Hundreds of years ago, there were tales of a tri-racial people different from others. This tri-racial group of people was simply called mysterious. In eighteenth century Virginia this mysterious group was pushed and forced further west, higher up in the mountains as Scotch, Irish, English and other settlers moved into the area where the mysterious people had been living for centuries. Racial, social, and cultural differences over three hundred years made them second class citizens in the regions where this people were named Melungeons.
A little mention is made of these Melungeons throughout history as a mysterious and lost people. Nobody seemed to know for sure who these people were or where they came from. They spoke an earlier form of English but with dark skin did not look white European. The loss of rights and land caused many Melungeons to leave the areas where they lived for centuries and to start over in new areas where no one knew them. These people made themselves friendly with the Indians and lived in a peaceful Utopia of their own creations. Afterwards, they married the local Indians, and also subsequently their descendants married the local Negroes and the whites, thus this mixture was going to become the formation of the present day Melungeons. Current popular theory suggests that the Melungeons were descendants of abandoned Portuguese and Spanish settlers.
The English word Melungeon has both Arabic and Turkish roots, meaning "cursed soul." Also in Portuguese, "Melungo" means shipmate. In the Turkish language Melungeons are called Melun-can, "Melun" being a borrowed word from Arabic meaning one that carries bad luck and ill omen. And "can," which is Turkish, means soul. Meluncan then means a person whose soul is a born loser (Melungeons' Home Page). This term was in common usage among sixteenth-century Ottoman Turks, Arabs, and Muslim converts to Christianity in Spain and Portugal, and is still understood by modern Turks as a self-deprecating term by a Muslim who feels abandoned by God.
Traditionally, Melungeons have been darker skinned people and, as a result, have frequently been discriminated against by their Anglo-Saxon neighbors. Many Melungeons have hidden their heritage, and until recently, history has not revealed where they came from or even how long they have lived on the American Continent. During the struggles for land, when the white settlers arrived to the territory of the copper-skinned Melungeons, the whites declared that they were "free persons of color." In many cases this legal designation stripped the Melungeons of their many rights, including the right to vote, to own their own land, educate or send their children to schools, to defend themselves in courts of law, and also to intermarry with anyone who was not also Melungeon. Kennedy, a Melungeon researcher, says that "Melungeons had always been precluded to get all those rights until 1942." This designation led to the taking of Melungeon land by the new white settlers.
Thus, Melungeons are a small group of people of uncertain origin who have lived for years in the mountains of the East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and Western North Carolina. The Melungeons are copper-skinned, dark eyed, and dark haired, but they mostly had English names and were commonly speaking Elizabethan English. Some historians claim that Europeans encountered the Melungeon settlers in the region of Carolina and Virginia. Also the Melungeons mixed with remnants of Indian tribes, but the Melungeons called themselves "Portygee," which means "Portuguese" (Melungeons' Home page).
They over time were generally pigeonholed into one of the four permissible (and inflexible) American racial classifications: white (northern European), black (African), Indian, or mulatto (a mix of the first three, or anyone of questionable racial background). And thus an entire layer of early American ethnic and cultural fusion was effectively "erased." By