June 1891 “The Malungeon Tree and its Four Branches” The Arena (Drumgoole)
|Somewhere in the eighteenth century, before the year 1797, there appeared in the eastern portion of Tennessee, at that time the Territory of North Carolina, two strange-looking men calling themselves â€œCollinsâ€ and â€œGibsonâ€. They had a reddish brown complexion, long, straight, black hair, keen, black eyes, and sharp, clear-cut features. They spoke in broken English, a dialect distinct from anything ever heard in that section of the country.
They claimed to have come from Virginia and many years after emigrating, themselves told the story of their past.
These two, Vardy Collins and Buck Gibson, were the head and source of the Malungeons in Tennessee. With the cunning of their Cherokee ancestors, they planned and executed a scheme by which they were enabled to â€œset up for themselvesâ€ in the almost unbroken Territory of North Carolina.
Old Buck, as he was called, was disguised by a wash of some dark description, and taken to Virginia by Vardy where he was sold as a slave. He was a magnificent specimen of physical strength, and brought a fine price, a wagon and mules, a lot of goods, and three hundred
This story I know is true. There are reliable parties still living who received it from old Vardy himself, who came here as young men and lived, as the Malungeons generally did to a ripe old age.
The names â€œCollinsâ€ and â€œGibsonâ€ were also stolen from the white settlers in Virginia where the men had lived previous to emigrating to North Carolina.
There is, perhaps, no more satisfactory method of illustrating this peculiar race, its origin and blood, than by the familiar tree.
Old Vardy Collins, then, must be regarded as the body, or main stem, in this state, at all events.
It is only of very late years the Melungeons have been classed as â€œfamiliesâ€. Originally they were â€œtribesâ€, afterward â€œclansâ€ and at last â€œFamiliesâ€. From Old Vardy the first tribe took its first name â€œCOLLINSESâ€. Others who followed Vardy took the Collins name also.
Old Benjamin Collins, one of the pioneers, was older than Vardy, but came to Tennessee a trifle later. He had quite a large family of children, among them Edmond, Mileyton (supposed to have meant Milton), Marler, Harry, Andrew, Zeke, Jordon. From Jordan Collins descended Calloway Collins who is still living today and from whom I obtained some valuable information.
But to go back a step. Benjamin Collins was known as old Ben, and became the head of the Ben tribe. Old Solomon Collins was the head of the Sols. The race was increasing so rapidly, by emigration and otherwise, that it became necessary to adopt other names than Collins. They fell, curiously enough, upon the first or Christian name of the head of a large family connection or tribe. Emigrants arriving attached themselves as they chose to the several tribes. After a while, with an eye to brevity, doubtless, the word â€œtribeâ€ was dropped from ordinary, everyday use. The â€œBensâ€ the â€œSolsâ€ meant the Ben and Sol Tribes. It appeared that no tribe was ever called for Old Vardy, although as long as he lived he was recognized as head and
This is doubtless due to the fact that in his day the settlement was new, and the people, and the one name Collins covered the entire population. The original Collins people were Indian, there is no doubt about that, and they lived as the Indians lived until sometime
The Collins tribe multiplied more and more; it became necessary to have names, and a most peculiar method was hit upon for obtaining them.
Ben Collins children were distinguished from the children of Sol and Vardy by prefixing the Christian name either of the father or mother to the Christian name of the child. For instance; Edmund Ben, Singleton Ben; Andrew Ben; Zeke Ben, meant that Edmund, Singleton, Andrew, and Zeke were the sons of Ben Collins. Singleton Mitch; Levi Mitch, and Morris Mitch , meant that these men were the sons of Mitchel Collins. In the next generation there was a Jordan Ben (a son of old Benjamin Collins) who married Abbie Sol, had a son, who is called (he is still living, as before stated) Calloway Abby for his mother. The wife before marriage takes her fatherâ€™s Christian name; after marriage that of her husband. Callowayâ€˜s wife, for instance, is Ann Calloway. It is not known, and cannot by any possibility be ascertained at what precise period other races appeared among the â€œCollinses.â€ For many years they occupied the Ridge without disturbance. The country was new, wild, and few straggling settlements were glad of almost any new neighbors. Moreover, these strange people, who were then called the â€œRidgemanitesâ€, the â€œIndiansâ€, and the â€œBlack Wateritesâ€(because of a stream called Black Water, which flows through their territory, the bed of which was, and is, covered with a peculiar dark slate rock which gives the black appearance to the stream), had chosen the rocky and inaccessible Ridge, while the fertile and beautiful valley of the Clinch lay open and
They were still, however, we must observe, all Collinses, The main tree had not been disturbed by foreign grafting, and while all were not blood descendants of old Vardy they, at all events, had all fallen under his banner and appropriated his name.
The tree at last began to put forth branches, or rather three foreign shoots were grafted into the body of it; the English (or white), Portuguese, and African.
