Friday, July 14, 2006

A History of a People

DAVID CROCKETT (1786-1836)

*(The next post is somewhat extensive and still very much undefined because of its immense complexity and lack of factual information but please stay with me as I try to cover the topic.)
This is a long post but very important.

A Hidden Race of People in the Appalachian Mountains.

One of the last times I went home to the parents house I turned into the driveway and my mother came running out like usual to greet me. This time her greeting was somewhat different. No “hi” or “hello,” all she said to me before she walked back into the house was “Vaughn, you are part Indian.” For some reason I have heard this a couple of times from members of my extended family but no deeper discussion continues. This has always perplexed me because what I know is that I am Irish. I have traced my family back to Ireland, England, and then America. My family names are Garland, Holley, Crabtree, and Gourtney. Sometimes I think I would have been a cool tree in another life (maybe a shrub.) But the whispers of my family being part American Indian is somewhat never discussed. It was not until recently after speaking with Eric and others, along with doing some of my own research have I stumbled upon the Melungeons. Now, things are making more sense to my family’s statements. But I am still not sure. I guess that is the point.

The Melungeons are now (maybe) considered of as the first group of early settlers to the Americas from Spain, Turkey, Portugal, Greece, and several other Mediterranean countries. The main influence, which brought these groups to America, were the Spanish. Yet, what we know of them is still a mystery for the most part. The Melungeons were very private individuals and for hundreds of years their ancestry was shunned and never really talked about. The Melungeons headed for the hills and mountain valleys of the Appalachian landscape and kept a very secluded life. They lived off the land like that of the Indians and continue to prosper under the identity of other American groups.

What history tells us now is that America was discovered and colonized by the English settler but in fact and what we are now finding out and even allowing is that the Spanish were the first footpaths across our lands. “The Spanish were colonizing the Southeast before the English got there. The most northwestern fort of Spanish Florida was near Knoxville, Tennessee. The coast of Georgia and both North and South Carolina had several Spanish settlements. Santa Elena (Parris Island) was the largest and is being excavated at the present time. Most of the colonial population was not ethnically Spanish, but was drawn from other groups. Marrano Jews (Jews pretending to be Catholic in order to escape persecution), Moriscos (Moorish Arabs and Berbers who joined the Catholic Church to avoid the Inquisition), Portuguese (Portugal was ruled by Spain for a while at this time), and Catalans from Minorca (an island in the Mediterranean) were all important elements in the colonists. Since many of the Jews and Moors were from Portugal, they were frequently called Portuguese.” (Link) These new Americans were of dark skin because of their native lands and so were regarded at the time as free blacks in America. But as these settlers moved from the lowlands into the highlands of America they integrated with the American Indian and the Irish. Most of the time the Melungeon chose Irish names in order to separate themselves from the conflict between freedom and slavery in the segregated south where they were treated as “mongrels’ or “half-breeds” and thus assumed what was considered proper names to fit into the free community. But I must make it very apparent that these settlers also intermixed with the African American community and so a crossing of several groups in a family started to rise. One of the initial intermixing of the Mediterranean settlers came with the influence of Indian cultures and tribes. For many reasons and one documented at the time the Indians began to die off with the arrival of the English sicknesses. The Indians started to intermix with the English and the Melungeons for the basic reason that their children would have a stronger immunity to a new array of diseases brought to America by the arrival of the Europeans. The original term “Melungeon” did not appear until the group reached the Appalachian Mountains, but were referred to as they called themselves, the “Portughese.” Melungeon research directed by Dr Kennedy describes that when Europeans came into the region they noticed that the Melungeons had already farmed the most fertile land in the valleys and so the Europeans stated to push the Melungeons off their land and into the high mountain ridges where Melungeons live to this day.

The American Indian influence with the Melungeons was very important and after further research within language we know that some Indian words come from Mediterranean derivatives. “The principal groups of Indians contributing to the Melungeons were the Siouans of the Virginian and North Carolina Piedmont (mainly the Saponi or Eastern Blackfoot), the Algonquians of the Coastal region of these states (Powhatan, Pamunkey, Nansemond, etc.), and the Appalachian tribes, Southern Iroquoian (Cherokee and Tuskarora) and the Yuchi (Yuchean language is related to the Siouan languages, but not considered close enough to actually be called Siouan). The Indians of the Coastal and Piedmont regions were the mixed groups that formed the original mixed race groups that became the Melungeons and several remnant groups, which still identify themselves as Indian. Appalachian Indians were less mixed with Black and White, but they did not become involved with the Melungeons until the Melungeons had already formed and moved from the Virginia - North Carolina border in the Piedmont to the Appalachia area. The Cherokee particularly inter-married with the Graysville Melungeons of the Tennessee River Valley. The Saponi are probably the most important Indian element in most groups of Melungeons. As they broke up and scattered, they were generally known as Blackfoot. That is the name used for them in the Melungeons of Appalachia, the Cherokee and in the Black community. There are many Blackfoot descendants in all three of these groups… Melungeons today may identify themselves as Mestee (triracial or multiracial), White, Black or Indian. They may be found anywhere, but many are still in the states of NC, VA, TN, KY, OH, WV, AL, LA, TX, AR, MO and FL. The Melungeons formed in the Piedmont of Virginia and North Carolina, not in the Appalachian Mountains, and three of the main groups never were in the Appalachians, the original Goinstown group, the Graysville Melungeons and the Person County group, so those definitions that describe the Melungeons as Appalachian are wrong. Of course, many Melungeons did and do live in the Appalachians, and that is where the word Melungeon was popularized. Of the eleven separate groups identified as Melungeon, five are in the Appalachians and six are not.” (Link )

Until very recently and since the arrival of these Mediterranean settlers the Melungeons sought secrets in their identity. They were forced to be silent because of racial segregation but in the mountains where secrets are common place these extraordinary individuals have lived off the land like that of the farmers, they have become travelers, and Indians, and have continued to be a people of a quiet strength. Their story is very important to us and to the history of our nation.

DAVID CROCKETT (1786-1836) came from a Tennessee French Huguenot family originally from Bordeaux in southern France (Crocquetaine). The family evidently before that were Spanish-Portuguese Jews. He exhibited good looks typical of Sephardic Jews as well as an acid wit in storytelling and is remembered as the father of political public relations in American history. Crockett identified strongly with the Cherokee Indians and opposed their removal both in Congress and in virulent pamphleteering campaigns.

Image above from


CSL said...

I love the Melungeon post. I've had dealings with a few, mostly from the Sneedville area, and it's an interesting story. But you know what I like even better? Your summary of the changing ant dynasties. Now THAT's history.

Jeremy Peters said...

Glad to see attention paid to the Melungeons!

One year at E&H, Brent Kennedy, who helped organize the Melungeon Research committee and later the Melungeon Heritage Association, spoke about the Melungeons.

His research into their history began with some health problems he had and for which he could find no answers. Turned out it was a genetic trait specific to Moorish people.

Fascinating stuff.

Thanks for the post!

History Chasers said...

Interesting article and links. For the historical facts, please visit:


History Chasers