Monday, June 30, 2008

Melungeon Romance pt. 3

She was very much like her mother, and possessed all the charms and graces she did, but they were undeveloped. Mr. Williams took her to a milliner and had her proved with a wardrobe suitable to her changed surroundings. She very readily adapted herself to her new surrounding and her new life out in the midst of civilization. She was kept at the Williams home and sent to school from there for about two years.

She had to start from the very beginning but, being ambitious to get some education she studied hard and learned very rapidly and in the short time of her school days got a very fair and practical educations. She afterward married her teacher, who was a splendid young man and became one of the leading men in the community and managed his wife’s affairs very successfully and added considerably to her fortune. At the time of his death, which occurred about twenty years ago, he was a prominent official in the county and in conjunction with Blev Thomspon, represented the Hill City district in the county court.

The case was energetically prepared for trial; upward of sixty depositions were taken on the various issues raised in the pleading. The fact of the marriage was easily proved; Squire Clark, who officiated, was still living; as were John and James Cummings and Joel Cross, all of whom were eye witnesses to the performance of the ceremony and remembered it well. In their depositions they stated as a reason for remembering the occurrence so well the unusual circumstances that when the ceremony was said Squire Clark, the bridal pair and witnesses were all standing in the big road in front of Squire Clark’s house. The record in the old Bible established the date of the birth of the child.

The point made that the man was incapable, by reason of being non compos mentis, of entering into a contract of marriage was settled by the ruling of the judge that a marriage which was voidable could not be questioned by anybody except one of the parties to be contract; in other words, that such marriage could not be attacked collaterally; so that it was at all relevant to take evidence on that point.

The great battle ground was the allegation in the answer that the marriage was void because in contravention of a statue of Tennessee prohibiting the intermarriage of a white person with a person of Negro blood to the sixth degree it being alleged that the mother of this girl was a person of mixed Negro blood within the prohibition degree, and upon this issue a large volume of proof was taken.

What the Proof Showed

The evidence completely exploded this theory. It was satisfactorily established in the proof that the family of this woman was in no way allied to, or connected with, the Negro race; that there was not a feature of herself or ancestry that was at all similar to the distinguishing characteristics or features of the Negro, except that they were of dark color, about the color of a mulatto. They had high foreheads; long, straight, black hair; high cheek bones, thin lips, small feet, with high insteps and prominent Roman noses, while the features of the Negro and mulatto were exactly the reverse of these.

In truth, these people belonged to a peculiar race which settled in East Tennessee at an early day and in the vernacular of that country, they were known as “Melungeons,’ and were not even remotely allied to the Negroes. It was proven by the tradition among these people that they were descendant of the ancient Carthagenians; they were Phoenicians who, after Carthage was conquered by the Romans and became a province, emigrated across the Straits of Gibraltar and settled in Portugal. They lived for many years and became quite numerous on the southern coast of Portugal, and from thence the distinguished Venetian general, Othello, whom Shakespeare made immortal in his celebrates play, “Othello, the Moor of Venice.” These were the same people who fought the Romans so bravely and heroically in the Punic wars and whose women sacrificed their long, black hair to the state to be plaited and twisted into cable with which to fasten their galleys and ships of war to the shore.

About the time of our Revolutionary war, a considerable body of these people crossed the Atlantic and settled on the coast of South Carolina, near the North Carolina line, and they lived among the people of Carolina for a number of years. At length the people of Carolina began to suspect that they were mulattoes or free Negroes and denied them the privileges usually accorded to white people. They refused to associate with them on equal terms and would not allow them to send their children to school with white children, and would only admit them to join their churches on the footing of Negroes.

Race Holds Its Own

South Carolina had a law taxing free Negroes so much per capita, and a determined effort was made to collect this of them. But it was shown in evidence on the trial of this case that they always successfully resisted the payment of this tax, as they proved that they were not Negroes. Because of their treatment, they left South Carolina at an early day and wandered across the mountains to Hancock county, East Tennessee; in fact, the majority of the people of that country are “Melungeons,:” or allied to them in some way. A few families of them drifted away from Hancock into the other counties of east Tennessee and now and then into the mountainous section of Middle Tennessee. Some of them live in White, some in Grundy and some in Franklin county. They seem to prefer living in a rough, mountainous and sparsely settled country.

One peculiarity of these people is that the dark color cannot be bred out of them; they do not miscegenate or blend in color. It frequently happens that a white man marries a “Melungeon” girl and raises children by her, but the children always partake of the color of one or the other parent; some of them will be white, like the father, and some of them dark, like the mother. Sometimes the women bear twins by a white sire, and one will be white and the other one dark. The spectacle has often been seen of a mother suckling twin babies, one white and the other dark. This is not true of a cross between a white man and a Negro woman. A mulatto is always half white and half black, and an octoroon can hardly be told from a pure Caucasian, the Negro blood being so completely bred out. While this is true, our southern high bred people will never tolerate on equal terms any person who is even remotely tainted with Negro blood, but they do not make the same objection to other brown or dark-skinned people like the Spanish, the Cubans, the Italians, etc. The term “Melungeons” is an East Tennessee provincialism; it was coined by the people of that country to apply to these people. It is derived from the french word ‘melange’ meaning a mixture, or medley, and has got into the modern dictionaries. It was applied to these people because at first it was supposed that they were of mixed blood-part white and part Negro.

This name is a misnomer, because it has been conclusively proven that they are not mixed with Negro blood, but are pure-blooded Carthaginians, as much so was Hannibal and the Moor of Venice and other pure blooded descendants of the ancient Phoenicians.

Fight at Every Step

It was proven in the case that the grandfather of this girl was accorded full right of a citizen while he lived in Hamilton coutry. He was allowed to vote at all elections at a time when a Negro could not vote and was allowed to testify in the courts when a Negro was an incompetent witness.

Once, in Marion county, a white man named Perkins killed one of the old man’s grandchildren and an indictment was found against him, with the name of the old man marked as prosecutor. A plea in the abatement was filed by the defendant, averring that he had no capacity to become a prosecutor because he was a Negro. The defendant was convicted and sent to the penitentiary for a long term.

The old man applied to the government for a pension on account of his services to the country in the War of 1812. At the time of his enlistment a Negro or a mulatto could not become a soldier in the United States army at all. He had some difficulty in finding a witness who could testify that he was in the army in that war. He had put his case in the hands of a local pension attorney, who had exhausted his resources in an effort to find satisfactory evidence in support of his client’s claim.

Knew Company Roll by Heart

Someone told him that the old man could call the roll of his company from the captain down to the last private on the list. He had learned it from hearing the orderly sergeant call it over at roll calls, and his habit was to repeat it as a sort of song or medley. The attorney called him in and had him call the roll and while he called the attorney wrote down the names. The old many had forgotten the number of his regiment. All that he could tell was that it was a South Carolina regiment. The attorney sent this list of names to the war department at Washington, and a search was made in the archives among the South Carolina regiments, and sure enough, the muster roll of his company was found, containing the names from the captain down, just as the old man had called them over to his attorney. From this clue as a starting point he had no difficulty in making out his case to the satisfaction of the pension commissioner.

