On Friday forenoon, July 2, the writer and Rev. Joseph
Parkersburg, West Virginia, started in a hack from Cumberland Gap,
Tenn., for Beatty Collins’, chief of the Melungeons, in Blackwater
Valley, Hancock County, Tenn.
The distance is
thirty-five miles, but over such rough rocky mountain
roads, that sundown found us still five miles away from our
destination, without, however, any dislocated or broken bones, for
which we were thankful. From either Lone Mountain or Rogersville, the
road is shorter, being about thirty miles and not so rough. But by
taking the longer route we passed a rare mountain cemetery, the sight
of which paid us for our journey. The mountaineer has a tender heart
and devotedly loves his own.
No appeal comes
more frequently or forcefully from his preacher than
the one to meet loved ones in heaven, and the same sentiment finds
constant expression in the hymns sung, therefore it is not strange that
he buries his dead out of his sight, he erects a shelter over the
grave. Though it may be quite rude or more finished in construction, as
shown in the illustrations, yet it affords comfort to the bereaved
because it shelters his loved ones from the storm, as many a cultured
mother would fain do when the blasts beat on the grave of her babe. It
should be added that this custom is peculiar to certain localities and
does not commonly prevail.
In Mulberry Valley,
where we stopped for the night, we were served with
two excellent meals and a restful bed for which the only compensation
receivable was our “thank you.”
In the morning we
crossed Mullberry Ridge at the Gap, and three miles
down the valley were landed at Beatty
He received us
cordially and gave us full possession of “Hotel Varday,”
a frame building 12x14 feet, in which were three beds. The walls were
decorated with a variety of McKinley and Hobart pictures, one of which
having been torn was carefully stitched.
In front was a neat
little porch in which hung the stars and stripes,
the only hint we had of the glorious Fourth.
In this valley are
the famous Varday Springs of health-giving sulphur
water, around which before the war, were many cabins for visitors. Now
crowds come every Sunday to drink the water and to picnic. It was
supposed that our object was to “tend the springs.”
Valley lies between Mulberry and Newman’s Ridges, and is
from half a mile to mile wide. Twenty years ago it was still a
wilderness, but is now under good cultivation, and divided into small
farms upon which are rather poor dwellings and outbuildings. In this
valley and along Newman’s Ridge, reaching into Lee County, Virginia,
are settled the people called Melungeons. Some have gone into Kentucky,
chiefly into Pike County, others are scattered in adjacent territory.
The name Melungeons
is of obscure origin supposed to be derived from
Melange, (French) meaning a mixed people. When I privately asked the
Beatty Collins, a school teacher, about this name, he strongly
resented its application to his people, saying, “We are a pure blood
people,” meaning at least that they had no negro blood in their veins.
They feel that
oursiders look down on them and this is stimulating them
to a better life.
The first settlers
here were the great grand parents, Varday Collins,
Shephard Gibson, and Charley Williams, who came from Virginia it is
said, though other say from North Carolina. They have marked Indians
resemblances in color, feature, hair, carriage, and disposition.
In the picture
given is seen the typical family of Beatty Collins,
chief of the clan, who stands with uncovered head to the right; before
him sits his wife. The youngest daughter, about eighteen, a blonde with
light wavy hair, can walk, ride, plough or hoe with the best of them.
The young man–the school teacher and store keeper----is swarthy like
his father. Altogether they are an intelligent, agreeable, and
hospitable family. The man in the slouch hat is not of them, but would
seem to be looking that way, as through the night till break of day he
talked or sang to the daughter who stands beside him.
The second settlers
were from North Carolina; they were the Goans,
Miners, and Bells; they were charged with having negro blood in them
and, before the war, were prosecuted on this ground for illegal voting,
but were acquitted. They explained their peculiarities by claiming a
Later Came Jim
Mullens, an Englishman, who married a Collins, and whose
son John married Mehala Collins, to be referred to again. Jim Moore, a
British sailor, also settled here, and married a daughter of old
Charley Gibson, so that while in one sense, they are a mixed people,
their names indicate an origin on one side not differing from their
neighbors. Their isolation may be due to the seclusion preferred by the
Indians and the exclusion on account of suspected negro blood.
