Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Sons of the Legend - Oct 18, 1947

Sons of the Legend
October 18, 1947

By William L. Worden

Surrounded by mystery and fantastic legends, the Malungeons live on Newman’s Ridge, deep in the Tennessee mountains. The story of a colony whose background is lost in antiquity.

About the people of Newman’s Ridge and Blackwater Swamp just one fact is indisputable: There are such strange people. Beyond that, fact gives way to legendary mystery, and written history is supplanted by garbled stories told a long time ago and half forgotten.

Today, even the legend is in the process of being forgotten, the strange stories are seldom remembered and the people are slipping away to cities and to better farms, there to tell anyone who asks them, all they can about where they came from, but never to tell who they are.  Because they do not know.

Newman’s Ridge lies beyond Blackwater Swamp, and Blackwater lies beyond Sneedville.  Sneedville, war-swollen to a population of about 400 persons, is the county seat of Hancock County, Tennessee, just below Virginia, in mountains through which no principal highway runs, no railroad has tracks, and only a single, insecure telephone line with five or six connections straggles.  To get to Sneedville, an outsider can drive up the wandering bank of the Clinch River from Teasel through Xenophon, which can be missed if the traveler is not looking carefully; or he can go over the switchbacks of Clinch Mountain from Rogersville to Kyle’s Ford and down the river from the east.  Either pine studded route is beautiful. Neither has ever been used by very many people who did not live in Sneedville.

Nothing much ever happened in Sneedville.  There is no industry, no mining now.  Only once did the town ever get its name into newspapers farther away than Knoxville—that once some years before the war, when Charlie Johns, a lank mountaineer , married Eunice Winsted, who was certainly not more than thirteen years old wand was variously reported as being only nine.  Their pictures and story made most of the united States newspapers in a dull news period.

Charlie and Eunice still live near Sneedville, but nothing has been written about them for a long time.  They do not want anything more written.

From Sneedville, a few small roads lead northward toward the swamp and the ridge.  One is passable, when weather permits, through Kyle’s ford all the way to Vardy, where Presbyterians maintain a missions school. But the weather does not permit with any regularity.  There are in Rogersville a few tall, olive-skinned people with dark eyes and high cheekbones, small hands and feet and straight black hair, the men gaunt, the young women often remarkably beautiful.

In Sneedville on a “public day” when a lawing of some interest is under way in the county courthouse, many country people come to town form the rich farms along the Clinch River bottoms.  Walking among them along the one muddy main street or leaning against the stone wall around the courthouse square will be other dark people–old women withered or excessively fat, inclined to talk very fast in musical voices; old men spare and taciturn, thin lipped, rather like Indians, but not quite like them.  Either they have some Latin characteristics or the effect of the legend is to make the stranger think they have. Some few of them–the daughters of these people are very often lovely, soft and feminine, in striking contrast to the bony appearance of most mountain women–live in the town.  Fo them, their neighbors say, “well, they don’t talk about it, but I happened to know her pappy used to make whisky up on the ridge”; or, “He might not tell you, but he never came to town from Vardy until he was growed.”

But for all that some of them live there, these are strangers in Rogersville, strangers in Kyle’s Ford and Sneedville.  They are not fully at home where the telephones are or the highways go The small roads lead up out of Sneedville across the swamp and end at the base of Newman’s Ridge, nearly twenty miles long, a mile or so across at its most narrow part, virgin except for small clearings which dot its high slopes–clearings with log houses in them, corn patches growing beside the doors. That is, those houses that have doors.  Many have no floors and some have no doors; only burlap hanging across the openings in cold weather.

Here, beyond where the roads end, in the clearings on the ridge the dark people are at home.  This is the Malungeon Country.  This is the country where no one ever uses the word “Malungeon.” As a matter of fact, nobody is entirely sure what the word is. Perhaps “Melungeon” from the French “melange,” meaning “mixture”’ perhaps from melas, a Greek word meaning black. It’s origin, like that of the people it specifies, is lost now.  Already, it is entirely meaningless to most people even withing a few dozen miles of Newman’s Ridge; and presently, like the people of the ridge, who are constantly drifting away, intermarrying outside, never going home, saying nothing of the little ridge history they may know, it may be entirely forgotten.  Except for a few curious people who like mysteries without answers.

The mystery of the Malungeons is basically simple. When the first Yankee and Scotch-Irish mountain men drifted down the Clinch River from its sources in Virginia toward the place where it meets the Houston to make the Tennessee River, they found in the rich farmland of the Clinch valley a strange people already settled. They were dark, tall, not exactly like Indians, certainly not at all like the escaped Negroes lurking on the outskirts of white slave-holding settlements. Even then they kept to themselves, had little to do with Andy Jackson’s men and the others—the trappers, adventurers and farmers who came down the line fo the river.

When they were first seen is doubtful. One Tennessee history notes that the journal of an expedition down the Tennessee River in the 1600s recorded an Indian story of a white settlement eight days down the river.  The Indians said the whites lived to themselves, had houses and owned a bell which they sounded often, especially before meals, when all of them bowed their heads toward it. The journal was not clear about whether the locations was on what is now the Clinch River.  It could have been. These people could have been the Malungeons.  But there is no record that any white man saw them.

Certainly they must have been there fairly early in the eighteenth century.  Hale and Merritt’s History of Tennessee and Tennesseans says a census of the settlements in 1795 listed 975 “free persons” in the East Tennessee mountain area, distinguishing between them and the white settlers.  As there never was any considerable number of Negroes in the mountains, these must have been the strange people of the Clinch valley.

But the other settlers apparently were unwilling to admit that the dark people were Caucasians, and the dividing line between “whites” and “Malungeons” began to be drawn–by the whites. Forty years later the division became serious. In the Tennessee Constitutional Conventions of 1834, East Tennesseans succeeded in having the Malungeons officially classified as “free persons of color.”  This classifications was equivalent to declaring them of Negro blood and preventing them from suing or even testifying in court in any case involving a Caucasian.  The purpose was fairly obvious and the effect immediate. Other settlers simply moved onto what god bottom land the Malungeons had, and the dark people had no recourse except to retire with what they could take with them to the higher ridge of land which no other settlers wanted and where no court cases could arise. Some may have been on Newman’s Ridge previously, but now the rest climbed the slopes to live, taking with them their families, a few household possessions, some stock and a burning resentment of this and other injustices, such as the fact that their children were not welcome n the settler’s schools, only in Negro schools, which they declined to attend.

On the ridge they built their small houses–log shacks without floors and sometimes even without chimneys–planted corn, and distilled whisky. Now and then moving in the night in Indian fashion they descended on the richer farms of the valley.  Now and then when strangers approached the ridge too closely or ventured into Blackwater swamp, they used the long rifles which seemed almost like parts of their bodies, so naturally were they carried.  Now and the, valley farms lost cattle or hogs or chickens and never found any trace of the missing stock.  Now and then, strangers failed to come back from the ridge or the swamp.

When the Civil war split the border states county against county and family against family, few of the Malungeons went to either army. They stayed home, brooding on their mountainside.

In the valleys, farm women told their youngsters, “Act purty or the Malungeons’ll get ya.” There is no record that they ever “got” any children, but old men still live who remember when no wandering hog was safe and few chicken yards secure.

What happened after the war is not entirely clear; nor the reasons for it. Revision of the state constitution took care of the old segregated status of the Malungeons, but nobody now seems certain exactly what made them welcome in towns again.

