The Magazine of American History  with Notes and Queries

Volume XXV 
Page 258



THE TENNESSEE HISTORICAL SOCIETY held an interesting meeting on the 9th of December last (1890) , at Nashville, Judge
John M. Lea presiding. Colonel Reese, on behalf of the committee to consider the eligibility of women as members, reported that there was nothing in the rules to prevent, and, in fact, that the society now had a lady member — Mrs. Martha J. Lamb of New York.

After the reports of various committees had been read, and other business transacted, Judge Lea addressed the society on the subject of the Melungeons. He outlined the early history of the settlement of North Carolina. A party under the protection of a friendly Indian chief had gone into the interior when the first settlers came to that coast and had been lost. No other settlers came till a century afterward, and they were told of a tribe who claimed a white ancestry, and among whom gray eyes were frequent. This people were traced to Buncomb and Robeson counties, where the same family and personal names were found as in the lost colonies.
 
They are now called Croatans, on account of a sign they made on the trees to keep their way. The Basques of the Spanish coast have been said to have settled in that country, but this theory was not thought to be trustworthy. It would be impossible for negroes to form a distinct race, because the number necessary for a colony would not have been allowed to run at large. The race has several old English words which are used as they were in England two hundred years ago, and a case of civil rights has been won in court by a Melungeon displaying his person and proving to the court that he was of Caucasian blood. North Carolina gives the Croatians $1,000 a year for a normal school, and they have excellent roads. This colony, whose early history is thus so clearly traced, lies within forty miles of the Tennessee Melungeons
.



 John McCormick Lea, lawyer, was born at Knoxville, Tenn.. Dec. 25, 1818, the son of Hon. Luke Lea, a prominent statesman. He was a brilliant scholar during both his preparatory and academic courses, and at the age of nineteen was graduated with honors at the University of Nashville. He then studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1840, and began the practice of his profession in Nashville, where he remained throughout his career. When he had practiced two years he had already attained such distinction that he was appointed U. S. district attorney. This office he filled for three years, resigning it in 1845 to give his whole attention to his legal practice.  There are numerous letters found in the papers of historian James Gettys McGready Ramsey (1797-1884) and John M. Lea dated  1874-1884.

'' The Advance-guard of Western Civilization"  published in by 1888 James R. Gilmore states; ''To make sure that it should be authentic, the proof-sheets of the volume have been submitted for revision and correction to the Hon. John M. Lea, President of the Tennessee Historical Society, the Rev. Dr. John Berrien Lindsley, late Chancellor of the University of Nashville, and the Hon. Randall M. Ewing—three gentlemen who are undoubtedly better acquainted with the early history of the Southwest than any others now living.

Following the 1890 articles by Will Allen Dromgoole 
R. M. Ewing wrote a 'Letter to the Editor' of the DAILY AMERICAN dated September  21, 1890:

 when he attended law school at Lebanon Tennessee, in 1851: " there was a colony of people residing within a few miles of Lebanon who were locally, and so far as I know generally, called Malungeons. They seemed to be a hard working, harmless, inoffensive people, a dark red or copper color, and jet black, straight hair... these people claimed to be of Portuguese descent.



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