“True Story of Delaware’s Moors,” 1896 article

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1896 Moors Article

True Story of Delaware’s Moors

Smyrna (Delaware) Press, 1 January 1896

Down in the southern end of Delaware, thickly settled, especially about Lewes, and scattered as far north as the boundary of KentCounty, one finds a race of men who have been a source of wonder and a puzzle to the historian of that state. They tell a curious story of Oriental origin, and cling to traditions which are wholly their own, and while they are known to this day as the Moors of Delaware, are an enigma to the general population in and about the state they inhabit. From a distance they look like the ordinary colored residents of the neighborhood, but a close inspection shows that they haven’t the slightest trace of Negro blood in their veins. Indeed, some of them are so fair and so ruddy that they are often mistaken for white men, and, in fact, this is how one day their fanciful story of descent from a captive Moor came to be ventilated in a court of justice in Sussex County, and their strange history for the first time given an air of credence.

After that such notable Delawareans as Judge George P. Fisher took a profound interest in these people. Chas. Brown, who owned large tracts in and about a place which was then called Moorton, after them, but which is now set down on the maps as Cheswold, bequeathed to them a piece of land on which to build a school. Other equally well-known men of affairs in the lower end of Delaware for the first time began to take an interest, as if they had found a curiosity to be proud of in their own native State.

Around the little town of Cheswold there is a settlement comprising about 200 of this peculiar race. They are now in an interesting stage of development. They have a church and school, manage their own affairs and are looked upon as the most industrious citizens of the place.

Cheswold is about sixty-eight miles from Philadelphia, and can be reached by the Pennsylvania Railroad. It is in the heart of Kent County, and the populace in and around Cheswold is an exact type of the race who inhabit the belt stretching away to the lower end of the state. Contrary to what one would expect who has been reared in a large city, and grown familiar with the colonization methods of various races, who segregate in sections which they afterward make their own, the Delaware Moors do not huddle together in any particular locality. They have no monopoly of any part of the town, and the agricultural and industrial pursuits that inject the only life into Cheswold are not controlled by the race.

One hardly knows on stepping from the train that there exists such a colony as the Delaware Moors in and about Cheswold, and it is only by assiduous questioning and a little personal exploration that at last he is brought face to face with certain unmistakable signs that shows that these people have made this place their own. A short walk to the end of the town soon tells the story. The “yaller” man, as he is called, is so in evidence, and before you take many steps you begin to find that he is pretty numerous, tills the soil, conducts business and carries on trade with his fair brethren, much like the members of any other civilized colony. Should you engage him in conversation you will find that the tone, together with the gesture and carriage, are of a race different from the colored people of the neighborhood. Should you desire to know aught of Cheswold and of the Moors he will gladly tell you, for every member of the tribe seems to be well acquainted with its history.
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The town is a little collection of two or three-storied frame houses, with here and there a really pretentious dwelling, all clustered about a central avenue. The railroad runs through the eastern verge of the place, and on either side are comfortable dwellings, inhabited by workingmen, or in the case of one of them, by the pastor of the modest little church. Your Moorish friend will point to it from where he stands. It is the first yellow house from the grocery store on the main street, and directly opposite is the canning factory which, fully running, employs twenty or thirty men. The factory is an institution of Cheswold, for the surrounding country, with its many farms and bountiful crops, is famous for its mellow fruit.The most interesting place in the town, however, is the home of Cornelius Ridgeway, the patriarch of the colony. It is a yellow colored frame building, the first on the left as you turn form the railroad. He is a man of about sixty, has a bright face, and, you will soon see, is an industrious worker at shoe-making. Despite the lowliness of his calling he follows it as would a knight the tourney. There is a kindly look in his eye as you mention the race whose patriarch he is and whose history he knows by heart. He will gladly lay his work aside to take up the thread of the Moors’ history.

“There are some of them,” pointing to a couple of youths, fair of face and almost white, who are just leaving his shop. “Do they look like Negroes?”

The Delaware Moors, according to the story told by Cornelius and the other patriarchs, came into the history of the state over a hundred years ago, but they were never assigned a place until the trial of Levi Sokum, a member of the race, who was charge with selling powder and shot to Isaiah Harmon, another member of the race, whom the prosecution contended was a mulatto. There were no records of the tribe up to that time, and all that was known was handed down from father to son and told about by the old men of the race, who guarded the younger members of the flocks and zealously instilled into their minds the strange teaching that declared them to be of a purer strain than any of their neighbors, and forbade the young to play with, or the youths and maidens to intermarry with, those of another race. By the patriarchs it was preached about that their progenitors were a Moorish prince who had been sold into captivity because of troubles in his own dominion, and who, as fate would have it, was bought by a young Irish woman who herself was an exile, and was banished from a duchy in Spain that rightfully belonged to her and her impoverished father.

Senorita Requa, or Miss Reegan, as she was called by some, first came into the history of Delaware some years prior to the Revolutionary War, and settled on a big farm near Lewes. She had fabulous wealth, so the old man said, and to all she was as a sealed book. Many young men sought for her hand, but to all she turned a deaf ear, and shut herself up in her cloister-like mansion. Those who saw her said that she had a sweet and passive look, as if she had seen much sorrow and was resigned. Her affairs were managed by an old man who had known her before the days of adversity and who fled with her from the castled land of Spain. She had hundreds of slaves working for her and was reputed to be the wealthiest lady in Delaware.

