Judge Lewis Shepherd, who
has made a close study of the Melungeons, extending over a period of
years, says that in a case of law in which he represented a Melungeon
girl the question arose as to whether the Melungeons had negro blood in
their veins. He said:
"A colony of these Moors crossed the Atlantic before the Revolutionary
War and settled on the coast of South Carolina. They multiplied rapidly
and by this industry and energy they accumulated considerable property.
The South Carolina people, however, would not receive them on terms of
equality. They refused to recognize them specially and would not allow
the children to go to school with them.
fact they believed they were free negroes and treated them as such. By
the laws of South Carolina a per capita tax was levied against free
negroes and the tax authorities continuously harassed
them by efforts to collect the tax. Under this rigid proscription
of the proud people of South Carolina their condition became
intolerable and so they migrated in a body and settled after a long and
wandering journey through the wilderness in Hancock
Kingsport Times- 1923
When Will Allen Dromgoole published her first two articles on
the Melungeons in 1890 a series of Letters to the Editor
appeared. Two of them stand out as they appear to be written by
two very credible gentlemen who resided at Lebanon, Wilson County,
Tennessee in 1850.
the AMERICAN of Sept. 15,
1890 Dan W. Baird wrote of the Malungeons, in part, as follows:
"Several families are
still to be found in Smith, Wilson, Rutherford, and Davidson Counties.
There is nothing in their family names to give the student of ethnology
a clue to their origin.In
a locality in Wilson County known forty years ago as 'Malungeon Town',
the most common names were Richardson, Nickens, and Collins. In
Rutherford County not far from Lavergne, the principal Malungeons were
Archers, Lanterns, and Blackmans. One of the latter family has sold
fish in the north end of the market house in this city (Nashville) for
many years, and some of the same family reside a few miles out on the
Nolensville Turnpike. "A pretty fair speciman of the Malungeon tribe is
a young fellow named Bernice Richardson, now serving a life sentence in
the state prison for self-confessed complicity in the murder of M.T.
Bennet of Lebanon.
Saundra Keyes Ivey;
expresses surprise that writers of recent article on the Melungeons had
not 'referred to the state records or called on any of the many old
citizens still living who are familiar with all that is known of the
history of the people called Malungeons......
........... And it is then that Baird writes
of the Sevier letter and cites the speech of McKinney. He goes on to
write; "All they seem to know of themselves is that they are
'Malungeons' and of Portuguese descent. These two points have been agreed
upon for more than three-fourths of a century, and it appears
that any one who undertakes to investigate the matter will be forced to
accept them as established facts. "
Baird was founder of the SOUTHERN
LUMBERMAN in 1881 in Lebanon, Tennessee and later moved to
Nashville, in connection with publishing the magazine.
In a later exchange written by R. M. Ewisng to the Editor; DAILY
AMERICAN Sept 21, 1890 p. 4.
M. Ewing, wrote that when he attended law school at Lebanon Tennessee,
in 1851: " there was a colony of people residing within a
few miles of Lebanon who were locally, and so far as I know
generally, called Malungeons. They seemed to be a hard working,
harmless, inoffensive people, a dark red or copper color, and jet black, straight hair... these
people claimed to be of Portuguese descent.
The 1850 census
shows R. M. Ewing in the Ninth Civil District
of Williamson County, Tennessee -- Student at Law. The Cumberland
University School of Law was located in Lebanon, Tennessee.
Wilson County census James and Permelia Nickens, John Brown,
George and Elisha Collins, Gideon Goins, Jacob and Hezekiah
Archy or Achy family appear as Free Colored Persons.
Shadrack Goins and members of the Gibson family are also residing in
Wilson County but their families are listed as white.
If there had been no Nickens
or Collins in Wilson County we might assume Baird made this up but
Baird AND Ewing both have the same story -- 1850, Lebanon, Tennessee,
called Malungeons, said they were Portuguese. And the 'mulatto'
Nickens, Goins and Collins family are living there.
From Paul Heinegg;
William Nickens , born
say 1750, died in Wilson County, Tennessee, in 1820 leaving ten
children [Wilson County Quarterly Court Minutes 1830, 34]. In 1833 his
sons Marcus, Andrew and Calvin presented a petition to the General
Assembly of Tennessee stating that their parents were from Portugal,
had settled in the United States many years since and that "their
colour is rather of the mixed blood by appearance." They asked to have
the same rights as other citizens of the state. One supporting statement said that
their grandfather was from Portugal and another that their father bore
the name "of a desent of the Portagee" [Tennessee Legislative
Petition 77-1831]. In the 1880 census two of their siblings listed
North Carolina as the place of birth of their parents.