1939-Federal Writers Project article about Holmes County, Florida “Dominickers”

The narrative below is an article published in 1939 in the Florida volume of the Federal  Writer’s Project State Guide Series.  This effort was a part of President Roosevelt’s many Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects that were implemented to create employment for people during the Depression, and is credited with helping many troubled Americans.

“PONCE DE LEON, 45.2m (64 alt, 382 pop), is the site of Ponce De Leon Springs, one of the many fountains of youth named for the Spanish explorer. In adjacent back country live ‘Dominickers,’ part Negro and part white, whose history goes back to the early 1860s. [Origin story #1A—Thomas family] Just before the War Between the States, Thomas, a white, lived on a plantation here, with his wife, two children, and several Negro slaves. After his death his wife married one of the slaves, by whom she had five children. As slaves often took the name of their masters, her Negro husband was also known as Thomas. Of the five children, three married whites, two married Negroes. Today their numerous descendants live in the backwoods, for the most part in poverty. The men are of good physique, but the women are often thin and worn in early life. All have large families, and the fairest daughter may have a brother distinctly Negroid in appearance. The name originated, it is said, when a white in suing for a divorce described his wife as ‘black and white, like an old Dominicker chicken.’ Dominickers children are not permitted to attend white schools, nor do they associate with Negroes. About 20 children attend a one-room school. As no rural bus is provided, he pupils often walk several miles to attend classes. An old cemetery, containing a large number of Dominicker graves, adjoins the school. Numerous curves and steep hills make driving west of Ponce de Leon somewhat dangerous; care and caution are advised. “

Excerpted from the Federal Writers’ Project (Fla.). Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State. Sponsored by the State of Florida, Department of Public Instruction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1939.



1925- “Plecker Aroused by Blow Aimed at Racial Law”

1925 “Plecker Aroused by Blow Aimed at Racial Law”

Walter Ashby Plecker was the head of Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics for most of the 20th century. He believed “there is a danger of the ultimate disappearance of the white race in Virginia, and the country, and the substitution therefor of another brown skin, as has occurred in every other country where the two races have lived together.” Plecker believed this “mongrelization,” resulted in the downfall of several earlier civilizations. He used the 1924 Racial Integrity Act to classify Virginia Indians and mixed-race individuals as “colored,” and therefore denied basic civil rights under Virginia’s system of segregation


Source: University of Albany, SUNY, Estabrook, SPE,XMS 80.9 Bx 1   folder1-32. Used by permission

“Plecker Aroused by Blow Aimed at Racial Law,” NAACP criticism of W. Plecker’s “propaganda” pamphlets, Richmond Times Dispatch (3/31/1925)

Plecker Aroused by Blow Aimed at   Racial Law

Denies Literature Questioned in Letter to Davis Was Offensive.

Ready to Quit Dollar-A-Year Job

Makes Warm Answer to Attack of Northern Negro Organization.

Charges by the National Organization for the Advancement of Colored People,   headquarters New York City, with “using the government franking   privilege to spread propaganda derogatory to the negro race” and with   steps said to have been taken to cancel his appointment as special agent for   Virginia of the Children’s Bureau of the Department of Labor. Dr. W. A.   Plecker, Registrar of the State Bureau of Vital Statistics, said yesterday:

Denies Literature Insulting.

“It is untrue that any of the   literature that I have sent out is insulting or offensive, as the propaganda   letter sent out by the press bureau of the association relates. The pamphlets   which have been termed offensive deal with educational and health matters and   are designed to helpful to the negro. But supersensitive persons seem to have   found them objectionable. Very well. We shall continue to educate against   misceganiation and the mixture of negro blood with the white race in Virginia   and elsewhere. If they want to dismiss me, let them go ahead. I suppose they   will take the salary away from me, too. The salary is $1 a year.”

The State Registrar of Vital Statistics exhibited some of the pamphlets   issued, which are credited on the title pages as being sponsored by “the   Bureau of Child Welfare and the State Board of Health, co-operating with the   Children’s Bureau, Department of Labor, U.S.A.”

One of these little booklets, “Help for Midwives,” carries the   picture of a smartly uniformed negro woman, a midwife. Another pamphlet it   “Bread for the New Family,” another “Feeding the New   Family,” another “Eugenics in Relation to the New Family.” The   last named carries also the Virginia racial integrity law.

Davis Writes to Association.

The Associated Press yesterday   carried under a New York dateline the following news story relating to the   protest made to Secretary of Labor Davis and the result of it:

“The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People   announced today the receipt of a letter from Secretary of Labor Davis saying   that steps had been taken to cancel the “nominal appointment” of   Dr. W. A. Plecker as special agent in the Children’s Bureau for distributing   bulletins which the association charged, cast reflections on the negro race.

“Dr. Plecker is Registrar of Vital Statistics in Virginia, in addition   to his connection with the Children’s Bureau.

“The association quoted the bulletins as containing references to the   negroes’ ‘inferiority’ and other derogatory statements. Secretary Davis in   his letter said that issuance of the bulletins by Dr. Plecker was ‘entirely   without the scope of his authority.”



1895- “The So-Called Moors of Delaware” from the Milford Herald


1895 “The So-Called Moors of Delaware” by George P. Fisher

Milford Herald, 15 June 1895

Reprinted by the Public Archives Commission of Delaware, 1929

When I was a boy and young man, the general impression prevailing in the   several parts of this State where this race of people had settled was that   they had sprung from some Spanish Moors who, by chance, had drifted from the   southern coast of Spain prior to the Revolutionary War and settled at various   points on the Atlantic Coast of the British colonies; but exactly where and   when, nobody could tell.

