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.

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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.
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] .
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.
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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 (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 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 text; about CONIC, see, and about SAIIC,
see (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
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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
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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Friday, January 8, 2016


Did these mysterious people of Appalachia find the new world 2,000 years before Columbus?
     Story and photographs by John Fetterman. Sunday March 30, 1969-Courier Journal .

Soon, gaunt empty houses and overgrown graveyards will be all to mark lovely , lonely Newman Ridge in East Tennessee where they lived. For decades, these enigmatic, dark skin complexioned people confounded sociologist, anthropologist and historians alike. The riddle of their origin appears destined to remain forever unsolved.

Newman Ridge, less than 50 miles beyond Cumberland Gap near Middlesboro, stretches some 25 miles from its northeast tip in northeastern tip of Virginia to its southwestern ending in Hancock County, Tennessee. On the other side it is flanked by lush valleys which drain the Powell River basin on the North and the Clinch River basin on the south. To this height came the dark ridge people to become the strangest legend of the Appalachians.

Some say they descended from Phoenicians, those skilled seagoing people who ruled the known seas before Rome was built. Others say they came from Portugal before the American Revolutionary War. These are handed down stories of Spanish mutineers. Others offer their own theories. The Melungeons are survivors of the lost fleet sent by Portugal to seize Cuba from Spain in 1665. They are descendants of the Welsh chieftain, Prince Madoc, whose party sailed west in the 12th century, moved up the Mississippi Valley and possibly reached falls where Louisville now stands. They descended from inhabitants of Sir Walter Raleigh’s lost Colony of Englishmen at Roanoke which disappeared around 1560. They are descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. After division of the land of Canaan among the 9 1/2 tribes that crossed over Jordan (Joshua 13 and 14), this became dispersed (James 1:1) and lost its identity. All these theories have their own followers.   
These dark complexioned people bear one of the family names found in the riddle of the ridge. Their history is apart from the rest of Appalachian, and a wooded ridge in Tennessee still holds the secret of their origin. It is a secret that has baffled researchers for decades. Were their ancestors skilled seamen from the Mediterranean? Some experts say perhaps-and bits of knowledge from the past seem to bear them out.

The Melungeon legend gained new interest  this year with the discovery of evidence that Phoenicians, indeed, may  have found the western world at least 2000 years before Columbus.

And this summer, the people of Hancock County hope to stage an outdoor drama to bring needed tourist money into the county of 8,000 people and to keep alive the Melungeon Legend. A script is being prepared by Kermit Hunter, (Walk Toward The Sunset) successful writers of many such dramas, including “Unto These Hills” staged at Cherokee N.C. and the “Horn of the West” production at Boone N.C.  

Twenty two year old Corinne Bowlin, a teacher in the county school system, is one of the drama organizers. I have been fascinated by the Melungeon legend all my life, she said. “Bowlin you know is a Melungeon name.” Many of the other workers helped to prepare a site for the drama & seeking financing also bear “Melungeon” names.

Out along the unmapped ridge, away from paved roads, only two people live now, Mr. and Mrs Ellis Stewart. He is 71 and she is 68 and they have spent their lives on Newman Ridge, “They’ll all come back to this ridge someday” Stewart says. “Where they came from first I’ll never know. But someday they’ll come back up here like squirrels.”  

But they won’t. As in all Appalachia, the cities have drawn away the young people, and the older people have moved down by the paved roads and nearer the towns. Poverty has entangled some and success has found others. The days of moonshining and  dirt farming up on the ridge will no more return to Newman’s Ridge than they will to thousands of ridges like it.  There are two versions of what life was like on the ridge which as recently as 50 years ago was home for several hundred people.

The fair of hair and skin Scotch-Irish-English who moved along the wilderness road into the Kentucky territory through Cumberland Gap looked with scorn at the strange, dark people on the ridge. The Melungens were regarded as barbaric and dangerous. Because of their olive skin, Melungeons were sometimes called Negro or Indian and, to some, the name “Melungeon” took on the uncomplimentary connotation suffered by all minority groups. 

Henry R. Price, an attorney and historian who lives in Rogersville, Tenn., has traced the Melungeons immigration back through southern Virginia and North Carolina. There at the sea, the trail vanishes. In the 1700, tax lists in North Carolina make note of “mulattoes” including the surnames Gibson, Collins and Mullins. These are among the most populous names that appear on Newman Ridge. Later census reports makes a distinction between whites and “other free persons of color.” When John Sevier, the Tennessee explorer and political leader came to Hancock County in 1784 he made note of a colony of unusual dark-featured people who spoke English, were neither Indian nor Negro, who bore fine European features and who claimed to be Portuguese.

