The Indian Ancestry of the Melungeons
|A Summary of the Lecture Series Delivered Before the
Melungeon Heritage Association 2000 – 2006 Regarding the
Indian Ancestry and Other Origins of the East Tennessee Melungeons
James H. Nickens
Virginia Indian Historical Society
Melungeon Heritage Association
Mid-Atlantic Native American Researchers
June 8-10, 2006
|My first encounter with the Melungeons was through a daily newspaper. The reference was to a mysterious people living in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee, a historic people of unknown origin. Until then I had never heard the word Melungeon. A trip to the Bull Run Library in Manassas, Virginia produced a copy of a book about Melungeons written by Brent Kennedy. To my astonishment I found the name Niccans (Nickens) listed by Kennedy as a Tennessee Melungeon surname.
In late October of that same year I received a call originating from the Meherrin Tribal Pow Wow in Winton, North Carolina. Rose Powhatan, a cousin from the Pamunkey Tribe of my Gr Gr Grandfather, had met a dancer there who was a Tennessee Indian Commissioner by the name of James Nickens. Rose was certain that James and I were related, and stated that “from the looks of you two, you have got to be cousins”.
That night I received a call from James, better known as Eddie, and the Tennessee connection was made. Later conversation with Eddie’s father, Thomas Nickens, revealed that his ancestors were of the Meherrin Tribe, who in Tennessee had called themselves “Portagee” since the time that Indian removal was threatened in the 1830’s. At that time, an ugly component of American thought was that the only good Indian was a dead Indian.
Thomas gave me the address of a Florida cousin, Dr. Carolyn Nickens , an anthropologist by training. In a letter of December 29, 1999, Dr. Nickens related an incident which had taken place about 15 years earlier, when she accompanied a Collins descendant to Sneedville, Tennessee on a heritage quest. There they met “a very old man whose name was Bill Grohse”. To Carolyn’s surprise, Grohse stated “You do know that Nickens is a Melungeon name.”
Until that time, The Virginia Indian Historical Society had devoted its efforts to the genealogical tracking of a close kinship group from the Jamestown era Rappahannock Indian Nation to the old Cuttatawomen Indian Town, and thence to the Meherrin, Chowanoke, and Nansemond, with earlier links to the Lower Cherokee and the Shawnee of Winchester, and later links to the Catawba, Pamunkey, Tuscarora, and the supposedly “extinct” Nanzatico and Chiskiack people. With the letter from Carolyn Nickens, our attentions took a sharp turn to the west into the great state of Tennessee, home of the Melungeons.
Tennessee was a lay-over point in the migration of coastal Indian people to the western Indian Nations. In the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, migrants from east of the Appalachian Mountains pushed westward into contested Indian Lands. The new United States Government erected The Territory of the United States Southwest of the Ohio River. Revolutionary war veterans were encouraged to settle these territorial lands. Much of this territory today lies in the state of Tennessee.
Among the pioneers were specific Indian descendants of specific colonial era tribes of Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas. Many were patriots in the American Revolutionary cause. Others had good reason to see the colonials as their true enemy, and supported the King by default. It is no accident that the names Bass, Collins, Gibson, Hart, Minor, Riddle, and Sizemore are prominent among the Tories, Loyalist, and North Carolina Regulators.
These citizen Indian migrants came in kinship groups, acquired land, established farms, and raised families. One such group settled a remote area in the mountains of East Tennessee. These were reputed to have been “the friendly Indians who came with the whites as they moved west”, and who had helped to build Fort Blackmore.
Over time these settlers were joined by and intermarried with other migrants from the east. The citizens of this distinctive community came to be recognizable by their relatively darker skin tone and unexplained exotic physical features. Local whites noted the unique nature of this community and gave a name to the swarthy mountain people – Melungeons .
The ethnic identity and origins of the Melungeon people have perplexed investigators of every stripe for more than a century. Imaginative theories have suggested Phoenician, Carthaginian, Portuguese, Turkish, and early Welsh origins. Others believed the Melungeons were a lost tribe of Israel or survivors of the Roanoke Colony. Speculation grew that Melungeons were descended from Spanish explorers or shipwrecked Portuguese sailors. Court cases established Melungeon as a distinct yet problematic racial identity - that of a relatively dark mountain people formerly classified as Free People of Color but later reclassified as white. Melungeons thus became the stuff of legend.
