Tuesday, October 4, 2016


                WAR ON THE MALUNGEONS JULY 1877 

    Fifteen distilleries and thousand of dollars of whiskey destroyed ! That’s altogether too big a hoax ! Come down thirteen stills, and say one keg of whiskey, then you may be believed.      

   The United States Whiskey Heroes, hearing of the great war raging between Russia and Turkey (Russo-Turkish War (1877–78) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) .
got so powerfully excited that they couldn’t stand it any longer in peace, so they declared war against the Malungeons in Newman’s Ridge and made a raid over there. The boys were so fortunate as not to shoot themselves with those complicated butt loading rifles they so valiantly carried. That, after all, was the principal danger they incurred.

  On the last Sabbath morning (July 1) we noticed the streets of Rogersville full of armed men. Upon inquiry it was found that the squad of cavalry was a portion of a force recently sent by the United States Marshall at Knoxville into Newman’s Ridge, in Hancock County, for the purpose of breaking up illicit distilleries. These men said they had destroyed fourteen distilleries in the Ridge, but upon inquiry from other sources we learn that only two of these were captured. The other twelve being only sheds where stills had been heretofore operated, and the owners of which hearing of the raid had doubtless moved to safer quarters.

   By the way, where is the law to be found authorizing young men to be armed and ride through the country burning down cabins and destroying property? This is a new thing in the United States of America, and we are too far behind the times to understand it. The laws ought to be enforced of course, but it seems to us that those people in the Ridge might be managed without such a great show of rifles and pistols as were paraded on the streets last Sabbath morning.

    Newman Ridge is and always has been a  monstrous loyal country. The Malungeons “conquered the right” to make whiskey free, and they only laugh at such chaps as visted them last week.  (Morristown Gazette Wed July 4, 1877.- Hawkins County Department- L.L. Poats Editor, Rogersville Tennessee July 4, 1877)  

Notice in the newspaper article above that it was common knowledge in the Morristown, Rogersville area who the Melungeons were and where they lived. The core Melungeons originated  in the Newman Ridge area and spread to other localities by migration of the local settlers and the news media. 

#1-This raid reported in the newspaper article above was 13 years before Will Allen Dromgoole visit to Newman Ridge 1890.
#2-And 13 years before this July 17, 1890 Red Springs, North Carolina article  by Hamilton McMillan, making ridiculous undocumented claims about the East Tennessee Melungeon, “a name retained by them here”.
#3-And 13 years before a paper read by Dr. (Swan) Burnett before the Washington Anthropological Society on the Melungeons in the southern Alleghenies is a case in point. Annual report by Smithsonian Institution – 1890

To be continued.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


The Melungeon families came with and were part of the original pioneer settlers before they were labeled Melungeons. Arriving in East Tennessee on, or before 1790. The first U.S. census was conducted in 1790. Under the law the census takers were required to ascertain the number of inhabitants within their respective districts, omitting Indians not taxed, distinguishing free persons from all others, and noting the sex and color of all free persons. Tennessee, then known as the Southwest Territory, was included in this first census. The original forms filled out by the enumerators, were destroyed in a fire and only the totals are known. The territory had a population of 35, 691 persons, including 6,271 free white males 21 years and older, 10,277 free males under 21, 15,365 free white females, 3,417 slaves, and 361 "other free persons." The  other free persons enumerated in this census confirm that a free settlement of nonwhites was living in East Tennessee by 1790. Most of these "other free persons" were living in East Tennessee because as late as 1776 eastern Hawkins County was the western most settlement in Tennessee.(Heads of Families-North Carolina the first census  of the United States , taken 1790 the reprint company, Spartanburg, South Carolina, 1961. p 4, Price Henry)  

 Several were in the Revolutionary War and filed pension Applications in Hawkins County, such as Charles Gibson, Lewis Collins, William Going and Zephaniah Goins who was at the siege and surrender of Cornwallis. The above were enumerated free colored on U.S.census and old tax records, and the sad part is, none of these named received land grants for their service, most likely because of the color of their skin.

Another Melungeon book full of myths and opinions:  “Ancestors and Enemies; Essays on Melungeons.”DNA studies showed they were probably descended from Portuguese colonists and had connections with Jews, Muslims, Africans, Native Americans and Romani (Gypsies).”

This book is repeating an old myth of six fingers and toes, and diseases, which is a slap in the face to proven Melungeon descendants and using an autosomal test to prove this is inconceivable because this test checks both your father and mothers line and it would be highly unlikely that both lines would be Melungeon. There is no Muslim DNA test, a Muslim can be any nationality.  Pork meat was one of the favorite foods of the Melungeon, who were Christians, as the 1801 Stony Creek Church minutes confirm. A court record (1846) in the Hawkins County archive shows two Melungeon Collins were sent to prison for stealing hogs. 

 *William Goings Pension claim filed in 1819, amended in 1820 contained an inventory of personal property, which consisted of*four hogs*, one pot, one oven, an old chair, one axe,one hoe, four forks, four knives, three tin plates, (for a family of 6) all of which was valued at $13.50*.   

The historical Melungeons were Protestant by faith and Baptist by demonination, minutes confirm they were members of several Baptist Churches along the Clinch River beginning 1800’s, these old church minute and court records eliminates Jews and Muslims as part of their heritage and culture. 

 Many Muslims are appalled at the sight of Christians freely eating pork. They are repulsed by the sight of a pig just as much as the early Children of Israel were under the Mosaic Law, which continues to affect the lives of millions of Jewish people still today. The pig was clearly forbidden in the Old Testament: (http://www.answering-islam.org/Q-A-panel/pork.html) 

The male Y-DNA for Romani (Gypsies) Is HM82, and the female mtDNA Haplogroup for Romani Gypsies is M. Neither of these haplogroups is found in the Core Melungeon  Y, or mtDNA test results. And none are found in the Melungeon Families group of 277 members. The Goins Y-DNA project has 175 members and none with the Romani (Gypsies)haplogroup.- www.familytreedna.com/public/goins .https://www.familytreedna.com/public/familiesofinterest/default.aspx http://www.familytreedna.com/public/coremelungeon/ 

The Romani (Gypsies) HM82 haplogroup, doesn't show in the Bunch, Collins, and Gibson DNA project.   
Hat tip to Don Collins

A story that Drake released Muslim Moor on the coast of NC has been proven false by documentation. In 1586, Sir Francis Drake freed about 200 Turks, 300 Indians, and 100 Negroes from the Spanish at either Santo Domingo, Cartagena or Saint Augustine. There is no record of the disposition of the Indians and the Negroes. However, the 200 Turks were returned to England.

    "Records in London Archives prove that some, if not all, of the Turks were aboard the Primrose, Martin Frobisher Captain. The Queen's Privy Council wrote a letter to a  merchant in London, who had dealings with Turkey, asking him to arrange for their return to Turkey."  "Dr. William S. Powell, Professor Emeritus of History, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, stated: "The Moorish prisoners, however, were eventually sent back to Turkey as a gesture of goodwill from Queen Elizabeth."

Varieties of R1b, a common Y-DNA haplogroup in western Europe, are found in abundance among Portuguese men. About 60 percent of Southern Portuguese and about 83 percent of Northern Portuguese belong to the subclade of R1b known as the Atlantic Modal Haplotype (AMH). There are some areas in Portugal where the AMH is found in about 90% of men.
The mtDNA haplogroups H, U, and L were found in substantial numbers in the population of Portugal in ancient times (including the Epipaleolithic, Neolithic, and Chalcolithic eras) just as they are today.
(http://www.khazaria.com/genetics/portuguese.html)-Millions of mixed-race (white/black/Amerindian) descendants of Portuguese live in Brazil today. Some Portuguese of Portugal themselves have a small portion of black ancestry as well. This is true of the mainland, in part since African slaves were brought to southwestern Portugal's Alcácer do Sal region in the 1400s-1800s, but even more so for those from Madeira who often show Sub-Saharan African scores above 1 percent in 23andMe's ancestry composition reports, even as high as 4.8%. Also, some from Madeira are presented with estimates of 0.1% or 0.2% Amerindian admixture by 23andMe.

Some neighbors including county and state officials believed the Melungeons had Negro blood as this court case confirms. "Trouble started for Elijah Goin when his daughter married Billy Mayes May 23, 1853 in Clairborne County, TN. His brother  Sterling Mayes took exception to the marriage and started telling everyone that the whole Goin family were mulattoes and negroes. Elijah Goen was a school teacher and he finally filed a slander suit against Sterling Mayes requesting $5,000 damage. The case finally went to court. The verdict  Elijah  won his slander suit against Mayes but the jury only awarded him $50.00 far less than the $5,000 he sought.   Sterling Mayes appealed the case to the Tennessee Supreme Court at Knoxville, were the circuit court decision was reversed and remanded, Sterling won the appeal on the grounds that it had long been common Knowledge in the community that the Goen family was mixed blood.  Elijah Goen grandfather Thomas Goin a Rev. War soldier in 1788 sold his land 225 acres in Washington County,and moved 90 miles west to newly created Hawkins County, Tn from which Claiborne County was created. I find Thomas Goen descendants listed in the DNA Core Melungeon review (E1b1a).  