The most noted
person now among them is Mrs. Mehala Mullens, widow of
John Mullens. About twenty children were born to this couple, three of
whom met violent deaths, ons son being shot in the streets of
Sneedville, another in her door yard, and a third lynched in Texas.
She is over seventy
years old; weighs, it is judged, about 400 pounds;
cannot walk, stand, or lie down; but sits on her bed day and night.
Beside her is a
cask of whiskey on which stand tin cups and measures.
The faucet is at her hand that she may conveniently dispense liquor to
all who want it.
She seems to enjoy
the notoriety, and when the officers came with a
writ for her arrest, she laughingly said “Execute it!" Her size, ill
health, and steep rocky roads leading to her house on Newman’s Ridge,
rendered her transportation dangerous if not impossible; so she sits
and sells in defiance of law.
I asked what she
was going to do with all the fruit in the large
orchard? She replied, “The boys know how to work that up.” I presumed
into apple brandy, and she will do the rest.
She was quite
willing to have her picture taken, but wanted a copy of
it. When Mr. Hamilton asked for her address her daughter interposed.
“You did not tell him how many yards it takes,” and turning, said: “ It
takes twelve yards to make her a dress.” The old lady saw her
daughter’s mistake and corrected it, otherwise Mr. H. might have taken
Privately, I said,
“Why do you, so near the grave, go on selling this
destructive stuff to the young men?” She replied, “It’s the only way I
can make a livin’.”
She would only half
promise to think of the evil of it. The old
sentiment of the people makes it innocent, the notoriety makes it
pleasant, and the money makes it profitable, and habit blinds her to
the curse it has brought to her own door.
however, do little drinking and are not noted as in
former days for shooting, cutting and stealing. They are peaceable and
progressive, have good natural abilities, and are very eager to rise.
They have schools and church buildings, and are strongly religious and
During the Civil
War many of them were in the Union army and helped to
make the record of Hancock County, which sent more soldiers into the
Federal service than it had voters.
In 1862, Captain J.
H. Trent, of Morristown, Tenn., formed a company
largely composed of these people. Enlisted as infantry they were
shortly made Company A First Tennessee Cavalry. They were noted for
their bravery and were generally called upon in emergencies and for
The captain tells
of two of Beatty Collins’ brothers who died in the
army, of broken hearts, due to prolonged absence from home.
Recently there were
500 person at the funeral, 150 of whom out of
respect remained for dinner.
During the Saturday
and Sunday we spent in the valley we were with the
people in five meetings. On Saturday morning their preacher did not
come, but they wished us to preach if we were not Mormons, these they
did not allow to preach in their church. As a neighboring preacher came
in we begged to be excused.
The sermon we heard
was good in thought, arrangement and delivery,
although accompanied at frequent intervals by some very straight
spitting through a convenient crack in the floor.
For future meetings
they appealed to us, and by rising vote the strange
preachers were unanimously invited to preach in the afternoon, when we
had a good audience.
service was to begin at 10 o’clock,, so all the
preacher, four in number, could have a turn. The singing was led by a
young, man aided by all, including the woman with the high falsetto
voice, who for the time took her snuff stick out of her mouth.
The first verse was
the line:” “We have mothers who have gone on
before,” repeated four times. Succeeding verses were the same line with
father, brother, or other relative substituted for mother. The chorus
was the line “ We will lean on the Bible and go home,” repeated four
times, and more weird enchanting harmony I never heard.
Their preacher came
Sunday morning and treated us with the utmost
courtesy. He is a perfect gentleman and an earnest Christian. He led in
a devout prayer only one sentence of which seemed to be for the special
edification of the strange brethren. It was: “O Lord reach into the
recessities of our hearts and bring out everything inimicable to they
will, divest us of the principles of religion, and ratify all our
wrongs.” <><> Many old people gave their hands to the
preacher in token of their faith in Christ and about twenty, mostly
young people, in the same way expressed their desire to be Christians;
a splendid field for some personal work.
