Monday, August 26, 2013


Webster defines first as before anything else. They were given the name Melungeon by their white neighbors who lived here among them. Lived as to remain or persist as in the mind and continue to be remembered; the old customs live on and so does the history of the Newman Ridge, Blackwater, Melungeons. They began settling here in the 1790s and most were probably the 3rd generation of the original clan. This clan called Melungeons would flourish, and then all but vanish during the next 150 years due in part to inter-marriages with their white neighbors. Among the early settlers of Newman Ridge were several who saw service in the American Revolution: Three originating from Virginia Charles Gibson, William Goins and Zephaniah Goins. They came from the New River, some stopped off for a few seasons at Stony Creek before coming on to Blackwater. This northeast section of North Carolina and the adjoining southern section of Virginia served as a way-station for the future Melungeon Families moving west across the mountains. The largest group who were probably the 2nd generation of the original clan migrated from Louisa and Hanover Counties Virginia to the Flat River area of Granville County, North Carolina, this area became Orange County in 1752. *

 Several families migrated from Fairfax to Lunenburg and some from Hanover to Halifax/Henry Counties in Virginia. Some from both groups migrated to other areas. This was the number one reason we requested a core Melungeon DNA program with FTDNA. You start with the descendants of the known Melungeons to find their common ancestors and kinfolks. *

 A good example of DNA confirming family research is the genealogy of Shepherd “Ole Buck” Gibson 1765-1842 Matilda and Shepherd Gibson’s oldest son was Ozias Denton Gibson born 1835, Ozias great grandson gave a DNA sample which matched the older Gibsons on Newman Ridge and also matched descendants of Gedion Gibson who migrated to the Pee-Dee River area of South Carolina. When Gideon Gibson migrated to South Carolina, it caused a disturbance in Craven County. Governor Robert Johnson of South Carolina summoned Gibson and his family to explain their presence in the area, and after meeting them reported: * * *

 “I have had them before me in council and upon examination find that they are not Negroes nor slaves but free people, that the father of them here is named Gedion Gibson and his father was also free. I have been informed by a person who has lived in VIRGINIA that this Gibson has lived there several years in good repute and by his papers that he has produced before me that his transactions there have been very regular. That he has for several years paid taxes for two tracks of land and has seven Negroes of his own. That he is a carpenter by trade and is come hither for the support of his family. I have in consideration of his wife being a white woman and several white women capable of working and being serviceable in the country permitted him to settle in this Country.” *

 Some family researchers have been led down the wrong path by accepting early authors definition and location of the Melungeons, who at times used the term to describe anyone of mixed ancestry, regardless of their location. Thus Melungeon became a catchall word to define people who were mixed, or just dark skin individuals in general. If some of your family members were here at the time of the revolution and they are listed white on tax, land and military records, they were probably not tri-racial. The only other way to be sure is a male Y-DNA test from descendants of the ancestor in question. *

 According to historical documents found as of this writing, William Parsons Brownlow was the first to use the term Melungeon as a political slur. No doubt Brownlow knew where the people lived who was given this name Melungeon and probably knew some of their names, because he was a traveling minister of the gospel before he became a journalist and a politician for the Wig Party, and is a likely candidate for the one who reported that a group of Melungeons voted in the 1845 election in Hawkins County where he was defeated by Andrew Johnson. Brownlow used the term impudent Malungeon in 1840 to describe a political adversary as half Indian and half Negro which became the norm for most of the old journalist during the mid to late 1800s. *

A document dated 1934 by William E. Cole Associate Prof. of Sociology, and Joe Stevenson Looney University of Tennessee. This document states the Melungeon were well know after the War Between the States because most of the politicians in East Tennessee were referred to as Melungeons. It seems that the history of Hancock County concerning the origin of the Melungeons have come up at regular intervals every 30 years”. When the men were conscripted during the World War the Melungeon soldiers of Newman Ridge were sent as Negroes They resented this so much that it was necessary to take legal action in order to make them obey orders and `stay where they were placed. This in the writer’s opinion was a mistake. One of the commissioners, who classified these troupes, told the writer at the time that seemed to be the only thing to do about it. The white companies refused to receive them and the Negroes, whose color nearly matched theirs, did not object to receiving them in their ranks. Thus the Melungeons, may be said to represent practically all the different races in America. William E. Cole and Joe Stevenson Looney University of Tennessee.

 * Lewis Jarvis, who knew many of the first Melungeons, wrote in the first paragraph of his letter to Hancock County Times April 17, 1903;

 ”They were given this name Melungeon by the local white people who have lived here with them; it’s not a traditional name, or tribe of Indians. Some have said these people were here when the county was first explored by the white people and others that they are a lost Tribe of Indians and have no date of their existence here, traditionally or otherwise. All of this however is erroneous and cannot be sustained”. In the third paragraph Jarvis wrote: “They originally were the Friendly Indians who came with the whites as they moved west. These Indians came to Newman Ridge and Blackwater. Some of them went into the war of 1812-14 whose names are here given: James Collins, John Bolin and Mike Bolin, and some others not remembered; those were quite full blooded”.

 Jarvis wrote in the first paragraph they were not a tribe of Indians and went on to explain they were not a lost tribe of Indians. A documented ggg grandson of Mike Bolen Y DNA test was Sub-Saharan African, so if Mike was part Indian it was most likely from his maternal line. Who was Jarvis Friendly Indians? Was they the Portuguese Adventures, or has DNA answered this question. *

 Lewis M. Jarvis was a union captain during the Civil War, in a battle near the Yellow Store Stokely Lawson’s horse became lame and Jarvis gave him a leave to go home to get another horse. Stokely lived near Kyles Ford. Shortly after this he and my gg grandfather William Goins were captured and later executed by a rebel army led by a Captain Surgenor. Stokely Lawson was a brother to Enoch Lawson my mother’s great grandfather; they were sons of Obadiah and Mary England Lawson.*

 *The most likely place for a nickname, such as Melungeon was at a church gathering. Several churches were established along the Clinch River late 1790s. Stony Creek, Blackwater, Big Door, Mulberry. The Melungeons have been Baptist dating back to at least 1750 and the Flat River Baptist Church. The location of this church was about 200 ft from the Flat River and in the heart of their homeland on the Flat River. The Mulberry Gap Association of United Baptist was formed in 1836 and held its first convention at Blackwater meeting house the first Friday in September of that year. The association listed 811 members and the following churches: Mulberry Gap, Gap Creek, Hickory Flat, Blackwater, Richardson Creek, Newfound, Cedar Fork, War Creek and Greasy Rock were the ones near, or in the Melungeon homeland. (Goodspead, page 871)- “They have never adhered to Indian custom or religion” (Hale and Merritt, page 180) *

 William “Parsons” Brownlow became friends with Thomas A.R. Nelson in Elizabethton and both later moved to Jonesboro, as members of the Wig party they became lifelong friends. Brownlow and Nelson played leading rolls in all Jonesboro Wig meetings. Andrew Johnson (Democrat) met Nelson on October 29, 1840 in full debate which left friends of each man satisfied that their man had triumphed. This same 1840 campaign made Johnson a state-wide reputation, and in 1841 he was sent to the state senate from the district comprising his own county of Greene and Nelson and Brownlow’s Washington County. In 1843 Johnson was promoted to the house of Representatives by his Democratic majority in the first congressional district. In 1844 Nelson was keynote speaker when the Wigs of Washington County organized on Jan 3, Brownlow was sent to Knoxville as a Wig delegate and from there to the National Convention in Baltimore. The following year (1845) Brownlow decided to contest the congressional seat with Johnson. After his re-election in 1845, Johnson served ten years in the house and senate. Brownlow’s hatred for Johnson continued, once while in Nashville he spoke to a crowd almost under Johnson window “I therefore pronounce your Governor, here upon his own dunghill, an unmitigated Liar and Calumniator, and a Villainous coward.

