Skip to main content

Mystery of The Melungeon People

Newmans Ridge Tennessee

Newmans Ridge Tennessee

The Proud Melungeons

The Proud Melungeons

Appalachian  Mountains, Tn

Appalachian Mountains, Tn

Who Were the Melungeon People

One of the theories of the Melungeon (Malangeon) )was that they were descendants of Portuguese sailors who had shipwrecked off Virginia and then ventured inland and eventually intermingling with Native American Indians. Perhaps this is how they would become known by dark hair and skin with light-colored eyes. They looked almost Mediterranean or Middle Eastern, certainly proud people.

It's possible they were the first American settlers before the Europeans arrived. The Journal of Genetic Genealogy refers to a tri-racial offspring of sub-Saharan African men, white women of Europe, and Native Americans.

Slowly they moved from Virginia thru North Carolina and into Tennessee. Finally, a large group of them settled in the area of Newmans Ridge high in the hills overlooking the small town of Sneedville. During the last half of the eighteenth century, land surveyors encountered settlers between Newmans Ridge and Powell Mountain. Census records of 1790 labeled them as 'free persons of color.'

In 1930 about forty Melangeon families lived in the area, where they had been for two hundred years. But, today, only two families are left in the area with many, many descendants throughout America.

This label meant they were denied right given to whites and certainly segregated from their neighbors. In the segregated south, the Melungeons were descr\ibed as mongrels and half-breeds.

For so long, they were ostracized and humiliated. It is no wonder they retreated to the mountains.

And so, they retreated into the mountains, choosing to live amongst themselves. They lived in poverty, grew their own vegetables, chickens, and hogs. It had to have been a hard life, mostly in isolation from neighbors. Eventually, some men enlisted to fight in WW I, and others to work in the coalfields.

Another theory existed that said they were the 'Lost Colony of Roanoke.' Then there was a theory they were descendants of the Welsh explorer Madoc who explored the region in the 1100s. Does it really matter where they came from and who were their ancestors as we are all of 'mixed heritage?'

Melangeon Family

Melangeon Family

Typical Melangeon Cabin

Typical Melangeon Cabin

Other Theories of the Melangeons

It has been suggested that Sir Francis Drake is said to have unloaded hundreds of Turks he liberated from the Spanish in 1587. But, again, it's possible this group moved inland, mingling with Native Americans, and eventually moved into Tennessee. Their journey would have taken them from Virginia, through North Carolina, and into Eastern Tennessee.

Another theory was regarding Hernando de Soto and his soldiers who were in the area in 1540 that when they returned to their home in Spain, many of his soldiers and slaves were left behind. Thus, history says that DeSoto were the first Europeans and Africans to visit Tennessee.



Possible Melangeons

Since 1970 there has been a renewed interest in the genealogy of the Melungeons and their descendants. Some possible names are; Elvis Presley, whose great grandmother was Morning Dove White, a Cherokee Indian, Ava Gardner, Tom Hanks, Steve Martin, and even President Abe Lincoln. These are only suppositions, none proven.

Melungeons rarely caused any problems, but a few folk heroes like Mahala (Collins) Mullins(1824-1898), a favorite moonshiner. Mahala had between 13-19 children and ran her moonshine business from her bed. She weighed over 300 pounds, and by the time she died, her weight increased to 500 pounds. Some of that could be attributed to her suffering from elephantiasis. She was so big that her cabin wall had to be removed to get her out for burial.

She was known as the best moonshiner of Newman's Ridge with people coming for miles for her craft.

Her cabin was built in the 1850s, and in later years, the Vardy Historical Society lovingly and piece by piece moved her cabin to their museum for preservation.

Scroll to Continue

Mahala Mullins Cabin

Mahala Mullins Cabin

Folk Legend Mahala Mullins

Folk Legend Mahala Mullins

Researchers of the Melangeons

Dr. N. Brent Kennedy, history professor and founder of the Melangeon Heritage Association, has a theory that the first people in Appalachia may have been Ottoman Turks brought by Portuguese settlers in the 16th century. His theory explains that hundreds of words found in local Indian dialects have the same meanings in Turkish and Arabic languages. He has detailed his personal experiences and interviews in his book, Footprints From the Past.

Jack Goins, a researcher who has spent forty years researching his ancestors, had his DNA checked and was so surprised to find African blood that he did the DNA test three times. He estimated today there are likely several thousand descendants of the proud people of the Melangeons scattered across America.

So the origin of the proud Melangeon people of Newman's Ridge, Tennessee, may never be for certain it remains that they overcame adversity, racism, and poverty to build their own community away from society.


fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on August 06, 2021:

Thanks, Joanne. I always appreciate your visits.

Joanne Hayle from Wiltshire, U.K. on August 06, 2021:

A fascinating read again. Thanks!

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on August 06, 2021:

MG, thanks for your visit. Ig only everyone was accepted as they are.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on August 05, 2021:

This is a interesting article. Reminds me of the Parsi's in India. Thank you for sharing.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on August 05, 2021:

Rosina. thanks for your visit and comment.

Rosina S Khan on August 05, 2021:

The origin of Melungeon People may never be fathomed for sure but it was interesting to know about them. Thank you, Fran, for this wonderful article.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 05, 2021:

I've never heard of the Melungeons before. Thank you for sharing such an educational and interesting article, Fran.

DREAM ON on August 05, 2021:

There is so much to learn about our own ancestry. It is amazing to see where the Melungeons came from. So many different ideas and as time goes on it may be harder to ever know. Thank you so much for sharing. Have a great day.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 05, 2021:

This is such an interesting article about the Melungeons, Fran. I wonder if Elvis is in thee genealogy line. I love genealogy research, and this is sure an enigma. I really enjoyed this article.

Related Articles