1972- Calvin Beale article “An Overview of the Phenomenon of Mixed Racial Isolates in the US

1972 Beale article

An Overview of the Phenomenon of Mixed Racial Isolates in the Unites States

by Calvin L. Beale
American Anthropologist 74 (1972): 704-710 1

Mention is made of the decreasing proportion of endogamous marriages in   recent times. The essentially rural nature of these racial isolates is   pointed out, and the general societal trend of rural depopulation is stated   to be affecting their size and continued existence. A suggested list of   research needs is offered.

In about 1890, a young Tennessee woman asked a state legislator, “Please tell   me what is a Melungeon?” “A Melungeon,” said he, “isn’t a nigger, and he   isn’t an Indian, and he isn’t a White man. God only knows what he is.   I should call him a Democrat, only he always votes the Republican ticket”   (Dromgoole 18901: 473).

 

The young woman, Will Allen Dromgoole, soon sought out the   Melungeons in remote Hancock County and lived with them for awhile to   determine for herself what they were. 2 Afterward, in the space of a   ten page article, she described them as “shiftless,” “idle,” “illiterate,”   “thieving,” “defiant,” “distillers of brandy,” “lawless,” “close,” “rogues,”   “suspicious,” “inhospitable,” “untruthful,” “cowardly,” “sneaky,” “exceedingly   immoral,” and “unforgiving.” She also spoke of their “cupidity and cruelty,”   and ended her work by concluding, “The most that can be said of one of them   is, ‘He is a Malungeon,’ a synonym for all that is doubtful and mysterious –   and unclean.” (Dromgoole1891:479). Miss Dromgoole was essentially a   sympathetic observer.

The existence of mixed racial populations that constitute a distinctive   segment of society is not unique to the United States — needless to say.   But this nation must rank near the top in the number of such communities and   in their general public obscurity. I refer in particular to groups of real or   alleged White-Indian-Negro mixtures (such as the Melungeons) who are not   tribally affiliated or traceable with historical continuity to a particular   tribe. It is also logical to include a few groups of White-Negro origin that   lack the Indian component. The South in particular is rich in such population   strains, with all states except Arkansas and Oklahoma having such groups at   present or within the twentieth century. (And I would not be surprised to be   contradicted on my exception of those two states.)

They are found in the Tidewater areas, the interior Coastal Plain, the   Piedmont, the Appalachians, and in the Allegheny-Cumberland Plateaus. They   may be Protestant or catholic, of Anglo provenance or French-Spanish. Their   mixture may have originated in the area of residence, or they may have come   in as racially mixed people. Some are landless, some landed. But they are all   marginal men – wary until recently of being Black, aspiring where possible to   be White, and subject to rejection and scorn on either hand.

Many themes classically connected with racial marginality occur repeatedly in   the history of the groups, such as (to repeat Dromgoole only in part):   illegitimate origin; the use of stigmatic group names by the general society;   proscription from social intercourse with others on terms of equality; and in   particular barriers to upward out-marriage or attendance at White schools; a   reputation for violence, drunkenness, and crimes of passion within the group,   and for petty thievery against outsiders; the ascription of beauty and sexual   attractiveness to the women of the group when young; a reputation for   laziness, illiteracy, poverty, and inbreeding; a relegation of settlement to   the least desirable land (hilly, sandy, swampy, backwoods); and a preference   to withdraw from public attention. These are stereotypes, of course, and   exceptions to their validity as public images occur, especially with respect   to the mulatto or colored Creole groups of the Gulf Coast.

At least a few of the groups clearly originated in the period well before the   Revolution – even in the seventeenth century in Maryland and Virginia. They   do not seem to be viewed in public records as communities or elements in   society until after the Revolution. Gradually during the nineteenth century,   and continuing to the present day, they came to local public notice in one   way or another as individual groups, but usually with no recognition of the   fact that such communities have been a common phenomenon throughout the East   and South. Questions relating to legal racial status, jury duty, voting,   taxation, schools, inheritance, census enumeration, civil disorder, crime,   and health have been prominent among issues that have brought public   attention. Some examples from different times and places follow.

