By Associated Press. Varied and sometimes wild claims have been made about the origins of a group of dark-skinned Appalachian residents once known derisively as the Melungeons.

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Some speculated they were descended from Portuguese explorers, or perhaps from Turkish slaves or Gypsies. Now a new DNA study in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy attempts to separate truth from oral tradition and wishful thinking. Ethnicity: The origins of a group of dark-skinned Appalachian residents once known derisively as the Melungeons has been determined based on genetic testing.

The study found the truth to be somewhat less exotic: Genetic evidence shows that the families historically called Melungeons are the offspring of sub-Saharan African men and white women of northern or central European origin. And that report, which was published in April in the peer-reviewed journal, doesn't sit comfortably with some people who claim Melungeon ancestry. Beginning in the early s, or possibly before, the term Melungeon meh-LUN'-jun was applied as a slur to a group of about 40 families along the Tennessee-Virginia border.

But it has since become a catch-all phrase for a number of groups of mysterious mixed-race ancestry. In recent decades, interest in the origin of the Melungeons has risen dramatically with advances both in DNA research and in the advent of Internet resources that allow individuals to trace their ancestry without digging through dusty archives. Varied range of darkness: Some speculated they were descended from Portuguese explorers, or perhaps from Turkish slaves or Gypsies but a new DNA study attempts to separate truth from oral tradition.

The results: Genetic evidence shows that the families historically called Melungeons are the offspring of sub-Saharan African men and white women of northern or central European origin. Reginald Daniel, a sociologist at the University of California-Santa Barbara who's spent more than 30 years examining multiracial people in the U.

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Ms Estes and her fellow researchers theorize that the various Melungeon lines may have sprung from the unions of black and white indentured servants living in Virginia in the mids, before slavery. They conclude that as laws were put in place to penalize the mixing of races, the various family groups could only intermarry with each other, even migrating together from Virginia through the Carolinas before settling primarily in the mountains of East Tennessee.

Claims of Portuguese ancestry likely were a ruse they used in order to remain free and retain other privileges that came with being considered white, according to the study's authors. Upset: Many of the so-called Melungeon descendants were upset that their false European origins discredited by the results of the recent DNA study.

The Appalachians: Beginning in the early s, the term Melungeon was applied as a slur to a group of about 40 families along the Tennessee-Virginia border. The study quotes from an court case in Tennessee in which a Melungeon woman's inheritance was challenged. In that instance, if the defendant Martha Simmerman were found to have African blood, she would lose the inheritance. Her attorney, Lewis Shepherd, argued successfully that the Simmerman's family was descended from ancient Phoenicians who eventually migrated to Portugal and then to North America.

Writing about his argument in a memoir published years later, Shepherd stated, 'Our Southern high-bred people will never tolerate on equal terms any person who is even remotely tainted with negro blood, but they do not make the same objection to other brown or dark-skinned people, like the Spanish, the Cubans, the Italians, etc. In another lawsuit inJacob Perkins, who is described as 'an East Tennessean of a Melungeon family,' sued a man who had accused him of having 'negro blood.

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In a note to his attorney, Mr Perkins wrote why he felt the accusation was damaging. Extensive work: Researcher Jack Goins estimates there must be several thousand descendants of the historical Melungeons alive today, but the study only examined unbroken male and female lines.

Writing in the era of slavery ahead of the Civil War, Mr Perkins noted the racial discrimination of the age: '1st the words imply that we are liable to be indicted equals liable to be whipped equals liable to be fined Later generations came to believe some of the tales their ancestors wove out of necessity.

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 census. Yet he was taken aback when he first had his DNA tested around Swabs taken from his cheeks collected the genetic material from saliva or skin cells and the sample was sent to a laboratory for identification.

But it came back the same way. I had three done. They were all the same. In order to conduct the larger DNA study, Mr Goins and his fellow researchers - who are genealogists but not academics - had to define who was a Melungeon. In recent years, it has become a catchall term for people of mixed-race ancestry and has been applied to about communities in the eastern U.Historically, the Melungeons were associated with settlements in the Cumberland Gap area of central Appalachiawhich includes portions of East TennesseeSouthwest Virginiaand eastern Kentucky.

Tri-racial describes populations thought to be of mixed EuropeanAfrican and Native American ancestry. Although there is no consensus on how many such groups exist, estimates range as high as According to the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culturein his dissertation, cultural geographer Edward Price proposed that Melungeons were families descended from free people of color who were of European and African ancestry and mixed-race unions between persons of African ancestry and Native Americans in colonial Virginia[3] whose territory included the modern-day states of Kentucky and West Virginia.

The ancestry and identity of Melungeons has been a highly controversial subject. They might accurately be described as a loose collection of families of diverse ethnic origins who migrated to frontier areas, settled near each other, and intermarried, mostly in Hancock and Hawkins counties in Tennesseenearby areas of Kentuckyand in Lee County, Virginia.

They were largely endogamous through the 19th century, marrying primarily within their community until about Melungeons have been defined and documented as having multiracial ancestry.

They did not exhibit characteristics that could be classified as those of a single racial phenotype. Most modern-day descendants of Appalachian families traditionally regarded as Melungeon are generally European American in appearance, often though not always with dark hair and eyes, and a swarthy or olive complexion. During the nineteenth century, free people of color sometimes identified as Portuguese or Native American in order to avoid being classified as black in the segregated slave societies.

Other Melungeon individuals and families are accepted and identify as white, particularly since the midth century.

Interview With a West Virginian I Picked Up Alongside the Road

They have tended to "marry white" since before the twentieth century. Scholars and commentators do not agree on who should be included under the term Melungeon.

melungeons in appalachia

Contemporary authors identify differing lists of surnames to be included as families associated with Melungeons. The English surname Gibson and Irish surname Collins appear frequently; genealogist Pat Elder calls them "core" surnames. From about the midth to the late 20th centuries, it referred exclusively to one tri-racial isolate group, the descendants of the multiracial Collins, Gibson, and several other related families at Newman's Ridge, Vardy Valley, and other settlements in and around Hancock and Hawkins counties, Tennessee.

According to the principle of partus sequitur ventremwhich Virginia incorporated into law inchildren born in the colonies were assigned the social status of their mother, regardless of their father's ethnicity or citizenship. This meant the children of enslaved African or African-American women were born into slavery. But it also meant the children of free white or mulatto women, even if fathered by enslaved African men, were born free.

The free descendants of such unions formed the majority of ancestors of the free families of color listed in the and US censuses.

Early colonial Virginia was very much a "melting pot" of peoples, and before slavery hardened as a racial caste, white and black working-class people often lived and worked in close quarters and formed relationships and marriages. Some of these early multiracial families were ancestors of the later Melungeons. Each family line has to be traced separately. Over the generations, most individuals of the group called Melungeon were persons of mixed European and African descent, sometimes also with Native American ancestry, whose ancestors had been free in colonial Virginia.

Edward Price's dissertation on Mixed-Blood Populations of the Eastern United States as to Origins, Localizations, and Persistence said that children of European and free black unions had also intermarried with persons of Native American ancestry. Inthe U. Similarly, inthe genealogist Roberta Estes and her fellow researchers reported that the Melungeon lines likely originated in the unions of black and white indentured servants living in Virginia in the mids, before slavery became widespread.

They migrated together, sometimes along with white neighbors, from western Virginia through the Piedmont frontier of North Carolinabefore settling primarily in the mountains of East Tennessee. Free people of color are documented as migrating with European-American neighbors in the first half of the 18th century to the frontiers of Virginia and North Carolina, where they received land grants like their neighbors.

For instance, the Collins, Gibson, and Ridley Riddle families owned land adjacent to one another in Orange County, North Carolinawhere they and the Bunch family were listed in as "free Molatas mulattoes ", subject to taxation on tithes. By settling in frontier areas, free people of color found more amenable living conditions and could escape some of the racial strictures of Virginia and North Carolina Tidewater plantation areas.

Historian Jack D.

melungeons in appalachia

Forbes has discussed laws in South Carolina related to racial classification:.Nancy Hanks Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln's mother. The previous entries in this Those Were the Days series featured Baby Faces of famous people of the past and present and Famous Faces as the folks looked in their childhood and young teen years.

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Your teeth can tell you a lot about your ancestry! Read more to find out how. On this date inElvis Presley graduates from L. Humes High School. History and description of several groups known as Melungeon. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer.

melungeons in appalachia

It has never yet melted. Vande Brake surveys Appalachian fiction and finds a suprising number of Melungeon characters lurking in the pages of many Southern writers. I recently carved out some spare time in my busy schedule to delve into a "posterity project" very close to me -- my family history. In my ongoing research into my family genealogy, I've been fascinated by my paternal ancestors and their link to the Melungeons.

With inspiration from author and novelist Lisa Alther, and some help from genealogist Joanne Pezzullo, I recently began looking into this mysterious branch on my family tree, and discovered some very interesting finds in the archives….

Melungeon Family Adkins Free delivery on millions of items with Prime. Simeon Collins, his wife Pinkey Collins and family - Pamunkey — Descendants of dark-skinned mountaineers gather at Warren Wilson College. Enjoy the videos and music you love, upload original content, and share it all with friends, family, and the world on YouTube.