But to the fair-haired settlers in the valleys, the Melungeons remained a frightening “bogeyman” for nearly 200 years. Early writers told of fierce, bloodthirsty renegades lying in wait upon the ridge, of an uncivilized clan of “half breeds”  living in caves and hovels.

Col. W. A. Henderson, a prominent member of the Tennessee Bar and once president of the Tennessee Historical Society, wrote in 1912, the “Melungeon were never adherents to the Indian Religion and rites, but adhered to the Christian religion. The cross was held by them as a sacred as a sacred symbol.” Miss Will Allen Dromgoole, the novelist and poet, visited Hancock County about 1890 and wrote, “the men are very tall and strait with small, sharp eyes, high cheek bones and strait black hair worn rather long.” From talking with Anglo Irish pioneers, Miss Dromgoole learned that the Melungeons were “rogues, close, suspicious, inhospitable, untruthful, cowardly and sneaky.” These “Melungeon tales” were repeated by other writers and embellished by the white settlers in the valleys. They were probably lent some truth by reports that men from the ridge had joined Bill Sizemore, a bloodthirsty outlaw who terrorized the Clinch region in the 1860s. Sizemore was finally killed in Rogersville in 1867 and a sow was driven up the street to devour his remains.  These stories are still told in the small towns nestled in the Tennessee and Virginia hills and the people still talk as though the ridge were alive with people.

The ridge people, who bore the names Gibson, Collins, Bell, Bowlin, Goins, Gilbert and Campbell of the restrictive legislation aimed at slaves and former slaves during the 1700s and 1800s. Price in searching through the records, found these people exercising privileges by voting, paying taxes, acquiring land, making wills, securing marriage license and suing. Written records put them on Newman Ridge early in the 1800s, and they moved along the natural valley routes which were to be the Wilderness trail of Daniel Boone and the later immigration to the west.

The strange customs attributed to the Melungeons, upon closer examination, appear to be little more than usual pioneer traits. Moonshinning ,of course, was not confined to Newman’s Ridge. A walk around the ridge and conversations with people who once lived there produce a picture of a life on the ridge that is contrary to the perpetuated “Melungeon” tales. 

Claude Collins at 33 is supervisor of materials and Libraries for the Hancock County School system. Dark and fine featured in the Melungeon tradition, he speaks fondly of his youth on the ridge, and he goes back frequently to walk the disappearing roads and reminisce. “It’s a good life.” he said. “We worked hard and our fields were clean. I can still see those oranges and apples my mother gave us at Christmas time.”

Around 1900  a Presbyterian mission and school was established at Vardy, a community in the valley north of the ridge. The children walked down daily for their education and many, like Collins, went on to college. There were socials and parties and a society that well may have been superior to that of the “town” people of Sneedville and other hamlets were Melungeon was considered a derogatory word.

Another with found memories of the ridge is miss Martha Collins. Her ancestors settled on Newman Ridge at some date lost in history and she thinks perhaps “they were people who came with Desoto, Hernando DeSota,  the Spanish exployer, is believed to have reached what is now East Tennessee in 1540. Miss Collins is president of the Citizens bank of Sneedville where she has worked for 50 years. She is 75 now and speaks with a gentle fondness of her ancestors.

“Those people were very persevering, and honest. And many of them did not live in little cabins like people say. They had huge houses of hewn logs. I mean really big logs. Some house were two stories high.” 

A frequently told story of the ridge concerns Aunt Mahala Mullins, who sold the product of thewhiskey stills from her cabin upon the ridge. Attempts to arrest her were fruitless because Aunt Mahala weighed in excess of 400 pounds and could not pass through her cabin door. “Everyone was found of Aunt Mahala,” Miss Collins said. “When she died they took away the boards from a wall that was left unfinished for a chimney, wrapped her in quilts and gently rolled her down the hill to be buried.”

Most people whose roots go back to the ridge speak of it with warmth and pride. “They always had money,”   Miss Collins said. ”My grandfather once paid for a farm with $700 dollars in gold.” Sometime before the Civil War the ridge people became famous for the fine gold and silver coins they produced. Storekeepers made profits from accepting the Melungeons double eagles, which usually contained more gold than the legitimate Coins. Now, no one seems to know where the gold came from.

