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“The Graysville Melungeons” by Raymond Evans, 1979 article

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The Graysville Melungeons

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

by Raymond Evans


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


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

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

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

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

Geographic Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historical Backgound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Family Structure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transition to Oral Culture

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Traditional Material Culture

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

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

Traditional Substinence and Medical Patterns

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

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

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

References Cited

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

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

_____, The Melungeons, privately published 1975

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1972 reprint of above

1975 reprint of above, Pelican Publishing

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

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

Fetterson, John, 1967 Stinking Creek Dutton, New York

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hunt, Raymond F., 1966 The Pactolus Iron Works

Ivey, Sanders, 1975 “Aunt Mahala in Folklore”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_____, 1951 “The Melungeons”

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

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

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

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

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

Werner, Diana, 1970 “The Melungeons”

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

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

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

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Melungeons Yesterday and Today – Thirty Years Later

by Wayne Winkler

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

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

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


Jean Patterson Bible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wayne Winkler
May 2005

Lewis M. Jarvis article from Hancock County Times, 1903

Published by:

Lewis Jarvis article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes from William Grohse

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

“The Melungens,” Littel’s Living Age article, 1849

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The Melungens

Note: Littel’s Living Age was a popular magazine of the early nineteenth century that reprinted articles from other publications for national distribution. This article may have been published in Louisville, Kentucky, as early as 1847. It appeared as an unsigned article in the Knoxville Register of September 6, 1848, and was published in Living Age in March 1849. Thanks to Bill Fields and Under One Sky for this copy.

We give to-day another amusing and characteristic sketch from a letter of our intelligent and sprightly correspondent, sojourning at present in one of the seldom-visited nooks hid away in our mountains.

“You must know that within ten miles of this owl’s nest, there is a watering-place, known hereabouts as ‘Black-water Springs.’ It is situated in a narrow gorge, scarcely half a mile wide, between Powell’s Mountain and the Copper Ridge, and is, as you may suppose, almost inaccessible. A hundred men could defend the pass against even a Xerxian army. Now this gorge and the tops and sides of the adjoining mountains are inhabited by a singular species of the human animal called MELUNGENS.

The legend of their history, which they carefully preserve, is this. A great many years ago, these mountains were settled by a society of Portuguese Adventurers, men and women–who came from the long-shore parts of Virginia, that they might be freed from the restraints and drawbacks imposed on them by any form of government. These people made themselves friendly with the Indians and freed, as they were from every kind of social government, they uprooted all conventional forms of society and lived in a delightful Utopia of their own creation, trampling on the marriage relation, despising all forms of religion, and subsisting upon corn (the only possible product of the soil) and wild game of the woods. These intermixed with the Indians, and subsequently their descendants (after the advances of the whites into this part of the state) with the negros and the whites, thus forming the present race of Melungens. They are tall, straight, well- formed people, of a dark copper color, with Circassian features, but wooly heads and other similar appendages of our negro. They are privileged voters in the state in which they live and thus, you will perceive, are accredited citizens of the commonwealth. They are brave, but quarrelsome; and are hospitable and generous to strangers. They have no preachers among them and are almost without any knowledge of a Supreme Being. They are married by the established forms, but husband and wife separate at pleasure, without meeting any reproach or disgrace from their friends. They are remarkably unchaste, and want of chastity on the part of females is no bar to their marrying. They have but little association with their neighbors, carefully preserving their race, or class, or whatever you may call it: and are in every respect, save they are under the state government, a separate and distinct people.

Now this is no traveler’s story. They are really what I tell you, without abating or setting down in aught in malice. They are behind their neighbors in the arts. They use oxen instead of horses in their agricultural attempts, and their implements of husbandry are chiefly made by themselves of wood. They are, without exception, poor and ignorant, but apparently happy.

Having thus given you a correct geographical and scientific history of the people, I will proceed with my own adventures.

The doctor was, as usual my compagnon de voyage, and we stopped at ‘Old Vardy’s’, the hostelrie of the vicinage. Old Vardy is the ‘chief cook and bottle-washer’ of the Melungens, and is really a very clever fellow: but his hotel savors strongly of that peculiar perfume that one may find in the sleeping-rooms of our negro servants, especially on a close, warm, summer evening. We arrived at Vardy’s in time for supper, and thus despatched, we went to the spring, where were assembled several rude log huts, and a small sprinkling of ‘the natives, together with a fiddle and other preparations for a dance. Shoes, stockings, and coats were unknown luxuries among them–at least we saw them not.

The dance was engaged in with right hearty good will, and would have put to the blush the tame steppings of our beaux. Among the participants was a very tall, raw-boned damsel, with her two garments fluttering readily in the amorous night breeze, who’s black eyes were lit up with an unusual fire, either from the repeated visits to the nearest hut, behind the door of which was placed an open-mouthed stone jar of new-made corn whiskey, and in which was a gourd, with a ‘deuce a bit’ of sugar at all, and no water near than the spring. Nearest here on the right was a lank lantern-jawed, high cheekbone, long-legged fellow who seemed similarly elevated. Now these two, Jord Bilson (that was he,) and Syl Varmin, (that was she,)were destined to afford the amusement of the evening: for Jord, in cutting the pigeon-wing, chanced to light from one of his aerial flights right upon the ponderous pedal appendage of Syl, a compliment which this amiable lady seemed in no way to accept kindly.

‘Jord Bilson,’ said the tender Syl, ‘I’ll thank you to keep your darned hoofs off my feet.’

‘Oh, Jord’s feet are so tarnel big he can’t manage ’em all by hisself.’ suggested some pasificator near by.

‘He’ll have to keep ’em off me,’ suggested Syl, ‘or I’ll shorten ’em for him.’

‘Now look ye here, Syl Varmin, ‘ answered Jord, somewhat nettled at both remarks, ‘I didn’t go to tread on your feet but I don’t want you to be cutting up any rusties about. You’re nothing but a cross-grained critter, anyhow.’

‘And you’re a darned Melungen.’

‘Well, if I am, I ain’t nigger-Melungen, anyhow–I’m Indian-Melungen, and that’s more ‘an you is.’

‘See here, Jord,’ said Syl, now highly nettled, ‘I’ll give you a dollar ef you’ll go out on the grass and right it out.’

Jord smiled faintly and demurred, adding–‘Go home Syl, and look under your puncheons and see if you can’t fill a bed outen the hair of them hogs you stole from Vardy.’

‘And you go to Sow’s cave, Jord Bilson, ef it comes to that, and see how many shucks you got offen that corn you took from Pete Joemen. Will you take the dollar?’

Jord now seemed about to consent, and Syl reduced the premium by one half, and finally came down to a quarter, and then Jord began to offer a quarter, a half, and finally a dollar: but Syl’s prudence equalled his, and seeing that neither was likely to accept, we returned to our hotel, and were informed by old Vardy that the sight we had witnessed was no ‘onusual one. The boys and gals was jist having a little fun.’

And so it proved, for about midnight we were wakened by a loud noise of contending parties in fierce combat, and, rising and looking out from the chinks of our hut, we saw the whole party engaged in a grand me lee; rising above the din of all which, was the harsh voice of Syl Varmin, calling–

‘Stand back here, Sal Frazar, and let me do the rest of the beaten of Jord Bilson; I haint forgot his hoofs yit.’

The melee closed, and we retired again, and by breakfast next morning all hands were reconciled, and the stone jar replenished out of the mutual pocket, and peace ruled where so lately all had been recriminations and blows.

After breakfast, just as the supper had been at old Jack’s, save only that we had a table, we started for Clinch river for a day’s fishing where other and yet more amusing incidents awaited us. But as I have dwelt upon this early part of the journey longer than I intended, you must wait till the next letter for the concluding incidents.”

“The So-Called Moors of Delaware,” 1895 article

Published by:

The So-Called Moors of Delaware

by George P. Fisher

Milford Herald, 15 June 1895

Reprinted by the Public Archives Commission of Delaware, 1929

When I was a boy and young man, the general impression prevailing in the several parts of this State where this race of people had settled was that they had sprung from some Spanish Moors who, by chance, had drifted from the southern coast of Spain prior to the Revolutionary War and settled at various points on the Atlantic Coast of the British colonies; but exactly where and when, nobody could tell.

