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Virginia Demarce review of Brent Kennedy, 1996

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Review Essay: The Melungeons
by Virginia Easley DeMarce, Ph.D. Originally printed in the National Genealogy Society Quarterly
Vol. 84, No. 2, June 1996

The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People. An Untold Story of Ethnic Cleansing in America by N. Brent Kennedy, with Robyn Vaughan Kennedy.
Published by Mercer University Press; Macon, GA 31210; 1994. xviii,
156 pp. Appendix, illustrations index.
Mercer University Press has placed its imprimatur on a book that attempts to cross the disciplines of anthropology, genealogy, and history with genetics as a periodic refrain. However, the author does not apply the standard methodology of any of these disciplines. Racial prejudice and persecution, as the title implies, are the themes that meld all this together. A chronological leap over several centuries enables the author to propose an exotic ancestry for “200,000 individuals, perhaps.’ far more” (p xv)-an ancestry that sweeps in virtually every olive, ruddy, and brown-tinged ethnicity known or alleged to have appeared anywhere in the pre-Civil War Southeastern United States.

Beginning with an account of his diagnosis with erythema nodosum sarcoidosis, a rare, serious medical problem to which certain ethnic groups are prone-Kennedy presents a deeply felt account of his immediate family. However, nothing indicates that he investigated whether this medical problem has appeared elsewhere in the extended families who descend from his ancestors or, if it does occur in a pattern, in which line(s).1

Any study centered upon genetics and ethnicity should solidly document all genealogical data and links. Yet Kennedy offers no evidence, not even census records. He outlines an ancestry that centers in the Virginia counties of Wise, Russell, and Scott, and the Kentucky counties of Floyd and Pike. Beyond that, he implies that his forebears are traceable only to the mid-to-late eighteenth century. at which time they were primarily in northwestern North Carolina, (particularly modern Ashe and Yancey Counties) and the region that became Greenbrier and Franklin Counties, Virginia. He arranges his pedigree in a series of “family lines,” including (pp. 137-38) one claimed ascent to Pocahontas (which, if accurate, certainly would not have been a basis for social persecution) . 2

The failure to provide documentation makes it difficult to retrace the path by which the author determined his generational links and sorted forebears from others of the same name. This difficulty will deter many readers from the fact checking that good genealogists always perform. Those who do seek actual evidence and those who already have conducted solid research on these lines will be dismayed at the extent of the genealogical errors set forth in so few pages. Similarly, a great deal of unearned trust is expected of students and scholars in other disciplines. This review essay covers four major areas of concern: ethnic identification, prejudice, genealogy, and historical origins. 3

ETHNIC IDENTIFICATION Kennedy does not use the term Melungeon in its anthropological sense-that is, the interlocking families who moved into, existed in, and dispersed from Hawkins and Hancock Counties, Tennessee. Rather, he coins a very loose definition, expanding it to cover essentially all colonial-era Virginians and Carolinians who (in whatever records he consulted) are not clearly stated to be European American or African American. Melungeon thus becomes a catchall description for dark- skinned individuals whose ancestry does not seem to be sub-Saharan African-as well as their lighter-skinned relatives and descendants, whom he presents as subjects of racial prejudice. The manner in which numerous individuals are “deduced” to be Melungeon is troubling. By surmising a connection when he cannot show it, he makes “Melungeons” of numerous frontier families whose ancestry appears to be wholly northern European, including those whose known origin is Scotch-Irish or German. Typical cases are the Ritchies (pp.23-24), Hutchinsons (p.27), Kennedys and Hornes (pp. 66-68), Powerses and Alleys (pp.69-70), and Counts, Jessees, and Kisers (pp.77-79). In discussing an unproved line of descent from Edward “Ned” Sizemore, a central figure in the famous attempt to cash in on early-twentieth-century Eastern Cherokee claims awards (p.56), Kennedy ignores extensive testimony indicating that Sizemore descendants were, for social and legal purposes, a white family claiming Indian ancestry not Melungeons or free nonwhites. 4

Illustrative of the problem is Kennedy’s analysis of William Roberson’s ethnicity, which strongly suggests inexperience in genealogical and historical research. Because this Revolutionary War veteran supposedly said he was Scotch-Irish and from London, and because his name is variously spelled as Robertson, Robinson, and Robeson, Kennedy concludes the man was a Melungeon who purposefully obscured his true origins. “Surely, if William . . . really did come from England, Scotland, or Ireland, he would have known how to spell his last name…. [His] early meandering in [the Carolinas] undoubtedly plac[ed] him within the geographical region … known as ‘Robeson’ county. Could William I have ‘borrowed’ his surname from the name of the county?” (pp.25-26). Coincidentally, Kennedy proceeds to state that Roberson’s son married the first cousin of President Andrew Jackson. Obviously, in his historical studies, Kennedy has not encountered Jackson’s declaration that he “could never respect a man who knew only one way to spell a word.” 5

Kennedy often refers to the labels fpc (free person of color) and fc (free colored) informing readers that these were maliciously applied by the Scotch-Irish to their Melungeon neighbors in order to “strip the Melungeons of their lands” (p.12), and that “American antebellum census records consistently described those with Indian blood” as fpc (p. 89, italics added). Placing his family into this context, he says “they and we were ‘free persons of color”‘ (p.5). In checking Kennedy’s family lines, this reviewer consistently found the opposite-not a single instance in which his named ancestors, from 1790 through 1900, appear in public documents as anything but white. The legal acceptance of these lines as white by local officials contrasts curiously with the author’s repeated statements that they were routinely labeled fpc. 6

As frontiersmen and mountaineers, his named ancestors repeatedly appear as white on federal censuses. Their marriages, where separate books were maintained for “white” and “colored,” are entered in “white” books.7 In one case, when identifying the father of an out-of-wedlock child as “Melungeon” and “free person of color” (pp. 70-71), Kennedy does refer to a source-but misquotes the work he cites. The book is subtitled Free Black Population of Amherst County, Virginia, and it does mention (in other contexts) Kennedy’s claimed ancestor, David S. Garland; but it does not identify’ Garland as either Melungeon or fpc. In fact, it specifically indicates that he was white. 8

PREJUDICE Kennedy alleges, but does not document, systematic, population-wide, race-based persecution of his ancestral families. His introductory assertion that Melungeons were “a people ravaged, and nearly destroyed, by the senseless excesses of racism and genocide” (p. xiii) begs for supporting evidence-as does his contention that Melungeon families were originally large landowners, deprived and marginalized by Scotch-Irish and other northern-European settlers (p.4). Similarly, the author offers no evidence for his statement that “being legally declared a ‘Melungeon’ meant losing one’s land” (p. 125). He does not present one land grant, deed, or court case to show that his claimed Melungeon ancestral lines ever held large tracts of land or that they were deprived of them by whiter settlers. William Roberson is said to have “left Greenbriar County Virginia] at the same time the Melungeons were being ‘evicted’ “(p.25). No evidence of any Melungeon eviction is offered In Wise County, Virginia, supposedly, “undesirable land [was] ceded to the Melungeons in exchange for the prime property they had originally held. …. land where the town of Wise now sits (and) the beautiful farm country of the Powell Valley were territories well worth stealing” (p.39). Yet no court suits, deed’s, tax rolls, or land grants are cited. In repeating the family legend that “William Nash III had once owned some 6,000 acres of land, but gambled it away,”9 Kennedy’s opinion that it was, instead, “probably taken [from ….. But to cover the truth [of their persecution] the family had to turn William III into an irresponsible reprobate” (pp. 39-40). Again, the author offers none of the court or land records or newspaper notices of public sales that genealogists routinely cite in cases such as this.

Echoing a theme popular with some writers on Southern minorities, Kennedy contends (p.14 and elsewhere) that records are scarce because persecution caused Melungeon families to “avoid” census takers and other public officials. 10 That assertion is difficult to support in this instance, because many records concerning his ancestral families are readily available. Genealogists of all families suffer lacunae in the records, but most failures to find evidence can be overcome by applying improved research skills. Kennedy is not precise in his discussion of public laws. For example, he states that “by 1834 Melungeons had been stripped of most rights of citizenship in both Tennessee and North Carolina” (p.15) and that “Sarah [Adkins] and husband John Bennett left North Carolina with their children in the late 1830’s, about the time that North Carolina declared Melungeons to be ‘free persons of color”‘ (p.46, italics added). North Carolina never “declared Melungeons” to be free persons of color; nor did a Tennessee statute single out Melungeons for persecution. Statutes did restrict the rights of persons who were legally classed as free persons of color; but the 1830s definition of that class, in both states, was the same definition established in the 1700s. In Tennessee, state law limited the term to those whose parent or grand-parent was a full-blooded Indian or Negro (i.e., descent to the third degree). North Carolina’s law extended it to “all Negroes, Indians, and mulattos…. to the fourth generation, inclusive” (i.e., individuals with one-eighth-degree Negro or Indian ancestry). The laws of the 1830s did not affect farnilies who were legally white, they did not change anyone’s classification, and they did not mandate anyone to be legally nonwhite once they passed the point that had been defined in the 1700’s. 11 Similarly, Kennedy reinterprets voting laws. “By a sweep of the judicial pen,,, readers are told, census takers arbitrarily ruled Melungeons to be fpc “and, presto! [they] became legally disenfranchised” (p, 12). 12 Returning later to that theme, Kennedy states that his ancestor Alexander Hall, son of Isham, rose to the rank of captain in the Confederate army but was not permitted to vote because of his status as a “free person of color” (p.33). Yet the 1830 census of Russell County, Virginia, labels Isham Hall white. 13 By the 1850 enumeration, Alexander had become a head of household-white, as were his wife, children, father, and father’s family. 14 Alexander’s future son-in-law, Wickliffe Hendricks Nash, who also saw Confederate service (p.33), was similarly counted as white, both in his father’s household in 1860 and in his own household in 1880. 15 Kennedy provides no documentation for his statement that “well into the 1900s, the Nashes and Halls were not permitted to vote” (p. 40). If this was the case, the cause needs to be documented, because it does not appear to have been based on their racial classification in the census. 16

Two sections, headed “No Place to Hide,” briefly sketch Kennedy’s maternal and paternal lines. Some genealogical problems are obvious, even without documentation. Other links, relationships, and conclusions do not withstand fact checking. The following illustrates the types of concerns that genealogists must address before deciding whether to add the author’s conclusions to their family records.


