Arch Goins and family, Melungeons from Graysville, Tennessee, c. 1920s
Total population
Unknown; possibly ranging into the thousands
Regions with significant populations
Originally in the vicinity of Cumberland Gap (East Tennessee and Eastern Kentucky.Later migrations to throughout the United States)



Various Protestant

Related ethnic groups

Redbones, Carmel Indians

Melungeon (play /məˈlʌnən/ mə-lun-jən) is a term traditionally applied to one of a number of "tri-racial isolate" groups of the Southeastern United States, mainly in the Cumberland Gap area of central Appalachia, which includes portions of East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and East Kentucky. Tri-racial describes populations thought to be of mixed European, sub-Saharan African, and Native American ancestry. Although there is no consensus on how many such groups exist, estimates range as high as 200.[1][2]

DNA testing of Melungeon descendants has been limited, but the Melungeon DNA Project, which has made its results public, so far shows overwhelming mixed European and sub-Saharan African haplotypes of females and males in several families traditionally identified as Melungeon and considered so by researchers.



The ancestry and identity of Melungeons are highly controversial subjects. There is wide disagreement among secondary sources as to their ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and geographic origins and identity, as they were and are of mixed ancestry. They might accurately be described as a loose collection of families of diverse origins who migrated, settled nearby and intermarried with one another, mostly in Hancock County, Tennessee and nearby areas of Kentucky. Their ancestors can often be traced back to North Carolina and Virginia. The U.S. census has a category for Melungeon, tabulated under "Some Other Race 600-999." Many scholars do not think Melungeons should be classified as a distinct ethnicity and describe them instead as one of numerous multiracial groups with origins in mixed unions, especially in colonial Virginia.

Melungeons are defined as having racially mixed ancestry; they do not exhibit characteristics that can be classified as of a single racial phenotype. Most modern-day descendants of Appalachian families traditionally regarded as Melungeon are generally European American in appearance, often, though not always, with dark hair and eyes, and a swarthy or olive complexion. Descriptions of Melungeons have varied widely over time; in the 19th and early 20th century, they were sometimes called "Portuguese," "Native American," or "light-skinned African American." Other Melungeon individuals and families are accepted as white, particularly since the mid-20th century.[3]

A factor in the variation in descriptions is the lack of consensus on who should be included under the term Melungeon. Almost every contemporary author on this subject gives a slightly different list of Melungeon-associated surnames, but the Irish surname Collins and English surname Gibson appear most frequently; the genealogist Pat Elder calls them "core" surnames.[citation needed] Other researchers include the surnames Powell, LeBon, Bowling, Bunch, Goins, Goodman, Heard, Minor, Mise, Mullins, and several others. (Family lines have to be researched as not all families with these surnames are Melungeon). Not all families of each surname have been of the same racial background. Each line must be examined individually. The answer to the question "Who or what are Melungeons?" depends largely on which families are included under that designation.

The original meaning of the word "Melungeon" is obscure (see Etymology below). From about the mid-19th to the late 20th centuries, it referred exclusively to one tri-racial isolate group, the descendants of the multiracial Collins, Gibson, and several other related families of Newman's Ridge, Vardy Valley, and other settlements in and around Hancock County, Tennessee.[citation needed]


A complex question

The likely background to the mixed-race families later to be called "Melungeons" was the emergence in the Chesapeake Bay region in the 17th century of what the historian Ira Berlin (1998) calls "Atlantic Creoles." These were the descendants of unions of freed slaves (sometimes of mixed race) and indentured servants, who were primarily of English, Northern European and West African ancestry. Some of these "Atlantic Creoles" in the charter generation in the colonies were culturally partly what today might be called "Hispanic" or "Latino", whose paternal ancestors had been Portuguese or Spanish men who had children with African women in African ports. Their mixed-race descendants bore names such as "Chavez," "Rodriguez," and "Francisco," and the men often worked in the slave trade, some coming to the American colonies. Some mixed-race creoles intermarried with their English neighbors, adopted English surnames, and owned slaves. To a lesser extent, some intermarried with Native Americans. Early colonial America was very much a "melting pot" of peoples, but not all of these early multiracial families were ancestral to the later Melungeons. Over the generations, most individuals of the group called Melungeon were of European and African ancestries.