The earliest responsible first hand accounts are consistent in identifying the Melungeon patriarchs as the Indians Vardeman Collins and Sheppard Gibson. Among later migrants were descendants of “Gowin the Indian“ of York County, Virginia. Many and varied physical descriptions have been recorded of the Melungeons. Among those recorded descriptions are “Indian “, “not as dark as the Indian “, and “a race of light skinned Indians”. Note was later made of a dark skinned exotic strain with straight black hair, further adding to the Melungeon mystery. This strain has proven to be of particular interest.
The systematic investigation of the Melungeons began by lumping the Melungeons with a variety of so-called mystery people, populations which fell outside of the white-black-mulatto racial construct. The term Tri-Racial Isolates was adopted in reference to these aloof rogue elements of American society. The uninformed assumption was made that these populations were some ill defined mixture of the perceived races, presumably Indian, white and Negro.
The conclusions of the Tri-Racial Isolate theorists are marred in four critical areas:
1. Lack of sufficient knowledge of Indian history
2. Lack of knowledge of Indian genealogy
3. Failure to identify Indian people outside of a historical tribal context
4. A race driven paradigm which ignores ethnicity
In short – Insufficient Research.
Minimal genealogical effort and research into Indian history would have clearly identified the so-called Lassiter Tribe as Chowanoke Indians. These same Chowanokes, who settled among the Alabama Choctaw in Mobile and Washington Counties, Alabama were called Cajans by tri- racial isolate proponents. They are still there among the Choctaw.
In fairness to Tri-racial isolate theorist, it should be noted that the research upon which their theories were based occurred in a timeframe which predated the information age. The information disseminating power of the internet is not to be understated.
Genealogical examination of colonial records has demonstrated that not one single group in the south, formerly termed a Tri-racial Isolate group, is composed of only Indian, white, and Negro components. Most, if not all, have been shown to include the descendants of seventeenth century East Indian and Gypsy ( Rom ) Virginians. These are not new findings discovered in some obscure archaic source. This information has been available to the Virginia public for more than two hundred years, ignored by scholars who apparently preferred an American history composed only of white, slave, and free “African American“ components. Such a “preferred history” ignores the diverse ethnic fabric of colonial America, and disposes of Indian people in favor of a simple race-driven black-white social construct.
Given that those populations previously referred to as Tri-racial Isolates have been proven to be neither tri-racial nor isolated, it is the considered opinion of this investigator that Complex Ethnic Populations be coined as the more accurate and appropriate descriptor. It should be noted that each Complex Ethnic Population has an ancestry and history unique to that group.
The Melungeon Genesis lecture series is presented as an historical road map to the origins of the Melungeon people of East Tennessee. The genealogical focus is placed upon the Collins, Gibson, and Goins families. Several aspects of American ethno history have been chosen for presentation in this series. These topics have been selected because of their historical importance bearing on the evolution of the Melungeon people. The narrow focus of this series is directed upon that Melungeon population in the environs of Newman’s Ridge in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Tennessee. Melungeon Genesis is an evolving and ongoing effort. This one’s for Brent.
|May 18-21, 2000
University of Virginia’s College At Wise, VA
Jamestown & Some History Relevant to the Origin of the Melungeons 1607-1705
The recorded oral history of the Newman’s Ridge Melungeons states that they were originally migrant Indian people, citizen Indians, from east of the Appalachian Mountains. Distinguished by their swarthy skin color, Melungeon people were victorious when challenged unsuccessfully in several court cases. The issues revolved around the questions of whether Melungeons were a people of color, more specifically if the hint of skin color may have been the result of distant Negro ancestry. Creative notions of Carthaginian, Phoenician, and Portuguese ancestry found their way into print. Still in the 1890’s a Tennessee legislator defined the Melungeon as a “dirty Indian sneak."
Today we will examine some of the historical factors which have contributed to the formation, historical experience, and unique identity of the Melungeons people.