 *This same 1845 election was contested in Hawkins County where several Melungeons were charged for illegal voting. The vote total was:

 * “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. *

Thomas A.R.Nelson was the State Attorney General who prosecuted the Melungeons as free persons of color in the illegal voting trials which began in Rogersville in late 1845 and ended by two jury trials on 29 January 1848. This trial was famous in its day. It was mentioned by Swan Burnett in his 1890 article, stating One, I believe, was found to be sufficiently flat-footed to deprive him of aright of suffrage. The others, four or five in number, were considered as having sufficient white blood to allow them a vote. Col. John Netherland, a lawyer of considerable local prominence defended them. He wrote: They resented the appellation Melungeon, given to them by common consent by the whites, and proudly called themselves Portuguese. Vardy Collins illegal voting trial ended in Rogersville, Hawkins County Circuit Court on Tuesday, 25 May 1847, when Timothy Williams his bondsman appeared and a settlement was reached. *Newspaper Article The Melungeons 1897*

 The Malungeons who inhabit the mountainous districts of Tennessee, Virginia and the Carolinas, have long been an interesting study of ethnologists. Theory after theory has been advanced as to their origin, and some of the most scholarly men of the country have given thought and investigation to the subject. J. H. Newman, who has lived among the Malungeons in Hancock county, Tennessee, for sixty-seven years and who has given long and intelligent study to the question of the origin of these strange people gave your correspondent the following interview of the result of his research: *

 * "The origin of these people goes back to the aborigines of North America who came here from Virginia, and they are the descendants of friendly Indians and half breeds left in Virginia when the Indians all went West from there under treaties made with the white people, and as is their habit, they would all go together, and settle together and as the whites advanced their frontiers west these people [Malungeons] were with the front and came here to Newman's Ridge and Blackwater about the year 1800, or possibly a few years later. Some of them were in the war of 1812 and the nearest that can be reckoned from a traditional point would be about the close of the war of 1812. They began to settle Newman's ridge and Blackwater [Hancock County, then Hawkins County, Tennessee]. At this time these people had lost their Indian vernacular and spoke English, and they speak it yet. *

 "What is the traditional idea of these people themselves, from their parents and grandparents and older ones? It is that they are of Cherokee blood; that their ancestors were Indians, and many of them have gone to the Cherokee nation and have sued in the Cherokee Council for land and annuities, and they have obtained them. They made their proof here among our people and old citizens, that, according to the best traditional evidence, they are of Cherokee blood, and those here now boast of their Cherokee blood. They were indicted for illegal voting when this country was Hawkins county, and had their trial in Rogersville, and this was over forty years ago, probably fifty years ago, and in the trial Hon. Thomas A R Nelson, the Attorney General, who prosecuted them for illegal voting put the one on trial whose skin indicated he could easily convict, as being of African descent. He was old Wyatt Collins. The charge against them all was that they were of African descent and had not passed the third generation and were not entitled to vote. Col. John Netherland defended the Malungeons, and when old Wyatt Collins was put to the jury, Netherland admitted that his client voted as charged, but the only evidence that the Attorney General had was the color and features of old Wyatt, who stood erect six feet high, high cheek bones, hair straight as a horse's tail. Attorney General Nelson told the jury to look at him and judge whether or not he was a Negro of African descent and had not passed the third generation. Now Mr Netherland, for the defense stated: I make protest of this old man as to whether he is a Negro or not, and I want to show his hair, hands, and feet. 'Now, Wyatt,' said Netherland, ' I will show your features against Mr. Nelson's who is prosecuting you, and I want you to show your naked foot beside Mr. Nelson's.*