Rootsweb is returning a little at a time. Hopefully all the links in this article will come back online soon. Anyone who has ever looked into the people who were called 'Melungins', has probably come across a photo taken by photographer Doris Ulmann…. Abraham Lincoln. Us History. History Of Photography Portrait Photography.

Native American Tribes. Powhatan Indians Native American Regalia. Women In History. Native American Population. Family Information. Appalachian People Appalachian Mountains.The history of the racial group known as Melungeons is a topic of much discussion, disagreement, and mystery.

Melungeons often display many physical characteristics usually associated with European heritage such as angular facial features combined with dark eyes, dark hair, and dark skin normally associated with African-American and Native American ethnicities. However, it has long been discussed that they are of Portuguese and possibly even Turkish descent as well. They were generally accepted in their communities and mostly assimilated save for the fact that they often were restricted in marriage due to laws penalizing the mixing of races.

In more recent years, most Melungeons have become virtually indistinguishable from Caucasians due to the tendency to intermarry as social changes have made interracial marriage increasingly more accepted.

The term Melungeon was once seen as a racial slur and was received with a negative connotation; however, that has since softened as many now proudly self-identify as such. Playwright Kermit Hunter wrote the highly-regarded Walk Toward The Sunset in which Melungeons were portrayed in a romanticized light which helped to develop a sense of pride in the heritage.

Much speculation has been made regarding the likelihood of Melungeon ancestry in President Abraham Lincoln and, possibly though not as likely, Elvis Presley. Two Melungeon boys. Liked it? Take a second to support admin on Patreon! Tags: abraham lincolnappalachiaelvis presleymelungeonmelungeonsmysterynative american.

About The Author admin. Allen Gibbs. These were native Americans and Spanish people.

The Mystery of the Melungeons

Some of my family Melungeons. April 26, Charlotte Staggs. April 27, Go to mobile version.InDruAnna Williams Overbay's schoolteacher mother sent her down to the mailbox at recess. She started flipping through that week's edition of the Saturday Evening Post and saw pictures of her neighbors she knew in Hancock County, Tenn.

melungeons in appalachia

The little girl read a word describing them all that she'd never heard before: Melungeon. She was showing the pictures to the other children until her mother snatched the magazine away.

Melungeons, the mysterious dark-skinned mountaineers of eastern Tennessee and southwest Virginia and into Kentucky, have sparked myths and theories over the past century. They were whispered to be descendants of shipwrecked Portuguese sailors, or gypsies now known as Roma.

The name likely comes from the French "melange," a slur most often used by suspicious white neighbors in the days of the Jim Crow South, when African-Americans and anyone with dark skin faced prejudice and segregation. What's certain is that Melungeon students like Overbay came to Asheville for boarding school and to Warren Wilson College, which welcomed poorer Appalachian students of all backgrounds.

More than descendants, experts and others are expected to attend the 19th annual conference of the Melungeon Heritage Association June at Warren Wilson.

At age 12, Winkler learned his father's family hailed from Hancock County and had Melungeon roots, fueling his lifelong fascination and academic career with the community. He wanted desperately to see the outdoor drama Walking Toward the Sunseta story about the Melungeons, staged in remote Hancock County in the s.

Kathy Lyday, too, was fascinated by the play and legends about Melungeons.

melungeon photos

Growing up in Knoxville, Tenn. Now a professor at Elon University, Lyday has researched Melungeons appearing in literature and periodicals over the past century.

Lyday has been a regular participant at the annual conferences of the Melungeon Heritage Association. They look different. They have darker skin, darker hair and blue eyes. In older photos, their physical appearance looks almost Mediterranean or Middle Eastern," Lyday said. A Spanish influence is likely, given that the Southwest and the mountains were explored and settled.

Hernando de Soto trooped through the region in in the first contact with whites for many Native American tribes. They probably intermarried, and when the Spanish retreated, they left behind remnants.

One of my theories is that perhaps we followed Daniel Boone's route through the Cumberland Gap. We went straight up what's now I to Vardy," Overbay said. Researchers have theorized that Melungeons may have been a mixture of European, African and Native Americans. A DNA study in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy in found that the families historically called Melungeons are the offspring of sub-Saharan African men and white women of northern or central European origin.

Overbay said DNA testing in her family shows about 98 percent European and 2 percent African genetic background while other Melungeon families show other mixtures.

In the segregated South, any trace of black blood mattered legally. Virginia passed the Racial Integrity Act inthe so-called "one drop" rule that would strip anyone of mixed race from white legal privileges. The quest to better themselves led many Melungeon students to the Asheville area. They were taken by wagon to Ben Hur, Virginia, where they caught the train to Asheville," Overbay said. InOverbay took the bus from Knoxville to Warren Wilson, started as a high school and then a junior college.