Hale and Merrit, in their history, have the most fantastic explanation. They say, without giving any authority, that the Malungeons struck gold. Just when and just where are difficult to decide. The history declares flatly that the strike was made somewhere on Straight Creek, where ovens were built for refining the metal and for manufacturing of technically counterfeit twenty dollar double eagles. But the counterfeit coins, the history continues, actually had nearly thirty dollars; worth of good in them and were welcomed by most storekeepers in the area.  The storekeepers gave face value, more or less, for them, then sold the coins as gold by weight. Naturally, Malungeon business was more than welcome.

The only catch to the story is that nobody except Hale and Merritt ever seems to have heard of it. No other history mentions it and no trace of the coins remains in east Tennessee—at least, not in any of the expected places.  Nor does Straight Creek appear on available maps.  Milum Bowen, storekeeper at Kyle’s Ford, says he has known the Malungeons well all his life and that “they’re like real friends if they’re your friends, but will do you some kind of dirt a t night if they don’t like you.” He has traded constantly with them during most of his seventy some years, but never saw or heard of any such coins.

Only one ghost of a clue is in the memory of anyone in the area. That is a rumor–no one of the dozen people who will tell it as a rumor seems to know where it comes from—that there is sliver—not gold, but silver—somewhere in the lowering mountains which ring Hancock County, somewhere n the half mapped, heavily wooded ridges. “People say,” they tell a stranger, “that it’ll be found again some day.”

Whether there was gold or whether there was none, the Malungeons, after the Civil war, seemed to enter a new phase of their lonesome existence. Bushwhacking declined, some few Malungeons came off the ridge to go to school, may more turned to distilling for their principal source of livelihood.  Of all the stories of moonshining in the Hancock County mountains, the best seems  to be the often-retold tale of Big Haly Mullins, a very real woman who has become a legend herself. Milum Bowen testifies to the fact that Big Haly really did exist, really did make whisky and most certainly weighed 600 or 700 pounds.

The legend is that in the early years of this century, Federal revenue agents time and again followed the steep paths to Big Haly’s cabin, time and again found both aging whisky and the still for making it, and found Haly, peaceful and alone, waiting for them in her cabin. Each time she admitted ownership of still and whisky, and each time they officially arrested her.

There they stopped. Big Haly was in her cabin and was too fat to b e got out the door.  Even if they had been able to get her through the door, they had no method for getting her down the ridge to any court for trial. She was much too heavy for any combination of men who could go together down the trail, she was much too heavy for any mule, and she would not or could not walk.

So the revenuers went away and Big Haly resumed making whisky as soon as the still could be repaired–that is to say, her myriad of relatives, who had vanished into the hills as soon  the Federal men left the highway, returned an began making whisky again under Haly’s directions, shouted from inside the cabin

At least one supporting fact is attested by Bowen. When Mrs. Mullins died, he says, Malungeons relatives knocked the fireplace out of the end of her log cabin in order to get her body outside for burial.  It just would not go through the door.

Toward the end of the 1800's one person made an extended study of the Malungeons.  This was a Nashville poetess, Miss Will Allen Dromgoole, who spent some months living with the dark people in the mountains and reported her findings in two article in the Arena magazine, published in Boston in 1891.

Miss Dromgoole noted several strange facts of the Malungeons life, some of which she thought indicated Latin origin.  Especially, sh noted that there was a special veneration for the Christian Cross shown along the whole ridge.  She thought this strange, in view of the fact that the ridge people, if they were religious at all, leaned toward the shouting types of Protestantism which used the cross symbol little, if at all.  Too, she said the Malungeons commonly made and drank brandy rather than whisky. The s seems open to some doubt, as no one in the area makes any brandy now, and on one remembers any of it ever coming off Newman’s Ridge or out of Blackwater Swamp.  Possibly Miss Dromgoole was a teetotaler and no authority on the subject  She also noted a common habit of burying the Malungeon dead above ground, with small, token houses over the graves, much as Spanish and Indian Catholics bury the dead in the Southwestern United States, and Alaskan Indians, converted to Greek Catholicism, do in Alaska and Aleutian Islands.  Again, Miss Dromgoole’s word must be taken for it, because no such graves are in evidence now.

Several peculiarities mar the poetess’ account of the dark people. One is that she changed her mind.  In the Arena article of March, 1891, she rejected the theory that the Malungeons might be Negroid, basing her rejection on their appearance and on what she stated as a fact—that continuance of such blood would be impossible because octoroon women never had children, and Malungeons families were traceable for numerous generations. She said then that she did not know where the Malungeons had come from or of what blood they were, although she was inclined to believe they were basically Portuguese.

Three months later, however, Miss Dromgoole signed another article on the same subject in the same magazine. But by this time she had decided, among other things, that octoroon women were not necessarily barren after all.  She no longer found the Malungeons interesting, friendly or pathetic.  In June they were dirty, thieving, untrustworthy, decadent and not mysterious at all.  In June she knew their exact history. There had been, said Miss Dromgoole, two wily Cherokee Indians with a big idea. First, they borrowed names from white settlers in Virginia and called themselves Vardy Collins and Buck Gibson.  Then, in the woods near a Virginia settlement, Vardy covered Buck with a dark stain , led him to a plantation and there sold him as a ‘likely
n------” receiving in payment $300, some goods and a wagon with a team of mules.  With this loot he promptly vanished into the forest again.

Whereupon Gibson made his way to the nearest fresh water, washed off the dark stain, then calmly walked off the plantation, a free man protesting that he knew nothing of the sale of any “likely n-----” and certainly was not one.

In the forest, Gibson met Collins at ta rendezvous where they split the loot and went their separate ways. Miss Dromgoole’s article gives no hint of her authority, but she states flatly that Collins came to Newman’s Ridge, Tennessee, where he begat a large family by a wife whose ancestry was not specified. Subsequently, and English trader named Mullins came to the ridge and married one of the Collins family.  A free or escaped Negro, on Goins—this still quoting Miss Dromgoole—married another daughter and settledin Blackwater swamp; and a Portuguese, one Denham arrived from no one knows where, married still another Collins to establish one more related family on the ridge.

Miss Dromgoole is gone and there is no practical method of checking her theories or even her facts now. But her final estimate of the Malungeons did not please them, and they had a sort of revenge.  Milum Bowen remembers that the ridge people created a jingle about the poetess and repeated it endlessly to each other.  “I can’t remember the rest of the words, ‘ he says, “ but the last of it was ‘ Will Allen Damfool.”

Actually, Miss Dromgoole’s theory of origin for the dark people has as much to support it as any of the others, which is virtually nothing except that the dark people do exist.  Many theories have been advanced.  One, which the Malungeons themselves like especially, is that they are descendants of the lost Roanoke colony in Virginia–although the only plausible link with that colony is in the English sounding names the Malungeons now hear.  They could be the Lost Colony, of course.  But there is no real indication that they are.

Woodson Knight, a Louisville, Kentucky, writer, professed to find in 1940 an indication in these same names that the people might be Welsh, and was bemused by the possibility that those along the Clinch River might have descended from the retainers of a certain early Welsh Chieftain, one Madoc, who with his ship “sailed from the ken of men into the Western Sea” in the days of the Roman Empire’s decline. Which could be, of course, but lacks any supporting evidence whatsoever.

