Hancock County Times
Much has been said and written about the inhabitants of Newman’s Ridge
and Blackwater in Hancock County, Tenn. They have been derisively
dubbed with the name “Melungeons” by the local white people who have
lived here with them. It is not a traditional name or tribe of Indians.
Some have said these people were here when the white people first
explored this country. Others say they are a lost tribe of the Indians
having no date of their existence here, traditionally or otherwise.
All of this however, is erroneous and cannot be sustained. These
people, not any of them were here at the time the first white hunting
party came from Virginia and North Carolina in the year 1761-- the
noted Daniel Boone was at the head of one of these hunting parties and
went on through Cumberland Gap. Wallen was at the head of another
hunting party from Cumberland County, Virginia and called the river
beyond North Cumberland Wallen’s Ridge and Wallen’s Creek for himself.
In fact these hunting parties gave all the historic names to the
mountain ridges and valleys and streams and these names are now
Wallen pitched his first camp on Wallen’s Creek near Hunter’s gap in
Powell’s Mountain, now Lee County, Virginia. Here they found the name
of Ambrose Powell carved in the bark of a beech tree; from this name
they named the mountain, river and valley for Powell, Newman’s Ridge
was named for a man of the party called Newman. Clinch River and Clinch
valley--these names came at the expense of an Irish man of the party in
crossing the Clinch River, he fill off the raft they were crossing on
and cried aloud for his companions to “Clench me”, “Clench me,’ and
from this incident the name has become a historic name.
About the time the first white settlement west of the Blue Ridge was
made at Watauga River in Carter County, Tennessee, another white party
was then working the lead mines in part of Virginia west of the Blue
Ridge. In the year 1762 these hunters turned, coming through Elk
Garden, now Russell County, Virginia. They then headed down a valley
north of Clinch River and named it Hunter’s Valley and buy this name it
goes today. These hunters pitched their tent near Hunter’s gap in
Powell’s mountain, nineteen mile from Rogersville, Tennessee on the
Jonesville, Virginia road. Some of the party of hunter went on down the
country to where Sneedville, Hancock County, now stands and hunted
there during that season.
Bear were plentiful here and they killed many, their clothing became
greasy and near the camp was a projecting rock on which they would lie
down and drink and the rock became very greasy and they called it
Greasy Rock and named the creek Greasy Rock Creek, a name by which it
has ever since been known and called since, and here is the very place
where these Melungeons settled, long after this, on Newman’s Ridge and
“Vardy Collins, Shepherd Gibson, Benjamin Collins, Solomon Collins,
Paul Bunch and the Goodmans, chiefs and the rest of them settled here
about the year 1804, possibly about the year 1795, but al these men
above named, who are called Melungeons, obtained land grants and
muniments of title to the land they settled on and they were the
friendly Indians who came with the whites as they moved west. They came
from the Cumberland County and New River, Va., stopping at various
points west of the Blue Ridge. Some of them stopped on Stony Creek,
Scott County, and Virginia, where Stoney Creek runs into Clinch River.
The white emigrants with the friendly Indians erected a fort on the
bank of the river and called it Fort Blackmore and here yet many of
these friendly “Indians” live in the mountains of Stony creek, but they
have married among the whites until the race has almost become extinct.
A few of the half bloods may be found-none darker- but they still
retain the name of Collins and Gibson, &c. From here they came to
Newman’s Ridge and Blackwater and many of them are here yet; but the
amalgamations of the whites and Indians has about washed the red tawny
from their appearance, the white faces predominating, so now you
scarcely find one of the original Indians; a few half-bloods and
quarter-bloods-balance white or past the third generation.
The old pure blood were finer featured, straight and erect in form,
more so than the whites and when mixed with whites made beautiful women
and the men very fair looking men. These Indians came to Newman’s Ridge
and Blackwater. Some of them went into the War of 1812-1914 whose names
are here given; James Collins, John Bolin and Mike Bolin and some
others not remembered; those were quite full blooded. These were like
the white people; there were good and bad among them, but the great
majority were upright, good citizens and accumulated good property and
many of them are among our best property owners and as good as Hancock
County, Tennessee affords. Their word is their bond and most of them
that ever came to Hancock county, Tennessee, then Hawkins County and
Claiborne, are well remembered by some of the present generation here
and now and they have left records to show these facts.
They all came here simultaneously with the whites from the State of
Virginia, between the years 1795 and 1812 and about this there is no
mistake, except in the dates these Indians came here from Stoney Creek.
In a letter dated
August 12, 1942 Mrs. John Trotwood Moore wrote in response to a letter
from Walter Plecker
Capt. L. M.
Jarvis, an old citizen of Sneedville wrote in his 82nd year:
"I have lived here at the base of
Newman's Ridge, Blackwater, being on the opposite side, for the last 71
years and well know the history of these people on Newman's Ridge and
Blackwater enquired about as Melungeons. These people were friendly to
the Cherokees who came west with the white imigration from New River
and Cumberland, Virginia, about the year 1790...The name Melungeon was
given them on account of their color. I have seen the oldest and first
settlers of this tribe who first occupied Newman's Ridge and Blackwater
and I have owned much of the lands on which they settled.. They
obtained their land grants from North Carolina. I personally knew Vardy
Collins, Solomon D. Collins, Shepard Gibson, Paul Bunch and Benjamin
Bunch and many of the Goodmans, Moores, Williams and Sullivans, all of
the very first settlers and noted men of these friendly Indians. They
took their names from white people of that name with whom they came
here. They were reliable, truthful and faithful to anything they
promised. In the Civil War most of the Melungeons went into the Union
army and made good soldiers. Their Indian blood has about run out. They
are growing white... They have been misrepresented by many writers. In
former writings I have given their stations and stops on their
way as they emigrated to this country with white people, one of which
places was at the mouth of Stony Creek on Clinch river in Scott County,
Virginia, where they built fort and called it Ft. Blackamore after Col.
Blackamore who was with them... When Daniel Boone was here hunting
1763-1767, these Melungeons were not here."