This story of their genesis seemed to have originated with, or at any rate,   was adopted by the last Chief Justice, Thomas Clayton, whose great learning   and research gave semblance of authority to it, and, like almost everybody   else, I accepted it as the true one for many years, although my father, who   was born and reared in that portion of Sussex County where these people were   more numerous than in any other part of the State, always insisted that they   were an admixture of Indian, negro and white man, and gave his reason   therefore–that he had always so understood from Noke Norwood, whom I knew   when I was a small boy. Noke lived, away back in the 20’s, in a small shanty   long since removed, situated near what has been known for more than a century   as Sand Tavern Lane, on the West side of the Public Road and nearly in front   of the farmhouse now owned by Hon. Jonathan S. Willis, our able and popular   Representative in Congress.

I well remember with what awe I contemplated his gigantic form when I first   beheld him. My father had known him as a boy, and I never passed his cabin   without stopping. He was a dark, copper-colored man, about six feet and half   in height, of splendid proportions, perfectly straight, coal black hair   (though at least 75 years old), black eyes and high cheek bones.

When I became Attorney General of the State it fell to my lot to investigate   the pedigree of this strange people, among whom was Norwood. At that day   Norwood was held in great reverence as being one of the oldest of his race.   This I learned from my father, who knew him for many years, when they both   lived in the neighborhood of Lewes, in Sussex County.

I have spoken of this race as a strange people, because I have known some   families among them all of whose children possessed the features, hair and   eyes of the pure Caucasian, while in other families the children would all be   exceedingly swarthy in complexion but with perfectly straight black hair, and   occasionally a family whose children ranged through nearly the entire racial   gamut, from the perfect blond to at least a quadroon mulatto, and quite a   number who possessed all the appearance of a red-haired, freckle-faced   Hibernian.

My investigation of their genealogy came about in the trial of Levin Sockum,   one of the race, upon an indictment found by the grand jury of Sussex County,   against him, for selling ammunition to Isaiah Harmon, one of the same race,   who was alleged in the indictment to be a free mulatto.

The indictment was framed under the 9th Section of Chapter 52, of the Revised   Statutes of the State of Delaware, Edition of 1852, page 145, which reads in   this wise: “If any person shall sell or loan any firearms to any negro   or mulatto, he shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be fined   twenty dollars.”

The proof of the sale of a quarter of a pound of powder and pound of shot to   Harmon was given by Harmon himself; and in fact, admitted by Sockum’s   attorney. So that the only fact I had to establish, in order to convict   Sockum, was to identify Harmon as being a mulatto, and to do this I had to   establish my proof, by a member of his family, Harmon’s pedigree. To do this,   Lydia Clark, who swore that she was of blood kin to Harmon, was permitted to   testify as to the traditions of the family in respect to their origin. Harmon   was a young man, apparently about five and twenty years of age, of perfect   Caucasian features, dark chestnut brown hair, rosy cheeks and hazel eyes; and   in making comparison of his complexion with others, I concluded that of all   the men concerned in the trial he was the most perfect type of the pure   Caucasian, and by odds the handsomest man in the court room, and yet he was   alleged to be a mulatto. The witness, Lydia Clark, his kinswoman, then 87   years old, though only a half-breed, was almost as perfect a type of the   Indian as I ever saw. She was as spry as a young girl in her movements, and   of intelligence as bright as a new dollar; and this was substantially the   genealogical tradition she gave of her family and that of Harmon.

About fifteen or twenty years before the Revolutionary War, which she said   broke out when she was a little girl some five or sex years old, there was a   lady of Irish birth living on a farm in Indian River Hundred, a few miles   distant from Lewes, which she owned and carried on herself. Nobody appeared   to know anything of her history or her antecedents. Her name she gave as Regua,   and she was childless, but whether a maid or widow, or a wife astray, she   never disclosed to anyone. She was much above the average woman of that day   in stature, beauty and intelligence.

The tradition described her as having a magnificent complexion, large and   dark blue eyes and luxuriant hair of the most beautiful shade, usually called   light auburn. After she had been living in Angola Neck quite a number of   years, a slaver was driven into Lewes Creek, then a tolerable fair harbor,   and was there, weather-bound, for several days. It was lawful then, for these   were colonial times, to import slaves from Africa. Queen Elizabeth, to   gratify her friend and favorite, Sir John Hawkins, had so made it lawful more   than a century prior to this time.

Miss or Mrs. Regua, having heard of the presence of the slaver in the harbor,   and having lost one of her men slaves, went to Lewes, and to replace him,   purchased another from the slave ship. She selected a very tall, shapely and   muscular young fellow of dark ginger-bread color, who claimed to be a prince   or chief of one of the tribes of the Congo River which had been overpowered   in a war with a neighboring tribe and nearly all slain or made prisoners and   sold into perpetual slavery. This young man had been living with his mistress   but a few months when they were duly married and, as Lydia told the court and   jury, they reared quite a large family of children, who as they grew up were   not permitted to associate and intermarry with their neighbors of pure   Caucasian blood, nor were they disposed to seek associations or alliance with   the negro race; so that they were so necessarily compelled to associate and   intermarry with the remnant of the Nanticoke tribe of Indians who still   lingered in their old habitations for many years after the great body of the   tribe had been removed further towards the setting sun.

This race of people for the first two or three generations continued   principally to ———– of Sussex County and more particularly in the   neighborhood of Lewes, Millsboro, Georgetown and Milton, but during the last   sixty or seventy years they have increased the area of their settlement very   materially and now are to be found in almost every hundred in each county in   the State, but mostly in Sussex and Kent. From their first origin to the   present time they have continued to segregate themselves from the American   citizens of African descent, having their own churches and schools as much as   practicable.