This was a very important piece of evidence to defeat the Negro imputation, because it was utterly impossible for a Negro to be an enlisted man at the time. He might be hired as a teamster or a cook, but could not be a soldier.

While the testimony was being taken some old-time Negroes were introduced to prove that the Boltons, for that was the name of the old man referred to, were kinky-headed Negroes. They were promptly swore to this and said that the whole bunch of them had kinky hair, just like a mulatto Negro.

Missing Witness Appears

On being cross-examined they were asked if all of Bolton’s daughters had kinky hair and that our girl’s mother had the same sort of hair. They did not know that Betsy was in the land of the living; in point of fact, the parties and attorneys on the other side did not have a suspicion that she was any nearer than her Illinois hut in the swamps of the Mississippi; but she was then on Williams island, having been brought back here by Mr. Williams in pursuance of his promise to her when he got her to let him fetch the girl back.

Notice was immediately served that on the following Saturday the deposition of Betsy Bolton would be taken at the residence of Samuel Willliams, and it was so taken. She was asked to cut off a lock of her hair and pin it to her deposition. She reached up to her topknot and pulled out her old-fashioned tucking comb, and a monstrous mass of coal black hair as straight as the hair of a horse’s tail, fell down to the floor. It was about four feet long and perfectly free of a kink or a tendency to curl. She exhibited with her deposition a fair sample of her magnificent hair, which completely destroyed the depositions of the Negroes taken on the other side to prove that the Bolton people were Negroes.

The case was patiently tried by the learned chancellor, who gave the solicitors free scope to argue it as much as they pleased.

The decree was in favor of the girl and adjudged that she was the heir apparent of her father and entitled to be supported and educated out of his estate and to inherit his estate after his death. He directed the guardian to provide liberally out of the funds in his hands for her education and maintenance and to pay the young lawyer, who had fought her battle single-handed against the most experienced and best legal talent that could be found, $5,000 for his services. The young man thought that was a pretty good fee to earn in his first year’s practice.

His Memory Good

At one time Mr. Williams got alarmed at the splendid array of lawyers that were pitted against his inexperienced solicitor, and he contemplated sending to Knoxville for Col. John Baxter to take the leading part in the case, but on reflection he decided that that would be unjust to his solicitor, who had borne the burden of the preparation of the case for trial; he thought he was entitled to the glory and the compensation in case of success, and he therefore abandoned his purpose engaging Col Baxter.

One of the funny incidents of this case was the following:

Joel Cross testified that he witnessed the marriage and that it occurred in the big road in front of Squire Clark’s residence on June 14, 1856; he was closely examined by Judge Trewhitt, who thought that he could catch him on his swearing so particularly to the date of the marriage. He asked him how he was able after such a long lapse of time, to swear to the precise date of the occurrence. His answer was;

“Well judge, that was a notable day with me; several things happened on that day to make me remember it. While we were at breakfast that morning the report was brought to us that a Baptist preacher who was carrying on a revival in the neighborhood had got drunk and the meeting would have to be broken up; a little later some young horses that were plowing in my field ran away and tore down several acres of fine growing corn; and then, about the middle of the afternoon, this marriage performed in the big road; and lastly, we had a fine baby girl born at our house that evening and I set down the date of her birth and her name in the Bible, and that is how I know the date.”

The decree in this case was affirmed on appeal to the supreme court and by this final act a great wrong was righted and a worthy girl was vested with the title to a large fortune of the benefits of which she had been deprived for many years.


This story, along with many other interesting narratives, appears in ‘Personal Memoirs” in which Judge Shepherd told of striking and important cases in which he figured as a young attorney and in later life. For the most part the stories in the book were originally written for the Times by Judge Shepherd. T.A. Rogers, June 21, 1936

Thanks to for this article.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Melungeon Romance pt. 2

The happy bridegroom, with his charming bride, returned to his home that afternoon, duly and legally married, much to the discomfort of his relatives who had tried to thwart the marriage, it never having occurred to them that a Georgia court would grant a license and a Georgia judge perform the ceremony.

They immediately went to housekeeping on the bridegroom’s plantation in a comfortable home which he had previously furnished and prepared for his bride, and they started out in life happily and auspiciously. The marriage took place on June 14, 1856, as shown by Squire Clark’s return on the license. The first child of the marriage was a son, who died in his infancy. The second was a daughter, who was born in the latter part of they year 1858.

Insane From Grief

Eight days after her birth the mother died, which event was such an overpowering shock to the father that he went violently insane and had to be taken into custody and kept under guard for a long time. He never recovered his mind, but he got to be in such condition that he was entirely harmless. He was permitted to live alone in his house and his meals were furnished him by his guardian, who looked carefully and closely after his welfare. He was like Judge Alton Parker in one respect-he took a plunge into the creek, or river, near his house every morning, no matter how cold or how hot it was. In the winter time he frequently had to break the ice in order to take his plunge. He would not allow a hair to grow anywhere on his body, head or face; he plucked them out as soon as they made their appearance, and he fancied that evil spirts would invade his house and destroy him unless he kept himself surrounded by a circle of cats, which he always did. His cats were numerous and were exceedingly well trained for their work.

The mother and half sisters of the crazy man procured a maternal aunt of the child “Aunt Betsy” either by threats or bribes to take the infant clear out of the country and exacted a promise from her that she would never return to this country, and she took her away and settled in Illinois in the swamps of the Mississippi, seventy-five miles from Cairo, and the child was completely forgotten by everybody in this country, except Mr. Samuel Williams, who knew all the fact and knew that some day there would be a reckoning.

He secretly arranged with “Aunt Betsey” to have a letter written to him once in a while to keep him posted as to the whereabouts and the welfare of the child, and this she did. Whenever she changed her place of residence she promptly caused Mr. Williams to be notified and informed of her new habitation.She had the forethought when she went on her journey to take the child’s father’s family Bible, which contained a record in his own handwriting of his marriage and the birth of the children, which proved to be a valuable item of evidence in the great chancery court suit which afterward arose out of these matters. Shortly after the man went crazy William H. Foust was appointed guardian of his person and property. Mr. Foust was one of the best men in the country; was successful and prosperous in his own affairs and made a careful and prudent guardian of his ward’s property and of his person. He kept his lands rented and carefully collected and preserved the rents until he had a fund of many thousands of dollars, loaned at interest and well secured by deeds of trust on real estate.

Mr. Foust allowed the man to live in his own house, but employed one of the tenants on his estate to feed him and look after keeping his house and clothes in proper condition, and in this way he was comfortably and amply provided for.

Fight for Estate

Opens In 1872, while the Hon. D. M. Key was chancellor, the two surviving half-sisters of our man and the children of the deceased half sister brought suit in the chancery court, by which they sought to surcharge and falsify the settlements made from time to time by Mr. Foust of his guardianship; they charged that he had mismanaged the estate and wasted its assets, and had loaned large sums to insolvent persons and had taken inadequate security from the borrowers, and sought to make him account for the assets, which he ought, by prudent management, to have on hand. Another feature of the bill was that Mr. Foust’s ward was an incurable and permanent lunatic, rarely having a lucid interval, and that complainants were his heirs apparent and would certainly fall into possession of the estate. The prayer of the bill was that the guardianship be revoked and the ward and his estate be turned over now to them, they agreeing to give bond and security that they would provide for all his wants. They also prayed the court to pronounce a decree adjudging them to be the heirs apparent to the estate.

