Melungeons

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The Melungeon word found its way into the written language in the early 19th century. According to the Library of Congress Melungia is another word they use for Melungeon and it is listed as Black Dutch mixed with Spanish and Portuguese. In today’s terms Melungia means “companion.” These two words can be and are often used interchangeably.  There is another word that showed up in the research and that is “Melange.”  Melange is Frence for a mixture of colors and shapes such as architectural styles.  According to the Melungeon Heritage Association on their FAQ page other possible words Melungeon could have derived from were the Greek word melan – meaning black, Turkish word melon can – meaning cursed soul, Italian word melongena – meaning “eggplant”; referring to one with darkskin, or even the old English term of malegin – meaning guile or deceit.

Melungeon/Melungia was a derogatory term describing a group of people. Today the word Melungeon is a relative term and is used when talking about a tri-racial family or families.

There have been recorded more than 200 multiracial families along the east coast but  according to the Huffingtonpost.com a group of forty families were referred to as Melungeon.  These people were widely spread along the Tennessee, Virginia border.

The term Melungeon/Melungia was used for families who were rumored to be Gypsies or of mixed blood from either Portuguese explorers or Turkish slaves but a “new DNA study in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy attempts to separate truth from oral tradition and wishful thinking.”

According to Tim Henshaw who wrote the “Malungu: The African Origin of the American Melungeons” the first ancestors to the Melungeons came to the Virginia area in 1619 not in the 18th century and they cannot be traced to the slaves born to the union of a white slave master and his black slave.

The evidence shows these families were actually descendants of “sub-Saharan African men and white women of northern or central European origin.”  Some who claim to be Melungeon do not like what the DNA findings show.  In fact, according to the lead researcher, Roberta Estes, a lot of people are unhappy because they just knew they were Portuguese or Native American.”

Roberta Estes and her team also suggest some of these Melungeon families started before slavery, in the mid-1600s between “black and white indentured servants living in Virginia.”

Of these 200 mixed racial families it was suggested that the families could only intermarry with each other when the interracial laws were put in place.  It seems they moved from Virginia to the mountains of Eastern Tennessee by means of going through the Carolina’s.  It also seems that these families traveled together.

Also according to the author of the study they claimed to be Portuguese as a way to be able to keep the “white” privileges they had been receiving.  An example was the quotes used, by the study, from a court case in 1874 regarding a Melungeon woman and her inheritance.  It is said that if the Melungeon woman was shown to have some African blood in her then she would not receive her inheritance.

“Attorney, Lewis Shephard, successfully argued her family was descended from ancient Phoenicians who eventually migrated to Portugal and then to North America.”

A second example is that of a lawsuit that was filed in 1855 by a Melungeon man against someone who accused him of having “negro blood”.

Starting in 1813 minutes taken from a local area church described a congregation member as “harboring them Melungeons”.  Also during this time there were almost a dozen cases in regards to the Melungeons and their true ethnicity.  Many were charged with voting illegally.  Even though they were found not guilty this kind of discrimination followed them into the twentieth century.

In the 1960s when other mixed racial groups “found a new pride in their identity” – quote from therevivalist.info – the Melungeons reclaimed themselves by using the once derogatory name they had been given.  Since the 1960s the Melungeons have been the inspiration for books, music and several articles.

The following information is a direct quote from the Huffington Post.  “Jack Goins, who has researched Melungeon history for about 40 years and was the driving force behind the DNA study, said his distant relatives were listed as Portuguese on an 1880 census.  Yet he was taken aback when he first had his DNA tested around 2000.  Swabs taken from his cheeks collected the genetic material from saliva or skin cells and the sample was sent to a laboratory for identification.”

He said, “It surprised me so much when mine came up African that I had it done again.  I had to have a second opinion.  But it came back the same way.  I had three done.  They were all the same.”

Because the word Melugeon had become so popular when referring to the multiracial groups Goins and his team of genealogists were the ones who had to “define who was a Melungeon”.

It seemed everyone who had mixed blood was Melungeon and there were 200 areas covering the eastern portion of the United States; all the way from New York to Louisiana.  The following communities were included; New York – Montauks, Mantinecocks, Van Guilders, Clappers, Shinnecocks and others, Pennsylvania – Pools, North Carolina – Lulmbees, Waccamaws and Haliwas, South Carolina – Redbones, Buckheads, yellowhammers, Creels and others, Louisiana (Latin American Nation) – Creoles of the Cane River and Redbones of western Louisiana and others.

 

In the DNA testing Goins lead only had 77 participants, 69 men and 8 women.  All of the participants were descendants of the original 40 Melungeon families that were listed in the 1800s and early 1900s.  These families were based “in and around Tennessee.  Hawkins and Hancock counties on the Virginia border some 200 miles northeast of Nashville.”

However, it does not rule out the possibility of other blood being mixed in at a later time like that of the Native Americans, Spaniards, etc.