With very rare exceptions these people make good citizens. They are almost   entirely given up to agricultural pursuits, but they have managed to pick up   sufficient knowledge of carpentry and masonry to enable them to build their   own homes. They are industrious, frugal, thrifty, law abiding and respectful.   During my long practice at the bar I have never known but two instances in   which one of their race has been brought into court for violations of the   law.

One of these was the case of Sockum, tried in Sussex in 1857, and the other   was that of Cornelius Hansor of Milford Hundred, tried at Dover in 1888 or   1889. Sockum’s case originated in the private spite of envious Caucasian   neighbors, and Hansor in the envy and malice of one of his neighbors who   charged him with an attempt to commit murder by shooting his accuser.

I defended Hansor against the charge and it was shown by the testimony of   several of the most respectable men in the vicinage that Hansor was a man of   exemplary character for peace and good order, a truthful and estimable   Christian, and that instead of being the aggressor his accuser was shown to   have attempted to shoot Hansor. Such was the opinion of the jurors who tried   the case. I suggested to Hansor that he had better go before the grand jury   at the next term of court and make complaint against his persecutor. But he   replied, “With thanks to you for your advice and my acquittal, I most   respectfully decline, as the Good Book teaches us to pray for those who   despitefully use and persecute us; and I shall leave Mr. Loper to God and his   conscience, praying myself that he may become a more peaceable man and   Christian.

Some years ago, I received a note from a lady in Philadelphia stating that   she had heard of the trial of Levin Sockum, and that it had developed the   origin of the yellow people, the so-called Moors of Delaware, and requesting   me to give an account of it, which I did. In her letter thanking me for it   she gave me the following story:

“Mrs. ***, whom you mentioned, a New Jersey lady, was an English woman   by birth, highly connected, of refined associations and superbly educated. As   a young girl she fled from her friends whom she was visiting in this city   with ***, whose acquaintance she made at a dancing school, and who was   represented to her as being a Spaniard of wealth and good family. Fair as a   lily and as pure, she did not discover until after the marriage either the   occupation or real condition of her husband as a man tabooed by his fellow   men for supposed taint of African blood. She believed him to be of Moorish   descent and one of the best and noblest of human kind; his ostracism and her   own (she was even denied a pew in the Episcopal church in which she was   educated and confirmed) surely though slowly killed her.

“Desdemona,” as her friends who knew her well called her, died   suddenly of heart disease brought on by mental suffering, leaving three or   four children, all golden haired, blue-eyed, flower-like little ones to be   educated in France, where their origin, even if known, would never affect   their standing socially. They remained until the Franco-Prussian was broke   out and were, I think, sent to England. Mr. *** with great self-denial,   voluntarily accepted for himself a life of loneliness in a country where his   pecuniary interests compelled him to remain. He is highly esteemed, but still   socially ostracized.”

The father of this gentleman I knew very well many years ago. He was a   resident of Kent County. The gentleman himself I knew by sight only. He   seemed to me to be quite a shade fairer in complexion than myself. He has,   since the letter I quoted was written, filled a very high and responsible   position under the Federal Government with great credit to himself and   satisfaction to the Government.


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.


1891- “The Malungeons” from The Arena


1891 March “The Malungeons” from The Arena by Drumgoole

Were you ever when a child half   playfully told “The Malungeons will get you?” If not, you were never a   Tennessee child, as some of our fathers were; they tell all who may be told   of that strange, almost forgotten race, concerning whom history is strangely   silent. Only upon the records of the state of Tennessee does the name appear.   The records show that by act of the Constitutional Convention of 1834, when   the “Race Question” played such a conspicuous part in the deliberations of   that body, the Malungeons, as a “free person of color,” was denied the right   of suffrage. Right there he dropped from the public mind and interest. Of no   value as a slave, with no voice as a citizen, what use could the public make   of the Malungeon? When John Sevier attempted to organize the State of   Franklin, there was living in the mountains of Eastern Tenessee a colony of   dark-skinned, reddish-brown complexioned people, supposed to be of Moorish   descent, who affiliated with neither whites nor blacks, and who called   themselves Malungeons, and claimed to be of Poruguese descent. They lived to   themselves exclusively, and were looked on as neither negroes nor Indians.

All the negroes ever brought to America came as slaves; the Malungeons were   never slaves, and until 1834 enjoyed all the rights of citizenship. Even in   the Convention which disfranchised them, they were referred to as “free   persons of color” or “Malungeons.”

Their condition from the organization of the State of Tennessee to the close   of the civil war is most accurately described by John A. McKinley, of Hawkins   County, who was chairman of the committee to which was referred all matters   affecting these “free persons of color.”

Said he, speaking of free persons of color, “It means Malungeons if it means   anything. Although ‘fleecy locks and black complexion’ do not forfeit   Nature’s claims, still it is true that those locks and that complexion mark   every one of the African race, so long as he remains among the white race, as   a person doomed to live in the suburbs of society.

“Unenviable as is the condition of the slave, unlovely as slavery is in all   its aspects, bitter as is the draught the slave is doomed to drink,   nevertheless, his condition is better than that of the ‘free man of color’ in   the midst of a community of white men with whom he has no interest, no   fellow-feeling and no equality.” So the Constitutional convention left these   the most pitiable of all outcasts; denied their oath in court, and deprived   of the testimony of their own color, left utterly helpless in all legal   contests, they naturally, when the State set the brand of the outcast upon   them, took to the hills, the isolated peaks of the uninhabited mountains, the   corners of the earth, as it were, where, huddled together, they became as law   unto themselves, a race indeed separate and distinct from the several races   inhabiting the State of Tennessee.

So much, or so little, we glean from the records. From history we get   nothing; not so much as the name, – Malungeons.