Mr. Samuel Williams and Col. John L. Divine were the sureties on Mr. Foust’s bond as guardian, and they were sued in order to make good the decree which the complainant expected to recover, and Mr. Williams concluded that now was the proper time for him to make use of the knowledge which he had of the existence and whereabouts of the rightful heir apparent, and sought a lawyer to whom his secret would be entrusted and who could represent the girl in the assertion of her rights. He found on inquiry that all the experienced lawyers in town had been employed either by complainants or Mr. Foust, one of the defendants. VanDyke, Cooke & VanDyke Judge D. C. Trewhitt and Maj. Mose H. Clift were the array on the complainants’ side while Key & Richmond and Col. W. L. Eakins represented Mr. Foust.

Young Lawyer Recommended

A friend of Mr. Williams advised him to consult a young lawyer (Shepherd) who was just starting out in business. Mr. Williams acted on this advice and communicated all the facts in his possession to the young man and placed the entire matter in his hands for such action as he might deem necessary and appropriate. Mr. Williams agreed to serve in the capacity of next friend to the girl and become responsible for the costs and thereupon a bill was filed for her, asking that she be adjudged the child and heir apparent to the crazy man and that she be supported and educated out of his estate, her education having been sadly neglected while she was in exile.

This bill created a big sensation; it was like a clap of thunder out of a clear sky. The complainants were extravagant in their denunciation of the bill as a tissue of falsehoods and slanders. They claimed that it was a fabrication of old man Williams, and that the girl was an impostor. They even denied that there was any such person as she in existence; they denied her identity as the child of the lunatic, married to his alleged wife and claimed that if he had gone through the form of marriage it was void for numerous reasons, and the issue of such marriage was illegitimate.

In this condition of affairs, Mr. Williams on the advice of the counsel he had retained for the girl, went to Illinois and after much persuasion , he induced her to return to Chattanooga with him. He brought back with him the old Bible which “Aunt Betsy” had carried away with her when she went to Illinois.He had to promise “Aunt Betsy” that he would fetch her back to Chattanooga as soon as she could dispose of her belongings, which promise he made good.

When Mr. Williams got back to Chattanooga the girl was nearly 15 years old. She knew nothing about the ways of the world. She was totally ignorant of the prevailing fashions of dress, she did not know what a corset was or how it was worn, whether over or under the dress. She had spent the most of her life in the forest along the banks of the Mississippi, where she and her aunt had made their living by cultivating a small patch with hoes and by cutting cord wood and selling it to the steamboats which plied up and down the river and which used the wood for fuel. She knew nothing whatever of the arts of fashionable women in making for themselves attractive forms and figures by skillful lacing. She was simply an uncouth , unsophisticated, unmade-up, natural girl from the backwoods; a girl, withal, possessed of a strikingly beautiful face and a figure which , by proper development and dress was capable of being molded into a form that would please the most fastidious.

Hoe Girl to Heiress

She was very much like her mother, and possessed all the charms and graces she did, but they were undeveloped. Mr. Williams took her to a milliner and had her proved with a wardrobe suitable to her changed surroundings. She very readily adapted herself to her new surrounding and her new life out in the midst of civilization. She was kept at the Williams home and sent to school from there for about two years. She had to start from the very beginning but, being ambitious to get some education she studied hard and learned very rapidly and in the short time of her school days got a very fair and practical educations. She afterward married her teacher, who was a splendid young man and became one of the leading men in the community and managed his wife’s affairs very successfully and added considerably to her fortune. At the time of his death, which occurred about twenty years ago, he was a prominent official in the county and in conjunction with Blev Thomspon, represented the Hill City district in the county court.

To be cont.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Melungeon Romance

Many years ago, when Tennessee was being settled by white people, there came to this section from Virginia a wealthy man with his family and his slaves. He bought a large and valuable tract of land a cleared it up and converted it into a farm. This tract was situated in the bend of the river, now called Moccasin bend and much of it was very rich and fertile river bottom land, where vegetation of all sorts grew in rich and luxuriant abundance.

The man died after awhile, leaving a widow and three sons, the widow married again and raised a family of three girls. The young men grew up to be good business men, and each of them had a fine farm inherited from his father. Two of them died without having been married, and their estates were inherited by the survivor. The survivor, the hero of this story, rented his land and hired out his slaves, and he himself entered into the mercantile business in the town which grew up on the south side of the river. It was at first Rossville, but is now the flourishing city of Chattanooga.

After several years of life in the town he was attacked with severe spell of fever; he recovered but the disease affected his mind to such an extent that he was temporarily deranged. He recovered his mental faculties about the year 1848 and thereafter, for several years, managed his property very successfully.

Old Soldier’s Beautiful Daughter

He had on his farm a tenant who had been a United States soldier in the War of 1812, having joined the army in South Carolina, where he lived at the time. This old soldier had a daughter who was famed for her beauty, her grace of manner and modesty. She was a dark brunette. She had a suit of black hair, which was coveted by all the girls who knew her. Her form was petite, and yet withal was so plump and so well developed as to make her an irresistibly charming young woman. She was most beautiful of face, and had a rich, black eye, in whose depths the sunbeams seemed to gather. When she loosed her locks they fell, almost reaching the ground, and shone in the sunlight or quivered like the glamour which the full moon throws on the placid water. She was the essence of grace and loveliness.Our hero fell in love with this delightful young woman;’ she reciprocated his affection, and they obtained the consent of their parents to be married.

His mother and half sisters heard of his attachment and engagement — to which they were much opposed. They knew if he married, their prospects of some time falling heir to his property would be destroyed. They notified the clerk and his deputy, whose duty it was to issue marriage licenses not to issue a license, claiming that our hero was incompetent to contract a marriage, and that there was a legal disability to his inter-marriage with this girl and they threatened to bring suit for damages against him and his bondsmen if he issued him a license to wed this young woman.

Love Laughs at Obstacles

When our hero, several days afterward applied to the clerk he was refused a license. He was a young man of resources and was not to be outwitted in this way. He took his bride elect and crossed over the river and secured the aid of Ab Carroll and John Cummings, both of whom were young men, and they entered joyfully into the plot. They were fond of fun, and they readily agreed to promote the marriage, since there was a romantic feature connected with it. They took the young people desperately bent on getting married to the house of squire Clark in Dade county, Georgia, and sent to Trenton and secured a marriage license. Squire Clark performed the marriage ceremony in due and proper form, and made return of the license, properly indorsed by him under the law of Georgia, the proper court in Trenton, the county seat of Dade county.

The happy bridegroom, with his charming bride, returned to his home that afternoon, duly and legally married, much to the discomfort of his relatives who had tried to thwart the marriage, it never having occurred to them that a Georgia court would grant a license and a Georgia judge perform the ceremony.