Unquestionably the oddest theory of all was advanced by J. Patton Gibson, a Tennessee writer, and given an odd twist by Judge Lewis Shepherd, of Chattanooga.  Shepherd’s connection with the Malungeons came through his employment as attorney for a half-Malungeon woman who somehow had wandered that far from her native Hancock County mountains.  A daughter was born, and subsequently both the mother and father died, the latter in an asylum.  His relatives sent the child away and claimed the land, basing their claim on the theory that the Malungeon woman had bee of Negro blood, that the marriage therefore had been illegal under Tennessee statues and that the child was illegitimate and without rights of succession to the property.

Shepherd was employed as attorney for the girl, by this time nearly grown, and brought back to Chattanooga by friends of the dead man.  Like so many of the people who have written and spoken on the subject of the Malungeon mystery Shepherd nowhere quoted his authorities, but what he told the jury was that the girl in question had no Negroid characteristics and that she, a Malungeon, was a descendant of a lost and hounded people originally Phoenicians, who migrated to Morocco at the time the Romans were sacking Carthage.  From Morocco, he said, they eventually sailed to South Carolina, arriving there before other settlers.  But when lighter neighbors came, these people could not get along with them because the light South Carolinians insisted the Malungeons were Negroes, and even attempted to impose a head tax on them as such, as well as barring their children from Caucasian schools.  So they fled toward the mountains and stopped only when they reached Hancock County, Tennessee.  There was nobody then, and there is nobody now, to support in any way his theory or to argue with him on any basis except improbability. But he did win the court case.

One more theory is worth repeating along with the more curious.  Among others, James Aswell, magazine writer and Tennessee history expert, has repeated it as a possible explanation for the Malungeons.  This is: that at about the time of the Portuguese revolt against Spain, numerous Portuguese ships were plying the Caribbean as pirates or near-pirates. A common method of disposing of unwanted drew members was to maroon them, sometimes on the Florida Keys or coast. Some crews also mutinied, and one may have very well burned its ship, attacked some small Indian village ashore and taken the women, then fled west to the mountains to escape Indian wrath.

That these Portuguese could have reached the Hancock ridges is obviously quite possible, especially if their marooning or mutiny should have taken place on the North Carolina coast.  To say that they did reach the ridges is another matter. The only evidences of it are the dark and Latin features of the present-day Malungeons–the differences between Indian and Latin are often difficult to distinguish–the rumors of cross veneration and near-Catholic habits of burial, and the possibility mentioned by some writers that a name such as Bragans might as easily originally have been Braganza as Brogan.

Whatever they are—Welsh, English, Phoenician, Portuguese or just Indian—the Malungeons still are on Newman’s Ridge, in Hancock, Rhea and Hawkins counties of Tennessee, and a few across the border in Virginia.  Many are scattered by ones or twos miles from the isolated ridge top they occupied for so long.  There are  known to be hundreds and maybe thousands with variously diluted blood.  And where they came from nobody knows.  The old people left no records, no implements, books or relics to help in solving the mystery.  They were an uneducated, often illiterate people, and even what little the grandfathers knew or had heard of their own origin died with them, except for scraps of oral stories.

The descendants are still farmers, for the most part, still have occasional trouble about their color.  Within the last dozen years, disputes flared briefly in certain Hancock County districts about whether Malungeon children should go to white or Negro schools, and during both wars of this century, Malungeon draftees have had color trouble upon reporting to Southern cantonments.  They still make a certain amount of tax-evading whisky somewhere up the dim ravines, and now and then are hauled into court for it. Generally, they still avoid schools, except for the mission at Vardy, from which the Rev. Chester F. Leonard sends a few on to the University of Tennessee or to church colleges. One such college, Maryville, has records of half a dozen entered, none graduated.  Mr. Leonard, incidentally, says, “The group is so intermingled that one cannot be sure of a typical specimen.”

In the small Tennessee hill towns, now and then , a dark man will talk to a strange, tell a few incidents heard or seen on Newman’s Ridge or advise him, “ see----------------. If anybody knows, he will.”  Only------never does.  A lovely woman may even, looking straight at the visitor with gray eyes, say, “My own grandfather had some Indians blood and perhaps some Spanish.  We don’t know much about the family, but there is a story that some of DeSoto’s men-----.”

The lady may have small hands and feet, high cheekbones, straight hair and olive skin, and regal carriage.  She may talk for some time and tell much that is written in no books, some fact, some hearsay, some the most fanciful legend.  But one word she will never say. She will never say, “Malungeon.”  The End.

Melungeon-Colored by Mildred Haun - Part I

Have a hanky ready as you read this story of the tragedy of Melungeon ancestry. Is it any wonder that Melungeons hid who they were or where they came from?

Mildred Haun

I didn't know what to make of it when I saw Ad come stomping into the house in the middle of the morning. He was white as a lily.

"Cordia runned off and got married last night," he said. "To Mos Arwood."

"Hit's a tale-idle," I said. "It hadn't so."

But he said Squire Newberry told him. Then he let in to fussing at me because I let her go over there to spend two weeks with Amy. Said after Amy got married and went to Hamblen County to live she had forgot how to take care of anything. Said it looked like I wanted Cordia to run off and get married. I didn't know what to do. Me and Ad had both been tight on Cordia, tighter than we were on our own youngons. We never had allowed her to go to any poke suppers or singings or anything like that. Many was the time I had stayed away from things myself just to keep Cordia at home.

Of course, Cordia didn't know but what me and Ad were her real pa and ma. I give Effena a death-bed oath that I never would tell. You know, if you tell something a dying person asks you not to tell you will be haunted by that person the rest of your life. Everybody you tell will be haunted too. It never would have done to have told Cordia--just never would.

I didn't see how I was going to do without Cordia. And having to worry about her. That made it worse. I had missed her them two weeks she had been staying with Amy--missed her worse than a cow misses a baby calf. I told Amy to be careful with her. But I could tell about what had happened. And I was right. Amy let her go to one of them Dunkards' suppers. Of course, a Dunkards' supper is the beatinest place in the world for a boy and girl to start sparking. Cordia couldn't see but what she had as much right to get married as anybody else when she was already seventeen year old. Me and Ad had brought her up with our own youngons and she never did know she was just a grandyoungon.

Effena, she died just two days after she bore Cordia. She had had much to go through on account of her man getting killed and everything. Then taking that long trip to the New Jerusalem church house in the wagon just as it was time for the baby to come. And the baby being a girl instead of the boy she already had named "Little Murf." It was all too much for her. She was always the sickliest one of my youngons anyhow.

So when Effena saw she was going to die she asked me not to ever let Cordia know that her pa had been a Melungeon. Said some folks were getting so they held it against a body for being a Melungeon. I reckon it was because of what that ignorant man from down the country said about them having Negro blood in them. Of course I don't know. I never have seed a Negro. But I've heard tell of them. Ad sees them sometimes when he goes to Newport. But other folks claimed that Melungeons were a Lost Colony or a Lost Tribe or something. I don't know. I just know Effena said for me to raise Cordia up to think she didn't ever have any other pa or ma. And she said for me not to ever let Cordia get married. I could see how Effena thought. I knowed if Cordia ever had any boy youngons they would be Melungeon-colored and her man might not understand. I knew, and I promised Effena just as the breath went out of her.

I set out to keep the promise. Many was the time it was hard to keep from bawling when Cordia would beg like a pup to go somewhere and would think hard of me because I wouldn't let her. But I made up my mind not to worry till I had something to worry about. I told myself there might not be any youngons, or if there were, they might all be girls.

