Melungeon (pronounced /məˈlʌndʒən/ or "muh'lun-jun" or "muh-lun'jun") is a term traditionally applied to a tri-racial isolate group centered in Newman Ridge and Blackwater in Hancock County, Tennessee. They are found mainly in the Cumberland Gap area of central Appalachia, which includes portions of east Tennessee (Hancock and Hawkins Counties), southwest Virginia (Lee County), and eastern Kentucky.
By extension, the label Melungeon can be used to include other such groups in southeastern United States, such as the Brass Ankles, Lumbees, Redbones and We-Sorts.
These populations are termed tri-racial because they are thought to be of mixed European, sub-Saharan African, and Native American ancestry. They are termed isolates because they form a closed community by marrying within the group.
This project is an aid to tracing and documenting Melungeon family lines.
The core Melungeon families in Hawkins County, Tennessee are Bolin, Bolling, Bunch, Collins, Denham, Gibson, Goins, Goodman, Minor, Moore, Mullins, Sullivan, and Williams.
The families who became the Melungeons appear to have progressively migrated in family groups, from Louisa County, Virginia to the Flat River area of North Carolina, then into Wilkes County, North Carolina, the New River area and then to the Fort Blackmore area of what are now Russell and Scott Counties in Virginia. Eventually they migrated across the border into what is now Hancock County, Tennessee (then a part of Hawkins County). They settled in the area of Vardy and are found on Newman’s Ridge and surrounding area and into Lee County on Blackwater Creek. The first record of Melungeons is found in the Stony Creek church minutes in 1813 when a reference was made to “harboring them Melungins”. (Melungeon Historical Society).
Lewis Jarvis, a leading Melungeon historian wrote, "Much has been said and written about the inhabitants of Newman Ridge and Blackwater in Hancock County, Tennessee. They have been derisively dubbed, with the name "Melungeon" by the local white people who lived here with them. It’s not a traditional name or a tribe of Indians. Some have said these people were here when this country was first explored by the white people and others that they are a lost tribe of Indians and have no date of their existence here. All of this is erroneous and cannot be sustained. They had land grants in places where they formerly lived. These people not any of them were here when the first white hunting party came from Virginia and North Carolina in the year 1761. They came here simultaneously with the whites between the years 1795 and 1812."
Many controversial claims have been made about the Melgungeons:
- They are descendants of Portuguese abandoned in what is now western North Carolina during Juan Pardo's 1566 expedition
- They are descendants of Turks abandoned on Roanoke Island by Sir Francis Drake (1586)
- They are descendants of the survivors of the Lost Roanoke Colony (1587) who intermarried with the Indians
- They are descendants of Portuguese sailors shipwrecked at an unknown date
- They are descendants of Sephardic Jews who preferred to live on the frontier in order to preserve their religious practices
Each of these claims is said to be supported by individual and collective family traditions, and each has its proponents and its detractors. None are supported yet by clear documentary evidence.
Two good starting points for online research are: