- American Notes and Queries -
by William Shepard Walsh, Henry Collins Walsh, William H. Garrison,
Samuel R. Harris
March 21, 1891 -- In The Arena
for March 1891, there is an entertaining and valuable account, written
by W. A. Dromgoole,
about the Malungeons, an outcast race of people living in the mountains
of East Tennessee. In 1834, by the Act of the Constitutional
Convention, the right of suffrage was denied them, but it has since
been restored. The Malungeons claim to have been originally
Portuguese (in the Portuguese language, malandrim means an outcast, a
vagabond). Their principal stronghold at present is on Newman's Ridge
in Hancock county. They are not negroes, for their hair is
straight, their complexion is reddish brown. The pure Malungeons are
sometimes called Ridgemanites; those who have white or negro blood are
called Blackwaters. Many persons believe, with some show of
reason, that the Malungeons have an admixture of Cherokee blood.
These people are exceedingly filthy and immoral in their habits.
Their principal family names are Mullins, Gorvens, Collins, and
Gibbins. It is a little remarkable that in Devonshire the name
Gubbin, or Gubbins, was once very common among the outcasts of the
Dartmoor, so much so that the whole stock or race (now nearly, if not
quite extinct) used to be spoken of as the Gubbinses.
The Malungeons, according to Miss Dromgoole, who spent some little time
with them, would appear, as a class, to be rapidly diminishing in
(Vol. vi, pp, 250, etc.). __
If this singular people
really descended from Portuguese ancestry, are there no relics among
them of the Portuguese language, proper names, customs, folk-lore,
religion? It appears from the published account already referred to,
that the Malungeons as a rule profess to be Baptist, but have
practically little or nothing that we be called a religion. We
certainly need a great deal more information about them before it is
sage to speculate much as to their origin. Miss Dromgoole deserves much
credit for her courageous attempt at solving the Malungeon problem. but
the information she has already given leaves us with a sense of
unsatisfied curiosity, She tells us that their dialect is one of marked
peculiarity. If we only had a vocabulary of their words and if we knew
more about their beliefs, it might be possibly to assign tem a probable
origin. Possibly a well-directed search may yet reveal other colonies
of the same stock. The name would seem to be connected with the French melanger
, to mix; and the people certainly seem to be of a mixed descent
(Vol. vi, pp. 264, etc.). __
" When John Sevier attempted
to organize the State of Franklin (1784), there was living in the
mountains of Eastern Tennessee a colony of dark-skinned, reddish-brown
complexioned people supposed to be of Moorish decent, who affiliated
with neither whites nor blacks, and who called themselves Malungeouns,
and claimed to be of Portuguese descent.
lived to themselves exclusively and were looked upon neither as Negroes
nor Indians. They were never slaves, and until 1834 enjoyed all the
rights of citizenship"
(The Arena, March, 1891).
act of the Constitutional Convention of 1834, by which the Malungeons
were deprived of the right of suffrage is claimed by some to be cause
of their present degraded mode of existence, and such is the mystery
which surrounds the origin, both their race and name, that to-day a
Malungeon is the Tennessean's bugaboo to frighten children with. "As
tricky as a Malungeon" is also a very common proverbial expression with
Tennessee people. But in spite of its familiar colloquial use, history
does not mention the word' only the State Records of Tennessee, where
it is used to designate free persons of color.
Malungeon is not in our
dictionaries, we know; in fact, the word has been pronounced a puzzle,
not to ambitious, I hope, for solution is American Notes and Queries.
As the Malungeons claim descent from the Portuguese, it seems quite
proper to seek for the origin of their name in the language of that
people. A glance at De Lacerda's "Portugese-English Dictionary" shows
me a word bearing a surprising resemblance to the mysterious name, and
which may with reason be considered the key to the etymological puzzle.
It is Malungo, an African word incorporated in the Portuguese which
signifies comrade, mate and companion, and seems to suggest the united
and exclusive mode of existence peculiar to the Malungeons.
December 5, 1891
Malungeons (Vol Vi, p. 273)
-- The lateness of these details (sent to tthe New York Sun
from Sneedville, November 20) may make them acceptable to you in the
" The first inhabitants of
Hancock county, or, to be accurate, of what is now called Hancock
county, were the strangest, most mysterious people that have ever
settled any part of this country since its discovery. They are
still there in greater numbers than ever before, and in as great
mystery. These people are called Malungeons. They are a
revengeful race, part white, part Indian, part negro. The negro
strain is not spread through the whole race, as are the Indian and
Caucasian strains, but is confined to a few families.
"These Malungeons are tall,
broad, powerful people, with straight black hair, swarthy complexions,
small eyes, high cheek bones, big noses and wide flat mouths.
They look more like Indians than like white men. They are proud of
their Indian blood and will kill any man who come calling them negroes.
"They came from North
Carolina early in this century, and could not then explain how they
originated. Of course there are many stories, but none seems to
be satisfactory. In 1834 an attempt was made to bar them from
voting because of the alleged negro blood. They carried the
matter into the courts, and the man who was the test plaintiff proved
that he was Indian and Portuguese and had no negro blood in his
veins. After this the matter was dropped and the Malungeons were
allowed to vote.
"It is from these Malungeons
that the feud spirit came. They were cunning, malicious,
implacable, murderous. They were the original makers of illicit
corn whisky. They taught the art and the hatred of Government
taxes to all the mountain peoples of this region. They were the
first to fight the revenue officers and the last to give up open
"When they came they settled
on the slope of Newman's ridge, in the Blackwater Creek Valley, and on
the opposite slope of Powell's Mountain. they kept to themselves
for many years, and had no intermarriages with the other settlers until
the last twenty or twenty five years. They all had arms; they
fought among themselves and resisted to the death outside
interference. A decade or so before the civil war they were
making moonshine whisky in the dark hollows of Powell's Mountain;
they were carrying on bitter feuds and were setting a most vicious
example to the early white settlers, who, by their very coming to
such a shut-in part of the world, rapidly lost touch with civilization.
"Of these Malungeons there
were originally three families-- the Gibsons, the Mullins, and the
Collinses. Early in the history of this race a great feud arose
between the Gibsons and the Collinses. Old Buck Gibson and Vardy
Collins put their heads together and made a great plot. Gibson
fixed Vardy with soot or paint so that he looked like a genuine
negro. Then they went up into Virginia, Gibson offering Vardy for
sale. He soon found a purchaser. As Vardy was a finely
built, strong man, Gibson got $1100 for him. Of this $500 was in
cash and the balance in a team, a wagon and store goods.
"With a few farewell words of
praise for his fine negro, Gibson set out southward. In a day or
two Vardy made his escape, washed himself, and fled fast and
successfully on the trail of Gibson. There was pursuit, but Vardy
was not recognized or else was not overtaken. When he got back to
Powell's Mountain he found Gibson in the full enjoyment of the proceeds
of the trick. Vardy called on him for a division of the
spoils. Gibson flatly refused, after putting him off several
"This began a bushwhacking
war between the two families, which kept up, with intervals of peace,
until the breaking out of the civil war. Sometimes the Collins tribe
and the Gibson tribe joined hands against the common foe, the revenue
officers. But these breathing spells only gave further foment to
a hatred which was kept alive at stills. the civil war put an end
to feuds for so long that new causes had to spring up before a properly
conducted feud could be again set on foot.
"But the Malungeons had laid
the foundations with their illicit stills and their family
hatreds. And the civil war gave every one down that way a taste
of fighting. The result of these things has been the 150 and more
murders, each of which has something peculiarly tragic to distinguish
it from the others." W.H.