While writing of his multiple “shot[s] of Old Booker Mullins’ genes” (p.73), Kennedy says next to nothing about the man, only that he was born 1762, died .1864, and was “apparently from Franklin County, Virginia” (p 47), 17 a county created in 1785. A variety of records actually exists to track this man and to sort him from numerous other contemporaries of the same name. Tax records that have been conveniently published since 1972 show this Booker to be a 1789 settler of Burks Fork and Greasy Creek of Indian Ridge, in Montgomery County, Virginia 18 (now the county-boundary area between Floyd and Carroll Counties, slightly above the North Carolina line). From here, Booker apparently moved south, as a subsequent census attributes to his son David a circa 1800 birth in North Carolina. 19 From there, they trekked westward into Floyd County, Kentucky, where Booker’s household is enumerated-as white-in l8l0. 20 Other early-nineteenth-century censuses and land records (not discussed by Kennedy) place Booker and his grown children in both Floyd and its offshoot counties, Pike and Lawrence. 21 By 1830, this Mullins family had backwashed from eastern Kentucky into southwestern Virginia’s Russell County, where Booker is recorded as a free white male, aged sixty to seventy. 22 He last appears, 1860, in Wise County-aged ninety-six, of Virginia birth, and still white. 23

A more-serious genealogical problem, for which the evidence apparently confused Kennedy, is the identification of Booker’s wife. She is said by Kennedy (without documentation) to be “Nancy Judith Stanley” in each of the four tables presented on pages 48, 49, 50, and 51. However, the text at page 48 discusses her as “Booker’s wife, Nancy Stanley.” At page 49, the text comments: “Old Booker may have had a previous marriage, possibly before his marriage to Nancy Stanley. The name Judith Bunch, or Bench, has occasionally been tied to Booker.” Virginia’s eighteenth- and nineteenth-century marriage records are highly incomplete. 24 Surviving records show that Judith Stanley married one of the several contemporary Booker Mullinses during 1803 in Franklin County, Virginia. However, this is not Kennedy’s ancestral couple, because this Booker Mullins is shown consistently on the Franklin County censuses from 1810 through 1860. 25 Meanwhile, the Booker Mullins from whom Kennedy descends obviously had married by 1790 or so, because he had a son James) who wed in 1812 and another (Sherwood) who married in 1813. 26 The only evidence this reviewer has found of a Booker Mullins to Nancy {-} marriage is the 1835 union of Booker Mullins, son Sherwood and grandson of “Old Booker,” to Nancy Potter in Pike County, Kentucky. 27 Chronology suggests that Kennedy attributed to “Old Booker” born circa 1764 some of the post-1835 children of this younger Booker and Nancy Mullins. 28 There were also at least two, possibly three, other men named Booker Mullins in the area of eastern Kentucky and southwestern Virginia between 1790 and 1860 – classed as white, Yet another problem relating to the author’s genealogical reconstruction of the Mullins family is his statement that the famed Mahala “Big Haley” (Collins) Mullins, of the Hancock County, Tennessee, Melungeons, “married into” the family of his own ancestor’s son, Wilson Mullins; and he cited Wilson’s birth in 1824 (p.48). Mahala herself was born in 1824; and the 1880 census shows that her husband, John Mullins (whose identity Kennedy appears not to know), was born about 1815. Kennedy does not show a relationship between her husband and his own family line. In any case, John was too old to have been a son of Wilson.


Pursuing the Mullinses through the federal censuses also yields evidence that Kennedy did not fully exploit the available sources. His genealogical table for the Hall family (p.36) cites two consecutive Hall-Mullins marriages: Isham Hall I (dates unknown) to Mary Mullins and Isham Hall II (1785-1856) to Jane Mullins. His only statement regarding the origins of either Isham is that the one born 1785 “claimed to be from Greenbriar County, Virginia” (p.30). For ancestor Henry Clyde Runyon, comp., Marriage Bonds of Pike County, Kentucky, 1822-1865 (Belfry, Ky: p.p., 1984), 78, citing file no. 431. Kennedy apparently confused the 26-year-old Sherrard [Sherwood] Mullins (wife Anna i.e., Nancy-aged 22), in Booker’s 1860 household, with the much-older Sherwood who was Booker’s son. Certainly Sherrard and Anna cannot have been the parents of Andrew Jackson “BrandyJack” Mullins, who was born in 1834 (Kennedy, p.50) 29 Two were heads of households on the 1840 census of Pike Co., Ky; one, age 40-50; another, 20- 30. See Jesse Stewart and Leah Stewart, comps., 1840 Federal Census of Pike County, Kentucky (n.p. n.p., Ca. 1990), 3. The 1850 census more fully identifies them as Booker Mullins (age 55, wife Mary; Floyd Co.) and Booker Mullens (age 31, wife Nancy; adjacent Pike Co.). See Barbara, Byron, and Samuel Sistle; 1850 Census, Eastern Ky. Counties of Breathitt, Caner, Floyd, Greenup, Johnson, Lawrence, Letcher, Morgan, Perry, and Pike (Nashville: Byron Sistler and Associates, 1994, 68, 301. One Booker Mullins married Polly Johnson, daughter of William Johnson, 16 Apffl 1821; see Skeens, Floyd Kentucky, Consent and Marriage Book, p.136. A second Booker wed Polly Newsom, daughter of Harrison Newsom, 5 December 1829; see Runyon, Marriage Bonds of Pike County, 43, file no.235. Subsequently, there appears Booker Mullins Sr., age 68, b. Va., with wife Polly, age 60, b. N.C., on the 1870 U.S. cens., Pike Co., Ky., dist. 9, Robinson Creek, dwell. 26, fam. 26; and Booker Mullins, age 70, with wife Polly, 65, both born in Va., on the 1880 U.S. cens., Pike Co., Ky., 9th precinct, Upper Elkhorn Creek, dwell 16, fam. 16. All listings identify them as white. 30 Gowen Research Foundation, Electronic Library, file GOWENMS.OO2, closed stacks, printout dated 30 March 1996, unpaginated. Available to foundation members via sysop, 806-796-0456. For the foundation, contact Arlee Gowen, 5708 Gary Ave., Lubbock, TX 79413. Mahala Collins was the daughter of Solomon and Virginia Jane “Gincie” (Goins) Collins. Adkins, whose granddaughter married in 18511 the only stated origin is “1700s, North Carolina” (p. 70). Yet the 1850 census of Russell County, Virginia, is more explicit. It is one of the serendipitous enumerations on which the marshal recorded the county of birth for all persons born within the Cornmonwealth. Both Isham Hall and Henry Adkins are assigned a birth in Franklin County, Virginia-the place Kennedy speculates for Booker Mullins.


1. This omission contrasts strikingly with T. Tipton Biggs, Knowing Mama: The Discovery of a Family (Omaha, Neb: privately printed, ca.1980), which painstakingly tracks the progress of Huntington. disease through an extended family from the 1820s until the present.

2. The claimed line from Pocahontas is said to have come through Benjamin Bowling born 1734)and wife Martha “Patsy” Phelps. This couple (although Kennedy does not state so) married 1751-53 in Albemarle Co., Va. See Families of Yancey County, North Carolina 5 (March 1988): 5; and “Osborne and Related Families,” Pike County, Kentucky, 1821-1983; Historical Papers, no.5 (Pikeville: Pike Co. Hist. Soc., 1983), 61. Kennedy’s connection depends on an assumption that the Benjamin who married Martha is the same one who later wed Charity Larrimore. This assertion was published in 1985 by W. W .Lake, “The Pocahontas Connection,” The Mountain Empire Genealogical Quarterly 4 (Winter 1985): 214-7; but it has been challenged by David Risner, “Bolling Family Information,” The Mountain Empire Genealogical Quarterly 7 (Winter 1988): 273-74, who presents contrary evidence. Kennedy points out that the ascending line of the Benjamin who married Martha Phelps is itself unproved, although often claimed-as in R. Marshall Shepherd, “John Rolfe Lineage,” The East Kentuckian: A Journal of Genealogy and History 25 (September 1989): 34-35. For a general pro-and-con discussion of the limited evidence available, see Alexander R. Bolling Jr., The Bolling Family: Eight Centuries of Growth (Baltimore: Gateway Press, 1990), 114-17.

3. Because this essay is a book review rather than a full-fledged genealogical study, all of the author’s families have not been comprehensively reconstructed. The present analysis is designed to indicate the direction that future research should take.

