What Do You Know About The Melungeons?
Nashville Banner - August 3
By Douglas Anderson
In the summer of 1890 "Will
Allen" visited a settlement of "Malungeons" on Newman's Ridge, in
Hancock County, and printed two articles in the American descriptive of
the inhabitants and the way they lived.
Many of the Malungeons
claimed Portugese and Cherokee descent. One man claimed to be the
grandson of a Cherokee chief. The inhabitants were of all colors, and
there was a black man who had a white wife, but escaped punishment by
insisting upon his Portugese blood.
They all lived in rude huts;
many were immoral and all were filthy. They grew tobacco, had orchards,
and were much given to distilling. They had their herb doctors and
charmers, and blood beads that would cure any disease of the blood.
Collins, Mullins, and Garvin were the three family names represented in
the settlement. During the Civil War, it was stated, this settlement
was a terror to the women in "the valley", by reason of plundering and
"Will Allen's" first article
was printed in the American of Aug. 31. It was followed by quite a
discussion, which revealed the existence of other settlements of
Malungeons in different sections of Tennessee, and afforded several
correspondents an oppurtunity to express their opinion of the origin of
the name and tribe, but added nothing of a positive nature to the
knowledge of either subject.
Hon. J. A. Cartwright, later
circuit judge, wrote of a settlement in the Twenty-fourth district of
Davidson County, as follows; "These people have black hair, dark brown
complexion, are readily distinguishable from the mulatto, being
evidently of different origin, and have distinct features, quite
similar to those described by Will Allen. They are illiterate, live in
cabins and subsist by their labor, mainly by cultivating the soil in a
"There is no social
connection between them and their neighbors, either white or black, but
they remain seperate, distinct and isolated. The citizens of that
vicinity called them Portugese. "Some years ago when the county schools
were organized and put into operation these people were sufficiently
numerous to require of the school commisioners a seperate, distinct
school for their children, and furnished as many as thirty pupils
exclusively of their own race. This school was distinct from the
schools of the district and was attended by the children of no other
people. Is this strange unknown remnant of a tribe or race a part of
SAID THEY WERE MULATTOES
In the American of Sept.7,
"Twenty-fourth district" insisted that the Malungeons were an admixture
of the white, Indian, and Negro races. He protested against "coining a
new name for these amalgamationists." (If the Malungeons had heard of
this last word they would have thought a new word had been coined for
them.) "Will Allen" need not have gone to East Tennessee to find these
people, observed this correspondent. "They are here under the very dome
of the capitol. We recognize them as mulattoes on account of the fusion
of Negro blood in their veins. When the fusion is slight they set up a
claim of superiority and call themselves Portege, but, as Will Allen
says, it is a mystery where the Portugese comes in. This will remain a
mystery until better ethnologists enter the lists than have yet
appeared. The Negro blood can easily be traced, as also sometimes the
Cherokee." The correspondent stated that "we have just a few of these
mulattoes among us", and denied Cartwright's statement that they had
demanded and obtained a seperate school.
CARTWRIGHT COMES BACK
In the American of Sept. 10,
Cartwright answered "Twenty-fourth District", taking the position that
"if there were no Portugese blood in them, as your correspondent
denies, but Negro blood instead, then they are a mixture of Indian and
Negro alone, and consequently we cannot 'recognize them as mulattoes'.
So that any mixture which is not between the white and the Negro alone
may well be called Malungeon, this word being apparently derived from
the French Melanger, to mix, mingle.
Consequently the criticism on
the coinage of a new word to represent a mixture otherwise than between
white and Negro is not well taken." "I am reliably informed,"
Cartwright continued, "that there is or was a family of these people in
the Twenty-fourth district whose name is Collins, and it is a
significant fact that both the East Tennessee and Davidson County
people repudiate the mulatto idea, and according to my information,
keep themselves seperate and distinct from the Negro in their social
As to the statement that a
seperate school was at one time maintained for Malungeons in the
Twenty-fourth district, Cartwright stated that he got the information
from the man who was county superintendent of education in 1870-71. He
adds that the seperate school had thirty pupils and was taught by a
white man named "Oldham or Oldman".