 *So Wyatt sat down and pulled his moccasin off and showed his naked feet [but Mr. Nelson would not show with him], and his feet and general features were as delicate and nice as a lady's and presented to the jury the very opposite of the African features. Then it was that the Portuguese race was brought in -- the jury found a verdict of not guilty, and all the other cases took the same course. Mr. Nelson asked Mr. Netherland what race of people he called his clients. Mr. Netherland answered Portuguese; then it was, and not until then, the name of Portuguese was given these people. The North Carolina branch of these people are African and whites, and they came here long after the settlements were made and within the knowledge of the oldest of the present generation. These people, their blood and nationality are known, and the mystery of the Virginia emigrants above described is the subject now under discussion. *

 * "The origin of the North Carolina branch of the race is well known here among the oldest of the present generation, and to those who have fully investigated the Virginia branch of this peculiar people their origin is just as well known. They have all the features of the Indians, their habits, are those of the Indian, and they are of Indian blood. They are found in the mountain fastnesses, in the gorges and on the tops of the high ridges, in their rude huts and places of abode, and many of them are found now in valleys and level lands, in good and comfortable domiciles, and with an abundance of everything the earth brings forth. They all love music and dancing and have their regular frolics like the tribes had of the green corn dance, the buffalo dance and the war dance. However, many of them are refined and belong to the Christian churches, and they have among them ministers of the gospel who preach well and seem to feel the fervor of religious work as much as those of any people. They have their churches and school- houses, and are keeping step with the progress of the age. There are many incidents that could be related of their early settlement here, much as wife swapping and other habits, now abandoned. These people as a whole are true and reliable and among the kindest and most hospitable people that can be found. (The Courier-Journal Louisville, Kentucky, 26 September 1897 page 15) *

 *The information in this article on the illegal voting trials agree in part with Eliza Haskell and Swan Burnett. I am always suspicious of the old Newspaper Reporters; they sometimes stretch the truth to its ultimate limits. One of the reasons I was suspicious of this article was because I didn’t remember any Newman’s in the old records, so after I read this article I decided to see what area of Hawkins County J. H. Newman lived. And was not surprised when I could not locate him in any records of Hawkins and Hancock County during this 1830-1900 time period. He did not live in Hancock County as the records below will show. Who was this mysterious person interviewed by the reporter for the Courier Journal? I searched the U. S. census and discovered there was a William Newman age 40-50 living a few miles west of Rogersville on 1830 census, but the youngest male in this household was 15/20 when I looked on the 1840 census, he was gone and no Newman’s were listed on the Hawkins County Census we have at the archive, which included Hancock at this time. Hancock County was formed from Hawkins in 1844 and we have the 1850-60-70-80-1900 U. S. Census of Hancock County and I was not surprised to lean there were no Newman’s living in Hancock County during those time periods, so where did J.H. Newman who this author used as his source for the Melungeon Trials live? He claimed he lived in Hancock County among the Melungeon for 60 years. *

* Who was this mysterious witness? With the help of a friend using The following is the only J.H. Newman found: * * Name: John Newman- Age: 30- Est. Birth Year: abt 1826- Residence: Todd, Ky-Spouse Name: M E Monday, Spouse Age: 20, Est. Spouse Birth Year: abt 1836- Spouse Residence: Todd-Marriage Date: Jul 1856-Marriage Location:Todd, Ky. County of Record: Todd. Home in 1860: Todd, Kentucky, Post Office: Elkton, Name: J H Newman, Age in 1860: 30-Birth Year: abt 1830, Birthplace: Tennessee, Gender: Male, Household Members: Name Age, J H Newman 30, M E Newman 24, S F Newman 2, A O Newman 1.