There are memories of long Sunday church services attended by all on the ridge, of singing and dancing with pretty dark-haired girls, and of “all day workings” in which everybody would pitch in to build new homes for families struck by fire. A white sheet stretched out on a distant, visible rocky point was a signal that a family would come to visit that day.

Bill Grohse lives in the valley along Blackwater Creek beneath Newmans Ridge, and is sometimes mistaken for a “real Melungeon” by curious visitors to the area. This amuses Grohse because “I’m a German raised in a Jewish orphanage in Yonkers.” He is there because he married a Collins and has become the local historian, spending his time poring over courthouse records and early writings. He is convinced that the white Indians with beards” that confounded early explorers could not have been Indians. And he has chronicled the achievements of men from the ridge. Grohse says a Jordan Gibson traveled with Daniel Boone and a Harrison Collins won a congressional Medal of Honor for bravery at Nashville during the Civil War. One o the crack regiments in the major Civil War battle at Franklin, Tenn.,Grohse says was a volunteer calvary unit  made up Largely by men from the ridge.  Many of the people who came from Carolinas to the ridge came with land grants for service in the Revolutionary War. 

The Phoenician theory of origin, until recently, was almost beyond the realm of imagination. Historians rejected those that argue that swarthy seafarers from the Mediterranean came to this continent 2,000 years before Columbus.

But last summer, Dr. Cyrus H. Gordon a leading scholar of  Mediterranean studies at Brandeis University, made  a discovery. Dr Gordon said that Phoenician inscriptions on a stone found in Brazil in 1872 indicate that they were there sometime during the 6th century BC. The  inscriptions tell how 10 Phoenician Vessels left Hzion-Geber, an island in the gulf of Aqaba, sailed down the Red Sea and around Africa. A storm separated  one vessel from the others and it was apparently caught is the west-flowing south Equatorial Current. Later safe on a foreign shore, they offered a youth as a sacrifice to the Gods. Charles Michael Boland, in his book, “They all discovered America,” says he is convinced that the Phoenicians made several trips to both North and South America.

From Gordon, Boland, the Bible and other sources, an intriguing “circumstantial” case for the Phoenician theory can be made.  First were the Phoenician back in the days before Greek and Roman ascendancy,   advanced enough for such a venture?

Phoenician covered what is now Lebanon and the southern part of the Syrian coast. It was settled around 3000 B.C. by waves of Bedouin tribesmen from the desert who called the area Canaan and themselves Canaanites . Phoenicia became the leading world trading power.

Phoenicians were the first to use an effective alphabetic system, which they passed on to the Greeks and Arabs. They were remarkable seamen and the first to learn to use the North Star for night sailing. In fact, the Greeks who took to the seas later, called it the “Phoenician Star.” 

From the busy seaport cities Byblos, Sidon and Tyre, the Phoenicians sent out trading ships and established colonies around the Mediterranean and then around the African coast. In maintaining commercial supremacy, they closely guarded their knowledge of the seas. While other thought that the world ended at the Pillars of Heracles (Gibraltar), the Phoenician sent ships to what is now Britain, into the Baltic Sea lands and all along the perimeter of Africa. They were expert metallurgist, slave traders and transporters of all the worlds goods. They invented and sold transparent glass and discovered the complicated process of producing purple dye from sea mollusks. The dye was so expensive it became the preferred color of royalty and nobility.

Phoenician founded the powerful colony-city of Carthage on the North African coast in 814 B.C.  Nearly a century before the Romans first built the village that was to become Rome. Phoenician sailors to the seas in ships of advance design, fashioned from the storied conifers of Lebanon and twice the tonnage of Columbus largest ship. They were deeply religious and ceremonies were marked with frequent human sacrifice.

They knew the large sea beyond Gibraltar and had colonized Spain and Portugal, so when Carthage was destroyed in the climax  of the Punic Wars in 146 B.C., fleeing Phoenician and Carthaginians may well have known of a haven-The western hemisphere. In the voyages around Africa, such skilled seamen probably would have been aware of the westerly flowing “trades” leading into the Americas. Boland and others think they used these currents regularly.

The Spanish, in their conquests of Central and South America after Columbus, made no attempt to link Phoenician Culture with that they found among the Indians. But it is intriguing reread what the Spanish recorded-keeping the Phoenicians in mind.            