In the afternoon, I
organized a Sunday school and told them of the work
done by our Bible Teachers. Mr. B. H. Williams, the Secretary of the
Sunday School, Postmaster and Justice of the Peace, said; “Send the
ladies right to my house, I’ll take care of them.” Mr. Beatty Collins
will give us a house and a piece of land, and all seemed anxious for
these ladies to come.
We have a competent
lady, a native Tennesseean, for whom $150 is
pledged, who is very anxious to enter this field. For her salary, we
need another $150.
Friends in Kansas
are raising money to send another worker there, for
two should go together. We will need at least $100 to repair and
remodel the house, $100 more for a stable, horse, etc., sums which we
trust the Lord will shortly send us.
The door is open,
the call is in our ears, the response will surely
come. C.H. Humble
at Home and Abroad - Page 403 by Presbyterian Church in the
U.S.A. Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, Presbyterian
Church in the U.S.A. General Assembly - Presbyterian Church - 1897
A SECOND VISIT TO THE
REV. C. HUMBLE, M.D.,
SYNODICAL, SABBATH-SCHOOL MISSIONARY
On July 3, 4 and 5, I was in
Blackwater valley, between Mulberry and Newman's ridges, Hancock
county, Tenn., where dwell a peculiar people called the Melungeons.
On August 26, I again started
for this region, this time from Lone Mountain, on horseback, the
distance being twenty-six miles, over a fair road with no considerable
At least a dozen schoolhouses
and churches were passed, in only one of which was there a Sunday-
About nine miles out I rode
into a crowd of school-children, sixty in number, enjoying recess. The teacher said there were
eighty scholars in the district, but they had no Sunday-school. He
cheerfully agreed to give me an hour on the morrow at 2 P.M., and to
"norate" the appointment. At that time the house was crowded, nearly a
hundred persons being present. After an address, a Sabbath-school was
organized, which we will be able to visit at short intervals.
But as the approach to
Blackwater was made the inquiry arose, " What is my Fourth of July
Sabbath-school doing?" and on my arrival I was rejoiced to learn that
it was in a flourishing condition and was truly the "Pride of the
A meeting that night at the
schoolhouse two miles down the creek opened the way for another
Sunday-school as soon as our Bible teachers get on the ground. Another
point up the creek was also spoken for. The fields are white already to
harvest, and while the region is little known, Presbyterians have not
in times past wholly neglected it.
A writer says: "One night in
June, many years ago, Dr. Frederick A. Ross, a noted Presbyterian
minister, of Eastern Tennessee, was traveling through the Blackwater
country. He accidentally came upon "Uncle" Vard's house and asked if he
could stay all night. [Newspaper Article on this story - A Peculiar
"The old mountaineer told him
he could, and after he had fed his horse and the guest had eaten supper
the old man asked him his business. He told him he was a preacher. The
old man told him he would like to hear him preach. ' Where is your
congregation?" asked the minister. 'I'll get one in a few minutes,'
replied 'Uncle' Vard. He took a long dinner horn from its rack over the
door and going outdoors blew several shrill blasts. Within an hour
fifty people had assembled, and Dr. Ross said that he never preached to
an audience which showed greater appreciation and deeper religious
feeling than did that little band of copper- colored mountaineers on
"Uncle" Yard is Varday
Collins, the chief of the first settlers who came to this valley as
early as 1789. He lived to be 101 years old, and the springs,
post-office and hotel are called by his name.
In 1890, Mr. W. M.
was in this valley, under the auspices of the Holston Presbytery,
South. He found them very destitute of religious literature, many homes
being without Bibles. Some of them thought our Bibles to be different
from that of the Baptists or Methodists—not an illogical deduction.
They suspected him of being
an internal revenue officer and tried to run him out by threatening to
kill him. However, scared as he was, he stayed, preached and placed
Bibles in almost every home.
In 1893, Mr. W. W. Baxter,
our Sabbath-school missionary at Booneville, Ky., spent several months
in this section and is remembered with affection and respect.
Presbyterians, therefore, are
not unknown or unwelcome; indeed, although these people are chiefly
Baptists, one of their number, Caney Collins, a brother of Beatty,
being a Baptist preacher, they are very eager to have us come.
