THE MELUNGEONS OF TENNESSEE
AND THEIR PORTUGUESE ANCESTRY

Marion Daily Star -
 August 15, 1900

~Many of Them Fought In the Civil War ~But Are Now Moonshiners~
Intelligence a Characteristic~Also Fondness For Firearms and Firewater~
[Special Correspondence]

Owensboro, Tenn., Aug. 14.--

While much has been written from time to time about the "poor whites," mountaineers and the "Georgia Crackers," yet there is a still more peculiar class of southerners who have until lately escaped notice. These people are called the Malungeons. They are copper colored with high cheek bones, straight noses, black hair, rather coarse, black eyes, and have more intelligence than the average mountaineers.

A great deal of trouble has come to them because of their color and customs. The Malungeons number between 400 and 500. They live on Black Water Creek, in Hancock County, which section they have inhabited for more than 100 years. (2)

The records of Hancock County show that the Malungeon ancestors came to Powell's Valley as early as 1789, when they took up lands on the Black Water. Tradition says that they held aloof from the white settlers and spoke a strange language which not one of the pioneers could fathom. Some of them could speak broken English, and by this means communicated with the white merchants to the extent of buying arms, ammunition and other supplies which could not be procured in the valleys of their mountain homes.

Before the war the Malungeons had a hard time in obtaining the right to vote in the elections. The white citizens declared that they were negroes and the matter was finally carried into the courts. It developed that the ancestors of these people immigrated to this country from Portugal, about 150 years ago, and has spent considerable time in South Carolina before going to Tennessee. They proved on the witness stand that there was not a drop of negro blood in their veins, and, after long and tedious litigation, were allowed to vote and exercise the full privileges of American citizenship.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the Malungeons espoused the cause of the Union. They fought in the usual mountain fashion--bushwhacking--and many a Confederate soldier was killed by the unerring bullets of their riflemen. Whenever the Confederates captured one of them he was shot on the spot without mercy. After the war terminated and the Malungeons returned to their old pursuits, they found that the government was interfering with one of their chief industries---making whiskey.

They had been distillers back in South Carolina and some of the earliest stills in Tennesse were brought by their ancestors--over the mountains from their original settlement. they killed revenue officers just as the other mountaineers did, for disturbing their stills. Of late years, however, the revenue men have been so persistent in the work of destroying the illicit traffic that the Malungeons have sold but small quantities of the whiskey openly. They still make moonshine whisky, but have adopted the artful, dodging tactics of the other moonshiners of the Tennessee and Kentucky mountains, and it is rare that one of the race is caught. So far as it is known not one of the Malungeons has ever ridden on a railroad train.

The deep religious nature of these southerners is the most striking of all their characteristics. During their meetings they will sing and shout until almost frantic with religious fervor. One of the old patriarchs of the Malungeons was Uncle Vard Collins. Many years ago noted church bishop (8) was traveling through the Black Water district. He accidentally went to Uncle Vard's house and asked to stay overnight with him, a privilege readily granted.

When the churchman told the old man he was a bishop, the patriarch said he would like to hear him preach. The visitor inquired where the congregation would come from. For an answer the host took a long dinner horn from his rack, and, going outdoors, blew several shrill blasts. Within an hour 100 people had assembled, and showed great interest in the sermon.

The Malungeons were Whigs before the Civil War, but since then have had no direct affiliation with any movements of a political nature. Their social customs have not changed in 200 years. They still live in one roomed cabins and use the old fashioned long barreled rifle.

Newton Otis



"A PECULIAR PEOPLE"
Printed ~INDIANA MESSENGER ~INDIANA, PENNSYLVANIA
MARCH 17, 1897 -From the St. Louis Globe-Democrat
A Peculiar People


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