This story of their genesis seemed to have originated with, or at any rate, was adopted by the last Chief Justice, Thomas Clayton, whose great learning and research gave semblance of authority to it, and, like almost everybody else, I accepted it as the true one for many years, although my father, who was born and reared in that portion of Sussex County where these people were more numerous than in any other part of the State, always insisted that they were an admixture of Indian, negro and white man, and gave his reason therefore–that he had always so understood from Noke Norwood, whom I knew when I was a small boy. Noke lived, away back in the 20’s, in a small shanty long since removed, situated near what has been known for more than a century as Sand Tavern Lane, on the West side of the Public Road and nearly in front of the farmhouse now owned by Hon. Jonathan S. Willis, our able and popular Representative in Congress.

I well remember with what awe I contemplated his gigantic form when I first beheld him. My father had known him as a boy, and I never passed his cabin without stopping. He was a dark, copper-colored man, about six feet and half in height, of splendid proportions, perfectly straight, coal black hair (though at least 75 years old), black eyes and high cheek bones.

When I became Attorney General of the State it fell to my lot to investigate the pedigree of this strange people, among whom was Norwood. At that day Norwood was held in great reverence as being one of the oldest of his race. This I learned from my father, who knew him for many years, when they both lived in the neighborhood of Lewes, in Sussex County.

I have spoken of this race as a strange people, because I have known some families among them all of whose children possessed the features, hair and eyes of the pure Caucasian, while in other families the children would all be exceedingly swarthy in complexion but with perfectly straight black hair, and occasionally a family whose children ranged through nearly the entire racial gamut, from the perfect blond to at least a quadroon mulatto, and quite a number who possessed all the appearance of a red-haired, freckle-faced Hibernian.

My investigation of their genealogy came about in the trial of Levin Sockum, one of the race, upon an indictment found by the grand jury of Sussex County, against him, for selling ammunition to Isaiah Harmon, one of the same race, who was alleged in the indictment to be a free mulatto.

The indictment was framed under the 9th Section of Chapter 52, of the Revised Statutes of the State of Delaware, Edition of 1852, page 145, which reads in this wise: “If any person shall sell or loan any firearms to any negro or mulatto, he shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be fined twenty dollars.”

The proof of the sale of a quarter of a pound of powder and pound of shot to Harmon was given by Harmon himself; and in fact, admitted by Sockum’s attorney. So that the only fact I had to establish, in order to convict Sockum, was to identify Harmon as being a mulatto, and to do this I had to establish my proof, by a member of his family, Harmon’s pedigree. To do this, Lydia Clark, who swore that she was of blood kin to Harmon, was permitted to testify as to the traditions of the family in respect to their origin. Harmon was a young man, apparently about five and twenty years of age, of perfect Caucasian features, dark chestnut brown hair, rosy cheeks and hazel eyes; and in making comparison of his complexion with others, I concluded that of all the men concerned in the trial he was the most perfect type of the pure Caucasian, and by odds the handsomest man in the court room, and yet he was alleged to be a mulatto. The witness, Lydia Clark, his kinswoman, then 87 years old, though only a half-breed, was almost as perfect a type of the Indian as I ever saw. She was as spry as a young girl in her movements, and of intelligence as bright as a new dollar; and this was substantially the genealogical tradition she gave of her family and that of Harmon.

About fifteen or twenty years before the Revolutionary War, which she said broke out when she was a little girl some five or sex years old, there was a lady of Irish birth living on a farm in Indian River Hundred, a few miles distant from Lewes, which she owned and carried on herself. Nobody appeared to know anything of her history or her antecedents. Her name she gave as Regua, and she was childless, but whether a maid or widow, or a wife astray, she never disclosed to anyone. She was much above the average woman of that day in stature, beauty and intelligence.

The tradition described her as having a magnificent complexion, large and dark blue eyes and luxuriant hair of the most beautiful shade, usually called light auburn. After she had been living in Angola Neck quite a number of years, a slaver was driven into Lewes Creek, then a tolerable fair harbor, and was there, weather-bound, for several days. It was lawful then, for these were colonial times, to import slaves from Africa. Queen Elizabeth, to gratify her friend and favorite, Sir John Hawkins, had so made it lawful more than a century prior to this time.

Miss or Mrs. Regua, having heard of the presence of the slaver in the harbor, and having lost one of her men slaves, went to Lewes, and to replace him, purchased another from the slave ship. She selected a very tall, shapely and muscular young fellow of dark ginger-bread color, who claimed to be a prince or chief of one of the tribes of the Congo River which had been overpowered in a war with a neighboring tribe and nearly all slain or made prisoners and sold into perpetual slavery. This young man had been living with his mistress but a few months when they were duly married and, as Lydia told the court and jury, they reared quite a large family of children, who as they grew up were not permitted to associate and intermarry with their neighbors of pure Caucasian blood, nor were they disposed to seek associations or alliance with the negro race; so that they were so necessarily compelled to associate and intermarry with the remnant of the Nanticoke tribe of Indians who still lingered in their old habitations for many years after the great body of the tribe had been removed further towards the setting sun.

This race of people for the first two or three generations continued principally to ———– of Sussex County and more particularly in the neighborhood of Lewes, Millsboro, Georgetown and Milton, but during the last sixty or seventy years they have increased the area of their settlement very materially and now are to be found in almost every hundred in each county in the State, but mostly in Sussex and Kent. From their first origin to the present time they have continued to segregate themselves from the American citizens of African descent, having their own churches and schools as much as practicable.

With very rare exceptions these people make good citizens. They are almost entirely given up to agricultural pursuits, but they have managed to pick up sufficient knowledge of carpentry and masonry to enable them to build their own homes. They are industrious, frugal, thrifty, law abiding and respectful. During my long practice at the bar I have never known but two instances in which one of their race has been brought into court for violations of the law.

One of these was the case of Sockum, tried in Sussex in 1857, and the other was that of Cornelius Hansor of Milford Hundred, tried at Dover in 1888 or 1889. Sockum’s case originated in the private spite of envious Caucasian neighbors, and Hansor in the envy and malice of one of his neighbors who charged him with an attempt to commit murder by shooting his accuser.

I defended Hansor against the charge and it was shown by the testimony of several of the most respectable men in the vicinage that Hansor was a man of exemplary character for peace and good order, a truthful and estimable Christian, and that instead of being the aggressor his accuser was shown to have attempted to shoot Hansor. Such was the opinion of the jurors who tried the case. I suggested to Hansor that he had better go before the grand jury at the next term of court and make complaint against his persecutor. But he replied, “With thanks to you for your advice and my acquittal, I most respectfully decline, as the Good Book teaches us to pray for those who despitefully use and persecute us; and I shall leave Mr. Loper to God and his conscience, praying myself that he may become a more peaceable man and Christian.

Some years ago, I received a note from a lady in Philadelphia stating that she had heard of the trial of Levin Sockum, and that it had developed the origin of the yellow people, the so-called Moors of Delaware, and requesting me to give an account of it, which I did. In her letter thanking me for it she gave me the following story:

“Mrs. ***, whom you mentioned, a New Jersey lady, was an English woman by birth, highly connected, of refined associations and superbly educated. As a young girl she fled from her friends whom she was visiting in this city with ***, whose acquaintance she made at a dancing school, and who was represented to her as being a Spaniard of wealth and good family. Fair as a lily and as pure, she did not discover until after the marriage either the occupation or real condition of her husband as a man tabooed by his fellow men for supposed taint of African blood. She believed him to be of Moorish descent and one of the best and noblest of human kind; his ostracism and her own (she was even denied a pew in the Episcopal church in which she was educated and confirmed) surely though slowly killed her.

“Desdemona,” as her friends who knew her well called her, died suddenly of heart disease brought on by mental suffering, leaving three or four children, all golden haired, blue-eyed, flower-like little ones to be educated in France, where their origin, even if known, would never affect their standing socially. They remained until the Franco-Prussian was broke out and were, I think, sent to England. Mr. *** with great self-denial, voluntarily accepted for himself a life of loneliness in a country where his pecuniary interests compelled him to remain. He is highly esteemed, but still socially ostracized.”

The father of this gentleman I knew very well many years ago. He was a resident of Kent County. The gentleman himself I knew by sight only. He seemed to me to be quite a shade fairer in complexion than myself. He has, since the letter I quoted was written, filled a very high and responsible position under the Federal Government with great credit to himself and satisfaction to the Government.

Walter Plecker Controversy with NAACP (1925 article)

Published by:

Walter A. Plecker

Walter Ashby Plecker was the head of Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics for most of the 20th century. He believed “there is a danger of the ultimate disappearance of the white race in Virginia, and the country, and the substitution therefor of another brown skin, as has occurred in every other country where the two races have lived together.” Plecker believed this “mongrelization,” resulted in the downfall of several earlier civilizations. He used the 1924 Racial Integrity Act to classify Virginia Indians and mixed-race individuals as “colored,” and therefore denied basic civil rights under Virginia’s system of segregation.

Source: University of Albany, SUNY, Estabrook, SPE,XMS 80.9 Bx 1 folder1-32. Used by permission

“Plecker Aroused by Blow Aimed at Racial Law,” NAACP criticism of W. Plecker’s “propaganda” pamphlets, Richmond Times Dispatch (3/31/1925)

Plecker Aroused by Blow Aimed at Racial Law

Denies Literature Questioned in Letter to Davis Was Offensive.

Ready to Quit Dollar-A-Year Job

Makes Warm Answer to Attack of Northern Negro Organization.

Charges by the National Organization for the Advancement of Colored People, headquarters New York City, with “using the government franking privilege to spread propaganda derogatory to the negro race” and with steps said to have been taken to cancel his appointment as special agent for Virginia of the Children’s Bureau of the Department of Labor. Dr. W. A. Plecker, Registrar of the State Bureau of Vital Statistics, said yesterday:

Denies Literature Insulting.

“It is untrue that any of the literature that I have sent out is insulting or offensive, as the propaganda letter sent out by the press bureau of the association relates. The pamphlets which have been termed offensive deal with educational and health matters and are designed to helpful to the negro. But supersensitive persons seem to have found them objectionable. Very well. We shall continue to educate against misceganiation and the mixture of negro blood with the white race in Virginia and elsewhere. If they want to dismiss me, let them go ahead. I suppose they will take the salary away from me, too. The salary is $1 a year.”

The State Registrar of Vital Statistics exhibited some of the pamphlets issued, which are credited on the title pages as being sponsored by “the Bureau of Child Welfare and the State Board of Health, co-operating with the Children’s Bureau, Department of Labor, U.S.A.”

One of these little booklets, “Help for Midwives,” carries the picture of a smartly uniformed negro woman, a midwife. Another pamphlet it “Bread for the New Family,” another “Feeding the New Family,” another “Eugenics in Relation to the New Family.” The last named carries also the Virginia racial integrity law.

Davis Writes to Association.

The Associated Press yesterday carried under a New York dateline the following news story relating to the protest made to Secretary of Labor Davis and the result of it:

“The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People announced today the receipt of a letter from Secretary of Labor Davis saying that steps had been taken to cancel the “nominal appointment” of Dr. W. A. Plecker as special agent in the Children’s Bureau for distributing bulletins which the association charged, cast reflections on the negro race.

“Dr. Plecker is Registrar of Vital Statistics in Virginia, in addition to his connection with the Children’s Bureau.

“The association quoted the bulletins as containing references to the negroes’ ‘inferiority’ and other derogatory statements. Secretary Davis in his letter said that issuance of the bulletins by Dr. Plecker was ‘entirely without the scope of his authority.”

“Land of the Malungeons” by Will Allen Dromgoole (1890 article)

Published by:

1st American Article

“Land of the Malungeons”

Nashville Sunday American, August 31, 1890

Away up in an extreme corner of Tennessee I found them – them or it, for what I found is a remnant of a lost or forgotten race, huddled together in a sterile and isolated strip of land in one of the most inaccessible quarters of Tennessee. When I started out upon my hunt for the Malungeons various opinions and vague whispers were afloat concerning my sanity. My friends were too kind to do more than shake their heads and declare they never heard of such a people. But the less intimate of my acquaintances cooly informed me that I was “going on a wild-goose chase” and were quite willing to “bet their ears” I would never get nearer a Malungeon than at that moment. One dear old lady with more faith in the existence of the Malungeons than in my ability to cope with them begged me to insure my life before starting and to carry a loaded pistol. Another, not so dear and not so precautious [sic], informed me that she “didn’t believe in women gadding about the country alone, nohow.” Still, I went, I saw and I shall conquer.

How I chanced to go and how I first heard of the Malungeons was through a New York newspaper. Some three years since I noticed a short paragraph stating that such a people exist somewhere in Tennessee. It stated that they were rather wild, entirely unlettered and largely given to illicit distilling. It spoke of their dialect as something unheard of , but failed to locate the human curiosities. I had bu tone cue by which to trail them – voz: they were illicit distillers. After repeated inquiry, and no end of laughter at my expense, I went to Capt. Carter B. Harrison, who was once United States marshall and did a good deal of work in this district.

“The Malungeons?” said Capt. Harrison. “O yes; you will find them in _______ county [I will give the county later], and Senator J_____, of the state senate, can tell you all about them.”

I trailed Senator J_____ for six months, and with this result:

“Go to _____,” said he, “and take a horse forty miles across the country to _____, Tenn. There strike for _____ ridge, the stronghold of the Malungeons.”

I have followed directions faithfully, and just here let me say if any one supposes I made the trip for the fun it might afford, he is mistaken. If any one supposes it was prompted by a spirit of adventure, or a love for the wild and untried, he is grievously in error. I have never experienced more difficulty in traveling, suffered more inconvenience, discomfort, bodily fatigue, and real dread of danger. It required almost superhuman effort to carry me on, and more than once, or a dozen times, was I tempted to give it up.

The Malungeons are a most peculiar people. They occupy an isolated and, except for horse or foot passengers, inaccessible territory, separated and alone, not mixing or caring to mix with the rest of the world. There are, however, a few, a very few, exceptions. I went one day to preaching on Big Sycamore, where the people are more mixed than on their native mountains. I found here all colors – white women with white children and white husbands, Malungeon women with brown babies and white babies, and one, a young copper-colored woman with black eyes and straight Indian locks, had three black babies, negroes, at her heels and a third [sic] at her breast. She was not a negro. Her skin was red, a kind of reddish-yellow, as easily distinguishable from a mulatto as the white man from the negro. I saw an old colored man, black as the oft-quoted ace of spades, whose wife is a white woman. I am told, however, the law did take his case in hand, but the old negro pleaded his “Portyghee” blood and was not convicted.

Many Malungeons claim to be Cherokee and Portuguese. Where they could have gotten their Portuguese blood is a mystery. The Cherokee is easily enough accounted for, as they claim to have come from North Carolina and to be a remnant of the tribe that refused to go when the Indians were ordered to the reservation. They are certainly very Indian-like in appearance. The men are tall, straight, clean-shaven, with small, sharp eyes, hooked noses and high cheek bones. They wear their hair long, a great many of them, and evidently enjoy their resemblance to the red man. This is doubtless due to the fact that a great many are disposed to believe them mulattos, and they are strongly opposed to being so classed. The women are small, graceful, dark and ugly. They go barefooted, but their feet are small and well shaped. So, too, are their hands, and they have the merriest, most musical laugh I have ever heard. They are exceedingly inquisitive, and will ask you a dozen questions before you can answer two.

The first question that greets you at every door is – even if you only stop for water – “Whatcher name?” the next is, “How old yer?” and then comes the all-important – “Did yer hear an’thin’ o’ ther railroad cumin’ up ther ridge?”

They look for it constantly and always, as if they expect to see, some glad day, the brunt of the iron track, the glorious herald of prosperity and knowledge, come creeping up the mountains, horseback or afoot, bringing joy to the cabin even of the outcast and ostracised Malungeon; ostracised indeed. Only the negroes, who have themselves felt the lash of ostracism, open their doors to the Malungeons. They are very dishonest, so much so that only a few, not more than half a dozen, of the best are admitted into the house of the well-to-do native.