Everything I looked at made me think of Cordia. The blue flowers out in the yard. Cordia had gone out in the woods and dug them up along back in the spring. Cordia liked flowers. I can remember how she liked them even when she wasn't any more than knee-high to a duck--how she would slip off and pluck wild flowers of all sorts and come toting them in. She went all over the side of Reds Run Mountain picking sweet williams in the spring. She would make little round rings out of larkspur blossoms. And press them in the catalogue.

Cordia was handy around the house. She took to cooking like a duck to water. And she was pretty. I wish it had been so I could have let her go to big to-do and have a good time. If it just hadn't been for that blood in her. I would have let her have a big time. Then when she got married she could have had an infare and everything. But there's no use crying over a burnt-up candle.

Cordia come home that evening and brought Mos with her. I tried not to let her see I was worried. But I did talk to her about all the signs there are that a woman is going to have a baby. I made her promise to come right to me and let me know at the first sign she had. I hate to own up to what I was aiming on doing. All the years that I have been a Granny-woman I never have give anybody a thing to knock a youngon. Heaps of women have begged me to. It is just one of the things I always said no to. But with Cordia it was different. What I aimed on doing was to give her a quart of hot pennyroyal tea. Ma told me about it back when she was teaching me to be a Granny -woman.

I tried to hint around and tell Cordia how to keep from getting big. But Cordia didn't want to keep from it--she said she wanted youngons. So I knew I would have to work easy to keep her from catching on to what it was for. And, on top of it all, right while I was talking to her I heard a dove on top of the house hollering hollering out its bad luck sound.

Of course I couldn't tell Ad nor the youngons anything about it. And Cordia would know when she had her miscarriage. But I allowed Mos never would know but what Cordia got too hot or jumped down off the fence or something. Then I made up my mind that I wasn't going to worry over a swinging foot-log till I was sure I would have to cross one. I didn't see Cordia eter a time during that whole winter long. Ad went over there once or twice and he said she was getting on all right. Said she was just broke into harness like an old horse.

It come spring. Spring made me feel so good I didn't stop to worry much over Cordia. I was sure she would let me know. It come a real pretty day. I got up soon that morning because I had a feeling Cordia might take a notion to come home and spend the day. The first thing I seed was Old Puss setting there in front of the door washing her face. I was sure then that somebody was coming. I hurried on and started to milk. I hoped it would be Cordia. I wanted to see her. She hadn't been back any more since her and Mos come the next evening after they were married. Of course, the weather hadn't been fitten for her to come.

I hung the milk bucket across my arm and started out the door. It seemed like I couldn't get my work turned off very well. I just poked around like the dead lice were dropping off me. It seemed like the chickens and turkeys and everything else were hungry. They all started to yelping and running after me. They got on my nerves. I stopped to feed them. Everything I saw made me think of a baby being born, of a ma trying to save a youngon. I could see the egg hanging in the old gray goose's belly. One of the old turkey hens acted sneaking, like she was going to slip off and hunt herself a nest. I seed a little robin skipping about up there in the cow field. Singing because it was fixing to build itself a nest. Happy even before its babies were hatched out. I had to go plumb to the furderest corner of the field. Old Heif always used around the oak trees over there soon of a morning.

I felt all shook up inside. I kept turning around and looking back. I could see somebody coming down the side of Sals King Mountain. I knowed they couldn't be going anywhere else save here. I couldn't think of it being anybody save Cordia. I went on to milk. I couldn't tell for sure who it was. But I knew in reason it was Cordia. Nobody else would be coming this way. I kept on looking back. It looked to me like everwho it was had on a green hat, a yellow waist, and a blue skirt, and big red shoes. She was leading a cow that had a green head and a yellow neck, a blue body and red legs. Then I caught myself.

I thought if it was Cordia she would go on in the house and make up the beds. I thought nothing had got wrong with her. She never had sent word by Ad that she wanted to see me about anything.

Old Heif was away over in the edge of the pine thicket. 1 thought I would milk her over there where she stood. It would take less time than driving her up. I seed a snake skin right in front of me. Another bad luck sign. But I had already made up my mind not to let things bother me.

Old Heif had been dry in one tit for over a week. I never had thought much about it before. But I thought about it then. That was the worst of bad luck. Then the sun hid behind a cloud and things looked dark and gloomy. I felt tired and dilitary for some reason. I felt like I was just about ready to fall to staves. The old wet filth in the gullies stunk worse than carrion. I nigh stepped on a tumblebug. It let lose of its ball quick as a frog could jump into the water. That set me to thinking again. Tumblebugs knew how to take care of their youngons. Spiders made a ball to tote their youngons around in too. And ditt clobbers.

And birds--if they thought somebody was going to pester their nests--would grab up the little birds in their mouths and hide them in the bushes somewhere. Then they would perch themselves on a limb and holler. They wanted a body to kill them instead of the little birds. Snakes--even snakes took care of the little snakes. They would swallow them. Then I told myself to stop thinking about such. And then I told myself again that any ma that loved her youngon wouldn't let harm come to it. Cordia was more than my youngon.

I moseyed on back to the house. Seemed like I couldn't hurry no matter how hard I tried. I heard somebody making a racket in the house. I couldn't help but notice that old hen standing in the door. Just as I hollered shoo at her she stuck out her head and crowed. I went over that old saying:

"A whistling girl and a crowing hen is sure to come to some bad end.''

I took note of which one it was so I could ring her old neck for her.

Cordia heard me holler and she come to the door with the broom in her hand.

"Well, howdy doo," I said. "What crooked wind browed you here?"

"I don't know. How are you all getting along?"

"We are perusing about. How are you and Mos?"

"As well as common, I reckon." she said. She went to talking ahout needing to be at home. "By rights I ought to be at home working now. But this is the first day it has been fitten to come.''

I looked at her. She looked like an old woman--tired and without color. "How many chickens have you'ns got?" I asked her.

"We've not had very good luck. We had about thirty-seven hatched off. We don't have but nineteen now."

"I'll get this milk strained so we can set down and talk," I told her.

She said for me to go on with my work. Then she said, "I guess I might as well tell you now. I'm that way, Ma."

I jumped. "You don't know for sure yet? You might not be."

"Yeah, it couldn't be anything else. I've been that way for three months now."

"Three months?" I knew I mustn't let on. I didn't know what to do. Pennyroyal tea won't do any good after a woman is that far gone. I tried to think it would be a girl baby. I begun saying to myself that I wished Cordia would die before it was born. Of course I didn't wish anything of the sort. I tried to make out like I was proud. "Who are you going to have with you, Cordia ?"

"You and Mos's ma," she said.

For the next six months that was all I could think of. I tried to tell myself it was good enough for Cordia because she didn't come and tell me sooner. I tried to think it would be sure to be a girl baby, and not be black. But soon I got to the place where I couldn't believe anything save that it would be a boy. Then when I recollected that Ad had told me Mos had a Melungeon boy from Newman's Ridge in Hancock County staying over there with him during the winter to help saw wood, I seed that would make things worse.

I had a feeling it would have to happen that night, that night it did happen. It was an awful night. A stormy night in the fall of the year. It was the worst storm I ever saw. I didn't see how Ad could lay there and sleep like a knot on a log. I had to stay up and look out the window. I couldn't have slept if I had all the jimpson weed seeds in the world in my shoes.

