Saturday, January 18, 2014

Johnnie Gibson Rhea; Melungeon Matriarch Passed Away Tonight in a Morristown, TN Hospital

I could think of nothing more fitting to honor Johnnie than these words penned by a friend:

For those of you who knew Johnnie Rhea, she passed away this evening.  As a Newman's Ridge native and one who had mostly Collins, Gibson and Goins ancestors, I sometimes referred to her as one of the "last of the Melungeons." :) 

As a short testimonial, Johnnie was the first who was most helpful to my finding my Hancock Co. unique heritage over 20 years ago.  As one who loves heritage and history, I owe Johnnie a lot for being the link between me and my ancestry since she knew some of my ancestors that I never knew.  When she was able, we spent countless hours going thru cemeteries in the county finding and recording my deceased kinfolk.  She always knew where to find them. She also held on to (and shared) many of the old, long gone (and lost) ways of home remedies, making homemade lye soap,  molasses, apple butter...the list goes on...Just the other day she told me to find some catnip and make tea for my croup-cough and bronchitis. Always there, willing to dig up whatever she may have had in her home or at the courthouse to help me with family records, free of charge. Before the age of internet, there wasn't a day that went by where she didn't get numerous letters from those searching for their Hancock heritage.  She was also upfront and didn't mind giving her two cents on things, in which I appreciated.  She believed in old fashioned virtues, was a trustworthy person and a good friend.  She was one of the few actual, older natives of the ridge who was always proud of her heritage no matter what was discovered.  May she rest in peace.

Phillip Roberts

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