Minor, John vs Bloomer, James  
   This case involving an abduction reached the courts of Hawkins County and later the  Tennessee Supreme Court. Wilson Minor a free man of color (as Melungeons were referred to) abducted the niece of James Bloomer in 1852, for the purpose of marring her. Minor apparently anticipating trouble secretly dispatched his brother John for fast horse to Rogersville for a marriage license to make everything legal.  According to this case Minor secured the license and was stopped in the road on his return and commanded Minor to dismount and hand over the license, but denied he had the license, with knife in hand demanded Minor to give him the license. Where upon Minor took the license from his pocket and surrendered it. (Wilson Minor had purchased a Marriage Bond in Claiborne County,TN.- W.Minor and J. Bloomer, dated 11 Dec 1852 (Jane daughter of Joseph Bloomer) and most likely John Minor gave James Bloomer the bond,  because no marriage record was recorded for Wilson Minor in Hawkins County) The State charged James Bloomer with assault. Defendant offered to prove that John Minor was the brother of Wilson Minor, who had abducted the niece of the defendant for the purpose of marrying her, and that the Minors were free persons of color within the degrees prohibited by the statute from intermarrying with white persons, and that the young lady abducted was white an infant of tender years. Upon objection made by the attorney general, this proof was rejected by the court and jury found a verdict of guilty Jan term 1855 before J Paterson,  charged James Bloomer with assault. The Jury found the defendant guilty. A motions for a new trial and arrest in Judgement were made, and overruled by the court, and a judgment for a fine of one cent, and costs, were rendered by the court, The case was appealed to the state supreme court who ruled. We do not think the court erred in rejecting the evidence offered by the defendant.(Supreme Court of Tennessee, Sneeds report volume 3 pages 40,41 and 42-Copy in Hawkins County Archives ) John and Wilson Minor were sons of John Minor Sr and Susan Goins, John Jr was in the Civil War. Wilson disappeared from History shortly after this trial. 

   The Melungeons right to vote was certain to be challenged, especially by an unsuccessful candidate who felt his loss was due, at least in part, to the votes of "free men of color." 
“State of Tennessee, Hawkins County. I do certify that a popular election was held according to law at the respective election places in all the districts in Hawkins County on the seventh day of August 1845 for a member to Congress. Andrew Johnson received fourteen hundred and thirteen (1413) votes and  William G. Brownlow received nine hundred & seventy six (976) votes. This the 8th day of August 1845,  Jacob Miller Sheriff of Hawkins County.” From this election sprang the illegal voting trials in Hawkins County, Tennessee.  the defendants were Melungeon patriarch Vardy Collins, Solomon Collins, Ezekial Collins, Levi Collins, Andrew Collins, Wiatt Collins,  Zachariah and Lewis Minor, all posted bond for $250.

 In the grand jury trial the state  used the term colored leaving no doubt the state must prove negro blood back to and including the 3rd generation. The outcome of Vardy Collins case was not clear he paid the cost, during this time Vardy was visited by an unidentified correspondent in Littel's Living age identified him as the owner of a hotel and mineral springs. Also, chief cook and bottle washer of the Melungeons. The other cases were tried by two separate Juries who found them not guilty, John Netherland was their attorney and his argument was Portuguese, according to Swan Burnett the physical trait of flat-feet to prove African ancestry was used, one was found sufficiently flat-footed to be found guilty.  They were not lying about their Portuguese ancestors, most had migrated from countries such as Angola and other small African nations at that time under the control of Portugal.   
The term Melungeon is a local word that appeared to be in common usage by 1813(Stony Creek Church Record). It was used with derogatory connotations to describe mixed blood neighbors and is not a recognizable English word.   Every clan in the eastern United States had a beginning point and this point is proven by the oldest written records that are mentioned in this article . You are a known Melungeon descendant, which means that your ancestor belonged to one of the known Melungeon families and a member of your ancestor’s family at some time lived between Powell Mountain (on the north side of Newman’s Ridge) and Copper Ridge (running along the Clinch River) This land boundary extends into the western part of Claiborne and Grainger Counties and the extreme western part of Lee and Scott County, Virginia. This location has been identified by the unknown Jounalist in Littell’s Living Age (1849—quoting from the Louisville Examiner [1848]) as the Melungeon area. Some of these families moved to other states and localities, family genealogy and now DNA is locating many of those families. 

“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, the hostelries of the vicinage. Old Vardy is the 'chief cook and bottle-washer' of the Melungens, and is really a very clever fellow: but his hotel savors strongly of that peculiar perfume that one may find in the sleeping-rooms of our Negro servants, especially on a close, warm, summer evening. We arrived at Vardy's in time for supper, and thus dispatched, we went to the spring, where were assembled several rude log huts, and a small sprinkling of 'the natives, together with a fiddle and other preparations for a dance. The dance was engaged in with right hearty good will.The legend of their history, which they carefully preserve, is this. A great many years ago, these mountains were settled by a society of Portuguese Adventurers, men and women--who came from the long-shore parts of Virginia, that they might be freed from the restraints and  drawbacks imposed on them by any form of government. These intermixed with the Indians, and subsequently their descendants after the advances of the whites into this part of the state with the negros and the whites, thus forming the present race of Melungens.”  

 “Beatty Collins grandson of Vardy was interviewed by C. H.  Humble in 1897, when Humble ask the school teacher, Beatty’s son  about the Melungeons he strongly resented  its application to his people and replied “ We are a Pure Blood”. (Home Mission of the Presbyterian Church USA a visit to the Melungeons  C.H. Humble  July 2, 1897)

Anyone who has made an honest study on the Melungeons should not be suprised at the announcement of a high persentage of African DNA in the core paternal line.  Tax, census and court records agrees with the DNA findings of these descendants, as recorded in the peer review article in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy.  

This history begs the following question. If I can document my family back to a core Melungeon say Vardy Collins or Zachariah Minor, What percent of ethnic makeup, as shown by DNA would I have, born say 1940-50? This author has asked permission to use the follow data copyright 2011 by Roberta  Estes.

Melungeons, Minority Ancestry and DNA Roberta Estes, copyright 2011 

“The most common inquiry I receive is from people wanting to find their Native ancestry. Everyone in Appalachia has a story someplace in their family about having Native heritage. This really isn't surprising given that most everyone whose ancestors settled in the Appalachian region came through Virginia and North Carolina, and they didn't just fly in from the coast. Most families migrated over several generations from the coastal areas, to the piedmont, to the frontier lands, into the mountains, then finally, arriving on the other side or settling in an isolated valley. If a genealogical generation is 25 years, then each of us today that was born in 1950 has 10 generations between us and the year 1700. If our ancestors arrived in Jamestown, then it's 14 generations, give or take a bit. Remembering that the number of our ancestors doubles with every generation (you have 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents, etc.), 10 generations gives us 1024 ancestors and 14 generations gives us 16,384 ancestors. If these ancestors are mostly in the US, it's probably more likely that we DO have Native ancestors than we don't. Having said this, if we have one full blooded native ancestor in 1800 at the 6th generation, they would contribute only 1.56% of our total DNA. At the 10th generation, in 1700, one full blooded native ancestor would contribute .1%, so one tenth of one percent of our total DNA and at the 14th generation, in 1600, less than one one hundredth of one percent (.01%) of our DNA. It's no wonder we seek these ancestors but seldom find them. They are the proverbial needle in the haystack. The most direct route we have to indentifying a Native ancestor is either Y-line, paternal, or mitochondrial, maternal DNA testing. Regardless of how far back in time, the Y-line and the mitochondrial DNA haplogroups which are what we use to identify Native ancestry is unchanged because neither the Y chromosome nor mitochondrial DNA is mixed with any DNA from the other parent. Let's look at an example. One of John Doe's ancestors was among the Melungeon people who were identified in documented records as Melungeon, and they carry the oral history of having Native heritage. Pretty much all Melungeon families carry this oral history, and if they don't individually, certainly they do as a group. John very much wants to recover his Native heritage and learn about his Native genealogy. Although John himself can't test, because his paternal (surname) line is Doe, and his maternal line is Smith, and neither are Melungeon, he finds a paternal line descendant of his Melungeon line. Let's say he is a descendant of Zachariah Minor and Aggy Sizemore. I have chosen this couple because we have the Y-line DNA of Zachariah and the mitochondrial DNA of Aggy. Zachariah Minor and Aggy Sizemore are 6 generations removed from John Doe, and sure enough, just like our model that suggests this generation would occur 47 about the year 1800, Zachariah Minor was born in 1799. John Doe carries about 1.56% of the DNA from Zachariah Minor and about 1.56% from Aggy Sizemore. John Doe is just positive that this family is Native and is desperate to prove that heritage, so he asks a male Minor descended from Zachariah to test. Zachariah's haplogroup from his DNA testing is determined to be E1b1a, African. Thinking that maybe the Native heritage comes through Aggy Sizemore, John finds a descendant (through all females) of Aggy Sizemore to test, and her haplogroup is H, European. So far, nothing that suggests Native. Now John just knows that his ancestors would never claim Native heritage if it wasn't true, and he just knows that in the 200 years and several generations between 1800 and 2000, that none of those ancestors would have expanded on a story or misremembered something. He is utterly convinced that they are Native, so his interpretation of the DNA results is that because he is convinced that his ancestor are Native, the DNA results must be wrong - and that haplogroup E1b1a which is confirmed in scientific literature to be African must indeed really be Native, and the same with haplogroup H. In fact, he surmises, so MANY people who are convinced that they have Native heritage are showing up with European or African haplogroups, as opposed to Native, that the entire scientific community must be wrong. While John's tenacity must be admired, especially his quest to find descendants to test, his logic is flawed by his strong desire to be Native. However, John isn't entirely wrong - his ancestor's ARE Native - but he's focused in the wrong place. The Y-line and mitochodrial DNA only has the ability to test one line, and only one line. The beauty of it is that it doesn't matter how many generations back your "Native" or "African" or "European" ancestor lived, their DNA is still there to tell you their story, undiluted by subsequent generations. But this means that of your 64 ancestors in 1800, the Y-line and mtDNA can only report on the Y-line for the paternal line and the mtDNA for the maternal line - just those two lines - and tells you absolutely nothing about any of the rest of your ancestors. To find out about the rest of those ancestors, the best thing to do is to find "proxy" individuals from those lines to test and build yourself a DNA pedigree chart of all of your ancestors. In John Doe's case, as luck would have it, he found a Sizemore male that was descended from Aggy Sizemore's father, George Sizemore, who agreed to test. Lo and behold, George Sizemore's descendant came back with results in haplogroup Q1a3a, Native American.  Furthermore they aren't Melungeon, but they are ANCESTORS of Melungeons, or at least this Melungeon family. It stands to reason that Aggy might well retain the oral history of her Native ancestor. We know that Aggy was born in 1804, and we can track the Sizemore family back another 3 generations or so to Edward, "old Ned", born about 1725. He is Aggy's great-grandfather and given that we know he unquestionably had a Native ancestor, that "full blooded" ancestor had to have been born sometime between 1600 and 1700. From John Doe, the oldest Sizemore in that line, Edward, is 9 generations, and John Doe carries only .20% or two tenths of one percent of his DNA - but the 48 Sizemore males that are alive today who descend from Edward - several of whom have now DNA tested, all carry 100% of his Y-line DNA - so that story of Native ancestry is crystal clear. It's equally as crystal clear that Aggy Sizemore's mother, while she was admixed Native from her father's side, her mitochondrial DNA from her mother, haplogroup H, is European. Just because Aggy is admixed Native from her father's side, does not make haplogroup H Native. The male children of Zachariah Minor and Aggy Sizemore carry lots of different DNA. Their Y-line is African, E1b1a, their mitochondrial DNA is H, European, but their ancestors who are not represented by either the Y-line or mitochondrial DNA are Native, haplogroup Q1a3a. This doesn't make DNA testing "wrong", but necessitates that the individuals interpreting the results understand how to correctly apply DNA results to genealogy. John Doe today carries parts of all of these ancestors, no matter how miniscule. So what does that make John Doe? How John Doe self-identifies is up to him. Some people choose to select that one twentieth of one percent of their heritage and claim it above all others - in this case Native. Some choose to identify with their paternal haplogroup - in his case Doe - which hasn't even been discussed here. Some identify with their maternal haplogroup. Some people complete a DNA pedigree chart and idenfiy with all of their ancestors. In John Doe's case, we know he's a small amount Native, at least part African, but based on how he looks and the majority of his ancestors as proven by both DNA and genealogy, he's primarily European. Many people self-identify with their primary phenotype or the cultural heritage with which they were raised. No one but John Doe can determine how he self-identifies. What we can say is that science has provided him with a window into his miniscule amount of Native heritage (less than 1%), his undetermined amount of African heritage, although it too is likely abut 1% based on the genealogy, that would have never been confirmed or available to him without the science of genetic genealogy. The more lines that John Doe tests (via proxy), the more he will know about all of his ancestors. The Melungeon DNA projects are attempting to do just that, gather the genealogy and test all of the Y-line and mitochondrial lines of the Melungeon people and their ancestors. An important part of the heritage of the Melungeons as a people and as individual families is held in the secrets revealed by DNA testing.” 