A commonly held myth about the Melungeons of east Tennessee was that they were an indigenous people of Appalachia who lived there before the arrival of the first white settlers. Instead, scholars have documented by a variety of historic records that the earliest Melungeon ancestors migrated from Virginia, as did their Anglo-American neighbors. Paul Heinegg has traced free people of color families on the frontier in the censuses of 1790–1810 and found that most were descended from African Americans free in Virginia in colonial times, the families of working-class white women (who were indentured servants or free) and African men, free, indentured servants or slaves. A minority were descended from slaves who had been manumitted.[4]


Free people of color, sometimes mixed-race families, are documented as migrating with European-American neighbors in the first half of the 18th century to the frontier of Virginia and to North and South Carolina. The Collins, Gibson, and Ridley (Riddle) families owned land adjacent to one another in Orange County, North Carolina, where they and the Bunch family were listed as "free Molatas (mulattos)", taxable on tithes in 1755. By settling in frontier areas, free people of color found more amenable living conditions and could escape some of the racial strictures of plantation areas.[5]

The historian Jack D. Forbes has noted about laws in South Carolina related to racial classification:

"In 1719, South Carolina decided who should be an "Indian" for tax purposes since American [Indian] slaves were taxed at a lesser rate than African slaves. The act stated: "And for preventing all doubts and scruples that may arise what ought to be rated on mustees, mulattoes, etc. all such slaves as are not entirely Indian shall be accounted as negro." This is an extremely significant passage because it clearly asserts that "mustees" and "mulattoes" were persons of part American [Indian] ancestry. My judgment (to be discussed later) is that a mustee was primarily part-African and American [Indian] and that a mulatto was usually part-European and American [Indian]. The act is also significant because it asserts that part-American [Indians] with or without African ancestry could be counted as Negroes, thus having an implication for all later slave censuses."[6] [Note: This source applies only to South Carolina, not to Virginia or North Carolina, the main places of Melungeon origin.]

Beginning about 1767, some of the ancestors of the Melungeons moved from the Tidewater area northwest to the frontier New River area of Virginia, where they are listed on tax lists of Montgomery County, Virginia, in the 1780s. From there they migrated south in the Appalachian Range to Wilkes County, North Carolina, where some are listed as "white" on the 1790 census. They resided in a part of that county which became Ashe County, where they are designated as "other free" in 1800.[citation needed]

Not long after, Collins and Gibson families (identified as Melungeon ancestors) were members of the Stony Creek Primitive Baptist Church in nearby Scott County, Virginia, where they appear to have been treated as social equals of the white members. The earliest documented use of the term "Melungeon" is found in the minutes of this church (see Etymology below).[7] While there are historical references to the documents, the originals have not been found, and evidence came from a transcribed copy.[citation needed]

From Virginia and North Carolina, the families crossed into Kentucky and Tennessee. The earliest known Melungeon in Northeast Tennessee was Millington Collins, who executed a deed in Hawkins County in 1802. Several Collins and Gibson households appeared in Floyd County, Kentucky, in 1820, when they are listed as "free persons of color". On the 1830 censuses of Hawkins and Grainger County, Tennessee, Collins and Gibson families are listed as "free-colored".[8] Melungeons were residents of the part of Hawkins that became Hancock County in 1844.[8]

Contemporary accounts documented that Melungeon ancestors were considered to be mixed race by appearance. During the 18th and early 19th centuries, census enumerators designated them as "mulatto," "other free," or as "free persons of color." Sometimes they were listed as "white," sometimes as "black" or "negro", but almost never as "Indian." One family described as "Indian" was the Melungeon-related Ridley family, listed as such on a 1767 Pittsylvania County, Virginia, tax list,[9] though they had been designated "mulattos" in 1755.[10] During the 19th century, due to their intermarriage with white families and descendants of increasingly white appearance, Melungeon-surnamed families began to be classified as white on census records with increasing frequency, a trend that has continued to the present. In 1935, a state of Nevada newspaper anecdotally described Melungeons as "mulattoes" with "straight hair".[11]

Richard Allen Carlson, a researcher of the group known as the "Salyersville Indians" in Magoffin and Clark counties, Kentucky, which is a different population, found the following:

"The historical and anthropological evidence ... suggests that in general a significant portion (though not necessarily all) of the ancestry of the Magoffin and Clark counties, Kentucky and Highland County, Ohio enclaves [of mixed-race people] originated principally from an admixture of Native American, African Americans and Whites in the early colonial period (from the late 17th century until about 1800) and secondarily from an admixture with presently known Native American groups in the mid-Atlantic coast region."[12] (Note: This source is specific to its definition; it does not refer to the ancestors of Melungeons, who first settled in Hawkins County, Tennessee.)