 Ralph L. Roys, writing in his book, “The Americas on the Eve of discovery,” which was edited by Harold Driver, professor of anthropology at Indiana University, said: “When Francisco Hernandez deCorba discovered Yucatan in 1517, he found evidence of a new culture definitely superior to anything which the Spaniards had previously met in the new world.
“The two races (Spanish and Mayan) were impressed by the striking, if superficial, resemblance in their religious rights. Crosses, alters, and incense were sacred to both; confession of sin, baptism of children, fasting, continence and the ceremonial consumption of fermented liquor.” In their dispatches to Spain, the Spanish conquerors frequently told of Indian devotion to human sacrifice.

Dr Gordon had added many other “similarities” between old world and new world Characteristics. Transatlantic contacts are strongly indicated, he says, and he has pointed out in Mexico, the beardless Indians keep alive a tradition that Quetzalcoatl, a white man with black hair, came by sea from the east and introduced the arts of civilization, including agriculture and metallurgy. Irrigation and the metallurgical arts of “lost-wax” casting and use of acid were similar to the Phoenician arts. “Sun” pyramids and temples open to the stars were similar to those of the Egyptians, for whom the Phoenicians had been the trading agents for centuries.

Textiles were similar and Dr. Gordon was amazed to discover that pre-Columbian Old and New world looms Contained the same 11 working parts. Dr Gordon also reminds that historian Zelia Nuttal wrote at the beginning of this century, “America must have been intermittently colonized by the intermediation of  Mediterranean seafarers.” In a professional paper, Dr Gordon summed it up:,”What is now shaping up, though we can discern it  only in broad outline, is that no high civilization ever developed in isolation without stimuli from the outside.”

It is interesting to speculate that across the centuries, Phoenicians or their Carthaginian kin, wandered North and South America.

In his book Driver says: “The book of Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is probably derived from an unpublished manuscript written by Solomon Spaulding in which he postulates that the Indians who built the many mounds in Ohio were descendants of the Lamanites, a rebellious tribe of Jews. Abandoned by God, these renegade Jews of the first millennium B.C. are said to have wandered to the Americas. “The Mormons that the second coming of Christ actually occurred in Mexico , where he is said to have appeared before 3000 Indians on one occasion..The record of the “White Gods“ among the Aztecs, Mayas, Toltecs and Incas are interpreted by the Mormons as further evidence for the appearance of Christ in the Americas.”

Attorney-Historian Price, in tracing the migration from the coast of North Carolina through Southern Virginia and East Tennessee, only confirmed the natural route of any people moving into the area. The wide valleys of the Powell and Clinch Rivers, on either side of Newman Ridge, are the natural routs of travel. This, the early hunters and pioneers soon learned. It was this route that that Dr. Thomas Walker followed on his way to discover Cumberland Gap, at Middlesboro. For speculators, Dr. Walker left this note in his journal: “On the top of the ridge (at Cumberland Gap) are laurel trees marked with crosses.” 

Researchers have pointed out that the word “Melungeon” may be derived from the French mélange, meaning “mixture.” Or the Afro-Portuguese melungo  meaning “shipmate.” Price says that with a little imagination such English sounding names as Brogan, Goins, Collins and Mullins “could take on a Portuguese flavor as Braganza, Magoens, Colinso and Mollen.”              

 Visitors-some curious, some scientific-still come intermittently to Hancock County. They search through the graveyards, and prowl the abandoned houses. Outsiders have taken skull measurements and blood samples and made skin pigmentations studies. No answers have resulted. Meanwhile, time and change have sent the Melungeon to mix more and more with other segments of society. Their names appear all across the mountains, including East Kentucky, and in many places far from Newman’s Ridge. It will probably be as Claude Collins says as he walks along the traces of the ancient roads up on Newman’s Ridge: “I have heard all the stories, but, we’ll probably never know the truth.”                              