They immediately went to housekeeping on the bridegroom’s plantation in a comfortable home which he had previously furnished and prepared for his bride, and they started out in life happily and auspiciously. The marriage took place on June 14, 1856, as shown by Squire Clark’s return on the license.

To be cont.

Incredible Melungeon Research Journey

My Incredible Research Journey

My ancestors have been in Appalachia for many years, and in tracing them I have found a lot of interesting and sometimes unusual situations. One of these situations is when a lady at Stony Creek Church described a group of people as melungin.

Through the years I have learned much about the Melungeons from the descendants of the families who were classified Melungeon, including my own Goins and Minor family.

What I have enjoyed most of all is backtracking these pioneer families from the Clinch River at Blackwater, Tennessee to the many places they lived during their incredible migration journey, so I have named this web site as the place to share “my incredible research journey.”

As the Hawkins County Tennessee Archivist, I want to share the progress of our volunteer organization, "Friends Of The Hawkins County Archive Project." We have completed the process of cleaning, indexing and microfilming the court records dating from 1787 to 1930 and are now open to the public from 9 AM until 4 PM Monday through Thursday, anyone in the area please stop by the archive.

Melungeon researchers and authors are listed on this site with their books and some information about them.

Our DNA projects may interest you, they show relationships with the ones tested, and also studying their deep ancestry is interesting. Our Melungeon Project has a DNA adviser, Roberta Estes. Roberta has family roots in the area, she has an understanding of the culture and problems with researching these families, plus her knowledge of DNA and how it works help keep us from going astray with our Melungeon Project.

My research is a search for the truth and sometimes the truth is sad and unpleasant, but wherever this journey leads me, I’ll share it, so come and go with me on this journey.

Jack Goins

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

23andMe to California: We're Not Ceasing or Desisting

The Y-chromosome and mtDNA tests used for genealogy purposes carry no health information. But it will be interesting to see how this plays out as there may be some danger of all testing being affected by California's actions.

Janet Crain


By Alexis Madrigal June 24, 2008 11:39:04 AMCategories: Genetics

After being hit with a cease-and-desist letter by California's Public Health Department, the highest-profile direct-to-consumer genetic testing company, 23andMe, shot back today that they'll be doing neither.

"We believe we are in compliance with California law and are continuing to operate in California at this time," the company said in a statement released to

23andMe is one of thirteen companies that had until yesterday to respond to identical cease-and-desist letters from the health department. Navigenics, DNATraits, and HairDX also received letters has confirmed. The Health Department plans to release the names of the rest of the companies today on its website.

In the full statement 23andMe released, it's unclear exactly what legal tack the company is going to take in fighting (or working with) the health department. But they make clear that they do not believe that the Health Department is applying the "appropriate regulatory framework" to their business:

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Genealogy Blogs Have Much to Offer

A genealogy blog? What's that?
A “blog” is one of those made up words coined by the Internet.

Click here to see the Wikipedia definition.

Click here to visit the GenealogyBank.

Here are some blogs that come highly recommend. They are each must read sites.

Ancestry Insider
This well informed blogger’s daily posts are focused on and Knowledgeable and on target it is a must read blog written by an Ancestry employee – BUT it is not an “official” corporate blog.

DearMYRTLE’s Genealogy Blog
DearMYRTLE has been working in genealogy for decades. Her blog is essential reading and can be counted on for breaking news and insight. Count on her to make new resources easy to use and understand.

Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter
Dick Eastman’s blog is essential reading. Dick is up to date and knows the field. His blog comes in two flavors – free and a paid version. You’ll want to pay the nominal fee and subscribe to his blog - it’s worth it.

Everton Publisher’s Genealogy Blog
Leland Meitzler posts 3-4 times a week and puts his decades of experience to work in reporting what is happening in genealogy. Leland has the pulse of the field and hey, he’s a heck of a nice guy too.

The Footnote Blog
This blogger usually posts 2-3 times a month. The articles are usually brief and focus on the latest developments at – you’ll want to read it to keep up with what’s new on that site.

Genealogy Insider
Diane Haddad, Editor of Family Tree Magazine is a great blogger. Well informed and with an upbeat writing style. Haddad is essential reading. Don’t miss this blog – its terrific.

Friday, June 20, 2008

10 Days Only: Sizzling Hot Opportunity to Upgrade Y Chromosome Markers

The following letter was sent to all Family Tree DNA project administrators:

Family Tree DNA has been an industry leader in helping families find lost connections. As a result, the size of our database is unmatched and has achieved critical mass, allowing more and more family members and even adoptees or descendants of adoptees to find their biological paternal lines, including the surname of the original family. Are there missing (participants) among these adoptees looking for their connection to this direct paternal line?

In an effort to help answer that question Family Tree DNA is offering, for the first time ever, a discount on all Y DNA upgrades! We will be notifying each participant in the database who qualifies for this offer by email, and will provide them a direct link they may use to take advantage of this upgrade. There will be no need for participants to contact us directly in order to receive the reduced price; our prices will be adjusted in the system accordingly.

The offer will be from June 20th to June 30th. During this time, Family Tree DNA will reduce all of our Y-DNA upgrade prices. On average, the reduced prices will be 25% lower than the original upgrade price.

This is a great opportunity to increase the data in your surname project. Are there members who have been hesitant to upgrade due to price? This rare discount is an opportunity for them to upgrade and help both their group and potential lost relatives at the same time. When encouraging members to upgrade, you may wish to note that genetic matches allow people to find their biological lines rather than a specific individual.

This promotion is for upgrades only and does not apply to new kit orders. It’s our way to thank past customers for their patronage.

As always, we appreciate your continued support.

Family Tree DNA


This is a fantastic opportunity and one not likely to be repeated, so if you have already Y-tested or sponsored someone at some level with Family Tree DNA, go to the personal page and order an upgrade as usual. The new pricing schedule is already in effect and visable.

Notices have been sent to all participants, but some email contact info is no longer current.

~History Chasers

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Will California's Letters to Genetic Testing Companies Affect Genealogists?

Posted by Diane

California's attempt to regulate genetic testing has raised a bit of a stir in the genealogical community, but it's unclear whether genetic genealogy tests will be affected.

Wired reports that the state department of public health sent sternly worded cease-and-desist letters to 13 DNA testing companies warning they’re in violation of California law.

California requires labs that are located in the state or process biological samples originating there to get a state laboratory license, and it also prohibits direct-to-consumer clinical lab tests without a doctor’s order.

One warning letter, linked in Wired’s article, specifically states genetic tests are not exempt. But it doesn’t distinguish between genetic genealogy tests (such as Y-DNA tests) and disease-related genetic tests (such as 23andMe’s genotyping services).

Genetic genealogy company FamilyTreeDNA didn’t receive a letter, spokesperson Bennett Greenspan told me, but the company’s disease-related testing business called DNA Traits got one (now posted on Wired). And from the letter's wording, it looks like the state’s concern is tests that reveal medical information without involving the consumer’s physician.

The California Department of Health hasn’t yet returned my call seeking clarification. Meanwhile, the letter demands recipients cease and desist offering genetics tests to California citizens.