One day a slave ship put in at Lewes and finding that she was in need of a slave she sent to the ship for one. It so happened that a handsome young fellow, straight in stature, noble in bearing and withal having a kingly look about him, was chosen and brought to the mansion of the mysterious lady. He walked with such an air and spoke with such a clear accent, and, above all, conversed in those dulcet tones which alone are Spanish, that the lady, who was seldom seen by men, called for him to be brought to her. There and then, in the most romantic way, he fell on his knees and told her in sweet Castilian tongue that he was an exiled Moorish prince who had fought in the Spanish War, gained renown, and because of his popularity was secretly carried off and sold to the slaver by friends of his uncle, who were jealous of his popularity and coveted the throne himself.

Whether or not his story was true, the heart of the exiled woman went out to that of the exiled Moor, and from that moment she loved her princely suitor. The result was a marriage and the children had the characteristics of the Moor and Hibernian, the voluptuous beauty of the one, the natural vivacity of the other.

When it became known that the mistress had married the man, who was looked upon as a Negro, the populace for miles around were incensed and the young men who had sought the lady’s hand, and had been slighted, cast many aspersion on her fair name. Hence it was that to this day there are stories in Delaware to the effect that the woman was an outcast favorite of the Spanish King, and like the celebrated Lola Montez, who held the King of Bavaria enthralled, had been compelled to flee because of the wrath of the nobles and the Queen. At any rate, the children of the pair were tabooed by the good society of Sussex County, and hence arose a curious state of affairs. The children, reared under the best tutors, for the exiled woman valued education, held themselves too good for the blacks, and were not allowed the society of the whites. It was because of this that a fusion of blood occurred between the Nanticoke Indians and the children of the curious fated pair took place. The aborigines had reached a high degree of civilization and among the young men of the tribe there were some who were educated. Hence it was that one of the children, a beautiful daughter, fell in love with an educated and well-to-do member of his tribe, who at that time inhabited that part of Delaware, were tillers of the soil, and had none of the evil habits common to the Indian race. This union was subsequently followed by the marriage of a Moor son with an Indian maiden, and so the blood of the Moor and the Indian became diffused, and the curious combination of races brought forth the Delaware Moor of today. In this way the Nanticoke Indians who were once numerous in Southern Delaware have entirely disappeared, but their descendants are these men who today are scorned by the whites.

The Moorish school at Cheswold is an object of no little interest. There is nothing lofty about it, but that the board which directs its affairs are a determined set of men may be shown by a little story which is told apropos of the school. The story shows the positive character of the Moors when their racial prejudices are aroused. Some time ago the school, which stands in a romantic spot about a mile from the village, was without a teacher, and the board sent to Superintendent Tindal, at Dover, to fill the vacancy. “Send us a teacher,” they said, “but under no circumstances let him be a black man.” Three days later, when G. G. Johnson, of Hamilton, Va., appeared to take charge of the little frame school one of the Moorish parents discerned that he was a Negro, and then there was a scene. All the Kent County Moors rose up in arms against the alleged outrage, and an indignant protest was sent to Superintendent Tindal. After Mr. Johnson returned to Virginia, Mr. Tindal was told that he might send an Indian or a white man, or preferably a Moor.

Cornelius, who is a member of the board, laughed heartily in speaking o£ the matter. He then dilated upon the queer customs of his people. They do not marry outside their tribe. They observe a color line with the Negro stricter than that of the out and out Southerner, and woe betide the Delaware Moorish maiden who so forgets her station as to manifest a weakness for a common black man. She is first warned, then chastised, then entreated, and finally, if she persists in loving him, is banished altogether from her father’s roof, and boycotted by the tribe forevermore.

The Moorish maidens spoken of by Cornelius are very pretty, and they have nothing of the heavy upper lip and other Negroid features indicative of a Negro. Two of them called to see Cornelius while he was talking, They stepped back with a modest courtesy on seeing that another person was in the room, and were about to retire when the old cobbler called them back. An excellent opportunity was thus afforded to scrutinize their features and study their characteristics. The least that can be said of them is that they are handsome. There is something in their soulful eyes which reminds one of a place beyond the seas, and when they speak the ripple of words is mellifluous, and not at all the plaintive jargon of the Southern “mammy” or the animated colored girl.

It is not often that one of them becomes enamored of a black man, for there are plenty of good looking Delaware Moors about to please them.

The Delaware Moor, one might be led to believe, would follow the doctrines handed down by their ancestors and accept the faith of Mohammed. Such is not the case, however. Their house of worship is not a mosque but a simple little frame Methodist Church. The building itself is picturesque. It stands out on the verge of the village, back from the road leading in the opposite direction from the school. Its architecture has nothing to suggest the beautiful, but every Sunday its wooden wall rings with melodious praises, as sent up in the good, clear tones of the sweet voiced Delaware Moors, and all that part of Kent County for miles around re-echoes with the heavenly adulation.

