Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Definition of the Melungeons

By Jack Goins

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 area’s of Virginia and North Carolina before migrating to the Clinch River areas of Southwestern Virginia and East Tennessee.(**see source documents)

This definition was established from the written oral traditions of the Melungeons and the fact their progenitors have been documented living near the Pamunkey Indian nation in Virginia 1720'3-30's. Historical records which prove the possibility of the Melungeons statement that their Progenitors were Portuguese adventurers from the long shore parts of Virginia will be listed at the end of this article for your investigation.

The fact that the forefathers of the head and source of the Melungeons of Tennessee can be documented in this area gives this oldest written definition credibility. They migrated from Louisa County, Virginia to Orange County, NC beginning in the 1740's. No records have been found where any of these were known as Melungeons at this time. According to the old witnesses, they were given this name Melungeons after arriving in Tennessee. My research was using the Genealogy proof standard, starting at home with the known descendants and working my way back in history to my other blood relatives, or Melungeon related descendants. My research included the assistance of several researchers connected to my Goins and Minor families. I followed the Melungeons from their homelands in Tennessee to their migration points using tax, census, land, military and church records and located some of the old farms and churches in North Carolina and Virginia where they formerly lived before migrating to Tennessee.

*Source documents for above definitions and comments;
The shortest and one of the oldest written definition was found in a dictionary written in 1892.
"One of a very dark people living in the Mountains of Tennessee”-. By Dr. Isaac K. Funk.. New Standard dictionary of the English Language, p 1548. Let us examine the records and see how this dictionary definition came into existence.

Dr. Funk probably arrived at his description from printed stories taken from the oral traditions from those who were first identified as Melungeons, eventually oral traditions are captured in printed records. ”I concur, in the idea that printed references to tradition suggest that the material in question had an oral circulation prior to being captured in print.”(Dissertation, Ivey)
From my own family research, there is no doubt some Melungeons had an oral tradition of their heritage, assuming Zachariah Minor was a Melungeon. In 1846 Zachariah was charged for illegal voting in an election held in Hawkins County in 1845 along with his brother Lewis and a group of Collins including Vardy. The charge by the state’s attorney general was “they being free persons of color” thus by the constitution of the United State and the State Of Tennessee were not eligible to vote or to testify against a white man in a court of law. Their sworn denial of this accusation and the eventual acquittal by two separate juries also points to the fact the Melungeons race was almost impossible to classify. The oral tradition handed down by Zachariah was that he was Portugese and Indian, this Oral tradition was first noticed on a census by a descendant in Arkansas.

On the basis of such references, there seems to be no question that the Melungeons themselves had a tradition concerning their Origins at the time of the earliest printed reports of their existence. A correspondent whose report was printed in an 1849 issue of Littell’s Living Age wrote of the “Melungeons”

“The legend of their history, which they carefully preserve, is this. A great many years ago, these mountains were settled by a society of Portuguese Adventurers, men and women--who came from the long-shore parts of Virginia, that they might be freed from the restraints and drawbacks imposed on them by any form of government. These people made themselves friendly with the Indians and freed, as they were from every kind of social government, they uprooted all conventional forms of society and lived in a delightful Utopia of their own creation, trampling on the marriage relation, despising all forms of religion, and subsisting upon corn (the only possible product of the soil) and wild game of the woods. These intermixed with the Indians, and subsequently their descendants (after the advances of the whites into this part of the state) with the negros and the whites, thus forming the present race of Melungens. Also notice the exact place where the Melungeon lived by this writer: ”You must know that within ten miles of this owl's nest, there is a watering-place, known hereabouts as 'black-water Springs.' It is situated in a narrow gorge, scarcely half a mile wide, between Powell's Mountain and the Copper Ridge, and is, as you may suppose, almost inaccessible. A hundred men could defend the pass against even a Xerxian army. Now this gorge and the tops and sides of the adjoining mountains are inhabited by a singular species of the human animal called MELUNGENS.”

Continued here: http://www.geocities.com/ourmelungeons/jgdef.html