I. The Multiethnic Character of Jamestown: 1607 - 1624
A. The English and British Islanders
B. Poles and Germans, who preferred to live with the Indians rather than the English
C. White Christians enslaved at Jamestown
1. The first slaves of English America
2. An aspect of Jamestown history which historians have chosen to ignore
D. Italian glassmakers, a Swiss metallurgist, a French boy
E. “20 and odd negors” brought to Jamestown
F. “William Crashaw an Indean Baptized“ – American or Asian Indian?
G. “John Phillip A negro Christened in England“ who provides testimony in court
II. The Multiethnic Character of Virginia : 1625 - 1705
A. “Moors, Mohammedans, Infidels, Jews, Turks, East Indians, Indians, and Negroes" in seventeenth century Virginia law
1. “Armenians out of Turky“ imported for the Virginia silk industry
2. “Frank ye Spanyard“
3. Nicholas Silvedo and John Sherry – The only two surnames recorded for men identified as being Portuguese
4. Francisco ye Indian/Frank Cisco ye Indian – ethnic origin unknown
5. The “Indian“ by the name of “Jack of Morrocco” – A Indian or a white Moor?
B. Gleanings from Lower Norfolk County, Virginia: 1640-1652
1. Abdola Martin applies for the estate of “Hamet Marsellon decd: a Countryman of his"
2. Marro Mello, who appears to have changed his name to Marro Mills
3. Tawney and Antony, “ Portinguall “ seamen who testified that they had sailed for Robert Page, a trader
4. “Manuel ye Portugesse," who fathered a child by Ann Watkins
5. “Simon a Turke," head right of the Indian Trader Francis Yeardley. Yeardley’s father had led an attack with genocidal intentions against the Nansemond Indians. Others leading attacks upon the Nansemond were Capt. Nathaniel Bass and Capt. William Tucker. – reference The Jamestown Roots of Indian Genealogy )
III. The Jamestown Divide – Critical turning points in English-Indian relations resulting in the persistence and survival of a separate and distinct Indian culture in Virginia: 1607- 2000
A. English plan for relations with the Indians
1. 1609 English instruction to kidnap Indian children for the purpose of cultural and religious indoctrination
2. Plan to force labor from the Indians
B. Jamestown policies and actions relating to the Indians
1. Slaughter of captive Paspahegh children in their mother’s presence by Jamestown men under Percy’s command - August 9, 1610
2. Execution of their captive mother, the Queen of Paspahegh
a. Indian reluctance to relinquish children to so savage a people as the English, who make war on women and children
b. Jamestown gives up on the notion that Indians should give their children to the English, stating that the “ungratefull” Indians “love their children too much”.
c. Indians find no reason to trust so perverse a people as the English.
3. The murder of Powhatan’s priests is ordered by Virginia Company of London in an attempt at extinction of Indian culture.
4. Genocide is ordered as an official policy toward Indians, and practiced as a strategy. Jamestown Governor Yeardley attempts the eradication of Indians of any age or sex – in effect war upon women and children
IV. Colonial English policies as the root of 21st Century racism in America
A. Ethnic and cultural condescension by the English of Jamestown
B. Inevitable violence toward the arrogant and greedy English invaders
C. Apartheid as an official practice made part of colonial law
1. Indians forbidden to enter white territory
2. Indians made to wear striped shirts when entering white territory on business
3. Whites forbidden to marry Indians
D. English records begin to refer to Indians outside of a tribal context, citizen Indians, as free Negroes. records – See Helen Rountree 1995 and 1997
E. Indians made part of the 1705 “Black Code”-“ The child of an Indian shall be held and deemed to be a mulatto”
V. The ”racialization” of ethnic Virginians in the seventeenth century
A. The development of a two “race”, white vs. non-white social and cultural paradigm – Negative social engineering in colonial Virginia
1. The political expediency of classifying detribalized Indians as free Negroes, thereby expunging Indian rights
2. The legislative intent by colonial English to form a white upper class and a non- white laboring class
B. The Moors, Mohammedans, Infidels, Jews, Turks, East Indians, Indians, and Negroes found in colonial laws become the generic “Mulatto“ or “Negro“ in colonial records
C. The challenges faced by the historian, and the historical error inherent in the attempt to convert ethnicity into a race construct – “The child of an Indian shall be held and deemed to be a mulatto”. 1705 Virginia law
1. Implications for the historian regarding the interpretation and misinterpretation of racial designations in colonial records
2. Implications for the modern investigator
a. Walter Plecker
1. The racial reassignment of Indians in 20th century Virginia vital records
2. The Virginia Racial Integrity Act as part of the Eugenics Movement made infamous made infamous by Adolph Hitler
b. Paul Heinegg – The twentieth century racial reassignment of all colonial non-whites to the category of free “African Americans"