The structure was erected in l885, and by dint of hard scraping the Moors have managed to make the church their own, paying off a mortgage for $1100. The contractor who erected the building knocked off a few hundred dollars to begin with, and when the last joist was nailed up the jubilation was one long to be remembered for up to this time they had no fixed place of worship. Sometimes accepting the hospitality of the whites, they were relegated to the rear of their church together with the blacks, and this wounded their pride. The elders of their peculiar race finally put their heads together, and declared that unless they had a separate church for themselves the race might become disintegrated and it was this feeling that prompted them to secure a church of their own.

In many of the race the strain is almost pure white, while in some it is yellow, in others deep brown. One family in Kent County named Durham is as fair as any Caucasian, and its members resemble the Irish more than any other race. In others the difference between them and pure whites could never be told, and this is how it fell about in the case of Isaiah Harmon, of Sussex County, who bought the powder and shot from Levi Sokum, another Delaware Moor, which was aired in the Sussex County court and which established the fact that the tribe was not one of Negro blood, and gives a color of truth to the story told by the old Moors of Kent County.

In those days there was a law which forbade anyone from selling or loaning ammunition to a Negro or mulatto. Sokum had sold to Harmon a quarter pound of powder and a pound of shot, and the action was brought by some envious white men, who had a grudge against Sokum. When Harmon appeared in court that day, everyone looked at him in surprise expecting to find, at least, a man with “yaller” blood, if not the pure black blood. Instead, a young fellow, straight as an arrow and with a complexion that rivaled that of any Caucasian present was introduced as the defendant and set down by the prosecution as mulatto, or Negro, and that Harmon came of a race that was altogether distinct.

In order to support his claim an old woman of the tribe named Lydia Clark was called to the witness stand and questioned. she told the story of the origin of the Delaware Moor as given above, and showed conclusively that her kinsman was not of the Negro descent. According to her story the original progenitors appeared about twenty years before the Revolutionary War and the succeeding generations were confined principally to the southeast portions of Sussex Count, in and around Lewes, Millsboro, Georgetown and Milton.

“The Melungeons” by Paul Converse, 1912 article

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The Melungeons

by Paul Converse

originally published in Southern Collegian (December 1912) 59-69.

Clinch is the name of a range of mountains of some height and local prominence that run through upper East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia about midway between the Alleghenies and Cumberlands. To the east of the Clinch range lies a region in which the water courses have worn for themselves broad, gently rolling and fertile valleys while the intervening ridges have been worn back until they are low and of relatively little importance. To the west, however, for a distance of 25 or 30 miles lies a region which is, geologically speaking, too young for the waterways to have cut anything except deep and narrow valleys. Hence we find there a topography of alternating steep ridges and narrow valleys and there narrow strips of level valley land.

The fifth valley to the west of Clinch Mountain is the Blackwater valley, which lies between Newman’s Ridge on the southeast and Powell’s Mountain on the northwest. This valley is about 26 miles long, extending the length of Newman’s Ridge, from Howard’s Quarters in Claiborne County, Tennessee, through Hancock County, in the same State, to the Blackwater salt works in Lee County, Virginia. The southern end of this valley is narrow, but it widens out toward the north and makes room for several fertile mountain farms, and although it attains no great width it is unusually straight, as mountain valleys go, and if a railroad should ever be built through this section, it will probably follow this route. The southern end of this valley is drained by Sycamore Creek, flowing southwestward through primeval forests of oak and hemlock which cover the precipitous northern slope of Newman’s Ridge and the more gentle slope of Powell’s Mountain. The northern end is drained by Blackwater Creek, which winds its way leisurely northeastward through narrow strips of verdant meadow land. Here, along the banks of this sparkling stream and on the top and eastern slope of Newman’s Ridge, is the home of the Melungeons, far famed not only for their lawlessness and the number of their bloody feuds, but for the mystery surrounding their ancestry and their peculiarities in general.

The word “Melungeon” is said to belong to the vernacular of East Tennessee, but the Melungeons are probably better known in New England than they are in the neighboring counties of their native State. The name (sometimes spelled Malungeon) is said to be derived from the French “Melange,” meaning mixture or medley, and this is generally accepted as the correct derivation. But it has been suggested (by Lucy S. V. King, writing for the Nashville American) that the name was derived from “Melanism,” a word of Greek origin, denoting an excess of black pigment in the skin.

But let the origin of their name be what it may, the Melungeons have been and are still a peculiar people. They are as different from their neighbors, the mountain whites, who are the purest descendents of the Scotch Irish and English colonists known today on the American continent, as they are from the Pennsylvania Dutch or the Connecticut Yankee. They are of swarthy complexion, with prominent cheek bones, jet-black hair, generally straight but at times having a slight tendency to curl, and the men have heavy black beards. They have deep-set dark brown eyes. Their frames are well built and some of the men are fine specimens of physical manhood. They are seldom fat. Their lips are not noticeably thicker nor their feet broader than those of pure Caucasians, and although their hair is sometimes wavy it is seldom, if ever, kinky. Some of the small boys with their uncombed hair, dirty faces and wide, staring eyes look like young Indians fresh from their smoky wigwams. The girls, however, with their brown eyes, rosy cheeks and heavy black locks are good examples of natural beauty. The language of these people has many interesting and peculiar idioms but does not seem to differ much from that used in other remote rural sections of East Tennessee.