If you descend from a Melungeon family, or know those who do, please considering DNA testing. Anyone who is interested in autosomal DNA tests should check the market and compare prices. Ancestry is $99, Family Tree, Family Finder test is $99.00. FTDNA also offer the male y and maternal mtDNA test.  All these test results mentioned can be put on GEDmatch. If you have taken a DNA test that you cannot use on GEDmatch it is most likely outdated. My advice is to get a second opinion. I have tested with Family Tree, 23andme and some of the old Print an autosomal tests that are now obsolete. Plus one Y-DNA test was done by a lab in England. With the same results E1B1A as my FTDNA Y-test. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016



*This paper was originally presented at the November, 1974, meeting of the Tennessee Folklore Society.

            by Saundra Keyes Ivey
            Fisk University

   The Moonshiners, published in 1895, described a well-known seller of Tennessee home brew as follows:

   Betsy is a moonshineress, and despite the vigilance and the bravery of Uncle Sam's gallant army of revenue officers, she will remain a moonshineress, no doubt, so long as she is able to pour a drop of liquor out of a keg or a demijohn and count the price of it.

   She keeps open house all the year round, and extends to the officers as well as other people a cordial invitation to visit her whenever it suits their convenience....She could not be taken out of the house without taking the roof off and hoisting her out with a derrick; and a derrick could not be taken there for the purpose, for she lives way up on Newman's Ridge, more than three miles from the nearest spot at all accessible with team and wagon....During the greater number of her waking hours, she sits upon a low bed, resting her feet upon the floor, a cask of the "contraband" always in reach from which she supplies the necessities of any who honor her with their patronage.She once sent her compliments to the judge, with the information that she would like to be arrested and taken to court, so that she might see him and something of the world before dying.
   This gross woman (six hundred pounds gross) whose body measures nine feet in circumference, whose manners are as coarse as her physical organism; who violates law, defies officers, makes daily traffic of the "dark beverage of hell," is not without a spark of sentiment, a trace of those finer human impulses and aspirations which reach out toward the divine. Once every year, she causes her huge bulk to be transported to the cabin window, from which can be seen the graves of her five sons, every one of whom died tragically, and from this spot she watches the decoration of those graves with extravagance of beautiful wild flowers.[1]

  This passage is quoted at length for two reasons: first because it describes a Tennessee folk character of genuine interest, and secondly because it contains the seeds of much that has been written about its subject, Mahala Mullins, and about her people, the Melungeons of Hancock County, Tennessee.[2]

  "Aunt Haley," as she is known in Hancock County, was one of fourteen children born to Solomon Collins and Gincie Goins. Born about 1824, Mahala married Johnnie Mullins and became the mother of about 20 children, some of whom died as infants. An examination of the available genealogy for the Mullins family reveals a possible reason for Mahala's being erroneously reffered to as "Betsy" in the preceding passage and in a number of saubsequent publications. Mahala's husband Johnnie hasd a sister , Betsy, who married Alford Collins. In the days of extremely-close family ties, an outsider might possibly have confused the sisters-in-law's names and therefore spoken of "Betsy Mullins."[3] Whatever the reason for outsiders' references to "Betsey," Aunt Mahala is well known to and always correctly identified by Hancock County residents.
   In the folklore of Hancock County, Mahala is commemorated for two things: the quality of her moonshine, said to be excellent, and the estimate of her weight, which range from 300 to 600-plus pounds. While the cycle of anecdotes about Mahala always revolves around these two items, several different motifs have grown out of the concern with her brew and her weight. In an anecdote collected for a 1966 M.A. Thesis, for example, we learn that

   Aunt Mahala Mullins was known in her neighborhood for two reasons - - she was a “bootlegger” and the biggest women (sic) in that section since she weighed almost 350 pounds. The federal authorities had tried to arrest her but found it impossible to do so because they couldn't get her down the mountain if they got her from the house. Her cabin was built on the Tennessee - Virginia State line and when the officers from one state came to arrest her, she merely moved to another part of the house which was located in the opposite state.
   When Aunt Mahalie finally died the neighbors had to knock the chimney out of the house in order to remove her body for burial.[4]

   Inaccuracies in the anecdote are immediately obvious. I have visted and photographed the site of Aunt Mahala's log house, and it is not located on the Tennessee-Virginia line(although Newman's Ridge is fairly close to the state line). And even if the house were so located, the anecdote itself contains the inconsistancy of state jurisdiction's limiting federal officers. It is perhaps for these reasons that Hancock County stories about Aunt Mahala do not often feature the “state line” motif.
   The anecdotes do, however, refer to Aunt Mahala's weight, the amount of which varies according to the informant. In the course of my own feildwork, such comments as the following were collected.

   My mother knew Aunt Mahala. She visited her. She saw her. That's first hand information.... And she said that...she weighed over 500 pounds. Uh, there's been guesses, and ...I doubt if they knew, because there wouldn't be any scales or anything. (Collected from a male informant, age aproximately 65, in July, 1973.)

   Her weight was exaggerated. Did you get somewhere about 500? I can't be exact; but my aunt told me, who was Aunt Mahala's niece, that she would have weighed about 300 pounds. (Collected from a female informant, age aproximately 80, in August, 1973.)

   As the phrases “Her weight was exaggerated” and “That's first hand information” indicate, there is a concern in Hancock County that the facts about Aunt Mahala be reported accurately - even though these facts may vary from informant to informant within the county.
   The concern for the “truth” of Aunt Mahala's story stems not so much from a reverence for historical fidelity as from a desire that outsiders not misrepresent the county. Both as the home of the Melungeons and as part of Appalachia, Hancock County has long been linked by outside writers with slovenliness, violence, and the hillbilly stereotype in which mmonshine plays a prominent part. The initial quotation referred to in this paper, with its reference to “a spark of sentiment” in the “gross woman” erroneously referred to as Betsy, is an example of the negative asprsions which have been cast upon Hancock County by many writers.
   Some of these writers remain, happily, unknown in Hancock County, but the name of Will Allen Dromgoole, a Tennessee poetess who visited the county in the late nineteenth century, is still remembered with biterness. In an 1891 article describing her visit to Hancock County, Dromgoole characterized the Melungeons as “filthy ... natural, 'born rogues', 'close, suspicious, inhospitable, untruthful, cowardly, and to use their own word, sneaky.” She concluded the essay with her judgment that “The most that can be said of one of them is 'He is a Malungeon,' a synonym for all that is doubtful and mysterious - and unclean.” [5]
   A natural resentment of such stereotyped distortions (and Dromgoole's article is only the first in a long series of these) has developed in Hancock County. This resentment is compounded by the fact that some of the most inaccurate and negative reports of Hancock County life have been published by writers who, like Dromgoole, have done fieldwork or interviewing in the course of their research. Unfortunately, some of the published materials labeled “folklore” are among the worst offenders in this regard.
   In a 1937 Nashville Banner feature, “Lost Tribes of Tennessee's Mountains,” James Aswell wrote about the Melungeons and what he called “their legends.” According to Aswell, “one of the most striking bits of Melungeon folksay is the story of big Betsy Mullins, who from her cabin atop a razorback ridge defied the law of state and nation for twenty years.”[6] At this point, Aswell is indeed referring to Hancock County folklore, but the validity of his article declines steadily as he goes on to explain that