In the farther valleys they were soon forgotten: only now and then and old   slave-mammy would frighten her rebellious charge into subjection with the   threat, – “The Malungeons will get you in you ain’t pretty.” But to the   people of the foot hills and nearer valleys, they became a living
terror; sweeping down upon them, stealing their cattle, their provisions, their   very clothing, and household furniture.

They became shiftless, idle, thieving, and defiant of all law, distillers of   brandy, almost to a man. The barren height upon which they located, offered   hope of no other crop so much as fruit, and they were forced, it would   appear, to utilize their one opportunity.

After the breaking out of the war, some few enlisted in the army, but the   greater number remained with their stills, to pillage and plunder among the   helpless women and children.

Their mountains became a terror to travelers; and not until within the last   half decade has it been regarded as safe to cross Malungeon territory.

Such they were; or so do they come to us through tradition and the State’s   records. As to what they are any who feel disposed may go and see. Opinion is   divided concerning them, and they have their own ideas as to their descent. A   great many declare them mulattoes, and base their belief upon the ground that   at the close of the civil war negroes and Malungeons stood upon precisely the   same social lfooting. “free men of color” all, and that the fast vanishing   handful opened thier doors to the darker brother, also groaning under the   brand of social ostracism. This might, at first glance, seem probable,   indeed, reasonable.

Yet if we will consider a moment, we shall see that a race of mulattoes   cannot exist as these Malungeons have existed. The race goes fromt mulattoes   to quadroons, from quadroons to octoroons, and there it stops. The octoroon   women bear no children, but in every cabin of the Malungeons may be found   mothers and grandmothers, and very often great-grandmothers.

“Who are they, then?” you ask. I can only give you their own theory – If I   may call it such – and to do this I must tell you how I found them, and   something of my stay among them.

First. I saw in an old newspaper some slight mention of them. With this tiny   clue I followed their trail for three years. The paper merely stated that   “somnewhere in the mountains of Tennessee there existed a remanant of people   called Malungeons, having a distinct color, characteristics,and dialect. It   seemed a very hopeless search, so utterly were the Malungeons forgotten, and   I was laughed at no little for my “new crank.” I was even called “a   Malungeon” more than once, and was about to abandon my “crank” when a member   of the Tennessee
State Senate, of which I happened at that time to be engrossing clerk, spoke   of a brother senator as being “tricky as a Malungeon.”

I pounced on him the moment his speech was completed. “Seantor,” I said,   “what is a Malungeon?”

“A dirty Indian sneak,” said he. “Go over yonder and ask Senator _____; they   live in his

I went at once.

“Senator, what is a Malungeon?” I asked again.

“A Portuguese nigger,” was the reply. “Representative T____ can tell you all   about them, they live in his county.”

From “district” to “county” was quick travelling. And into the House of   Representatives I went, fast upon the lost trail of the forgotten Malungeons.

“Mr. ____,” said I, “please tell me what is a Malungeon?”

“A Malungeon,: 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 Reublican ticket.” I merely mention all this to show how the   Malungeons to-day are regarded, and to show show I tracked them to Newman’s   Ridge in Hancock County, where within four miles of one of the prettiest   county towns in Tennessee, may be found all that remains of that outcast race   whose descent is a riddle the historian has never solved. In appearance they   bear a striking resemblance to the Cherokees, and they are beleived by the   people round about to be a kind of half-breed Indian.

Thier complexion is a reddish brown, totally unlike the mulatto. The men are   very tall and straight, with small, sharp eyes, high cheek bones, and   straight black hair, worn rather long. The women are small, below the average   height, coal black hair and eyes, high cheek bones, and the same red-brown   complexion. The hands of the Malungeon women are quite shapely and pretty.   Also their feet, despite the fact that they trravel the sharp mountain trails   barefoot, are short and shapely. Their features are wholly unlike those of   the negro, except in cases where the two races have cohabited, as is sometimes   the fact. These instances can be readily detected, as can those of   cohabitation withthe mountaineer; for the pure Malungeons present a   characteristic and individual appearance. On the Ridge proper, one finds only   pure Malungeons; it is in the unsavory limits of Black Water Swamp and on Big   Sycamore Creek,lying at the foot of the Ridge betweenit and Powell’s   Mountain, that the mixed races dwell.

In Western and Middle Tennessee the Malungeons are forgotten long ago. And   iundeed, so nearly complete has been the extinction of the race that in but   few counties of Eastern Tennessee is it known. In Hancock you may hear them,   and see them, almost the instant you cross into the county line. There they   are distinguished as
“Ridgemanites,” or pure “Malungeons.” Those among them whom the white or   negro blood has entered are called the “Black-Waters.” The Ridge is admirable   adapted to the purpose of wild-cat distilling, being crossed by but one road   and crowned with jungles of chinquapin, cedar, and wahoo.

Of very recent years the dogs of the law have proved too sharp-eyed and bold   even for the lawless Malungeons, so that such of the furnace fires as have   not been extinguished are built underground.

They are a great nuisance to the people of the county seat, where, on any   public day, and especially on election days, they may be seen squatted about   the streets, great strapping men, or little brown women baking themselves in   the sun like mud figures set to dry.

The people of the town do not allow them to enter their dwellings, and even   refuse to employ them as servants, owing to their filthy habit of chewing   tobacco and spitting upon the floors, together with their ignorance or   defiance of the difference between meum and tuum.

They are exceedingly shiftless, and in most cases filthy.They care for   nothing except their pipe, their liquor, and a tramp “ter towin.” They will   walk to Sneedville and back sometimes twice in twelve hours, up a steep trail   though an almost unbroken wilderness, and never seem to suffer the least fatigue.

