Indiana Messenger
Indiana, Pennsylvania

March 17, 1897


Just across the Kentucky line in Tennessee, live a peculiar people. They are known as the Malungeons. They are splendid specimens of the human race , copper colored with high cheek bones, straight noses, black hair, rather coarse and straight, eyes invariably black, and above the ordinary mountaineer in intelligence. Their peculiar color and their customs have caused them a great deal of trouble. They number between 200 and 400. The live on Black Water Creek, in Hancock County, and they have lived in this section for over 100 years. The records of Hancock county show that the ancestors of this strange people came to Powell’s Valley as early 1789 when they took up lands on Black Water.

Tradition says that they held aloof from white settlers and spoke in strange language, which none of the people understood. Some of them spoke broken English, and by this means communicated with the white merchants in the extent of buying arms and ammunition and other supplies which they could not raise in their mountain homes. They intermarried until their racial characteristic were so thoroughly established in their progeny that the frequent marrying of strangers by members of the colony during recent years has had no perceptible effect on their colony, hair and general resemblance to their ancestors, who lived half a century ago.

Before the war the Malungeons had a hard time in obtaining the right to vote and to send their children to the primitive public schools of that day. The white citizens declared they were negros, and the matter finally caused so much bickering and strife between the Malungeons and the whites that it was carried into the courts. In the trials which followed it was developed that the ancestors of these people had emigrated to America about 150 years ago from the interior of Portugal; that they had preserved their native habits and customs while sojourning in South Carolina and that when they emigrated to Tennessee they were practically the same people which left Portugal fifty years before. They declared on the witness stand that there was not a drop of negro blood in their veins and after long and tedious litigation they were finally allowed the right of suffrage and were permitted to send their children to the public schools, and the wrangling of years was over.

 When the war broke out between the States in 1861 they espoused the cause of the Union. They fought in usual mountain fashion–bushwhacking–and many a Confederated soldier was sent to his long home by warring bullets of these Portuguese Americans. Whenever the Confederates captured any of them they were greatly dreaded by the soldiers, and whenever a column was marching to the Malungeon territory extra precaution was taken against bushwhackers.

After the war closed and the Malungeons returned to their old pursuits they found the government was interfering with one of their oldest industries–whiskey making. They had been distillers back in South Carolina and some of the early stills in Tennessee were brought by their ancestors over the mountain from the first named state. When they found a tax of $2 a gallon on the product of their mills they openly defied the government which had levied it. They did not make whisky openly, it is true but they sold it in the open market after they had made it in their ‘moonshine’ stills. They became very much incensed against revenue officials who came into their country, and not a few of the officers were killed with their deadly Winchesters. Of late years the revenue men have been so persistent to their work of hunting the moonshiner down that the Malungeons have sold but little whisky openly. They still continue to make moonshine, however in large quantities, but they have adopted the methods of other illicit distillers in Kentucky and Tennessee, and are rarely caught now.

Notwithstanding railroads have penetrated Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Tennessee, the Malungeons never go far from home. It is a rare thing to see them on this side of the state line, although a few of them go to the village of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, one in a great while to lay in supplies. Occasionally one or two Malungeons are seen in Tazewell, Tennessee but it is seldom indeed that a member of this unique community is seen in Knoxville or Middlesboro.

Paradoxical as it may seem these people who have shed much blood and other wise violated the laws of their country, are deeply religious. In this respect they very much resemble the Southern Negroes. During their meetings they will sing and shout and seem to be beside themselves with religious fervor. One of the patriarchs of the Malungeons was “uncle” Vard Collins, who was a devout Christian. One night in June, may years ago Dr. Frederick A. Ross (*See Below), a noted Presbyterian minister of eastern Tennessee, was traveling through the Black Water country. He accidentally came upon the “Uncle Vard’s” house and after he had fed his horse and the guest had eaten supper the old man asked him his business. He told him he was a preacher. The old man said he would like to hear him preach. “Where is your congregation” asked the minister. “I’ll get one in a few minutes,” replied “Uncle Vard.” He took a long dinner horn from its rack over the door and going out doors blew several shrill blasts. Within an hour a congregation of fifty people had assembled in answer to the horn and Dr. Rose said afterward that he never preached to an audience which showed greater appreciation and deeper religious feeling than did the little band of copper colored mountaineers on Black Water. “Uncle Vard” lived to be 101 years old.

Politically the Malungeons were Whigs before the war, and since the rebellion they have been Republicans. They are very clannish and in Republican primaries they all support the same man, while at regular elections they vote the republican ticket straight. Their customs have not changed during the last 200 years.

They still live in the log cabin and while many of the younger men have the improved Winchesters and Martins the older citizens continue to use the long home made squirrel rifles which invariably hang on a rack above the old fashioned fire place. They are hospital to a degree and no stranger, unless they think he is a revenue man is ever turned away from their cabins. Their peach brandy is pronounced the best in the mountains and it is freely offered to the wayfarer under their roofs, tempered with wild mountain honey. The original settlers were the Collins, Gibson and Mullins and it is difficult to find a Malungeon today who is not called by one of those names.

They are practically the same people who lived here for years before a railroad was built and while the march of progress has encircled the Black Water Valley the Malungeons has not profited by the civilization around them, but remain the same peculiar people— St. Louis Globe-Democrat

July 25, 1842
Republican Compiler -- Gettysburg

"In Tennessee the business is making rapid strides.  At the last session of the Legislature of that Sate, a bounty law passed allowing a dollar and half per pound on silk raised and reeled in the State by the same person.  Great crops were produced last season.  The Rev. Frederick A. Ross of Hawkins County made last season 300 pounds of reeled silk, which sold promptly for five dollars a pound.

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