The Melungeons
A Peculiar Race of People Living Hancock County
The Knoxville Journal

Special Correspondence of The Journal
Rogersville, Tenn., September 25

The newspapers of the country are again wrangling with the 'Melungeons' or 'lungens' a peculiar race of people living along Newman's Ridge in Hancock county.  They are also scattered along Clinch mountain in Hawkins and Grainger in isolated settlements.  Even that bright and fascinating young writer, Miss Will Allen Dromgoole has taken it upon herself to journey all the way from nashville to the wilds of Hancock for the evident purpose of settling once and for all the much disp... (?) question of their origin.  Unfortunately she gleamed little information other than that already published.  It might be -- that she made a mistake in going among these strange people for that purpose, .... having they know about as much concerning the matter as any one else and that is not adding much.  They themselves know virtually noting of their origin or antecedents from whence they came or the character of the mixed blood that courses through their veins.
In color they range from nearly white to a strong copper tint.  They are of the average stature and general physical bearing; eyes always black, and short wavy or kinky hair, impressing one at first sight with the idea that they are of mixed white and negro blood.  They are as a rule ignorant, uneducated and the knowledge and practice of virtue among them is woefully missing. Until quite recently they believed it was the inherent right of man to make moonshine whisky and take human life.  They are growing better in this respect, however and the number of arrests for violation of the internal revenue laws in Newman's ridge district is growing beautifully less.
A large section of Hancock along the sides of Newman's ridge and in the valley of the Blackwater and Sycamore is almost entirely given up to the 'Melungeons.' The most of them own the little farms upon which they live and the houses and generally perched upon a high eminence. Down in Grainger county they are found only on the north side of Clinch mountain and its spurs, living in rude cabins high up, as near the top as they can get.  No set or race of people were ever more clannish or more disposed to attend to their own affairs.  They hold their neighbors of pure white blood in distrust as their neighbors do them.  In Grainger county a few years ago one the "Melungeons" was drawn for jury service in a murder case.  It was a pure accident of course but the other eleven showed their utter contempt of the proceeding by failing to recognize the 'Melungeon' in arriving at a verdict. 

They are very superstitious race of people, believing in crude way in spiritualism as it is practiced in more civilized communities; in signs and omens and in special providences.  They are fatalists and if one of their number is brought home in a deceased state caused by a Winchester by the hands of a neighbor they simply shake their heads and say; "He's born to die that a way."  to a certain extent they practice preach and believe in the Christian religion.  They show great respect for their dead and their burying ground are always neat and trim.
As to their origin--- well that is where the mystery comes in.  While they have the appearance of Mulatto, Portuguese, and Indian all mixed in different and various proportions, they bear names evident of English origin, such as Gibson, Collins, Singleton, Goins, and Mallett.  The Gibson and Collins are the most numerous.  Some historians aver and with good reasons, that the British government turned loose a ship load of convicts in the mountains of Virginia, years ago when the 'old dominion' was yet a colony and that these people are descendants of Portuguese and negroes who were among the convicts, and they naturally flocked off by themselves.  At any rate they were among the very first settlers of what is now Hancock County.

Old Griffith Collins who died in Grainger county some forty years ago once approached 'Squire Gill' of Bean Station, who was an Englishman by birth, on this subject.
"Squire Gill" he asked, "what is convicts?" I've often heard my grandfather say we's come down from convicts."

This is the only instance on record where any prediction or legend, even of the origin of this peculiar people was ever alluded to by one of their number." This carries out the theory held by Prof. Henderson of Kentucky, who has made quite a study of the question.
In Magoffin county, Kentucky, one of the wildest of the eastern subdivisions of the commonwealth there is a community or settlement of people, who claim to be descendants of Portuguese, and the resemblance is said to be striking and complete.....

...The Melungeons know the value of money. They are excellent hands at driving a bargain and with all their ignorance and illiteracy they live moderately well. "An instance of their thrift is shown in the case of Varney Gibson, who lived in Hancock in ante bellum days. His skin was whiter than the ordinary and his head was bald so that he could easily pass for a white man. He had a 'cousin' however who was very dark-skinned, a strong handsome fellow with a flat nose and kinky hair. Varney and his cousin therefore entered into a scheme, not uncommon in those days by which the latter was to black up just a little and assume the role of a poor ignorant slave while Varney was to dispose of the handsome slave, who should make his escape as soon as possible and share the spoils. They had not gone far into Lee county before a sale was concluded. Varney receiving in exchange a lot of merchandise, a pair of horses and a new wagon. The young slave bided his time, washed the lampblack from his face and hastening to an appointed place in Hancock county where he was to receive his share of their booty. But Varney never came. He had loaded the merchandise into the new wagon an disappeared forever from Hancock, going to one of the western states. W.D.P.