How to Get the Most From Online Genealogy Databases

Here's another great new online resource for Genealogists.

~History Chasers

Search Tips for Online Genealogy Databases

Posted by Diane

The following tips will help you target your ancestor searches in genealogy databases. Try them out on our 2008 list of the 101 Best Web Sites for genealogy—you’ll find these sites in the September 2008 Family Tree Magazine (look for it July 15 on newsstands and on

Read a site's search instructions. They'll reveal tricks such as omitting a given name or including wildcards.

• On Web sites with multiple databases, search individual databases one at a time. Those customized search engines often include fields you won’t get with the site’s global search.

Make sure the collection covers the right time and place. Go to the page for the individual database and look for background information. You might learn the collection doesn't contain records for all years, or that your ancestor's county didn't keep those particular records—then you can move on to a more-promising resource.

• Database searches call up your ancestor’s record only if an indexer entered the same information you’re searching on—so try different approaches. Start by entering all you know about the person. If you don’t get results, search on fewer terms and combinations of terms (such as the person’s name and residence, or his name and birthplace, or even just his birthplace and year of immigration).

Seek alternate name spellings. Check the search tips to see whether a search automatically looks for similar names. Even if it does, try odd spellings: A census taker or an indexer might’ve interpreted the name so outlandishly that a “sounds like” search wouldn’t pick up on the misspelling.

Use One-Step Search Tools, which offer more-flexible searching of several databases in, Footnote, and other sites (to view results from a fee-based site, you need a subscription to the site). For example, the One-Step tools might let you search on a name fragment, more year ranges, or more combinations of terms.

• When all else fails, try browsing (on some sites, such as, you'll need to go to the page for the individual database). Start with the records for the most-probable date or place. Keep written track of which records you've already examined in case you have to stop and come back later.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Great New Internet Resources are Out There!

by Janet Crain

With gasoline prices competing with the heat index to see which can rise faster, now is an excellent time to set up a corner of your home or office as a Virtual Research Library.

Some of you genealogists have, no doubt, already done this. We are fortunate to have the entire World Wide Web at our fingertips. Just equip your research station with your desktop or laptop pc, a scanner and printer and you are ready to discover and record new facts at any hour of the day you are free.

Next you need some great new URL's to join the old favorites. And this new site looks like a wonderful free-content resource just getting started. Best of all you can contribute some of your own research to add to the body of information on the Internet.

Check out the Encyclyclopedia of Genealogy and see what you think. Send us new URL's also if you run across something good!

Encyclopedia of Genealogy

Welcome to the Encyclopedia of Genealogy, a free-content encyclopedia created by its readers, people like you. The Encyclopedia of Genealogy is available to everyone, free of charge. Everyone can also contribute information, again free of charge.

You can search this encyclopedia at any time by clicking on Search in the menus. You can also click on Index to view a list of all the entries.

The Encyclopedia of Genealogy serves as a compendium of genealogical tools and techniques. It provides reference information about everything in genealogy except people. Look to the Encyclopedia of Genealogy to provide explanations of how to look up your family tree, explanations of terms found in genealogy research,

including obsolete medical and legal terms. It will describe locations where records may be found. It also will describe how to research Italian, German, Polish, French-Canadian, Jewish, Black, Indian and other ancestors. In short, the Encyclopedia of Genealogy will serve as your standard genealogy reference manual.

The Encyclopedia of Genealogy is created by genealogists like yourself. In fact, YOU can help by adding content: your own knowledge and expertise can help others. If you see anything in this encyclopedia that is incorrect, YOU can change it! If you see anything that is incomplete, YOU can add to it! If you note anything that is missing, YOU can add it! This encyclopedia will succeed because people like you contribute nuggets of information. When enough "nuggets" are added, the Encyclopedia of Genealogy will become a gold mine.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Melungeons: The Pioneers of the Interior Southeastern United States 1526 - 1997

The Spanish Pioneers in United States History: The Melungeons: The Pioneers of the Interior Southeastern U. S. 1526-1997 (The Spanish pioneers in United States history)

by Eloy J. Gallegos

Dr. Gallogos stated (p.79) that, "Overall, I believe the gene frequency approach taken to resolve Melungeon origins is the best available given the limited funding and time available for the project, however, it is equally important to support gene frequency studies with historical, cultural, linguistic, and archaeological information which might be obtained from the Melungeon group. Finally, a study of human values, traits of this group...etc, world-view, religious aspirations, motivational traits, eccentric andhabitual behavior, and idiosyncrasies could be used in support of establishing Melungeon origins when compared to other world population groups."

A perfect match meaning that a person is to be considered absolutely pure blooded, would equal 0.000. I beleive that the most distant match indicating no connection whatsoeverwould be 0.999.

p. 80 Table giving the Mean Measure of Divergence (MMD) of Melungeons from Other Populations taken from a 1990 study byJames L. Guthrie.

Libya (Tripoli*) 0.017
Cyprus (Toodos-Greek) 0.017
Malta* 0.018
Canary Islands (Spanish) 0.019
Italy (Veneto) 0.022
Close Matches
Portugal 0.024
Italy (Trentino) 0.026
Spain (Galacia) 0.027
U. S. Whites (Minnesota)+ 0.028
Ireland# 0.029
Italy 0.030
Sweden 0.030
Libya (minus Fezzan) 0.030
Germany 0.031
Britain 0.031
Greece 0.032
Netherlands 0.032
Wales 0.033
Corsica 0.034
France 0.035
Spain 0.036
U. S. Whites 0.036
England 0.040
Sicily 0.040
Iceland 0.041
Northern Ireland 0.042
Finland 0.046
Sardinia 0.051
Turkey 0.053
Cyprus 0.058
U.S. Blacks 0.189
Most Distant
Gullas (Blacks South Carolina) 0.222
Seminole, Oklahoma 0.241
Cherokee 0.256
Seminole, Florida 0.308

Friday, June 6, 2008

“Mulungeons and Eboshins": Ethnics and Political Epithets

"Mulungeons and Eboshins": Ethnic and Political Epithets

by Wayne Winkler

Of all the mysteries surrounding the mixed-ethnic population known as Melungeons, one of the most emblematic is the mystery surrounding the origin of the word "Melungeon." Many possible origins for the term have been suggested by various researchers over the years, ranging from a supposed Afro-Portuguese word, "Melungo" meaning (depending on the source) "shipmate" or "white person," to the old English term "malengine," meaning "cunning" or "full of guile," to the Arabic "Melun-jinn," meaning "cursed soul." Historically, most researchers have opted for the French term "mélange" ("mixture") as the root of the term "Melungeon."