SLAVES AND MALUNGEONS
In the American of Sept. 14,
"C.H." wrote that he had heard of the Malungeons from his father's
Negro slaves long "before the war", and he anxious to know if such
people really existed or not; have thought perhaps it was only a myth
hatched in (?) adds: "Since childhood I have been (?) the very fertile
brain of our imaginative Negro nurse, who used to entertain us with
stories of the Malungeons, ghosts, hobgoblins, Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox,
They would frighten us by
saying: 'If you don't behave the Malungeons will get you', and if angry
with one another they would say: "You are as mean and low-lived as a
Malungeon, and you are nothing but an Ish anyhow.' When we would ask
who the Malungeons or Ishes were they said they were runaway Negroes
who had married Indians and their children, and that the Negroes
belonging to quality folks would not associate with them; that Negroes
who belonged to poor white folks would sometimes visit them. Most of
the Negroes, both blacks and mulattoes, held these Malungeons in great
contempt. These things come back to me after forty years, when I heard
the Negro slaves of my father tell stories of their meanness. They were
always insulted if called a Malungeon".
"J.W.S." OF MURFREESBORO.
In the American of Sept. 14,
"J.W.S." of Murfreesboro combated the idea that the Malungeons were
merely mulattoes, saying in part that "a race of mulattoes cannot exist
long like these Malungeons have. They go from mulattoes to quadroons
and from these to octoroons. Then the race stops. Who ever heard of an
octoroon woman bearing children? There is not a case on record, so that
if these people are or were mulattoes, as these critics would have you
believe, the race would have been extinct long ago, as no children have
been born of women springing from mulattoes, beyond the quadroon
mother, and it seems that some of these Malungeon women have as many as
seventeen children, who, if they had come from mulatto parentage, would
long ago have passed the octoroon stage.
This fact alone shows they do
not descend from mulatto parents, and therefore they must be Malungeons
or some other race besides mulattoes, "There are, no doubt, many
citizens living in Tennessee now who remember that quadroon and
octoroon women were not as ready sale, except for house servants
(mostly on orders then), as the black women, and all on account of the
fact that no children were ever born of an octoroon woman".
In the American of Sept. 15,
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.
"We need not go outside this
county to prove that the Malungeons are, or were, up to the close of
the war, a people distinct from and not allied by blood to either the
white, Negro, or Indian races of this state. "It is a subject of no
practical importance at this time, but it will interest many who have
the leisure and opportunity for such investigation to trace the history
and origin of this people. All that they seem to know of themselves is
that they are Malungeons and of the Portugese descent. These two points
have been agreed upon for more than three-fourths of a century, and it
appears that anyone who undertakes to investigate the matter will be
forced to accept them as established facts... " It is not a violent
conjecture to suppose that many of these 'Mountain Negroes' may have
been put ashore on the coast of North Carolina by the Portugese pirates
who are known to have frequented those waters, and that their natural
instincts would lead them to the mountains...At any rate, these people
were first noticed in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina and
they called themselves 'Malungeons' and claimed to be Portugese."
BOLLING OF RABBIT HOLLOW.
In 1879, a man named Bolling,
or Bowling, lived with his large family of small children in a rude hut
on the Rabbit Hollow lane, near Saundersville, whence he came or
whither he went desponent saith not.
Possibly he was a fisherman.
He was reputed to be a Malungeon, and he may have admitted that he was.
He was certainly something out of the ordinary in the way of breeding,
as shown by his dark brown complexion and long, stringy, shiny
Indian-like hair. Bolling's peculiar features attracted much attention
and comment, and in explaining to the uninformed what a Malungeon was,
the wise ones said that he was a Portugese, or had Portugese blood in
him. Perhaps it may have been said also that Bolling and other
so-called Malungeons had Indian blood in them. "My recollection of
Bolling is very clear, and from that recollection I would say that he
would have little trouble borrowing a peck of meal in either an Indian
or a Portugese camp. Judging from his name, he would probably have
claimed descent from Pocahontas if he had ever heard of her.
Conributed by Kevin Mullins