They have been despised and
in a measure ostracised by outsiders, and their self-respect impels
them to seize every chance of improvement.
They are delighted at the
prospect of having two cultured, consecrated ladies locate in the
valley, who will carry on their Sabbath-schools the year round in the
best manner, teaching the truth as it is in Jesus, showing them how to
get hold of it and work it out in their home life and in all their
affairs. The people offer them a house and garden. They will help
remodel the house, which will cost us about $100, a sum which we hope
some reader will send us. The friends in Greeneville and Jonesboro,
Tenn., are endeavoring to provide the furniture needed ; others in
Knoxville are getting funds for a horse.
The ladies are Miss Annie
Brian Miller, of Limestone, Tenn., an excellent teacher, who has fitted
herself for mission work by two years' attendance on Moody's Bible
Institute, Chicago; and Miss Maggie B. Axtell, Topeka, Kans., a
graduate of Washburn College, who has had much experience in Bible
teaching, especially in the Y. W. C. A.
Miss Axtell's salary is
promised by friends in Kansas. One-half of Miss Miller's is furnished
by a gentleman and his wife in Indiana. The other $150 we trust the
Lord soon to send us.
" Hotel Varday " will be
their home until their house is ready for occupancy. This building is frame, 12 z
14 feet in size ; has on the first floor three beds, a bureau,
fireplace and staircase; on the second floor is one bed.
Since my first visit groups
of Westminster picture cards have been hung on the walls. Many of these people were in
the Union army during the war and were noted for their bravery. They
love their own people and their homes, and their captain, J. H. Trent,
tells of two Collins brothers who died in the army from homesickness.
In their burials they march
single file to the grave, which is always on a mountain. Should you .ask any of these
people concerning their origin, all they can say is that they were told
that their ancestors came from North Carolina and had Indian blood in
their veins. And at this limit of their knowledge I rest until those
who hold to the Portuguese, Aztec or Negro theory establish the
connection. Before the war the charge of Negro mixture could not be
proved, and those of them arrested for illegal voting on this ground
were discharged. The slightest suspicion of Negro blood in a person is
sufficient to call into active exercise the intense repugnance of some
people to associate with him or his, so that it is not surprising that
even now children of these people are denied admission to the public
schools in districts where they are in the minority. It is said that
they are very averse to their men marrying white women, and in such a
case recently the man was obliged to cut his finger and the woman to
suck his blood before their minister would perform the ceremony. Indian
blood mingled somewhat with Caucasian will account for all the
peculiarities of color, feature, hair, carriage and character possessed
by these people.
We know that the Mullens and
Moores received their names from white husbands and fathers, and we do
no violence to the probabilities by assuming that the prevalent names,
Collins, Gibson, Williams, Goans, Bell, came in the same way.
It is certainly a cause for
gratitude that our beloved Church has an agency, the Sabbath-school
missionary, that penetrates the darkest mountain recesses to plant
Sabbath-schools which shed forth the light of the glorious gospel of
the Son of God, and that it provides to "keep the lighta-bumin',"
sending the blessed sunshine into every home and every heart, through
the labors of trained consecrated women on the "Settlement Plan,"
projected by the Board of Publication and Sabbath-school Work.
The Church at Home and
Abroad - Page 507
Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Board of Publication and
Sabbath-School Work, Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. General Assembly
- Presbyterian Church - 1898
Dr. C. Humble
writes of successes in Tennessee. " At Vardy
twenty or more conversions have come out of Bible teachers' work and
the good work of 'heart-picking' goes on. Not being
ready for a church organization, the converts go into the Baptist
church; but they want us to organize." (See Sulphur
Springs Baptist Church -
Home Mission Monthly - Page
112 by Presbyterian Church in the
U.S.A. Woman's Executive Committee for Home Missions, Presbyterian
Church in the U.S.A. Woman's Board of Home Missions - Home missions -
MORE ABOUT THE MELUNGEONS. July, 1897, Rev. C. Humble
started from Cumberland Gap, Tenn., to visit Blackwater Valley. The
drive was a long one, over rough and rocky roads, and Dr. Humble p.nd
his companion were glad, as night came on, to find hospitable
entertainment in "Mulberry" Valley. In the morning, resuming their
journey, they crossed over Mulberry Ridge and a drive of a few miles
brought them to the little community in Blackwater Valley, known as the
Melungeons, a name whose origin is variously defined, but it is
supposed the people are partly of Portuguese origin. This community has
been greatly isolated, and in consequence deprived of a stimulus to
progress. Dr. Humble found that they were desirous of a better life and
of advantages which they had not hitherto known.