They are not at all like the Tennessee mountaineer either in appearance or   characteristics. The mountaineer, however poor,is clean, – cleanliness   itself. He is honest (I speak of him as a class) he is generous, trustful,   until once betrayed; truthful, brave, and possessing many of the noblest and   keenest sensibilities. The Malungeons are filthy, their home is filthy. The   are rogues, natural, “born rogues,” close, suspicious, inhospitable,   untruthful, cowardly, and to use their own word, “sneaky.” They are   exceedingly inquisitive too, and will traila visitor to the Ridge for miles,   through seemingly impenetrable jungles, to discover, if may be, the object of   his visit. They expect remuneration for the slightest service. The   mountaineer’s door stands open, or at most the string of the latch dangles   upon the “outside.” He takes you for what you seem until you shall prove   yourself otherwise.

In many things they resemble the negro. They are exceedingly immoral, yet are   great shouters and advocates of religion. They call themselves Baptists,   although their mode of baptism is that of the Dunkard.

There are no churches on the Ridge, but the one I visited in Black Water   Swamp was beyond question and inauguration of the colored element. At this   church I saw white women with negro babies at their breasts – Malungeon women   with white or with black husbands, and some, indeed, having the trhree   separate races represented in their children; showing thereby the gross   immorality that is practised among them. I saw an old negro whose wife was a   white woman, and who had been several times arrested, and released on his   plea of “Portygee” blood, which he declared had colored his skin, not   African.

The dialect of the Malungeons is a cross between that of the mountaineer and   the negro – a corruption, perhaps, of both. The letter R occupies but a   smallplace in their speech, and they have a peculiar habit of omitting the   last letter, sometimes the last syllable of their words. For instance “good   night” – is “goo’ night.” “Give” is “gi’,” etc. They do not drawl like the   mountaineers but, on the contrary, speak rapidly and talk a great deal. The   laugh of the Malungeon women is the most exquisitely musicle jingle, a   perfect ripple of sweet sound. Their dialect is exceedingly difficult to   write, owing to their habit of curtailing their words.

The pure Malungeons, that is the old men and women, have no toleration for   the negro, and nothing insults them so much as the suggestion of negro blood.   Many pathetic stories are told of their battle against the black race, which   they regard as the cause of their downfall, the annihilation, indeed, of the   Malungeons, for when the races began to mix and to intermarry, and the   expression, “A Malungeon nigger” came into use, the last barrier vanished,   and all were regarded as somewhat upon a social level.

They are very like the Indians in many respect, _ their fleetness of   foot,cupidity, cruelty (as practised duringthe days of their illicit   distilling), their love for the forest, their custom of living without doors,   one might almost say, – for truly the little hovels could not be called   homes, – and their taste for liquor and tobacco.

They believe in witchcraft, “yarbs,” and more than one “charmer” may be found   among them. They will “rub away” a wart or mole for ten cents, and one old   squaw assured me she had some “blood beads” the “wair bounter heal all manner   o’ blood ailimints.”

They are limited somewhat as to names: their principal families being the   Mullins, Gorvens, Collins, and Gibbins.

They resort to a very peculiar method of distinguishing themselves. Jack   Collins’ wife for instance will be Mary Jack. His son will be Ben Jack. His   daughters’ names will be similar: Nancy Jack or Jane Jack, as the case may   be, but always having the father’s Christian name attached.

Their homes are miserable hovels, set here and there in the very heart of the   wilderness. Very few of their cabins have windows, and some have only an   opening cut through the wall for a door. In winter an old quild tis hung before   it to shut out the cold. They do not welcome strangers among them, so that I   went to the Ridge somewhat doubtful as to my reception. I went, however,   determined to be one of them, so I wore a suit as nearly like their own as I   could get it. I had some trouble securing boards, but did succeed at last in   doing so by paying the enormous sum of fifteen cents. I was put to sleep in a   little closet opening off the family room. My room had no windows, and but   the one door. The latch was carefully removed before I went in, so that I had   no means of egress, except through the family room, and no means by which to   shut myself in. My bed was of straw, not the sweet-smelling straw we read of.   The Malungeons go a long way for their straw, and they evidently make it go a   long way when they do get it. I was called to breakfast the next morning   while the gray mists still held the mountain in its arms. I asked for water   tobathe my face and was sent to “ther branch,” a beautiful little mountain   stream crossing the trail some few hundred yeards from the cabin.

Breakfast consisted of corn bread, wild honey, and bitter coffee. It was   prepared and eaten in the garret, or roof room, above the family room. A few   chickens, the only fowl I saw on the Ridge, also occupied the roof room.   Coffee is quite common among the Malungeons; they drink it without   sweetening, and drink it cold at all hours of the day or nights. They have no   windows and no candles, consequently, they retire with the going of the   daylight. Many of their cabins have no floors other than that which Nature   gave, but one that I remember had a floor made of trees slit in half, the   bark still on, placed with the flat side to the ground. The people of the   house slept on leaves with an old gray blanket for covering. Yet the master   of the house, who claims to be an Indian, and who, without doubt, possesses   Indian blood, draws a pension of twenty-nine dollars per month. He can   neither read nor write, is a lazy fellow, fond of apple brandy and bitter   coffee, has a rollicking good time with an old fiddle which he plays with his   thumb, and boasts largely of his Cherokee grandfather and his government   pension. In one part of his cabin (there are two rooms and a connecting shed)   the very stumps of the trees still remain. I had my artist sketch him sitting   upon the stump of a monster oak which stood in the very center of the shed or   hallway.

This family did their cooking at a rude fireplace built near the spring, as a   matter of convenience.

Another family occupied one room, or apartment, of a stable. The stock fed in   another (the stock belonged, let me say, to someone else) and the “cracks”   between the logs of the separating partition were of such depth a small child   could have rolled from the bed in one apartment into the trough in the other.   How they exist among such squalor is a mystery.