4. For a synopsis of this rich body of Sizemore oral history, see Jerry Wright Jordan, comp., Cherokee by Blood: Records of Eastern Cherokee Ancestry in the U.S. Court of Claims, 1906-1910, vol.1, Application’s to 1550 (Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1987), 126-81 Kennedy (p.24) cites 1725 as the date of Sizemore’s birth. This is incompatible with the claims-case testimony, which holds that Ned’s father fought in the Revolution and that two of his brothers were in the War of 1812. The oral histories may have been confused, but Kennedy does not cite corrective evidence or address the conflict. The testimony also does not document Kennedy’s stated Sizemore connection to his Phipps family. Jeffrey C. Weaver, Eastern Cherokee Applications, Southwest Virginia Ancestors 4 (Winter 1990): 33, indicates that Edward (“Old Ned”) Sizemore was a Loyalist, “hung by Col. Ben Cleveland on the Tory Oak in Wilkesboro NC.” This must be a different generation from the “Old Ned” in the Sizemore testimony, who died in the 1850s. Regarding the ethnicity of this family and their census labels, consider for example, George and Owen Sizemore and their household members who are all considered white on the 1800 Ashe Co., N. C., census. See Eleanor Baker Reeves, A Factual History of Early Ashe County, North Carolina: Its People, Places and Events (Tex.: Taylor Publishing Co., 1986), 67. The 1820 census. of Ashe Co. similarly cites the households of George (Sr and Jr), Edward, and Owen as white. See Dorothy Williams Potter, 1820 Federal Census of North Carolina, vol. 2, Ashe County (Tullahoma, Tenn.: privately printed, 1970), 13. (ASHE COUNTY NC ONLINE CENSUS DATA )

5. Quoted by David Hackett Fischer, Albion’s Seed: Fou, British Folkways in America (N.Y: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989), 718. Kennedy (p.67) also proposes a deliberate fabrication of origins to explain another common type of genealogical carelessness– an alleged birthdate of 1781 for Pleasant Home, said to be the son of Jesse Home, born 1777.

6. As previously noted, this reviewer has not retraced the author’s lines through every available record. However, for all sources consulted and all lines traced, results were consistent. As representative examples:

(1) The author repeatedly applies the term fpc to ancestral lines in Ashe Co., N.C. (pp.46.55-56. 69-70). While antebellum Ashe certainly had free persons of color, Kennedy’s named ancestors were not among them. The 1820 census of Ashe (as a specific) lists six fpc house hold but Kennedy’s Phipps, Swindle, White, Tolliver, and Osborn families were all classed there on as white. See Potter, 1820 Federal Census of North Carolina. . – Ashe County, 6, 11-12, 14-l6, 18-19. (2) As late as 1860, Kennedy’s Swindle line was classified as white in Western Virginia; see 1860 U.S. cens., Wise Co., Va., pp. 28O~1, dwelling 110, family 110.

(3) For 1870, Kennedy’s lines of Kennedy, Kiser, Mullins, Nash, Powers, and Swindle (Russell and Wise Cos., Va.), were all considered white; the Hopkinses (found by the reviewer in Pike Co., Ky.), were deemed white there also.

7. For example, see Larry and Pat Taylor, eds., Wise County, Virginia, Marriage Register, 1887-19C0 (Clintwood, Va.: Southwest Va. Ancestors, 1994); and Dorcas McDaniel Hobbs and John Walter Picklesheimer Sr., comps., Pike County, Kentucky, Death Records, 1849-1909 (n.p.: p.p., ca. 1990).

8. Sherrie S. McLeRoy and William R. Mc LeRoy, Strangers in their Midst: The Free Black Population of Amherst County, Virginia (Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1993), 194,218.299. Garland is mentioned herein as administrator of the estate of John Redcross in 1802 and as the 1840 head of a white household that also contained 8 fpc and 40 slaves.

9. Nash’s wealth extended considerably beyond land. The 1840 cens. credits him with 17 slaves. He is enumerated as a white male, aged 30-40, sharing his home with a white female, aged 20-30, and a white male, aged 15-20. See Elizabeth M. Carpenter, ed., 1840 Census, Russell County, Virginia (n.p.: p.p., Ca. 1991), 16.

10. The assertions of nineteenth century legal persecution in the adjacent counties of Wise, Russell, and Buchanan are also difficult to accept when one reads the 1880 census. entry for Kennedy’s claimed great.great.grandparents, James Colley and Emma Farrel (whom he describes, p.77, as one of the ‘Black Jacksons’ W) Not only did the census taker label the family white, but he identified their son William as the county sheriff. See 1880 U.S. census., Buchanan Co., Va., Sand Lake Magisterial Dist., enum. dist. 16, sheet 45, dwell. 35, fam. 35.

11. For N.C., see Revised Statutes of the State of North Carolina, Passed by the General Assembly, 1836-37, 2 vols. (Raleigh: Turner and Hughes, 1837), chap. Ill, “An Act Concerning Slaves and Free persons of color.” This source recapitulates prior laws. For Tenn., see Returnj. Meigs and William F. Cooper, eds., Code of Tennessee Exacted by the General Assembly of 1857-‘8 (Nashville: E.G. Eastman and Co., 1858), 41, 687, which recounts prior acts; Joshua W Caldwell, Studies in the Constitutional History of Tennessee, 2d ed. (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke Co., 1907), 202-03; Robert. Shannon, ed., The Constitution of the State of Tennessee (Nashville: Law Book Pubi. Co., 1915), 374-76; and Thos. H. CoIdwell, Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Tennessee during the Years 1868-9 (Louisville, Ky.: Fetter Law Book Co., 1902), 231-67.

12. Census takers, of course, did not wield a judicial pen. Their returns had no judicial authority. Again the author appears unfamiliar with record sources. Kennedy’s theme of political discrimination against his ancestors is clearly at odds here with various evidences, for example, the subsequently discussed election of his ancestor to the Va. state legislature (as a Democrat) in 1879. If one cannot vote, one cannot hold office.

13. Elizabeth M. Carpenter, ed., 1830 Census of Russell County, Virginia (Clintwood, Va.: Mullins Princing Royalty, ca. 1991), 11.

14.1850 U.S. census., Russell Co., Va., pp. 323b-324, dwells. 1438-1439, fams. 1438-1439.

15.1860 U.S. census., Scott Co., Va., pp. 35~55, dwell. 816, fam. 815.1880 U.S. census., Wise Co., Va., enum. dist. 101, sheet 24, dwell. 249, fam. 249. Kennedy does not address the genealogical significance of the 1860 census., which shows Wickliff Nash in the home of his father, William Nash, age 59. At that time, William apparently had a much-younger wife, Virginia, age 29. The wife and mother cited by Kennedy, Margaret Ramey, was still alive that year, because she later appears as “mother” and “white” in her son’s household; see 1880 U.S. census., Wise Co., Va., enum. dist. 101, sheet 24, dwell. 249, fam. 249. Other Rameys repeatedly appear as white on southwest Va. and eastern Ky. returns. The following 1850 enumeration entry also should be examined carefully for relevance: 1850 U.S. census., Scott Co., Va., pop. sch., p.422, dwell./fam. 967: Margaret Ramey, 28, female; Louisa J., 10, female; Wickliffe, 8, male; Sally, 60, female; and Worthington Brooks, 20, male, born in N.C. All the Rameys were said to have been born in Va. Presumably all were considered white, because they, like others on the page, have no entry to the contrary in the column for race.

16. For the turn-of the century racial status of this family, whose “darkness” is heavily treated by Kennedy, see 1900 U.S. census., Wise Co., Va., enum. dist. 123, sheet 3, fam. 4, dwell. 42, citing the widowed Louisa (Hall) Nash and her children as white.

17. This assumption may have been made on the basis of a birthplace provided for 67-year-old James Mullins on an 1857 marriage record. See John C. Mullins, wise County’, Virginia, Marriage register, 1856-1886 (n.p.: p.p., 1981), 9, no.97. Franklin Co. was created from Henry and Bedford Cos. Prior to that, in the 1770s, family names associated with this Mullins line appear in Henry Co. See Lela C. Adams, Henry County, Virgina, Deed Book I and II Bassett, Va.: p.p., 1975), 30,44,82,91; and Lela C. Adams, 1778-1780 Tax List of Henry County, Virginia (Bassett, Va.: p.p., 1973), 16, 27-28, 41.

18. Nettie Schreiner-Yantis, ed., Montgomery County Virginia, Circa 1790: A Comprehensive Study-Including the 1789 Tax Lists, Abstracts of Over 800 Land Surveys ~ Data Concerning Migration (Springfield, Va.: p-p., 1972), 98.

19.1860 U.S. census., Wise Co., Va., p. 325, dwell. 400, fam. 400. A Mullins line that went from Pittsylvania Co., Va., into Burke Co., N.C., and from there into Russell Co., Va., has been put into print also. See Gary M. Mullins, “The Ancestral Lineage of Ollie Cox Mullins,” The Mountain Empire Genealogical Quarterly 7 (Winter 1988): 21~38. This article is most helpful in distinguishing the various Mullins lines that came into Russell Co. by different routes than the one taken by Booker Mullins.

20.1810 U.S. census., Floyd Co., Ky., p.105. See also 1820 U.S. cens., Floyd Co., Ky., p.37.

21. In 1823, Booker Mullins was in the part of Floyd that had just been cutaway to create Lawrence; see Clayton R. Cox, “Pike County, Ky., Deed Book A, 1820-1828,” The East Kentuckian 22 (March 1986): 16. Joe R. Skeens, comp., Floyd County, Kentucky, Consent and Marriage Book, 1808-1851 (Prestonsburg, Ky.: p.p., 1987), 21, shows the marriages of several Mullins men, including that of Kennedy’s traced ancestor, David Mullins, to Jenny Short on 3 February 1820.