|June 20-22, 2002
First Session: The Ancestry and Evolution of the Newman’s Ridge Melungeons
I. The Geographic origins of the Indian ancestors of the earliest Newman’s Ridge Melungeons
A. Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland
B. Northern Neck of Virginia
C. North Carolina coastal plain
D. York County Virginia 1670 – “Gowin an Indian “
II. European Ancestry of the Melungeons – Delaware River to Cape Fear River Settlements
A. Swedes, Lowland Scots, European Gypsies*, British Islanders, etc.
B. Delaware River New Jersey and Pennsylvania colonists; reference the Vardeman family and Stephen Holstein, for whom the Holston River was named
III. The Migration to Tennessee
A. Economic Causes
1. Revolutionary War Bounty Land Warrants awarded for patriotic service
2. Availability of inexpensive land
3. Continuing decline of Indian fur trade in coastal areas of Virginia, North, and South Carolina after the Revolutionary War
4. Increased importance of a plantation based economy, in which Indians have historically had little interest
B. Social Causes
1. Social disruption caused by decreasing viability of the Tribe as an economic entity
2. Continuation of seventeenth century loss of Indian girls and women to whites as spouses – the “ beautiful Cherokee Princess” myth
3. Forced indenture of Indian children - See Garrow’s Mattamuskeet Documents
4. Taxation of Indian women while white women were excused from taxation
5. Increased codification of racism by the new American states – the ugly side of "American Freedom"
a. 1785 Virginia race Law under Governor Patrick Henry defining the population as either white or Negro, Indians become Negroes.
b. 1st Census acts – for taking a census of all persons “ both white and black” – Indian ethnic identity is expunged; Indians relegated in American law to status of “blacks”
c. Virginia Law requiring periodic registration and purchase of certificates of freedom for all “ free persons not white “
d. “Free Negro” tax to fund repatriation to Africa - Indians taxed
5. Thomas Jefferson’s 1800 proposal for Indian Removal to the west
Chicacoan Indian District - The Northern Neck of Virginia
I. Melungeon Surnames List - A listing of early Northern Neck surnames later found among the Tennessee Melungeons – A pattern of surname dispersal
A. Surnames gleaned from published works of various researchers – a lengthy list
B. Northern Neck surnames later found in Orange County, Virginia
1. McCarty/McCartian, Bolin/Bowline, Indian Harry, Griffin, Collins
2. Reference Orange County Virginia court 27 January 1742/3 "Alexander Machartoon*, John Bowling,, Manincassa, Capt. Tom, Isaac, Harry, Blind Tom, Foolish Jack, Charles Griffin, John Collins, Little Jack, Indians being brought before the Court …….for terrifying one Lawrence Strother & on suspicion of stealing hoggs…..”
a. These Indian defendants appear to be a mix of Northern Neck Indian hunter-traders and Saponi Indians
b. It is not unlikely that intermarriage with the Saponi may have occurred
c. Francis McCartan was recorded as a Chickasaw trader in 1766
C. Northern Neck surnames later found in Louisa County , Virginia
1. Branham, Collins, Donathan, Gibson, Hall /Hale/Haul
2. Reference Louisa County, Virginia Court 28 May 1745 "William Hall, Samuel Collins, William Collins, Samuel Bunch, George Gibson*, Benjamin Brannum, Thomas Gibson*, William Donathan this day Appeared to answer the Presentment of the Grand Jury made against them for Consealling tithables…..”
* This is one of at least two separate and distinct Gibson families which settled Newman’s Ridge in Hancock County, Tennessee
D. Northern Neck surnames later found in relations of East Tennessee Melungeon history
1. Genealogical Accounts
a. Gowen/Goen/Guan, Heard, Minor – See works of Jack Goins; See Thomas Gowen, son of “Gowin the Indian servant of Thomas Bushrod"
b. Millington – See Virginia DeMarce regarding Millenton Collins.
2. Historical accounts of early Tennessee - Blackmore, Bledsoe, Bean, Carter, Donelson, Powell, Robertson, Walker, etc.
|Kingsport, Tennessee, 2004
Paul Heinegg - Insufficient Research or a Less Than Honorable Agenda?
