1891- “The Malungeon GTree and its Four Branches” from The Arena

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 “Collins” and “Gibson”. 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 “set up for   themselves” 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
dollars in money being paid to old Vardy for his “likely nigger.” Once   out of Richmond, Vardy turned his mules shoes and stuck out for the wilderness   of North Carolina, as previously planned. Buck lost little time ridding   himself of his negro disguise, swore he was not the man bought of Collins,   and followed in the wake of his fellow thief to the Territory. The proceeds   of the sale were divided and each chose his habitation; old Vardy choosing   Newman’s Ridge, where he was soon joined by others of his race, and so the   Malungeons became a part of the inhabitants of Tennessee.

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 “Collins” and “Gibson” 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   “families”. Originally they were “tribes”, afterward “clans” and   at last “Families”. From Old Vardy the first tribe took its first name   “COLLINSES”. 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   “tribe” was dropped from ordinary, everyday use. The “Bens” the   “Sols” 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
leader of the entire people.

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
after the first white man appeared among them. All would huddle together in   one room (?), sleep in one common bed of leaves, make themselves such   necessary clothing as nature demanded, smoke, and dream away the good long   days that were so dreamily delightful nowhere as they were on Newman’s   Ridge.

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 father’s Christian name; after marriage   that of her husband. Calloway‘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 “Collinses.” 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 “Ridgemanites”, the   “Indians”, and the “Black Waterites”(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
inviting to the white settler. The Ridgemanites were not striving for wealth   evidently, and as land was plentiful and neighbors few, they held their bit   in the creation without molestation or interruption for many years. They were   all Collinses, as I said; those who followed the first-comers accepting the   name already provided them. There was no mixture of blood: they claimed to be   Indians and no man disputed it. They were called the “Collins Tribe” until   having multiplied to the extent it was necessary to divide, when the   descendants of the several
pioneers were separated, or divided into clans. Then came the Ben clan, the   Sol clan, the Mitch clan, and indeed every prominent head of a large   relationship was recognized as the leader of his clan, which always bore his   name. There was, to be sure, no set form or time at which this division was   made. It was only one of those natural splits, gradual and necessary, which   is the sure result of increasing strength.

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 “cheek by jowl” with
the Cherokees and other Indian tribes among which he mingled. What brought   him to Newman’s Ridge must have been, as it is said, his love for freedom   and sport, and that careless existence known only to the Indians. He stumbled   upon the Ridge settlement, fell in with the Ridgemanites, and never left   them. He took for a wife one of their women, a descendant of old Sol Collins,   and reared a family known as the “Mullins tribe.” This is said to be the   first white blood that mingled with the blood of the dusky Ridgemanites.

By marriage I mean to say (in their own language) they “took up together”   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 Powell’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 “show   fight”

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 “Denhan,” 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 “mountain negroes,” or   “maroons”. 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 “mountain negroes.” 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 Newman’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.

 

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