During the war they were a terror to the women of the valley, going in droves to their homes and helping themselves to food and clothing, even rifling the beds and closets while the defenseless wives of the absent soldiers stood by and witnessed the wholesale plundering, afraid to so much as offer a protest. After the war the women invaded their territory and recovered a great deal of their stolen property. They are exceedingly lazy. They live from hand to mouth and in hovels too filthy for any human being. They do not cultivate the soil at all. A tobacco patch and an orchard is the end and aim of their aspirations. I never saw such orchards, apples and apples and apples, peaches and peaches and peaches, and soon it will be brandy and brandy and brandy. They all drink, men, women and children, and they are all distillers; that is, the work of distilling is not confined to the men. Indeed, the women are the burden-bearers in every sense. They cook, wash, dig, hoe, cut wood, gather the fruit, strip the tobacco and help with the stills. There is not so much distilling now among them as there was a few years back. Uncle Sam set his hounds upon their trail, and now they are more careful of the requirement of the federal law at all events, as their miserable little doggeries, dotted here and there, go to prove.

They wondered very much concerning my appearance among them. Yes, I am right in the midst of them, and such an experience is almost beyond my power to picture. My board rates 15 cents per day. (Let the Maxwell blush.) Thank fortune, my purse and my destiny have at last “met upon a level.” No, do not say I am swindling my poor hosts. (I go from place to place.) Wait until I tell you. After I really struck their settlement, I entered upon a diet of cornbread and honey. Coffee? Oh yes, we have “lots” of coffee. It sets (or stands according to its age) in a tin pot in the shed (or under it), between the two rooms. There are never more than two rooms. Any one who is thirsty helps himself to coffee. Cold? Aye, cold as this world’s charity and as comfortless. But it saves a walk to the spring and so we drink it. I had some trouble in getting board, because I asked “for board.” And let me say, I have never drawn a good easy breath since I landed and found a dozen pairs of little black Indian eyes turned upon me. Always they are at the cracks, the chimney corner, “window hole,” the door, peeping through the chinquapin and wahoo bushes, until I feel as if forty thousand spies were watching my movements. I had not dared to take out a pencil for three days, except last Monday night after I went to bed. I tried to write a letter in the dark, by a streak of light which fell through a chink in the door. But the next morning, when my hostess – a little snap-eyed, red-brown squaw – flung open my door (the room had but one, and she had removed the fastening, a wooden button, the night before) and sung out:

“You Joe! – time you’s up out’n ther,” and a little, limp, sleepy-looking Indian crawled out from a pallet of rags in the corner. I felt pretty sure the boy had been put there to watch me, and so didn’t try that kind of writing again. They are exceedingly suspicious and are as curious about me as can be. They received an idea that I am traveling for my health, as quite a number come from the valley to drink the mineral water with which this magnificent country abouts. Still, they suspect me, and they come in droves to see me. Seven little brown women, with bare feet and corncob pipes, sat on the doorstep yesterday to see me go out. I stopped a moment to speak to them; told them my name (which is the greatest puzzle to them, not one daring to try it), my age, and was informed that if I wasn’t married “it wair time.” And then one grizzle face old squaw kindly offered me a “pull at her pipe.”

I visited one house of two rooms – Mrs. Gorvins’. She was out in the orchard gathering apples to dry, and out to the orchard I went. The prettiest girl I ever saw came to meet me with her lap full of apples. She pointed to a seat on a rude bench and poured the apples into my lap, at the same time calling, “Mai! Mai! Come er-here!” (Please call that word Mai as it is called in hair or after.) Mai came, and the saints and hobgoblins! The witch of Endor calling dead Saul from sepulchral darkness would have calked her ears and fled forever at the sight of this living, breathing Malungeon witch. Shakespeare would have shrieked in agony and chucked his own weird sisters where neither “thunder, lightning nor rain” would ever have found them more. Even poor tipsy, turvy Tam O’Shanter would have drawn up his gray mare and forgotten to fly before this, mightier than Meg Merrilles herself. She was small, scant, raw-boned, sharp-ankled, barefoot, short frock literally hanging from the knee in rags. A dark jacket with great yellow patches on either breast, sleeves torn away above the elbow, black hair burnt to an unfashionable auburn long ago, and a corncob pipe wedged between the toothless gums. A
flock of children came in her wake, and full one dozen more (indeed I am telling the unvarnished truth) came from bush and brake. I never saw as many, seventeen by actual count, and two missing “count o’ bein’ dead.”

Mrs. Gorvins was silent until I spoke to one of the children, and then, let me tell you something, I never saw an uglier human creature, or one more gross-looking and unattractive, and I never saw a gentler, sweeter, truer mother. She called up her children – little brown
fellows, bearing the unmistakable mark of the Indian, all but one, a little white-headed boy with blue eyes and dimpled chin, who seemed as much out of place among them as a lily in a dungeon. One was Maggieleny (Magdeline), and one was Ichabady (Ichabod), and one was Archivale (Archibald). Another was Kat (Kathleen), another Hanny (Hannah), and the baby – names giving out, as the mother told me, she “had jes’ been plumb erbliged ter name one over twict,” and so the baby was called Katty (Kathleen).

They lived on corn bread and honey, coffee without cream or sugar, and found life full and glad and satisfactory.

I could run on forever telling you of these queer, queer people, who are a part of us, have a voice in our politics and a right to our consideration. They are a blot upon our state. They are ignorant of the very letters of the alphabet, and defiant (or worse, ignorant) of the very first principles of morality and cleanliness. It is no sensational picture I have drawn; it is hard truth, hard to believe and hard to understand. They are within five miles of one of the prettiest county seats in Tennessee. In politics they are republican to a man, but sell their votes for 50 cents and consider themselves well paid. They are great “charmers” and “herb doctors.” I have a
string of “blood beads” I bought of an old squaw, who assured me they would heal all “ailmint o’ the blood.” They are totally unlike the native Tennessee mountaineer, unlike him in every way. The mountaineer is liberal, trustful and open. The Malungeon wants pay (not much, but something) for the slightest favor. He is curious and suspicious and given to lying and stealing, things unknown among the native mountaineers.

I must tell you of a sermon I heard down in Black Water swamp. I do not know what the text was, but the preacher, a half-breed, was telling of the danger of riches. He told them of Mr. Vanderbilt, “the riches’ man et ever trod on God a-mighty’s yearth,” he said. And then he told how, when he came to die he called his wife and asked her to sing, “Come, Ye Sinners.” He drew his point: the rich man wanted the beggar’s song sung over him. And he lamented that it was “tu late, tu late” for Mr. Vanderbilt. He died and went to torment , “an wher uz all his money?” I took it upon myself to tell him where a good slice of it was. I could not call myself a Tennesseean and sit by and hear Mr. Vanderbilt slandered, and right here in Tennessee, too, preached right into hell by the people his wealth was given to bless. So when the service was over I went to the preacher and I said: “Brother, you are doing the memory of Mr. Vanderbilt a great wrong. He was a good man, if a rich one, and Tennesse is indebted to him for the grandest school she has.”

He looked at me a minute, and then he said:

“He uz a Christian?”

“Yes,” I said, “and had a Christian wife.”

His face brightened. “Waal,” he said, “I air glad to know that; I’ll tell ‘em so nex’ time I preach.”

I hope he did.

Will Allen

“A Strange People” by Will Allen Dromgoole (1890 article)

Published by:

“A Strange People”

Nashville Sunday American, September 1, 1890

Habits, Customs and Characteristics of Malungeons.

Little Given to Social Intercourse With the Neighbors.

A School Teacher Who Can Neither Read Nor Write – Dancing the Favorite Pastime

I have made a careful study and inquiry as to the name Malungeon, but have been unable as yet to place it. It has an Indian sound, but the Malungeons themselves have no idea as to its origin or meaning.

These people, of whom so little is known, inhabit an isolated corner of the earth, known as Newman’s ridge, in Hancock county. They are within five miles of one of the prettiest county seats in Tennessee. They mix very little with the natives of the county, and seem to care very little about the world beyond their isolated habitation. Their homes are miserable hovels, set in the very heart of the wilderness. There is not, I am told, a family on the ridge other than the Malungeons.

At one house where I stopped I was put in a closet to sleep. The room had no windows and the door opened into my landlady’s room. The latch was removed before I retired. My bed was made of straw and I was not its sole inhabitant, not by an overwhelming majority. My food consisted of corn bread, honey and bitter coffee. At another place, I climbed a ladder to the roof-room, which had neither windows nor floor. I did not meet a man or woman in the ridge who could read.

At the foot of the ridge in what is known as Black Water swamp, the country is simply magnificent. I boarded there for several days and found the people exceedingly kind. The ridge proper is the home of the Malungeons.