I. The Racial Reassignment of Colonial era American Indians, East Indians, Gypsies ( Rom ), Turks, and other ethnic groups to the category of “Free African Americans"
A. The Weaver Family – “they seem to like an East Indian“ - Hugh Jones on the Powhatan Indians
1.“Billy”, “Will”, “Jack”, “John Weaver”. Richard Weaver”- all recorded as “East Indy Indians” in at least six court appearances between 1707 and 1711 in Westmoreland and Lancaster Counties, Virginia
2. Weavers receive certificates of Indian descent 1833 Norfolk County Virginia
3. Weavers in 1900 and 1910 Census of Indian Population – Norfolk County, VA
4. Weavers “Indian" 1930 Norfolk County, VA –See Meherrin, Chowanoke, and Nansemond Tribes as well as the Choctaw and Cajan people of Alabama
B. The Goins/Guan/Gowen,Going Family
1. Descended from “Gowin the Indian” of York County, Va.
2. See Jack Goins 2000, Melungeons and Other Pioneer Families
C. Gypsies (Roma) – Surnames withheld
1. Widespread, both in Indian Tribes and Complex Ethnic Populations
2. Early and widespread dispersal suggests a seventeenth century origin and participation in the Indian fur trade.
D. “Simon a Turk” – A genealogical icon
E. The Vena/Venie/Veney Family
1. “Sarah, Andrew, Ned, Sam, Hannah, Milley, Judy, Rachel, Tom, Sucky, Thaddeous, Winney, Charlotte & George Indians”; Northumberland County, Virginia 1791
2. “George an Indian”, “Joe an Indian “, “Tom an Indian “, “Judy Vena a Pauper Indian “, ” Rachel an Indian” - Northumberland County, Virginia
3. 1810 U.S. Census of Richmond County, Virginia
a. Thirteen Vena households totaling 64 “Other Free” people
b. Sixty persons occupy 12 of 13 consecutive Vena households – an obvious Indian community
See Albert Thrasher 1998 for the Vena Family and Saponi Indians of Ohio.
II. Published statements by Heinegg - Insufficient Research or a racial bias against Indians?
A “ Native Americans who adopted English customs became part of the free African American communities”.
B. “There were no Indian communities separate and distinct from the free African American communities”.
C. “Southeastern states solved this problem (light-skinned African Americans) by calling these communities “Indians.”
III. The serious researcher is encouraged to consult colonial court records wherever possible. The records which Heinegg chooses to omit from his genealogical narratives can be more informative and ethnically accurate than those records which he selects for publication.
A. The Walter Plecker syndrome – Expunging Native Americans from official records
B. The Paul Heinegg syndrome – The racial reassignment of Native Americans to the category of “Free African Americans”
Current Melungeon Issues
I. The Failed Melungeon Definition of 2004
A. The Myth of the Melungeons vs. the historical record
B. Competing personal agendas, “preferred history”, and the recurring theme of insufficient research
C. Melungeon Drift – The clouding historical perspective by redefining various unrelated Complex Ethnic Populations as being Melungeons.
II. Interpreting and Misinterpreting Results of the 2000 Melungeon DNA Project
A. Understanding the limitations of DNA testing
B. Correctly interpreting DNA findings
1. The Asian Indian factor and the British East India Company
a. East Indians to Virginia by way of England – see Weaver family
b. East Indian Goans by way England and Barbados
2. The Gypsy ( Rom ) factor
a. Properly interpreting DNA with regard to the historic migration of proto-Gypsies out of India, through Asia and Asia Minor into Europe
b. Placing descent from 17th century Virginia Gypsies in proper historical and cultural perspective
Author’s Note: Genealogical data regarding descendants of Virginia Gypsies is being withheld in the hope that it can be offered in a responsible historical context. Suffice it to say that there is no evidence to date of a tribe of Gypsies roaming colonial Virginia, nor did John Sevier encounter a caravan of Gypsy wagons high upon Newman’s Ridge. These comments are made in the hope of dissuading a wave of irresponsible “faction”.