In 1791, the Turks of South Carolina petitioned the legislature to be   recognized as White and not as free Negroes. Somewhat later their right to   sit on juries was challenged and their patron, General Thomas Sumter, vouched   for them (Kaye 1953: 153).

In 1823, another South Carolina group with such classic triracial surnames as   Locklear, Oxendine, Chavis, and Sweat was reported as delinquent in taxes but   difficult to find because “of the peculiar situation of their place of   residence.” (Price 1953:153).

In Mobile, a Creole Fire Company was organized in 1819 and remained   independent well into the present century. 3

In 1840-41, North Carolina legislative papers describe how, “The County of   Robeson is cursed with a free colored population that migrated originally   from the districts around the Roanoke and Neuse Rivers…Having no regard for   character they are under no restraint but what the law imposes. They are   great topers, and so long as they can procure the exhilarating draught seem   to forget entirely the comfort of their families.” 4

In 1842, a member of a group in present day Vinton County, Ohio, that I have   heard referred to only as “the half breeds,” sued the township trustees for   refusing him the right to vote because he was partly of Negro ancestry. He   lost his suit at the county court level but won a reversal in the state   supreme court (Thacker vs. Hawk).

In 1856, voting by the free colored people (present day Red Bones) of Ten   Mile Creek Precinct in what is now Allen Parish, Louisiana, became a source   of public concern. Several were tried for illegal voting – for free Negroes   did not have the franchise – but they were acquitted when their colored   ancestry could not be proven and the judge would not permit the jury to   evaluate them by their appearance (Shugg 1936).

In 1857, Frederic Law Olmstead noted and publicized in his book Journey   Through Texas the skirmishes and murders that took place in the Sabine   country of east Texas between the “Moderators” and “Regulators” based on   friction with the local mixed bloods of Louisiana Red Bone origin (Olmstead   1959: 164-166).

In 1860, the census taker in Calhoun County, Florida, noted, “The Free   Negroes in this county are mixed blooded, almost white, and have intermarried   with a low class of whites. Have no trade, occupation or town of their own.   Their personal property consists of cattle and hogs. They make no produce   except corn, peas, and potatoes and very little of that. They are a lazy,   indolent, and worthless race” (Free Inhabitants Census 1860). This was the   Dead Lake or Scott’s Ferry group, of South Carolina tri-racial origin.

During the Civil War and Reconstruction era, Henry Berry Lowry, a folk-hero   of the group now known as the Lumbee Indians, led a band of fugitives and   outlaws in Robeson County, North Carolina. Disorder requiring Federal troops   continued for some years until Lowry and others were killed (Rights 1947).

In the mid-1880s, this group was provided with separate schools and Indian   status by the state – beginning a procedure that spread to several other   groups (Ibid).

In 1930-31, the Virginia Registrar of Vital Statistics endeavored to prevent   mixed bloods from being accepted as Indians in the U. S. Census. The Bureau   declined to change the original returns, but footnoted the published results   of the Virginia census in four counties to note that the count of Indians,   “includes a number of persons whose classification as Indians has been   questioned.” This included the Amherst County “Issues” and several of the   groups that the anthropologist Frank Speck had concluded were the mixed   survivors of the Powhatan Confederacy.

During the 1950s, the Wesorts of Southern Maryland came to the attention of   physicians and dentists in the Washington area because of one of the most   serious ands varied complexes of genetic diseases and anomalies ever   recorded. 6

In September 1969, a number of Indian (Brass Ankle) parents in Dorchester   County, South Carolina, were arrested for attempting to enroll their children   in a public school other than the small segregated one that had traditionally   been provided them. 7

The establishment of separate schools for the racial isolates was a major   factor in maintaining group identity. Typically, the mixed bloods were denied   enrollment in white schools and declined to attend Negro schools. In some   states, separate public schools were provided for them. This was particularly   true in North Carolina where the ultimate in triracial school systems was   created – one that included a separate college. In other areas, only the   operation of mission schools by churches provided any educational facilities   at all. Disputes over the racial background of children attempting to enter either   local white schools or the separate schools were common.