Pike Co. was created from Floyd in 1822. For more on the family’s activities there, see Dorcas Hobbs, “First Tax List of 1823,” in Leonard Roberts, Frank Forsyth, and Claire Kelly, eds., Pike County, Kentucky, 1822-1967, Historical Papers, no.2 (Pikeville: Pike Co. Hist. Soc., 1976), 4-12 (which includes Booker Mullins, John Booker Mullins, and ten other Mullins landowners on Shelby Creek).

22. Carpenter, 1830 Census of Russell County, 17-18.

23.1860 U.S. cens., Wise Co., Va., p. 325, dwell. 401, fam. 401.

24. See the 1844 affidavit on this point that was published by Mary McCampbell Bell as “Who Is to Blame’.” NGS Quarterly 75 (September 1987): 193.

25. Marshall Wingfield, Marriage Bonds of Franklin County, 1786-1858; Transcribed from the Original Records, Annotated and Alphabetically Arranged (Baltimore: Genealogical Pubi. Co., 1973), 166. According to the 1850 enumeration (dwell. 1496, fam. 1490), this Booker was aged 71; his wife Judith, 67. In 1860 (dwell.

335, fam. 331), Booker was 80 and Judith was 75. See Karen Mann Robuck, comp., Franklin County, Virginia,

1850 6,, 1860 Censuses (Baltimore: Gateway Press, 1990), 131. A married Judy Mullins, aged 63 and born in Va., died in August 1849 in Pike Co., Ky.; see Dorcas McDaniel Hobbs and John Walter Picklesheimer Sr., Pike County, Kentucky, Death Records, 1849-1909 (n.p.: p.p., ca. 1990). She could not have been Judith Stanley, who married in 1803. If the death record’s age is correct, it is doubtful that she bore the older children of Kennedy’s Booker.

26. James Mullins married Agnes Little in 1812; see Julius Little, “Isaac Little and his Descendants,” The East Kentuckian 21 June 1985): 4. The actual marriage record does not list James’s father. However, Sherwood Mullins was named as son of Booker Mullins when he wed Mary Roberts in 1813; see Skeens, Floyd County, Kentucky, Consent and Marriage Book, 21.

27. Clyde Runyon, comp., Marriage Bonds of Pike County, Kentucky, 1822-1865 (Belfry, Ky.: p.p., .1984), 78, citing file no.431.

28. Kennedy apparently confused the 26-year-old Sherrard [Sherwood] Mullins (wife Anna-i.e., Nancy-aged 22), in Booker’s 1860 household, with the much-older Sherwood who was Booker’s son. Certainly Sherrard and Anna cannot have been the parents ofAndrew Jackson “BrandyJack” Mullins, who was born in 1834 (Kennedy, p.50)

29. Two were heads of households on the 1840 cens. of Pike Co., Ky.: one, age 40-50; another, 20- 30. See Jesse Stewart and Leah Stewart, comps., 1840 Federal Census of Pike County, Kentucky (n.p.: n.p., Ca. 1990), 3. The 1850 cens. more fully identifies them as Booker Mullins (age 55, wife Mary; Floyd Co.) and Booker Mullens (age 31, wife Nancy; adjacent Pike Co.). See Barbara, Byron, and Samuel Sistle; 1850 Census, Eastern Ky. Counties of Breathitt, Caner, Floyd, Greenup, Johnson, Lawrence, Letcher, Morgan, Perry, and Pike (Nashville: Byron Sistler and Associates, 1994), 68, 301. Crie Booker Mullins married Polly Johnson, daughter of William Johnson, 16 Apffl 1821; see Skeens, Floyd Kentucky, Consent and Marriage Book, p.136. A second Booker wed Polly Newsom, daughter of Harrison Newsom, 5 December 1829; see Runyon, Marriage Bonds of Pike County, 43, file no.235. Subsequently, there appears Booker MuHins Sr., age 68, b. Va., with wife Polly, age 60, b. N.C., on the 1870 U.S. cens., Pike Co., Ky., dist. 9, Robinson Creek, dwell. 26, fam. 26; and Booker Mullins, age 70, with wife Polly, 65, hoth born in Va., on the 1880 U.S. cens., Pike Co., Ky., 9th precinct, Upper Elkhorn Creek, dwelL 16, fam. 16. All listings identify them as white.

30. Gowen Research Foundation, Electronic Library, file GOWENMS.OO2, closed stacks, printout dated 30 March 1996, unpaginated. Available to foundation members via sysop, 806-796-0456. For the foundation, contact Arlee Gowen, 5708 Gary Ave., Lubbock, TX 79413. Mahala Collins was the daughter of Solomon and Virginia Jane “Gincie” (Goins) Collins.©
Virginia Easley DeMarce, Ph.D

Response of Brent Kennedy to Virginia Demarce, 1997

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Response of Brent Kennedy to Virginia DeMarce

I was recently asked by several media representatives to respond to Virginia DeMarce’s most recent statements regarding the Melungeons and me personally. Their questions have tended to revolve around the three basic issues below, so I have crafted a sort of synopsis of my replies to the media for inclusion on the home page if appropriate, or for sharing with others who may also be curious.

Of course, much of this back-and-forth bantering could have been avoided if the National Genealogical Quarterly had permitted me some sort of response to her 1996 book review. But the editors did not, and the rest as they say, is history. But I am grateful to those journals and web-sites which did publish my rebuttal. Their sense of fair play was recognized and there’s no doubt that the entire sordid incident in truth fueled the great debate that has brought the issue to the forefront. In that sense, I must extend my gratitude to the editors of NGQ. Thank you. Time is indeed demonstrating the vailidity of our work.

First, I am generally pleased to see what appears to be Dr. DeMarce’s increasing acceptance of a broader-based Mediterranean gene pool for our Appalachian ancestors. This less narrow view is in stark contrast to the one exhibited in her original review of my book in last summer’s edition of the National Genealogical Quarterly. In each succeeding news account her views on the theory, if not me, are softening. I have heard indirectly that her major contentions now are that:

(1) She sees no rationale or evidence for any theorized Turkish infusion, and

(2) She believes that Melungeons have always been – and remain – a very few isolated families, and that I have broadened the definition of Melungeon to the point of meaninglessness, and

(3) She sees absolutely no evidence that I personally am of Melungeon descent.

I would like to respond to these three points:

Regarding (1): Earlier Virginia saw no rationale for any Mediterranean heritage at all. Her book review is clear evidence of this conviction. I suggest that with time she’ll come to accept this portion of our ancestry as well.

For example, Turks and Armenians comprised some of the “indentured servants” at Jamestown. The Virginia Company kept records, fortunately, and the documented Turkish presence here as early as 1631 is important to say the least. We also now are gathering new evidence of other Turks being brought to the New World by the Spanish as early as the 1580s, with their mission to create and manage the New World textile industry. What happened to these people? Where did they go? Did they just simply disappear because they were neither slave nor European? Or like other human beings did they, too, survive and pass on their genes and cultural memories to their children?

Accumulating evidence is also bolstering Drake’s likely abandonment of Turkish and Ottoman sailors on Roanoke Island in 1586. New documents absolutely prove that Drake did indeed reach England with liberated Turkish captives, of which only 100 (of an original 200 to 300) were sent home to Istanbul. Well documented claims on the part of some of our ancestors to be Turkish, as well as medical, genetic, and linguistic evidence build a strong case for at least some – if not substantial – authentic Turkish and/or Ottoman heritage. As I said earlier, as the research unfolds over the next six months I suggest that DeMarce will indeed soften her stance on this last remaining “ethnic holdout.”

Regarding (2): I continue to be amazed that DeMarce is seemingly genuinely convinced that a few isolated Melungeon families in the 1600s remain but a few isolated Melungeon families in the 1990s. Did these people not reproduce? Estimates from Virginia historians suggest that Pocahontas – who had only one child – could have as many as 500,000 living descendants today! Yet somehow, DeMarce’s Melungeons experienced absolutely no population growth. It is a staggering limitation that we are asked to swallow.

She is wrong. Her mistake falls into the same vein as her other mistakes: she assumes the written record is the only reality and that it is always accurate. DeMarce identifies a few early Melungeon families, assumes that those are the only ones, and then excludes all other populations and individuals from kinship.

The reality is that those she identified were merely the “tips of icebergs,” metaphorically speaking. “Melungeon” is NOT an ethnic group – it was a self-descriptive term, probably originating from the Arabic/Turkish term pronounced identically and meaning “cursed soul” and was applied by these early settlers to themselves to describe their sad circumstances. Over time as the term literally became synonymous with “free person of color”, they dropped it. And most of these people – well before the first census was ever conducted – had already admixed with white, black and Native American groups.

A few, of course, held out and became known as the mysterious or reclusive Melungeons. But these smaller groups were in no way the total population. They were just the identifiable population. When I’m out fishing on Cherokee Lake, I may only see one or two bass swimming around, but from experience and common sense I don’t conclude that they’re the only ones in the lake. In a sense, Virginia DeMarce has done just that. So, my contention is that the population was far larger and more diverse than DeMarce ever dreamed possible based on the official records, and that it spread exponentially, but silently, in an effort to survive.