Researchers have shown that the historical evidence through numerous court records demonstrates that the Melungeon families sought to identify as and to be accepted as white.[13] An example is the marriage patterns of the Joshua Perkins family of Johnson County, Tennessee, whose descendants Paul Heinegg traced. He showed that generations of the family had married white or mulatto people, which led to increasingly European-American or white appearance among descendants.[14]

As the scholar Ariela Gross has shown by analysis of court cases, the shift from "mulatto" to "white" was often dependent upon appearance and community perception of a person's activities in life, who one associated with, and whether the person fulfilled the obligations of citizens. Census takers often were people of a community or classified individuals as they were known by the community.[13] Definitions of racial categories were often imprecise and ambiguous, especially for "mulatto" and "free person of color." In the British North American colonies and the United States at various times in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, "mulatto" could mean a mixture of African and European, African and Native American, European and Native American, or all three. At the same time, these groups did marry with each other, and there were questions about which culture took precedence, if any. Many Native American tribes were organized around matrilineal lines.

The loose terminology contributed to the disappearance from historical records of remnant non-reservation American Indians in the Upper South, who were generally not recorded separately as Indians. They were gradually reclassified as mulatto or free people of color, especially as generations intermarried with neighbors. In the early decades of the 20th century, Virginia and some other states passed more restrictive laws that required all persons to be classified only as white or black. After Virginia passed its Racial Integrity Act of 1924, officials went so far as to alter existing birth and marriage records to reclassify some mixed-race individuals or families from Indian to black. The historical documentation of continuity of self-identified Native American families was lost. This process of loss of historical and cultural continuity appeared to have happened also with some of the non-reservation remnant Indians of Delaware.[15]


The families known as "Melungeons" in the 19th century were generally well integrated into the communities in which they lived, though this is not to say that racism was never a factor in their social interactions. Records show that on the whole they enjoyed the same rights as whites. For example, they held property, voted, and served in the Army; some, such as the Gibsons, owned slaves as early as the 18th century.[16]

Porch of the restored Mahala Mullins Cabin, originally located atop Newman's Ridge

On the other hand, in the tensions about race and slavery leading up to the Civil War, several Melungeon men were tried in Hawkins County, Tennessee, in 1846 for "illegal voting", under suspicion of being black. They were acquitted, presumably by demonstrating to the court's satisfaction that they had no appreciable black ancestry. (Standards were not as strict as under the laws of the "one drop rule" of the 20th century.) Like some other cases, this was chiefly determined by people testifying as to how the men had been perceived by the community and whether they had "acted white" by voting, serving in the militia, or undertaking other common activities, etc.[17]

"Law was involved not only in recognizing race, but in creating it; the state itself helped make people white. In allowing men of low social status to perform whiteness by voting, serving on juries, and mustering in the militia, the state welcomed every white man into symbolic equality with the Southern planter. Thus, law helped to constitute white men as citizens, and citizens as white men."[17]

After the American Civil War and during the Reconstruction era (United States), southern whites worried more about racial identity as they struggled to re-assert white supremacy over emancipated freedmen. For example, in 1872 a woman's Melungeon ancestry was evaluated in a trial in Hamilton County, Tennessee. The case was brought by relatives' contending over an inheritance of property. They questioned the legitimacy of a marriage between a white man and a woman known to be Melungeon, and argued the marriage was not legitimate because the woman was of black ancestry. Based on testimony of people in the community, the court decided the woman in the case was not of African ancestry.[17][18]

Modern anthropological and sociological studies of Melungeon descendants in Appalachia have demonstrated that they have become culturally indistinguishable from their "non-Melungeon" white neighbors: they share a Baptist religious affiliation and other community features. With changing attitudes and a desire for more work opportunities, numerous descendants of the early Melungeon pioneer families have migrated from Appalachia to other parts of the United States. Notable people of declared Melungeon ancestry include U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers.[19]


In spite of being culturally and linguistically identical to their white neighbors, these multiracial families were of a sufficiently different physical appearance to invite speculation as to their identity and origins. In the first half of the 19th century, the pejorative term "Melungeon" began to be applied to these families by local white (European-American) neighbors. Local "knowledge" soon began to arise about these people who lived in the hills of eastern Tennessee. According to Pat Elder, the earliest of these was that they were "Indian" (often specifically "Cherokee"). The Melungeon descendant and researcher Jack Goins states that the Melungeons claimed to be both Indian and Portuguese. One early Melungeon was called "Spanish" ("Spanish Peggy" Gibson, wife of Vardy Collins).