The water was slushing against the house. There wasn't any air--not enough for a body to breathe. I thought I was going to smother. I opened the window door and kept it open, even if the lightning did scare me. The hard splashes of water. I had to shut it once or twice--for a short white. It was a regular cloudbust.

I felt certain something terrible was bound to happen that very night. I had been feeling it all day. I dreamed of snakes the night before--green snakes. I hadn't slept any the rest of the night. The wind. I buttoned the door and the window too. And propped the door good. But every puff that come I thought it was going to blow open. I feared to breathe. If the door should blow open the wind would suck through and blow the top off the house. I felt like the wind coming through the window was about to blow me away.

"Ad," I yelled.

"Shet your mouth," he said. Then real quick, "What the hell?"

"The door. Quick," I told him.

Part II follows:

Melungeon-Colored Part II

I bit my tongue as I watched him fight against the wind. He got it pushed to. I knew he couldn't hold it there. "Hand me the hammer and nails here," I heard him yell. I went to turning around and around. To save my life I couldn't think where the hammer was. A big flash of lightning come. It run all over the house. I thought the world was coming to an end. It looked like the whole world was on fire. "God damn it, hurry up," I heard Ad yelling. "On the fireboard."

I handed him the hammer. I couldn't hold the door to. I tried to drive the nails while he held it. Mashed my finger. More bad luck. And I stopped to think of that right there. I wondered how Cordia was taking the storm. I hoped she wouldn't have the baby that night. It come a keen crash. I hollered out that lightning struck the house. Ad said for me to come on to bed and stop that damned foolishness.

I couldn't go to bed. For the last nine days I had been feel feeling all turned upside down. The feeling I always had when something was going to happen. Something was bound to take place that night. I recollected about hearing death bells in my ears before midday that day. That meant somebody was going to die before midnight. I thought it meant the whole world. It looked to me like everybody was going to burn up.

I caught myself hoping the world would come to an end. So Cordia wouldn't have any trouble. I tried not to think on Cordia. I went to telling Ad the world was coming to an end and singing. "Will you be ready for that day to come?" I kept thinking about that Melungeon boy that had helped Mos all winter. Ad said he was mighty talky around Cordia. That made it worse. It all hopped around through my mind. I got in the bed behind Ad. I didn't even fool to turn my shoes upside down. Corns didn't matter any more. Not then.

I pulled the quilt up over my head. I had rather not see the lightning. I thought there wasn't any use in trying to stop God's plans. I had almost been warned but I hadn't done anything about it. I thought the Lord would understand.

I heard a noise that wasn't just thunder. It was a tree falling. Sounded like the whole earth was being tore up by the roots. I made up my mind to go. I never had done any harm to anybody that I could think of.

I thought I heard somebody calling, "Granny." I was scared so bad I thought it was the Lord. I heard it again. I was making up my mind to do what Preacher Jarven said and answer, "Yes, Lord,'' when I heard knocking at the window. I called Ad again.

"Aw, God damn it," he said. Then I heard him hollering louder, ''Yeah--yeah, all right, Mos." I felt Ad getting out of bed. It was Mos instead of the Lord. I listened. "Cordia wants Granny to come over there," I heard Mos say. All I could think of then was getting over there and helping Cordia. I remembered that the door was nailed. I was afeared to open the window on account of the wind. The only thing I could think of was to lift up a plank and crawl out under the house.

I heard Ad scolding me. "What are you doing?" he yelled. "Go on out the window like somebody with some sense." I minded him. It looked like the whole ground was a branch. I thought I would be drowned. I heard a screech owl hollering. "A screech owl hollering in the rain, Mos," I told him. Then I said to myself that it needn't be telling me. I already knew death was nigh.

Mos said, "Slop Creek is rising like smoke from a brush pile. I guess the foot-log is gone by now."

That meant we would have to go way up the creek and cross that swinging foot-log. I didn't think I could ever get across it. It was kind of rickety anyhow. I made up my mind I didn't care if I did fall in. The wind was something awful. Things kept roaring in my head till I thought it was going to bust. "Mos, what was that?" I asked.

"A tree. It just browed up by the roots," he said.

I kept talking to Mos. "Mos, we'll be kilt dead before we get there. I know we will. I dreampt about snakes last night. That lightning."

He answered me real calm-like, "The ground is soggy. These here sod soakers make pine trees and cedars easy to blow up by the roots."

I heard a loud noise--sounded like a gun going off in my ear. The woods were roaring in my ears. I felt like the whole woods were blowing up. It looked like there was a tree falling right on me. I wanted to yell. But I didn't have enough breath to yell. ''That was just a limb broke off in front of us," Mos said. He said we had better go straight up the edge of the creek from then on. Then he said, "You will be the only one there. The Shin-Bone branch is up so big I can't go after Ma."

I was almost glad he couldn't. The water was roaring so I was afraid to go near the bank. I was afraid it might come down in a big gush and wash us away before we got to Cordia. Then I pert nigh wished it would. I never would have known how it all ended up. I heard something squealing--some kind of animal squealing. "Look," Mos said. ''There goes Dona Fawver's hogs down the creek. And good God, cow too."

I was so tore up I didn't care what washed away. I made up my mind to pull myself together. I never had been into such a shape before. Then was the time I needed to keep my head. We got to the foot-log. When it lightened I could see the foot-log swing in the wind. I wished it wouldn't lighten so keen. I didn't want to see it swinging in the wind. I felt like if I set my foot on the foot-log I would fall right off. Then I would go down the creek with Dona's hogs and cow. Hogs and cows and me, I thought. There were worse things to be with.

Mos took hold of my hand. Both of us would go together, I thought. I wondered why the wind had to blow like that, why the branch had to roar. I got to thinking maybe the world had already come to an end. I thought maybe that was hell. Preacher Jarven said it would be raining lightning bolts all the time in hell. Every drop would be an arrow of blazing lightning and it would go through your body.

I went to thinking about that song:

"Will the waters be chilly, Will the waters be chilly When I am called to die?"

The water would roar and the sinner would fall into it. It would freeze around his neck. His head would be left up on top for the burning arrows to stick into. And the thunder. But I had enough sense left to know that wasn't hell. I told myself I had better keep my head. Something picked me up. I thought it was the water. I could feel myself floating against a cow.

"I'll carry you across," Mos said.

"Don't drop me," I kept on telling him.

He set me down. I couldn't bear to look back. The foot-log would be gone in another second. Mos walked so fast it was hard for me to keep up with him. We got in sight. It looked like the house was on fire. The tree in the yard was browed up by the roots. I seed that the next thing. I wondered if Cordia had heard all that racket. We had to surround the tree to get up on the porch. Cordia didn't open the door. The first thing I thought about was that she was dead.

"Push it open--I can't come," I heard her say from inside. Mos pushed the button off with one big lunge. I followed him in.

"It is done over. Hurry up," Cordia said.

I threw back the quilt. "Heat me some water. Bring me the scissors. Mos," I said.

Mos come running with the scissors. "Its skin!" I said. "A Melungeon! I knowedit." I don't know what made me say it. Mos give the baby one look. "That's why that devil wanted to stay here," he yelled.

I seed him pick up a stick of stove wood. I didn't know what had made me blurt it out. I just didn't know anything. I reckon Cordia was too weak to pay any attention to what we were saying. She was shaking. I seed she was having convulsions. That was what it was. And I took note of the stuff by the side of her bed. She had took too much gunpowder.

"Mos! " I yelled. "Don't!"

But it was too late to yell. I stood there like a post, trying to think. I felt Mos take a hold of me. I thought he was going to kill me too.

"Listen to reason," he said to me "Are you in your right senses ?"

I jumped. I don't think I knowed for sure whether I was or not. I saw I would have to quiet myself down. The baby was alive. With Cordia dead. Mos's eyes--they were as green as a glow worm.

"Me and you can bury her up yander on the hill in the morning," he said.

I stood there. But I recollected the hill. Mos's grandpa and grandma were buried up there. It would be for Cordia's good. It would save her name. All that went through my head. Nobody would blame Mos. Nobody would know about the burying. Nobody would come to the burying anyhow. Both creeks were up too high. I seed it was best. We could tell folks that we had to bury her. I thought of the baby.

I've thought about the things that happened that night. All night me and Mos hammered on the coffin. Old rough planks that he tore out of the house loft. Right there in the room where Cordia was. And her more than my girl. And the little funny-colored baby that I prayed the Lord would let die before we got the coffin made. But it didn't. It kept on whimpering and gasping. I never could have stood it if I had been in my right mind. I was scared out of my right senses. Scared Mos would hit me in the head with that hammer. Somehow, I wasn't willing to die, even if I did think I wanted to.

When we got the coffin done we didn't even stuff it and put a lining in it. We piled some quilts down in it and laid Cordia on them. I did wash Cordia and wrap her up in a new quilt. But we had to break her knees to get her legs to go down into the coffin.

And the baby, it kept on living. Mos, he just picked it up and put it on in. I stood and watched him. Stood stone-still and watched him. We nailed the lid down. It was about chicken crow then. I had to stay there in the room while Mos went to dig a grave. And the baby alive.

It poured down rain while Mos was gone. It was dark as pitch outside. And that cat. That cat kept on clawing at the window. It meowed and screamed and went on. Then I heard that panther scream right out there in the yard. It sounded like a woman's screaming.

A big puff of wind come and blew the door open. And that cat kept on. I was afraid the panther would get in the house if I didn't go shut the door. But I couldn't move toward the door. I couldn't move any which way.

The grave, it was full of water by the time me and Mos got Cordia carried up there. About halfway there we had to set the coffin down in the mud so we could rest a spell. And that cat. When we set the coffin down, it jumped upon it. Mos couldn't knock it off. It fit him right back. It followed us every jump of the way. I could hear the baby smothering and that cat meowing.

I'm not even sure we buried Cordia with her head to the west. We might not have. Cordia may have her back turned to the Lord when she raises up to meet him.

It was seven months after we buried her that the funeral was. I had a good notion not to go to the funeral. But I wanted to hear what was said about Cordial Mos tried all winter to get a preacher man. The roads were "outed out so bad he had to wait till spring. Then Preacher Jarven come. It was a pretty day. A spring day when the bees and birds and spiders and hens and everything thought about their babies. It would have been a pretty day for Cordia to get married.

It was a big funeral. Everybody in Hoot Owl District was there. I wished there hadn't so many folks come. They all said they pitied me and Mos because the branches were up so big we had to do the burying by ourselves.

There were already several folks at the church house when me and Ad got there. I thought we would be the first ones. We started soon. Looked as if the folks were all staring at me like a cat trying to charm a bird. I thought I saw Cordia setting up there on the front seat by Mos. I told myself to keep my senses. But there was a woman setting by the side of Mos.

"Me and you are supposed to set up hyear with Mos and his woman, ain't we?" I heard Ad asking. Then it come to me who that woman was. It was Mos's new woman. He hadn't waited till the dirt settled on Cordia's grave. That woman looked like Cordia. Cordia pale as a sheet. Mos was pale too.

I wanted to tell Mos how it was. But I knowed that would disturb Effena's peace, because I had promised her. Effena would come back and haunt Mos. Mos would be haunted and I would be haunted.

I tried to listen to what the preacher man was saying. Something about Cordia. Something about he wished everybody was as ready to go as Cordia was when the Lord saw fit to call her home. Something about them that weren't ready would cook in biling molasses the rest of their lives, and smell burning sulphur. Something about Cordia making a bee-line for Heaven.

It begun to get dark. I thought a cloud must be coming up. It was time of year for such. "April showers make May flowers," I went to saying, and thinking about how everything was planned out. Then I heard the leaves. Sounded like there was a whirlwind outside. I thought I could smell something burning. I thought about sulphur, about the church being on fire, about the woods--but the woods were green.

I took note that everybody was standing. Ad pulled me up. It seemed like everybody was hollering about something. Then I seed. They were just singing loud. I went to singing too:

"In vain to Heaven she lifts her eyes
But guilt, a heavy chain,
Still drags her downward from the skies To darkness, fire and pain."

Darkness, fire and pain. They were what I had been through. But God said he understood.

Me and Ad went on out behind Mos. We stopped down there in the hollow and I picked my dress tail full of poke sallet for supper. The sun was going down and the air felt good and cool-like. A honey bee flew around my head, and some pretty pied butterflies. I felt peaceful as a kittten.


Monday, July 18, 2005

Southwest Virginia County Boundary Changes 1777 to 1880 MAP

Southwest Virginia County Boundary Changes  1777 to 1880

Sunday, July 17, 2005

"A Strange People" Will Allen Dromgoole

"A Strange People"

Nashville Sunday American, September 1, 1890

Will Allen Dromgoole

Habits, Customs and Characteristics of Malungeons.

Little Given to Social Intercourse With the Neighbors.

A School Teacher Who Can Neither Read Nor Write - Dancing the Favorite Pastime

I have made a careful study and inquiry as to the name Malungeon, but have been unable as yet to place it. It has an Indian sound, but the Malungeons themselves have no idea as to its origin or meaning.

These people, of whom so little is known, inhabit an isolated corner of the earth, known as Newman’s ridge, in Hancock county. They are within five miles of one of the prettiest county seats in Tennessee. They mix very little with the natives of the county, and seem to care very little about the world beyond their isolated habitation. Their homes are miserable hovels, set in the very heart of the wilderness. There is not, I am told, a family on the ridge other than the Malungeons.

At one house where I stopped I was put in a closet to sleep. The room had no windows and the door opened into my landlady’s room. The latch was removed before I retired. My bed was made of straw and I was not its sole inhabitant, not by an overwhelming majority. My food consisted of corn bread, honey and bitter coffee. At another place, I climbed a ladder to the roof-room, which had neither windows nor floor. I did not meet a man or woman in the ridge who could read.

At the foot of the ridge in what is known as Black Water swamp, the country is simply magnificent. I boarded there for several days and found the people exceedingly kind. The ridge proper is the home of the Malungeons.

I visited one house where the floors were of trees, the bark still on them, and the beds of leaves. The owner was a full-blooded Indian, with keen, black eyes, straight black hair, high cheeks, and a hook nose. He played upon his violin with his fingers instead of a bow, and entertained us with a history of his grandfather, who was a Cherokee chief, and by singing some of the songs of his tribe. He also described the Malungeon custom of amusements. The dance is a favorite pastime consisting of a two, four or six-handed reel. Whiskey is a very popular guest at their entertainments, and fights are not an uncommon result. In a fight each man’s friends are expected to take sides and help, and the fight continues until one side at least is whipped.