So long as segregated public schools were permitted, and so long as small   rural elementary schools were common and high school education was not often   sought, the separate school pattern was feasible. But in recent decades, the   school situation of the mixed-blood communities has changed rapidly,   sometimes through law suits, sometimes without. Most of the mission schools   have been closed or made part of the public system. Most of the rural one and   two room schools have been consolidated into larger integrated schools.   Conditions have changed so steadily that without an up-to-the-minute survey   it is impossible to speak definitively about the extent of separate schooling   that still exists. Essentially it is no longer a characteristic of mixed   racial communities.

Where separate schools have been closed, the church is usually the only   formal social arrangement that continues to reflect the existence of a mixed   racial community, and that reinforces the endogamous marriage patterns of the   past. Church separatism has never been complete and is probably declining,   but there are still many examples of congregations comprised entirely or   largely of mixed racial populations.

Interest in the racial isolates by anthropologists began in the late   nineteenth century, stimulated, I should say, by the emergence of the Robeson   County, North Carolina, people as Croatan Indians and the suggestion of their   descent from the Lost Colony. At the Smithsonian, James Mooney conducted a   mail inquiry through postmasters in 1889 in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and   North Carolina seeking information on people of reputed Indian descent. He   received responses that related not only to the Powhatan tribes that seem to   have been his principal interest, but that also identified the Wesorts, the   Guineas of western Maryland, the Amherst County Issues, and the group that   later emerged as the North Carolina Haliwa. It is unfortunate that someone   could not have followed up all of Mooney’s leads at the time, for it was more   than a half-century later before Gilbert produced the first scientific   inquiries into the Wesorts and Guineas, and another ten years before I and   others visited the Haliwa. Mooney’s replies, incidentally, are still on file   at the Smithsonian.

Frank Speck followed in the 1920s and later with extensive inquiry into the   eastern Virginia groups – usually regarded as Negroes locally – who appeared   to show authentic evidence of Indian origin though cultural survivals. But   perhaps because of the tribalized Indian focus of American anthropology, very   little later anthropological work dealt with the mixed racial isolates.   Sociologists, educators, journalists, geographers, and local historians gave   some attention to the groups, and more lately genetic research and accounts   by the members of the isolates themselves have appeared.

In terms of today’s research needs, it is already a generation too late to   pursue some of the questions that would have been relevant earlier. Some of   the smaller groups have for all practical purposes disappeared. The practice   or knowledge of handicrafts or of distinctive food habits, hunting practices,   or folkways is gone or rapidly disappearing. Increasing outmarriage makes   meaningful genetic studies less feasible. And the abolition of legal   segregation reduces the likelihood of the groups continuing as separate and   readily identifiable elements of local society.

But there is still worthwhile research to be undertaken, whether one is   satisfied with knowledge for its own sake or insists on socially significant   inquiries. I would suggest the following topics relating to Southern groups   as relatively untouched by research or in need of a modern appraisal:

(1) The Goins family. Beyond a doubt, the surname Goins (with its many   variations in spelling) is the most widespread and one of the oldest and most   reliably indicative surnames of tri-racial origin in the United States. I   have documented its existence among mixed bloods in more than thirty-five   counties of seven states. The Goinses were mixed in Colonial days in   Virginia, and both of the Carolinas. The name is found today among the   Lumbee, the Melungeons, the Smilings, the Red Bones, the Ohio Guineas, and in   various other parts of Ohio, Tennessee and North Carolina where none of these   terms are used. Some are White, some Indian, and some Negro, in current   status. An investigation of the Goinses, their origins and traditions, their   dispersal through the South and the old Northwest territory and their status   today would touch almost the whole fabric of the tri-racial phenomenon.