Despite scant evidence, a few ancestors may have been of mixed Iberian (Spanish and/or Portuguese) and African origin, as the historian Ira Berlin has noted that some early slaves and free blacks in the colonies were "Atlantic creoles", mixed-race descendants Iberian workers and African women, who became bilingual and accompanied Europeans as workers with the slave trade.[20] The major parts of the ancestries are northern European and African, given the history of multiracial families in the Melungeons' time and place of origin (late 17th century-early 18th century eastern Virginia). The Prince Madoc legend is sometimes referenced in connection with the Melungeons.

Given historical evidence of Native American settlement patterns, Cherokee descent is highly unlikely for the original Melungeon families, who came from Tidewater areas. Some of their descendants may have later intermarried with families of Cherokee ancestry in East Tennessee. Melungeons in Graysville, Tennessee claimed Cherokee ancestors. The anthropologist E. Raymond Evans (1979) wrote regarding these claims:

"In Graysville, the Melungeons strongly deny their Black heritage and explain their genetic differences by claiming to have had Cherokee grandmothers. Many of the local whites also claim Cherokee ancestry and appear to accept the Melungeon claim...."[21]

The historian C. S. Everett hypothesized that John Collins the Sapony Indian, recorded as being expelled from Orange County, Virginia about January 1743, might be the same man as the Melungeon ancestor John Collins, classified as a "mulatto" in 1755 North Carolina records. But Everett has revised that theory after having discovered evidence that these were two different men named John Collins. Only the latter man, identified as mulatto in the 1755 record in North Carolina, has any proven connection to the Melungeons.[22]

Another source frequently suggested for Melungeon ancestry is the Powhatan, a group of Algonquian-speaking tribes who inhabited Eastern Virginia when the English arrived. During the 19th and 20th centuries, speculation on Melungeon origins continued. Writers recounted folk tales of shipwrecked sailors, lost colonists, hoards of silver, and ancient peoples such as the Carthaginians. With each writer, new elements were added to the mythology surrounding this group, and more peoples were added to the list of possible Melungeon ancestors. The journalist Will Allen Dromgoole wrote several articles on the Melungeons in the 1890s.[23]

In the late 20th century, amateur researchers have suggested that the Melungeons' ethnic identity may include ancestors who were Turk, and Sephardi (Iberian) Jewry. The writers David Beers Quinn and Ivor Noel Hume suggest that the Melungeons are descended from Sephardi Jews who fled the Inquisition and came as sailors to North America. They also suggest that Francis Drake did not repatriate all the Turks he saved from the sack of Cartagena, but some came to the colonies.[24] "Whether any of them got ashore on the Outer Banks and were deserted there when Drake sailed away we cannot say."[24] Academic historians have not found any evidence for such a conclusion.

The Internet sources on the group suggest that in the hills of East Tennessee is an enclave of people, likely of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern origin, who have been in the area since before the arrival of the first white settlers. But, such romantic fictions find no support among academic historians and genealogists. The historian Dr. Virginia E. DeMarce, former president of the National Genealogical Society and author of several articles on the Melungeons, said in a 1997 interview with NPR: "It's not that mysterious once the nitty gritty research one family at a time...basically the answer to the question of where did Tennessee's mysterious Melungeons come from is three words. And the three words are Louisa County, Virginia."[25] She and Paul Heinegg have found historical documentation in court records, land deeds and other materials showing that most Melungeon ancestors were free blacks, descended from marriages and unions between working-class European-American women and men of African descent.


There are many hypotheses about the etymology of the term "Melungeon". One theory favored by linguists and many researchers on the topic, and found in several dictionaries, is that the name derives from the French mélange, or mixture. As there were French Huguenot immigrants in Virginia from 1700, their language could have contributed a term.

The scholars Joanne Pezzullo and Karlton Douglas speculate that a more likely derivation of "Melungeon," related to the English culture of the colonies, may have been from the now obsolete English word "malengin" (also spelled "mal engine") meaning "guile", "deceit", or "ill intent." It was used by Edmund Spenser as the name of a trickster figure in his epic poem The Faerie Queene (1590–1596), widely popular in Elizabethan England.[26] The phrase "harbored them Melungins" would be equivalent to "harbored someone of ill will," or could mean "harbored evil people," without reference to any ethnicity.