At another house I visited (if I may call it a house) I found the family, nine in number, housed in one room of a stable. There were three rooms to the establishment. The stock (belonging to some one else) was fed in one department and the family lived in the next. The living room was about 12 feet square and had neither chinking or daubing. There were two beds, and one of them stood alongside the partition where there were cracks large enough for a child of 5 years to step through the hay rick on the other side. The space unoccupied by the beds was about 1 feet [sic], and there being no chairs, and old quilt was spread upon the floor, and three poor old women were scattered upon it arranging their Indian locks. The third room was the cooking department, although several dirty-looking beds occupied space here and there. I forgot to mention a heap of white ashes in the living room, which the women utilized for spitting upon. The Malungeons are great lovers of the weed and all chew and smoke - men, women and children.

I also visited the cabin of a charmer, for you must know these people have many superstitions. This charmer can remove warts, moles, birth-marks, and all ugly protuberances by a kind of magic known only to herself. She offered to remove the mole from my face for 10 cents, and became quite angry when I declined to part with my lifetime companion.

"Tairsn’t purty, nohers," she said; "an ‘t air ner sarvice, nurther."

I cannot spell their dialect as they speak it. It is not the dialect of the mountaineers, and the last syllable of almost every word is omitted. The "R" is missing entirely from their vocabulary. There is also a witch among them who heals sores, rheumatism, "conjures," etc. They come from ten miles afoot to consult her

They possess many Indian traits, that of vengeance being strongly characteristic of them.

They, likewise, resemble the negro in many things. They are sticklers for religion, and believe largely in water and the "mourner’s bench." They call themselves Baptists, although their form of worship is really that of the Dunkard. They are exceedingly illiterate, but are beginning to take some interest in educational matters. I visited one of their schools, taught by a native Malungeon. He could not read, and his pronunciation of the words given to the spelling class was exceedingly peculiar, as well as ridiculous. Mr. Thomas Sharpe, of Nashville, made an excellent sketch of this teacher while he was busy with his class and unconcious that he was "being tuk fur a pictur."

There are but three names among them - real Malungeon names - Collins, Mullins, Gorvens. Lately the name of Gibbins has found a way among them, but the first three are their real names. They distinguish each other in a most novel manner. For instance, Calloway Collins’ wife is Ann Calloway, his daughter is Dorous Calloway, and his son is Jim Calloway.

How they live is a mystery. Their food is the hardest kind, and their homes unfit shelter for man or beast. In many cases they are extremely immoral and seem utterly unconscious of either law or cleanliness. Their voices are exceedingly sweet, and their laugh the merriest, most musical ripple imaginable, more like the tinkle of a happy little brook among beds of pebbles than the laugh of a half civilized Malungeon. Even the men speak low and their voices are not unpleasant. The women are quick, sharp, bright. The men are slow, lazy, shiftless and shirking, and seem entirely unacquainted with work, God’s medicine for the miserable.

Their dress is ordinary calico, or cotton, short blouse, without buttons or other fastenings than brass pins conspicuously arranged, or narrow white strings tacked on either side the waist and tied in a bow knot.

These strange people have caught, however, the fever raging throughout the south, and especially through Eastern Tennessee, the iron fever. They believe their sterile ridges to be crammed full with the precious ore. If it is, the rocks give no sign, for there are no outcroppings to be found as yet.

At one place I staid to dinner. No one ate with me except my own guide, and the food and shelter were given grudgingly, without that hearty willingness which characterizes the old Tennessee mountaineer, who bids you "light and hitch, feed your critter and be ter home." I was invited to eat, to be sure, but the family stood by and eyed me until my portion of bread and honey almost choked me. Corn bread, thick, black, crusted pones, steaming hot, and honey sweet enough and clean - aye, clean, for the wild bees made it from the wild flowers springing straight from God’s planting. I paid 15 cents for my dinner. A mountaineer would have knocked you down had you offered money for dinner under such circumstances. Bah! The Malungeon is no more a mountaineer than am I, born in the heart of the old Volunteer state.


“LAND OF THE MALUNGEONS” Will Allen Dromgoole

"Land of the Malungeons"

Nashville Sunday American, August 31, 1890
Will Allen Dromgoole

Away up in an extreme corner of Tennessee I found them - them or it, for what I found is a remnant of a lost or forgotten race, huddled together in a sterile and isolated strip of land in one of the most inaccessible quarters of Tennessee. When I started out upon my hunt for the Malungeons various opinions and vague whispers were afloat concerning my sanity. Mr friends were tookind to do more than shake their heads and declare they never heard of such a people. But the less intimate of my acquaintances cooly informed me that I was "going on a wild-goose chase" and were quite willing to "bet their ears" I would never get nearer a Malungeon than at that moment. One dear old lady with more faith in the existence of the Malungeons than in my ability to cope with them begged me to insure my life before starting and to carry a loaded pistol. Another, not so dear and not so precautious [sic], informed me that she "didn’t believe in women gadding about the country alone, nohow." Still, I went, I saw and I shall conquer.

How I chanced to go and how I first heard of the Malungeons was through a New York newspaper. Some three years since I noticed a short paragraph stating that such a people exist somewhere in Tennessee. It stated that they were rather wild, entirely unlettered and largely given to illicit distilling. It spoke of their dialect as something unheard of , but failed to locate the human curiosities. I had bu tone cue by which to trail them - voz: they were illicit distillers. After repeated inquiry, and no end of laughter at my expense, I went to Capt. Carter B. Harrison, who was once United States marshall and did a good deal of work in this district.

"The Malungeons?" said Capt. Harrison. "O yes; you will find them in _______ county [I will give the county later], and Senator J_____, of the state senate, can tell you all about them."

I trailed Senator J_____ for six months, and with this result:

"Go to _____," said he, "and take a horse forty miles across the country to _____, Tenn. There strike for _____ ridge, the stronghold of the Malungeons."

I have followed directions faithfully, and just here let me say if any one supposes I made the trip for the fun it might afford, he is mistaken. If any one supposes it was prompted by a spirit of adventure, or a love for the wild and untried, he is grievously in error. I have never experienced more difficulty in traveling, suffered more inconvenience, discomfort, bodily fatigue, and real dread of danger. It required almost superhuman effort to carry me on, and more than once, or a dozen times, was I tempted to give it up.

The Malungeons are a most peculiar people. The occupy an isolated and, except for horse or foot passengers, inaccessible territory, separated and alone, not mixing or caring to mix with the rest of the world. There are, however, a few, a very few, exceptions. I went one day to preaching on Big Sycamore, where the people are more mixed than on their native mountains. I found here all colors - white women with white children and white husbands, Malungeon women with brown babies and white babies, and one, a young copper-colored woman with black eyes and straight Indian locks, had three black babies, negroes, at her heels and a third [sic] at her breast. She was not a negro. Her skin was red, a kind of reddish-yellow, as easily distinguishable from a mulatto as the white man from the negro. I saw an old colored man, black as the oft-quoted ace of spades, whose wife is a white woman. I am told, however, the law did take his case in hand, but the old negro pleaded his "Portyghee" blood and was not convicted.

Many Malungeons claim to be Cherokee and Portuguese. Where they could have gotten their Portuguese blood is a mystery. The Cherokee is easily enough accounted for, as they claim to have come from North Carolina and to be a remnant of the tribe that refused to go when the Indians were ordered to the reservation. They are certainly very Indian-like in appearance. The men are tall, straight, clean-shaven, with small, sharp eyes, hooked noses and high cheek bones. They wear their hair long, a great many of them, and evidently enjoy their resemblance to the red man. This is doubtless due to the fact that a great many are disposed to believe them mulattos, and they are strongly opposed to being so classed. The women are small, graceful, dark and ugly. They go barefooted, but their feet are small and well shaped. So, too, are their hands, and they have the merriest, most musical laugh I have ever heard. They are exceedingly inquisitive, and will ask you a dozen questions before you can answer two.