This does not mean, as DeMarce has also suggested, that I believe that the Pamunkey Indians or the Cherokees or any other tribal group are simply Melungeons. On the contrary, I believe instead that these Melungeons (i.e., Turks, Portuguese, Berbers, etc.) were accepted into the tribes and became part of the tribal structure, thus creating kinships between the various groups. And that in this sense their cultures merged to some degree. Which is not difficult to imagine, especially since Turks are themselves Central Asians – that is, literal cousins to the Native Americans!

In this regard, I believe that this broad Melungeon admixture into the tribes does not lessen the “Native American” component, as DeMarce assumes, but instead replaces at least some of what historians have traditionally considered simple white and black admixture with Melungeon admixture (again, Turk, Portuguese, Spanish, Berber, etc.).

Finally, I remain mystified by DeMarce’s view that expanding the definition of Melungeon renders it “meaningless.” I take the opposite viewpoint. The truth is that the population was and is much broader, and that this very inclusiveness renders the term far more meaningful, as opposed to meaningless. We have here a story that can literally relate millions of Americans in a way they never deemed – or dreamed – possible. The potential for improving race and ethnic relations in our country is incredible. If a population must be small and isolated to have meaning for DeMarce, then I’m certain she is indeed disappointed in my viewpoints. And they remain unchanged. There were – and still are – a lot of Melungeons, whatever they call themselves.

Regarding (3): Given DeMarce’s exceedingly limited view on what a “Melungeon” was, or is, I now understand her inability to rationalize how I fall into this category. Because of DeMarce’s very narrow view of what it is that defines a Melungeon, other mixed-race individuals that I absolutely consider to be Melungeon related, DeMarce casts aside as simply “Mulatto” or “Black” or “White,” depending upon the census classification. I personally know of no litmus test for Melungeonism, nor do I have a Golden Tablet with the names of all Melungeons inscribed upon it. But DeMarce seemingly does have such diagnostic tools stashed away in her genealogical bag.

I do know this: that my family verifiably looks Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Native American, and African, though our census records agree with DeMarce’s book review assertion that we are nothing but white northern European. And I know that my ancestor, Betty Reeves, claimed to Portuguese, and that all the neighbors in the Castlewood area considered my Robersons/Robinsons to be Portuguese. And I was very surprised when Virginia DeMarce announced that W.A. Plecker’s infamous letter of 1943 (see website: listed only one of my family surnames – Mullins. First, she fails to mention that I have SIX lines of Mullinses (as opposed to the insinutated single line), and second, she overlooks the other NINE family surnames found on that list that undoubtedly pertain to me. She conveniently does this by looking only at Wise County, but my ancestors migrated westward from the very regions where the surnames are listed by Plecker as non-white. For the curious, those other surnames are: Adams, Adkins, Bolin (Bowlin), Gibson, Hammond, Keith, Phillips, Robinson, and Weaver. DeMarce conveniently overlooks these names because they aren’t specifically called Melungeons by Plecker. But this single letter lends great credence to my contention of both the mixed-race background of so many westward moving Virginians, as well as the preponderance of related surnames that characeterize my – and other – so-called “white” families of this region.

I trust this response is helpful.

N. Brent Kennedy
21 August 1997

“Bridging the Digital Divide in Rural Appalachia” by Jacob Podber, 2003 article

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Bridging the Digital Divide in Rural Appalachia: Internet Usage in the Mountains

Jacob J. Podber, Ph.D.
Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL, USA

Material published as part of these proceedings, either on-line or in print, is copyrighted by Informing Science. Permission to make digital or paper copy of part or all of these works for personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that the copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage AND that copies 1) bear this notice in full and 2) give the full citation on the first page. It is permissible to abstract these works so long as credit is given. To copy in all other cases or to republish or to post on a server or to redistribute to lists requires specific permission from the publisher


This project looks at Internet usage within the Melungeon community of Appalachia. Although much has been written on the coal mining communities of Appalachia and on ethnicity within the region, there has been little written on electronic media usage by Appalachian communities, most notably the Melungeons. The Melungeons are a group who settled in the Appalachian Mountains as early as 1492, of apparent Mediterranean descent. Considered by some to be tri-racial isolates, to a certain extent, Melungeons have been culturally constructed, and largely self- identified.

According to the founder of a popular Melungeon Web site, the Internet has proven an effective tool in uncovering some of the mysteries and folklore surrounding the Melungeon community. This Web site receives more than 21,000 hits a month from Melungeons or others interested in the group. The Melungeon community, triggered by recent books, films, and video documentaries, has begun to use the Internet to trace their genealogy. Through the use of oral history interviews, this study examines how Melungeons in Appalachia use the Internet to connect to others within their community and to the world at large.

Keywords : Internet, media, digital divide, Appalachia, rural, oral history, ethnography, sociology, community


In Rod Carveth and Susan Kretchmer’s paper “The Digital Divide in Western Europe,” (presented at the 2002 International Summer Conference on Communication and Technology) the authors examined how age, income and gender were predictors of the digital divide in Western Europe. In addition, they pointed out how geography played a crucial role given that countries in Southern Europe have less computer and Internet penetration than their Northern European counterparts. In my paper, I examine the digital divide in the United States, particularly while looking at Internet usage in rural Appalachia.

Given that the growth of the American “Sunbelt South” has become somewhat of a symbol of U.S. economic progress, I will examine Internet usage in Appalachia, an area of the U.S. that is often overlooked. As Eller (1999, ix) writes, “Always part of the mythical South, Appalachia continues to languish backstage in the American drama, still dressed, in the popular mind at least, in the garments of backwardness, violence, poverty and hopelessness once associated with the South as a whole. No other region of the United States today plays the role ofthe ‘other America’ quite so persistently as Appalachia.”

By using oral histories, my intention is to give an outlet to residents of rural Appalachia. Using their own words, I hope to discover who they think they are and how their use of electronic media has informed their identity and included or excluded them. As participants recalled their histories, I attempted to record their lived/reconstructed/and or perceived past.

Riesman (1950) illustrated the effects of electronic media on our sense of community in his “lonely crowd” theory. His analogy of the individual living in a modern technological society yet existing in seclusion seems to echo the beliefs that electronic media are isolating catalysts on society. This theory is even more poignant given the strong sense of community and family within the Appalachian region. The analysis of this concept—whether the arrival of electronic communication technology into the region disrupted rather than enhanced the sense of community—defines this study.

Significance of the Study

As stated above, although much has been written on the coal mining communities of Appalachia (see Fisher, 1993; Yarrow, 1990; and Eller, 1982) and on ethnicity within the region (see Billings, 1999; Turner, 1985; Klotter, 1980; Cunningham, 1980; and Snyder, 1982), there is a dearth of literature on electronic media usage within the Appalachian community. An important distinction should be made in that there is a body of work that examines print media’s effect on Appalachia (see Stephens, 1972 and Maggard, 1985). In addition, Newcomb (1979) examines how Appalachian stereotypes are perpetuated on TV, Williamson (1994 and 1995) points out how the Appalachian is portrayed in motion pictures, and some alternative media sources, such as Appalshop Film and Video in Whitesburg, Kentucky, produce works on Appalachian culture and history (seeMountain Vision: Homegrown Television in Appalachia, and Strangers and Kin).1 None, however, address electronic media usage by Appalachians.

Therefore, I hope the oral histories collected in this study will contribute to the understanding of the impact the Internet had on the residents of rural Appalachia, especially from a social historical context. I see a great value in a human diary that documents how electronic media affected the lives of rural Appalachians and hope the oral histories used to trace the early adoption of the Internet contribute to a better understanding of how Appalachians, particularly within the Melungeon community, were able to establish communities — both virtually and in real life — regardless of their geographical isolation.

Oral History

Conducting oral history interviews is fraught with challenges, particularly when the interviewer is seen as an outsider by the interviewees. Some participants, uncomfortable with an interviewer entering into a region where many are burdened with poor educations, were reluctant to be recorded. Given the way the media often depict Appalachians in movies (Deliverance), television (“The Beverly Hillbillies”), and comic strips (Snuffy Smith), their reluctance is not surprising. In “The Appalachian Inheritance,” Cattell- Gordon (1990, 41) describes the Appalachian region as a “culturally transmitted traumatic stress syndrome.”

However, in their viewing of the Appalachian community, Banks, Billings, and Tice (1996, 82) suggest that

[T]his account of the effects of history as social trauma bred in the bones of the people of the region is flawed because it constitutes Appalachians solely as “victims” and obscures the potentiality of diverse subjects’ making history…thereby minimizing the possibilities for agency and empowerment.

Such an account leaves unquestioned paradigmatic views of Appalachia that have the effect of either marginalizing and excluding Appalachians as fully human beings or else treating them as a monolithic category.

It is incumbent upon social historians to rethink oppositional terms such as “insider/outsider” and “scholars/activists.” The idea of “apprehend[ing] and inscrib[ing] others in such a way as not to deny or diffuse their claims to subjecthood” should be the goal of all social scientists (Mascia-Lees 1989, 12). It is therefore the intention of this study to allow the participants who were interviewed to express themselves through the use of their own words.

Throughout the interview process, I tried not to rely too heavily on my prepared questions and allowed the interviewee to follow any unexpected path he or she chose to take. Of course, my initial questions did shape the direction in which I felt I could derive the most raw material (memories), and I tried my best to guide participants in the direction which best served my scholarly aim. As the author of this work, I also recognize that I chose the quotes that are included herein.