Frankfort Melungeon Gathering
|July 30, 2005
Melungeon Myth vs. Melungeon Fact
I. Early research by previous researchers of Melungeon Lore have contributed greatly to our knowledge of that multiethnic effort which was the Making of America. In the twenty – first century America yet struggles to comfortably emulate the Melungeon example ethnic diversity.
A. This investigator was unable to verify any historical data with any possible connection to Melungeon ancestors prior to the invasion at Jamestown in 1607
B. The fruitless Ralph Lane expedition up the Chowanoke River in 1585 stands of this instant as the earliest English record referencing Indian people who may have become Melungeon ancestors – the Tuscarora..
II. Tennessee Melungeons have been demonstrated by genealogy to be an exotic blend of the Indian, white, Gypsy, East Indian, and probable African ancestry. The generally swarthy appearance of Melungeons led to their being described variously as “Indian”, a “ light skinned Indian tribe” and “not as dark as the Indian”. A particularly dark strain of Melungeon was reported as having straight black hair.
A. To date no non-Gypsy East Indian ancestor has been genealogically identified among the Newman’s Ridge Melungeons.
1. Gowin the Indian, and his Goins/Going/Guan descendants are a possibility.
2. Any possible ethnic ties to the Asian Indian Goans of Portuguese Goa are unproven but deserving of further investigation. The residents of Goa identify as Portuguese into this, the twenty first century.
3. It is well worth noting the frequency with which people having an East Indian ancestor appear in court records testifying to their Portuguese ancestry. Such testimony tends to occur in the 1830’s when the Indian Removal was imminent.
C. The exceedingly widespread finding of people of Gypsy ( Rom ) ancestry in
Complex Ethnic Communities throughout the American south is a surprise finding which has drawn no notice whatsoever from the American historian. This egregious omission has left a significant void in American ethno history.
III. Complex Ethnic Populations Versus the Tri Racial Isolate Paradigm
A. Investigators have for sixty years incorrectly assumed that aloof and rogue ethnic groups were some mixture of Indian, white, and Negro people. The term “Tri Racial Isolate" was coined to describe these so-called mystery populations
B. Not a single population in the south, previously described as a Tri Racial Isolate, has proven to be limited to only Indian, white, and African ancestry. The Gypsy, the East Indian, or both are the most common additional ethnicities.
C. It is the suggestion of this investigator that use of the term “Tri Racial Isolate“ be discarded, said term being both inaccurate and inadequate.
D. Complex Ethnic Population is hereby coined as the more accurate descriptor.
|June 8-10, 2006
Old Themes and New Directions: A Review of Seven Years of Melungeon Research by the Virginia Indian Historical Society
I. Review of six previous presentations in the Melungeon Genesis series - 2000 through 2005
II. The Indian Ancestry of the First Tennessee Melungeons
A. The earliest Indian origins of the Tennessee Melungeons are found in specific tribes of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. These tribes persist today.
B. The records of colonial North Carolina are notorious for misidentifying ethnic Indians as some variation of mulatto, colored, or Negro. Virginia and South Carolina records, while imperfect, are noticeably better in this regard. A few exceptions do occur, where an Indian is identified as an Indian.
1. When the record involves the dealings of a Tribe as a political entity, or an individual Indian as a member of a tribe, as in treaties, petitions, and land transactions
2. When the ethnic identity of an Indian is germane to the case in point, as in the case of James Manley. Manley is identified as “Indian” in 1782 court records, and as an “other free person” in the 1790 North Carolina census.
3. Indian families first found in Virginia, later identified as mulatto, colored, or free Negro while residents of North Carolina, can be found recorded again as Indian in Virginia or South Carolina. See Weaver, Canady, Gunn, Lamb, Scott, Griffin, Cornett, Busby, etc.
*A surprise South Carolina finding was the family of William Gray b @ 1814, a “Piscataway Indian." Both he and his parents were born in Maryland.
4. #3 above bears repeating. This racial peculiarity regarding the records of North Carolina is of great genealogical and historical significance to the present day Chicahominy, Meherrin, Nansemond, Nottoway, Pamunkey, and Piscataway Tribes, as well as to the ethno-historian.
The ageless Calvin Beale, a speaker and lifetime award recipient at the 5th Melungeon Union, was not aware of this quirk in North Carolina’s records.
