THE CHATTANOOGA TIMES


Wednesday March 5, 1941

Letters

Melungeons Recalled

Mrs. Amanda Wheelock tells of Knowing Several of the Race

To the Editor of The Chattanooga Times:

I have been very much interested in the discussion of the Melungeons.”  Several years ago a number of these families lived around Rhea Springs and Spring City: the blacksmith at Rheas Springs, Dock Graham, was a Melungeon.

These people attended the white schools and intermarried with whites.  I never heard of any Negro intermarriage.  These people were very dark, and had straight hair and no Negro features.  I bought vegetables and eggs from a Melungeon woman.  She was intelligent and of rather pleasing personality.  Her account of the history of her people was that the were descended from Portuguese sailors who, fleeing from an enemy. Left their boats and escaped into the mountains of North Carolina.  They married into a tribe of mountain Indians and although these Portuguese sailors were a very dark race of people they had no Negro blood.

In the lower end of the county their right to attend the white schools was questioned.  I think Mr. Lewis Shepherd defended them and they won the suit, as proof of Negro blood was not proved.  When a little child, after committing some rude or uncivil act, I was called by my grandmother “a little Melungeon.” The pioneers had no liking for the Melungeons and said they were descended from Portugese or Moorish pirates that were pursued and their ships taken, the pirates escaping into the mountains and mixing with the Indians.  The Negroes did not like them because, although dark in color, they held themselves distantly aloof from any association.  The Rhea county Melungeon were an orderly, well behaved set of people and the tradition about their racial rudeness I think was prejudiced and unfair.  Their descendants have lost their dark color through intermarriage with whites.  I notice several Melungeons names in the happenings here and in other counties adjoining and I am sure many of these people do not  know of their Melungeons ancestry.

Mrs. Amanda Neal Wheelock

Chattanooga.



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