[ This original paper was donated to the Hawkins County Archive by H.B. Stamps Library, Rogersville, Tennessee and is in very poor condition, I have made every effort to ensure the accuracy of this Transcription   .for educational purposes only, this copy placed in the research room of the Archive.J.G]. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


Regretfully, I feel compelled to respond to an open letter from Joanne Pezzullo on her blog concerning the Stony Creek Church records. Her motive is to diminish the importance of these church minutes, especially the 1813 date. because these minutes established an early date for the Core Melungeons.  This is just more of her continued attack on me, because the DNA project reveals her exotic theory is scientifically wrong.  “she hope’s to show her Melungeons originated in the PeeDee River area, as posted on her website: [From my research I hope to be able to show that the Malungeons were in fact Portuguese Adventurers who intermixed with the local  Indians in the Carolinas, I believe I can”.]  I will comment on her opinions on the Hamilton County Court case,  transcriptions, and DNA. Posted below is from her blog starting with the Stony Creek Church Minutes.
[When Penny posted to the Melungeon list on September 21, 2001 Jack is the one who found the word Melungeon in the Stony Creek Baptist Church records, no one else had ever noticed it. WHAT A FIND. " 

Did you correct her? Did you tell her no, I wasn't the first to find it, in fact I only looked at a transcription? No you didn't. In fact you went into a diatribe about where your GOINS came from and insinuated they were at the Stony Creek Church when in fact they were not.

In the reply to her your wrote; " I searched several old church records for his name including Stony Creek where I notice the word Melungin written in the 1813 minutes. "                                                 
Again insinuating you had searched the records, not a transcription in a book. Big difference isn't it. Why did you not tell Penny and the entire Melungeon list, including myself,  that you had only seen a transcription and Emory Hamilton was in fact the one that had 'noticed it first'. How are you going to spin this one? You deliberately let People think YOU had found that word in the Stony Creek Church records instead of in the transcription by Emory Hamilton until January of 2004. And that Jack, was when I quit PRAISING YOUR FIND.] 
 I reported what I found, when and where I found it, In the summer of 1992, and I will show by records that     Joanne Pezzullo fabricated this whole story because she knew where I found those minutes. I was a member of the Gowen Research foundation in1992, and almost all of my correspondence was by us mail. 1995 was the year AOL, Prodigy, and CompuServe all showed up.  I wrote letters to several researchers in the Gowen research foundation informing them of these minutes, and wrote an article for their newsletter published November 1993 paragraph 5. I wrote: “ While searching in the public Library in Kingsport, Tennessee I found the minutes of Stony Creek Primitive Baptist Church at Fort Blackmore Virginia, they contained some very interesting Melungeon references etc, etc”.

I found these church minutes 8 years before these emails were posted on the Melungeon Rootsweb list. I met Penny at a meeting in Vardy in the summer of 2001 where she purchased my book. Notice in Joanne blog she starts with Penny Ferguson post on September 1, 2001, conclusions drawn from that email does not prove Penny was mislead, I concluded in my response to Penny “I'm sure others had noticed this word but may have not known about the Melungeons, or was not researching Melungeons”. Joanne also purchased my book in 2002, and most likely looked at the reference page published in my book "Melungeon And Other Pioneer Families, printed in 2000, Reference #6, page 203 -"Stony Creek Church Minutes, copied August 1966, by Emory L. Hamilton, Wise, Virginia, from the original minutes, believed to be the first minutes of Stony Creek Church. A copy  is located in the Palmer Room at Kingsport Library, Kingsport, Tennessee".  Joanne also purchased my book  “Melungeons, Footprints from the Past, printed in 2009 and purchased by her in 2009.  Copied from page 80-“ In the first minutes of Stony Creek Church, the Thomas Gibson family, who joined in 1802, were excommunicated a few months later. Endnotes Chapter 2, page 87, footnotes 198- Stony Creek Church Minutes book one, Palmer Room, Kingsport, Library, Kingsport Tennessee.199 Ibid.

I will also use Pat Elder book to answer Joanne assertion that I lied about the minutes.
I told my friend Pat Elder about the Stony Creek church record, she checked it out, and published in her book, “Melungeon Examining an Appalachian Legend”, printed 1999, “on page 20, paragraph 2, spelled Melungins in 1813, Melungen in 1849, and Malungen in 1891, the Melungeon spelling was not in common usage until modern times, there is no documentation they ever called themselves Melungeons and the Stony Creek Church minutes imply the term was less than complimentary as early as 1813”.  footnote 15 at bottom of page 20 reads: ”The 1813 spelling is from a church book for Stony Creek Church, Nevel Waylan, Church Clerk p 37. Kingsport Public Library, typescript by Bobbie M. Baldwin, March 1970 from a copy Emory Hamilton made from the original. “The original Minutes are in possession of a local resident whose name is withheld by request”. Melungeon researchers owe a debt of gratitude to Jack H.Goins, 270 Holston View drive, Rogersville Tennessee. For documenting his find of the Stony Creek Church Record”.

