Saturday, March 20, 2010


Jack Goins

In order to have a legitimate Melungeon DNA program, core names must be established with written records from men who lived in the days of the first known Melungeons.

# 1-Lewis Shepherd attorney for the Bolton’s in the 1874 celebrated Melungeon case. “The term Melungeon is an East Tennessee provincialism; it was coined by the people of that county to apply to these people. It is derived from the French word “Melange,” meaning a mixture or a medley, and has gotten into the modern dictionaries it was applied to these people because it was at first supposed that they were of mixed blood.”

# 2-Captain Lewis Jarvis tells us they were given the name because of the color of their skin and names the following. Vardy Collins, Solomon D. Collins, Shepard Gibson, Paul Bunch and Benjamin Bunch and many of the Goodmans, Moores, Williams and Sullivans, all of the very first settlers. Jarvis states and some he has forgotten. Where did these dark skin people Jarvis names live?

This journalist 1848 in Littrell living age describes the area of the Melungeons “You must know that within ten miles of this owl's nest, there is a watering-place, and Mineral Springs in Vardy, Hancock County, Tennessee 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. Now this gorge and the tops and sides of the adjoining mountains are inhabited by a singular species of the human animal called MELUNGENS. We stopped at 'Old Vardy's, who is the 'chief cook and bottle-washer' of the Melungens, and is really a very clever fellow.

This can be no other place in the world accept Hancock County, to find these people we tested descendants of the ones listed as free colored on the 1830 census of the territory of Hawkins County located as described, between Powell's Mountain and the Copper Ridge, see this link for that census.

“They were dubbed Melungeon by the local white people who have lived here with them. It is not a traditional name or a tribe of Indians. Some have said these people were here when this country was first explored by the white people, and others that they are a lost tribe of the Indians and have no date of their existence here, traditionally or otherwise. All of this however is erroneous and cannot be sustained. These people not any of them were here at the time when the first white hunting party came from Virginia and North Carolina in the year 1761.These Melungeons settled long after this, on Newman Ridge and Blackwater About the years 1795 and 1812. Vardy Collins, Shepherd Gibson, Benjamin Collins, Solomon Collins, Paul Bunch and the Goodman Chiefs and the rest of them settled here. Some went into the war of 1812-14 James Collins, John Bolin and Mike Bolin and others not remembered.[1]

Capt. L. M. Jarvis, an old citizen of Sneedville wrote in his 82nd year: "I have lived here at the base of Newman's Ridge, Blackwater, being on the opposite side, for the last 71 years and well know the history of these people on Newman's Ridge and Blackwater enquired about as Melungeons. These people were friendly to the Cherokees who came west with the white immigration from New River about the year 1790. The name Melungeon was given them on account of their color. I have seen the oldest and first settlers of this tribe who first occupied Newman's Ridge and Blackwater and I have owned much of the lands on which they settled... They obtained their land grants from North Carolina. I personally knew Vardy Collins, Solomon D. Collins, Shepard Gibson, Paul Bunch and Benjamin Bunch and many of the Goodmans, Moores, Williams and Sullivans, all of the very first settlers and noted men of these friendly Indians.[2]

The goal of the Core Melungeon DNA program formed with FamilyTreeDNA July 25, 2005, was to locate descendants of said named group. And to use documented family genealogy and DNA to find their common ancestor and to find relationships. Many of the siblings and cousins of the core group did not migrate to this area, thus genealogy and DNA is used to find them. When folks view the Melungeon DNA public site they will see names not common to core Melungeon names this is because. DNA test within the core group sometimes leads to families of interest when they match other surnames.

No written records have been found of a Melungeon settlement existing prior to the Newman Ridge Blackwater group. No written document has presently been uncovered naming Melungin, Melungeons prior to the 1813 minutes of Stony Creek Church.