(2) Socio-psychological studies of the mixed blood people. The   precarious social acceptance of the mixed bloods by the White, Negro, or   Indian elements of society has created problems of psychological insecurity   for many of them that the average person never experiences. Berry touches on   this issue in his work, but a study focusing on it is needed (Berry 1963:   212).

(3) Gulf Coast Creoles. Other than Horace Mann Bond’s valuable article   of nearly forty years ago (Bond 1931), I have not seen work on the Creole   populations of the Gulf Coast (Mississippi, Mobile Bay, Pensacola). These   people of French-Spanish and Negro origin have an interesting history, a   comparatively high degree of social stability, and respectability in the eyes   of the Whites; and considerable documentation is available on their origins   and social history. A general research treatment on any one of these groups   would be both interesting and useful.

(4) The Tennessee groups outside Hancock County. Most all work   relating to Tennessee has focused on the Hancock County Melungeons. But there   are a number of other areas in Tennessee where unstudied tri-racial groups   are found – sometimes related in the past to the Hancock County people and   usually derived from mixed blood origins in the Carolinas or Virginia. In   addition, an unrelated Tennessee group of White and Indian descent known as   the Upper Cumberland River Cherokee has surfaced in the last several years in   Scott County and adjoining McCreary County, Kentucky, asserting its Indianess   in a rather vigorous way to officials in Washington.

(5) The Red Bones of Louisiana and Texas deserve research attention.   Given the number of people and counties involved, it is surprising that they   have not received more. Or perhaps it is not surprising, in view of the   sensitivity of the population to the subject of origins.

(6) The Smilings of Robeson County, North Carolina are of particular   interest for their interplay is not only with the White and Negro populations   but also with the surrounding Lumbee people from whom they appear not to have   received full acceptance. The groups has an antebellum origin in Sumter   County, South Carolina, but migrated to Robeson. What were the circumstances that   impelled this long established population to leave, but that did not affect   the Sumter County Turks similarly?

I have not mentioned specific studies of a more conventional anthropological   nature, such as Indian cultural survivals or linguistic studies, but here,   too, there are still positive results to be obtained, if I may judge from the   recent fieldwork in several groups by Claude Medford (personal   communication), or Everett’s study of language among the Clifton red Bone   community in Louisiana (Everett 1958).

In 1950, I estimated the tri-racial isolates in their rural and small town   settings to number 75,000 people I do not think the number is less today,   primarily because of the growth of the Lumbee. But many of the isolates –   particularly those of non-Indian status – can be said to be in a process of   decline or even dissolution. They have with a few exceptions been rural   communities, and in the last half century have experienced the same heavy   outmigration to a variety of urban destinations as have rural people in   general. Thus despite typically high fertility, many of the isolates have   dwindled in size. The special racial status is not generally transferred in a   group context to urban environments. Secondly, the frequency of outmarriage   and assimilation into either the White or Negro populations has greatly   increased. I have found this in every group whose marriage records I have   examined. 3 Harte has rather thoroughly documented it for the Maryland   Wesorts (Harte 1959: 218).

Given this trend, I think the odds are against the survival of groups that do   not have a concentrated core of at least several hundred members and that are   no longer distinctly different in appearance or status from the local White   or Negro populations. Both severe lack of local economic opportunity or rapid   local population growth seem to militate against group survival. In the first   instance, the population disperses to seek opportunity elsewhere, and in the   latter case the intrusion of other people or changes in employment and residential   patterns facilitate a breakdown in cohesion.

It will be interesting to observe the fate of the Lumbee in the future, for   in this case the local numbers of people involved are large (26,000 in   Robeson County in 1970, and 7,000 in nine nearby counties). The local tobacco   economy is under some strain, but with an acceptable official social status   as Indian, a large pool of potential marriage partners, a fair amount of   non-agricultural job opportunities, and a fund of history and legend in which   to have some pride, this group – along with several others – may well   continue indefinitely in its local setting, although surely not without   change.

