Phoenicians and Carthaginians
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."
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.
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
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