III. Reexamining the Melungeon Saga – Exploring possible ancestries of the Melungeons
A. Tuscarora ancestry
1. The Lewis M. Jarvis interview of 1903 provided a wealth of information about the ancestry of the Melungeons of Newman’s Ridge. An error of omission, possibly a clerical error or a misunderstanding on the part of Jarvis, has left the Tuscarora ancestry of the Melungeon totally unexplored. In the Jarvis Interview, substitute Cumberland County, North Carolina for "New River and Cumberland County, Virginia." The genealogical trail will lead to the Scot traders Walter and James Gibson of Cumberland County, NC.
2. A Walter Gibson was among the Tuscarora signing several leases on the Tuscarora Indian Woods Reservation in Bertie County, North Carolina.
3. James, William, Walter & son Sylvanus Gibson and Francis Jourden signed the North Carolina Regulators Petition 9 October 1769.
4. Walter Gibson married Margaret (Peggy) Jordan. The line of Miss Peggy Jordan and Mister Gibson, or his Gibson kin, may have produced a Jordan Gibson and Peggy Gibson. “Spanish Peggy” Gibson is reputed to have been the wife of Vardeman Collins, Melungeon patriarch.
5. James and William Gibson are among the better candidates for ancestor of the Cape Fear River > Cumberland County> Wilkes County, North Carolina > Hancock County, Tennessee clan. (vs .the “ Louisa County” Clan)
6. William B. Groshe provides the link to Jarvis’ omission. Groshe states that the Gibsons were pirates on the Atlantic Ocean. This description more closely fits the Cape Fear River Gibsons, who descend from brothers James and Walter Gibson, Low Country Scots who were ship owners and mariners in the Atlantic trade. I can make no such association for the Gibsons of Louisa County.
B. Spanish Ancestry
1. Francis Yeardley (see Simon Lovena, the Turk), an Indian trader on the Lynhaven River of Lower Norfolk County, Virginia sponsored a coastal trade expedition to the Indians of the fabled Roanoke Island in 1654.
a. This expedition was led by the and mariner, George Durant (Durant sold his Westmoreland County property in 1665 to Thomas and Richard Bushrod - see Gowin the Indian).
b. Yeardley established friendly relations with the Indians of Roanoke and the Albermarle, making large land purchases.
c. The “great emperor of Rhoanoke” took two of Yeardley’s men to the “emperor of the Tuskarorawes”, who then took them to his chief town.
d. There they found a rich Spaniard and his entourage of about 30, who had been living seven years with the Tuscarora. The traders noticed an unusual abundance of copper among the Tuscarora
e. Francis Yeardley married the widow of Adam Thorogood, a Lynhaven trader who lived near “ the trading point”. Their daughter Elizabeth married Dr. Henry Woodward. Woodward initiated and conducted trade with Indians living south of Port Royal.
2. In 1719 the colonial government hired Tuscarora under King Norris to travel King Gilbert of the Coosaboy as emissaries to the Spanish at Saint Augustine. These Tuscarora were from the Roanoke River but were then living at Port Royal. The Indian expedition to Spanish Florida traveled in seven canoes.
3. The Tuscarora-Spanish connection between 1646 and 1719 is deserving of further investigation.
C. Welsh Ancestry
1. Accounts suggesting the possibility of ancient Welsh ancestry for the Melungeons relate to Prince Madoc of Wales who. Madoc is said by legend to have “discovered America in 1170. If indeed there is truth in the Madoc legend, there is nothing to support a connection to the Melungeons.
2. Reverend Morgan Jones was captured by the Tuscarora in 1669. While bemoaning his fate in the Welsh language, an Indian responded in Welsh Jones stayed several months with the Tuscarora preaching the gospel in Welch.
D. Portuguese ancestry
1. Natives of Portugal
a. The vast majority of Portuguese in colonial records occur without surnames. Only two Portuguese are identified with surnames - John Sherry and Nicholas Silvedo.
b. Many people of the Iroquois speaking tribes of Virginia and North Carolina, the Meherrin, Nottoway, and Tuscarora, migrated north to join the Five Iroquois Nations in the 18th and 19th centuries
c. In 1842 the “Chiefs and Warriors of the Tuscarora Nation of Indians residing on the Grand River” Territory Ontario Canada formed a petition. Many of the names are easily recognized as Meherrin and Tuscarora names from Hertford and Bertic Counties in North Carolina. Among them are John Sherry and John and Powerless Silver. (Thanks To professor Heriberto Dixon of S.U.N.Y.) The Silva surname can be found in the Meherrin Pow Wow program today.