 

MHA President     Wayne Winkler with Calvin L. Beale, recipient of the MHA Lifetime     Achievement Award, June 2004

In terms of today’s research needs, it is already a generation   too late to pursue some of the questions that would have been relevant   earlier. Some of the smaller groups have for all practical purposes   disappeared. The practice or knowledge of handicrafts or of distinctive food   habits, hunting practices, or folkways is gone or rapidly disappearing.   Increasing outmarriage makes meaningful genetic studies less feasible. And   the abolition of legal segregation reduces the likelihood of the groups   continuing as separate and readily identifiable elements of local society.

But there is still worthwhile research to be undertaken, whether one is   satisfied with knowledge for its own sake or insists on socially significant   inquiries. I would suggest the following topics relating to Southern groups   as relatively untouched by research or in need of a modern appraisal:

(1) The Goins family. Beyond a doubt, the surname Goins (with its many   variations in spelling) is the most widespread and one of the oldest and most   reliably indicative surnames of tri-racial origin in the United States. I   have documented its existence among mixed bloods in more than thirty-five   counties of seven states. The Goinses were mixed in Colonial days in   Virginia, and both of the Carolinas. The name is found today among the   Lumbee, the Melungeons, the Smilings, the Red Bones, the Ohio Guineas, and in   various other parts of Ohio, Tennessee and North Carolina where none of these   terms are used. Some are White, some Indian, and some Negro, in current status.   An investigation of the Goinses, their origins and traditions, their   dispersal through the South and the old Northwest territory and their status   today would touch almost the whole fabric of the tri-racial phenomenon.

(2) Socio-psychological studies of the mixed blood people. The   precarious social acceptance of the mixed bloods by the White, Negro, or   Indian elements of society has created problems of psychological insecurity   for many of them that the average person never experiences. Berry touches on   this issue in his work, but a study focusing on it is needed (Berry 1963:   212).

(3) Gulf Coast Creoles. Other than Horace Mann Bond’s valuable article   of nearly forty years ago (Bond 1931), I have not seen work on the Creole   populations of the Gulf Coast (Mississippi, Mobile Bay, Pensacola). These   people of French-Spanish and Negro origin have an interesting history, a   comparatively high degree of social stability, and respectability in the eyes   of the Whites; and considerable documentation is available on their origins   and social history. A general research treatment on any one of these groups   would be both interesting and useful.

(4) The Tennessee groups outside Hancock County. Most all work   relating to Tennessee has focused on the Hancock County Melungeons. But there   are a number of other areas in Tennessee where unstudied tri-racial groups   are found – sometimes related in the past to the Hancock County people and   usually derived from mixed blood origins in the Carolinas or Virginia. In   addition, an unrelated Tennessee group of White and Indian descent known as   the Upper Cumberland River Cherokee has surfaced in the last several years in   Scott County and adjoining McCreary County, Kentucky, asserting its Indianess   in a rather vigorous way to officials in Washington.

(5) The Red Bones of Louisiana and Texas deserve research attention.   Given the number of people and counties involved, it is surprising that they   have not received more. Or perhaps it is not surprising, in view of the   sensitivity of the population to the subject of origins.

(6) The Smilings of Robeson County, North Carolina are of particular   interest for their interplay is not only with the White and Negro populations   but also with the surrounding Lumbee people from whom they appear not to have   received full acceptance. The groups has an antebellum origin in Sumter   County, South Carolina, but migrated to Robeson. What were the circumstances   that impelled this long established population to leave, but that did not   affect the Sumter County Turks similarly?

I have not mentioned specific studies of a more conventional anthropological   nature, such as Indian cultural survivals or linguistic studies, but here,   too, there are still positive results to be obtained, if I may judge from the   recent fieldwork in several groups by Claude Medford (personal   communication), or Everett’s study of language among the Clifton Red Bone   community in Louisiana (Everett 1958).

