Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Celebrated Melungeon Court Case

In the "Celebrated Melungeon Case" which took place in Hamilton County Tennessee, in the 1870s, Judge Lewis Shepherd wrote that the mother of the central figure of this case, a beautiful young woman, daughter of a tenant farmer, who stole the heart of a rich man, was a Melungeon. A lot of things Shepherd wrote in his 1915 Memoirs have been speculated on by researchers for years. How much did he exaggerate, how much was fact, was the word Melungeon actually contained in the case, or did he come up with that term later? Most every researcher who has written about Melungeons has referenced the celebrated Shepherd Court case held in Hamilton County Tennessee. This has been an elusive case, sources researchers used for this case were newspaper articles or Shepherds writings on it. Having the actual court case answers a lot of these questions.

The families mentioned in this case, the Goins, Shumake, Boltons, Perkins, Mornings, Menleys, Breedlove & others, are the same people Shepherd called Melungeons and he also said to have come from the Pee Dee River area, across the mountains to now Hancock County, Tennessee, and spread out from there. The word Malungeon was actually introduced by the plaintiff, not Sheperd, who was defense attorney. The final argument to the judge is not in this case, so if Sheperd claimed in this argument they were from Carthage, it is not yet known.

Shepherd told in "A Romance of the Melungeons" of the law South Carolina had that taxed free “negroes” so much per capita, he says “they” always successfully resisted the payment of this tax.

“They left South Carolina at an early day and wandered across the mountains to Hancock County, East Tennessee; if 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.” Lewis shepherd "A Romance of the Melungeons."

In a another record recently found by Joanne Pezzullo, it showed in 1794 these families: Turner, Gibson, Chavis, Collins, Hulan and Linegar families who petitioned the State of South Carolina.............(click below "South Carolina Petition.")

Original Bill
( Actual court case to which Shepherd was referring.)

Word Malungeon is used. (from court case)

Cross Bill
(Martha Simmerman) (court case)

Final Decree (court case)

South Carolina Petition (South Carolina document)

Lewis Shepherd ("A Romance of the Melungeons")

Lucinda Davis partial deposition (court case)

Notes/Shepherd Trial
(What race was Bolton) (court case)


(research sources of Jack Goins, Joanne Pezzullo, Kay Blanton, Penny Ferguson, editing by Janet Crain)

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