Melungeon-L ArchivesArchiver > Melungeon > 2008-01 > 1201252909
From: Curtis Christy <>
Subject: Re: [MELUNGEON] Reply to Joanne Re Portuguese Theory
Date: Fri, 25 Jan 2008 01:21:49 -0800 (PST)
Dennis, I realize that you have a reason for these deadpan responses which always tiptoe right around the sleeping dog that you want to let lie.
And you KNOW the answer to the question you pose, namely (A) "WHY would someone make up a story in which another ethnicity than one's own is claimed?" Bart (B) of the question is, "And if they did that, why would they have selected Portuguese as the 'cover story'? Why not some other ethnicity?"
Easy on both counts:
A. They needed to be something else than people of African descent because the laws in Virginia and nearby states had begun to change. People were not being allowed to pass on their property to their heirs if they were Black ... and the definition of "who is Black?" was fast moving toward the "one drop rule." In order to stem the tide of changing laws that promised to curtail the freedoms of people of color, people of mixed ancestry had to leave the area ... which meant losing the property they and their parents and grandparents had worked so hard for. In a famous legal case, neighbors had to swear to a man's "Portuguese origins" for the purpose of keeping land in the family. But even if one case was successful somewhere, no doubt money and power spoke louder in other places, and untold hundreds of free people of color must have been driven out of the South, or went from land-owners to share cropper-type status as pressure mounted against their rights. So, if you
were faced with such a threat, and your generation's complexion was lighter than your parents, and you had maried White so that the next generation would be even lighter, then the idea of "passing" for some other ethnic group would have become more and more appealing. They didn't look Swedish or Irish or English ... but one country in Europe had a darker mean complexion than the rest.
B. Why hide behind a Portuguese 'cover story' rather than another nationality or ethnicity? Three reasons: (1) The Portuguese were not an unpopular group. They were respected as sailors. And they were known to sail into the ports of the coastal colonies. (2) They were a nation of mixed people and they tended to be darker complected than other Europeans. And (3) they had a knowledge of the Portuguese -- because their parents or their parents' parents had been under Portuguese control, captured by them, baptised and named by them, and shipped off to parts unknown by them. The fact that the Portuguese were not only mercenary, but also missionaries, helped the newly arrived Africans to bridge the gap of trust that would have been greater--and, perhaps, insurmountable, had they not bee Christians already when they arrived. That fact may have been the key element in their indentures being treated like those of British subjects. Also, it was a legitimate argument to say,
"We are of Portuguese descent" and not really a lie .. because they really WERE subjects of the Portuguese empire, and therefore, in some real sense "Portuguese," as a result. That's the answere to the question, "Why Portuguese?"
Dennis Maggard <> wrote:
From: "Curtis Christy"
> Your reply, Dennis, avoids the African issue completely.
I have always believed that the Melungeon core families had African
ancestry, among others. It is entirely possible that the Portuguese claim
came by way of Africa. It is also possible that it came more or less
straight from Portugal. And it's possible that it came by both routes, or
some other route.
Of course it's also possible that the claim was simply made up by someone as
a cover story, or whatever, though I find that a bit hard to believe. It
seems such an unlikely claim to just make up that I can't help but suspect
it must have been based on something, but as of yet, we just don't know.
And at this point there is no reason that I know of to insist that any one
idea is right, let alone that all the others must be wrong.
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