AN EARLY UNTARNISHED VERSION OF 'THE
February 5th of 1889 Swan Burnett
read his piece “A Note on the Melungeons” before the Society of
American Anthropologists. It also was printed in the Boston Traveler
and appeared five days later in the Atlanta Constitution.
article was published in October of 1889, Vol. 11, pp 347-349,
"American Anthropologist Magazine."
appearing in the Atlanta Constitution in February a Mr. Laurence C.
Johnson wrote to the editor on March 11, 1889 with the history of the
‘Melungeons’ as he knew it. This appeared prior to Dromgoole. Mr.
Johnson was not selling newspapers, writing an article or selling a
book. It appears he was simply responding to the article by Swan
Burnett and telling an honest account of the Melungeons, as he knew it.
I believe this story is an important one in the way that it is told.
The Melungeon Historical
information can be reconciled with what they 'claim' are the
known, documented movements of the core Melungeon families. But I
will ask where are the documents to prove who the 'core Melungeon
families were? How does anyone know who was called the Melungeons
first, where or when? A transcription of an old faded and probably
illegible church record that may record someone was 'harboring
Melungeons'? Or were they harboring 'Mcloglins'? Or the
Melugin family? For every document that shows the Melungeons were
on Newman's Ridge I will show you one that says they came from South
Even if the word used was
Melungen in 1813 it just as easily could have been the Oxendines,
Boltons, Goins, Perkins etc., that had came over the mountains from the
Peedee/Drowning Creek region that were being 'harbored.' The Portuguese
people who had left South Carolina because of the unfair poll tax
-- just as Judge Lewis Shepherd said they did, and as John Netherland,
attorney who defended the Melungeons of Newman's Ridge, said they did
-- as reported by John
B. Brownlow. Brownlow's father was the fighting Parson
William G. Brownlow who used the word in his 1840 newspaper.
An update to this page appears below this letter from Laurence Johnson
with a response from the Raleigh, North Carolina newspapers.
March 11, 1889
March 11– Editors
Near a month ago an article
appeared in The CONSTITUTION named Melungeons. I laid it aside in order
to correspond with the writer, but the paper got destroyed and the name
and address had not been noticed with care, and are forgotten. Excuse
me then for addressing him through the same medium.
His name Melungeons is a
local designation for this small peculiar race. Their own claim to be
Portuguese is more generally known. Their original site is on the Pedee
river in South and North Carolina . They were once especially strong in
Georgetown and Darlington districts of the latter. Though called
Portuguese – this does not indicate their true origin. I have no doubt
local traditions, and the records still to be found in the Charleston
library will give the true account. As dimly recollected, for I never
made search with a purpose in view, it was thus in the primary colonial
times of the Carolinas, Winyaw Bay was the best and most frequented
harbor on the coast, and Georgetown more accessible, was more of a
commercial town than old Charlestown., to that port British cruisers
sometimes brought prizes.
Among these once was a Salee Rover, (*See Below) which was
sold for the distribution of the proceeds as prize money. The crew
consisting mostly of Moors, with a sprinkling of Arabs and negroes,
were turned ashore free. Their complexion and religion prevented
immediate absorption by the white race, and they found wives among
Indians, negroes and cast off white women at a time when many of these
last were sold by immigrant ships for their passage money. They became
a peculiar people. They were the free people of color of the Pedee
region so true to Marion during our revolutionary struggle and no other
race in America retained such traditionary hatred of the British.
Your correspondent [whose
name I am sorry to have forgotten] having a taste for ethnological
studies will confer a favor upon that branch of early post-colonial
record and legislative proceedings of South Carolina. He will find it
sustained by the appearance of these people if he can find a few pure
specimens–their physical structure, their hair, their teeth, and
general features, though every trace of their Moslem religion and north
African dialect may have long been lost.
Laurence C. Johnson
About the Author
Lawrence Clement Johnson was born
August 21, 1821 in Chester County, South Carolina. He died
Ausust 14, 1909 at the Confederate home (Beauvoir) in Gulfport,
Mississippi. He was the son of Dr. Benjamin Brown Johnson and
Jane Milling Young Johnson. He was the grandson of
William Johnson, Revolutionary War soldier of Charleston, South
Carolina and was a Lieutenant in Company F. 9th Mississippi
Johnson was a
pioneer in the discovery and description of the phosphate fields of Florida and in 1886, he wrote a paper
entitled "The Structure of Florida" and presented it at a meeting of
the American Association for the Advancement of Science in New York.
He lived in Holly Springs,
County) and by 1860 held the
position of Clerk of the Circuit Court in Marshall County.
In 1882, he was hired as an Assistant Geologist.
Johnson married Mattie McLain, daughter of
Rev. Robert McLain and Laura Brown McLain in Clarke County, Mississippi.
The following year, Johnson's young wife died within a month of giving
birth to their daughter, also named Mattie. Their little girl
only lived three years. Johnson never remarried. He is buried in Enterprise
Cemetery, Clark County, Mississippi
beside his late wife and daugher.