These are some of the more marked characteristics of the pure Melungeons, but the typical physical characteristics are gradually disappearing as outsiders intermarry with them or as they venture out into the outside world to lose their identity. For from this parent colony in Hancock County, Tennessee, they have emigrated to several nearby counties and many are reported to be living in the Cumberland Mountains in Bledsoe, Van Buren, Franklin, Marion, and White counties, and near Dayton in Rhea County a colony of 200 is reported, among whom “Noel” is the predominating name. The theory has also been advanced that the “strange people of the Ozarks” are an offshoot of the Melungeons. But to say the least, this is unproved.

The origin of these peculiar people is an unsolved mystery, although many have tried to trace their ancestry back to some definite race or locality. Some say that they are the remnant of Sir Walter Raleigh’s lost colony and others that they are the descendents of some ancient colony of refugees fro Venice, Servia, or Portugal. Some of the Melungeons themselves claim such an origin. Those in Rhea County claim to be of Servian descent and those in Hancock County say that they are of Portuguese extraction.

Judge Louis [sic] Shepherd, of Chattanooga, some years ago had an important case in which he established by a tradition existing among these people but without historical proof, that they are of Portuguese ancestry. His theory is that they are descended from the ancient Phoenicians, who settled Carthage about 850 B.C., probably best known to the average reader through their famous general Hannibal. From Carthage they moved westward to Morocco and from Morocco they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar to southern Portugal. Here they resided for some time, and from this group Shakespeare’s Othello was descended. A colony of the Moors, it is claimed, crossed the Atlantic Ocean prior to the Revolutionary War and settled on the northern part of the South Carolina coast, where they multiplied and amassed some property. A number are said to have resided near Spartanburg, S. C., during the war of independence. The South Carolinians, however, would not receive them on terms of equality and at times excluded their children from the schools, on the ground that they were negroes. At that time South Carolina levied a per capita tax on free negroes. It is said that the continued attempts to collect this tax from these strange people led them to emigrate in a body and cross the Great Smoky Mountains a part of the Allegheny chain, beyond which they penetrated deep into the trackless and uninhabited wilderness and finally settled in the remote Blackwater Valley. Here they lived unmolested until the Scotch Irish, spreading westward fro the Watauga settlements, in Tennessee, discovered them in the closing years of the eighteenth century.

This is quite a fine theory, but most people are more prosaic and hold the Melungeons to be a mixed race, having Indian, Negro, and Caucasian blood in their veins. This the word “Melungeon” itself would indicate and the Bureau of Ethnology at Washington classifies them as a branch or offshoot of the Croatan Indians of North Carolina, who are a people of obscure and mixed descent in whose veins Indian blood predominates. It is evident from the belief existing among the Melungeons and from more recent emigrants that they came to Tennessee largely from North and not South Carolina. Old Beatty (sic) Collins, a veteran of the Civil War and on4e of the most intelligent and respected of his tribe, says that his grandfather came to the Blackwater valley from North Carolina more than 100 years ago with the first settlers and took up a large tract of land there. Also a man named Stuart, said to be a Melungeon, has recently moved to Hawkins County, Tennessee, from North Carolina, and others are said to still reside in that State. The Sycamore end of this valley, known locally as “Snake Hollow,” is of much more recent settlement. The inhabitants, however, came largely from the Blackwater country, and people still in the prime of life can remember when the first settlers moved into this narrow valley, made their little clearings on the steep mountain sides, erected their crude log huts and planted their little patches of corn and tobacco.

Although many of the Melungeons claim a Portuguese ancestry and some admit having Indian blood in their veins they do not like to be called Melungeons or considered as peculiar people. They simply desire to be called by their names, of which Collins is the most common, while Mullins is a close second. Other common names are: Bolen, Gibson, and Goins, and such names as Lawson, Maloney and Fields are not unknown.

From their English names, taken in connection with the other proof, it seems probable that the story of their Portuguese origin is a myth. At any rate the burden of proof is upon those who make such assertions and some definite historical proof must be produced before such a theory will be generally accepted as correct.

They are very sensitive and become angry if accused of having negro blood in their veins. It is a known fact that some of the Melungeons fought in the War of 1812 and some say that their ancestors were in the revolutionary War; some of them received pensions, voted, and prosecuted white men prior to the Civil War, none of which negroes were allowed to do under the laws existing in those days. Their right to vote, however, was frequently challenged. In one case, in which Col. John Netherland was the defending lawyer, the matter was carried into court and decided by measuring their feet. Four or five were allowed to vote but one was debarred n the ground that his feet were too broad. The people on Sycamore are somewhat darker than those on Blackwater and there the race question has entered the school, some of the white settlers objecting to their children going to school with those of their darker skinned neighbors. This is somewhat strange in view of the fact that from the marriage of a white with a Melungeon some of the children will be dark and others will have very light complexions.

The Melungeons have lived for generations in their secluded valleys and ridges far away from the routes of trade and the centers of population and civilization. There they have eked out an existence by their primitive methods of farming and fruit growing. Being too far from market to be able to properly dispose of heavy or bulky products they long ago began concentrating their corn so that they could carry it to market in jugs. But they soon came to consume the greater part of the contents of the jugs at home, and after the United States revenue law was put into operation, they, with their white neighbors of the valleys and ridges to the east and west, became a law unto themselves and defied all outside authority. They always carried guns or knives and many a bloody murder and foul crime has been committed in this region. By its lawlessness and bloodshed this section came to be known to the inhabitants of the more peaceful side of the Clinch as “yan side,” and to be accused of being a citizen of “yan side” was, to say the least, not a compliment. And of all the clans and tribes of “yan side,” the Melungeons were the worst. Old persons say that they can remember when nurses frightened their children into being good by telling them that if they were naughty the Melungeons would get them, and children were said to creep to bed on cold, stormy nights, frightened, afraid that the fierce dark men from “yan side” would swoop down and carry them off.

Up to two decades ago, whiskey flowed like water in the Blackwater country and moonshining was a common occupation. A stranger who ventured into that region in those days did so at the risk of his life for he was at once taken for a detective or a “revenue.”

In those days Mahala Mullins, queen of the blind tigresses, plied her illegal trade in a large log house that stands on a wagon road on Newman’s Ridge within five miles of a county seat and a temple of justice. Mahala Mullins, herself a Melungeon but the wife of a white man, believed that making and selling of whiskey was a natural and inalienable right. When about sixty years of age she had an attack of fever, following which she developed a kind of dropsy and grew exceedingly corpulent, becoming one of the largest women in the South. She was so large she could not walk, and her heart would not allow her to lie down, hence she was forced to keep a sitting posture continually. She was so large she could not get through the door and was thus confined to her room. So here she sat day in and day out beside a large whiskey barrel with a measure in her hand and sold to all who would purchase. When officers came with a warrant she would smile and tell them to take her, but as she could not walk and as they could not carry her, as she weighed about 500 pounds, they always had to return empty handed. She generally kept a federal license, but on one occasion a State judge grew unusually insistent and ordered the sheriff to bring her to court at any price. This official, however, returned and reported that she was “seeable and talkable but not bringable.”

In those days feuds were of common occurrence. A typical one was the Brewer-Collins feud. At an election a few years ago trouble arose over the right of certain men to vote, and Wiley Brewer, who was a justice of the peace, ordered quiet and was shot and wounded by a Collins. Then, quick as lightning, guns were drawn and a volley fired, as a result of which three men were killed and another wounded. Before the smoke had cleared away, Will Brewer stuck his gun under his arm and continued to hold the election. From that time the Brewers were marked men and a little later they were ambushed and shot by the Collinses. Will Brewer was killed and Wiley Brewer again wounded. He is today living in another part of the county afraid to return to his own home.

These conditions are, however, almost a thing of the past. Over this whole region a new light has dawned and a better civilization and a higher code of morals are penetrating into the remotest recesses of these mountains. Some fifteen years ago Presbyterian missionaries established a school on Blackwater and some seven or eight years later one on Sycamore. About the same time Mahala Mullins died and Beatty Collins, who had already been deputy sheriff for many years, was induced to co-operate with the revenue officers, and with his aid moonshine stills soon became a thing of the past although blind tigers still inhabit some of the dense forests. The Presbyterians, who are an unknown sect in most parts of the Southern mountains, have done much good and have large churches. They have, however, by no means displaced the Baptists, who are the leading sect in the Southern mountains, and Methodists are not unknown. Needless to say that politically the republicans are in the majority.

Feuds are now of seldom occurrence and as moonshining is an occupation of the past a stranger is now as safe on Blackwater as on Broadway, but he is even yet looked upon with curiosity and with more or less suspicion, if he has no apparent business. The people are for the most part sober, hospitable and ore or less industrious, cultivating their mountain farms, knowing and caring little for the happenings of the outside world.

Primitive methods of agriculture still prevail. The farmers live in houses erected by their own hands either from rude logs or rough sawed lumber. On Blackwater frame houses of four or five rooms are not uncommon, but on Sycamore the typical residence is a cabin built of round, unbarked logs, dovetailed together at the corners, having the cracks chinked or daubed with mud and a chimney built of rough, flat stones. Sometimes these cabins have a second room built of rough timber. Vehicles are rare. The merchants and better farmers have farm wagons but the wooden sled is the ordinary means of transportation. Buggies are almost unknown and automobiles undreamed of.

The farming implements are crude. The soil is broken with a bull-tongue plow, the seed sown by hand, the crops cultivated with the double shovel plow and heavy iron hoes, and hauled to the barn on simple wooden sleds. A variety of crops, including tobacco, are grown, so that little food has to be imported, and the narrow meadows are generally in grass to furnish hay for wintering the cattle. Much fruit is grown. Formerly th4e apples were used for making brandy but now they are dried in the sun for market. But if the season is wet crude furnaces are built of rough stones can covered with tin so that the apples are dried in spite of the rain.

Although remote from the routes of trade, commerce has developed to a limited extent. The traveling salesman makes his monthly rounds and in the tiny rural stores the greatest variety of articles are found. Candies, overalls, calicoes and shoes recline upon the shelves beside bolts, horseshoes and nails, while coal oil, dishes, canned goods and novelties are not lacking. In exchange for these articles the merchant takes chickens, eggs, ginseng, dried apples and other light commodities. These he loads into his wagon and hauls to the nearest railroad town, where he sells his produce and reloads the wagon with his miscellaneous merchandise, and at the end of the third day, after fording treacherous streams, climbing steep, rocky hills and toiling laboriously through long quagmires, known as roads, he again reaches his store and unpacks his wares. Grain and other heavy commodities are not grown for export but many cattle are raised and sold to the buyers on their periodic visits, Small saw mills with their portable engines are moved from place to place and saw lumber for local use and walnut and poplar, the only timbers that pay for the haul to the railroad.

Practically all the people wear clothing made of factory woven cloth and “store shoes,” but many of the women still go barefooted, and this is so customary that even barefoot girls are not abashed in the presence of strangers. It is not unusual to see a man and his barefooted wife walking to the store or to the home of some distant friend. They walk single file, a necessity on the mountain trails, and the man always precedes. If such a couple be stopped by a stranger who wishes to inquire the way or make a passing remark, the man after replying will search the stranger’s face with his dark, piercing eyes ands say: “’Pears like I’ve seed you som’ers; what’s your name?”

A stranger can always secure a night’s lodging at any of the primitive homes of these people. But the offer of such hospitality will seldom be made unless asked for directly, and then it will almost never be refused, no matter how poor the accommodations are. The woman cooks the crude meal and places it on the table, but if a stranger be present she invariable refuses to eat until the men have finished, no matter how much room there is at the table of how little she has to do. This rule does not apply to the children, however.

A stranger once spent the night in the dead of winter at such a home. Arising in the morning he was asked by his host if he would like to wash before breakfast, and he replied that he would. His host then asked if he preferred hot or cold water. The stranger was surprised at such a question but as the morning was bitter cold, a heavy snow having fallen during the night, he replied that he’d take warm water. The man of the house thereupon threw a towel across his shoulder and led the way down through the woods to the spring. The visitor wished many times as he trudged through the new-fallen snow that he had chosen cold water, but to use the colloquial expression, “he had his ruthers.”

But after all is said – after the investigator has described the poverty of the many and the primitive customs of all; after the artist has painted in varied hue the exquisite beauties of the landscape; after the invalid has drunk the excellent mineral waters and gone away cured; after the geologist has located all the mineral bearing strata and explained why Blackwater Creek flows northward when all other streams in this section flow southward; after the linguist has accurately recorded all the peculiarities of the vernacular; and after the promoter has estimated the value of the virgin forests and hidden mineral wealth – after all this has been done, the peculiar physical characteristics of the people will remain and the mystery surrounding their ancestry will present an unsolved problem for the historian. The Melungeons, however, are fast losing their identity. Many whites have already intermarried with them and many children with fair complexions, light hair and blue eyes frolic with their swarthy neighbors. But in spite of this race admixture it will be many years before their peculiar characteristics entirely disappear.

1924 Racial Integrity Act (Virginia)

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1924 Racial Integrity Act

Virginia’s 1924 Racial Integrity Act

Chap. 371. – An ACT to preserve racial integrity. [S B 219]

Approved March 20, 1924.

1. Be it enacted by the general assembly of Virginia, That the State registrar of vital statistics may, as soon as practicable after the taking effect of this act, prepare a form whereon the racial composition of any individual as Caucasian, Negro, Mongolian, American Indian, Asiatic Indian, Malay, or and mixture thereof, or any other non-Caucasic strains, and if there be any mixture, then, the racial composition of the parents and other ancestors, in so far as ascertainable, so as to show in what generation such mixture occurred, may be certified by such individual, which form shall be known as a registration certificate. The State registrar may supply to each local registrar a sufficient number of such forms for the purpose of this act; each local registrar may, personally or by deputy, as soon as possible after receiving said forms, have made thereon in duplicate a certificate of the racial composition, as aforesaid, of each person resident in his district, who so desires, born before June 14, 1912, which certificate shall be made over the signature of said person, or in the case of children under fourteen years of age, over the signature of a parent, guardian, or other person standing in loco parentis. One of said certificates for each person thus registering in every district shall be forwarded to the State registrar for his files; the other shall be kept on file by the local registrar.

 

Walter A. Plecker, Virginia’s Registrar of Vital Statistics, was a chief proponent of the 1924 Racial Integrity Act

Every local registrar may, as soon as practicable, have such registration certificate made by or for each person in his district who so desires, born before June 14, 1912, for whom he has not on file a registration certificate, or a birth certificate.

2. It shall be a felony for any person willfully or knowingly to make a registration certificate false as to color or race. The willful[sic] making of a false registration or birth certificate shall be punished by confinement in the penitentiary for one year.

3. For each registration certificate properly made and returned to the State registrar, the local registrar returning the same shall be entitled to a fee of twenty-five cents, to be paid by the registrant. Application for registration and for transcript may be made direct to the State registrar, who may retain the fee for expenses of his office.

4. No marriage license shall be granted until the clerk or deputy clerk has reasonable assurance that the statements as to color of both man and woman are correct.

If there is reasonable cause to disbelieve that applicants are of pure white race, when that fact is stated, the clerk or deputy clerk shall withhold the granting of the license until satisfactory proof is produced that both applicants are “white persons” as provided for in this act.

The clerk or deputy clerk shall use the same care to assure himself that both applicants are colored, when that fact is claimed.

5. It shall hereafter be unlawful for any white person in this State to marry any save a white person, or a person with no other admixture of blood than white and American Indian. For the purpose of this act, the term “white person” shall apply only to the person who has no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian; but persons who have one-sixteenth or less of the blood of the American Indian and have no other non-Caucasic blood shall be deemed to be white persons. All laws heretofore passed and now in effect regarding the intermarriage of white and colored persons shall apply to marriages prohibited by this act.

6. For carrying out the purposes of this act and to provide the necessary clerical assistance, postage and other expenses of the State registrar of vital statistics, twenty per cent of the fees received by local registrars under this act shall be paid to the State bureau of vital statistics, which may be expended by the said bureau for the purposes of this act.

7. All acts or parts of acts inconsistent with this act are, to the extent of such inconsistency, hereby repealed.

1929 Pamphlet by Walter Plecker

Published by:

1929 Plecker Pamphlet

Legal Percentages of “Negro Blood”

Amount of Negro and Other Colored Blood Illegal in Various States for Marriage to Whites: 1929

Walter A. Plecker

Walter Ashby Plecker was the head of Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics from 1912 to 1936. He believed “there is a danger of the ultimate disappearance of the white race in Virginia, and the country, and the substitution therefor of another brown skin, as has occurred in every other country where the two races have lived together.” Plecker believed this “mongrelization,” resulted in the downfall of several earlier civilizations. He used the 1924 Racial Integrity Act to classify Virginia Indians and mixed-race individuals as “colored,” and therefore denied basic civil rights under Virginia’s system of segregation.

Source: University of Albany, SUNY, Estabrook, SPE,XMS 80.9 Bx 2 C18. Used by permission.


by W.A. Plecker, Eugenical News (vol. 14:8)

Legal Limits of Negro and Other Colored Blood In Colored-White Marriages.

Dr. W. A. Plecker, Registrar of Vital Statistics of the Commonwealth of Virginia, who has been the principal leader in the recent movement to secure the enactment of the so-called Racial Integrity Laws by several states, has compiled the accompanying table showing the present status of legislation in reference to the legal limits of intermarriages between the white and colored races.

None Permissible

1. Alabama

2. Georgia (or W. Indian, Asiatic Indian or Mongolian) New Act not being enforced for lack of appropriation

3. Virginia

Negro or Negro Descent

1. Arizona (or Mongolian-Indian) Caucasian or descendants with Negro, Mongolian, Indian and descendants.

2. Louisiana (or Indian) Persons of color include those belonging in whole or in part to the African race

3. Montana (or Negro – Chinese – Japanese in whole or in part)

4. Nevada (or brown-yellow-red races)

5. Oklahoma (Persons of African descent with persons not of African descent whether white or Indian)

6. South Dakota (or Korean – Malay – Mongolian)

7. Utah (or Mongolian)

8. West Virginia

1/8

1. Florida

2. Indiana

3. Maryland

4. Mississippi (or Mongolian)

5. Missouri (or Mongolian)

6. Nebraska (1/8 Japanese or Chinese)

7. North Carolina (or Indian)

8. North Dakota

9. South Carolina (or Indian)

10. Tennessee

11. Texas

1/4

1. Kentucky (if one grandparent was a Negro, or a white woman with a “colored” man)

2. Oregon (or Mongolian, or white with one more one-half Indian)

Mulattoes ½

1. Arkansas

2. California (or Mongolian)

3. Colorado

4. Delaware

5. Idaho (or Mongolian)

6. Wyoming (or Mongolian or Malay)

No Restriction

1. Connecticut

2. District of Columbia

3. Illinois

4. Iowa

5. Kansas

6. Maine (an act of 1786 made marriage of a white person and negro or mulatto void)

7. Massachusetts (A former Act made marriage of a white and negro or mulatto illegal)

8. Michigan (Mixed marriage formerly void now legal)

9. Minnesota

10. New Hampshire

11. New Jersey

12. New Mexico

13. New York

14. Ohio (A former statute forbade marriage of a pure white and a person of visibly African blood)

15. Pennsylvania

16. Rhode Island

17. Vermont

18. Washington

19. Wisconsin

1930 Letter from Walter Plecker to Lee County, VA Schools Trustee

Published by:

1930 Plecker Letter

Plecker Letter to Trustee of Lee County, Va. Schools

Bureau of Vital Statistics
State Department of Health
Richmond

August 5, 1930

Mr. J. P. Kelly
Trustee of Schools,
Pennington Gap,
Lee County, Virginia

Dear Sir,

Our office has had a great deal of trouble in reference to the persistence of a group of people living in that section known as “Melungeons,” whose families came from Newman’s Ridge, Tennessee. They are evidently of negro origin and are so recognized in Tennessee, but when they have come over into Virginia they have been trying to pass as white. In a few instances we learn that they have married a low type of white people which increases the problem.

