Watson's Jeffersonian Magazine -
Page 522 1911
THE REMNANT OF AN INDIAN RACE
Your letter of yesterday received. I happen to have the information you
seek. The Nashville American of June 26, 1910 (since consolidated
with the Nashville Tennessean) published a paper of about 10 pages in
celebration of its 98th anniversary and in this paper is the true story
of a small number of people to be found in a few counties of East
Tennessee, as in other sections of the Appalachian region, called
Melungeons or Malungeons. I have traveled horse-back before, during and
since the Civil War, in the counties where these people live, and have
seen them in their cabin homes and from information received
independently of what Judge Shepherd says, I am satisfled his statement
is to be relied upon.
The foremost jury lawyer of East Tenn. of his generation was the late
Netherland, the son-in-law of the John A. McKinney, referred to by
Lucy S. V. King, and he gave me the same account, substantially, of the
origin of these people that Judge Shepherd
does. Netherland was the Whig candidate for Governor of Tennessee
in 1859, against Isham G. Harris. He died in the 80's. He was a
slave-owner and practised law in all the East Tennessee counties, which
these people live.
Prior to 1824 free
negroes voted in Tennessee, and when in that year the State
Constitution was so amended as to disfranchise "all free persons of
color", it was sometimes made the pretext of refusing the franchise to
these people of perfectly straight hair, small hands and shapely feet
who bore no more resemblance to a negro than do members of the Spanish
or Portugese embassies of Washington. As to whether they voted or not,
in the few counties where they were up to the Civil War, depended upon
the disposition of the election officers and the closeness of the
contest. But I will add that the election officers were very rarely
unfair and their right to vote rarely challenged. Sometimes, in a very
close contest, some fellow would challenge it and the man would forego
exercising his rights rather than fight about it. They have not been of
a lawless or turbulent disposition. They realized the prejudice against
them because of their dark complexion. Some of them served in the
Confederate, and some in the Federal East Tennessee Regiment, but
neither side would have accepted them had they believed they had negro
blood in their veins.
In my boyhood days they
were called Portugese. The word Mulangeon is comparatively modern as to
its general use. As a rule they did not go into either army; did not
wish to. They preferred agriculture; happy in their mountain cabins.
The extract from McKinney's speech is garbled. He truly said the
language of the disfranchising clause included these people because it
embraced "all free persons of color" but notwithstanding that the
majority of them always voted because their neighbors did not regard
them as negroes or as having negro blood in their veins. I believe
there was some mixture of these Portugese with the Cherokee Indians,
but not with negroes. Lying, sensational newspaper correspondents, from
the North, originally started this racket to show that Southern whites
were given to miscegenating with negroes, and to have something to
write about. Some Southern writers have imitated them, magnifying fifty
or one hundred fold the number of these people.
Gen. Wm. T. Sherman did
some things I disapproved as much as you do, but he hit the nail on the
head when he said that "there were some newspaper correspondents who,
to create a sensation and for pay, would slander their grandmothers."
Of course, some of the people were shiftless and degraded, as are some
of all races, but I remember a notable exception by the name of Wm.
Lyle. He was a prosperous country merchant who came to Knoxville every
year to buy goods of our wholesale dealers and was treated by every
one, with the utmost respect. He was spoken of as a Portugese, and bore
no more resemblance to a negro than any Spaniard or Portugese. He
dressed elegantly, was well informed and as polished and refined as
half the members of Congress, and more so than many of them. In the
early history of the country, there were many Spanish and Portugese
sailors, who settled on the South Carolina and North Carolina coast.
One of these was a Spanish ship carpenter by name of Farragut. In North
Calorina, he married a poor girl and drifted to this city (then a town
of about 1,200 people) where he followed the trade of house-carpenter,
and here was born his subsequently famous son, Admiral David G.
Farragut. His Spanish father was a dark-skinned man.
Finally, the decision of the Supreme Court of Tennessee in 1872,
referred to by Judge Shepherd, should be conclusive on this subject.
Every one of the five members of that Court was a Confederate and
Democrat. The Chief Justice, A. Q. P. Nicholson, was the Colleague of
Andrew Jshnson in the U. S. Senate in 1861. Jas. W. Deaderick, after
this decision and after the death of Nicholson, also of the bench at
the time, succeeded Nicholson as Chief Justice. He was not himself in
the army but every one of his seven sons were at the front in the
Confederate Army, some of whom were badly wounded and the other three
Judges had honorable records as Confederate soldiers. Judge Shepherd
himself was a Confederate soldier.
JOHN B. BROWNLOW.
P. S. Lyle is not a
Portugese name, neither is that of the American Darbey's French, as was
that of their ancestor D.Aublgney.
A quick check of the 1910 census shows the only John
B. Brownlow old enough to be traveling on horseback around
Tennessee was living in Knoxville and born in 1840. This is no
doubt John Bell Brownlow, son of 'the fighting Parson William G.
Brownlow' who wrote of the 'impudent
Melungen' in 1840.