* Home in 1870: Hebbardsville, Henderson, Kentucky-Name: J H Newman, Age in 1870: 40-Birth Year: abt 1830, Birthplace: Tennessee, Race: White, Gender: Male, Post Office: Hebbardsville, Household Members: Name Age; J H Newman 40, Martha E Newman 37, Susan F Newman 12, Thomas L Newman 10, Wm S Newman 7, Monroe W Newman 5, Martha E Newman 7/12

 * Home in 1880: Hebbardsville, Henderson, Kentucky; Name: John H. Newman Age: 50, Birth Year: abt 1830, Birthplace: Tennessee, Race: White, Gender: Male, Relation to Head of House: Self (Head), Marital Status: Married, Spouse's Name: Martha E. Newman, Father's Birthplace: Virginia, Mother's Birthplace: Virginia, Occupation: Farmer, Household Members: Name Age, John H. Newman 50, Martha E. Newman 46, Thomas L. Newman 19, William S. Newman 15, Monroe W. Newman 13, Martha E. Newman 10, Bejaman R. Newman 8, Mary E. Newman 6 8

 * Home in 1900: Hebbardsville, Henderson, Kentucky, Name: J H Newman Age: 70, Birth Date: Feb 1830, Birthplace: Tennessee, Race: White Gender: Male, Relation to Head of House: Head, Marital Status: Married Spouse's Name: M E Newman, Marriage Year: 1855, Years Married: 45 Father's Birthplace: Virginia, Mother's Birthplace: Virginia, Household Members: Name Age, J H Newman 70, M E Newman 66, M W Newman 33, B B Newman 28, Suda Hazelwood 43, Eva A Hazelwood 20, Willie Hazelwood 17, Lillian Hazelwood 14, Louise Hazelwood 11

 * Hebbardsville is in the western part of Ky, near the Indiana border.

 * The illegal voting trials may be the reason for the un-named Journalist visit to Vardy mineral springs and. probably in the summer of 1847 because the article, “Littell’s Living Age” was reprinted from the Knoxville Register September 6, 1848 quoting from the Louisville Examiner. (We are sorry to have lost the name of the southern paper from which this is taken. They claimed to be “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 people made themselves friendly with the Indians, 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.” John Netherland used the Portuguese defense to explain their dark skin. My 5th generation grandfather Zachariah Minor was one of those tried for illegal voting. This race was confirmed when some of his children and grandchildren both Goins and Minor were enumerated Portuguese on the 1880 Federal Census of Hancock County, Tennessee. Zachariah Minor mother was Elizabeth Goins. From the Richmond Whig. Letter from Hon. John M. Botts Date: March 26, 1859 Location: Maryland Paper: Easton Gazette Article type: Letters When the Sheriff came to count up the votes at the close of the polls, they counted but five -- and if I had received the vote of one ''Molungeon,'' and he had been authorized by the Constitution to vote, and had 'had' a majority of only one--- it would have been difficult to tell, whether I was most indebted for my election to the "Molungeon" or to the Chief Justice of the U.S.; and if my competitor had received six "Molungeon" votes, or the votes of six worthless and degraded locofocos (supposing they could be any such) they would have more than balanced these five of the first men of the State could boast........... ”Just two days after this letter was reprinted in a Maryland newspaper, an Alabama paper printed an item about Botts and his supporters “thirteen congressional electors, fifty senatorial elections, and three hundred and sixty county electors have been notified to hold themselves in rediness to repel the Dragon of Rockbridge. Botts too, will dash to the rescue at the head of a noble band of Molungeons and Eboshines as soon as the weather becomes sufficiently warm to render his odoriferous forces efficient. John M. Boggs was a former Whig congressman from Virginia it is obvious he was placing names such as Molungeons, Eboshines, to describe people of mixed race or mulatto.

Using his definition of a Melungeon every dark skin person was a Melungeon regardless of the location. These old newspaper letters show how the term Melungeon was spread swiftly from the 1848-9 Little Living Age article and by a few journalists who used the term as a political slur.

 The Newman Ridge Melungeons were the source of other colonies in Davidson, Morgan, Rhea, Hamilton in Tennessee and Lecture and Knott Counties, Kentucky, but the people who migrated there did not retained the name some of their neighbors may have called them Melungeon after learning where they came from. A good example is the Goins family in Hamilton County, Tennessee “We generally called them Melungeons when we talk about the Goins and them-the Goins that were mixed blooded.”(Testimony in the Shepherd Trial) The problem with all these mysterious Melungeon settlements is a lack of named Melungeons and pinpoint location. They do not have a history of other witnesses, or names of Melungeons such as described by Lewis Jarvis. Usually one person wrote an article about some phantom group of unnamed Melungeons, but that group has no historical existence beyond these named events.

