The Melungeons

Early History
1840 - 1890  bd
 (Before Dromgoole)
Joanne Pezzullo

As more articles, newspapers, and records are brought online the more the picture of the
 first fifty years of Melungeons changes also.


Most Melungeon researchers believe the first use of this word was at the Stoney Creek Church near Fort Blackmore in present day Scott County in 1813.  Without the original transcript we can not be sure it was a 'Malungeon' they were harboring  but if they were indeed harboring 'Malungeons' were they  Gibsons, Collins, Sextons, etc., that had been members for almost fifteen years?  These families were mentioned numerous times for drinking, fighting and sinning yet they had never been referred to as anything in thirteen years, not 'negroes', not 'Indians', and not 'Malungeons'. Oddly enough the Stoney Creek Church clerk was Nevil Wayland who was either the son or husband of Kezziah who was most daughter of Thomas and Mary Gibson from Henry County, Virginia.

Oct 4 1805
Nevil Wayland Jun-r enters fifty acres of land by virture of part of a Land Office Treasury warrant No 1855 dated March 18th 1796 lying in Russell county on both sides of Copper Creek beginning at a conditional line between John Mc. Clelan and James Gibson then running up the Creek on both sides for quantity.

This Indenture made the fifth day of May int the year of our Lord 1812, betwen Saml Ewing attorney for Hugh Mc Clung of the one part, and Keziah Weland of the other part both of the county of Russell and State of Virginia Witnesseth That the said Saml. Ewing atty for Hugh McClung for and in consideration fo the sum of fifteen dollars lawful money of the United States to him in hand paid the reciept whereof is hereby acknowledged hath granted bargained and sold, and by these presents doth grant bargain and sell unto the aforesaid Keziah Weland and her heirs forever, a certain tract or parcel of land lying and being in the county of Russell on the waters of Cooper Creek including a Spring called the Pound Spring and bounded as fowlloweth to wit: Beginning on a white oak about ten poles east of the pound spring thence s45degree W.46 poles to a White oak Nathan Mullets corner, thence s 20 degree W 14 poles to a black gum thence s 5 degree E 16 poles to a large white oak. N. 6 0 degree W 20 poles to a chesnut N. 70 degree W.10 poles to a small poplar N 40 W 20poles to two poplars near the age of a sink hole thence N. 40 degree E 36 poles to a white oak thence whith a straight line to the Beginning containing fifteen acres be the same less or more. But it is to be name that there is fifteen acres excluded out of this deed for which I have already made a deed for to John Gibson dated the 7th day of November 1809. With all the appretenances to have and to hold the aforesaid trac or parcel of land with all its apprentenances unto the said _________Weland and her heirs, to the sole use and behoof of her the said Keziah Weland and her heirs forever. And the said Saml. Ewing atty. for Hugh Mcclung and their heirs  doth convenant with the said Keziah Weland and her heirs that the said tract or parcel of land with all and singlualr it appuntenaces unto the said Keziah Weland and her heirs against the claim  or claims of all person whatsoever shall and will forever de fend.

Would this clerk at the church have written down the word 'melungin,' if it was in fact used as a slur, against his mother's people?

The "fighting parson" William Brownlow appears to be the first to use the term 'Malungen' in a newspaper in 1840 although it is doubtful  the person he was referring to was in fact a Malungen. On October 7, 1840 he wrote about this "scoundrel who is half Negro and half Indian, the article was titled "Negro Speaking."  Several researchers have been in contact with me over the years and we have worked on who this 'Democratic Malungen' might be but have found very little clues. 

A  journalist from the
Louisville Examiner visited the Melungeons on Newman's Ridge where he had spent the night at the hotel owned by Vardy Collins and his wife Margaret (Gibson) who was known as Spanish Peggy.  This article published in the Louisville paper was copied to the 
Times Picayune  in Louisianna on September 05, 1848, the  Knoxville Register September 6, 1848 and also picked up by the  Sheybogan Mercury in Wisconsin on  September 16, 1848.  Up in New England it was covered by the  Vermont Journal on September 22, 1848,  and the Albany Evening Journal in New York on August 23, 1848 and on  March 21, 1849 it was again printed in the Boston Evening TranscriptIn Volume XX of Eliakim Littell's popular, The Living Age,a weekly literary periodical published out of Boston, it was reprinted yet again in January of 1849.