At the beginning of her career, Betsy is said to have tipped he scales to a neat 600 pounds. Some versions of the story state, in addition, that she towered seven and a half feet into the thin mountain air and that she could “heft” a yearling bull over her head with all ease. When sahe sat to a light meal, she commonly downed a whole pig, hide hoofs (sic), and all. She could tear a firm-rooted pine from the earth with one hand and could splinter a two-inch oaken plank with her bare fist. Around her arm, she could bend a forged iron crowbar as an ordinary woman might wrap a length of silk ribbon. In a word, Betsy Mullins would have been a fitting match for that Heracles of the American lumber camps, Paul Bunyan.[7]

   The fact that I did not collect such information in the course of my 1973-74 fieldwork does not mean that the material should not be called folklore; even the beginning student is taught that folk traditions may decline or die out of communities in which they once circulated. Folklore likewise exhibits variation as one of its defining characteristics; therefore, the fact that Aswell presents ideas unreported by my informants might be explained by his having collected the material outside Hancock County, the site of my research. In fact, in fairness to Aswell it should be noted that he writes “Just where Betsy lived is a moot question. It is claimed that she was a Rhea Countian. It is also said that she was a native of Hancock, of Marion, or a half a dozen other counties. Even the name of Betsy's ridge citadel is a matter for hot argument.”[8]

   This quotation certainly implies a collection of more than one version of the anecdote, and I would be willing to concede that the differences in Aswell's information and my own reflect simply variations in time and space were it not for the tone of Aswell's material. So many phrases in his article sound more like a Paul Bunyan brochure than like any descriptions collected from any folk group whatsoever that I am forced to use the term fakelore, in it's most negative sense, to describe them.

   These fakeloric phrases multiply in one of Aswell's contributions to the 1940 publication of the Tennessee Writer's Project, God Bless the Devil! Liars Bench Tales. In "Six Hundred Honest Pounds,"[9] Aswell introduces the reader to Betsy at a political barbecue, where she wrestles (and defeats) four men at once. As her prize, Betsy requests that she be allowed to sell gourds without interference from the law. The gourds are, of course, filled with whiskey, and the stage is set for Aswell's narration of Betsy's furthur adventures with the law.

  Several new elements enter this 1940 version of Betsy's story. Besides being introduced as a female "wrastler," during the course of this narrative she is allowed to grow from 300 to 600 pounds, and to progress from a mere seven husbands at the time of her initial appearance to 33 at the time of her death. Missing from this version is the erroneous 1937 report that Betsey's relatives managed to bury her by "wrapping her in great thicknesses of quilts and rolling her, inch at a time, down the ridge."[10] In 1940, Aswell describes Betsy's being wrapped in quilts and blankets, but this time she is lowered into her grave by means of a block and tackle that had been constructed by revenue agents in a vain attempt to bring her to justice. (The lowering of Betsy's body is accomplished, in this version, by her 33 husbands and assorted kinfolks.)

   To object to such fakelore is not simply to indulge in scholarly name calling or intellectual fastidiousness, for the material is objectionable on several very practical grounds. It is not just that fakelore presents erroneous information; folklore contains innaccuracies as well, as the widely divergent estimates of Aunt Mahala's weight make clear. However, the particular type of misinformation presented by Aswell serves not only to obscure history, but also to encourage sensationalism of the most misleading sort. If "Kolklore is a key to understanding a way of life,"[11] as the preface to God Bless the Devil! asserts, it simply should not be distorted in this way.
   It is the distortions of Mahala's story which cause irritation and create a concern for accuracy within Hancock County. Outside writers' persistent reports that either a chimney or a cabin wall was knocked out for Mahala's burial were denied by several informants. One of Mahala's descendants explained:

   The house had a chimney built here on this end [draws diagram] which has partly fallen down now. You saw that, didn't you? And at the other end of the house, when she died, the chimney had not been built. It wasn't built. But an opening was left for the chimney. And this opening was boarded over to prevent weather exposure. Then when they moved her body out, they did take the opening out, but the chimney was not built when she died. [Emphatically] So the chimney was not torn down. (Collected from a female informant, age approximately 80, in August, 1973)

   The same informant took pains to deny the erroneous statement, frequently attributed to her in newspaper articles, that when Mahala died, relatives "wrapped her in quilts and gently rolled her down the hill to be buried."[12]

   No, they carried her out....They did not have a coffin. She was on a four poster bed....They sawed the post off and boarded up the top of it, and that was her casket. In other words, they just made a box out of the bed, the top part of the bed.

   My informants were not neccessarily angered by the failures of outside writers to report specific details correctly. The facts that writers often do not agree on Mahala's weight, often do not correctly describe her burial, and often do not mention that her excessive weight was due to elephantiasis may be overlooked, though it is felt by many people that such errors of reporting are perpetuated by writers' borrowing from previous articles rather than checking for correct information within Hancock County. (This opinion is given weight by the number of misleading published reports concerning the Melungeons which may be traced directly to the publications of Miss Dromgoole, but that is the subject for another paper.) However, such publications as those which mate Mahala with 33 husbands, or which refer to her as "Big Betsy, the she-devil moonshine queen"[13] are regarded with scorn.

   An ambivalent attitude about the telling of Aunt Mahala anecdotes has therefore developed in Hancock County. On the one hand, there is pride in relating unique tales from the county's past, and the story of law enforcement officials' reporting that Mahala was "ketcable but not fetchable" is told with gusto. In fact, during a community improvement project several years ago, county school children made a sign bearing that slogan and placed it for the view of tourists attending "walk Towards the Sunset," an outdoor drama based on the Melungeon story.
   On the other hand, there is a justifiable wariness that the outsider may misrepresent the anecdote. While there is no sense of shame attached to Mahala's profession of bootlegging-- a picture of her seated next to a container of whiskey with a dripping gourd in her hand was shown me by a number of persons-- there is a desire that this fact be understood on the county's terms. Most of my informants sensibly recognized that moonshining represented one of the few viable economic alternatives open to Mahala Mullins and others like her; all they ask is that outsiders share this recognition and not use stories about Mahala to stereotype Hancock County as a moonshiner's haven.

   There is a desire both to correct erroneously published information and to add to the record the information of "eye witnesses" and/or relatives of Aunt Mahala. One informant told me;

   My mother talked to her ...and even felt of her hands and saw her feet and so on...She told me she was one of the most beautiful women as far as her complexion. Her hands were so smooth, and they were very small and her feet were very small...And she said that she laughed and said "I make our living this way and they're welcome to come and get me." And they would go up and arrest  her, you see, and over there on that sign [the sign previously referred to] there used to be "gettable but not fetchable." She was gettable all right, but they couldn't get her out the door, you see. (Collected from a male informant, age approximately 65, in July, 1973.)

   A descendant spoke of meeting a woman who had, as a child, often visited Aunt Mahala.

She said "Aunt Haley was a very, very sweet old lady." And she said "She would give us gingerbread and something to drink"-- uh, not whiskey, milk [laughs]; milk or whatever she had.  They always expected something to eat when they went to her house. (Collected from a female informant, age approximately 80, in August, 1973.)

   From such reports we learn that Mahala Mullins, a kindly woman who suffered from a most uncomfortable illness, was neither the gross, insensitive creature depicted in 1895, nor the female Paul Bunyan of 1937, nor the "she-devil" of more recent journalists. As a true folk character, she remains the subject of anecdote and legend. She has found her way not only into newspaper features (for better or worse), but also into the fiction of at least two authors.
   Mildred Haun's The Hawk's Done Gone begins with a reference to "Letitia Edes' Mountain." Haun's narrator remembers:

When I was a youngon folks would tell me tales about that mountain, how Letitia Edes wanted, worse than a hungry dog wants a rabbit, to grow bigger than any mountain she ever saw. She growed so big that when she died they couldn't get her out of the house to bury her. They had to climb up on the hills around the house and shovel the dirt on top of it.[14]

   Since Miss Haun grew up in Cocke County, Tennessee, and since she includes references to both Hancock County and the Melungeons in her work, it seems reasonable too suggest that Mahala Mullins was the inspiriation for this passage.
   A more clear-cut use of Mahala's story is found in Jesse Stuatrt's novel Daughter of the Legend. Even if it were not known that Stuart had visited Hancock County during the period of his attendance at Lincoln Memorial University, it would be obvious that he has based his character Sylvania on Mahala Mullins. Sylvania lives on Sanctuary Mountain, Stuart's name for Newman's Ridge, where she makes her living selling moonshine. Another character explains that:

Sheriff can arrest Sylvania all he please....But he couldn't get her outen the shack. Skinny said his wife hadn't been outside his shcak for twenty years. Said she couldn't get through the door.[15]

   Like the real Mahala, Sylvania is complimented on the quality of her brew. According to one of her fictional customers:

When she sold you a gallon of moonshine you got a gallon of unadulterated moonshine and not two quarts of moonshine with a quart of water and a quart of carbide all stirred up well and shook before drinking.[16]

   Stuart deviates from Hancock County's version of the facts in several particulars, such as having Sylvania buried in an immense coffin built especially for her funeral. Despite such changes, Daughter of the Legend clearly represents Mahala Mullins' most extended appearance in print.
   The consideration of printed and orally transmitted references to Aunt Mahala is significant for several reasons. First, these references perpetuate the memory of a colorful Tennessee folk character. More importantly, however, they provide a unique illustration of the complex relationships between print and oral tradition. The Mahala Mullins folklore found today in Hancock County derives not only from the traditions which surrounded Mahala during her life and shortly after her death, but also from the re-shapings of these traditions by outside writers. This folklore bears the stamp of such re-shapings in two ways. In some cases, erroneous phrases such as "They wrapped her in quilts and rolled her gently down the hill" have entered the narrations of Hancock Countians in an almost formulaic way. In other, more frequent cases, the incorrect information is not included, and such phrases as "This is a first hand account," or "So and so can tell you the real truth" have become equally formulaic. In both instances, the folk tradition supports one writer's assertion that "Death did not put an end to Betsy Mullins' phenomenal growth."[17] Though the name is wrong, the ephitet is correct.