I visited one house where the floors were of trees, the bark still on them, and the beds of leaves. The owner was a full-blooded Indian, with keen, black eyes, straight black hair, high cheeks, and a hook nose. He played upon his violin with his fingers instead of a bow, and entertained us with a history of his grandfather, who was a Cherokee chief, and by singing some of the songs of his tribe. He also described the Malungeon custom of amusements. The dance is a favorite pastime consisting of a two, four or six-handed reel. Whiskey is a very popular guest at their entertainments, and fights are not an uncommon result. In a fight each man’s friends are expected to take sides and help, and the fight continues until one side at least is whipped.

At another house I visited (if I may call it a house) I found the family, nine in number, housed in one room of a stable. There were three rooms to the establishment. The stock (belonging to some one else) was fed in one department and the family lived in the next. The living room was about 12 feet square and had neither chinking or daubing. There were two beds, and one of them stood alongside the partition where there were cracks large enough for a child of 5 years to step through the hay rick on the other side. The space unoccupied by the beds was about 1 feet [sic], and there being no chairs, and old quilt was spread upon the floor, and three poor old women were scattered upon it arranging their Indian locks. The third room was the cooking department, although several dirty-looking beds occupied space here and there. I forgot to mention a heap of white ashes in the living room, which the women utilized for spitting upon. The Malungeons are great lovers of the weed and all chew and smoke – men, women and children.

I also visited the cabin of a charmer, for you must know these people have many superstitions. This charmer can remove warts, moles, birth-marks, and all ugly protuberances by a kind of magic known only to herself. She offered to remove the mole from my face for 10 cents, and became quite angry when I declined to part with my lifetime companion.

“Tairsn’t purty, nohers,” she said; “an ‘t air ner sarvice, nurther.”

I cannot spell their dialect as they speak it. It is not the dialect of the mountaineers, and the last syllable of almost every word is omitted. The “R” is missing entirely from their vocabulary. There is also a witch among them who heals sores, rheumatism, “conjures,” etc. They come from ten miles afoot to consult her

They possess many Indian traits, that of vengeance being strongly characteristic of them.

They, likewise, resemble the negro in many things. They are sticklers for religion, and believe largely in water and the “mourner’s bench.” They call themselves Baptists, although their form of worship is really that of the Dunkard. They are exceedingly illiterate, but are beginning to take some interest in educational matters. I visited one of their schools, taught by a native Malungeon. He could not read, and his pronunciation of the words given to the spelling class was exceedingly peculiar, as well as ridiculous. Mr. Thomas Sharpe, of Nashville, made an excellent sketch of this teacher while he was busy with his class and unconcious that he was “being tuk fur a pictur.”

There are but three names among them – real Malungeon names – Collins, Mullins, Gorvens. Lately the name of Gibbins has found a way among them, but the first three are their real names. They distinguish each other in a most novel manner. For instance, Calloway Collins’ wife is Ann Calloway, his daughter is Dorous Calloway, and his son is Jim Calloway.

How they live is a mystery. Their food is the hardest kind, and their homes unfit shelter for man or beast. In many cases they are extremely immoral and seem utterly unconscious of either law or cleanliness. Their voices are exceedingly sweet, and their laugh the merriest, most musical ripple imaginable, more like the tinkle of a happy little brook among beds of pebbles than the laugh of a half civilized Malungeon. Even the men speak low and their voices are not unpleasant. The women are quick, sharp, bright. The men are slow, lazy, shiftless and shirking, and seem entirely unacquainted with work, God’s medicine for the miserable.

Their dress is ordinary calico, or cotton, short blouse, without buttons or other fastenings than brass pins conspicuously arranged, or narrow white strings tacked on either side the waist and tied in a bow knot.

These strange people have caught, however, the fever raging throughout the south, and especially through Eastern Tennessee, the iron fever. They believe their sterile ridges to be crammed full with the precious ore. If it is, the rocks give no sign, for there are no outcroppings to be found as yet.

At one place I staid to dinner. No one ate with me except my own guide, and the food and shelter were given grudgingly, without that hearty willingness which characterizes the old Tennessee mountaineer, who bids you “light and hitch, feed your critter and be ter home.” I was invited to eat, to be sure, but the family stood by and eyed me until my portion of bread and honey almost choked me. Corn bread, thick, black, crusted pones, steaming hot, and honey sweet enough and clean – aye, clean, for the wild bees made it from the wild flowers springing straight from God’s planting. I paid 15 cents for my dinner. A mountaineer would have knocked you down had you offered money for dinner under such circumstances. Bah! The Malungeon is no more a mountaineer than am I, born in the heart of the old Volunteer state.

Will Allen

“The Malungeons” by Will Allen Dromgoole (1891 article)

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“The Malungeons”

The Arena, March 1891

Were you ever when a child half playfully told “The Malungeons will get you?” If not, you were never a Tennessee child, as some of our fathers were; they tell all who may be told of that strange, almost forgotten race, concerning whom history is strangely silent. Only upon the records of the state of Tennessee does the name appear. The records show that by act of the Constitutional Convention of 1834, when the “Race Question” played such a conspicuous part in the deliberations of that body, the Malungeons, as a “free person of color,” was denied the right of suffrage. Right there he dropped from the public mind and interest. Of no value as a slave, with no voice as a citizen, what use could the public make of the Malungeon? When John Sevier attempted to organize the State of Franklin, there was living in the mountains of Eastern Tenessee a colony of dark-skinned, reddish-brown complexioned people, supposed to be of Moorish descent, who affiliated with neither whites nor blacks, and who called themselves Malungeons, and claimed to be of Poruguese descent. They lived to themselves exclusively, and were looked on as neither negroes nor Indians.

All the negroes ever brought to America came as slaves; the Malungeons were never slaves, and until 1834 enjoyed all the rights of citizenship. Even in the Convention which disfranchised them, they were referred to as “free persons of color” or “Malungeons.”

Their condition from the organization of the State of Tennessee to the close of the civil war is most accurately described by John A. McKinley, of Hawkins County, who was chairman of the committee to which was referred all matters affecting these “free persons of color.”

Said he, speaking of free persons of color, “It means Malungeons if it means anything. Although ‘fleecy locks and black complexion’ do not forfeit Nature’s claims, still it is true that those locks and that complexion mark every one of the African race, so long as he remains among the white race, as a person doomed to live in the suburbs of society.

“Unenviable as is the condition of the slave, unlovely as slavery is in all its aspects, bitter as is the draught the slave is doomed to drink, nevertheless, his condition is better than that of the ‘free man of color’ in the midst of a community of white men with whom he has no interest, no fellow-feeling and no equality.” So the Constitutional convention left these the most pitiable of all outcasts; denied their oath in court, and deprived of the testimony of their own color, left utterly helpless in all legal contests, they naturally, when the State set the brand of the outcast upon them, took to the hills, the isolated peaks of the uninhabited mountains, the corners of the earth, as it were, where, huddled together, they became as law unto themselves, a race indeed separate and distinct from the several races inhabiting the State of Tennessee.

So much, or so little, we glean from the records. From history we get nothing; not so much as the name, – Malungeons.

In the farther valleys they were soon forgotten: only now and then and old slave-mammy would frighten her rebellious charge into subjection with the threat, – “The Malungeons will get you in you ain’t pretty.” But to the people of the foot hills and nearer valleys, they became a living
terror; sweeping down upon them, stealing their cattle, their provisions, their very clothing, and household furniture.

They became shiftless, idle, thieving, and defiant of all law, distillers of brandy, almost to a man. The barren height upon which they located, offered hope of no other crop so much as fruit, and they were forced, it would appear, to utilize their one opportunity.

After the breaking out of the war, some few enlisted in the army, but the greater number remained with their stills, to pillage and plunder among the helpless women and children.

Their mountains became a terror to travelers; and not until within the last half decade has it been regarded as safe to cross Malungeon territory.

Such they were; or so do they come to us through tradition and the State’s records. As to what they are any who feel disposed may go and see. Opinion is divided concerning them, and they have their own ideas as to their descent. A great many declare them mulattoes, and base their belief upon the ground that at the close of the civil war negroes and Malungeons stood upon precisely the same social lfooting. “free men of color” all, and that the fast vanishing handful opened thier doors to the darker brother, also groaning under the brand of social ostracism. This might, at first glance, seem probable, indeed, reasonable.

