Melungeon-L Archives

Archiver > Melungeon > 2004-05 > 1084299621

From: Brent Kennedy <>
Subject: Broad-based Perspective
Date: Tue, 11 May 2004 11:20:21 -0700 (PDT)

As promised, here's a review of some of the more broad-based heritage perspectives out there. I don't necessarily agree with all of them, but it certainly lends credence to the long-standing academic view of a broader based population.


Melungeons, or populations referred to as Melungeon, have been reported throughout the Southeast for well more than a century. Heres a survey, certainly not complete, of what some writers have reported over the years.

Jean Patterson Bible, Melungeons: Yesterday and Today, 5th Printing, 1975

From the Introduction:

I had always supposed they were to be found only in one area of East Tennessee. However, after encountering and mulling over the fairly recent research done by Dr. Edward Price, Dr. Calvin Beale, and Henry Price, I realized that there were whole Melungeon settlements in places other than Hancock and surrounding counties, not only in Tennessee but in other states as well

From pages 5 and 6:

Obviously the shadows lie deepest around the earliest Melungeons, some of whom were probably in the East Tennessee mountains and certainly in North Carolina and Virginia before the arrival of the family heads listed in censuses, land grants and pension lists of those states and Kentuckytheir secret may lie hidden somewhere along the coast of inland mountains of the Carolinas, maybe in the hills of southwest Virginia, or Eastern Kentucky, wherever their trail led them to flee from the scorn of the white man for a people not officially classified as white, red, black, or yellow.

Bible also quotes numerous others in describing the range of the Melungeons. A few examples:

James Aswell, from The Nashville Banner (August 22, 1937):

When the first Scotch-Irish settlers from Virginia and North Carolina came pushing over the mountains into the fecund wilderness the Indians called Tenase, they found scattered clots of settlements of shy, mysterious people. They were not Indians nor did they resemble the Inidans except in their red-bronze coloration. When asked who they were and whence they came, they said they were Portuguese.

Bible also speaks about the out-migration of Melungeons from their home settlements, the home settlements themselves being geographically broad, covering at least four states:

So it is understandable that during the past two decades, particularly from the 1960s on, there has been what might be called a mass migration of Melungeons from home territory, whether from small communities like Dungannon, Virginia, Graysville, the larger aggregate at Newmans Ridge, or others in North Carolina, Virginia, and Kentucky.

Bible also retells Bonnie Balls story of Uncle Wash Osborne, a self-professed Virginia Melungeon and one of my own uncles, a number of generations removed, who was interviewed by G.M. French, Jr:

Mr. French, a native of the same section of Virginia, had interviewed an old time Melungeon, one of the oldest in the Dungannon area, known as Uncle Wash Osborn. Uncle Wash had referred to his people as Melongos, which he defined as pure Portuguese, citing a number of Melungeon names such as Collins, Gibson, Sexton, Bolling and Lucas, which he associated with the Melongo tribe.

In Mark Frenchs own words (from the article, Genealogical History of Melungeon Families, 1947):

Uncle Wash Osborne of Copper Ridge near Dungannon in Scott County gave me more information about the Melungeons than anyone else. Uncle Washs full name is George Washington Osborne. From what I gathered from Uncle Wash, the Melungeons started coming to Wise and Scott Counties about 1820. These people came in about equal numbers from Kentucky from Newmans Ridge and lower end of Lee County. A few came from North Carolina. The first Collins family, who came to Scott County from Newmans Ridge were white. From Kentucky came the following families; Collins, Gibsons, and Sextons. From Newmans Ridge; Collins, Littons and Bollings. Very few people with these names came from Newmans Ridge. From Blackwater, Tennessee came the Sweeneys, Adkins, Lucas, Bollings, Goins and Baldwins. Also the Melungeons came to Scott County from Letcher County, Kentucky near Whitesburg at a place called Lick Rock. These people lived in large numbers. Uncle Poke Gibson came to Scott from Letcher about !
1820. He
claimed to be Portuguese Indian. A few Littons came from Newmans Ridge who are member of the Melango Tribe. There are two groups of Littons members of the Melango Tribe who live in Scott County and the Littons of Wise County who are not members. The Littons of Wise are no relation to the Littons of Scott.