Their dress consists, among the women, of a short loose calico skirt and a   blouse that boasts of neither hook nor button. Some of these blouses were   fastened with brass pins conspicuously bright. Others were tied together by   means of strings tacked on either side. They wear neither shoes nor stockings   in the summer, and many of them go barefoot all winter. The men wear jeans,   and may be seen almost any day tramping barefoot across the mountain.

They are exceedingly illiterate, none of them being able to read. I found one   school among them, taught by an old Malungeon, whose literary accomplishments   amounted to a meagre knowledge of the alphabet and the spelling of words.   Yet, he was very earnest,, and called lustily to the “chillering” to “spry   up,” and to “learn the book.”

This school was located in the loveliest spot my eyes ever rested upon. An   eminence overlooking the beautiful valley of the Clinch and the purple peaks   beyond/illows and billows of mountains, so blue, so exquisitely wrapped in   their delicate mist-veil, one almost doubts if they be hills or heaven.While   through the slumbrous vale the silvery Clinch, the fairest of Tennessee’s   fair streams, creeps slowly, like a drowsy dream river, among the purple

The eminence itself is entirely barren save for one tall old cedar, and the   schoolmaster’s little log building. It presents a very weird, wild, yet   majestic scene, to the traveller as he climbs up from the valley.

Near the schoolhouse is a Malungeon grave-yard. The Malungeons are very   careful for their dead. They build a kind of floorless house above each   separate grave, many oof the homes of the dead being far better than the   dwellings of the living. The grave-yard presents the appearance of a   diminutive town, or settlement, and is kept with great nicety and care. They   mourn their dead for years, and every friend and acquaintence is expected to   join in the funeral arrangements. They follow the body to the grave,   sometimes formiles, afoot, in single file. Their burial ceremonies are   exceedingly interesting and peculiar.

They are an unfogiving people, although, unlike the sensitive mountaineer,   they are slow to detect an insult, and expect to be spit upon. But injury to   life or property they never forgive. Several odd and pathetic instances of   Malungeon hate came under my observation while among them, but they would   cover too much space in telling.

Within the last two years the railroad has struck within some thirty miles of   them, and its effects are becoming very apparent. Now and then a band of   surveyors, or a lone mineralogist will cross Powell’s mountain, and pass   through Mulbery Gap just beyond Newman’s Ridge. So near, yet never nearer.   The hills around are all said to be crammed with coal or irton, burt Newman’s   Ridge can offer nothing to the capitalist. It would seem that the Malungeons   had chosen the one spot, of all that magnificent creation, not to be desired.

Yet, they have heard of the railroad, the great bearer of commerce, and   expect it, in a half-regretful, half-pathetic way.

They have four questions, always, for the stranger: –

“Whatcher name?”

“Wher’d yer come fum?”

“How old er yer?”

“Did yer hear en’thin’ er ther railwa’ comin’ up ther Ridge?”

As if it might step into their midst any day.

The Malungeons believe themselves to be of Cherokee and Portuguese   extraction. They cannot account for the Portuguese blood, but are very bold   in declaring themselves a remnant of those tribes, or that tribe, still inhabiting   the mountains of North Carolina, which refused to follow the tribes to the   Reservation set aside for them.

There is a theory that the Portuguese pirates, known to have visited these   waters, came ashore and located in the mountains of North Carolina. The   Portuguese “streak,” however, is scouted by those who claim for the   Malungeons a drop of African blood, as, quite early in the settlement of   Tennessee, runaway negroes settled among the Cherokees, or else were captured   and adopted by them.

However, with all the light possible to be thrown upon them, the Malungeons   are, and will remain, a mystery. A more pathetic case than theirs cannot be   imagined. They are going, the little space of hills ‘twixt earth and heaven   alloted them, will soon be free of the dusky tribe, whose very name is a   puzzle. 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.


1890- “A Strange People” article from the Sunday American newspaper


1890 September “A Strange People”

Nashville Sunday American, September 1, 1890

Habits, Customs and   Characteristics of Malungeons.

Little Given to Social Intercourse With the Neighbors.

A School Teacher Who Can Neither Read Nor Write – Dancing the Favorite   Pastime

I have made a careful study and inquiry as to the name Malungeon, but have   been unable as yet to place it. It has an Indian sound, but the Malungeons   themselves have no idea as to its origin or meaning.

These people, of whom so little is known, inhabit an isolated corner of the   earth, known as Newman’s ridge, in Hancock county. They are within five miles   of one of the prettiest county seats in Tennessee. They mix very little with   the natives of the county, and seem to care very little about the world   beyond their isolated habitation. Their homes are miserable hovels, set in   the very heart of the wilderness. There is not, I am told, a family on the   ridge other than the Malungeons.

At one house where I stopped I was put in a closet to sleep. The room had no   windows and the door opened into my landlady’s room. The latch was removed   before I retired. My bed was made of straw and I was not its sole inhabitant,   not by an overwhelming majority. My food consisted of corn bread, honey and   bitter coffee. At another place, I climbed a ladder to the roof-room, which   had neither windows nor floor. I did not meet a man or woman in the ridge who   could read.

At the foot of the ridge in what is known as Black Water swamp, the country   is simply magnificent. I boarded there for several days and found the people   exceedingly kind. The ridge proper is the home of the Malungeons.

I visited one house where the floors were of trees, the bark still on them,   and the beds of leaves. The owner was a full-blooded Indian, with keen, black   eyes, straight black hair, high cheeks, and a hook nose. He played upon his   violin with his fingers instead of a bow, and entertained us with a history   of his grandfather, who was a Cherokee chief, and by singing some of the   songs of his tribe. He also described the Malungeon custom of amusements. The   dance is a favorite pastime consisting of a two, four or six-handed reel.   Whiskey is a very popular guest at their entertainments, and fights are not   an uncommon result. In a fight each man’s friends are expected to take sides   and help, and the fight continues until one side at least is whipped.

At another house I visited (if I may call it a house) I found the family,   nine in number, housed in one room of a stable. There were three rooms to the   establishment. The stock (belonging to some one else) was fed in one   department and the family lived in the next. The living room was about 12   feet square and had neither chinking or daubing. There were two beds, and one   of them stood alongside the partition where there were cracks large enough   for a child of 5 years to step through the hay rick on the other side. The   space unoccupied by the beds was about 1 feet [sic], and there being no   chairs, and old quilt was spread upon the floor, and three poor old women   were scattered upon it arranging their Indian locks. The third room was the   cooking department, although several dirty-looking beds occupied space here   and there. I forgot to mention a heap of white ashes in the living room,   which the women utilized for spitting upon. The Malungeons are great lovers   of the weed and all chew and smoke – men, women and children.

I also visited the cabin of a charmer, for you must know these people have   many superstitions. This charmer can remove warts, moles, birth-marks, and   all ugly protuberances by a kind of magic known only to herself. She offered   to remove the mole from my face for 10 cents, and became quite angry when I   declined to part with my lifetime companion.

“Tairsn’t purty, nohers,” she said; “an ‘t air ner sarvice, nurther.”

I cannot spell their dialect as they speak it. It is not the dialect of the   mountaineers, and the last syllable of almost every word is omitted. The “R”   is missing entirely from their vocabulary. There is also a witch among them who   heals sores, rheumatism, “conjures,” etc. They come from ten miles afoot to   consult her

They possess many Indian traits, that of vengeance being strongly   characteristic of them.

They, likewise, resemble the negro in many things. They are sticklers for   religion, and believe largely in water and the “mourner’s bench.” They call   themselves Baptists, although their form of worship is really that of the   Dunkard. They are exceedingly illiterate, but are beginning to take some   interest in educational matters. I visited one of their schools, taught by a   native Malungeon. He could not read, and his pronunciation of the words given   to the spelling class was exceedingly peculiar, as well as ridiculous. Mr.   Thomas Sharpe, of Nashville, made an excellent sketch of this teacher while   he was busy with his class and unconcious that he was “being tuk fur a   pictur.”

There are but three names among them – real Malungeon names – Collins,   Mullins, Gorvens. Lately the name of Gibbins has found a way among them, but   the first three are their real names. They distinguish each other in a most   novel manner. For instance, Calloway Collins’ wife is Ann Calloway, his   daughter is Dorous Calloway, and his son is Jim Calloway.

How they live is a mystery. Their food is the hardest kind, and their homes   unfit shelter for man or beast. In many cases they are extremely immoral and   seem utterly unconscious of either law or cleanliness. Their voices are   exceedingly sweet, and their laugh the merriest, most musical ripple   imaginable, more like the tinkle of a happy little brook among beds of   pebbles than the laugh of a half civilized Malungeon. Even the men speak low   and their voices are not unpleasant. The women are quick, sharp, bright. The   men are slow, lazy, shiftless and shirking, and seem entirely unacquainted   with work, God’s medicine for the miserable.

Their dress is ordinary calico, or cotton, short blouse, without buttons or   other fastenings than brass pins conspicuously arranged, or narrow white   strings tacked on either side the waist and tied in a bow knot.

These strange people have caught, however, the fever raging throughout the   south, and especially through Eastern Tennessee, the iron fever. They believe   their sterile ridges to be crammed full with the precious ore. If it is, the   rocks give no sign, for there are no outcroppings to be found as yet.

At one place I staid to dinner. No one ate with me except my own guide, and   the food and shelter were given grudgingly, without that hearty willingness   which characterizes the old Tennessee mountaineer, who bids you “light and   hitch, feed your critter and be ter home.” I was invited to eat, to be sure,   but the family stood by and eyed me until my portion of bread and honey   almost choked me. Corn bread, thick, black, crusted pones, steaming hot, and   honey sweet enough and clean – aye, clean, for the wild bees made it from the   wild flowers springing straight from God’s planting. I paid 15 cents for my   dinner. A mountaineer would have knocked you down had you offered money for   dinner under such circumstances. Bah! The Malungeon is no more a mountaineer   than am I, born in the heart of the old Volunteer state.

Will Allen


1849- Littels “Living Age” magazine article on the Melungeans

1849 Little’s Living Age Article (Melungeans)

The Melungens

Note: Littel’s Living Age was a popular magazine of the   early nineteenth century that reprinted articles from other publications for   national distribution. This article may have been published in Louisville,   Kentucky, as early as 1847. It appeared as an unsigned article in the   Knoxville Register of September 6, 1848, and was published in Living   Age in March 1849. Thanks to Bill Fields and Under One Sky for this   copy.

We give to-day another amusing and characteristic sketch from a letter of our   intelligent and sprightly correspondent, sojourning at present in one of the   seldom-visited nooks hid away in our mountains.

“You must know that within ten miles of this owl’s nest, there is a watering-place,   known hereabouts as ‘Black-water Springs.’ It is situated in a narrow gorge,   scarcely half a mile wide, between Powell’s Mountain and the Copper Ridge,   and is, as you may suppose, almost inaccessible. A hundred men could defend   the pass against even a Xerxian army. Now this gorge and the tops and sides   of the adjoining mountains are inhabited by a singular species of the human   animal called MELUNGENS.

