- American Notes and Queries -

Edited 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 members.   M
Malungeons (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
Malungeons (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.
    "They 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).
    The 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 above connection:
" 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 defiance.
"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 times.
"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.