The Bollings, who are numerous in Scott and Wise Counties, came from Newmans Ridge. The have all the features of the Indian race.

Importantly, Mr. French also adds:

The Melungeons migrated to the Southern sections of this country such as Newmans Ridge and Wise and Scott Counties from the North. They migrated to Scott County in about equal numbers from Newmans Ridge and Letcher County, Kentucky. To Newmans Ridge the Indian tribe came from Blackwater Swamp, Tennessee and the Portuguese Indian element came from someplace in the North.

The full text of the article can be read at:

In The Melungeons: Their Origin and Kin (Eighth Edition 1984, reprint of 1969 book), Bonnie Ball herself writes of the Virginia and Tennessee locations of the Melungeons as well as her own early encounters with them in southwest Virginia (Lee County and Coeburn in Wise County). She also writes of what others told her during the early part of the last century:

Page 3:

Two decades ago one of the ethnological students of the Cumberlands was Mr. Bruce Crawford, who then published the Crawfords Weekly (later, The Coalfield Progress), at Norton, Wise County, Virginia. His research yielded some interesting facts as well as theories, concerning the Melungeons. It was found that during their early history both the Carolinas had denied the Melungeons the privileges usually accorded the white. Due to such restraints many of them migrated to Tennessee.

And, from page 65:

Those that were described in the above paragraphs were living in Lee County, Virginia, and had moved there from the mining areas of Wise County.

And here is a Rootsweb post regarding my own exchanges with Bonnie some ten years ago:

Following are excerpts from other early writings:

Genetics of Marginal People, American Anthropologist, June 1972, William S. Pollitzer, University of North Carolina.

On page 722, Pollitzer, in accord with other scholars at the time, lists the various mixed race isolates by their various names (e.g., Lumbee Indians are also identified as Croatans, Adamstown Indians are also identified as Mattaponi, etc.).

Isolate State Population in 1950

Melungeons (Ramps) - Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia 15,510

Pollitzer adds on page 729:

these once flourishing people have now practically disappeared from their highland homesThe most thorough investigation of the Melungeons was done about 1950 by Price, who noted aggregation of a thousand in Hancock County, Tennessee, five hundred in adjacent Lee County, Virginia, and smaller pockets in the neighboring highlands of Tennesee, Virginia and Kentucky. From his careful study of the census records, he noted that none of those with names now characteristic of the isolate appeared in the 1850 census for Hancock County as born in Tennessee before 1800; these older people were born in chiefly in North Carolina and Virginia. The same names appear under free persons of color in the early census returns from several of the counties of North Carolina which border on Virginia. A decrease in these North Carolina counties of persons with these names between 1790 and 1800 strongly suggests that they migrated west to form the nucleus of the present Melungeons

Edward T. Price, quoted above, said in a publication of the Association of American Geographers, A Geographical Analysis of White-Negro-Indian Racial Mixtures in Eastern United States, June, 1953, page 140:

A few Melungeons persisted until 1830 in Ashe County in northwestern North CarolinaMelungeons are found in some numbers in Lee, Scott, and Wise County, Virginia, Letcher County, Kentucky, and in Graysville, Tennessee, and occasionally on and west of the Cumberland Plateau. In these more distant localities they are not always identified as Melungeons, but bear the characteristic surnames. Historical records do not supply proof for their likely relationship to the Hancock County group, and some of these other settlements are also very old. The name of Goins is particularly associated with Melungeons living south and west of Hancock County.

William Harlen Gilbert, Jr., in Surviving Indian Groups of the Eastern United States, in the Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution, 1948, does not distinguish between Melungeons and Ramps and says the following:

Melungeons or Ramps. In the counties located in the extreme western corner of Virginia are to found scattered groups of mixed bloods called Melungeons or Ramps. These people roam the mountain regions of Virginia, southern West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and originally claimed Portuguese descent. The Virginia Melungeons are found on the mountain ridges such as Copper Ridge, Clinch Ridge, and Powell Valley in Lee and Scoot counties, in the vicinity of Coeburn and Norton in Wise County, near Damascus in Washington County, and in the western Dismal area of Giles Countythe chief family names of Melungeons in this area are Bolen, Collins, Gibson or Gipson, Freeman, Goins, and Sexton.