Another theory traces the word to malungu (or malungo), a Luso-African word from Angola meaning "shipmate", derived from the Kimbundu word ma'luno, meaning "companion" or "friend".[27][28]

Kennedy (1994) speculates that it derives from the Turkish melun can (from Arabic mal`un jinn ملعون جنّ), which purportedly means "damned soul." But, the Turkish word can, meaning "soul", is Persian in origin, rather than Arabic. Kennedy apparently confuses it with the Arabic word jinn, better known as genie. He suggests that, at the time, the (condemned soul) was a term used by Turks for Muslims who had been captured and enslaved aboard Spanish galleons.[citation needed]

Some writers try to connect the term "Melungeon" to an ethnic origin of people designated by that term, but there is no basis for this assumption. It appears the name arose as an exonym, something which neighboring people, of whatever origin, called the multiracial people.

The earliest known written use of the word "Melungeon" is in an 1813 Scott County, Virginia Stony Creek Primitive Baptist Church record:

"Then came forward Sister Kitchen and complained to the church against Susanna Stallard for saying she harbored them Melungins. Sister Sook said she was hurt with her for believing her child and not believing her, and she won't talk to her to get satisfaction, and both is 'pigedish', one against the other. Sister Sook lays it down and the church forgives her."

On 7 October 1840, the polemical Brownlow's Whig of Jonesborough, Tennessee, published an article entitled "Negro Speaking!" The publisher referred to a rival Democratic politician with a party in Sullivan County as "an impudent Malungeon from Washington City a scoundrel who is half Negro and half Indian," then as a "free negroe". In this and related articles, he does not identify the Democrat by name.[29]

Different researchers have developed their own lists of the surnames of core Melungeon families, as generally, specific lines have to be traced. DeMarce (1992) listed Hale as a Melungeon surname. By the mid-to-late 19th century, the term Melungeon appeared to have been used most frequently to refer to the multi-racial families of Hancock County and neighboring areas.[citation needed] Several other uses of the term in the print media, from mid-19th to early 20th century, have been collected at the Melungeon Heritage Association Website.[30] The spelling of the term varied widely, as was common for words and names at the time; eventually the form "Melungeon" became standard.

Modern identity

The term "Melungeon" was traditionally considered an insult, a label applied to Appalachian whites who were by appearance or reputation of mixed-race ancestry, though who were not clearly either "black" or "Indian". In Southwest Virginia, the term "Ramp" was similarly applied to people of mixed race. This term has never shed its pejorative character.[31]

From the late 1960s, "Melungeon" became a self-identified designation of ethnicity. This shift in meaning was probably due to the popularity of Walk Toward the Sunset, a drama written by playwright Kermit Hunter and produced outdoors.[32] The play was first presented in 1969 in Sneedville, the county seat of Hancock County. Making no claim to historical accuracy, Hunter portrayed the Melungeons as indigenous people of uncertain race who were mistakenly perceived as black by neighboring white settlers. As the drama portrayed Melungeons in a positive, romantic light, many individuals began for the first time to self-identify by that term. Hunter intended for his drama "to improve the socio-economic climate" of Hancock County, and to "lift the Melungeon name 'from shame to the hall of fame'".[3] The play helped evived interest in the history of Melungeons and some worked to use the facts rather than speculation. The social changes of the 1960s contributed to wider acceptance of minority groups.

Interest in the Melungeons has grown tremendously since the mid-1990s. They were featured in a chapter of the writer Bill Bryson's The Lost Continent as well as N. Brent Kennedy's book on his claimed Melungeon roots, The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People (1994). With the Internet, many people are doing research in family history. The number of individuals claiming Melungeon heritage has increased rapidly, according to Kennedy.[33] Many newly self-identifying Melungeons have no demonstrable connections to families who have been historically known by that term.

Some individuals begin to self-identity as Melungeons after reading about the group on a website and discovering their surname on the expanding list of "Melungeon-associated" surnames. Others believe they have certain physical traits or conditions. For example, some Melungeons are allegedly identifiable by shovel-shaped incisors, a dental feature more commonly found among, but not restricted to, Native Americans and Northeast Asians.[34] A second feature attributed by some to Melungeons is an enlarged external occipital protuberance, dubbed an "Anatolian bump", after an unsubstantiated hypothesis, popularized by N. Brent Kennedy, that Melungeons are of Turkish origin.[33][35] Academic historians have not found any evidence for this thesis, nor is it supported by results from the Melungeon DNA Project.

Internet sites promote the anecdotal claim that Melungeons are more prone to certain diseases, such as sarcoidosis or familial Mediterranean fever, although academic centers have noted that neither of the diseases is confined to a single population.[36][37] No scientific research supports claims that certain physical traits and conditions are more prevalent among Melungeon families, as their ancestries vary widely.

