A Mystery People – The Melungeons
The Melungeons are considered “one of world’s greatest anthropological mysteries”.
In 1690, French traders in America, found a colony of people living in Southern Appalachia, in a town that they had built of log cabins, which were all grouped together. They supposed them to be Moors, seeing their olive skin color and European features which looked much like the Mediterranean traders they had previously done business with.
In about 1784 John Sevier (Jean Xavier) entered what later to became Hancock County, Tennessee and found a “colony of dark-skinned, reddish-brown complexioned people” who had European features. They claimed to be Portuguese.They were neither “Indian nor Negro” but Sevier is said to have believed them to be of Moorish descent. [Coincidentally, I just saw where PBS will be showing what sounds like a documentary concerning John Sevier, in "The Mysterious Lost State of Franklin" next month.]
As the years passed, this people would find themselves terribly degraded, discriminated against, and misunderstood. By the time they had reached the isolated Newman’s Ridge in Tennessee, they were being called “Melungeons” by their neighbors. The term was used in a very derogatory manner.
On various censuses, this people have been categorized as White on one, Free Persons of Color, Mulatto, Indian, and even Portuguese on others. Many theories have been considered, concerning the race and origin of this olive skinned people. In the 1800′s, they were most often found in Hawkins and Hancock,Tennessee as well as in Lee and Scott Counties of Virginia and surrounding areas, including near places in Kentucky. Some have said that they were a tri-racial mixture of White, Black, and Indian (American); others say they were just what they said they were Porty-ghee (Portuguese), while others say they were of Indian and Portuguese mix. Concerning where they originated, some have said they were descendants of the Lost Colony of Roanoke, or early shipwrecked Portuguese, or one of the Lost Tribes of Israel, or that they were descendants of the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians, among other theories.
An early known maternal Melungeon ancestor of mine is Obediah Goodman who married Aletha Richardson. They are my 4th great grandparents who lived on Newman’s Ridge in Tennessee in the early 1800′s. My mother’s sister took the mt DNA test and at # 1, she shows genetic relatives in the “Archipelago of the Azores” which is of Portugal. In my own DNA results (autosomal), my genetic matches show “Kentucky Blacks”, European, and Brazilian, along with “Michigan Indians”.
I hope one day that Mr Louis Henry Gates, Jr, will consider researching several Melungeon descendants (of different family lines) and hopefully he can help solve this great Melungeon mystery, once and for all. It would be a very interesting and exciting show to all. And … no, lol … I’m not fishing to be on, I couldn’t do it. There are many others out there, who are of Melungeon descent, who are anxious to learn more about their ancestors, who I’m sure would be happy to be on the show. It would be an exciting and very interesting presentation, no doubt.