Phoenicians and Carthaginians

Knoxville News-Sentinel
February 2, 1928

The Melungeons of East Tennessee are not a mixed race.  They are descendants of some ancient Phoenicians who removed from Carthage to a place near Camden, South Carolina and from there to Hancock County, Tennessee.  This is the same people as Hiram of Tyre who wrote letters to King Solomon and helped to build the great Jewish temple.

They have no facial resemblance to Indians or Negroes.  They have none of the characteristics of either negroes or Indians.  The fact is there is no negroid or Indian blood, but a pure distinct race.

J. Patton Gibson
(Hancock County, Tennessee)


Judge Lewis Shepherd:

"In truth, these people belonged to a peculiar race, which settled in East Tennessee at an early day and, in the vernacular of the country, they were known as "Melungeons," and were not even remotely allied to Negroes. It was proven by the tradition amongst these people that they were descendants of the ancient Carthaginians they were Phoenicians, who, after Carthage was conquered by the Romans, and became a Roman province, emigrated across the straits of Gibraltar, and settled in Portugal. They lived for many years and became quite numerous on the southern coast of Portugal, and from thence came the distinguished Venetian general, Othello, whom Shakespeare made immortal in his celebrated play, 'The Moor of Venice.'"

About the time of our Revolutionary War, a considerable body of these people crossed the Atlantic and settled on the coast of South Carolina, near the North Carolina line, and they lived amongst the people of Carolina for a number of years.  At length the people of Carolina began suspect that they were mulattoes of free Negroes, and denied them the privileges usually accorded to white people.  They refused to associate with them on equal terms; and would not allow them to send their children to school with white children, and would only admit them to join their churches on the footing of Negroes.

South Carolina had a law taxing free Negroes so much per capita, and a determined effort was made to collect this tax off them.  But it was shown in evidence on the trial of this case that they always successfully resisted payment of this tax, as they proved they were not Negroes. Because of their treatment, they left South Carolina at an early day, and wandered across the mountains to Hancock County, East Tenn.... A few families of them drifted away from Hancock into the other counties of East Tennessee, and now and then into the mountainous section of Middle Tennessee.

"The term 'Melungeon' is an East Tennessee provincialism; it was coined by the people of that country to apply to these people. It is derived from the French word 'melange,' meaning a mixture or medley, and has gotten into the modern dictionaries. It was applied to these people because it was at first supposed that they were of mixed blood - part white and part negro. This name is a misnomer, because it has been conclusively proven that they are not mixed with negro blood, but are pure-blooded Carthagenians, as much so as was Hannibal and the Moor of Venice and other pure-blooded descendants of the ancient Phoenicians."

William Worden
Saturday Evening Post

Unquestionably the oddest theory of all was advanced by J. Patton Gibson, a Tennessee writer, and given an odd twist by Judge Lewis Shepherd, of Chattanooga. Shepherd’s connection with the Malungeons came through his employment as attorney for a half-Malungeon woman who somehow had wandered that far from her native Hancock County mountains. A daughter was born, and subsequently both the mother and father died, the latter in an asylum. His relatives sent the child away and claimed the land, basing their claim on the theory that the Malungeon woman had been of Negro blood, that the marriage therefore had been illegal under Tennessee statues and that the child was illegitimate and without rights of succession to the property.

 Shepherd was employed as attorney for the girl, by this time nearly grown, and brought back to Chattanooga by friends of the dead man. Like so many of the people who have written and spoken on the subject of the Malungeon mystery Shepherd nowhere quoted his authorities, but what he told the jury was that the girl in question had no Negroid characteristics and that she, a Malungeon, was a descendant of a lost and hounded people originally Phoenicians, who migrated to Morocco at the time the Romans were sacking Carthage. From Morocco, he said, they eventually sailed to South Carolina, arriving there before other settlers. But when lighter neighbors came, these people could not get along with them because the light South Carolinians insisted the Malungeons were Negroes, and even attempted to impose a head tax on them as such, as well as barring their children from Caucasian schools. So they fled toward the mountains and stopped only when they reached Hancock County, Tennessee.

There was nobody then, and there is nobody now, to support in any way his theory or to argue with him on any basis except improbability. But he did win the court case.

The Melungeons

By Noted Historian, The Late Bonnie Ball

In both Carolinas Melungeons were denied privileges usually granted to white people. For that reason many migrated to Tennessee where the courts ruled that they were not Negroes.

Traditions still persist that the Melungeons were descendants of the ancient Phoenicians who migrated from Carthage to Morocco, whenced they crossed the Atlantic before the American Revolution and settled in North Carolina. If this theory can be accepted, they were pure Carthaginians, and not a mixed race.

In weighing this last statement it is interesting to note that the Moors of Tennessee called themselves Portuguese, that the Moors of North Carolina came from Portugal, and that a generation ago the Melungeons called themselves Portuguese.
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