[1]Henry M. Wiltse, The Moonshiners (Chattanooga, 1895), quoted in Joseph Earl Dabney, Mountain Spirits: A Chronicle of Corn Whiskey from King James' Ulster Plantation to America's Appalachians and the Moonshine Life (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1974), pp.138-39.
[2]The Melungeons are a dark-skinned people, neither Black nor Indian, whose origins have been the object of both scholarship and romantic conjecture for nearly two hundred years. The best brief introduction to the Hancock County Melungeons is Henry Price, Melungeons: The Vanishing Colony of Newman's Ridge (Sneedville, Tenn., 1971).
[3]  In the 1850 census records, Mahala's age is given as 25, which would make her birth 1825. In the 1880 census, however, her age is given as 56, which would make her date of birth 1824. Mr. William P. Grohse, the unofficial and very well informed historian of Hancock County, informs me that the 1860 census gives Mahala's age as 36, while the 1870 census lists her as 45. Mr. Goins has been most generous in sharing his information about the Collins and Mullins genealogy.
[4]   Phyllis Cox Barr, “The Melungeons of Newman's Ridge” (unpublished M.A. Thesis, East Tennessee State University, 1965), pp. 18-19. In a 1974 interview, Ms. Barr (now Mrs. Gibson) told me that the folklore included in her thesis had been collected from oral tradition. She gave no information about her informants because she had promised them not to reveal their identities.
[5]   Dromgoole's findings were published in “The Malungeons,” Arena, 3 (March, 1891), 470-79, and in “The Malungeon Tree and Its Four Branches,” Arena, 3 (May, 1891), 745-51. Passages quoted are from “The Malungeons,” 474; 479.
[6]   Magazine Section, August 22, 1937, p.5
[7]   Ibid.
[8]   Ibid.
[9]   James R. Aswell, ed., God Bless the Devil! Liars Bench Tales (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press, 1940), pp. 226-43.
[10]   Aswell, “Lost Tribes,” p. 5.
[11]   p.v. The “Preface” was written by William R. McDaniel, Supervisor of the Tennessee Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration.
[12]   John Fetterman, “The Melungeons, “ The Courier Journal and Times Magazine, March 30, 1969, p. 9
[13]   William Endicott, “Mystery of the Melungeons,” San Francisco Examniner, November 15, 1970.
[14]   Mildred Haun, The Hawk's Done Gone and Other Stories, ed. Herschel Gower (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1968), p.5.
[15]   Jess Stuart, Daughter of the Legend (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965), p.33.
[16]   Ibid., pp.203-204.
[17]   Aswell, “Lost Tribes,” p. 5.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


This article by Dr.Paul Brodwin PhD Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee was sent to me by a friend in Jan. 2006, and at the time was on Google. I was involved in some of these interviews conducted by Dr. Brodwin during 4th Union,  2002 Kingsport, Tennessee. This article brings back memories for those involved and regarding DNA its still true today, there is no “Portuguese Haplogroup.”
                (Dr Paul Brodwin)
The conflict between the agendas of scientific genetics and popular movements for recognition and sovereignty does not always implicate chiefly differences in power. Geneticists, of course, do not always end up as the enemies of people providing DNA. In the case described below, members of a small, once-isolated group requested DNA analysis to validate their claims of collective ancestry. They were happy to find a geneticist willing to take on their project, but he eventually had serious misgivings about the entire enterprise. People asked him to provide evidence about cultural identity and descent, but he knows his science is irrelevant to their most pressing questions.

The rest of this article examines the use of DNA evidence to assert identity claims among the Melungeons, a multiracial group from southern Appalachia. Their demand for and reception of genetic studies have generated several conflicts, but not along the familiar fault-lines. This case featured few political disagreements about whether research should proceed.
Obtaining cheek swabs and hair roots, extracting the DNA, and growing cell lines did not provoke a popular outcry about imperialism or formal ethical self-scrutiny. Melungeons’’ demand for collective recognition proved incommensurable not with the politics of genetic research, but instead with the limits that researchers themselves place on the interpretation of their findings. This case turned on the conceptual vulnerability of human population genetics: the mismatch between scientific and popular views about the ability of genetics evidence to establish collective origins and identity. A formal protocol such as the MEP, meant to adjudicate between acceptable and unacceptable research practices, cannot particularly help geneticists who face a conflict not with potential DNA donors, but instead with their own professional and intellectual commitments.
The geneticist who worked with the Melungeons was thus pushed into an even murkier ethical terrain than the HGDP defenders. He found it impossible to resolve the relevant conflicts without abandoning his fundamental dedication to his scientific craft. For over 100 years, journalists, social scientists, and folklorists have written about the Melungeons of northeastern Tennessee and neighboring regions of Virginia and Kentucky. In a journalistic idiom, the Melungeons are a "lost tribe," "Virginia’s mystery race," an "almost exinct," or "dwindling hill clan," to cite titles of popular magazine articles over the years. However, attempts at a more accurate description quickly get caught up in the same identity politics that divide the group itself and that drive its current interest in genetic research. Until recently, most academic accounts classified Melungeons as an enclaved community of mixed black, white, and American Indian ancestry, one of several such groups living in the eastern and southern United States.

The anthropologist Gilbert (1946) included Melungeons in his detailed list of ""mixed-blood racial islands""——groups that are considered racially distinct by their white, black, and Native American neighbors——along with the Brass Ankles and Croatans of the Carolinas, the Red Bones of Louisiana, the Guineas of West Virginia and Maryland, and the Jackson Whites of New Jersey.6 Gilbert characterized all these groups as backward minorities, suffering from illiteracy and poverty, difficult to classify racially, and needing assimilation to improve their condition.

Other social scientists forgo the paternalism, but offer similar accounts of Melungeon origins. Price (1951) traces the Melungeons to a fluid mixed-race society living in the 18th century in Virgina and the Carolinas. For Beale (1957), they are a ""tri-racial isolate,"" one of 27 such groups found throughout the South. Such groups contain "intermingled Indian, white, and Negro ancestry," and they persist as singular, bounded communities because of their geographical isolation and the legal or customary restrictions on marriage with both whites and blacks (see also Berry 1963). Most recently, DeMarce (1992, 1993)——a professional historian and genealogist——has documented Indian––white, black––white, and black––Indian amalgamations among the historic source populations of Melungeons. She also traces the likely migration of major Melungeon families from west central Virginia into the core area of northeast Tennessee where most people who now call themselves Melungeon trace their lineage.

[sjny-medi-ny00007423 medi2004.cls (03/22/2004 v1.1 LaTeX2e MEDI document
class) August 9, 2005 20:14 BIOETHICS IN ACTION 161] Until the early 1990s, these scholarly representations remained unchallenged by Melungeons themselves, simply because few people actually admitted to being one. Berry’s informants told him only that he would find Melungeons "across the creek" or “in the next hollow" (Berry 1963: 17). Price learned how to identify typical Melungeon surnames and physical traits from individuals who specifically disclaimed the identity. Beale noted that in the 1950 Tennessee census, Individuals locally known as Melungeon were most often marked by census workers as white, less often as Negro, and occasionally as Indian. He emphasizes that the designation of tri-racial comes from the outside investigator, not the groups themselves. In fact, "the mixed-blood individual will usually insist——with vehemence, if necessary——that there is no Negro ancestry in his family . . . but that he is partly Indian"(Beale 1957: 188). Cavender (1981) found the same situation during fieldwork
in Hancock County, Tennessee, in 1979 and 1980.
People identified by others as Melungeon usually denied the very existence of the group. Most whites, moreover, used the term simply as an epithet for anyone who was poor or had a suspected black ancestor. People interviewed by the above researchers presumably did not self-identify as Melungeon for several reasons: to escape the term’s lower class connotations (shiftless, backwards, thieving); to avoid the danger to one’s rights and status from acknowledging black ancestry (seeDeMarce 1992: 6––7); or simply because the term no longer existed as a meaningful ethnic marker. "Melungeon" during this period was an exonym, a term that outsiders used to identify the group, but that no one used to label themselves (see Puckett,
2001). The word reinforced the class hierarchy and racial boundaries of southern Appalachia.

However, the meaning and uses of the term began to change in the 1960s. In 1966, two economists, professors from Jefferson City, Tennessee, conducted a  regional economic study of Hancock County, at that time among the ten poorest counties in the nation. They recommended the development of tourism and, in particular, suggested "a drama featuring the mystery of the Melungeon settlement in the county . . . [t]he natural spin-off from the drama would be an outlet for handicraft items" as well as food and lodging services for tourists (quoted in Ivey 1977: 102). The play Walk Towards the Sunset: The Melungeon Story——a sentimental narrative about two centuries of anti-Melungeon prejudice——opened in 1969 in the Hancock County town of Sneedville (Beale 1990).