Yet if we will consider a moment, we shall see that a race of mulattoes cannot exist as these Malungeons have existed. The race goes fromt mulattoes to quadroons, from quadroons to octoroons, and there it stops. The octoroon women bear no children, but in every cabin of the Malungeons may be found mothers and grandmothers, and very often great-grandmothers.

“Who are they, then?” you ask. I can only give you their own theory – If I may call it such – and to do this I must tell you how I found them, and something of my stay among them.

First. I saw in an old newspaper some slight mention of them. With this tiny clue I followed their trail for three years. The paper merely stated that “somnewhere in the mountains of Tennessee there existed a remanant of people called Malungeons, having a distinct color, characteristics,and dialect. It seemed a very hopeless search, so utterly were the Malungeons forgotten, and I was laughed at no little for my “new crank.” I was even called “a Malungeon” more than once, and was about to abandon my “crank” when a member of the Tennessee
State Senate, of which I happened at that time to be engrossing clerk, spoke of a brother senator as being “tricky as a Malungeon.”

I pounced on him the moment his speech was completed. “Seantor,” I said, “what is a Malungeon?”

“A dirty Indian sneak,” said he. “Go over yonder and ask Senator _____; they live in his

I went at once.

“Senator, what is a Malungeon?” I asked again.

“A Portuguese nigger,” was the reply. “Representative T____ can tell you all about them, they live in his county.”

From “district” to “county” was quick travelling. And into the House of Representatives I went, fast upon the lost trail of the forgotten Malungeons.

“Mr. ____,” said I, “please tell me what is a Malungeon?”

“A Malungeon,: said he, “isn’t a nigger, and he isn’t an Indian, and he isn’t a white man. God only knows what he is. I should call him a Democrat, only he always votes the Reublican ticket.” I merely mention all this to show how the Malungeons to-day are regarded, and to show show I tracked them to Newman’s Ridge in Hancock County, where within four miles of one of the prettiest county towns in Tennessee, may be found all that remains of that outcast race whose descent is a riddle the historian has never solved. In appearance they bear a striking resemblance to the Cherokees, and they are beleived by the people round about to be a kind of half-breed Indian.

Thier complexion is a reddish brown, totally unlike the mulatto. The men are very tall and straight, with small, sharp eyes, high cheek bones, and straight black hair, worn rather long. The women are small, below the average height, coal black hair and eyes, high cheek bones, and the same red-brown complexion. The hands of the Malungeon women are quite shapely and pretty. Also their feet, despite the fact that they trravel the sharp mountain trails barefoot, are short and shapely. Their features are wholly unlike those of the negro, except in cases where the two races have cohabited, as is sometimes the fact. These instances can be readily detected, as can those of cohabitation withthe mountaineer; for the pure Malungeons present a characteristic and individual appearance. On the Ridge proper, one finds only pure Malungeons; it is in the unsavory limits of Black Water Swamp and on Big Sycamore Creek,lying at the foot of the Ridge betweenit and Powell’s Mountain, that the mixed races dwell.

In Western and Middle Tennessee the Malungeons are forgotten long ago. And iundeed, so nearly complete has been the extinction of the race that in but few counties of Eastern Tennessee is it known. In Hancock you may hear them, and see them, almost the instant you cross into the county line. There they are distinguished as
“Ridgemanites,” or pure “Malungeons.” Those among them whom the white or negro blood has entered are called the “Black-Waters.” The Ridge is admirable adapted to the purpose of wild-cat distilling, being crossed by but one road and crowned with jungles of chinquapin, cedar, and wahoo.

Of very recent years the dogs of the law have proved too sharp-eyed and bold even for the lawless Malungeons, so that such of the furnace fires as have not been extinguished are built underground.

They are a great nuisance to the people of the county seat, where, on any public day, and especially on election days, they may be seen squatted about the streets, great strapping men, or little brown women baking themselves in the sun like mud figures set to dry.

The people of the town do not allow them to enter their dwellings, and even refuse to employ them as servants, owing to their filthy habit of chewing tobacco and spitting upon the floors, together with their ignorance or defiance of the difference between meum and tuum.

They are exceedingly shiftless, and in most cases filthy.They care for nothing except their pipe, their liquor, and a tramp “ter towin.” They will walk to Sneedville and back sometimes twice in twelve hours, up a steep trail though an almost unbroken wilderness, and never seem to suffer the least fatigue.

They are not at all like the Tennessee mountaineer either in appearance or characteristics. The mountaineer, however poor,is clean, – cleanliness itself. He is honest (I speak of him as a class) he is generous, trustful, until once betrayed; truthful, brave, and possessing many of the noblest and keenest sensibilities. The Malungeons are filthy, their home is filthy. The are rogues, natural, “born rogues,” close, suspicious, inhospitable, untruthful, cowardly, and to use their own word, “sneaky.” They are exceedingly inquisitive too, and will traila visitor to the Ridge for miles, through seemingly impenetrable jungles, to discover, if may be, the object of his visit. They expect remuneration for the slightest service. The mountaineer’s door stands open, or at most the string of the latch dangles upon the “outside.” He takes you for what you seem until you shall prove yourself otherwise.

In many things they resemble the negro. They are exceedingly immoral, yet are great shouters and advocates of religion. They call themselves Baptists, although their mode of baptism is that of the Dunkard.

There are no churches on the Ridge, but the one I visited in Black Water Swamp was beyond question and inauguration of the colored element. At this church I saw white women with negro babies at their breasts – Malungeon women with white or with black husbands, and some, indeed, having the trhree separate races represented in their children; showing thereby the gross immorality that is practised among them. I saw an old negro whose wife was a white woman, and who had been several times arrested, and released on his plea of “Portygee” blood, which he declared had colored his skin, not African.

The dialect of the Malungeons is a cross between that of the mountaineer and the negro – a corruption, perhaps, of both. The letter R occupies but a smallplace in their speech, and they have a peculiar habit of omitting the last letter, sometimes the last syllable of their words. For instance “good night” – is “goo’ night.” “Give” is “gi’,” etc. They do not drawl like the mountaineers but, on the contrary, speak rapidly and talk a great deal. The laugh of the Malungeon women is the most exquisitely musicle jingle, a perfect ripple of sweet sound. Their dialect is exceedingly difficult to write, owing to their habit of curtailing their words.

The pure Malungeons, that is the old men and women, have no toleration for the negro, and nothing insults them so much as the suggestion of negro blood. Many pathetic stories are told of their battle against the black race, which they regard as the cause of their downfall, the annihilation, indeed, of the Malungeons, for when the races began to mix and to intermarry, and the expression, “A Malungeon nigger” came into use, the last barrier vanished, and all were regarded as somewhat upon a social level.

They are very like the Indians in many respect, _ their fleetness of foot,cupidity, cruelty (as practised duringthe days of their illicit distilling), their love for the forest, their custom of living without doors, one might almost say, – for truly the little hovels could not be called homes, – and their taste for liquor and tobacco.

They believe in witchcraft, “yarbs,” and more than one “charmer” may be found among them. They will “rub away” a wart or mole for ten cents, and one old squaw assured me she had some “blood beads” the “wair bounter heal all manner o’ blood ailimints.”

They are limited somewhat as to names: their principal families being the Mullins, Gorvens, Collins, and Gibbins.

They resort to a very peculiar method of distinguishing themselves. Jack Collins’ wife for instance will be Mary Jack. His son will be Ben Jack. His daughters’ names will be similar: Nancy Jack or Jane Jack, as the case may be, but always having the father’s Christian name attached.

Their homes are miserable hovels, set here and there in the very heart of the wilderness. Very few of their cabins have windows, and some have only an opening cut through the wall for a door. In winter an old quild tis hung before it to shut out the cold. They do not welcome strangers among them, so that I went to the Ridge somewhat doubtful as to my reception. I went, however, determined to be one of them, so I wore a suit as nearly like their own as I could get it. I had some trouble securing boards, but did succeed at last in doing so by paying the enormous sum of fifteen cents. I was put to sleep in a little closet opening off the family room. My room had no windows, and but the one door. The latch was carefully removed before I went in, so that I had no means of egress, except through the family room, and no means by which to shut myself in. My bed was of straw, not the sweet-smelling straw we read of. The Malungeons go a long way for their straw, and they evidently make it go a long way when they do get it. I was called to breakfast the next morning while the gray mists still held the mountain in its arms. I asked for water tobathe my face and was sent to “ther branch,” a beautiful little mountain stream crossing the trail some few hundred yeards from the cabin.