The English branch began with the Mullins tribe, a very powerful tribe, next indeed for a long time to the Collins tribe, and at present the strongest of all the several branches, as well as the most daring and obstinate.
Old Jim Mullins, the father of the branch, was an Englishman, a trader, it is supposed, with Indians. He was of a roving, daring disposition, and rather fond of the free abandon which characterized the Indian. He was much given to sports, and was always â€œcheek by jowlâ€ with
By marriage I mean to say (in their own language) they â€œtook up togetherâ€ having no set form of marriage service. So old Jim Mullins took up with a Malungeon woman, a Collins, by whom he had a large family of children. Sometime after he exchanged wives with one Wyatt Collins, and proceeded to cultivate a second family. Wyatt Collins also had a large family by his first wife, and equally fortunate with the one whom he traded her for.
After the forming of Hancock County (Tennessee) old Mullins and Collins were forced to marry their wives according to the law of the land, but all had children and grandchildren before they were lawfully married.
The Mullins tribe became exceedingly strong, and remains today the head of the Ridge people.
The African branch was introduced by one Goins (I spell it as they do) who emigrated from North Carolina after the formation of the state of Tennessee. Goins was a negro, and did not settle upon the Ridge, but lower down the Big Sycamore Creek in Powellâ€™s Valley. He took a Malungeon woman for his wife (took up with her), and reared a family or tribe. The Goins family may be easily recognized by their kinky hair, flat nose and foot, thick lips, and a complexion totally unlike the Collins and Mullins tribes. They possess many negro traits, too, which are wanting to the other tribes.
The Malungeons repudiate the idea of negro blood, yet some of the shiftless stragglers among them have married among the Goins people. They evade slights, snubs, censure, and the law, by claiming to have married Portuguese, there really being a Portuguese branch among the tribes.
The Goins tribe, however, was always looked upon with touch of contempt, and was held in a kind of subjection, socially and politically, by the others.
The Mullins and Collins tribes will fight for their Indian blood. The Melungeons are not brave; indeed, they are great cowards and easily brow-beaten, accustomed to receiving all manners of insults which it never occurs to them to resent. Only in this matter of blood will they â€œshow fightâ€
The Portuguese branch was for a long time a riddle, the existence of it being stoutly denied. It has at last, however, been traced to one â€œDenhan,â€ a Portuguese who married a Collins woman.
It seems that every runaway or straggler of any kind whatever, passing through the country took up with abode temporarily or permanently, with the Malungeons, or as they were then called the Ridgemanites. They were harmless, social, and good-natured when well acquainted with one–although at first suspicious, distant, and morose. While they have never encouraged emigration to the Ridge they have sometimes been unable to prevent it.
Denhan, it is supposed, came from one of the Spanish settlements lying further to the south. He settled on Mulberry Creek, and married a sister of Old Sol Collins.
There is another story, however, about Denham. It is said that the first Denham came as did the first Collins from North Carolina, and that he (or his ancestors) had been left upon the Carolina coast by some Portuguese pirate vessel plying along the shore. When the English wrested the island of Jamaica from Spain in 1655, some fifteen hundred Spanish slaves fled to the mountains. Their number grew and their strength multiplied. For more than a hundred years they kept up a kind of guerilla warfare, for they were both savage and warlike. They were called â€œmountain negroes,â€ or â€œmaroonsâ€. The West Indian waters swarmed with piratical vessels at that time, the Portuguese being the most terrible and daring. The crews of these vessels were composed for the most part of these â€œmountain negroes.â€ When they became insubordinate, or in any way useless, they were put ashore and left to take care of themselves. It is said the Denhans were put ashore on the Carolina coast. Their instincts carried them to the mountains, from which one emigrated to Newmanâ€™s Ridge, then a part of North Carolina territory.
So we have the four races, or representatives, among, as they then began to be called, the Malungeons; namely, the Indians, the English, the Portuguese, and the African. Each is clearly distinct and easily recognized even to the present day.
The Portuguese blood has been a misfortune to the first Malungeons inasmuch as it has been a shield to the Goins clan under which they have sought to shelter themselves and repudiate the African streak.
There is a very marked difference between the two, however. There is an old blacksmith, a Portuguese, on Black Water Creek, as dark as a genuine African. Yet, there is a peculiar tinge to his complexion that is totally foreign to the negro. He has a white wife, a Mullins woman, a descendant of English and Indian. If Malungeon does indeed mean mixture, the children of this couple are certainly Malungeons. The blacksmith himself is a Denhan, grandson of the old Portuguese emigrant and a Collins woman.
This, then, is the account of the Malungeons from their first appearance in that part of the country where they are still found, Tennessee.
It will be a matter of some interest to follow them down to the present day. Unlike the rest of the world they have progressed slowly. Their huts are still huts, their characteristics and instincts are still Indian, and their customs have lost but little of the old primitive exclusive and seclusive abandon characteristic of the sons of the forest.