Among the many significant Melungeon-related documents uncovered over the years by researcher Joanne Pezzullo are newspaper references to the term "Melungeon" or some variant spelling. Many of these references are particularly significant because they do NOT refer to the mixed-ethnic family groups first documented in the Clinch River region in the early 19th century. Rather, these articles use "Melungeon" as an insult toward political opponents, none of whom presumably were connected with these family groups. Today’s Melungeon researchers tend to see the term strictly in reference to the mixed-ethnic people. The significance of the articles uncovered by Pezzullo is that they demonstrate the term being used in a very different context. While these references may shed no light on the origin of the people known as Melungeons, they bring up intriguing questions about the word itself and the way it was used in the 19th century. Most intriguing, perhaps, is the fact the word "Melungeon" was far more widely used and understood as a generic insult 150 years ago than we could ever guess from today’s dictionaries, none of which ever refer to any meaning other than regarding the Melungeon people. Understanding the ways in which the word "Melungeon" was used in the mid 19th century might help us understand the origin of the word itself and the various meanings the word has had over time.

As a political slur, "Melungeon" seems to have always carried a degree of racial innuendo, which was sometimes valuable in creating a whispering campaign against opponents. Abraham Lincoln’s first vice-president, Hannibal Hamlin, was swarthy enough to inspire rumors of "other-than-white" ancestry, and legend persists to this day that President Warren Harding had African ancestry (although the Harding family stoutly denies this). And in some press accounts, the political usage of the word "Melungeon" seems to correspond rather closely with the meaning of the word as applied to the Melungeon people, suggesting that the term "Melungeon" was used generically to indicate some sort of mixture.

For example, an 1869 article in the Staunton, Virginia, "Spectator" referred to Virginia’s proposed post-Civil War constitution as an "abomination…as it came from the hands of a Molungeon convention." During the Reconstruction Era, African-Americans participated in the constitutional conventions that brought their respective states officially back into the Union, and later served in state legislatures. The fact that African-Americans were serving in any sort of official capacity was outrageous to the majority of white Southerners; the fact that former slaves would help devise an oath of loyalty to the United States and determine whether their former masters would be granted the right to vote was intolerable. In this context, the term "Molungeon" almost certainly refers to a mix of black and white, similar to the definition applied to the mixed-ethnic people first mentioned in the Clinch River region of Tennessee and Virginia.
However, the "Melungeon = racial mixture" theory is challenged, to some degree at least, by pre-Civil War references to political (as opposed to ethnic) Melungeons. The first known printed use of the word "Melungeon" seems to be used in both the political and ethnic senses. In 1840, William Gannaway Brownlow, a prominent Whig and later the much-reviled Reconstruction-era governor of Tennessee, referred to an "impudent Malungeon" who attempted to speak at a political gathering. Brownlow defined a "Malungeon" as "a scoundrel who is half Negro and half Indian," and later referred to this specific individual as "the big Democratic Negro."

In the decades prior to the Civil War, both Whigs and Democrats fought internal battles over the issue of slavery, and by the late 1850s the intensity of passions had created dozens of warring factions within both parties. The 1820 Missouri Compromise prohibited slavery in the former Louisiana Territory north of the parallel 36°30' north except within the proposed state of Missouri. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 essentially repealed the provisions of the Missouri Compromise and the Supreme Court’s 1857 "Dred Scott decision" ruled that restrictions on the spread of slavery were unconstitutiuonal.

Efforts to reinstate at least some provisions of the Missouri Compromise were met with scorn by many southern political factions, and in Virginia the term "Melungeon" reappears in a political sense, albeit one with a distinct racial overtone. A segment of a pamphlet located online by Pezzullo quotes one Charles Allen concerning those who would try to restore at least some of the 1820 agreement: "The Mulungeons of Richmond endorsed the 'late convention' at Philadelphia too; but will any southern man-- a Stuart or an Imbodin even -- endorse this letter for the restoration of the Missouri Compromise.''

John M. Botts, a former Whig congressman from Virginia, referred to Melungeons in a letter to the Richmond "Whig": "......when the Sheriff came to count up the votes at the close of the polls, they counted but five -- and if I had received the vote of one ''Molungeon,'' and he had been authorized by the Constitution to vote, and had 'had' a majority of only one--- it would have been difficult to tell, whether I was most indebted for my election to the "Molungeon" or to the Chief Justice of the U.S.; and if my competitor had received six "Molungeon" votes, or the votes of six worthless and degraded locofocos (supposing they could be any such) they would have more than balanced these five of the first men of the State could boast..."

Interestingly, just two days after this letter was reprinted in a Maryland newspaper, an Alabama paper printed an item about Botts and his supporters: "Thirteen congressional electors, fifty senatorial electors, and three hundred and sixty county electors have been notified to hold themselves in readiness to repel the Dragoon of Rockbridge. Botts too, will dash to the rescue at the head of a noble band of ‘Molungeons and Eboshins’ as soon as the weather becomes sufficiently warm to render his odoriferous forces efficient."

The particulars of this particular political skirmish are of little importance to this examination – just another of the hundreds of political debates raging across the United States on the eve of the Civil War. Of more significance is the pairing of the political/racial epithets "Molongeons" and "Eboshins." "Eboshin" is an even more obscure and archaic ethnic slur than "Melungeon." The term was associated with Henry Wise, governor of Virginia and one of the Southern "fire-eaters" who threatened secession if the Republican candidate Fremont had won the election of 1856. Wise was quoted as saying that African-Americans were "ebo-shinned" and "gizzard-footed." The Ebos are an African tribe, so presumably the term refers to some supposed peculiarity in the tibia of Africans and their descendents. ("Gizzard-footed" presumably also refers to a physical distinction common to Africans.)

Wise also provided a unique definition of "Melungeon" that appeared in an 1863 publication: "Whether their own children were sold may be imagined from an anecdote long current in Virginia, relative to ex-Governor Wise, who, in a certain law case where he was opposed by a Northern trader, decided of a certain slave, that the chattel, being a mulatto, was of more value than 'a molungeon.' And what, in the name of God, is a molungeon?' inquired the astonished 'Northern man.’ 'A mulatto' replied Wise, ' is the child of a female house-servant by 'young master' --a molungeon is the offspring of a field hand by a Yankee peddler."

Melungeon researchers have long known that the term "Melungeon" was used as a political epithet for East Tennessee Republicans in the years following the Civil War. In fact, Will Allen Dromgoole, the infamous author of several articles on Melungeons in the 1890s, first heard the term used by late 19th century Tennessee politicians. But from the newspaper articles cited above, we can see clearly that the term "Melungeon" was in use as a political as well as ethnic slur well before the advent of the war.

The use of the term in newspapers is significant as well. Newspapers in the 19th century were written for mass circulation, usually for readers of no more than average levels of literacy for that time. The relatively frequent use of the term "Melungeon," often without any accompanying explanation or definition, indicates that this word was one that would be known and understood by the average reader, in both its ethnic and political contexts.

This is a very significant point. The very first known written use of the word "Melungeon" was a cryptic reference in the minutes of Stony Creek Primitive Baptist Church in southwestern Virginia in 1813. There is no indication that the term refers to ethnic background; in fact, there is no explanation of the term at all. The word doesn’t find its way into print until Brownlow’s 1840 "Whig" article, in which "Melungeon" is an ethnic slur but is used against a political opponent.
Although both Brownlow and Wise offered definitions of Melungeons in the ethnic sense, their definitions differed. Brownlow contended that Melungeons were "half Negro and half Indian," while Wise contended "a molungeon is the offspring of a field hand by a [presumably white] Yankee peddler."