2. Goans of India
a. The Gowin, Guan, Goins family?
b. People of demonstrable East Indian ancestry testifying as to their Portuguese ancestry when Indian removal is pending
E. Gypsy ancestry
1. Seventeenth Century immigrants.
2. Consistent with DNA pools found in various Mediterranean and Asian populations
3. Misinterpreted to be immigrants from the Mediterranean region.
F. Cherokee ancestry
1. Documented for few Melungeon families
2. The misuse and misunderstanding of the term Cherokee
a. Cherokee properly refers to a specific Indian Tribe, and those people belonging to and descended from that specific tribe.
b. To the uninformed, Cherokee has in common usage come to refer to any Indian ancestry whatsoever. This generic usage is quite problematic for the Indian genealogist.
G. Catawba ancestry - “Old Ned Sizemore” and the Hart family.
1. Thousands of applications for Cherokee reparations and benefits have been filed by Sizemore descendants without success.
2. A declaration states that Old Ned Sizemore(possibly George Edward Sizemore) was born on the Catawba Reservation
3. The claim filed by Catherine Hart of Ashe County, North Carolina is informative, whether accurate or not.
a. Catherine stated that she was the daughter of John Hart, and that John was the son of James Hart and Catherine Sizemore, the daughter of Ned Sizemore. Sizemore, Hart, and Stamper families were all in Wilkes County, North Carolina as early as 1797. A John Hart made a land entry on the New River in 1804.
b. Another John Hart signed Catawba petitions in North Carolina in 1844 and 1847.
c. In 1849 fifty-six Catawba were among the Cherokee in Haywood County, North Carolina. Among them was a 30 y.o. John Hart. Betsy Hart, 26, was among the Catawba in Greenville District, South Carolina
d. On September 17, 1849 John and Betsy Hart were in “the number and names of the Catawbas” at the Echota Mission. e. In 1850 John Hart signed a petition asking for lands in Greenville District South Carolina.
f. John Hart had probably died by 9 November, 1853 when Betsy and Rebecca Hart were made citizens of the Choctaw Nation
g. Inez Sizemore who married Carl Nickens on the Colville Reservation near Covada, Washington was descended from the Creek Nation, where Arthur Sizemore, testified in 1814 that he was a half Creek Indian.
h. It is not unlikely that many Sizemore descendants harbor Cherokee ancestry. It is only documentary proof which is lacking.
Thanks to Judy Canty Martin, Tom Blummer, Ian Watson, and the Catawba Indian Nation.
|It has been brought to my attention that Paul Heinegg has revised his narratives of the Goins, Vena, and Weaver families since the 2004 5th Union presentation. These revisions reflect a minimal nod in the direction of historical accuracy. Heinegg continues to present these families in the context of Free African Americans, and will in all probability continue to do so.
Goins researchers - simply follow the fortunes of the Bushrod family, wealthy Virginia Quaker merchants, in order to connect “Gowin the Indian servant of Thomas Bushrod" to Thomas Gowen of Westmoreland County, Virginia. As a matter of genealogical curiosity, the cases of Indian Will (Weaver) and Martin Guan were both heard in Westmoreland County Court 25 September, 1707 , p74a. Martin may have been the prisoner to whom reference was made when Thomas Goen was accused of “a certaine force & rescue of a prisoner out of the custody of Wm. Chandler Constable for Machotique” 26 January 1708/9.
Sizemore researchers – Anthony Sizeman, files suit for his freedom 6 November 1651 in Lower Norfolk County, Virginia. On 15 January 1651/2 the court ordered
that Sizeman “be sett free from ye sd Holmes and to have his Corne & Cloathes according to ye Custome of ye County….. Sizeman having served Holmes ye full terme he was bound for in England…..” Anthony may have been the immigrant ancestor of Joseph and Samuel Sizemore
found in Chowan County, North Carolina records of 1718 and 1723. Any link between these Sizemores and the Melungeon Sizemore clan remains unproven. Further research is needed in this area.
Bunch researchers – Micajah Bunch was an early Chowan County neighbor of the Sizemores.
Copyright 2006 Virginia Indian Historical Society