At the end of the article, Gilbert lists these surnames as Melungeon-related in both Virginia and Tennessee:

Bolen, Collins, Denham, Fields, Freeman, Gann, Gibson, Goins, Gorvens, Graham, Lawson, Maloney, Mullins, Noel, Piniore, Sexton, and Wright. (Page 435)

Calvin Beale published the following specific Melungeon data and most common racial designations in Eugenics Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 4, December, 1957, in an article entitled, American Triracial Isolates: Their Status and Pertinence in Genetic Research, page 193 and 194:

ALABAMA Melungeons:

Jackson County: 70

KENTUCKY Melungeons and related groups: 7,890 TOTAL

Clay 460

Floyd 1,680

Jackson 140

Johnson 420

Knott 2,450

Letcher 1,920

Magoffin 670

Whitley 180

TENNESSEE Melungeons and related groups: 4,430 TOTAL

Bledsoe 50

Campbell 970

Cannon 40

Claiborne 630

Davidson 40

Grainger 330

Hamilton 60

Hancock 1,320

Hawkins 570

Marion 80

Morgan 10

Rhea 120

Roane 150

Stewart 20

VIRGINIA Melungeons or "Ramps": 3120 TOTAL

Lee 1,520

Scott 450

Wise 1,150


In an article in American Anthropologist, Vol. 74, No. 3, June 1972, An Overview of the Phenomenon of Mixed Racial Isolates in the United States, Beale further states (page 708):

The Tennessee groups outside Hancock County - Most all work relating to Tennessee has focused on the Hancock County Melungeons. But there are a number of other areas in Tennessee where unstudied tri-racial groups are found sometimes related in the past to Hancock County people and usually derived from mixed blood origins in the Carolinas or Virginia.

Heres more info on Beale for those unaware of his work

Swan M. Burnett, M.D., wrote in American Anthropologist, Vol. 2, A Note on the Melungeons, pages 342-349, 1899, the following:

It appears that the Melungeons originally came to East Tennessee from North Carolina, and the larger number settled in what was at that time Hawkins County, but which is now Hancock. I have not been able to hear of them in any of the lower counties of East Tennessee, and those that I have seen myself were in Cocke County, bordering on N.C.

For those interested in Dr. Burnetts writings and what he really said (or did not say) on the geographic spread of Melungeons, here is a link to a recent discussion on the Rootsweb discussion list:

W.T. Hale and Dixon L. Merritt wrote the following in A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1913:

From time immemorial they (the Melungeons) have been counterfeiters of gold and silver, and, strange to say, their money contained more of the precious metals per coin than that minted by the government. At one time within my recollection these coins passed current, without question. There is a legend that their silver came from Straight Creek, a tributary of the Cumberland River which flows into that stream at Cumberland Ford, (now Pineville, Ky.) Ruins of ancient furnaces are still to be seen along the banks of Straight Creek, but have not been used within the memory of anyone living. A family named Mullins were the makers of the silver money in that section.

That family named Mullins, as has been public knowledge for the past century and a half (and confirmed to me by Bonnie Ball herself), were my Mullins: specifically, my great-great grandfather, Brandy Jack Mullins and his uncle, Counterfeitin Sol Mullins, as well as Sols brother.

Here are some additional links to articles and/or Rootsweb discussion threads that show the broad range of Melungeons and their offspring:

(1). Lungeons in Arkansas in 1810?

The four men who had come with Mooney were men of mystery referred to by oldtimers who knew of them as Lungeons. They were neither Negro or Indian and

in later years Jacob Mooney was ostracized for living with these foreigners.

(2). The Graysville Melungeons

In Tennessee, public attention has usually focused on the Melungeon communities of the upper East Tennessee. In particular, Hancock and Hawkins Counties are usually

regarded as the Melungeon homeland. There are, however, well documented Melungeon communities in Virginia (Bell1975) and Kentucky (Price1950) as well as other parts of Tennessee (Walraven n.d.);Brazelton.Roan County,Tennessee; in the Bell's Bend area of the Cumberland River west of Nashville (Price1950; and in Werner 1973:44-45) Regarding the Graysville community, a recent researcher (Bible 1975:29) has

observed: "The Graysville aggregate is probably one of the most stable of all

Melungeon communities today." This community is the subject of the present study.