In both cases, however, the term implied partial African ancestry. The belief in African ancestry is also reflected in the 1859 article concerning a Virginia politician "at the head of a noble band of ‘Molungeons and Eboshins’ as soon as the weather becomes sufficiently warm to render his odoriferous forces efficient." Whites believed that Africans and their descendents had a distinctive odor, so hot weather would exacerbate that effect. Again, this is a point that the average reader was expected to understand without explanation.

Brownlow and Wise were both more certain in their respective definitions of Melungeons as an ethnic group than the unnamed Tennessee politician quoted by Dromgoole who said, "A Malungeon isn’t a nigger, and he isn’t an Indian, and he isn’t a white man. God only knows what he is. I should call him a Democrat, only he always votes the Republican ticket."

This statement not only reflects questions concerning the ancestry of some of this politician’s constituents, but the shifting political use of the term "Melungeon" as well. In 1840, Brownlow’s "impudent Malungeon" was a Democrat. By 1859, followers of Virginia Whig John Botts were labeled "molungeons." By the late 19th century, the term was being applied to East Tennessee Republicans by West and Middle Tennessee Democrats.

Whether these Melungeons were Whig, Democrat, or Republican, they were attracting press attention because of their political influence. Brownlow’s Melungeon was not only presumably a voter, but also had enough influence to presume to answer in rebuttal to the Whig speaker. "The Mulungeons of Richmond" had the political power to support an attempt to head off the Civil War. African-Americans could not vote or hold office in these years, and nearly everyone agreed that Melungeons were of African ancestry.

It is important to understand that we do not know exactly what "Melungeon" meant in the ethnic sense to these 19th century writers. As we have seen, Brownlow and Wise had different definitions, and Dromgoole’s source had no idea what ancestry Melungeons possessed. It is this question of ancestry that is at the heart of the "Celebrated Melungeon Case" of 1872 and numerous other court cases uncovered by Pezzullo’s research. In the absence of any conclusive contemporary definition, we have to assume that "Melungeon" did not have a uniform meaning, but was understood to be an ethnic mixture and generally presumed to include a degree of African ancestry. And while Melungeons and other mixed ethnic groups sometimes had the right to vote prior to the Civil War, Jack Goins’ study of voting records in Hawkins and Hancock Counties in Tennessee suggests that they rarely did; the trial of eight Melungeon men may have intimidated potential Melungeon voters even though the defendants were acquitted, acknowledging their citizenship. It is highly unlikely that anyone whose "whiteness" was truly in question would be in a position of political influence in the antebellum South.

Obviously, "Melungeon" meant one thing in reference to an individual and his or her ethnic background, and another thing in reference to politics. A Melungeon might be an individual of mixed ethnic ancestry (particularly African) or a Melungeon might be a political opponent. In the context of Reconstruction-era Virginia, the term "Molungeon convention" fits both meanings of the word since the convention was a mixture of black and white delegates whose work threatened the pre-war Virginia power structure. But pre-Civil War southern politicians were, without exception, white. When referring to the "Mulungeons of Richmond" or the "Molungeons and Eboshins" supporting John Botts, these newspapers were simply engaging in some racially-tinged name-calling, and were not seriously suggesting that these individuals were of mixed ethnic background.

Just as we don’t know exactly what 19th writers meant when they referred to Melungeons as an ethnic group, we don’t have enough sources to determine exactly what the term meant politically, either. Did they mean that the politicians in question were in some way supportive of the rights of African –Americans and therefore deserving of an ethnically-based slur? Or did "Melungeon" in the political context simply mean a coalition, a mixture – a mélange, if you will – of various political factions united for some purpose, obviously a purpose that lacked the approval of the journal using the term. It is likely "Melungeon" was used in a political sense both of these ways, sometimes simultaneously, in the years before the Civil War.

Based on newspaper accounts located to date, it would seem that the term "Melungeon" began fading from use as a political epithet not long after the Civil War. Dromgoole notes that "Melungeon" was used as an epithet by Democratic Tennessee politicians when referring to the Republicans in the eastern third of the state, but by the last quarter of the 19th century, press mentions of "Melungeons" almost exclusively related to the mixed-ethnic group.

There are a number of possible explanations for this change in the usage of the word. Prior to the Civil War, when politicians were exclusively Caucasian, it may have seemed like a good joke to refer to an opponent in a way that suggested a non-white ancestry. During Reconstruction, African-Americans not only voted but were elected to office. When the last Federal troops left the South in 1876, the political rights of African-Americans went with them and blacks were effectively disenfranchised for nearly a century. Despite the disappearance of black legislators, the joke behind calling an opponent a "Melungeon" may have lost its humor as southern white leaders realized that non-white legislators were no laughing matter.

In Tennessee, politicians from the eastern part of the state grew to resent the term "Melungeon," and not just as a political epithet. The post-Reconstruction era saw the color line drawn more boldly and distinctly than before, and East Tennessee politicians did not like to hear suggestions that their constituents were not completely "white." Melungeons DID vote in the post-war era and their representatives were not only defensive about the term "Melungeon," some even denied the existence of such a people. Gradually, the term fell into disuse as a political epithet and was subsequently used only to describe the mixed-ethnic group.

Today’s dictionary definitions make no mention of the term "Melungeon" as a political slur. While the political use of the term was certainly intended to convey the impression of someone not completely trustworthy (i.e."white") or respectable (i.e."white"), in its political context the word "Melungeon" had nothing to do with the Collins, Bunch, Gibson, and other mixed-ethnic families that settled in the Clinch River region circa 1800. It might be argued that many 19th century newspaper readers were unaware of the mixed-ethnic group but still understood the term "Melungeon" in its political sense. Words change meaning over time and some uses of a word become archaic. However, it seems strange this interpretation of "Melungeon" which was so widely used in the press, so widely understood in its implications, would fall out of favor so completely that within a century, dictionaries would no longer acknowledge the political meaning of "Melungeon."

Historians, like attorneys, like facts – lots of indisputable, documented facts. These are the tools of their trade; the more solid, indisputable evidence they can present, the more persuasive their arguments about those things which are not known. Both historians and attorneys find their tasks much easier when they deal with cases that are well-documented. Melungeon researchers do not have that luxury. If the study of Melungeons were a legal case, a district attorney would likely decline to prosecute due to lack of evidence. There is pitifully little documentation of the Melungeons and much of what does exist is folklore and worthless as historical evidence.

What Joanne Pezzullo has uncovered is a new fact. Actually, she has uncovered several others, but for purposes of this discussion, we will concentrate on the fact that the word "Melungeon "was used in a political sense, apparently not directly related to the people of the Clinch River region, and it was used in such a way as to indicate that the average reader would understand what was meant. Much of what is written above is speculative, educated guesses, and attempts to put these references into historical perspective. Others may interpret these references differently, and further discoveries of the use of the word "Melungeon" may lead to far different conclusions and speculations. But we now have another piece of the puzzle, another fact to add to our collection of evidence. In situations where the facts are few, each newly discovered bit of information poses new questions. In this case, the questions concern the origin of the word, and indirectly, its application to the people so designated.

