities, and in the last half century have experienced the same heavy outmigration to a variety of urban destinations as have rural people in general. Thus despite typically high fertility, many of the isolates have dwindled in size. The special racial status is not generally transferred in a group context to urban environments. Secondly, the frequency of outmarriage and assimilation into either the White or Negro populations has greatly increased. I have found this in every group whose marriage records I have examined. 3 Harte has rather thoroughly documented it for the Maryland Wesorts (Harte 1959: 218).

Given this trend, I think the odds are against the survival of groups that do not have a concentrated core of at least several hundred members and that are no longer distinctly different in appearance or status from the local White or Negro populations. Both severe lack of local economic opportunity or rapid local population growth seem to militate against group survival. In the first instance, the population disperses to seek opportunity elsewhere, and in the latter case the intrusion of other people or changes in employment and residential patterns facilitate a breakdown in cohesion.

It will be interesting to observe the fate of the Lumbee in the future, for in this case the local numbers of people involved are large (26,000 in Robeson County in 1970, and 7,000 in nine nearby counties). The local tobacco economy is under some strain, but with an acceptable official social status as Indian, a large pool of potential marriage partners, a fair amount of non-agricultural job opportunities, and a fund of history and legend in which to have some pride, this group – along with several others – may well continue indefinitely in its local setting, although surely not without change.


NOTES

1 Prepared for presentation at the annual meeting of the Southern Anthropological Society, Athens, Georgia, April 9, 1970.

2 I have used the modern spelling, Melungeon, except where quoting Dromgoole.

3 Information from present day Creoles.

4 Manuscript, North Carolina Legislative Reports (Robeson County).

5 Correspondence files of the Bureau of the Census; see also The Indian Populations of the United States 1937:20

6Various published studies of the research work led by Cark J. Witkop, Jr., of the National Institute of Health.

7 See Charleston Evening Post, various issues beginning September 19, 1969.

8 I refer to groups such as the Pools of Pennsylvania, the Amherst and Rockbridge County Issues, the Shifletts, the Poquoson and Skeetertown groups of Virginia, the Dead Lake Group in Florida, the Cane River Mulattoes and Natchitoches Red Bones of Louisiana, and the Mobile area Creoles.


REFERENCES CITED

Berry, Brewton, 1963, Almost White. New York: Macmillan,

Bond, Horace Mann, 1931, “Two Racial Islands of Alabama.” American Journal of Sociology 36:552-567.

Dromgoole, Will Allen, 1891, “The Malungeons.” The Arena 3:470-479

Everett, Russell, 1958, “The Speech of the Tri-Racial Group Comprising the Community of Clifton, Louisiana.” Master’s thesis, Louisiana State University.

Free inhabitants, 1860 Census, Florida 1860. National Archives 1:129.

Harte, Thomas J., 1959, “Trends in Mate Selection in a Tri-Racial Isolate.’ Social Forces 37 (3):215-221.

Indian Population of the United States and Alaska 1930, 1937 Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Kaye, Ira, 1963, “The Turks.” New South; June.

Olmstead, Frederic Law, 1959, The Slave States New York: Putnam’s Sons.

Price, Edward T., 1953, “A Geographical Analysis of White-Negro-Indian Racial Mixtures in the Eastern Unites States.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 43(2): 138-155.

Rights, Douglas L., 1947, The American Indian in North Carolina. Durham: Duke University Press.

Thacker vs. Hawk, 1887, Ohio Reports 11:337

Shugg, Roger W., 1936, “Negro Voting in the Antebellum South.” Journal of Negro History 21 (4): 357-384.

 

 

The Melungeon Mystery: The Making of Myth? by Pam Vallett, 1977 article

Published by:

The Melungeon Mystery: The Making of Myth?

from The Tennessee Alumnus/ Summer 1977 Vol. 57/ number 3/ Summer 1977

By Pam Vallett

“…shiftless, idle, thieving, and defiant of law, distillers of brandy almost to a man…they are not at all like the Tennessee mountaineer either in appearance or characteristics….Their complexion is a reddish brown, totally unlike the mulatto. The men are very tall and straight, with small, sharp eyes, high cheek bones, and straight black hair, worn rather long. The women are small, below the average height, coal black hair and eyes, high cheek bones, and the same red-brown complexion.”

Will Allen Dromgoole, 1891
_______________________________

A sociology professor at the University of Tennessee at Nashville says that the Melungeons of East Tennessee, a people thought for many years to possess unique racial and cultural characteristics, may not be so unique after all.

“People have been asking the wrong question all along,” said C. McCurdy Lipsey, associate professor of sociology at UTN. “Instead of asking, ‘Who are these strange people and where do they come from?’ they should be asking, ‘Are these really a strange people? Do they, in fact, possess unique racial and cultural characteristics?'”

“According to my interpretation of the evidence, they are not and do not.”

Lipsey says the term Melungeon became a derogatory label for all the people who lived on Hancock County’s Newman’s Ridge and Blackwater Valley, and that the basis for the myth which now surrounds them can be traced to the period between 1889 and 1891 when a wealth of material was published about the Melungeons.

“The single most damaging article from among this proliferation of misinformation, and the one most commonly referred to by other writers in the perpetuation of the myth about the Melungeons, was written by a young Tennessee literary figure by the name of Will Allen Dromgoole,” he says.

“Published in The Arena in 1891, it asserted that the records of the constitutional convention of 1834 show that John A. McKinney, a delegate to that convention, used the term Melungeon to refer to free persons of color. In checking the journal of the constitutional convention of 1834, I found the McKinney quotation, but the term Melungeon was not mentioned.”


Articles Perpetuate Myths

Practically all subsequent articles, with few notable exceptions, adopted the assumptions of these early articles, Lipsey said. “It is in this manner that the myth of the Melungeons has been perpetuated. Nobody has conducted a thorough investigation. Researchers only go as far back as the articles published between 1889 and 1891 and stop there.

“Information contained in Dromgoole’s article to support the claim that the Melungeons are a unique racial group can be used to show just the opposite. If the Melungeons had been designated as free persons of color at the constitutional convention of 1834, then, according to the Southern custom which did not permit Negroes to participate as citizens, they would not have been able to own or buy land, receive land grants from the state of Tennessee, or conduct other legal business. While it’s true that some of the people on Newman’s Ridge and Blackwater valley were refused these rights, public records show that by no means were all of them refused.”

In a forthcoming article, Lipsey turns to the history and settlement patterns of the Eastern United States to further support his alternative theory to the existing Melungeon belief. He maintains that by the nineteenth century, there had already been over 300 years of American history which included lost colonies and mixed groups. “The eastern seaboard and the western frontier – that is, Kentucky and Tennessee – provided fertile ground out of which grew romantic stories and ballads, legends, and myths,” explained Lipsey. “Not surprisingly, when Will Allen Dromgoole ‘found’ the Melungeons on Newman’s Ridge, the available and handy myths were tested for their ‘fit’ and the speculators were off and running. What you had, in essence, were legends waiting for groups to explain.”


Indians Join Migrating Parties

Lipsey also said that it was not unusual during the nineteenth century for groups of outcast Indians and “half-breeds” to attach themselves to migrating groups of English, Scotch, and Germans and to take their surnames.

“Evidence reveals that this was the case of the people who came to settle on Newman’s Ridge. L.M. Jarvis, a long time resident of Hancock County, maintained that the term ‘Melungeon’ was coined in derision during the 1800s and given the Indians on account of their color.”

“Lipsey said other evidence supports his theory. “The reputable History of East Tennessee by Goodspeed, which was published in 1887, before the Dromgoole articles, does not mention the existence of a race of people called the Melungeons, although the author does refer to people with a mixture of white and Indian blood living on Newman’s Ridge.”

Dr. Lipsey first became interested in the Melungeons when he was living in Kingsport during the 1960s.

“I had read an article in the local paper which told about this strange-looking group of people with peculiar habits who lived 75 miles further west in Hancock County.

“Interestingly enough, it subsequently became necessary for me to make monthly trips to Vardy, which is at the foot of Newman’s Ridge in Blackwater Valley. I went there expecting to find a strange- looking, strange-acting group of people. What I found was a people who were, in appearance, general Anglo-Saxon types, the majority being of Scotch and Irish descent.

“This aroused my curiosity. Where had all the information about the Melungeons come from? Why had something so obviously not true – as evidenced by the appearance of the people in and around Vardy – been allowed to be perpetuated?”


Studied at Knoxville Campus

In 1971, Dr. Lipsey was a graduate student in sociology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. With encouragement and support from the late Dr. Norbert Reidl of the anthropology department, he decided to undertake the study of the Melungeons. He conducted interviews with folklorists, attorneys, historians, other authors who have written on the subject, and people in Hancock County.

“Interviews with persons who are of Melungeon-designated families have been almost impossible to obtain because of the intense resentment to the implications of the term,” said Lipsey. “I have talked with long-time residents of the county about the Melungeons, including the mayor of the county seat in Sneedville, public school teachers and local historians.

“My most significant contact is Bill Grohse, who has lived in Vardy since 1930. Interestingly enough, he fits the description of a Melungeon better than most of the residents of the Ridge. Unfortunately for the proponents of the Melungeon myth, he was born and raised in New York City.

“Bill Grohse has collected a fantastic amount of material on families of Newman’s Ridge which he has shared with me. He has researched court records, conducted library research and done a number of genealogical analyses. The information he has uncovered also supports the theory that the history of the Melungeons is a myth.

“In fact, he married a woman from a Melungeon-designated family whose maiden name was Mizer. He has traced her genealogy back to Germany through Virginia. This has been the case in other genealogical analyses he has conducted. Evidence such as this certainly doesn’t support the theory of a unique racial group.”

In addition to conducting numerous interviews to collect information on the Melungeons, Lipsey has compiled an extensive bibliography. “Compiling a comprehensive bibliography has been no small task,” said Lipsay. “It has required long hours in archives and extensive correspondence with libraries throughout the United States. Much time has been spent reading nineteenth-century newspapers which, whether on my subject or others, are fascinating to read.”

Future research of the Melungeons will include a more thorough investigation into cultural indicators such as architectural structures. Dr. Lipsey thinks such indicators will be the same for both the Ridge and the rest of Appalachia rather than different, which they would need to be to support the present theory of the Melungeons being a unique cultural group.

Seeks Origins of Word

Additional research will need to be done on the term “Melungeon” itself. There are several theories as to its origin and meaning. “I am suggesting the possibility that the term was derived from the Middle English term ‘mal engine’ which meant deceitful, tricky, treacherous, wicked. It may have been a generally derogatory term used in reference to persons or groups who were threatening or who were considered wicked or evil.

“The term could easily have made the transition from adjective (a malengine person) to noun (a malengine), especially if applied to readily identifiable persons or groups which, in turn, could provide racial overtones to the word.” A third area of study involves a more thorough investigation of the account by Louis Shepherd of a trial which took place in Chattanooga in 1872.

“In his memoirs, Judge Shepherd recounts the details of an 1872 trial in which he successfully defended a young woman’s right to inherit property with the argument that she was of Melungeon ancestry, not Negro, and that the Melungeons were descendants of the Moors. Further research is needed on this topic in order to clear up many unanswered questions.”

The last phase of Dr. Lipsey’s research will be to publish a book on the myths which have evolved in the east Tennessee area. His research has been partially supported by a grant received during the past year from the UT National Alumni Association. He presented his findings to the Southern Sociology Society in April.

“I am writing a short article for publication in the near future,” said Lipsey. “I don’t think there is any evidence to support the myth that the Melungeons constitute a unique racial group or a unique cultural group. I hope to be able to set the record straight and clear up eighty-seven years of misconception