In A Shared Authority, Frisch (1990) addresses the notion that the interviewer may feel more responsible for the creation of a work; however, the interviewee is the greater partner. It is in the interviewee’s stories that the greatest value of an oral history resides. Furthermore, the interviewee also participates in the interpretation of the stories since he or she constantly analyzes their own motives while recalling them (see Ritchie, 1995).

The Melungeon Community of Appalachia

While conducting previous research in Appalachia, I recognized that it was the inception of radio in the 1920s, and for some, television several decades later that brought a genesis of belo nging to a national community into this region of the country. During my earlier research, I interviewed respondents who were old enough to recall the inception of both radio and television. The majority of those who participated were either of Scotch-Irish or German descent. However, few were Internet users. In searching for an indigenous group from within the Appalachian region who had actively embraced the Internet, I became aware of the Melungeon Heritage Association. This group began holding national conferences celebrating their tri-racial heritage in 1997. During that year, the first Melungeon Heritage Association meeting, planned as a picnic for fifty participants, attracted over 600 people. Called First Union, many attribute the overwhelming attendance to the group’s Web site and the Internet’s wide reach. Second Union followed in 1998 with a substantially greater attendance. According to Darlene Wilson, founder of one of the earliest Melungeon Web sites, the Internet has proven an effective tool in uncovering some of the mysteries and folklore surrounding the Melungeon community.2 Ms. Wilson claims that the Melungeon Heritage Web site receives more than 21,000 hits a month from Melungeons or others interested in the group.3 For an unadvertised Web site, this is a remarkable number of hits.4

Some speculate that the Melungeons first settled in the Appalachian Mountains as early as the fifteenth century, of apparent Mediterranean descent. Its members are considered by some to be tri- racial isolates. According to Kennedy (1994), the Melungeon community descends from Turks, Berbers, Moors, Jews, Portuguese, Spaniards and others who arrived on the southeastern seaboard of North America during the period between 1492 and the founding of Jamestown in 1607. Webster (1962, 1122) described the Melungeon as “a member of a dark-skinned people of mixed Caucasian, Negro, and Indian stock, inhabiting the Tennessee mountains.”5 Davis (1963, 16) identified the Melungeons as “dark-skinned, reddish- brown complexioned people [who were] supposed to be of Moorish descent, neither Indian nor Negro, but [who] had fine European features, and claimed to be Portuguese.”

Today, the largest Melungeon communities are primarily in eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina and southwestern Virginia (Kennedy). However, members are found throughout the Appalachian region and beyond. Perhaps some migrated in search of a place where their tri-racial heritage was not suspect. Others may have been seeking employment in the city. As Melungeons begin to reach out to embrace their heritage, many are using the Internet to trace their genealogy.

Ms. Wilson claimed that a large percentage of the people who visit her Web site are expatriates, comprised of those who le ft the community. 6 As Melungeons faced discrimination (often because of their mixed ancestry), many kept to themselves, settled in isolated communities, or migrated to regions where their heritage was not suspect (see Price 1951). Their “mixed blood” led to discrimination that kept many from claiming or celebrating their heritage. Throughout the years, the term Melungeon had taken on a negative connotation.

Recently however, there has been resurgence in the Melungeon community as many have begun to reach out to embrace their diversity. Within the realm of community studies, it is interesting that the Melungeon community is perhaps defined less as a geographic community than as an electronic community.


In 1999, the Melungeon Heritage Association held a genealogical workshop at Berea College in Kentucky. It was there that I began interviewing participants. Prior to the gathering, I placed a notice on the Melungeon Web site announcing that while at the conference, I would be seeking to interview individuals to discuss their Internet usage. I also relied on a snowball effect resulting from recommendations of friends and neighbors of those initially interviewed. This required trips to Sneedville, Tennessee and Wise, Virginia (areas with a large intact community of Melungeons) for further interviews.

In May 2000, I attended Third Union in Wise, Virginia, and continued to collect oral histories. In all, eighty-two respondents were interviewed ranging from the age of eighteen to 103.

It’s for the Younger Generation

As stated previously, while conducting earlier oral history interviews on electronic media usage in rural Appalachia, I found that few of the elderly respondents who recalled the inception of radio and television were Internet users. In fact, for some, the mere mention of the Internet brought suspicious looks. Several felt they were too old to learn about something they viewed as “not very personal” or “too technical.” “You hear so much bad about it,” Margaret Tabler said of the Internet, “I don’t want one. Kids are abusing it.”7

Even respondents in their early fifties were resistant. Virginia Miller argued:

It’s for the younger generation. For our generation, I think this newfound stuff is just too far beyond us. I think we’re really scared of it, just like the older generation was scared when telephones come out. They were scared to use the telephone right at first, because I know my dad would very seldom touch the telephone if it would ring. You know, he’d have one of us answer it.8

When asked if anyone felt “scared” of other emerging electronic media such as radio or television, Marian Dees replied: “No, because I was young. I was ready for anything.”9 Henry Shaffer reflected:

Well with radio…then we was kids, and we didn’t think of anything ahead. Now this Internet is sort of scary because there is so much that’s going on you just wonder — everybody knows your business. And you transmit, well, all over the world, and well, it’s sort of scary. It’s something that we don’t know anything about and afraid to find out, I guess.10

Genealogy on the Web

It is important to note that many of the respondents I interviewed became involved in the Internet because of their interest in genealogy. As they examined their possible Melungeon roots, many went to the Internet for further research. Today the Internet is used by tens of thousands of people doing genealogical research. Major genealogy Web sites, like, claim over 8,800 subscribers to its listserv, more than 70,000 visitors to the Web site each day, and more than 2,000,000 visitors each month (see also,, Lamb 2000, and Crowe 2000). Tracking genealogical information on her grandmother, Nancy Sparks Morrison spoke of getting on the Internet.

I got a computer [in 1997] and started putting my genealogy into it. And I got on the Internet, and I put a note on one of the [genealogy] message boards saying I’m looking for this Indian grandmother, her name is Mary Collins. And I got a reply from a girl who lived in California and she said your Collins is in the area of the Melungeons, in the area where the Melungeons were. And I wrote her back and said, “Who the heck are Melungeons?” So she gave me a little brief thing, I went to the library and I found Brent [Kennedy]’s book and I sat down and read the book and it just clicked. I knew immediately that this was where this family belonged, was in this character. So, I began doing more research. I have about seven lines that I think are Melungeon connected….I don’t think I would have found it without the Internet.11

Barbara Langdon tells a similar story of finding an identity on the Net:

Well, when I first started doing research, the first thing I did was get on the Internet. There are several genealogy sites [where] you can post your names you are looking for and dates and regions and all that sort of thing, and I had posted information on my grandfather’s family and within just a couple weeks I had contacts from distant cousins….A cousin I’ve never met told me this family story about how we were Melungeon, and the way he told his story, and the way that his family reacted to being Melungeon was very, very similar to my own experience with being told that we were Indian and the sort of barrier there about, you know. 12

Many respondents with Melungeon links spoke of their families’ acceptance of Native American ancestry while avoiding any mention of African or Melungeon heritage. However, most respondents at the Melungeon Heritage Association gatherings appeared ready to embrace this new identity.

Having never before heard the word Melungeon prior to getting on the Internet, Nancy 13 admits,

It’s interesting because I never really felt that I belonged. I’ve always been kind of a private person….I never felt really comfortable in this group or that group or the other group. It was just not — and when I found the Melungeons and the first time I went to Wise, Virginia, [where First Union was held] I felt like I was coming home. It amazed me, the emotional feeling that I got.14

Common, Community, and Communication

In Imagined Communities, Anderson (1983) examined how a community could be imagined around shared cultural practices. In addition, Deutsch and Foltz (1966) contested the notion of nation as a geographically- based construction. To a certain extent, the Melungeons have been both culturally constructed and self-defined. Their use of the Internet has allowed the community to reach out beyond its geographical borders to form an electronic virtual community.

However, some question the motives of those claiming identity with the group. Speaking of participants on the Melungeon listserv, Madonna Cook warns, “And some of them, are wannabes. They wish they could find something and they don’t, but they’re still so enthralled by the ‘What if? I could be!’ they religiously follow the e- mails looking for a specific new surname that might connect them to the Melungeons.” 15 Today, it seems chic to be the “other” in the United States. Groups that were historically marginalized and persecuted, as was apparently the case within the Melungeon community, now proudly announce their identity.

As respondents found that they might be of Melungeon heritage, many began to use the Internet to further research their identity. As Barbara Langdon said: “I think right now my question that I am trying to answer is, how do we define Melungeon? And, in some ways it’s, you know, it is a self- identifying, uh, let’s see, how do I want to say that? Uh, in a lot of ways, people that are Melungeon are self-identified.” 16 Fitzgerald (1991, 202) tells us: “By defining itself, ethnically or otherwise, a group escapes classification by others.”

Some respondents, like Madonna, were already aware of their Melungeon identity and used the Web sites and Melungeon listserv to research their legacy. “I already knew of the Melungeon connection for my family when I went on- line so I started looking for other people who were researching these same lines to see if they had something that I didn’t have. [I use] the Melungeon list, which has automatic emails coming to you, where they have a lot of discussion about the Melungeons. I was getting like 300 e-mails a day off that one list.”17

Being unmonitored, members of the Melungeon listserv, as Madonna stated, could receive up to 300 postings per day. To those tracing their lineage, the number of postings could be overwhelming. Barbara spoke of trying to keep up.