We understand that some of these negroes have attempted to send their children to the Pennington Gap white school and that they were turned out by the School Board. Will you please give us a statement as to the names of the children that were refused admittance into the white schools and the names and addresses of their parents. If possible, we desire the full name of the father and the maiden name of the mother.

As these families originated out of Virginia, our old birth, death, and marriage records covering the period, 1853 through 1896, do not have them listed by color as are those whose families have lived in Virginia a number of generations. They are demanding of us that we register them as white, which we persistently refuse to do. If we can get a statement that the School Board refused them admittance into the white schools, we can use that as one of the grounds upon which we would refuse to classify them as white. That, of course, is a matter of history and does not involve any individual but the whole School Board, the responsibility thus being divided up, while few individuals who write to us as to their negro characteristics are willing to have their names used or to appear in court should it become necessary. This makes it very difficult for us to secure necessary information to properly classify them in our office. If the School Trustees will co-operate with our office and will refuse admittance into the white schools and give us information when such refusals are made, we can without great difficulty hold them n their place, but this co-operation is very essential.

I do not know who is the Clerk of the School Board or who would be the proper one to apply to but your name has been given to me.

Yours very truly,

Walter A. Plecker
State Registrar

1942 Correspondence between Walter Plecker and Tennessee State Archivist

Published by:

1942 Plecker Letters

Correspondence: Plecker and Tennessee State Librarian

Walter A. Plecker

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

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

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

Dear Sir:

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

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

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

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

Thanking you in advance and with kindest regards, I am

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

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

My dear Sir:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,
Mrs. John Trotwood Moore
State Librarian and Archivist

Plecker replied on 20 August 1942:

Dear Mrs. Moore:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1943 Walter Plecker letter about “Mongrel Virginian” family names

Published by:

1943 Plecker List

Letter Distributed to County Officials Listing Mixed-Race Surnames

NOTE:

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

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

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


Commonwealth of Virginia
Department of Health
Bureau of Vital Statistics
Richmond

January 1943

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

Dear Co-workers:

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

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


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

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

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

Very truly yours,

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


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

Albemarle:
Moon, Powell, Kidd, Pumphrey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greene:
Shifflett, Shiflet

Prince William:
Tyson, Segar. (See Fauquier)

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

Lancaster:
Dorsey (Dawson)

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

Roanoke County:
Beverly (See Washington)

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

Scott:
Dingus (See Lee County)

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

Tazewell:
Hammed, Duncan. (See Russell)

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

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

Published by:

1946 Gilbert Article

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

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

William Harlen Gilbert, Jr.
Library of Congress

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

Prefatory Statement

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

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

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

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


I. Brass Ankles and Allied Groups of South Carolina

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

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

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

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

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

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

Religion: Protestant. Attend white churches and also colored.

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

Military draft: Apparently classified as white.

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

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

Cultural Peculiarities: No data.

Social Status: Recognized as “near white.”

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


Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


II. Cajans and Creoles of Alabama and Mississippi

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

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

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

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

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

In-Marriage: No data.

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

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

Military Draft Status: No data.

Voting and Civil Rights: No data.

Relief: The Cajans have been in need of relief.

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

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

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


Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Religion: Protestants.

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

Military Draft Status: No data.

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

Relief: No data.

Cultural Peculiarities: Folklore and dialectic traits.

Social Status: Between white and Negro.

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


Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


IV. Guineas of West Virginia and Maryland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relief: Received during the Depression.

Cultural Peculiarities: Folklore, annual fair.

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

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


Bibliography

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

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


V. Issues of Virginia

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

Numbers: Said to be about 500 in 1926.

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

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

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

In-Marriage: Has been characteristic of the group.

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

Schools: No organization aside from Mission.

Military Draft Status: No data as to color classification.

Voting and Civil Rights: No data.

Relief: No data.

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

Social Status: Said to be below that of whites.

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


Bibliography

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

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

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

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

William Gilbert article, part 2

Published by:

VI. Jackson Whites of New Jersey and New York

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

Numbers: Estimated to be upwards of 5,000.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Military Draft Status: No data.

Voting and Civil Rights: No data.

Relief: No data.

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

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

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


Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


VII. Melungeons of the Southern Appalachians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bibliography
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


VIII. Moors and Nanticokes of Delaware and New Jersey

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

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

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

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

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

In-Marriage: Customary.

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

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

Military Draft Status: No data.

Voting and Civil Rights: No data.

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

Relief: Not needed apparently.

Social Status: Uncertain.

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


Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


IX. Red Bones of Louisiana

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

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

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

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

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

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

Religion: Mainly Roman Catholic. Some Baptists.

Schools: Colored or special.

Miltiary Draft: No data on classification by color.

Voting and Civil Rights: No data.

Relief: No data.

Cultural Peculiarities: Many old Indian customs and traits preserved.

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

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


Bibliography

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

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

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


X. Wesorts of Southern Maryland

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

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

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

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

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

In-Marriage: A marked characteristic for many years.

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

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

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

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

Relief: Not much given to them.

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

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

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


Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Concluding Statement

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

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

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

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

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

Published by:

Sons of the Legend

by William Worden

Saturday Evening Post, October 18, 1947

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Malungeon.”