Kennedy's claims of ancestral connections to this group have been strongly disputed. The genealogist and historian Dr. Virginia E. DeMarce reviewed his 1994 book: she found that Kennedy's documentation of his Melungeon ancestry was seriously flawed, he had a very indistinct definition of Melungeons, although other researchers have studied them, and seemed to include any people who might have had other than northern European ancestry; and that he did not properly take account of existing historical records or recognized genealogical practice in his research. He claimed to have ancestors who were persecuted for racial reasons; she found that his named ancestors were all classified as white in records, held various political offices (which showed they could vote), and held land.[38] Kennedy responded to her critique in this article.[39]

DNA testing

At the suggestion of N. Brent Kennedy, a DNA study on Melungeons was carried out in 2000 by Dr. Kevin Jones of The University of Virginia's College at Wise, using 130 hair and cheek cell samples. These samples were taken from subjects chosen by Kennedy as representative of Melungeon lines. McGowan (2003) described Dr Jones' discovery of the political aspects of genetic research when the results of the study caused disappointment among some observers. "...Jones concluded that the Melungeons are mostly Eurasian, a catchall category spanning people from Scandinavia to the Middle East. They are also a little bit black and a little bit American Indian."[40] This study has to date not been submitted to a peer-reviewed scientific journal, nor has a list of those individuals' contributing samples been published. It is unclear to what extent the subjects were descendants of families historically designated or since documented as Melungeon.

More recently, Jack Goins, an independent researcher, has acted as coordinator of the Melungeon DNA Project, an independent project started in 2005. Its goal is to study the ancestry of lines for which there is academic and genealogical consensus as belonging to historical Melungeon families. According to Jack Goins, the Melungeons who have the following surnames are in the Core Melungeon Group 1: Bunch, Collins, Goins, Gibson, Minor, Williams, Breedlove, Mullins, Denham, Bowlin(g), Moore, Shumake, Bolton, Perkins, Morning, Menley, Hopkins, and Mallet.

The Y-chromosomal DNA testing of male subjects with the Melungeon surnames Collins, Gibson, Goins, Bunch, Bowlin(g), Denham, Mullins, Hopkins, Perkins, Williams, Minor and Moore, has so far revealed evidence of a majority of European and sub-Saharan African ancestry: Y haplogroups R1b, R1a, I1, and E1b1a, respectively.[41][42]

The numbers between the different Y-DNAs were: R1a(1) = 4, R1b1 = 2, R1b1b = 9, R1b1b2 = 18, R1b1b2a1a = 1, R1b1b2a1b = 3, R1b1b2a1b5 = 1, E = 2, E1b1a = 17, E1b1a8a = 2, E1b1b1 = 1, I1 = 5, I2b = 1, A = 2, G = 1, J2 = 1, L = 1. Here are some examples of what and where each gene could possibly be from: Y-DNA E and its variants,[43] Y-DNA R1b and its variants, Y-DNA I1, Y-DNA I2b,[44] Y-DNA A, Y-DNA G, Y-DNA L, Y-DNA R1a(1) and Y-DNA J2.

Further studies into one closely related Collins/Goins family revealed an E1b1a7a sub-group. This study was funded by researcher and scholar William C. Gersper.

Taken as a whole, such findings appear to verify the 19th-century designation of Melungeon ancestors as "mulattos", that is, descendants of white Europeans and Africans, as well as the late twentieth-century genealogical work by Paul Heinegg, which came to the same conclusion. The line with a variety of haplogroups with roots in Portugal, Spain and Italy is consistent with historian Ira Berlin's research showing that some of the charter generation of enslaved or servant people in the Chesapeake Bay colony were Atlantic creoles. They were descended from African women and Spanish or Portuguese men; the latter worked in the slave trade at ports in Africa run by Spain and Portugal, and took wives from the indigenous population.[45]

There is also numerous cases of Melungeons having Native American background in their genealogies, though this doesn't occur in every Melungeon. The ones who do have Native American background, are typically only 1/16-1/8%. They had intermarried with the Cherokee the most. This is especially true of the Graysville Melungeons.

Testing of haplo-types is not an exact science. They change and sub-divide regularly. Haplo-type DNA testing is limited in scope and cannot detail an individual's entire ethnic background.[46]

Similar groups

Other so-called "tri-racial isolate" populations in the United States include the following.




