AN EARLY UNTARNISHED VERSION OF 'THE MELUNGEONS'



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.
 Burnett’s article was published in October of 1889, Vol. 11, pp 347-349, "American Anthropologist Magazine."

After 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 Society asks how
this 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 Carolina. 

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. 



~Joanne Pezzullo~

Atlanta Constitution
March 11, 1889
The Melungeons

Meridian, Miss.,
March 11– Editors Constitution

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.

Very respectfully,

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 Infantry CSA.

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, Mississippi (Marshall 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.

NATIONAL SURVEYS ARTICLE - NEW YORK TIMES   June 29, 1885

Information provided by- Peggy Johnson Carey

carey@seark.net


THE NEWS AND OBSERVER
Raleigh, NC 
Wednesday - 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 British.  'Hamilton 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?"





*Salee Rovers

Salé 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[1] colony, probably because of the good state of preservation of the Chellah site.

In Pirate Utopias, Peter 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."[2]

In about 1630 Salé became a haven for Moriscos-turned-Barbary pirates. 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 river.

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.  -- SOURCE


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 More



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