An example of historical existence is the visit to Vardy Valley in 1848 and was revisited about 50 years later on Friday July 2, 1897. C.H. Humble returned to the same place as the writer in Littell’s Living age. “On Friday forenoon, July 2, (1897) the writer and Rev. Joseph Hamilton, of Parkersburg, West Virginia, started in a hack from Cumberland Gap, Tennessee for Beatty Collins, chief of the Melungeons, in Blackwater.” Beatty’s son was a school teacher, When Humble ask the school teacher about the Melungeons he strongly resented its application to his people and replied, “We are a pure blood”meaning at least they didn’t have Negro blood in their veins In this time frame 1890’s Melungeon meant negro to Beathy Collins son.

*Beginning about 1920 several from my Minor and Goins family begin to leave Hancock County and this caused the racist Walter Plecker to search for them in Virginia: August 20, 1942 Mrs. John Trotwood Moore State Librarian and Archivist State Department of Education Nashville, Tennessee Dear Mrs. Moore: We thank you very much for your informative letter of August 12 in reply to our inquiry, addressed to the Secretary of State, as to the original counties from which Hancock County, Tennessee, was formed. We are particularly interested in tracing back, as far as possible, to their ultimate origin the Melungeons of the Newman’s Ridge section, especially as enumerated in the free Negro list by counties of the states in the U. S. 1830 census. This group appears to be in many respects of the same type as a number of groups in Virginia, some of which are known as "free issues," or descendants of slaves freed by their masters before the War Between the States. In one case in particular which we have traced back to its origin, and which we believe to be typical of the others, a slave woman was freed with her two mulatto sons and colonized in Amherst County in connection with a group of similar freed Negroes. These sons were presumably the children of the woman's owner, and this seemed to be the most satisfactory way of disposing of them. One of those sons became the head of one of the larger families of that group. All of these groups have the same desire, which Captain L. M. Jarvis says the melungeons have, to become friends of Indians and to be classed as Indians. He referred to the effort which the melungeon group made to be accepted by the Cherokees, apparently without great success. It is interesting also to know the opinion expressed by Captain Jarvis that these freed Negroes migrated into that section with the white people. That is perfectly natural as they have always endeavored to tie themselves up as closely as possible either with the whites or Indians and are striving to break away from the true Negro type. We have a book, compiled by Carter G. Woodson, a negro, entitled "Free Negro Heads of Families in the United States in 1830," listing all of the free negroes of the 1830 census by counties. Of the names that Captain Jarvis gave, we find included in that list in Hawkins County, Solomon Collins, Vardy Collins, and Sherod (probably Shepard) Gibson. We find also Zachariah Minor, probably the head of the family in which we are especially interested at this time. We find also the names of James Moore (two families by this name) and Jordan and Edmund Goodman. In the list for Grainger County we find at least twelve Collins and Collens heads of families. This shows that they were evidently considered locally as free Negroes by the enumerators of the 1830 census.

 2(To Mrs. John Trotwood Moore, State Librarian and Archivist, State Department of Education Nashville, Tennessee, from Walter Plecker, Virginia State Registrar.)

* Fact. The actual, factual, history of the Melungeons is going to be written by descendants using DNA and documented family genealogy, which is the only way to find their true family history and relatives who may have been Lumbee, Redbone, Guineas, Brass ankles, Ramps and other isolated African/Indian groups, or clans . Based on these witnesses Melungeon was not a tribe but a derogatory name given to a particular group of people at a certain place and time in history. The term Melungeon was spread from said beginning point to other areas and localities by travelers and migration and it has become a catchall word for all dark skin people. Copyright © 2013 by Jack Goins.

1 comment:

  1. I have often heard that the term 'Melungeon' means 'cursed,' or 'the cursed people.'