These are only the ones I have been able to dig up so far, there are no doubt many other papers that carried this story.  Most of these papers that reprinted the article added this paragraph;

"We are free to confess that we have never heard of or read of the ‘Melungeons’ before this day, and all we know about them now is what we derive from the following imperfect description obtained in a letter from a travelling correspondent of the Louisville, Ky., Examiner.  The letter bears no date, but the site of the Melungen race appears to be somewhere in Kentucky."

What this journalist  published was the 'Legend of the Melungeons,' as told to him (likely by his hosts) .  In 1848 he wrote they were Portuguese adventurers who had mixed with the local Indians and their descendants with the blacks and the whites after their move to Tennessee.

  -- The Melungeons may have been unknown to most of the country before the Louisville journalist made his way to the ridge  but after 1848 it is obvious much of the country knew who they were.

Most articles, dissertations, books,  and newspapers  written in the last fifty years have not mentioned the use of Brownlow's Malungen in the Whig or the numerous uses of Molungeons in the Virginia papers from 1853 to 1869 where it was used in regards to political epithets or the making of moonshine.  They have been found twice in Civil War books, once in the diary of Edward O. Guerrant  and in Battles and Sketches of the Army of Tennessee  where a scout,  Bose Rouss, was identified as a Malungeon.

The Melungeons would again make the papers with the reports of 'illicit distilleries' and 'crooked whiskey'in the mountains. While the entire south seems to have been  engaging in the practice the  Malungeons apparently kept the government men busy for years selling their liquor all over East Tennessee, Western North Carolina and Southwest Virginia. Only two articles have been found so far that mention the Malungeons but there are very likely more out there as there are dozens that mention these distilleries in East Tennessee.

The only documented record of Melungeons to date is the Hamilton County trial of Jerome Simmerman's heir, the granddaughter of Solomon Bolton, Jemima Bolton Simmerman.  The attorney of record, Lewis Shepherd, wrote in his memoirs that these Melungeons came over the mountains from South Carolina (Marion County) stopping off on Newman's Ridge before going on to Hamilton County.  Solomon Bolton served in the War of 1812 from South Carolina and is found in Spartanburg before coming to Tennessee --  (See  Celebrated Melungeon Case)

 Goodspeed's History of Tennessee : "A settlement was also made at an early date at Mulberry Gap, where a little village sprang up. Newmans' Ridge, which runs through the county to the north of Sneedville, and parallel with Clinch River, is said to have taken its name from one of the first settlers upon it. It has since been occupied mainly by a people presenting a peculiar admixture of white and Indian blood. "   While they were not called 'Melungeons'  they were described as 'peculiar' at least four years before Will Allen Dromgoole.

Swan Burnett wrote in 1889;  "
They resented the appellation Melungeon, given to them by common consent by the whites, and proudly called themselves Portuguese. ...The current belief was that they were a mixture of white, Indian, and Negro." Burnett had help researching the Melungeons from Dr. J. M. Pierce of Hawkins County, Tennessee and also Dr. Gurley of the Smithsonian. 

Between February of 1889 when Burnett first read his report on the Melungeons and when it was published in October he ''had received from several sources valuable information" in regard to the Melungeons.  ''One of whom was Hamilton McMillan who had attached his pamphlet  on Raleigh's Lost Colony printed in 1888.  Miss Dromgoole had not yet went to Hancock County yet we see Hamilton McMillan, Swan Burnett and the Smithsonian exchanging research.  This letter from Hamilton McMillan, also written before Dromgoole entered the picture was  addressed to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and  was included in the 1890 Indian Population Report published by the Census Bureau.

July 17, 1890
--Red Springs, North Carolina
Hamilton McMillan

'The Croatan tribe lives principaly in Robeson county, North Carolina, though there is quite a number of them settle in counties adjoining in North and South Carolina.  In Sumter county, South Carolina, there is a branch of the tribe, and also in east Tennessee.  In Macon county, North Carolina, there is another branch, settled there long ago.  those living in east tennessee are called "Melungeons", a name also retained by them here, which is corruption of 'Melange', a name given them by early settlers (French), which means mixed.''