  • Ben-Ishmael Tribe, pejoratively called "Grasshopper Gypsies"


  • Magoffin County People (Magoffin and Floyd Counties), also known as Brown People of Kentucky or "Kentucky Melungeons"



New York:

North Carolina:


South Carolina:

  • Red Bones (NB: distinct from the Gulf States Redbones)
  • Turks
  • Brass Ankles


West Virginia:

Each of these groupings of mixed-race populations has a particular history. There is evidence for connections between some of them. For example, the Goins surname group have long been identified as Melungeon by people from the rest of Tennessee, and the surname Goins is also found among the Lumbee.

Sociologist Brewton Berry (1963) used the term Mestizo for these groups, but that alternative has not been generally adopted.

In his Foreword to the section on Virginia, North, and South Carolina in Heinegg's work on free African Americans, the historian Ira Berlin sums up the history of such groups:

Heinegg's genealogical excavations reveal that many free people of color passed as whites—sometimes by choosing ever lighter spouses over succeeding generations. Even more commonly, they claimed Indian ancestry. Some free people of color invented tribal designations out of whole cloth. Here Heinegg, entering into an area of considerable controversy, explodes what he declares the 'fantastic' claims of many so-called tri-racial isolates.[48]

See also


  1. ^ William Harlan Gilbert, Jr., "Surviving Indian Groups of the Eastern United States", Report to the Board of Regents of The Smithsonian Institution, 1948
  2. ^ Donald B. Ball and John S. Kessler, "North from the Mountains: The Carmel Melungeons of Ohio", Paper presented at Melungeon Heritage Association Third Union, 20 May 2000 at University of Virginia's College at Wise, Virginia, Accessed 14 Mar 2008
  3. ^ a b Shirley Price, "The Melungeons Are Coming Out in the Open", Kingsport Times-News, 28 Jan 1968, accessed 9 Apr 2008
  4. ^ Paul Heinegg, Free African Americans in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Delaware and Maryland, 1999–2005
  5. ^ Paul Heinegg, Free African Americans, op.cit., "Church and Cotanch Families"
  6. ^ Jack D. Forbes, "The Use of Racial and Ethnic Terms in America: Management by Manipulation"], Wicazo SA Review/The Red Pencil Review, Fall 1995, Vol. XI No. 2, pp. 55,58-59.
  7. ^ Stony Creek Baptist Church Minute Books
  8. ^ a b Hancock County, Tennessee Genealogy
  9. ^ Pittsylvania Co, VA Tax List, 1767
  10. ^ Paul Heinegg, Free African Americans, op.cit., "Pettiford and Ridley Families"
  11. ^ Nevada State Journal, 10 Nov 1935, p.6
  12. ^ Richard Allen Carlson, Jr., Who's Your People: Cumulative Identity among the Salyersville Indian Population of Kentucky's Appalachia and the Midwest Muckfields, 1677--2000, Ph.D. dissertation, Michigan State University, 2003, p.
  13. ^ a b Ariela Gross, "Of Portuguese Origin": Litigating Identity and Citizenship among the 'Little Races' in Nineteenth-Century America", Law and History Review, Vol. 25, No. 3, Fall 2007, accessed 22 Jun 2008
  14. ^ Paul Heinegg, Free African Americans of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, 2005, accessed 27 Aug 2008
  15. ^ Dr. Louise Heite, "Delaware's Invisible Indians", Heite Consulting, Inc. Website
  16. ^ Paul Heinegg, Free African Americans, op.cit., Gibson and Gowen Families
  17. ^ a b c Ariela Gross, " "Of Portuguese Origin": Litigating Identity and Citizenship among the "Little Races" in Nineteenth-Century America", Law and History Review, Vol.25, No.3, Fall 2007, accessed 22 Jun 2008
  18. ^ Jack Goins, "Hamilton County, Tennessee Court Case Research", (selected transcripts)
  19. ^ Sergei N. Khrushchev, Nikita Khrushchev and the Creation of a Superpower, State College: Penn State Press, 2000, p. 377.
  20. ^ Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 1998, pp. 27–32
  21. ^ E. Raymond Evans, Melungeon Heritage Association Website
  22. ^ Paul Heinegg, Free African Americans, op.cit., Church and Cotanch Families
  23. ^ Melungeon Heritage Association Website
  24. ^ a b David Beers Quinn, Set Fair for Roanoke, p. 343]
  25. ^ "Melungeons", National Public Radio, 1997
  26. ^ Joanne Pezzullo and Karlton Douglas, "Melungeon or Malengin?", Melungeon Heritage Association Website
  27. ^ Hashaw, Tim (Jul/Aug 2001) Tim Hashaw, "Malungu: The African Origin of the American Melungeons", Eclectica Magazine
  28. ^ Hashaw, Tim (2007) The Birth of Black America: The First African Americans and the Pursuit of Freedom at Jamestown, New York: Basic Books.
  29. ^ Melanie Sovine, "The Mysterious Melungeons: A Critique of the Mythical Image", (no publisher given), 1982, at Historical Association of Melungeons, accessed 16 June 2011
  30. ^ Melungeon Heritage Association Website
  31. ^ Sovine, Melanie L. "The Mysterious Melungeons: a Critique of the Mythical Image." University of KY PHD dissertation, 1982
  32. ^ Ivey, Saundra K. Oral, Printed & Popular Culture Traditions Related to the Melungeons of Hancock County, TN, Indiana University dissertation, 1976; [1]
  33. ^ a b Kennedy, N. Brent; Robyn Vaughan Kennedy (1997). The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People: An Untold Story of Ethnic Cleansing in America. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press. ISBN 0865545162. 
  34. ^ Yuji Mizoguchi, "Shovelling: A Statistical Analysis of Its Morphology", U. of Tokyo, Bulletin No.26, Feb 1985
  35. ^ Kennedy, Melungeons, p. 102. Quote: "I came to believe the long-discounted Melungeon claim to be of Portuguese – and even Moorish and Turkish – origin. The 'Mediterranean look' of my own family ..."
  36. ^ University of Maryland Medical Center Website
  37. ^ "Learning About Familial Mediterranean Fever", National Human Genome Research Institute
  38. ^ Dr. Virginia, E. DeMarce, Review Essay: The Melungeons, National Genealogical Quarterly, Vol. 84, No. 2, June 1996, pp. 134–149
  39. ^ Dr. Brent Kennedy Responds to Virginia DeMarce, Southeastern Kentucky Melungeon Information Exchange
  40. ^ Kathleen McGowan, "Where Do We Come From?", Discovery, 1 May 2003, accessed 14 Mar 2008
  41. ^ Family Tree DNA Website
  42. ^ Melungeon DNA Project: Y DNA Results
  43. ^
  44. ^
  45. ^ Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America, Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1998, pp. 17–25 and 29
  46. ^ Jonathan Marks and Brett Lee Shelton, "Genetic 'Markers'- Not a Valid Test of Native Identity", Institute for Policy of Colonial, accessed 15 Jun 2010
  47. ^ Delaware's Forgotten Folk – The Story of the Moors and Nanticokes
  48. ^ Heinegg, Paul. Free African Americans, op.cit., Foreword, accessed 5 May 2006