In a very fully illustrated
article, giving among other views the picture of the head of the clan
and his family, which appeared in the September Home Mission Monthly,
for 1897, very interesting particulars of this first visit of Dr.
Humble's are given. Dr. Humble closes his article by saying that land
was pledged for a building if Bible teachers could be sent to labor in
the region and adds, "The door is open, the call is in our ears, the
response will surely come."
In a short time Dr. Humble's
labors and faith were rewarded; he succeeded in securing the teachers
and sufficient money for their support. The people welcomed the
missionaries gladly, and their initiatory efforts were crowned with
much success. The Arch Enemy, ever watchful to throw hindrances in the
way of Christian work, was not long idle, however. The following
communication, just received from Dr. Humble, will explain the
condition of affairs at present:
OUR BIBLE READERS AMONG THE
The work of Misses Miller and
Axtell at Vardy, Hancock Co., Tenn., among the Melungeons, grows in
interest. From the first these people made our teachers their own, and
when sectarian opposition was aroused by a new preacher not of the
Melungeon blood, who turned our Sunday school out of the building where
it had met, a friendly home was opened and the people who had been led
into the Light by our workers, stood by them and now call earnestly for
the organization of a Presbyterian church.
This conflict has been thrust
upon us, for our teachers have appreciated and reciprocated the
hospitality of the people, and in all their teachings and labors have
exercised the utmost consideration and Catholicism, that no sectarian
opposition should be aroused, for nothing is more antagonistic to true
Christianity than a little religion in the hands of a zealot. In spite
of this opposition from outside, the Son of Righteousness has arisen in
Blackwater Valley with healing in his wings, and these despised people
who, for a hundred or more years back sat in comparative darkness, have
seen a Great Light and are rejoicing in it.
Eight weekly religious
meetings and one day school are conducted by two workers. To these
should be added another Sunday school just organized—the third
conducted by these devoted missionaries — together with another Bible
class which they supervise. One of the Hible classes meets every Friday
evening on Newman's Ridge. Previous to the advent in the valley of the
opposing element this class had been held in the house of a local
minister, and had two other native preachers as students. After the
onslaught this house was closed against us. A number of the best men of
the class—the leading men on the Ridge—arose and said they would fix up
a vacant house for the meeting. On the next Friday evening this house
was opened, a bright fire burning in the fireplace, and benches ready
for the class. Thus again was the " wrath of man made to praise the
Wider the interest spreads. A
man on the far side of the Ridge — six or seven miles distant—came to
invite our Bible Readers to start a school in his neighborhood. This
has been done, and now still another community calls for similar work.
Two more Bible Readers could enter at once into most needy fields. The
people of the county seat are calling loudly for a Presbyterian
teacher, the field is white, the grain is ripe. A Presbyterian minister
should be located in that county at once.
The Ohio Synodical Sunday
School Association are hoping to raise the salary of a Sabbath School
Missionary to take charge of this county, whose arms are outstretched
to welcome him. May the Lord grant the needed additional Bible teachers
and the missionaries at a very early day. C. Humble, M. D. ---------------------------------
Home Mission Monthly - Page
19 by Presbyterian Church in the
U.S.A. Woman's Executive Committee for Home Missions, Presbyterian
Church in the U.S.A. Woman's Board of Home Missions - Home missions -
A PRESSING NEED.
A PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
BUILDING AMONG THE MELUNGEONS,
About two years ago we began
work among a people called Melungeons (see this magazine for Sept.,
'97, page 243, for history of this people) living on Black water River,
Hancock Co., Tenn. Last spring we organized the Vardy Presbyterian
Church with thirty-five members, to which a number of additions have
since been made. This spring one of our Sunday schools was turned out
of its meeting place and found shelter in a neighbor's house.