As mentioned earlier, the first written record of the word "Melungeon" is found in handwritten church minutes in southwestern Virginia from 1813, and the word first appeared in print in "Brownlow’s Whig," published in Jonesborough, Tennessee, in 1840. A full article appeared in a national magazine, "Littel’s Living Age," in 1849, most likely taken from a Knoxville newspaper in the mid-1840s. The fact is that, at present, we have no record of the word being used earlier than 1813 or farther east than extreme southwestern Virginia. But does that mean that the word was unknown in the rest of country until it became a political epithet in the 1850s?

Again, the evidence is scant but there are at least two possible scenarios to compare. The first is that the word "Melungeon" "originated" in the Clinch River region. By "originated," I mean that the word was either unique to the people to whom it was applied – they had always called themselves Melungeons and their neighbors began using the term as well – or that the word was a local variant of another word that was so different from its root that the connection is not recognized – for example, the theory that "Melungeon" originated as the old English word "malengine" or that "Melungeon" was originally "mal-Injun," or "bad Indian." In this scenario, the word would have "migrated" back east where it was used as an epithet in antebellum Virginia politics.

The second possibility is that the word WAS known and used in other places, and simply does not show up in print until well into the 19th century. Its lack of earlier usage in print would suggest that it was not a widely-used word but in the context of the newspaper stories we have seen, its meaning was certainly clear to that average reader. This scenario would also suggest that the word was in existence prior to its first known appearance in 1813, and was applied to the dark-skinned people of the Clinch River region by their white neighbors.

Of these two scenarios, I find the second more plausible. The idea of a term originating with an obscure mixed-ethnic group evolving within a half century to a widely-understood political epithet is not impossible, but the group itself did not become widely known in that half century, so why would their name? The simplest explanation would be that the word was already known and used before anyone ever applied it to the Collins, Gibson, Bunch, Bowlin, and other Melungeon families.

If that is the case, who DID apply the name to these families? Recent online discussions have focused on Baron Pierre Francois de Tubeuf, who attempted to set up a colony of Frenchmen in southwestern Virginia, very near the same Stony Creek where the word "Melungeon makes its earliest appearance. If, as many have long speculated, the word "Melungeon" comes from the French word "mélange," these Frenchmen would be very likely to have given the name to the dark-skinned families who were arriving in the area at the same time. Apparently Tubeuf did not like some of his neighbors; Pezzullo writes, "The Frenchmen had great difficulty with the English language and experienced very bad treatment at the hands of the backwoodsmen every time they had to trade or bargain for goods." If Tubeuf felt badly treated by some of his dark-skinned neighbors, the term "Melungeon" (assuming he was the source of the word) would not only imply mixed ethnic heritage, but a certain lack of respectability as well – exactly what the word DID imply until the mid-20th century. Furthermore, since some of Tubeuf’s party decided against settling in the wilderness and chose to remain in Richmond, they may have applied that same term to people with whom they had differences, establishing "Melungeon" as a synonym for "scoundrel" with a hint of miscegenation thrown in for good measure – eventually leading to references to "The Mulungeons of Richmond…"

Baron Tubeuf may well have been responsible for labeling certain families in the southwestern Virginia wilderness "Melungeons;" in any event, the story of his settlement is quite interesting and potentially very important to the story of the Melungeons. But even if we accept that Tubeuf applied a term to these people that would later become a political epithet, we are still left with questions. For example, was "Melungeon" as a political epithet unique to Virginia? Although one of the newspapers located by Pezzullo was published in Alabama and another in Maryland, they were both reporting on events in Virginia, and the other references to the word as a political term originated in Virginia as well. One might argue that if the word was used in an Alabama newspaper, the editor of that newspaper assumed that his readers would understand it. However, 19th century editors borrowed freely from other periodicals in an effort to fill up space, and this Alabama editor may have been more interested in the length of the story than in the meaning of the words within it. Aside from Reconstruction-era Tennessee, was "Melungeon" a political epithet elsewhere?

And if "Melungeon" became a commonly-used political epithet, even if only in Virginia, why did it not become a widely-used or even generic term for people of uncertain mixed ancestry? Researcher William Gilbert estimated that there were as many as 200 such groups still existing in the United States in the mid-1940s. Yet only the group centered in the Clinch River region was labeled Melungeons – even relatives of this group that migrated elsewhere were known as "Goinses" or "Carmel Indians" rather than Melungeons.

What was the potency of the word "Melungeon?" There were colloquial names for other mixed ethnic groups but we don’t have instances of politicians being called "Croatans" or "Redbones." But we didn’t have so many instances of politicians being called Melungeons until Joanne Pezzullo found them, and modern dictionaries give no clue to that use of the term in the 19th century. Another researcher, or perhaps Joanne herself, might find references to politicians being called by other names associated with mixed-ethnic groups. Or another, entirely different piece of the puzzle will suddenly appear and revise our entire concept of Melungeons. (In fact, Joanne has found other interesting facts about the South Carolina origins of some Melungeons.) That’s what makes Melungeon research so exciting: the bits of real evidence we find are often small, but are nearly always very significant.

With Thanks to Guest Author Wayne Winkler

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Vardy Community Historical Society Spring Celebration is Next Sat. June 7th

Next Saturday, the Vardy Community Historical Society will hold their spring celebration at the Church/Museum from 11 am to 4 pm. Lunch is from noon to 1, and they have music, an old tractor show, apple butter making, and so on. The Melungeon Historical Society will have a table there. Becky Nelson and helpers will be there with a table, a banner, information handouts about MHS, and applications for membership. Everyone is invited.


The Melungeon Historical Society was formed early in 2008 by a group
of Melungeon researchers and descendents to collect and preserve
historical records that pertain to the Melungeons and/or their
kinfolks and descendents.

MHS will use documented family genealogy, documented historical
research and documented DNA research conforming to recognized
professional and scholarly standards to compile and prepare records,
to establish and maintain a website and/or blog to keep members
informed, and to sponsor and encourage educational meetings,
gatherings, lectures, and activities in genealogy and history. The
Melungeon Historical Society will be a membership organization, and
those interested in joining should contact Becky Nelson at

Applications for membership will be reviewed by our Membership
Committee and upon acceptance and dues paid, (check or Money order
only, payable to MHS, please do not send cash) members will be
entitled to newsletters, the latest information on Melungeons, a list
serve chat group, discounted or no fees for programs, voting and
nominations for the 2 at-large members of the board. Dues will be due
at 1 year intervals. If an application is not accepted, the
check/money order will be returned. Members are encouraged to send
documented charts of Melungeon family lines, on which you can furnish
data along with your application, data submitted will become the
property of the society for the intent of publication.

We look forward to a new era in Melungeon research and welcome all
who share our desire to preserve our Melungeon heritage.

Wayne Winkler
MHS President

Family History day to Feature Two Melungeon Authors

Wayne Winkler and Jack Goins will be speaking at 1:30 on Saturday, 14 June,
at the West Jefferson Presbyterian Church in West Jefferson, NC.

This is a Family History Day.

All those who are able to attend will find this a very interesting event.