Pat Elder read the minutes from the church book and wrote her conclusions on the minutes. Pat never questioned the accuracy of the transcriber, she went further and found out who had the original minutes. These record establishes that I reported what I found, when and where I found it.  Emory Hamilton made his copy from the original minutes in 1966. This was before the Outdoor Drama in Sneedville, Tennessee, when only a handful of people even knew about the Melungeons, so he had no agenda. These minutes prove that many of the families who became known as the Newman Ridge, Blackwater Melungeons were there before they migrated to Clinch River and Blackwater area of then Hawkins County, Tennessee. Minutes Dec 1801 Nancy Gibson received by letter, Valentine Collins received by experience and baptized. The following families joined Stony Creek Church in 1802, Thomas Gibson, George Gibson, Rubin Gibson, Charles Gibson and wife Mary. Sept 22, 1804, Rubin Gibson for persevering in wickedness such as cursing and swearing and getting drunk is excluded from membership of this church, he lives at Blackwater congregation and received a letter from this church and keeps it and has joined another church.   

These examples presented above show concrete evidence that Joanne Pezzullo knew where I found that Church record and has intentionally slandered me on her blog.  Emory Hamilton’s copies that were sent to the Clinch Valley Archives at Wise, Virginia is lost. I have been there twice and was told those records were misplaced when they moved from the old Library to the new. I was there again in 2014 and they could not locate Hamilton’s church records. I made several efforts to obtain the original minutes to have them microfilmed through the Hawkins County Archive, this service is offered free by the state. I am just as interested in finding Emory Hamilton copy, which begs this question. Did he copy those records by hand writing, or by Zerox ?, if he typed them, there would have been no reason for Bobbie Baldwin copy.   We have the Stony Creek Church Minutes at the Hawkins County Archive, copied from the original minutes by Emory Hamilton that includes both book 1 and book 2 . Book 2 is exactly the same as Baldwin copy of book two, this record was in Johnnie Rhea collection .

  Emory L. Hamilton (1913-1991) was a historian and educator in Wise County, Virginia “This copy of what is perhaps the first book of the Stony Creek Primitive Baptist Church located on Stony Creek, near Fort Blackmore, Scott County, Virginia was in possession of Mr. Scott Boatwright of Colburn Virginia.  Copied August , 1966, by Emory L. Hamilton Wise, Virginia with a copy filed in the Archive of the Southwest Virginia Historical Society, at Clinch Valley College, Wise Virginia. Book 2 is a few faded pages with no covers. Book 2, starts with what seems to be part of the Minutes of the November meeting 1812. These minutes between July 1811 and November 1811 has apparently been torn off and lost. Book no 2, is in a very faded condition and very difficult to read. Copied from Hamilton copy in 1970 by Bobbie Baldwin. (on page 37 Sept 26, 1813 is the section that mentions Melungins. this book has 40 pages. on the last page is written; “copied from Emory L. Hamilton's copy, by Bobbie M. Baldwin, March 1970.”)

Joanne’s Pezzullo opinion that transcriptions are practically worthless, is probably why she took the wrong path in her research, because the famous Hamilton County Court case she is using is a *TRANSCRIPTION* of the original court record which was transcribed for the appeal to the State Supreme Court.  She obviously don’t know that the vast majority of court records are transcriptions of the original record, including all Deeds, the owner keeps the original, who takes it to the court recorder to have it registered, in the old days before the Xerox  in 1958, the clerks copied them by hand, then notarized them and gave the original back to the owner. When the copy machines came along in the 1950's the clerks registered a copy from the original.

  I was fortunate to have Dennis and Connie Powell from Utah Microfilming our court records, they started in the fall of 2005 and had just finished microfilming the Hamilton County Court records. I ask them about the trial and they remembered the beautiful well preserved strand of hair that was in the original record, so I sent for the microfilm, the hand writing in the microfilm was very poor compared to the very plain transcribed case I have. I made a picture of the hair from the microfilm and placed it in my article on the Hamilton County court case, page 128 in my book “Melungeons Footprints from the Past”.