The play produced a short-lived tourism boom, but it also inaugurated a deeper change in the value and significance of Melungeon identity. In 1973, Sneedville residents began for the first time to identify themselves as Melungeon or to acknowledge Melungeon ancestry (Ivey 1977). Only a few years later, a self-labeled insider to the group complained to Cavender that some of the people "coming out of the closet" as Melungeons were actually imposters (Cavender 1981: 32). The next phase in this process of ethnic reinvention began two decades later with the publication of The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People (Kennedy P1: KVN sjny-medi-ny00007423 medi2004.cls (03/22/2004 v1.1 LaTeX2e MEDI document class) August 9, 2005 20:14 162 P. BRODWIN 1997, first edition published in 1994). In his book, N. Brent Kennedy, PhD, the vice-chancellor of development at Clinch Valley College, Virginia, describes how his struggle with sarcoidosis, a chronic inflammatory disease, led him to reconstruct his family genealogy, embrace his Melungeon heritage, and explore the origin and racial makeup of the group. Now in its second edition, the book serves as the first contact for many people entering Melungeon circles. Kennedy also enlisted academic support to find the Melungeon Research Committee (now the Melungeon Heritage Association [MHA]), and he organized the growing interest in Melungeon identity into a series of yearly meetings. The "First Union," held in 1997 at ClinchValley College with over 500 attendees, featured talks on genealogy and grantsmanship, along with Appalachian music and storytelling.
7 Subsequent meetings have been held yearly in Kentucky and Tennessee. People who consider hemselves Melungeon regularly attend these meetings, and they also participate in a vast web presence of family associations and competing home pages that assert different origin theories or explore connections with African-American and Native American groups. In the 1990s, therefore, thousands of people began to claim Melungeon identity or descent. The exonym became an autonym. Individuals who once shunned the label (or did not even know it existed) now claim it publicly and use it as an entree into new face-to-face as well as virtual communities. As with many merging identity movements, conflicts over authenticity and the prerogative to define the group’s essence and boundaries divide today’s Melungeons.
8 First of all, people living in the Appalachians who have personally suffered from the stigma of poverty and suspected black ancestry have different reasons to proclaim themselves Melungeon than do those whose ancestors left the region three or four generations ago and securely enjoy white status. Even locally, the better-educated individuals who organize the yearly gatherings inadvertently separate themselves from the poorer majority, who often cannot afford the registration fees and  the time off from work. In fact, the majority of people attending the Fourth Union held in 2002 were retirees, often from out of state, with a sprinkling of white-collar professionals. Finally, certain Melungeons privilege their Indian descent and seek legal recognition as a tribe,  thereby alienating themselves from the MHA, which explicitly does not seek tribal status. The revitalization of Melungeon identity also participates in broader social changes. According to Darlene Wilson, a historian and log-time MHA board member, the Melungeon movement aims to reverse the economic and racial caste system of the United States (Wilson 1998). She believes Melungeon ethnic activities hasten the long-term retreat of American racism, a viewpoint echoed on the MHAweb page:"We firmly believe in the dignity of all such mixed ancestry groups of southern Appalachia and commit to preserving their rich heritage of racial harmony and diversity."
Kennedy’’s book, a touchstone for many present-day (P1: KVN sjny-medi-ny00007423 medi2004.cls (03/22/2004 v1.1 LaTeX2e MEDI document class) August 9, 2005 20:14 BIOETHICS IN ACTION 163 ) Melungeons, adopts the common formulae of late 20th century identity politics: The restrictive choices of either quietly accepting our "stigma" [as Melungeon] or sweeping it under the rug in the pitiful self-delusion of "being like everyone else" were unacceptable. To me there seemed to be a third, admittedly blasphemous option: to embrace our heritage——whatever it might be——and wear it like a banner . . . . My mother, at first uneasy over my decision to come out of the Melungeon closet, quickly came to understand. (Kennedy 1997: Intentionally or not, Kennedy’s self-description recalls the shame of trying to pass as white or to normalize a physical disability, as well as the ordeal of acknowledging one’s homosexuality to family members. As the Melungeons’most well-known spokesman, Kennedy demands recognition in terms similar to those employed by many other groups in the national political scene. His calls to overcome internalized stigma, to make authentic contact with oneself, and to honor group distinctiveness in the       face of pressures to assimilate are all standard ingredients in contemporary politics of difference     (Taylor 1992: 38 and passim).

For many Melungeons, the right to establish their own origin story is the most public demand for recognition. Of all the speculations about origins that circulated in popular accounts, the claim of Portuguese descent has the oldest published history, dating to at least 1848.11 Academic and popular writers have long reported that individuals classified as Melungeon (when that term was still an exonym) would call themselves Portuguese, often pronounced "Porty-ghee." Kennedy (1997) supports the Portuguese theory and adds to it ancestry claims about Turks and Moors who settled in the colonial southeastern United States. His complicated account comes wrapped in a demand to respect his Melungeon ancestors who, he says, were telling the truth when they described themselves as Portuguese. The ""tri-racial isolate" theory, he writes, traces white ancestry exclusively to the British Isles. It is not only incorrect, it is also politically damaging, for it denies people "the God-given right to claim their national or specific ethnic heritages" (Kennedy 1997: 100). For Kennedy and his supporters, establishing an authoritative origin story is an a priori right of the Melungeon community. This collectivity, like all others, deserves recognition in terms of its own choosing, even (or especially) in the face of outsider experts. Many Melungeons fiercely support Kennedy’s ideas about Portuguese origins. They reject the standard scholarly opinion that the group arose from an amalgam of northern Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans.

They claim that calling Melungeons a "tri-racial isolate" connotes inbreeding, inferiority, and hence reproduces the elitist stereotype of Appalachian  residents. Claims of Portuguese descent generate polemics for a second and even more highly charged reason. Scholarly opinion holds that Melungeons (and other mixed-race groups) historically called themselves Portuguese to deflect suspicion of African ancestry.
[P1: KVN sjny-medi-ny00007423 medi2004.cls (03/22/2004 v1.1 LaTeX2e MEDI document
class) August 9, 2005 20:14 164 P. BRODWIN 
] .
DeMarce (1993) and Henige (1998) both cite an 1872 Tennessee SupremeCourt decision that classified a Melungeon woman as a descendent of ancient Carthagenians who long resided in Portugal, and hence not Negro. The ruling legalized her marriage to a white man and enabled her child to inherit the father’s estate (DeMarce 1993: 33). In general, many people insecure about their racial identity in the antebellum and Jim Crow South tried to pass as white by claiming Portuguese or other southern European ancestry (Everett 1999: 370).

According to Henige (1984), the label Portuguese is a contrived defense mechanism that reinforces one’s endangered white status. Henige (1998: 280) applied this perspective to Kennedy’s book, which he faults for its studied ambivalence about acknowledging black ancestry. Henige’s critique as well as the long history of claims about Portuguese descent made by groups in the South raises the stakes considerably.
For Brent Kennedy, proving the Portuguese origin story would not only vindicate the right of Melungeons to author their own history. It would also exonerate him and the Melungeons from charges of crypto-racism and of disguising the truth about group origins: serious matters in the current climate of identity politics.


To convince others to accept his theory of Melungeon origins, Kennedy turned  to population genetics:The call for DNA really came from outside the community, not within.  It really came from scholars who took offense at our writings, who criticized these outlandish claims that differed from the standard tri-racial accounts. They said that these claims cannot be substantiated, given the historical records that we have here in Virginia, where we think the core Melungeon population originated. They said that the only way you can prove these theories of Mediterranean, Turkish, Portuguese, or Jewish origin, or the possible source for the illnesses that people have, is through DNA (Brent Kennedy).13

In the early 1990s, Kennedy had consulted several academic geneticists who told him that a proper population study——with DNA samples from both Melungeons and comparison populations in Portugal and Turkey——would cost over a million dollars. In the following years, however, advances in mapping the human genome brought the price down considerably. Thanks to PCR technology and new databases of regionally and ethnically labeled DNA, geneticists can now take DNA samples locally and make probabilistic statements about population  history without collecting new samples from distant parts of the world (see Bradman  and Thomas 1998, and for a popular account, Sykes 2001).

In 1998, Kennedy presented his ideas for genetics research to Kevin Jones——a British molecular biologist and newly arrived assistant professor at the University Although he had never heard of the Melungeons, Jones took on the project because he was intrigued by the patterns of unusual diseases (e.g., thalassemia and Familial Mediterranean Fever) typically associated with southern European ancestry that also occur among white, presumably Scotch––Irish, Appalachians.
[P1: KVN sjny-medi-ny00007423 medi2004.cls (03/22/2004 v1.1 LaTeX2e MEDI document
class) August 9, 2005 20:14 BIOETHICS IN ACTION 165] of Virginia College at Wise (the re-named ClinchValley College
Brent Kennedy, however, wanted the genetics research to authenticate certain ancestry claims, not to reconstruct disease patterns, and he essentially steered the research in his direction. Kennedy oversaw the collection of DNA samples from descendents of the historic core Melungeon population, and Jones genotyped the population (by calculating the frequency of particular makers on the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and the non recombineng portion of the Y chromosome), and compared Melungeon frequencies to those recorded for various world populations. (Jones has not yet published the Melungeon data, but he says his approach parallels the work by Beale et al. 2002 and Wilson et al. 2001.)

The cultural politics of self-ascribed Melungeons interacted with the technical demands of population genetics to produce the ""rough edges"" of Jones’’s research: the zones of conflict between professional and lay expectations (see Bosk 1992). To begin with, this sort of research requires a clearly identified core population for sampling. However, the inclusion criteria for this group are essentially contested. People who now call themselves Melungeon live both in southern Appalachia and across the United States show a range of complexions and physical types, and bear a number of surnames. Conversely, many people with the same residence, appearance, and surnames do not identify as Melungeons. By necessity, Jones
relied entirely on Brent Kennedy to delineate the core Melungeon group.

I decided whom to sample. I think I know who are the original Melungeons, those who lived between 1725 and 1790. I asked myself, can we locate the descendents of  those people? Hence, we chose seven or eight people on the Virginia side and ten on the Vardy, Tennessee, side.We began with these people who everyone agrees are the original Melungeons. It was very easy to find their descendents. We all know who was related to whom; we just had to  find the right cousin (Brent Kennedy). 14 At this stage, Kevin Jones’s role was to ensure that enough samples were collected, that they came from independent lineages and that the descent was traced exclusively through the female or male line, a requirement for research with mtDNA and Y chromosome markers. In contrast to the HGDP, the process of collecting Melungeon DNA did not raise any questions about group sovereignty or informed consent. Kennedy presented his plan for sampling to the Vardy Historical Society, a local community board of self-identified Melungeons. They immediately endorsed it, as did the people approached in Virginia. In fact, Melungeons began to request DNA testing in numbers that far exceeded the needs of research and the technical capacity in Jone’s Laboratory.

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At least a thousand people requested that their DNA be included in the analysis. Kevin Jones often received unsolicited hair samples in the mail from people who had heard of the study but were not chosen as descendents of the core Melungeon group. In the end, Jones included approximately 120 mtDNA and 30 Y chromosome samples. To preserve the anonymity of subjects, each donor received a numerical code along with their collecting kit for hair roots and cheek swabs. The chief difficulty with DNA sampling came from people’’s racial anxiety.

During the study, both Brent Kennedy and Kevin Jones received death threats, and Jones told me he received several anonymous warnings by telephone as well as the accusation that Kennedy was sampling the darkest people he could find. Jones told me that the people issuing these threats were simply afraid that the DNA study would find a black in their family past, and my conversations with attendees at the Fourth Union ratify his interpretation. According to one woman long active in Melungeon affairs, many more blacks had come to the first few Melungeon gatherings, but the weight of opinion soon decreed that "if you were colored, you were not going to be counted as a Melungeon." Other attendees who were researching their family lines told me bluntly that people are afraid that information about their black ancestors will become public.

Their comments suggest that when participants in Melungeon activities talk about identity, they effectively portray themselves as white, despite the official rhetoric about mixed-race descent (see Pucket 2001). Even Brent Kennedy estimates that a third of self-ascribed Melungeons are afraid of the ramifications of finding black ancestry, although he says they would eventually accept the information.

Kevin Jones finished a preliminary analysis of the genetic data by early  2002.However, during the prior year, he often wondered about the wisdom of beginning work with the Melungeons.15 First of all, he thought that the politics of identity completely overshadowed any interest in legitimate science. Each Melungeon faction wanted something different from the genetic study. Kennedy and his supporters wanted evidence of Portuguese or Turkish origins. People seeking tribal recognition, or at least affirmation of their subjective sense of Indian ness, wanted to see Native American ancestry. At least a handful of individuals wanted to shut down the whole project for fear of any evidence of black ancestry.
Moreover, individual DNA donors were impatient to learn about their family lines, even though Jones was conducting a population study which is unsuited for questions about individual genealogy. Finally, in his dealings with theMelungeon community, Jones encountered both a broad suspicion that scientists were secretive and insensitive and the na ¨tive faith that his particular project would provide definitive answers about family history. He knew his research could not satisfy these contradictory expectations.

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Jones publicly presented his data in a much-anticipated talk at the Fourth Melungeon Union in June 2002.He first spoke about the open-ended nature of all scientific work and emphasized the anonymity of the samples and his own objectivity (as a British citizen and non-Melungeon). He described the analysis of the aggregate DNA sample into the categories of African, Native American, and Eurasian used by GenBank (the NIH database for all publicly available genetic sequences). Finally, he presented the numerical data: The numbers are relatively small . . But nevertheless, about five percent of people who claim to be Melungeon reflect a Native American ancestry on their female side, and about five percent reflect an African-American . . . . That leaves an awful lot of people who fall under the Eurasian category, and that is no real surprise…Because populations have moved around Europe so much, that there are some sequences that you find anywhere in Europe. They don’’t tell us anything about likely origins. And when you look at those Eurasian Melungeon samples, an awful lot of them fall within that category. They are generic type sequences. They could be from England, Ireland, France, they could be from Spain, they could be from Turkey, anywhere within that Eurasian category.

(Kevin Jones)16 He then described the few unusual (non-generic) sequences that he found: among the mtDNA samples, four sequences that matched with the Siddi (a North Indian people of East African descent) and couple of sequences that matched from Turkey; among the Y chromosomes, some matches from Anatolia and Syria.
Jones also tried to address the anxieties and expectations in his audience. He explicitly used the term "multiracial," instead of "tri-racial isolate" to describe Melungeons. He underscored the considerable genetic diversity that he found in order to dispel a common stereotype. This population, he said, is as diverse as just about any other human population, "so, if anyone has ever said, ‘‘You inbred Melungeon!’’ they are lying." Finally, he emphasized that genetics does not and should not affect the sense of Melungeon identity: If you are hoping for a DNA sequence or a Y-chromosome type that says ‘‘You are a Melungeon,’’ forget it. It doesn’’t exist . . .  You know what it means to be Melungeon or feel Melungeon or to be discriminated against as a Melungeon. It’’s a cultural identity which is real and important, but it does not reflect any genetic basis. And I hope that with the variability that exists, apparently, within this population, that’s something to be proud of. Because that culture and that identity have been maintained in the face of input from all sorts of people. (Kevin Jones)

In his public performance, Kevin Jones tried to balance what people wanted to hear with what he could legitimately tell them. He knows there is no such thing as a definitional Portuguese or Turkish haplotype. He knows that the term tri-racial is just as meaningful (or meaningless) as multiracial, given the models of human variation in today’’s genetics. He also knows that the percentages he gave are probabilistic figures, subject to sample size, mathematical models, and the particular datasets used at GenBank and the Center for Genetic Anthropology, University College of London (which sequenced the Y chromosome data). His strategy thus involved providing enough details to please everyone without compromising himself. Speaking to a crowd of journalists (from Smithsonian, Discover, and Wired, as well as local media outlets) after his talk, he explained that calling the vast majority of genetic markers pan-European does not necessarily mean that Melungeon ancestors did not sail from Portugal. "All I’’ve done is contributed data," he explained, "and people can make of that what they will. That’s what I do as a scientist." Intended for the media, his remark demonstrates a benign commitment to scientific objectivity. What he did not add publicly is that his science cannot answer the questions about collective identity that set the whole project in motion.

Reflecting on his performance a few days later, Jones told me that what bothers him the most is that the Melungeon community neither understands nor cares about population genetics. People are only interested in the most exotic ancestries or their own family lines, and Jones already heard them start to weave the discovery of Siddi sequences into stories about Gypsy relatives. Indeed, people in Melungeon circles are avid customers of commercial genetic web sites such as FamilyTreeDNA.com (which sent its CEO to the Fourth Union). Founded in 1999, this company performs various types of mtDNA and Y chromosomal analysis for a few hundred dollars each, and customers purchase them to verify relatedness between cousins and also to discover if they have certain markers (SNPs, or single nucleotide polymorphisms), indicating likely Native American or Cohanim (hence, Jewish) ancestry. Jones attributes the mismatch between popular expectations and his scientific expertise to people’s overwhelming
devotion to genealogy through genetics.
 The commercial web sites cater to people’s desire to turn a trivial genetic fact into an appealing identity claim, Jones said, and the Melungeons approached his own project with the same desire. In the case of the Melungeons, a vast distance in world view and scientific fluency separates the geneticist from the people who want him to adjudicate their identity claims. That distance constitutes the rough edge of Kevin Jones’s work, where lay and expert views diverge most sharply. In his public presentation, Jones managed to avoid open hostility by carefully stating what the data could support and what it does not deny. He allowed people to pursue their quests for recognition without undue impediment.However, Jones cannot so easily resolve the professional’s side of the rough edge. In our conversations, he stated the dilemma in the following terms. What is his responsibility as a scientist, when his expertise is so broadly misunderstood or ignored? Jones does not expect untrained people to master or even appreciate the complexity of population genetics. Is it more dangerous if  population geneticists study a group searching for its origins, or if they do not study it?  [P1: KVN sjny-medi-ny00007423 medi2004.cls (03/22/2004 v1.1 LaTeX2e MEDI document class) August 9, 2005 20:14 BIOETHICS IN ACTION 169] If they study the group, its members will inevitably distort the findings or get angry when they are presented in their legitimate but impenetrable complexity. If scientists do not study the group, people will use commercial genetic testing services and thereby satisfy their lust for definitive answers but not learn anything meaningful about themselves. In the end, Jones feels caught up in an impossible conflict between the role of scientist (addressing other experts) and arbiter of community origins (addressing Melungeons). By definition, fulfilling one role betrays the obligations of the other.

The HGDP and Kevin Jones’s work with the Melungeons illustrate the political and conceptual vulnerabilities of human population genetics. The HGDP was a global undertaking with little direct benefit to the groups or individuals to be sampled. Indigenous rights advocates saw an opportunity to advance their sovereignty claims by opposing the HGDP in front of the highest international authorities. The HGDP personnel responded to the political firestorm by writing the MEP: a recognizable object of ready-made bioethics, produced by negotiations between professionals and their lay critics. The Melungeon case unfolded on a much smaller scale and in a different political landscape.

Brent Kennedy, an ethnic insider, led a genetics project that he thought would justify his claim of Portuguese descent. Many Melungeons then eagerly requested DNA sampling as part of their battle against the widespread mis-recognition or non-recognition of their distinctive identity. The conflicts between Kevin Jones and the Melungeons grew not from a power imbalance, but instead from incommensurable truth claims about genetics data. The struggles that preoccupied Jones for over two years do not lend themselves to the terms of formal bioethics (e.g., balancing professional prerogatives against individual or group rights). The very circumstances that made his project possible——
Brent Kennedy’s high profile among Melungeons and people’s strong motivation to donate DNA——meant that Jones did not control the goals of research or the interpretation of findings. Realizing that he had stopped doing science as usual, Jones improvised his response to the crosscurrents of Melungeon identity politics. At times, he was baffled by people’s disinterest in what genetics could  legitimately say about population history. At other times, and in public, he confirmed the Melungeons own assertion of ethnic pride. Most importantly, though, he became convinced of the incommensurability between how experts and non-experts interpret and use genetic data.

