Appalachia is a region in the central and southern Appalachian Mountains, which partly consist of Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and West Virginia, Georgia and South
Carolina. The people of Appalachia are resilient people that have adapted to the harshness of the mountain life. Throughout the years, they have kept much of their customs, folklore, and history alive by passing down their knowledge generation to generation. One mystery, that remains unresolved, is the forgotten heritage of the
Melungeon people who live amongst the people of Appalachia.
There is no evidence of exactly where the Melungeon people came from and when they arrived. There have been historians, storywriters, and scholars who have tried to discover their exact origin. No one can agree on where the Melungeon heritage came from. The most common belief is they are of Portuguese descent. There are records that report they are tri-racial group, a mixture of White, Negro and Indian descent. Other records, report them as descendants of Mediterranean countries or from Turks and
Moors. DNA testing was used to try to determine the lineage of the Melungeons. This resulted in more questions. Test showed that the majority of the DNA was from “White” descent, which was considered “European” with smaller make up from other nationalities. Because of the decline in “pure”, blood lines, due to marriages and other nationalities mixing, it has become near impossible to discover the true heritage of the
Newman’s Ridge in Hancock county Tennessee is home to the vast majority of the
Melungeons. They were not all born and raised on Newman’s ridge. Many migrated from Southwest Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina. East Tennessee was part of
North Carolina prior to becoming State of Franklin, later to become Tennessee. Some say the Melungeons were here before the White settlers came to the area. Others say they settled about the same time the White man settled. This theory is due to the land grants documented in about 1795. When the Melungeons settled Newman’s
Ridge, they spoke as well as other white men. If they came from other countries, later
DNA tests report them of other ethnic decent, where they part of the pilgrims landing at
Plymouth in 1620. Did Sir Walter Drake abandon them around 1585? Some suggest they are descendants the lost civilization of Roanoke Island. These questions may remain as much of a mystery as the Melungeons themselves. In 1846, several Melungeons cast votes during an election and were arrested for illegal voting, because some did not consider them white. In 1834, the
Tennessee Constitution did not allow voting from any other nationality other than white.
The Melungeons thought of themselves as white, they claimed to Portuguese or of other descent than black. They wanted acceptance as a people and not discriminated against. During the Civil War the Melungeons fought right along with the white men. Most fought with the Union, while some fought with the Confederacy. During the war, there were many crimes committed by soldiers on both sides. When the war was over, people accused the Melungeons of the war crimes without evidence. Many of them were veterans and were shunned by the white people. In 1924, Virginia passed the Virginia
Racial Integrity Act. This act declared people’s nationality as either white or black. The
Melungeons were treated as if they were less human than whites and were subject to be enslaved at any time by slave owners. Many of them sold their property to escape the discrimination and moved west to settle where they would be safe from slavery.
They began to destroy family records and any other documents that indicated they were anything other than white. The dark skinned Melungeons were declared as
Negro and were treated as such.
When the census takers came…