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  • Melungeon — Me*lun geon, n. [Cf. F. m[ e]langer to mix, m[ e]lange a mixture.] One of a mixed white and Indian people living in parts of Tennessee and the Carolinas. They are descendants of early intermixtures of white settlers with natives. In North… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Melungeon — Melungeons Arch Goins y familia, melungeons de Graysville, Tennessee, c. años 1920 Ubicación Originalmente en las cercanías del Desfiladero de Cumberland (Este de Tennessee y este de Kentucky. Más tarde, migraron p …   Wikipedia Español

  • Melungeon — Melungeons Les Melungeons sont une vieille communauté métissée se trouvant dans l est du Tennessee, la Virginie occidentale, l est du Kentucky et la Caroline du Nord depuis au moins 200 ans et sans doute depuis plus longtemps. On estime la… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Melungeon — 1. adjective Of or pertaining to any of several similar Mestee groups currently and historically found in the Southeastern United States, all of uncertain or disputed origin. 2. noun A Melungeon person …   Wiktionary

  • Melungeon DNA Project — The Melungeon DNA Project is a genetic study of people who have Melungeon ancestors mostly in Hancock County, Tennessee and nearby areas of Kentucky according to historic records. Participants genealogical suitability for inclusion is determined… …   Wikipedia

  • Melungeon — /meuh lun jeuhn/, n. a member of a people of mixed white, black, and American Indian ancestry living in the southern Appalachians. * * * …   Universalium

  • melungeon — me·lun·geon …   English syllables

  • melungeon — …   Useful english dictionary

  • Croatan Indians — Melungeon Me*lun geon, n. [Cf. F. m[ e]langer to mix, m[ e]lange a mixture.] One of a mixed white and Indian people living in parts of Tennessee and the Carolinas. They are descendants of early intermixtures of white settlers with natives. In… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Меланджен — Арч Гойнз и его семья  меланджены из Грейсвиля в штате Теннеси. Фото 1920 х годов. Меланджен (англ. Melungeon, məˈlʌndʒən)  термин, обозначающий в США потомков от см …   Википедия

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