SURVEYS ARTICLE - NEW
YORK TIMES June 29, 1885
Information provided by- Peggy Johnson Carey
THE NEWS AND
March 20, 1889
A writer in
the Atlanta Constitution looks for further information with respect to
the "Melungeons," the supposed Portuguese colony and its
descendants who dwelt chiefly on the Pee Dee river in North and South
Carolina. He ways that though called Portuguese, this designation
does not correctly indicate their true origin. He maintains,
while not pretending to be strictly accurate, that "in the primary
colonial times of the Carolinas, Winyaw Bay was the best and most
frequented harbor on the coast, and Gerogetown, more accessible, was
more of a commercial town than old Charlestown. To that port
British cruisers sometimes brought prizes. Among these once was a
Salee Rover, which was sold for the distribution of the proceeds as
prize money. The crew, consisting mostly of Moors, with a
sprinkling of Arabs and negroes, were turned ashore free. Their
complexion and religion prevented immediate absorption by the white
race, and they found wives among Indians, negroes and cast-off white
women sold by immigrant ships for their passage money. They
became a peculiar people. These were the free people of color of
the Pee Dee region so true to Marion during our revolutionary struggle,
and no other race in America retained such traditionary hatred of the
McMillan, Esq', in his little work on the identity of the Henry Berry
Lowery people of the Pee Dee region with the lost tribe of Croatan
Indians, makes the supposed Portuguese, the Lowery tribe and the
Croatans one and the same mixed race of people, if we remember
rightly. Now here we have them "Moors, with a sprinkling of Arabs
and negroes." Who can throw
further light on the 'Melungeons?"
was apparently colonised by the Phoenicians at approximately the same time
that Chellah, across the Bou Regreg to the south. Researchers know a
considerable amount about the Chellah colony, probably because of the
good state of preservation of the Chellah site.
In Pirate Utopias,
Lamborn Wilson says:
- "Salé ... dates back at least to Carthaginian times (around
7th century BC). The Romans called the place Sala Colonia, part of
their province of Mauritania Tingitane. Pliny the Elder
mentions it (as a desert town infested with elephants!). The Vandals captured the area in
the 5th century AD and left behind a number of blonde, blue-eyed
Berbers. The Arabs (7th century)
kept the old name and believed it derived from "Sala" (sic., his name
is actually Salah), son of Ham, son of
Noah; they said that
Salé was the first city ever built by the Berbers."
In about 1630 Salé became a haven for
Salé pirates (the well-known "Sallee Rovers") roamed the seas as
far as the shores of the Americas,
bringing back loot and slaves. There is an American family van Salee
descended from a Salee Rover who was captured by the Dutch and settled
in New Amsterdam. The character Robinson Crusoe, in Daniel Defoe's
novel by the same name, spends time in captivity of the local pirates
and at last sails off to liberty from the mouth of the Salé
has played a rich and important part in Moroccan history. The first
demonstrations for independence against the French, for example, sparked off in
Salé. A good number of government officials, decision makers and
royal advisors of both France and Morocco were from Salé.
Salé people, the Slawis, have always had a "tribal" sense of
belonging, a sense of pride which developed into a feeling of
superiority towards the "berranis", i.e. Outsiders.
There never was, nor ever can be again, such a perfect
example of a confederation of the brethren of the sea as that of the
Pirate Republic of Bou Regreg. Rabat and Sale were the twin cities at
the heart of this Republic. They were both guarded by medieval walls
that had been greatly reinforced by artillery fortresses dug into the
outlying cliffs that overlook the dark, muddy waters of the Bou Regreg
estuary from the north and the south banks. Submerged rocks, a line of
forbidding cliffs, Atlantic reefs and a sand bar at the mouth of the
tidal Bou Regreg made the estuary waters a very safe harbour.
It was from this secure base that the free-ranging pirate squadrons
known as the Sallee Rovers set out to harass the sea-lanes, merchant
ships and harbours of Europe. They were brilliantly successful for
their ships crews were a kaleidoscope of international talent that
allied the military élan of Moroccans and exiled Spanish Moors
with Dutch, German and English professional skills. The crews spoke a
lingua franca that was based on Spanish with a mixture of French,
Italian, Portuguese and Arabic loan words.
The Sallee Rovers did not just restrict their operations to the capture
of shipping but took the war into the lands of the enemy; landing
raiding parties that returned with captives. Their notoriety as white
slavers reached a crescendo in the mid 17th century England when a
series of daring slave raids seized captives from St Micheals Mount in
Cornwall and Baltimore in south-west Ireland as well as intercepting
the cod fishing fleet off Iceland. The boasting verses in Rule
Britannia about Britons never shall be slaves could certainly not have
been written in those years. It has been calculated that in this period
that there were more Britons labouring away as slaves and concubines in
North Africa than as settlers in all of the colonies of North America
put together. Read