In 1950, I estimated the tri-racial isolates in their rural and small town   settings to number 75,000 people I do not think the number is less today,   primarily because of the growth of the Lumbee. But many of the isolates –   particularly those of non-Indian status – can be said to be in a process of   decline or even dissolution. They have with a few exceptions been rural   communities, and in the last half century have experienced the same heavy   outmigration to a variety of urban destinations as have rural people in   general. Thus despite typically high fertility, many of the isolates have   dwindled in size. The special racial status is not generally transferred in a   group context to urban environments. Secondly, the frequency of outmarriage   and assimilation into either the White or Negro populations has greatly   increased. I have found this in every group whose marriage records I have   examined. 3 Harte has rather thoroughly documented it for the Maryland   Wesorts (Harte 1959: 218).

Given this trend, I think the odds are against the survival of groups that do   not have a concentrated core of at least several hundred members and that are   no longer distinctly different in appearance or status from the local White   or Negro populations. Both severe lack of local economic opportunity or rapid   local population growth seem to militate against group survival. In the first   instance, the population disperses to seek opportunity elsewhere, and in the   latter case the intrusion of other people or changes in employment and   residential patterns facilitate a breakdown in cohesion.

It will be interesting to observe the fate of the Lumbee in the future, for   in this case the local numbers of people involved are large (26,000 in   Robeson County in 1970, and 7,000 in nine nearby counties). The local tobacco   economy is under some strain, but with an acceptable official social status   as Indian, a large pool of potential marriage partners, a fair amount of   non-agricultural job opportunities, and a fund of history and legend in which   to have some pride, this group – along with several others – may well   continue indefinitely in its local setting, although surely not without   change.

NOTES

1 Prepared for   presentation at the annual meeting of the Southern Anthropological Society,   Athens, Georgia, April 9, 1970.

2 I have used the modern spelling, Melungeon, except where   quoting Dromgoole.

3 Information from present day Creoles.

4 Manuscript, North Carolina Legislative Reports (Robeson County).

5 Correspondence files of the Bureau of the Census; see also The   Indian Populations of the United States 1937:20

6Various published studies of the research work led by Cark J. Witkop,   Jr., of the National Institute of Health.

7 See Charleston Evening Post, various issues beginning   September 19, 1969.

8 I refer to groups such as the Pools of Pennsylvania, the Amherst and   Rockbridge County Issues, the Shifletts, the Poquoson and Skeetertown groups   of Virginia, the Dead Lake Group in Florida, the Cane River Mulattoes and   Natchitoches Red Bones of Louisiana, and the Mobile area Creoles.

REFERENCES CITED

Berry, Brewton, 1963, Almost White. New York:   Macmillan,

Bond, Horace Mann, 1931, “Two Racial Islands of Alabama.” American Journal   of Sociology 36:552-567.

Dromgoole, Will Allen, 1891, “The Malungeons.” The Arena 3:470-479

Everett, Russell, 1958, “The Speech of the Tri-Racial Group Comprising the   Community of Clifton, Louisiana.” Master’s thesis, Louisiana State   University.

Free inhabitants, 1860 Census, Florida 1860. National Archives 1:129.

Harte, Thomas J., 1959, “Trends in Mate Selection in a Tri-Racial Isolate.’ Social   Forces 37 (3):215-221.

Indian Population of the United States and Alaska 1930, 1937 Washington: U.S.   Government Printing Office.

Kaye, Ira, 1963, “The Turks.” New South; June.

Olmstead, Frederic Law, 1959, The Slave States New York: Putnam’s   Sons.

Price, Edward T., 1953, “A Geographical Analysis of White-Negro-Indian Racial   Mixtures in the Eastern Unites States.” Annals of the Association of   American Geographers 43(2): 138-155.

Rights, Douglas L., 1947, The American Indian in North Carolina.   Durham: Duke University Press.

Thacker vs. Hawk, 1887, Ohio Reports 11:337

Shugg, Roger W., 1936, “Negro Voting in the Antebellum South.” Journal of   Negro History 21 (4): 357-384.

 

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