Regardless of all the theories, from The Lost Tribe to Turks, it was common knowledge who the core Melungeons were. As proven by historians who wrote about them before Dromgoole. Also later, others like Walter Plecker, Virginia State Register of Vital Statistics wrote letters to the Tennessee State Archives. Tennessee State Librarian and Archivist Mrs. John Trotsworth Moore used a letter from Lewis Jarvis to explain to Plecker who the Melungeons were.

The famous Chattanooga trial recorded in Hamilton County, Tennessee Chancery Court 1874 as: Elizabeth H. Jack, next friend of J.C. Zimmerman vs. William H. Foust, Guardian and others. Some were called Melungeons by witnesses in this trial. Their lead attorney was Lewis Shepherd who knew them personally. Shepherd explains where they lived and gives a detailed definition of the Melungeons:

“p-87 In truth these people belonged to a peculiar race, which settled in East Tennessee at an early day, and in the vernacular of that county were known as “Melungeons” and were not even remotely allied to the negroes.” South Carolina had a law taxing free negroes so much per capita, and a determined effort was made to collect this tax off them. But 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 wondered across the mountains to Hancock County, East Tennessee; in fact, the majority of the people of that county are “Melungeons,” or allied to them in some way. A few families of them drifted away from Hancock into other counties of East Tennessee 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 mountainous and sparsely settled country. The term Melungeon is an East Tennessee provincialism; it was coined by the people of that county to apply to these people. It is derived from the French word “Melange,” meaning a mixture or a medley, and has gotten into the modern dictionaries it was applied to these people because it was at first supposed that they were of mixed blood.”

Last paragraph page 90- “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.” [3]

Attorney Lewis Jarvis wrote, “some migrated to Stony Creek”, this statement is proven in the minutes of Stony Creek Church, listing members who later came to Blackwater and the word Melungin was found recorded in the 1813 minutes of this church. The claim that Emory Hamilton, who transcribed the minutes made a mistake on this one word is nonsense. Book two was transcribed by Bobbie Baldwin from Hamilton notes. I ask Bobbie to check the page where it mentions Melungin, she checked the page and reported back to me that is what the record said.

I now have Stony Creek minute books 1, 2 and three. These were transcribed from the original minutes and not by Hamilton or Baldwin, this will be a presentation at the MHS conference on June 20th 2010 .

Melungeon was just one of several clan names given to people with mixed ancestry. My Goins family is a good example, John Goins will was approved in Henry County, Virginia in 1801, naming six sons and three daughters. I descend to him twice, son Zephaniah and daughter Elizabeth who married Zachariah Minor. Sons John and Isaiah were in Knox County, Ky, in 1797, Zachariah was in Russell County, VA 1787. In 1795 Lee County, Va. was formed from the western part of Russell County and Zachariah was there, his brother Claiborn was on Russell County, Tax list in 1790. Hezekiah Minor and Zephaniah Goins were in Rockingham County 1795-1811, then to Hawkins and Roane County, Claiborn, Simeon and Berry Goins, along with Hezekiah Minor fpc were on 1830 census in Jackson County, Indiana. John, Littleberry and Zachariah all returned to Henry County, by 1820. These migrating paths show large areas where possible DNA matches of this family could be found.

By 1840 the term Melungeon became a political slur as Journalist of the Wig Party, from William Brownlow to John M. Botts described what a Melungeon was and any group that fit the description of Melungeons, dark skin white, Black and Indian mixture such as those attending the convention in Richmond were called Melungeons, when you check those stories out they used characters in fiction as Melungeons. Beginning with the 1848 unknown Journalist who visited Vardy Collins, his hotel and mineral springs. And described Melungeons as Portuguese, who mixed with whites, Indians and Negroes. This newsletter was reprinted in newspaper in several states so this definition become standard among journalist. The character in fiction in Little Living Age was these two, Jord Bilson (that was he,) and Syl Varmin, (that was she,)were destined to afford the amusement of the evening: for Jord, in cutting the pigeon-wing, chanced to light from one of his aerial flights right upon the ponderous pedal appendage of Syl, 'Jord Bilson,' said the tender Syl, 'I'll thank you to keep your darned hoofs off my feet.'
'Now look ye here, Syl Varmin, ' answered Jord, somewhat nettled at both remarks, 'I didn't go to tread on your feet but I don't want you to be cutting up any rusties about. You're nothing but a cross-grained critter,anyhow.''And you're a darned Melungen.'