Just to keep up with what’s happening with the Melungeon research, you know, at first, I was using the Internet, oh gosh, I was on there hours, you know, listening to everybody tell their stories. There are a lot of stories on that listserv. People telling their stories about, you know, why they think they are Melungeon or why they got interested in the Melungeons because of, you know, some story in the family, or they always knew, or they have a history of Black Dutch.18

Often, the same individual would post ten to twenty messages within a twenty- four hour period and the content seemed to become less important than the ritual of posting messages. As Barbara saw it:

I don’t get on the listserv as much anymore because [it is] simply a matter of not everything that is posted counts. Everything that is posted to the listserv comes to you. Nobody reads it, and selects certain [themes] you know, everything comes and sometimes it is more than I can handle. For a while I made a policy that if it was in, if it was something I wanted to read, I read it, otherwise I threw everything away.19

At times, the information conveyed via the listserv was merely chitchat amongst the participants. As a result, it did not necessarily appear to “describe the world but portray[ed] an arena of dramatic forces and action” (Carey, 1989, 21). To a certain extent, the multiple postings of messages on the listserv appeared to be a ritualistic form of communication.

Carey’s notion of communication as ritual may also be applied to the use of electronic media in Appalachia, especially when viewing Internet usage within the Melungeon community. Given that some Melungeons migrated to regions where their heritage was not suspect or simply went in search of job opportunities in larger cities, there has been a resurgence in the Melungeon community as many have begun to reach out to embrace their diversity, largely via the Internet.

As they began to reach out to one another in hopes of forming community via electronic communications technology, the concept of communication as ritual comes to light. Carey (1989) described a ritual view of communication as being directed not toward the extension of messages in space but toward the maintenance of society in time; not the act of imparting information but the representation of shared beliefs….The archetypal case under a ritual view is the sacred ceremony that draws persons together in fellowship and commonality….Under a ritual view, then, news is not information but drama (18-21).

Cleland Thorpe spoke of making a connection with others (from as far away as California) he had met on the listserv. “I talked to people in California and I then talked to people, by e-mail, in Arkansas and Tennessee, up in Ohio and it was just, you know, it’s really weird how we all have so much in common, and it really had to come from our heritage. I mean, it passed on, it had to be.”20 It is important to note that even though many respondents spoke of skimming the Melungeon listserv, most pursued contact with others in the group by e- mail rather than communicating via the listserv.

In joining the Melungeon listserv, I was surprised to receive over 100 messages a day, most of which were more entertaining than informative. Often, the same individual would post ten to twenty messages. This could be viewed as the ritual of connecting to others within the group.

Here, the tie between the words common, community, and communication, as Dewey (1916) saw them, is revealed within the ritual view of communication. Much of the information conveyed via the listserv did not describe the world but portrayed an arena of dramatic forces and action (see Carey, 1989). In The Roots of Modern Media Analysis, Carey (1997) addresses electricity’s arrival in the United States as classless, if not socialist. Similarly, he described the birth of the telegraph as promising the distribution of information everywhere, “simultaneously reducing the economic advantage of the city and bringing the more varied urban culture out to the countryside” (45).21

Today, the egalitarian dreams of the Internet hold similar promise. Habermas (1989) views democracy as representing a social space wherein members of the society can rationally debate issues. The Habermasian view of the public sphere was inspired by the literary movement and revealed itself in salons and coffeehouses where the average citizen could discuss sociopoliticalissues. Although the bourgeois public sphere was marked by gender and class exclusion, Habermas’s ideal public sphere was egalitarian in principle. In looking at Internet usage in Appalachia within the concept of the public sphere, one might look at the Melungeon listserv where issues of gender, age, and race need not necessarily impact the topic being discussed (if the writer chooses not to reveal his or her physical identity). Although most chat rooms offer little more than questions of where the other person is from and how old he or she is, newsgroups and listservs offer any subscriber a chance to express his or her ideas without prejudice from anything other than what is written. However, a person with a lower educational level might be betrayed by improper use of spelling and grammar. As a result, this person might be taken less seriously in virtual groups. Again, technology, such as automatic grammar and spell checking software, can level the playing field, leading to a more egalitarian and accessible electronic public sphere.

Coming Together

As some interviewees spoke of meeting others in cyberspace, many mentioned how nice it was to make human contact with people with whom they had created an electronic community. “It was more interesting Saturday up at Berea [at the genealogical workshop] when I could look people in the eye and hear them talk,” recalled Claude Collins. “I was standing there Saturday in one of these meetings and this lady come runnin’ up and she threw her arms around my neck and she said ‘Oh, I’m so glad to see what you look like,’ ‘cause she had e-mailed me dozens and dozens and dozens of times.”22

The bonds made in cyberspace seemed to create a familiar bond similar to that of a real family which was reinforced when respondents met at the Unions. As Nancy put it, “It amazed me, the emotional feeling that I got. It was just like we were coming to a family reunion.”23

Barbara concurred:

It was sort of strange coming to Wise the first time and not having met these people, but having created a community, an electronic community, I’d had experiences before with having a community and bringing that community together through electronic media, through the Internet. And so I was sort of nervous about what was going to happen since all of us had met on the Internet and had not met each other yet, because people that I didn’t even know were paying attention to what I was saying, you know. “Oh Barb, I’ve been listening, you know I’ve been reading what you’ve been saying on the Internet and I’m so happy to meet you and what do you think about….” You know, it was strange in a very pleasant sort of way, but, it, I didn’t know what to expect, I was a little apprehensive and I wondered if I was nuts and what am I doing going to meet all of these people from the Internet. Yeah. 24

The phrase, “What am I doing going to meet all of these people from the Internet,” suggests that the Internet is an actual place in space rather than an electronic medium. Addressing the metaphor of a digital world, Sproull and Faraj (1996, 143) tell us, “When e- mail is used for group conversations, the network takes on the characteristics of place — like the office coffee pot or the local watering hole.” The bonds made in cyberspace by most respondents I spoke to appeared to last. When speaking of people she has met on the Internet, Barbara admits, “I keep checking the [Melungeon] Web pages to see what’s going on and I keep in contact with, there’s key people, there’s some people that I have long-lasting relationships with now through the Internet that I stay in touch with.”25 Turkle (1996, 3) states that “virtual experience may be so compelling that we believe that within it we’ve achieved more than we have.”

However, a large number of respondents took the cyber- friendship experience to the next level by actually meeting one another at the Unions. In addition to e- mail and the Melungeon listserv, Melungeon Web sites also proved important in getting people interested in the Internet and bringing them together. As Connie Mullins Clark recalled:

About six months after I got my computer [in 1997], this article in the paper was explaining about a picnic about Melungeon heritage. People could send in, over the Internet, they could fill out the form, send it in, and you could be part of the picnic. So, I did that. I went directly to the Web, you know, hooked on the Web site, went in there, filled out my application, printed it off and sent it. So, I have been, since that time, I have worked directly with the Internet, helping with Web pages and working on research with Melungeons…There’s different Web sites now that you can go to and find the Melungeon information, but that’s how I first got started was with Melungeon. I had it [a computer], but to really get involved in the Internet itself was with the
Melungeon connection.

Respondents often spoke of going to these sites when researching their Melungeon heritage. “I don’t think I would have found out as much information so quickly,” recalls Barbara. “I probably would have given up because when I went to your traditional means of research which was the library, I did a search on the various different databases that are available in your university library and searched the word Melungeon and came up with nothing except, the card catalog in that particular library had Brent Kennedy’s book.”27

It appeared that for some respondents, interest in Melungeon culture was an initial catalyst in early Internet usage. In addition, it brought information about the Melungeon community to those not likely to find it elsewhere. As Tammy Mullins saw it, “I feel like the Internet has really opened up the world to everyone. And also, it’s really opened up the world for Melungeon people because, basically, without the Internet and there are very few books that are written, I mean, where would you be? You wouldn’t know where to start so actually, the Internet really opened up a big space for me to be able to do research.”28

The Internet as Electronic Front Porch

Writing about technology’s ability to bring strangers together, Johnson (1997) compared the computer to the cotton gin, which caused millions of workers at the end of the eighteenth century to crowd together in factory towns. Of course, Luddites were quick to react to the drudgery and deskilling brought about by this new labor-saving textile machinery by smashing the gins. Neo-Luddites might have similar feelings towards the computer and the Internet. Even if most people are not so threatened by the computer as to feel a need to toss it out the window, for some there is still an enigmatic quality to the computer.

On a recent trip on U.S. Airways, both outgoing and incoming flights were delayed by over an hour because of improper luggage distribution in the cargo bay. Each time this happened, the pilot readily blamed the computer for causing the improper distribution, as if it were the computer and not the luggage handlers that overloaded the cargo bay. “Please bear with us,” pleaded the pilot, “as we try to get the bugs out of our new computer system.” It appeared that the pilot was demonizing the computer.

Similarly, as expressed by some elderly respondents above, the rapid expansion of the Internet appeared to produce an undercurrent of frustration. This may be in response to people’s discomfort with new technology versus personal human interaction. However, as with radio and television’s arrival into rural Appalachia, the Internet appeared to create interaction within the community. In addition to the Melungeon cyber-communities, (which resulted in face-to-face re-Unions), some respondents spoke of how using the Net, even at home alone, allowed one to interact with others in chat rooms. Some compared their experiences on the Net with “the good ol’ days,” when one sat on the front porch and made small talk with the occasional passerby. This is what might be called, “the Internet as electronic front porch.”