Goins estimates there are several thousand descendants of the original Melungeon families.

While they are many traits that could be considered Melungeon there are no definitive genetic testing to prove the Melungeon Ancestry because each family has a different DNA set up and that makes them just like everyone else.  This also means as the years went on they could have intermarried with other races than the original Free black man and white European woman.

More about the Melungeons’ ancestors and the trials they went through.  The following is an advertisement; it is dated April 10, 1778 and was placed in the North Carolina Gazette and was found on the website eclectic.org — “On Saturday night, April the 4th, broke into the house of the subscriber at the head of Green’s Creek, where I had some small property under the care of Ann Driggers, a free Negro woman, two men in disguise, with marks on their faces and clubs in their hands, beat and wounded her terribly and carried away four of her children, three girls and a boy, the biggest of said girls got off in the dark and made her escape, one of the girls name is Becca, and other is Charita, the boy is named Shadrack…” —  Unfortunately this was a common appearance in this gazette because of the way the free blacks were treated.

Other accounts of what they faced in the early days is as follows (all from http://www.eclectica.org/v5n3/hashaw.html) – “In 1834, freeborn mulatto Drury Tann of the Melungeon Tann family of North Carolina, applied for his Revolutionary War pension. In his application is an account of his childhood.

“He, (Tann) was stolen from his parents when a small boy by persons unknown to him, who were carrying him to sell him into Slavery, and had gotten with him and other stolen property as far as the mountains on their way…his parents made a complaint to a Mr. Tanner Alford who was then a magistrate in the county of Wake State of North Carolina, to get me back from those who had stolen me and he did pursue the rogues and overtook them at the mountains and took me from them.”

On March 12, 1754 John Scott, a “free Negro” of Berkely County, South Carolina filed an affidavit notifying authorities in Orange County, North Carolina that:

“Joseph Deevit, Wm. Deevit, and Zachariah Martin entered by force the house of his daughter, Amy Hawley, and carried her off by force with her six children, and he thinks they are taking them north to sell as slaves.”

These three cases among many illustrate how that by 1750, free blacks, mulattos and mixed Melungeons lived in constant danger of illegal abduction and loss of liberty during the long night of American slavery. A single drop of African blood could land a free Melungeon in court, fighting false charges that he or she was a runaway slave. Travel abroad was even riskier than remaining in their vulnerable communities. Melungeons quickly learned to move in large groups from county to county to escape opportunistic man-stealers.

The issue of African blood in Melungeons was troublesome as early as the first recorded appearance of the name “Melungeon”. The word was used in the September 26th, 1813 minutes of the Stoney Creek church of Virginia. Sister Susanna Kitchen brought a complaint to the church against Sister Susanna “Sookie” Stallard for “harboring them Melungins.” Stoney Creek had a membership, which included whites, free Negroes, slaves and Melungeons. Each group was segregated within the church and the color bar was strictly enforced.

White church members in Virginia knew Melungeons were part African. Even by 1813, the issue of an African heritage in Melungeons was viewed differently in different regions. The younger southern states had a tradition in the early 1800s that Melungeons were not African but Mediterranean or South Seas people. For example: William Goyens was born in North Carolina in 1794 to a “free Negro” father and a white mother. In 1821, he came to Texas and became a prosperous millionaire businessman in Nacogdoches. In 1832, he proposed marriage to a white woman named Polly Sibley. Her brothers came from Georgia to block the marriage, but consented when they heard that William Goyens was not African, but “Melungeon”.

However, the original tidewater colonies like Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and the Carolinas knew otherwise. Virginia grandfathers from the colonial era could remember the Negro ancestors of the Melungeons even though the issue of black and white marriage had never scandalized them as it did their grandchildren. For the Stoney Creek church, the possibility of sexual attraction between the children of white members and the children of Melungeon members represented a danger. When Stoney Creek’s Melungeons members began to move away into Kyle’s Ford, Tennessee, the white church members of Virginia breathed a sigh of relief.

From time to time, these Melungeons would return to visit Stoney Creek, a 40-mile trip that required a one-night stopover. Sister “Sookie” came under suspicion from other white church members for allegedly “harboring them Melungeons” overnight.

In the Stoney Creek case in the early 1800s, the presence of just a little African blood in Melungeons raised tensions because Melungeons were otherwise white. Blacks, free and slave were welcome to worship with whites at the Stoney Creek church. Melungeons were not.

However, this was not always the case in the history of Virginia. Once upon an earlier time in America, mixed Melungeons and indeed many full-blooded Africans, were strangers to prejudice.”

It is possible that some of the earlier Melungeons married into some of the Native American Tribes but this was not before they were given the name Melungeon.  Whether Jack Goins is related to our family is unknown but he is the one that started the DNA testing project and to gain a better understanding, no I’m not selling or even suggesting going out and spending money just to find out if you belong one nationality or another or even a mixture, then you might think about doing an ANCESTRY DNA test.

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