These cases suggest what drives professionals in human population genetics to turn to the vocabulary and procedures of modern bioethics. In both cases, routine scientific work was disrupted, and scientists labeled the problem as ethical
[P1: KVN sjny-medi-ny00007423 medi2004.cls (03/22/2004 v1.1 LaTeX2e MEDI document class) August 9, 2005 20:14 170 P. BRODWIN] as a strategy of conflict management (see Bosk 1999). Labeling a problem as ethical changes how professionals and lay-people respond to it, and inaugurates further (more or less) public negotiations. This rhetorical act does not dissolve the conflict, but nonetheless shifts how it unfolds and justifies different standards of evidence and modes of persuasion. This perspective applies chiefly to the political vulnerability of human population genetics: the unequal relation between researchers and people providing DNA samples.` This inequality provoked the controversy over the HGDP, and the project planners tried to resolve it by inscribing more equal relations in their MEP. The field’s political vulnerability did not affect Kevin Jones’s work with the Melungeons, largely because Brent Kennedy, an ethnic insider, sponsored the project, kept control of its aims, and
thereby guaranteed people’s enthusiasm to donate their DNA. The political crosscurrents which did plague Jones’s work were intramural concerns among different factions of Melungeons, but these typically do not drive ethical self-scrutiny among professionals. Kevin Jones faced the conceptual vulnerability of human population genetics: the mismatch between expert and non-expert views about the relevance of genetics for cultural identity (see Elliott and Brodwin 2002). He grappled with this problem
when he began the research and again when he announced his findings. Taking DNA samples from Melungeons logically presupposes, one knows who counts as a Melungeon in the first place, but the science of human population genetics cannot provide the answer. Geneticists cannot decree the inclusion and exclusion criteria actually used to decide group membership, for these are irreducibly social judgments. At most, geneticists offer laboratory data which support, or do not support, judgments that are historically contingent, politically contested, and nestled in a repertoire of symbols about descent, family, kin, community, and nation. Interpreting the data produced by genetics laboratories runs into the same
 According to Jones, his mtDNA and Y chromosome analysis say nothing about Melungeon claims to Portuguese identity, and not only for technical reasons (i.e., the probabilistic nature of population genetics data and the lack of a Portuguese haplotype). The urgency of Melungeons’ claims of Portuguese (or other Mediterranean) identity unfolds against a set of background assumptions and histories: the categories of black and white in the American racial system and the elitism of outsider discourses about Appalachia. Their assumptions are not even conceivable within the terms of human population genetics. At most, a geneticist could argue that American racial categories have no scientific justification, but the conversation would effectively end there. Population genetics data, once it leaves the laboratory, get inserted into wildly divergent interpretive schemes.
When population geneticists work in partnership with community members according to their stated needs (in a noble effort to P1: KVN sjny-medi-ny00007423 medi2004.cls (03/22/2004 v1.1 LaTeX2e MEDI document class) August 9, 2005 20:14 BIOETHICS IN ACTION 171 escape the field’s political vulnerability), they risk running into its conceptual vulnerability. They cannot offer the stable, objective definitions of group identity that people often demand (see Brodwin 2002). Their science threatens to become irrelevant and their obligations contradictory, but this produces private anxiety for the geneticist, not politicized and public debate. The end result is a feeling of futility about crossing the expert/non-expert divide. In the case of the HGDP, its centerpiece ethics protocol managed to restate at least part of the critics’’ general concerns, even if it did not (and could not) fully address their political goals. However, in the case of the Melungeons, the incommensurability between scientific and popular truth claims about "genetic identity" reflects the American dilemma about race and identity, a set of concerns that runs skew to the stable representations and procedures of American bioethics. No final product of bioethics, therefore, emerged to cover over Kevin Jones’s bewilderment about professional obligation and contradictory loyalties.

Finally, the two cases illustrate the ethnographic study of bioethics in action. Two main questions animate this approach. (1) Under what circumstances does explicit talk about values, rights, and obligations break out among researchers or clinicians? In general, this occurs because other social actors interrupt their work routines, question their commitments, or oppose their interests and prerogatives.The ethnographic question concerns why, in a particular context, the old routines suddenly require explicit ethical justification. What practical steps do researchers and clinicians take to survive the shake-up? In particular, why do they respond to the controversy by elaborating an explicitly ethical discourse? And when does their pragmatic response get transformed, after a suitable period of time, into a ready-made product of bioethics?Bioethics in action, therefore, is a matter of muddling through: a real-time struggle to justify one’’s expertise, professional mandate, and actions in the world.

Occasionally, out of the struggle emerges a published text (like the Model Ethical Protocol for Group Consent), which later settles comfortably into the systematic discourse of professional bioethics, ready for future citation by researchers, clinicians, policy-makers, lawyers, and activists. A ready-made product of bioethics is thus the final stage of a particular struggle. But it tends to lose any trace of its construction at a given place and time (cf. Latour 1987). Indeed, the final products of bioethics are often self-consciously framed as a matter of transcendent principles and fundamental rights. The ethnography of bioethics in action peers below the rhetoric of moral necessity to find the earlier story of contingent moves and countermoves. It traces the complicated traffic (of professional routines and their disruption, of competing ideals, interests and agendas) That drove the original controversy as well as people’s decision to frame it in ethical terms.

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1. To focus on the celebratory accounts by Jonsen and Callahan is not to reify bioethics, but to illustrate themajorway the field justifies itself in recent interdisciplinary forums (e.g., Kleinman et al. 1999). Of course, people who study the ethical dimensions of medicine and life sciences carry on a lively debate about the boundaries and mission of bioethics. They argue over the relative importance of casuistry, transcendent principles, legal reasoning, narratology, feminism, empirical research, etc. Some prominent figures in the profession refuse to label themselves "bioethicists," and the field has yet to settle key questions about accreditation and the content of graduate study. Unfortunately, the diversity of opinion and approaches often fades away in the standard self-representations of the field made to social scientists as well as in the ""bioethics training"" offered to IRB personnel and clinician-scientists.

2. See important recent overviews by Reardon (2001) and Greely (2001), the latter defending the scientific validity of the HGDP and arguing for its revival. The HGDP generated an enormous literature in several genres: internal planning documents, reports of early meetings, activist manifestos and opinion pieces opposing it, responses by HGDP planners and supporters, critiques from other professionals chiefly cultural anthropologists and ethicists), formal statements by bioethics commissions, and review articles about the entire controversy reflecting different disciplines and interests. From the perspective of ioethics in action, however, not all this literature is equally relevant. Reviews appearing long after the controversy died down and formal pronouncements by high-level organizations privilege stable summaries of ethical principles: the final product of earlier debates whose textual traces are more fragmentary and closely tied to immediate contexts. This paper focuses on the latter genre, especially correspondence between critics and defenders of the HGDP on Native-L, an indigenous rights list-serve (accessible at http://www.nativenet.uthscsa.edu). This is the lively and unsettled rhetorical exchange that produced, through many mediations and over several years, the Model Protocol for Group Consent, which exists as a stable artifact of today’’s ready-made bioethics.

3. For details about the WCIP, see http://www.cwis.org/fwdp/international/scipinfo. text; about CONIC, see nativenet.uthsca.edu/archive/nl/9309/0314.html, and about SAIIC,
see saiic.nativeweb.org/brochure.html (accessed March 2002).

4. The final planning workshop (held in Sardinia in September 1993),which established the formal organization of the global HGDP, expanded and restated this list into four "areas of ethical concern." (Human Genome Diversity Committee 1993) (also known as the Alghero Document). These four areas combine straightforward estatements of accepted research ethics with the anti-racist self-image of human population genetics (see Gannett 2001). The first and most detailed area concerns respect for individuals and  cultural integrity and the need for informed consent and anonymity. The second area regulates property rights in DNA; it directs any profits from pharmaceutical patents to benefit the sampled population or individual, and it endorses a single database accessible to all scientists. The remaining areas focus on the interpretation and popular uses of the project’s findings, particularly the need to avoid misuse of genetic data to justify racism, xenophobia, and hypernationalism, and to publicize that genetic science does not support conventional notions of race.

5. Around the same time, at least two other organizations also prepared guidelines for ethical conduct in human population genetics research, UNESCO and the international Human Genome Organization (HUGO) (Greely 1997).

6. Gilbert used contemporary terminology in his list. The Jackson Whites now call themselves the Ramapo Mountain people; the Croatans now call themselves the Lumbee and consider themselves Indian (see Blu 1980).

7. See http://www.geocities.com/bourbonstreet/inn/1stunion.htm.
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8. Information which follows about present-day Melungeons comes from
interviews with Brent Kennedy,WayneWinkler, current head of the Melungeon Heritage
Association, and one other individual active in the Melungeon movement for over ten
years, as well as fieldwork at the Fourth Union: A Melungeon Gathering, in Kinsgsport
Tennessee, June 19––23, 2002.

9. In 1999, a group of Melungeons presented their claims to the Tennessee
Commission on Indian Affairs, and they also called upon the broader Native American
community to accept them as legitimate descendents of earlier tribes, even though for
centuries they had hidden or denied their Indian features (Whitaker 1999).

10. See http://www.geocities.com/bourbonstreet/inn/1024/welcome.htm.
11. Other candidates for Old World source populations include Basques,
ancient Carthagenians,

12th CenturyWelsh sailors, shipwrecked Spanish pirates, Sephardic Jews, the
Lost Tribe of Israel, the lost colony of Roanoke, and Turks (Elder 1999).

12. Many people active in Melungeon circles do not agree with Kennedy’s
favored origin theory, but the full scope of the group’s internal politics are beyond the
scope of this paper.

13. Interview conducted June 23, 2002, in Kingsport, Tennessee.

14. Kevin Jones was an invited guest at two meetings of the NIH grant
"Ethnicity, Citizenship, Family: Identity After the Human Genome Project" (grant
5R01-02196) in August 2001 and February 2002.

15. Transcript of public talk, Fourth Union, June 20, 2002.

16. Population geneticists who routinely recruit DNA donors and report the results in popular media have come to anticipate the incommensurability (Sloan Williams, January 2002). Through the use of informed consent protocols and formal ethics evaluation, they design studies in order to minimize potential problems. Anticipating and resolving controversies in this way, however, constitutes the terrain of ready-made bioethics. Kevin Jones, whose work with Melungeons was his first project in human population genetics, and whose college had only recently formed an IRB, illustrates the earlier stage of bioethics in action.


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Dr. Paul Brodwin
Department of Anthropology
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee
WI 53201, USA