When notice of Swan Burnett's article appeared in the Atlanta Constitution Mr. Lawrence Johnson who was born in Chester County, South Carolina  recogized these people who 'proudly called themselves Portuguese' as a group whom he had encountered in South Carolina along the Peedee River. Although Burnett's article stated the Melungeons had came from Virginia and North Carolina Mr. Johnson was quick to connect these two groups.

Miss Dromgoole's first article was published the end of August and the second was dated the 1st of September of 1890 and within two weeks it brought responses in the form of 'Letters to the Editor' of Malungeon Town in Wilson County where a settlement of the Portuguese settlers had resided in the 1850s.  Another letter dated September 25th from W.D.P of Rogersville wrote;

"The newspapers of the country are again wrangling with the 'Melungeons' or 'lungens' a peculiar race of people living along Newman's Ridge in Hancock county.  They are also scattered along Clinch mountain in Hawkins and Grainger in isolated settlements.  Even that bright and fascinating young writer, Miss Will Allen Dromgoole has taken it upon herself to journey all the way from Nashville to the wilds of Hancock for the evident purpose of settling once and for all the much disputed question of their origin.  Unfortunately she gleamed little information other than that already published." (W.D.P)

Note W.D.P. says they are 'again' wrangling and  apparently most of what she wrote had already been published.  Perhaps we might find what 'had already been published' someday.  (Read Letter)

At the end of 1890 there were at least two historical societies interested in the Melungeon research and neither appear to have acknowledged the articles by Dromgoole.  The Tennessee Historical Society met in December at Nashville and was addressed by Judge John Lea on the subject of Melungeons.  He gave an outline of the early history of the settlement in North Carolina and went on to say;

"A party under the protection of a friendly Indian chief had gone into the interior when the first settlers came to that coast and had been lost. No other settlers came till a century afterward, and they were told of a tribe who claimed a white ancestry, and among whom gray eyes were frequent. This people were traced to Buncomb and Robeson counties, where the same family and personal names were found as in the lost colonies.
They are now called Croatans, on account of a sign they made on the trees to keep their way. The Basques of the Spanish coast have been said to have settled in that country, but this theory was not thought to be trustworthy. It would be impossible for negroes to form a distinct race, because the number necessary for a colony would not have been allowed to run at large. The race has several old English words which are used as they were in England two hundred years ago, and a case of civil rights has been won in court by a Melungeon displaying his person and proving to the court that he was of Caucasian blood. North Carolina gives the Croatians $1,000 a year for a normal school, and they have excellent roads. This colony, whose early history is thus so clearly traced, lies within forty miles of the Tennessee Melungeons. (Article Here)

Stephen B. Weeks in the Lost Colony of Roanoke printed from the Papers Am. Hist. Asso., Vol. iv., No. 4., 1891  relates a letter received from Mr. John M. Bishop who had apparently attended the meeting of the American Historical Association in December of 1890.

''Mr. McMillan favors the view that they are a part of the colony of Roanoke, and on this question Mr. John M. Bishop, a native of east Tennessee, now living in Washington, writes to the author: "My theory is that they are a part of the lost colony of Roanoke. Your utterances at the recent meeting in this city on the subject of the Lost Colony of Roanoke (meeting of Amer. Hist. Ass'n., Dec. 31, 1890) were so nearly in line with my ideas in this matter that I now write to call your attention to the subject. . . . You will mark the fact that the Malungeons are located on Newmans Ridge and Black Water creek in Hancock county, Tenn., directly in the path of ancient westward emigration. Dan Boone tramped all over this immediate section. . . . The Malungeons, drifting with the tide of early emigration, stranded on the borderland of the wilderness and remained there."

These last two mentions in December of 1890, although printed after the Dromgoole articles, clearly show they had been in contact with Hamilton McMillan and likely Swan Burnett rather than Miss Dromgoole. 

James Mooney, McDonald Furman, Swan Burnett, Dr., Gurley, C. A. Peterson, Hamilton McMillan, Judge John Lea, Stephen B. Weeks,  all were connected with the Smithsonian and were not basing their research on what most authors today describe Will Allen Dromgoole -- "a local color writer."