P 323- Deposition of  Elizabeth Bolton. Betsey was named by Judge Lewis Shepherd in his memoirs because most thought she was still in Illinois, but had returned and was living with Mr. Williams. She gave her age as 44, her father as Solomon Bolton and Grandfather Spencer Bolton.  Q-.What became of the infant daughter of Jerome & Jamima Simmerman after Jemima’s death, and where is she now?. A- I took her when she was 9 days old and lived with my father in Illinois until he died. She now lives with me on Mr. Williams’s farm.                                
Page 326 Q-What is the difference in the color of your skin and hair as your father.                     A.-There is very little difference, our hair is just alike.                                                                         
Q- Will you attach a lock of your hair to this deposition.                                                                  
A- I herewith attach a lock of my hair. 


Note- Hamilton County Chancery Court Records were microfilmed in 2004 by Dennis & Connie Powell of Utah, I noted from the microfilm this hair was in great condition to be 130 years old at the time of this film.

[“Joanne Pezzullo writes on her blog; You know this is a problem, your email to me shows this court case changed the direction of OUR research.”] 

There you go again, trying to drag me down the wrong path with you. This case added to my research I was surprised that some of the suggested Melungeons were Goins who were related to me, proven by Y-DNA test. This case further established that they did not call themselves Melungeon, they were called Melungeon by the witnesses in this trial.  The charges in this case by the Plaintiff was the Bolton’s were Negro and not entitled to Jerome C. Simmerman’ fortune. I knew they were called Melungeons in Hamilton County by their attorney. I wrote about this trial in my first book and this condensed version has the same results. See ,"Melungeons And Other Pioneer Families",  published in 2000 page 47 " If this flat foot information is true, this is even more evidence Attorney Lewis Shepherd of Chattanooga, Tennessee knew about these previous Melungeon trials in Rogersville on Illegal voting, and used some of the same arguments in his famous 1872 (1874) “Melungeon case”.  It is hard to believe that a young attorney like Lewis Shepherd would not have known about these Rogersville trials, but did claim to know much about the East Tennessee Melungeons.  He appeared to have first hand knowledge from this area. In that trial family members of the child’s father claimed that the child in the case could not inherit her father’s estate because her mother, a Bolton, was a Negro, and they were never legally married. They presented several witnesses who claimed the Boltons were Negro and had kinky hair. Shepherd argued they were Carthaginian or Phoenician origin just like the East Tennessee Melungeons, and the family of this woman was not Negro. He also used hair, and according to one source feet. The jury ruled in favor of the daughter who received her father’s fortune.

The article on my book published in 2009 show the same results, as the article in my book published in 2000. Attorney Lewis Shepherd confirmed the Melungeons began in East Tennessee “he wrote these people migrated from South Carolina to Hancock County, “the term Melungeon is an East Tennessee provincialism it was coined by the people of that county to apply to these people”. The bottom line is, the first group given this derogatory name Melungeon, was the Newman Ridge Blackwater group.    

[Joanne wrote: You know the problem with transcriptions as you clearly point out in the article "John Graweere or Geaween?"  written when Tim Hashaw claimed Paul Heinegg had seen the 'orignial' and Heinegg swore to it, only to find out he merely copied a transcription.]

This is not really compatible, in this case there was no original, Conway Robinson transcribed the court records before they were destroyed by a fire in Richmond. He transcribed the name twice both times as John Graweere, The reference Paul Heinegg used was The Virginia Magazine of History and Biology transcribed as Geaween, which he claimed was a variant for Gowen.  There was also a Surry County record of the same case and he was called John Gasheare. Of all the surnames mentioned in the transcriptions only Gashear is found at word connect as a surname.

 [Joanne on her blog wrote; Your argument that the DNA is the be all - end all is ridiculous. You tested the Y DNA of these men, only representing the male side and did NOT even attempt to include the female lines in your study, or the Pee Dee River families.]

Joanne has been a constant critic of the Core Melungeon DNA project, her first actuations was that I stacked the project with my Goins line who I knew were African. And now she claims it’s flawed because we didn’t include a lot of female lines in our project.  This project started with Y-DNA test, similar to the Sizemore DNA project. and other family projects. Most family projects continue to be a Y-DNA project because the maternal line is had to trace due the name changes. The number of descendants tested in a particular family line only confirms the accuracy of that ancestors DNA haplogroup, which in my case was Zephaniah Goins. When in fact there were five descendants tested in the Benjamin Collins line and in both lines their origin was African. There were three other Goins lines that tested African, but were not related to my Goins. The bottom line is, if you could document these African paternal lines back say 3000 years, both their parents would most likely be African. The mtDNA test were European, these families have an almost equal number of African & European male haplogroups. Thus the DNA test results genetically show the off-springs of the Historical Melungeons were of sub-Saharan African men and European women of northern or central European origin.  To put it in simple terms these two groups of African & European men on Newman Ridge were genetically related. This fact is further established by  the Family Finder DNA tests.

