“The Melungeons” by Bonnie Ball, 1966 article

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The Melungeons

by Bonnie Ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calvin L. Beale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


NOTES

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

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

3 Information from present day Creoles.

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

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

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

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

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


REFERENCES CITED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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The Melungeon Mystery: The Making of Myth?

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

By Pam Vallett

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

Will Allen Dromgoole, 1891
_______________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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


Articles Perpetuate Myths

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

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

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


Indians Join Migrating Parties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Studied at Knoxville Campus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeks Origins of Word

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

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

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

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

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

Virginia Demarce review of Brent Kennedy, 1996

Published by:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mullin

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

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

Mullins-Adkins-Hall

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

FOOTNOTES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Response of Brent Kennedy to Virginia Demarce, 1997

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Response of Brent Kennedy to Virginia DeMarce

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would like to respond to these three points:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I trust this response is helpful.

N. Brent Kennedy
21 August 1997

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

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

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

Jacob@siu.edu

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Abstract

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

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

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


Introduction

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

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

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

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


Significance of the Study

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

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


Oral History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Melungeon Community of Appalachia

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

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

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

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

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


Participants

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

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


It’s for the Younger Generation

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

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

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

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

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


Genealogy on the Web

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Common, Community, and Communication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Coming Together

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

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

Barbara concurred:

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

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

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

About six months after I got my computer [in 1997], this article in the paper was explaining about a picnic about Melungeon heritage. People could send in, over the Internet, they could fill out the form, send it in, and you could be part of the picnic. So, I did that. I went directly to the Web, you know, hooked on the Web site, went in there, filled out my application, printed it off and sent it. So, I have been, since that time, I have worked directly with the Internet, helping with Web pages and working on research with Melungeons…There’s different Web sites now that you can go to and find the Melungeon information, but that’s how I first got started was with Melungeon. I had it [a computer], but to really get involved in the Internet itself was with the
Melungeon connection.
26

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

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


The Internet as Electronic Front Porch

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

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

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

Bob Cole explains his point of view:

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


A Digital Divide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Conclusion

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

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

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

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


Notes

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


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Ties That Bind – Revisited

by Brent Kennedy

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

Fifth Union Presentation: June 2004.

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

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

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

Nancy Kennedy and son Brent, 1950

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Kennedy, 1973

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His 65% Indo-European broke down as follows:

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

Richard Kennedy and family, 2004

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brent Kennedy

Nancy Kennedy, 1970


ADDENDUM; 24 April 2005

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

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

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

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

DNAPrint 2.5:
100% Indo-European

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

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

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

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

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

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


Final Addendum: July 9, 2005

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

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


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

Taylor Hopkins, 1980

33% Northern/western European

30% Middle Eastern

16% Turkish/Greek

11% sub-Saharan African

7% Native American

3% South Asian (India/Pakistan)

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


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

Helen Nash Mayo, 2005

63% Northern/western European

12% Middle Eastern

23% Turkish/Greek

2% Native American

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

The results are almost precisely what I had expected.

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

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

“American Gypsies’ by Alessandro Ursic (2005 article)

Published by:

American Gypsies

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

by Alessandro Ursic

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

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


The origins of the name Melungeons.

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


Breaking a taboo.

Wayne Winkler

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


Indifference of a peoples.

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


Where they come from.

DruAnna Overbay of the Vardy Community Historical Society

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


Centuries of hostility.

Brent Kennedy with a photograph of his mother

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


The desire for normality.

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


New friends.

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

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


Excellent relatives.

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


Corrections from MHA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published by:

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

by Brent Kennedy

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

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

Freedmen
Clark
Hall
Kennedy
Phipps

Portuguese Jews
Atkins
Cole
Isham
Miner
Sizemore

Prisoners
Adams
Atkins
Bennett
Collins
Cooke
Cox
Crow
Dale
Denham
Dennis
Dyer
Greene
Hall
Hill
Hillman
Lockbeare (Lockleare)
Moore
Mullins
Nash
Osborne
Reeves
Weaver
White
Williams
Willis

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

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

Brent Kennedy
2 December 1997

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

SEE ALSO:

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

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

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

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

Published by:

Black Dutch” – A Polite Euphemism?

by Darlene Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Darlene Wilson
28 January 1998