Peculiar Race of East Tennessee
A Remarkable Woman
May 27, 1897
To The Editor of The
In east Tennessee there lives
a very remarkable race of people known as Melungeons, a race which
appear to be somewhat similar to the "old issues" or "Redbones" found
scattered about in our State.
Several years ago Dr. Swan M.
Burnett of Washington read an interesting paper on these people before
the Anthropologist society, which paper was afterwards published in a
magazine. The following extracts from that paper doubtless be of
interest to many of your readers:
No one seemed to know positively
that they or their ancestors had ever been in slavery, and they did not
themselves claim to belong to any tribe of Indians in that part of the
country. They resented the appellation Melungeon, given to them by
common consent by the whites, and proudly called themselves Portuguese.
belief was that they were a mixture of white, Indian, and Negro. On
what data that opinion was based I have never been able to determine,
but the very word Melungeon would seem to indicate the idea of a mixed
people in the minds of those who first gave them the name. I have never
seen the word written, nor do I know the precise way of spelling it,
but the first thought that would come to one on hearing it would be
that it was a corruption of the French word melangee—mixed.
that the Melungeons originally came into east Tennessee from North
Carolina, and the larger number settled in what was at that time
Hawkins County, but which is now Hancock.
known generally by their family names, as the “Collinses,” &c., and
on account of the caste restriction, which has always been rigorously
maintained, they do not intermarry with the Negroes or Indians.
dark, but of a different hue to the ordinary mulatto, with either
straight or wavy hair, and some have cheek bones almost as high as the
During the present month I
have received a letter from a gentleman in east Tennessee, relating to
the Melungeons and in it he speaks of a remarkable woman of this
race. This woman he supposes to be the largest in Tennessee and
says that "she weighs about 500 pounds."
Ramsey, Privateer Township,