Of all the journalist reports of Melungeons in other places and states This journalist in 1848 in Littrell living age describes the area of the Melungeons. And this is the only one that is sustained in history. The visit to Vardy Valley in 1848 was revisited about 50 years later on Friday July 2, 1897. C.H. Humble returned to the same place as the writer in Littell’s Living age.

“On Friday forenoon, July 2, (1897) the writer and Rev. Joseph Hamilton, of Parkersburg, West Virginia, started in a hack from Cumberland Gap, Tennessee for Beatty Collins, chief of the Melungeons, in Blackwater.” [4]

A handful of Journalist spread the term Melungeon as a political slur by labeling all people who in their opinion had Black, Indian and white mixture, which was first described in 1840 by politician and Journalist William Parsons Brownlow then in 1848-9 Article Littles Living age which was run in several newspapers the term became common among reporters and some politicians.

From the Richmond Whig. Letter from Hon. John M. Botts
Date: March 26, 1859
Location: Maryland
Paper: Easton Gazette
Article type: Letters

......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...........

”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 elections, and three hundred and sixty county electors have been notified to hold themselves in rediness to repel the Dragon of Rockbridge. Botts too, will dash to the rescue at the head of a noble band of Molungeons and Eboshines as soon as the weather becomes sufficiently warm to render his odoriferous forces efficient.[5]

John M. Boggs was a former Whig congressman from Virginia it is obvious he was placing names such as Molungeons, Eboshines, to describe people of mixed race or mulatto. Using his definition of a Melungeon every dark skin person was a Melungeons regardless of the location. These old newspaper letters show how the term Melungeon was spread swiftly from the 1848-9 Little Living Age and by a few journalist who used the term as a political slur.

The problem with all these mysterious Melungeon settlements is their lack of historical recognition, they do not have a history of other witnesses, or names of Melungeons such as described by Lewis Jarvis. Usually one person wrote an article about some phantom group of unnamed Melungeons. Which is exactly why you find one of the oldest definition of Melungeon as: "One of a very dark people living in the mountains of Tennessee." Dr. Issac K. Funk, New Standard Dictionary of the English Language, 1892 page 1548. The term Melungeon was spread from Hawkins County to other counties and states by Journalist, migration and travelers.

Establishing who and where the Melungeons were located from the old witnesses who lived in the days of the Melungeons, and documented research from their descendants using DNA and genealogy is the only way to find their true family history and relatives who may have been Lumbee, Redbone, Guineas, Brass ankles, Ramps and other isolated Indian groups and clans . Based on these witnesses Melungeon was not a tribe but a derogatory name given to a particular group of people at a certain place and timeframe in history.

[1] - L.M. Jarvis letter in Hancock County and It’s People Volume 11 1994- p-46

[2] Letter from Tennessee State Librarian, Mrs John Moore to W. A. Plecker, quoting Lewis Jarvis. Original Tennessee State Library And Archives.

[3] - Personal Memoirs of Lewis Shepherd , pages 89-90

[4] -Womens Board, Home missions of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A, A visit to the Melungeons C.H. Humble.

[5] - Melungeon Historical Society, “Mulungeons and Eboshins, Ethnic and Political Epithets by Wayne Winkler.
article here

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1 comment:

gensearchdeb said...

I was presented the "Ancestors Approved" award by Lori Hellmund of Genealogy and Me Blog. As a recipient of this award I’m supposed to list ten things I have learned about any of my ancestors that has surprised, humbled, or enlightened me and pass along the award to ten other bloggers who I feel are doing their ancestors proud.

I have chosen to present you with the award. You can pick up the picture of the award on my blog post at

Keep up the great work of sharing the stories of your ancestors!