 The Core Melungeon DNA project answered  the age old question of their dark skin which caused them generations of discrimination and persecutions by their white neighbors, and the courts. Having a g, g, great- grandfather tried for illegal voting gives me the authority to express my opinion and to show my gratitude to all those Melungeon descendants who contributed a DNA sample, and to all of those who helped me administer this project, and to the Genetic Genealogy Review Board who correctly established we had done it right. And the Associated Press for publishing our results around the world. I don’t think this incredible journey of these families has really dawned on this generation yet, but in time as DNA continues to show we are all one people, this will be realized as one of the greatest true story every told.    
See DNA Review Article, Melungeons, A Multi-Ethnic Population-

When one views the Sizemore DNA project  it is loaded with Q haplogroups-Big Y DNA Results Divide and Unite Haplogroup Q Native Americans
When one views the  core Melungeons, its loaded with African haplogroups- first there was E1b1a now Em2-Am31,Eu174 all African.
Two historical groups with a total different end result, with no complaints on the Sizemore results, but on the Melungeon group certain people find all kinds of problems.

A g,g great Sizemore grandson from my 6th generation grandfather George Sizemore gave a DNA sample, the results was Q  -From genealogy I found  a female cousin whose maternal line from her mothers mothers, to Lydia  Sizemore wife of George Sizemore, Lydia mother was Elizabeth Bingham, wife of Owen Sizemore who was a cousin to George. Elizabeth DNA was European. These Sizemore claimed to be descendants  of ole Ned and filed over 2000 Cherokee Indian Applications beginning in 1905, they were rejected because they were not Cherokee. George Sizemore’s most distant paternal ancestor was probably living near Jamestown when this line of Sizemore’s  began with a female Sizemore’s son and a Native father.  In my opinion it would be almost impossible to document a direct maternal line to this Jamestown Sizemore family.     

Comenting on Joanne Pezzullo website post: “From my research I hope to be able to show that the Malungeons were in fact Portuguese Adventurers who intermixed with the local  Indians in the Carolinas, I believe I can. 

This statement posted sometime after Joanne changed her website in 2008, is not about genealogy because she has no Melungeon family connections, to me this is illusory and unattainable, like a mirage. And suggest there must be a difference between the DNA of a Portuguese Adventurer and just a plain Portuguese.   Those Early dates on the Newman Ridge Melungeons of 1813 and 1848 and DNA tests from those descendants stands as a reminder to her that she is on the wrong side of history and science.  James Mooney (1861-1921) was a notable Anthropologist who investigated the settlements that claimed to be Portuguese. He described their appearance as a cross or mixture of Indian, white and Negro. This included the Pamunkeys of Virginia, the Croatan Indians of the Carolinas, the Melungeons of Tennessee. According to Mooney, the explanation was simple, in view of the colonial records, where all the Portuguese ships wrecked and many other accounts suggest they were telling the truth.

The Portuguese Connection-Twenty two adults in my immediate family, 17 who have proven Melungeon heritage including g,g, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins were listed as Portuguese on the 1880 US census of Hancock County, Tennessee. No records exist that any of these people were former slaves.  This gives me the authority to address the Portuguese claim using genealogy, DNA and family history. I agree somewhat with Mooney, but I also believe these families had an oral history from living in areas, such as Angola which was then under the control of Portugal and they actually thought of themselves as Portuguese. In all the cases tried where the defendants claimed Portuguese, DNA tests from their descendants was African, case in point was the Illegal Voting Trials 1845-1848 Hawkins County, The Perkins Trial, The Shepherd case, although no DNA tests were involved, the charges was the Bolton’s were African who claimed to be Portuguese. In all cases I am familiar with Portuguese was used in response to the mulatto and free persons of color labels.  
      In closing, I don’t like controversy and If Joanne will stop her continuing attack on me personally and remove her blog article, I will remove this article.