The log school house in which
the other Sunday school meets, and in which all our preaching services
are held, is so open and cold that while preaching there last winter I
was compelled to wear my overcoat, and the people, in companies of
twenty or more, gathered in turn around the little stove in the center
of the room in order that they might with the least discomfort remain
through the service.
The need and desire for a
church building are great. The people are very poor, but have agreed to
furnish the logs for the lumber at the saw mill and do some work
besides. The building needed is 30x40, with two rooms and a vestibule,
which is to be surmounted with a tower. There is not a decent church
building in the county. This one will cost beyond what the people can
do, about $800 finished and furnished—when the property will be worth
Should the Board of Church
Erection aid us, the least additional sum with which we could get along
would be $500. The lumber is now being sawed, and we would like to have
the building ready for occupancy by the New Year. Here is a unique
opportunity of gaining Christ's commendation for helping some of the
least of his brethren. Our elder's conversion runs thus: "I could not
read a word in the book. I heard the minister preach and wanted to be a
Christian. I went out into the mountain to pray, but I didn't know how
to pray: so I just began to talk to the Lord and I told Him I could
only remember part of the verse, He that believeth shall have
everlasting life,' and I believed and right there the Lord blessed me."
Now Mr. Ordeal Collins can
read and is a living epistle known and read of all men.
One of our deacons is a son
of the massive moonshiner, Aunt Mehala Mullens, and was once himself a
notorious moonshiner, but now a new man in Christ Jesus. Another deacon
is a son of one of Aunt Mehala's daughters, who herself is perhaps our
most zealous member.
Should there be some
individual who would crown the work of our Church among these poor and
condemned brethren by erecting for them a house of worship—possibly a
memorial of some loved one "gone before"—or who would share in the
erection of this Presbyterian church, the first of its kind in the
country, communicate with Miss S. F. Lincoln, 15(1 Fifth Ave., New
York, or with the writer, C. Humble, Parkersburg, W. Va. Home Mission Monthly
Vol. XVI. No. 5.
Quick returns, these, all will say
who recall the " Visit to the Melungeons" in the September number of
this magazine, some four years ago. In that article Dr. Humble told of
his visit to these interesting people at Vardy, Tenn., and of the
effort then inaugurated to sustain Bible Readers among them. We have
since made frequent mention of this work. A year or so ago a church was
organized. Miss McBride now sends word of another rich blessing,
resulting from a week of preaching services by the Rev. Mr. Wallins.
Rain was pouring clown in torrents when the appointed time for the
meetings drew near, the streams were swollen, footlogs were swept away
(there arc no bridges). Added to the discomfort of the storm, the homes
of the people are scattered on the top of a steep ridjre on one side
and a mountain on the other, while most of them
live at a distance of two or three miles or more from the church. But
as soon as the rain was stayed the people came—twice each day— through
the mud, down steep, narrow paths, over slippery rocks—where one
misstep might lead to a dangerous fall many feet below,
theattendancegrowing— thein- terest deepening. Christians were revived,
those who had fallen were reclaimed, and seventeen were added to the
church, with more to follow.
Reports of the Boards - Page 133 by Presbyterian Church in the
U.S.A. General Assembly - 1919
As the Board is still conducting a number of community stations
in West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, it is pertinent
to note in general some of the features of these enterprises in the
light of the new conditions. One community worker reports that
during the past year the people gave over $800 toward the Red
Cross and the Government drives, and the members of the local
church contributed nearly $70 for the support of the pastor, the
largest amount given in five years. She further states that many
of the people now realize that they should have an education if
they expect to work outside of the mountains. They now realize
as never before what an education means. She further testifies
that the greatest work in her community, according to her judgment,
is to take the children out of the homes and place them
in boarding schools. Along this same line another writes that one of the most
inspiring things that has happened in Vardy has been the return
from the school of some of our Farm School boys and our Pease
House and Dorland-Bell children. The parents
look forward eagerly to the homecoming of their children,
and when they find them improved so much physically and mentally
they begin to plan to send them back another year, and add a
few more to the number.