Monday, August 15, 2011

History of the Banjo May Shed Light on Melungeon Origins

 Hat Tip: Don Collins

Mellungeons and Myth


This article was published originally in the December 2002 issue of the Appalachian Quarterly, a genealogical magazine in southwest Virginia. Mountain people were at one time described as pure Anglo-Saxon. This was, of course, pure nonsense. Today some writers seem obsessed with describing mountaineers as mostly Celtic or Scots-Irish. The truth is that the mountain people have a varied ancestry, as do many people in America. I grew up among Gibson and Collins families in Knott County, Kentucky. Some members of a few families were very dark, with a distinctive Indian appearance, while some members had a more African American appearance. There were other local families that were said to have African American or Indian ancestry. Through genealogical research I have established that a very talented Knott County family of banjo players had a grandfather that was described as Mulatto in census records.
Gibson and Collins are common surnames among some remnant Indian populations. They are also the most common surnames among mountain families that are today described as “Melungeon.” There has been a lot of romantic nonsense written about Melungeons in various places, including the Internet. The Gibson and Collins families described today as Melungeon came originally from east Virginia to the border counties of Virginia and North Carolina. From there they migrated to southwest Virginia, northeast Tennessee, eastern Kentucky and to other areas. I have found that several other families in eastern Kentucky also followed this general migration path. It was through this migration path, I believe, that banjos and banjo songs entered Knott County.


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