History of Campbell County, Tennessee

Time Line


By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.  This article was published in the LaFollette Press.

Who are the Melungeons? Where did they come from? There are as many theories as there are researchers concerning these questions. The writer has done much study concerning the Melungeons and has come to the conclusion, that there is no "absolute" proof where this mysterious group has immigrated from. (The writer of this article became interested in the Melungeons when he discovered that his wife was a descendant, through the Goins family, of these mysterious people.)

There were tales of a tri-racial group of people in Virginia in the 1700s. This mysterious assemblage was shoved higher in the mountains as the Scotch, Irish, English and other settlers moved into the area where the mystifying people had been living for centuries. While being pushed up into the mountains, these undemanding people lost their rights and lands, and were forced to leave the area where they had lived for centuries; thus, a new life was to begin.

No one seems to know the exact origins of the Melungeons. They seemingly spoke an earlier form of English, but with dark skin they certainly did not look like white Europeans. History still has not "accurately" discovered their origins or how long they have lived on this continent

These people were found to be friendly with the Indians and thus intermarried, while their descendants married the local Negroes and the whites. This mixture set the stage for the present day Melungeons.

Up to date "popular" theory supports the fact that the Melungeons were descendants of Portuguese and Spanish settlers. The English word 'Melungeon' has both Arabic and Turkish roots meaning "cursed soul". In the Portuguese language the term "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." The term "Can, " which is Turkish, means soul. Melucan means a person whose soul is a born loser. This expression was a common phrase among 16th century Ottoman Turks, Arabs, and Muslim converts to Christianity in Spain and Portugal. It is still empathized by modern Turks as an offensive term by a Muslim who feels deserted by God.

Customarily, the Melungeons have been darker skinned persons, which has resulted in discrimination by their white neighbors. Many Melungeons have concealed their birthright because of the white mans' bitterness toward them.

There were inconsiderate struggles for the land the Melungeons dwelled on. The whites, in retaliation, declared the dark-skinned people as "free persons of color." This episode stripped the Melungeons of many rights, including the right to vote, to own their own land, educate their children properly, to defend themselves in courts of law, and to intermarry with anyone who was not also Melungeon. These rights, according to Brent Kennedy, a Melungeon researcher, states that "Melungeons had always been precluded to get all those rights until 1942."

The Melungeons have lived for years in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and Western North Carolina. Their features are copper-skinned, dark eyed, and dark haired. They mostly had English names and commonly spoke English.

Many historians are exploring the Melungeons and some claim that Europeans originally discovered the dark-skinned settlers in Carolina and Virginia. The Melungeons inter-mixed with a collection of Indian tribes and called themselves "Portygee," meaning Portuguese.

They, over time, as a general rule, were categorized into one of the four acceptable American racial categorizations: white (northern European), black (African), Indian, or mulatto, a mixture of the first three. With this classification, the entire gene class of the Melungeons was supposedly removed. The possibility of erasing the Melungeon faction would assure the likelihood that the story of the Melungeons would remain buried.

One account relates that the Melungeons are most likely the descendants of the late 16th century Turks and Portuguese left stranded on the Carolina shores when the Spanish force abandoned the settlement of Santa Elena and Carolina. A possibility was that they might have also been survivors of many Turkish sail slaves who were left on Roanoke Island by Sir Francis Drake in 1586.

The Crusaders, in the Inebahtin War, destroyed a great many Turkish ships in 1570 where, consequently, Sir Francis Drake captured several Turkish sailors. They were rescued from slavery in South America and put on the coast of Roanoke Island by Drake in the late 1500s.

These survivors later intermarried with the Powhatan, Pamukey, Chickahominy, and Catawba Indians, and later Negroes. After their abandonment by the Spanish fleet, they began surviving in the Appalachians and intermarried with the Cherokees and afterwards with the northern European settlers.

One writer states that relationship between the Melungeons and Turks is linguistic, genetic, medical, historical, cultural, etc. Native American and Melungeon terms have been linked with the Ottoman Turkish and Arabic words more than 1000 times. These expressions have identical pronunciations and meanings. One of these expression states that Kentucky was organically pronounced "Kain Tuck," meaning dark and bloody ground in the Indian native tongue. "Kan Tok" is Turkish for "full of blood," while "Kan" means blood and "Tok" means full. There is an old Appalachian term "gaum" which means messy or sad. This word is of the Turkish descent means messy or sad.

Convincing evidence states that some of the Turks were abandoned in the New World. Ottoman archival evidence proves that the Ottoman marines had been taken to the Canary Islands both in the 16th and 17th centuries. Moreover, a Turkish correspondent discovered archival records of the Ottoman empire in Instanbul that the Portuguese had sold to the British Navy a large number of the Ottoman prisoners of war who were possibly taken to the New World for labor purposes by the British Navy. English records state that only 100 Turks were taken back to England where they were ransomed to the Turkish influence.

These people seemed to have disappeared before the time the English vessels dropped anchor for re-supplying. Very possibly many of them survived and were taken into the Native American tribes.

Recent discoveries, through DNA in 1990, have added new confirmation concerning the relationship between the Melungeon people and the Mediterranean vicinity. Blood samples taken in 1969 from 177 Melungeon descendants showed no noteworthy differences between East Tennessee and southwestern Melungeons and inhabitants in Portugal, Canary Islands, North Africa, Malta, Cyprus, and Turkey. Further investigations illustrate that these same relationships are found in Virginia and select inhabitants in South America and Cuba. Melungeon historians of today have discovered a fascinating relationship between the unusual diseases of the Melungeon descendants and those of the eastern Mediterranean people. Because of the unfamiliarity of these diseases, I will not go into them at this time.

The Melungeon history that the writer described in this text is theoretically, in my opinion, the one that comes closest to the actual truth concerning this lost civilization.

Some names associated with the Melungeons are: Collins/Colins, Gibson/Gipson, Mullins/Mellon, Goins/Gowens, Gowins/Goen, Boulden, Bunch, Fields, Freeman, Bean, Bolin, Bowlin, Bowling, Coal, Cole, Delp, Goodman, Hale, Jones, Minor, Moore, Moseley, Nichols, Ramey/Remy, Sexton, and Williams.

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