3. What did Will Allen Dromgoole really say?

Heres a link to a discussion on Dromgooles early visit to Hancock County.

4. The infamous W.A. Plecker

Yet another discussion thread exploring Plecker and his infamous lists.

5. Brewton Berry looks at Kentucky Melungeons

In 13 counties of southeastern Kentucky there are many clusters of a people known to local Whites as Melungeons.

6. Gowen Research Foundation post with lots of Grainger County and Goins genealogical information, with a variety of viewpoints and writers represented (DeMarce, Fetterman, Cavender, etc).

Several heads of households were listed in the 1830 census of Grainger County that were of interest to Melungeon researchers and Gowen chroniclers.

7. An excellent definition and background of the Melungeons by researcher Jack Goins. Here is an excerpt:

The Melungeons were a very dark skin group of settlers who settled in the mountains of East Tennessee and the extreme Southwestern area of Virginia beginning 1790's. Originally they were Portugese adventurers, who came to the long shore parts of Virginia, they became friends with the Indians and intermixed with them, and subsequently with the pioneer settlers. Some of them took the names of the first settlers. The main body of this group migrated from the Pamunkey River area of Virginia to the Flat River area of NC 1730's-1740's. Then around 1767 they migrated from the Flat River to the back woods New River areas of Virginia and North Carolina before migrating to the Clinch River areas of Southwestern Virginia and East Tennessee.(**see source documents) The main body of people traditionally bearing Melungeon traits fall into a basic family name grouping which includes: Boulden, also spelled Bowlin, Bowlin, Bolen, Bowling, and Boulton. Bunch, Collins, also Collens, Gibson !
Gipson, Goins, Goan, Goen, Goings, Minor, Miner, and Mullins. Of course by reason of several generation of intermarriages with neighboring white settlers many other names are related to Melungeon heritage. I know several families from my own research who migrated from Hawkins County to Grainger, Claiborne, Hamiliton, and Davidson counties in Tennessee and from Hawkins County into Kentucky, Indiana and Wise and Scott County, Virginia. As one old witness in 1947 named Wash Osborne testified:

From Blackwater, Tennessee came the Sweeneys, Adkins, Lucas, Bollings, Goins and Baldwins. Uncle Poke Gibson came to Scott from Letcher County, Kentucky in about 1820. He claimed to be Portuguese Indian. A few Littons came from Newmans Ridge who are member of the Melango Tribe. There are two groups of Littons members of the Melango Tribe who live in Scott County and the Littons of Wise County who are not members. The Littons of Wise are no relation to the Littons of Scott. The Bollings, who are numerous in Scott and Wise Counties, came from Newmans Ridge. The have all the features of the Indian race.

I also enthusiastically recommend Jacks book, Melungeons and Other Pioneer Families.

8. Another broad-based definition from Karlton Douglas:

9. Mike Nassaus definition and broad-based exploration:

10. A Rootsweb discussion on the possible Lumbee connection:

11. Defintions posted by Helen Campbell:

12. A recent Darlene Wilson post:

13. A recent post from Joannes website indicating that, at least in 1987, the term Melungeon was being applied in a general way, rightly or wrongly, to a larger segment of the Appalachian community:

Finally, here are Donald B. Balls and John S. Kesslers more recent scholarly conclusions as presented in, North from the Mountains: A Folk History of the Carmel Melungeon Settlement, Highland County, Ohio. Mercer University Press, Macon, Georgia, 2001

Chapter One - Introduction: pages 1 and 2

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

The literature and this is only a sampling clearly documents a long-held belief on the part of academia in the premise that the Melungeons were a relatively broad-based Southeastern mixed-race population. More recent attempts to limit them to a few families in a particular geographic location is unsupportable and suggestive of ignorance of either the nature of human kinship or the nature of early population migrations, or both. It is also of interest that those Melungeon descendants living in the particular geographic region in question (i.e., Hancock County and the Newmans Ridge area in east Tennessee) do NOT subscribe to this position, instead seeing and accepting their kinship to others who might have migrated to and from the region, or chosen other locales in which to settle.

Do you Yahoo!?
Win a $20,000 Career Makeover at Yahoo! HotJobs

This thread: