The Magazine of American History
with Notes and Queries
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
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
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.
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.