Breakfast consisted of corn bread, wild honey, and bitter coffee. It was prepared and eaten in the garret, or roof room, above the family room. A few chickens, the only fowl I saw on the Ridge, also occupied the roof room. Coffee is quite common among the Malungeons; they drink it without sweetening, and drink it cold at all hours of the day or nights. They have no windows and no candles, consequently, they retire with the going of the daylight. Many of their cabins have no floors other than that which Nature gave, but one that I remember had a floor made of trees slit in half, the bark still on, placed with the flat side to the ground. The people of the house slept on leaves with an old gray blanket for covering. Yet the master of the house, who claims to be an Indian, and who, without doubt, possesses Indian blood, draws a pension of twenty-nine dollars per month. He can neither read nor write, is a lazy fellow, fond of apple brandy and bitter coffee, has a rollicking good time with an old fiddle which he plays with his thumb, and boasts largely of his Cherokee grandfather and his government pension. In one part of his cabin (there are two rooms and a connecting shed) the very stumps of the trees still remain. I had my artist sketch him sitting upon the stump of a monster oak which stood in the very center of the shed or hallway.

This family did their cooking at a rude fireplace built near the spring, as a matter of convenience.

Another family occupied one room, or apartment, of a stable. The stock fed in another (the stock belonged, let me say, to someone else) and the “cracks” between the logs of the separating partition were of such depth a small child could have rolled from the bed in one apartment into the trough in the other. How they exist among such squalor is a mystery.

Their dress consists, among the women, of a short loose calico skirt and a blouse that boasts of neither hook nor button. Some of these blouses were fastened with brass pins conspicuously bright. Others were tied together by means of strings tacked on either side. They wear neither shoes nor stockings in the summer, and many of them go barefoot all winter. The men wear jeans, and may be seen almost any day tramping barefoot across the mountain.

They are exceedingly illiterate, none of them being able to read. I found one school among them, taught by an old Malungeon, whose literary accomplishments amounted to a meagre knowledge of the alphabet and the spelling of words. Yet, he was very earnest,, and called lustily to the “chillering” to “spry up,” and to “learn the book.”

This school was located in the loveliest spot my eyes ever rested upon. An eminence overlooking the beautiful valley of the Clinch and the purple peaks beyond/illows and billows of mountains, so blue, so exquisitely wrapped in their delicate mist-veil, one almost doubts if they be hills or heaven.While through the slumbrous vale the silvery Clinch, the fairest of Tennessee’s fair streams, creeps slowly, like a drowsy dream river, among the purple

The eminence itself is entirely barren save for one tall old cedar, and the schoolmaster’s little log building. It presents a very weird, wild, yet majestic scene, to the traveller as he climbs up from the valley.

Near the schoolhouse is a Malungeon grave-yard. The Malungeons are very careful for their dead. They build a kind of floorless house above each separate grave, many oof the homes of the dead being far better than the dwellings of the living. The grave-yard presents the appearance of a diminutive town, or settlement, and is kept with great nicety and care. They mourn their dead for years, and every friend and acquaintence is expected to join in the funeral arrangements. They follow the body to the grave, sometimes formiles, afoot, in single file. Their burial ceremonies are exceedingly interesting and peculiar.

They are an unfogiving people, although, unlike the sensitive mountaineer, they are slow to detect an insult, and expect to be spit upon. But injury to life or property they never forgive. Several odd and pathetic instances of Malungeon hate came under my observation while among them, but they would cover too much space in telling.

Within the last two years the railroad has struck within some thirty miles of them, and its effects are becoming very apparent. Now and then a band of surveyors, or a lone mineralogist will cross Powell’s mountain, and pass through Mulbery Gap just beyond Newman’s Ridge. So near, yet never nearer. The hills around are all said to be crammed with coal or irton, burt Newman’s Ridge can offer nothing to the capitalist. It would seem that the Malungeons had chosen the one spot, of all that magnificent creation, not to be desired.

Yet, they have heard of the railroad, the great bearer of commerce, and expect it, in a half-regretful, half-pathetic way.

They have four questions, always, for the stranger: –

“Whatcher name?”

“Wher’d yer come fum?”

“How old er yer?”

“Did yer hear en’thin’ er ther railwa’ comin’ up ther Ridge?”

As if it might step into their midst any day.

The Malungeons believe themselves to be of Cherokee and Portuguese extraction. They cannot account for the Portuguese blood, but are very bold in declaring themselves a remnant of those tribes, or that tribe, still inhabiting the mountains of North Carolina, which refused to follow the tribes to the Reservation set aside for them.

There is a theory that the Portuguese pirates, known to have visited these waters, came ashore and located in the mountains of North Carolina. The Portuguese “streak,” however, is scouted by those who claim for the Malungeons a drop of African blood, as, quite early in the settlement of Tennessee, runaway negroes settled among the Cherokees, or else were captured and adopted by them.

However, with all the light possible to be thrown upon them, the Malungeons are, and will remain, a mystery. A more pathetic case than theirs cannot be imagined. They are going, the little space of hills ‘twixt earth and heaven alloted them, will soon be free of the dusky tribe, whose very name is a puzzle. The most that can be said of one of them is, “He is a Malungeon,” a synonym for all that is doubtful and mysterious – and unclean.

“The Malungeon Tree and its Four Branches” (Will Allen Dromgoole article, 1891)

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“The Malungeon Tree and its Four Branches”

The Arena, June 1891

Somewhere in the eighteenth century, before the year 1797, there appeared in the eastern portion of Tennessee, at that time the Territory of North Carolina, two strange-looking men calling themselves Collins and Gibson. They had a reddish brown complexion, long, straight, black hair, keen, black eyes, and sharp, clear-cut features. They spoke in broken English, a dialect distinct from anything ever heard in that section of the country.

They claimed to have come from Virginia and many years after emigrating, themselves told the story of their past.

These two, Vardy Collins and Buck Gibson, were the head and source of the Malungeons in Tennessee. With the cunning of their Cherokee ancestors, they planned and executed a scheme by which they were enabled to set up for themselves in the almost unbroken Territory of North Carolina.

Old Buck, as he was called, was disguised by a wash of some dark description, and taken to Virginia by Vardy where he was sold as a slave. He was a magnificent specimen of physical strength, and brought a fine price, a wagon and mules, a lot of goods, and three hundred dollars in money being paid to old Vardy for his likely nigger. Once out of Richmond, Vardy turned his mules shoes and stuck out for the wilderness of North Carolina, as previously planned. Buck lost little time ridding himself of his negro disguise, swore he was not the man bought of Collins, and followed in the wake of his fellow thief to the Territory. The proceeds of the sale were divided and each chose his habitation; old Vardy choosing Newmans Ridge, where he was soon joined by others of his race, and so the Malungeons became a part of the inhabitants of Tennessee.

This story I know is true. There are reliable parties still living who received it from old Vardy himself, who came here as young men and lived, as the Malungeons generally did to a ripe old age.

The names Collins and Gibson were also stolen from the white settlers in Virginia where the men had lived previous to emigrating to North Carolina.

There is, perhaps, no more satisfactory method of illustrating this peculiar race, its origin and blood, than by the familiar tree.

Old Vardy Collins, then, must be regarded as the body, or main stem, in this state, at all events.

It is only of very late years the Melungeons have been classed as families. Originally they were tribes, afterward clans and at last Families. From Old Vardy the first tribe took its first name COLLINSES. Others who followed Vardy took the Collins name also.

Old Benjamin Collins, one of the pioneers, was older than Vardy, but came to Tennessee a trifle later. He had quite a large family of children, among them Edmond, Mileyton (supposed to have meant Milton), Marler, Harry, Andrew, Zeke, Jordon. From Jordan Collins descended Calloway Collins who is still living today and from whom I obtained some valuable information.