The legend of their history, which they carefully preserve, is this. A great   many years ago, these mountains were settled by a society of Portuguese   Adventurers, men and women–who came from the long-shore parts of Virginia,   that they might be freed from the restraints and drawbacks imposed on them by   any form of government. These people made themselves friendly with the   Indians and freed, as they were from every kind of social government, they   uprooted all conventional forms of society and lived in a delightful Utopia   of their own creation, trampling on the marriage relation, despising all   forms of religion, and subsisting upon corn (the only possible product of the   soil) and wild game of the woods. These intermixed with the Indians, and   subsequently their descendants (after the advances of the whites into this   part of the state) with the negros and the whites, thus forming the present   race of Melungens. They are tall, straight, well- formed people, of a dark   copper color, with Circassian features, but wooly heads and other similar   appendages of our negro. They are privileged voters in the state in which   they live and thus, you will perceive, are accredited citizens of the   commonwealth. They are brave, but quarrelsome; and are hospitable and   generous to strangers. They have no preachers among them and are almost   without any knowledge of a Supreme Being. They are married by the established   forms, but husband and wife separate at pleasure, without meeting any   reproach or disgrace from their friends. They are remarkably unchaste, and   want of chastity on the part of females is no bar to their marrying. They have   but little association with their neighbors, carefully preserving their race,   or class, or whatever you may call it: and are in every respect, save they   are under the state government, a separate and distinct people.

Now this is no traveler’s story. They are really what I tell you, without   abating or setting down in aught in malice. They are behind their neighbors   in the arts. They use oxen instead of horses in their agricultural attempts,   and their implements of husbandry are chiefly made by themselves of wood.   They are, without exception, poor and ignorant, but apparently happy.

Having thus given you a correct geographical and scientific history of the   people, I will proceed with my own adventures.

The doctor was, as usual my compagnon de voyage, and we stopped at ‘Old   Vardy’s’, the hostelrie of the vicinage. Old Vardy is the ‘chief cook and   bottle-washer’ of the Melungens, and is really a very clever fellow: but his   hotel savors strongly of that peculiar perfume that one may find in the   sleeping-rooms of our negro servants, especially on a close, warm, summer   evening. We arrived at Vardy’s in time for supper, and thus despatched, we   went to the spring, where were assembled several rude log huts, and a small   sprinkling of ‘the natives, together with a fiddle and other preparations for   a dance. Shoes, stockings, and coats were unknown luxuries among them–at   least we saw them not.

The dance was engaged in with right hearty good will, and would have put to   the blush the tame steppings of our beaux. Among the participants was a very   tall, raw-boned damsel, with her two garments fluttering readily in the   amorous night breeze, who’s black eyes were lit up with an unusual fire,   either from the repeated visits to the nearest hut, behind the door of which   was placed an open-mouthed stone jar of new-made corn whiskey, and in which   was a gourd, with a ‘deuce a bit’ of sugar at all, and no water near than the   spring. Nearest here on the right was a lank lantern-jawed, high cheekbone,   long-legged fellow who seemed similarly elevated. Now these two, Jord Bilson   (that was he,) and Syl Varmin, (that was she,)were destined to afford the   amusement of the evening: for Jord, in cutting the pigeon-wing, chanced to   light from one of his aerial flights right upon the ponderous pedal appendage   of Syl, a compliment which this amiable lady seemed in no way to accept   kindly.

‘Jord Bilson,’ said the tender Syl, ‘I’ll thank you to keep your darned hoofs   off my feet.’

‘Oh, Jord’s feet are so tarnel big he can’t manage ’em all by hisself.’   suggested some pasificator near by.

‘He’ll have to keep ’em off me,’ suggested Syl, ‘or I’ll shorten ’em for   him.’

‘Now look ye here, Syl Varmin, ‘ answered Jord, somewhat nettled at both   remarks, ‘I didn’t go to tread on your feet but I don’t want you to be   cutting up any rusties about. You’re nothing but a cross-grained critter,   anyhow.’

‘And you’re a darned Melungen.’

‘Well, if I am, I ain’t nigger-Melungen, anyhow–I’m Indian-Melungen, and   that’s more ‘an you is.’

‘See here, Jord,’ said Syl, now highly nettled, ‘I’ll give you a dollar ef   you’ll go out on the grass and right it out.’

Jord smiled faintly and demurred, adding–‘Go home Syl, and look under your   puncheons and see if you can’t fill a bed outen the hair of them hogs you   stole from Vardy.’

‘And you go to Sow’s cave, Jord Bilson, ef it comes to that, and see how many   shucks you got offen that corn you took from Pete Joemen. Will you take the   dollar?’

Jord now seemed about to consent, and Syl reduced the premium by one half,   and finally came down to a quarter, and then Jord began to offer a quarter, a   half, and finally a dollar: but Syl’s prudence equalled his, and seeing that   neither was likely to accept, we returned to our hotel, and were informed by   old Vardy that the sight we had witnessed was no ‘onusual one. The boys and   gals was jist having a little fun.’

And so it proved, for about midnight we were wakened by a loud noise of   contending parties in fierce combat, and, rising and looking out from the   chinks of our hut, we saw the whole party engaged in a grand me lee; rising   above the din of all which, was the harsh voice of Syl Varmin, calling–

‘Stand back here, Sal Frazar, and let me do the rest of the beaten of Jord   Bilson; I haint forgot his hoofs yit.’

The melee closed, and we retired again, and by breakfast next morning all   hands were reconciled, and the stone jar replenished out of the mutual   pocket, and peace ruled where so lately all had been recriminations and   blows.

After breakfast, just as the supper had been at old Jack’s, save only that we   had a table, we started for Clinch river for a day’s fishing where other and   yet more amusing incidents awaited us. But as I have dwelt upon this early   part of the journey longer than I intended, you must wait till the next   letter for the concluding incidents.”