There, she had an African-American roommate, which she didn't think twice about. Warren Wilson itself had been early to integrate before most Southern colleges. Alma Shippey, of Swannanoa, was the first black student to attend the school intwo years before landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. The Sunderland residents voted to welcome the young Swannanoa man into their dorm.

Overbay's Melungeon heritage didn't much matter in on the diverse campus, where she worked on the student newspaper. Going on to earn her master's from University of Tennessee, Overbay made her career teaching English for 46 years. But Overbay encountered discrimination for the first time in Asheville.In the heart of Appalachia in the southern United States, an isolated, dark skinned people known as the Melungeons, are challenging the accepted version of modern America's earliest history.

Richard Lister on the trail of a lost people For centuries, they remained almost invisible to the American mainstream. They live hidden away on inaccessible mountain ridges, and a racially segregated society wrote them off as a mixture of white, black and American Indian.

Now, evidence is emerging which suggests that the Melungeons may have been among America's very first settlers, arriving in Appalachia long before the Northern Europeans. Off the beaten track I went to Newman's ridge in Tennessee, on the trail of the Melungeons, but first I had to find the town of Sneedville.

It is so far off the beaten track, that after several hours bouncing along narrow roads trying to avoid the tortoises which were enjoying the rain on the tarmac, I began to think that probably you could not get to Sneedville. After all, not many people do. It is a town with a main street, two traffic lights and a single payphone.

It has an eight-room motel over a furniture storeroom and a Wild West jail that looked to have been lifted straight from the 19th century frontier. Rewriting history But what makes Sneedville more interesting than much of small town America is its people. Walking around the town, you are struck by how many of them would not look out of place on the Turkish coast with their dark olive skin and straight black hair. Kennedy: Believes Turkish ancestors settled Appalachia The conventional wisdom, suggests that Appalachia was settled predominantly by English, Scots and Irish people.

But to many, like Dr Brent Kennedy, that did not appear to be the whole story. I met him at his office in Wise College Virginia, where he is vice chancellor. He is a striking looking man with his dark hair, Mediterranean complexion and blue eyes. On the back of his head there is a small bump which is common among Melungeon people, and his hands bear small white scars where surgeons removed the two extra fingers he was born with. Polydactyly is another Melungeon trait and one found in parts of the Middle East.

First settlers? Melungeons have similarities to Mediterranean peoples When he began to research his ancestry, Dr Kennedy found evidence that first people to arrive in Appalachia, were not northern Europeans, but may have been Ottoman Turks. Portuguese settlers brought Turkish servants with them in the 16th Century. Sir Francis Drake unloaded hundreds of other Turks after he liberated them from the Spanish in Blood typing has confirmed close similarities between present day Melungeons and people of the Mediterranean region.

What has now become known as the Kennedy theory is that these people pushed inland and settled down with American Indian women, to begin life as farmers. With his team of researchers, Dr Kennedy has found hundreds of words in local Indian dialects that have almost the same meaning in Turkish or Arabic.

The Cherokee word for mother for example, is Ana Ta.Historically, the Melungeons were associated with settlements in the Cumberland Gap area of central Appalachia, which includes portions of East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and eastern Kentucky. Tri-racial describes populations thought to be of mixed European, African and Native American ancestry.

Although there is no consensus on how many such groups exist, estimates range as high as A typical Melungeon in Appalachia. Different claims about Melungeon origins have been made but none seem to be proven. According to an article by Elizabeth Caldwell Hirschman preserved in Archives. Some theories speculate that the Melungeons were descended from Spanish or Portuguese explorers, shipwrecked sailors, or even from the "Lost Colonists" of Roanoke Island in Virginia.

In the past, self-described Melungeons have referred to themselves as "Indians" or "Portuguese. Whatever the origins, the Melungeons are a rather large group and many people in Appalachia claim to have Melungeon ancestry. However, when these people start to research their family trees, they usually find roadblocks after going back years or a bit more. The Melungeons found themselves caught in the middle; they were neither white nor black; but they were free. Nevertheless, they suffered discrimination, in varying levels, because of the color of their skin.

The hills of Tennessee provided a place for them to live freely without the adverse criticism of the colonies and the plantation owners.

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It seems as though they could upgrade their status through their appearance and being a good citizen. Many fought in the Civil War on the Union side, a few on the Confederate side and some became slave owners.

A Melungeon family in the early 20th century. Even DNA analysis does not prove the origins of the Melungeons. Many DNA tests have been administered and the list of ancestral origins of those tested includes most all of Europe, the Middle East, and many widely dispersed locations in Africa. You can also find many more articles about Melungeons by searching for the word on your favorite search engine. One of my favorite topics is the accents of Melungeons and many others in Appalachia.

Is the unique Appalachian dialect the preserved language of Elizabethan England? Left over from Scots-Irish immigrants?

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