But to go back a step. Benjamin Collins was known as old Ben, and became the head of the Ben tribe. Old Solomon Collins was the head of the Sols. The race was increasing so rapidly, by emigration and otherwise, that it became necessary to adopt other names than Collins. They fell, curiously enough, upon the first or Christian name of the head of a large family connection or tribe. Emigrants arriving attached themselves as they chose to the several tribes. After a while, with an eye to brevity, doubtless, the word tribe was dropped from ordinary, everyday use. The Bens and the Sols meant the Ben and Sol Tribes. It appeared that no tribe was ever called for Old Vardy, although as long as he lived he was recognized as head and
leader of the entire people.

This is doubtless due to the fact that in his day the settlement was new, and the people, and the one name Collins covered the entire population. The original Collins people were Indian, there is no doubt about that, and they lived as the Indians lived until sometime after the first white man appeared among them. All would huddle together in one room (?), sleep in one common bed of leaves, make themselves such necessary clothing as nature demanded, smoke, and dream away the good long days that were so dreamily delightful nowhere as they were on Newman’s Ridge.

The Collins tribe multiplied more and more; it became necessary to have names, and a most peculiar method was hit upon for obtaining them.

Ben Collins children were distinguished from the children of Sol and Vardy by prefixing the Christian name either of the father or mother to the Christian name of the child. For instance; Edmund Ben, Singleton Ben; Andrew Ben; Zeke Ben, meant that Edmund, Singleton, Andrew, and Zeke were the sons of Ben Collins. Singleton Mitch; Levi Mitch, and Morris Mitch , meant that these men were the sons of Mitchel Collins. In the next generation there was a Jordan Ben (a son of old Benjamin Collins) who married Abbie Sol, had a son, who is called (he is still living, as before stated) Calloway Abby for his mother. The wife before marriage takes her father’s Christian name; after marriage that of her husband. Calloway’s wife, for instance, is Ann Calloway. It is not known, and cannot by any possibility be ascertained at what precise period other races appeared among the Collinses. For many years they occupied the Ridge without disturbance. The country was new, wild, and few straggling settlements were glad of almost any new neighbors. Moreover, these strange people, who were then called the Ridgemanites, the Indians, and the Black Waterites (because of a stream called Black Water, which flows through their territory, the bed of which was, and is, covered with a peculiar dark slate rock which gives the black appearance to the stream), had chosen the rocky and inaccessible Ridge, while the fertile and beautiful valley of the Clinch lay open and inviting to the white settler. The Ridgemanites were not striving for wealth evidently, and as land was plentiful and neighbors few, they held their bit in the creation without molestation or interruption for many years. They were all Collinses, as I said; those who followed the first-comers accepting the name already provided them. There was no mixture of blood: they claimed to be Indians and no man disputed it. They were called the Collins Tribe until having multiplied to the extent it was necessary to divide, when the descendants of the several pioneers were separated, or divided into clans. Then came the Ben clan, the Sol clan, the Mitch clan, and indeed every prominent head of a large relationship was recognized as the leader of his clan, which always bore his name. There was, to be sure, no set form or time at which this division was made. It was only one of those natural splits, gradual and necessary, which is the sure result of increasing strength.

They were still, however, we must observe, all Collinses, The main tree had not been disturbed by foreign grafting, and while all were not blood descendants of old Vardy they, at all events, had all fallen under his banner and appropriated his name.

The tree at last began to put forth branches, or rather three foreign shoots were grafted into the body of it; the English (or white), Portuguese, and African.

The English branch began with the Mullins tribe, a very powerful tribe, next indeed for a long time to the Collins tribe, and at present the strongest of all the several branches, as well as the most daring and obstinate.

Old Jim Mullins, the father of the branch, was an Englishman, a trader, it is supposed, with Indians. He was of a roving, daring disposition, and rather fond of the free abandon which characterized the Indian. He was much given to sports, and was always cheek by jowl with the Cherokees and other Indian tribes among which he mingled. What brought him to Newman’s Ridge must have been, as it is said, his love for freedom and sport, and that careless existence known only to the Indians. He stumbled upon the Ridge settlement, fell in with the Ridgemanites, and never left them. He took for a wife one of their women, a descendant of old Sol Collins, and reared a family known as the Mullins tribe.This is said to be the first white blood that mingled with the blood of the dusky Ridgemanites.

By marriage I mean to say (in their own language) they took up together having no set form of marriage service. So old Jim Mullins took up with a Malungeon woman, a Collins, by whom he had a large family of children. Sometime after he exchanged wives with one Wyatt Collins, and proceeded to cultivate a second family. Wyatt Collins also had a large family by his first wife, and equally fortunate with the one whom he traded her for.

After the forming of Hancock County (Tennessee) old Mullins and Collins were forced to marry their wives according to the law of the land, but all had children and grandchildren before they were lawfully married.

The Mullins tribe became exceedingly strong, and remains today the head of the Ridge people.

The African branch was introduced by one Goins (I spell it as they do) who emigrated from North Carolina after the formation of the state of Tennessee. Goins was a negro, and did not settle upon the Ridge, but lower down the Big Sycamore Creek in Powell’s Valley. He took a Malungeon woman for his wife (took up with her), and reared a family or tribe. The Goins family may be easily recognized by their kinky hair, flat nose and foot, thick lips, and a complexion totally unlike the Collins and Mullins tribes. They possess many negro traits, too, which are wanting to the other tribes.

The Malungeons repudiate the idea of negro blood, yet some of the shiftless stragglers among them have married among the Goins people. They evade slights, snubs, censure, and the law, by claiming to have married Portuguese, there really being a Portuguese branch among the tribes.

The Goins tribe, however, was always looked upon with touch of contempt, and was held in a kind of subjection, socially and politically, by the others.

The Mullins and Collins tribes will fight for their Indian blood. The Melungeons are not brave; indeed, they are great cowards and easily brow-beaten, accustomed to receiving all manners of insults which it never occurs to them to resent. Only in this matter of blood will they show fight.

The Portuguese branch was for a long time a riddle, the existence of it being stoutly denied. It has at last, however, been traced to one Denhan, a Portuguese who married a Collins woman.

It seems that every runaway or straggler of any kind whatever, passing through the country took up with abode temporarily or permanently, with the Malungeons, or as they were then called the Ridgemanites. They were harmless, social, and good-natured when well acquainted with one–although at first suspicious, distant, and morose. While they have never encouraged emigration to the Ridge they have sometimes been unable to prevent it.

Denham, it is supposed, came from one of the Spanish settlements lying further to the south. He settled on Mulberry Creek, and married a sister of Old Sol Collins.

There is another story, however, about Denham. It is said that the first Denham came as did the first Collins from North Carolina, and that he (or his ancestors) had been left upon the Carolina coast by some Portuguese pirate vessel plying along the shore. When the English wrested the island of Jamaica from Spain in 1655, some fifteen hundred Spanish slaves fled to the mountains. Their number grew and their strength multiplied. For more than a hundred years they kept up a kind of guerilla warfare, for they were both savage and warlike. They were called mountain negroes,or maroons. The West Indian waters swarmed with piratical vessels at that time, the Portuguese being the most terrible and daring. The crews of these vessels were composed for the most part of these mountain negroes. When they became insubordinate, or in any way useless, they were put ashore and left to take care of themselves. It is said the Denhans were put ashore on the Carolina coast. Their instincts carried them to the mountains, from which one emigrated to Newman’s Ridge, then a part of North Carolina territory.

So we have the four races, or representatives, among, as they then began to be called, the Malungeons; namely, the Indians, the English, the Portuguese, and the African. Each is clearly distinct and easily recognized even to the present day.

The Portuguese blood has been a misfortune to the first Malungeons inasmuch as it has been a shield to the Goins clan under which they have sought to shelter themselves and repudiate the African streak.

There is a very marked difference between the two, however. There is an old blacksmith, a Portuguese, on Black Water Creek, as dark as a genuine African. Yet, there is a peculiar tinge to his complexion that is totally foreign to the negro. He has a white wife, a Mullins woman, a descendant of English and Indian. If Malungeon does indeed mean mixture, the children of this couple are certainly Malungeons. The blacksmith himself is a Denhan, grandson of the old Portuguese emigrant and a Collins woman.

This, then, is the account of the Malungeons from their first appearance in that part of the country where they are still found, Tennessee.

It will be a matter of some interest to follow them down to the present day. Unlike the rest of the world they have progressed slowly. Their huts are still huts, their characteristics and instincts are still Indian, and their customs have lost but little of the old primitive exclusive and seclusive abandon characteristic of the sons of the forest.