Bob Cole explains his point of view:

I think that between TV and air conditioning, people retreat to their homes and tend to isolate themselves inside of the house whereas radio brought you to the porch in the summertime, and the neighbors walked along the street and then the neighbors would stop and listen to the radio and then they’d discuss the news or listen to the programs. So there was a lot of interaction of people and everybody knew everything that was going on in the neighborhood. The Internet, I think, is a technological innovation that tends maybe to counteract the seclusion that was caused by the air conditioning. Well, you start talking to people again. Start communicating with people. You’re able to meet people. It’s kind of like sittin’ on the porch and the neighbors walking up and down the street. You know, they come in, they get in contact. Well, you sit in your house but you get out on the Internet and it’s like a stream of people walking by. You can reach out and interrelate with them like you used to when you sat on the front porch and the neighbors walked up and down the street.29

A Digital Divide

One might hope that the Internet as electronic front porch could lead to a more egalitarian and accessible electronic public sphere. However, the issue of the “digital divide” remains especially noticeable within rural Appalachia (along with other rural areas of the country). Nonetheless, as with other obstacles, respondents without local Internet access found ways of connecting, though, often at a premium. “I have the Internet now,” says Bennie Lawson. “In the beginning, the only way I could get the Internet was to pay $20 for unlimited access to a [larger city] phone line and then I had to pay $25 for an Internet provider service, so it was $45 a month to get Internet access.”30 Madonna told an Internet access story that recalled telephone party lines 31 of the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s.

It’s a toll call and I knew better than to get on the Internet and there’d be a $6 an hour charge the way we wanted to research, it takes a long time sometimes to find just what you’re looking for. There was access to — there was a lady who had set it up as a non-profit thing where you could share an Internet access line but ten or twelve people had to share. I checked into that but I really didn’t want to do that because I figured if we got on there and researched we’d probably take up too much time.32

In addition, the up- front cost of getting on- line (hardware, software and access expenses) was prohibitive for some with fixed or lower incomes. As Marian put it, “It may be cheaper to send an e-mail but the initial cost wasn’t cheap. Sooner or later you’re gonna spend your money on something.”33

Just as access to electricity seemed to have determined how people listened to early radio, limited local Internet access in rural Appalachia inhibited some respondents’ ability to get on the Net. However, as with other electronic media, many respondents I spoke with were eager to embrace the World Wide Web.

The rapid expansion of the Internet seems to suggest that a new era of global communications has been realized. Clyde Pinney, however, seemed to put things in perspective as he compared radio’s inception to that of the Internet’s arrival.

The world of radio opened up a lot more for me than the Internet. I would assume it may not later on as I get into it more. Well, radio was the forerunner of all worldwide communications, and this is just a continuation of what was started even back in the ‘30s. I see this just as an advancement of radio. I got the computer because it was the right thing to do. I guess it’s something that should be done, so we went that way. 34

When Clyde reminisced about the arrival of electronic media technology in rural Appalachia, his comment, “The world of radio opened up a lot more for me than the Internet,” is quite telling.

Respondents each had the benefit of decades of hindsight as they told their stories of how radio and television’s arrival affected their lives. However, Clyde continued his comment on the Internet with, “I would assume it may not later on as I get into it more.” With the Internet being a relatively new technology, which seems to be evolving almost on a daily basis, it appears to be far more difficult to accurately gauge its immediate impact on society.


In looking back to KDKA’s 35 first radio broadcast on November 9, 1920, we must recognize that it has been more than eighty years since that first historic broadcast. Given today’s rapid growth of electronic media technology, it will be interesting to see how the Internet has evolved when broadcast radio celebrates its centennial.

The Internet has allowed respondents to connect to one another and to the world at large. It has also allowed the Melungeon population to establish themselves as being larger than they had originally seen themselves and perhaps defined less as a geographic community than as an electronic community. In addition, the Internet appeared to precipitate interaction within the community both in cyberspace and at annual re-Unions.

Moreover, the Internet can be used as a powerful tool to unify even the most isolated groups. Its potential as a public forum is especially powerful within a region where getting to a town meeting could require traversing mountainous terrain or traveling great distances, as is the case in much of Appalachia.

Lastly, it is important to note that in looking back at the arrival of other electronic media into this rural area, (such as radio and television) respondents have the benefit of decades of hindsight. However, with the Internet being a relatively new technology, which seems to be evolving almost on a daily basis, it appears to be far more difficult to accurately gauge its immediate impact on society. It is in this direction that I see the need for future research. With the passing of time, respondents may be able to better reflect on how the Internet has affected their lives.


1 Created in 1969 as a War on Poverty program to train young people in media production, Appalshop is a media arts center located in central Appalachia where it continues to produce and present works on social, economic, and political issues concerning Appalachian culture.
2 Interview with Darlene Wilson, 19 June 1999.
3 Ibid.
4 By comparison,, the site for Survivor Software, a small software company that produces personal finance software, receives an average of 2,400 hits a month. At the opposite extreme, during the month of August 2000, their site received 631,998 hits from Internet users seeking the official CBS “Survivor” television program Web site (Survivor Software).
5 Interestingly, there are no listings for “Melungeon” in The American Heritage Dictionary (3rd ed.), Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary (10th ed.), Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.), Britannica Online, or The Columbia Encyclopedia.
6 Wilson interviw.
7 Interview with Margaret Tabler, 11 May 1998.
8 Interview with Virginia Miller, 19 June 1998.
9 Interview with Marian Dees, 30 June 1998.
10 Interview with Henry Shaffer, 17 June 1998.
11 Interview with Nancy Sparks Morrison, 26 June 1999.
12 Interview with Barbara Langdon, 26 June 1999.
13 Given that I was on a first name basis with most of the people I interviewed, after using a respondent’s full name the first time I refer to them, I will use only their given name on subsequent reference or citation.
14 Morrison interview.
15 Interview with Madonna Cook, 28 June 1999.
16 Langdon interview.
17 Cook interview.
18 Langdon interview. Black Dutch was sometimes used euphemistically in place of Melungeon
19 Ibid.
20 Interview with Cleland Thorpe, 26 June 1999.
21 One should note, however, that telegraph routes in the United States usually followed railroad lines. Referring back to Smythe (1973), decisions for rail routes were largely based on economic rather than egalitarian forces
22 Interview with Claude Collins, 28 June 1999.
23 Morrison interview.
24 Langdon interview.
25 Ibid.
26 Interview with Connie Mullins Clark, 26 June 1999.
27 Langdon interview.
28 Interview with Tammy Mullins, 26 June 1999.
29 Interview with Bob Cole, 11 May 1998.
30 Interview with Bennie Lawson, 20 May 1998.
31 Interestingly, the telephone party-line provided a social outlet similar to some Internet chat lines (see Curtis 1996).
32 Cook interview.
33 Marian Dees interview.
34 Interview with Clyde Pinney, 25 June 1998.
35 Most media scholars consider KDKA-Pittsburgh, to be the oldest broadcasting station in the United States (see Baudino and Kittross
1977 and Smith 1959).


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Ties That Bind – Revisited

by Brent Kennedy

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

Fifth Union Presentation: June 2004.

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

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

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

Nancy Kennedy and son Brent, 1950

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Kennedy, 1973

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

To further appreciate my brother’s results, and for comparative purposes, DNAPrint Genomics ( provides the following “average results” for northern Europeans:

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

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

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

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

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

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

His 65% Indo-European broke down as follows:

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

Richard Kennedy and family, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brent Kennedy

Nancy Kennedy, 1970

ADDENDUM; 24 April 2005

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

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

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

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

DNAPrint 2.5:
100% Indo-European

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Addendum: July 9, 2005

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

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

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

Taylor Hopkins, 1980

33% Northern/western European

30% Middle Eastern

16% Turkish/Greek

11% sub-Saharan African

7% Native American

3% South Asian (India/Pakistan)

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

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

Helen Nash Mayo, 2005

63% Northern/western European

12% Middle Eastern

23% Turkish/Greek

2% Native American

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

The results are almost precisely what I had expected.

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

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

“American Gypsies’ by Alessandro Ursic (2005 article)

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American Gypsies

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

by Alessandro Ursic

Note from MHA webmaster: This article appeared in an Italian newspaper and on the website The original article may be seen at
This article is a translation from the original Italian. Whether through misunderstanding or mistakes in translation, the following article contains a few inaccuracies. These will be corrected at the end of the article.

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

The origins of the name Melungeons.

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

Breaking a taboo.

Wayne Winkler

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

Indifference of a peoples.

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

Where they come from.

DruAnna Overbay of the Vardy Community Historical Society

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

Centuries of hostility.

Brent Kennedy with a photograph of his mother

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

The desire for normality.

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

New friends.

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

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

Excellent relatives.

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

Corrections from MHA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Brent Kennedy

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

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


Portuguese Jews

Lockbeare (Lockleare)

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

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

Brent Kennedy
2 December 1997

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


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

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

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

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

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Black Dutch” – A Polite Euphemism?

by Darlene Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darlene Wilson
28 January 1998

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

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“Black Indian” Lists Prove Helpful

byBrent Kennedy

January 25, 1998

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

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

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

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

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

These lists represent the names of Freedmen adopted through the Dawes Commission, with a time frame of 1898 through 1916. For the full lists the reader may visit:

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

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

Black Choctaws (22 related surnames):

Black Chickasaws (17 related surnames):

Black Cherokees (17 related surnames):

Black Seminoles (10 related surnames):

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

Published by:

Carmel Melungeons 1

North From the Mountains: The Carmel Melungeons of Ohio

by John Kessler and Donald Ball

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Published by:

The Saga of the Carmel Indians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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