The first question that greets you at every door is - even if you only stop for water - "Whatcher name?" the next is, "How old yer?" and then comes the all-important - "Did yer hear an’thin’ o’ ther railroad cumin’ up ther ridge?"

They look for it constantly and always, as if they expect to see, some glad day, the brunt of the iron track, the glorious herald of prosperity and knowledge, come creeping up the mountains, horseback or afoot, bringing joy to the cabin even of the outcast and ostracised Malungeon; ostracised indeed. Only the negroes, who have themselves felt the lash of ostracism, open their doors to the Malungeons. They are very dishonest, so much so that only a few, not more than half a dozen, of the best are admitted into the house of the well-to-do native.

During the war they were a terror to the women of the valley, going in droves to their homes and helping themselves to food and clothing, even rifling the beds and closets while the defenseless wives of the absent soldiers stood by and witnessed the wholesale plundering, afraid to so much as offer a protest. After the war the women invaded their territory and recovered a great deal of their stolen property. They are exceedingly lazy. They live from hand to mouth and in hovels too filthy for any human being. They do not cultivate the soil at all. A tobacco patch and an orchard is the end and aim of their aspirations. I never saw such orchards, apples and apples and apples, peaches and peaches and peaches, and soon it will be brandy and brandy and brandy. They all drink, men, women and children, and they are all distillers; that is, the work of distilling is not confined to the men. Indeed, the women are the burden-bearers in every sense. They cook, wash, dig, hoe, cut wood, gather the fruit, strip the tobacco and help with the stills. There is not so much distilling now among them as there was a few years back. Uncle Sam set his hounds upon their trail, and now they are more careful of the requirement of the federal law at all events, as their miserable little doggeries, dotted here and there, go to prove.

They wondered very much concerning my appearance among them. Yes, I am right in the midst of them, and such an experience is almost beyond my power to picture. My board rates 15 cents per day. (Let the Maxwell blush.) Thank fortune, my purse and my destiny have at last "met upon a level." No, do not say I am swindling my poor hosts. (I go from place to place.) Wait until I tell you. After I really struck their settlement, I entered upon a diet of cornbread and honey. Coffee? Oh yes, we have "lots" of coffee. It sets (or stands according to its age) in a tin pot in the shed (or under it), between the two rooms. There are never more than two rooms. Any one who is thirsty helps himself to coffee. Cold? Aye, cold as this world’s charity and as comfortless. But it saves a walk to the spring and so we drink it. I had some trouble in getting board, because I asked "for board." And let me say, I have never drawn a good easy breath since I landed and found a dozen pairs of little black Indian eyes turned upon me. Always they are at the cracks, the chimney corner, "window hole," the door, peeping through the chinquapin and wahoo bushes, until I feel as if forty thousand spies were watching my movements. I had not dared to take out a pencil for three days, except last Monday night after I went to bed. I tried to write a letter in the dark, by a streak of light which fell through a chink in the door. But the next morning, when my hostess - a little snap-eyed, red-brown squaw - flung open my door (the room had but one, and she had removed the fastening, a wooden button, the night before) and sung out:

"You Joe! - time you’s up out’n ther," and a little, limp, sleepy-looking Indian crawled out from a pallet of rags in the corner. I felt pretty sure the boy had been put there to watch me, and so didn’t try that kind of writing again. They are exceedingly suspicious and are as curious about me as can be. They received an idea that I am traveling for my health, as quite a number come from the valley to drink the mineral water with which this magnificent country abouts. Still, they suspect me, and they come in droves to see me. Seven little brown women, with bare feet and corncob pipes, sat on the doorstep yesterday to see me go out. I stopped a moment to speak to them; told them my name (which is the greatest puzzle to them, not one daring to try it), my age, and was informed that if I wasn’t married "it wair time." And then one grizzle face
old squaw kindly offered me a "pull at her pipe."

I visited one house of two rooms - Mrs. Gorvins’. She was out in the orchard gathering apples to dry, and out to the orchard I went. The prettiest girl I ever saw came to meet me with her lap full of apples. She pointed to a seat on a rude bench and poured the apples into my lap, at the same time calling, "Mai! Mai! Come er-here!" (Please call that word Mai as it is called in hair or after.) Mai came, and the saints and hobgoblins! The witch of Endor calling dead Saul from sepulchral darkness would have calked her ears and fled forever at the sight of this living, breathing Malungeon witch. Shakespeare would have shrieked in agony and chucked his own weird sisters where neither "thunder, lightning nor rain" would ever have found them more. Even poor tipsy, turvy Tam O’Shanter would have drawn up his gray mare and forgotten to fly before this, mightier than Meg Merrilles herself. She was small, scant, raw-boned, sharp-ankled, barefoot, short frock literally hanging from the knee in rags. A dark jacket with great yellow patches on either breast, sleeves torn away above the elbow, black hair burnt to an unfashionable auburn long ago, and a corncob pipe wedged between the toothless gums. A flock of children came in her wake, and full one dozen more (indeed I am telling the unvarnished truth) came from bush and brake. I never saw as many, seventeen by actual count, and two missing "count o’ bein’ dead."

Mrs. Gorvins was silent until I spoke to one of the children, and then, let me tell you something, I never saw an uglier human creature, or one more gross-looking and unattractive, and I never saw a gentler, sweeter, truer mother. She called up her children - little brown fellows, bearing the unmistakable mark of the Indian, all but one, a little white-headed boy with blue eyes and dimpled chin, who seemed as much out of place among them as a lily in a dungeon. One was Maggieleny (Magdeline), and one was Ichabady (Ichabod), and one was Archivale (Archibald). Another was Kat (Kathleen), another Hanny (Hannah), and the baby - names giving out, as the mother told me, she "had jes’ been plumb erbliged ter name one over twict," and so the baby was called Katty (Kathleen).

They lived on corn bread and honey, coffee without cream or sugar, and found life full and glad and satisfactory.

I could run on forever telling you of these queer, queer people, who are a part of us, have a voice in our politics and a right to our consideration. They are a blot upon our state. They are ignorant of the very letters of the alphabet, and defiant (or worse, ignorant) of the very first principles of morality and cleanliness. It is no sensational picture I have drawn; it is hard truth, hard to believe and hard to understand. They are within five miles of one of the prettiest county seats in Tennessee. In politics they are republican to a man, but sell their votes for 50 cents and consider themselves well paid. They are great "charmers" and "herb doctors." I have a string of "blood beads" I bought of an old squaw, who assured me they would heal all "ailmint o’ the blood." They are totally unlike the native Tennessee mountaineer, unlike him in every way. The mountaineer is liberal, trustful and open. The Malungeon wants pay (not much, but something) for the slightest favor. He is curious and suspicious and given to lying and stealing, things unknown among the native mountaineers.

I must tell you of a sermon I heard down in Black Water swamp. I do not know what the text was, but the preacher, a half-breed, was telling of the danger of riches. He told them of Mr. Vanderbilt, "the riches’ man et ever trod on God a-mighty’s yearth," he said. And then he told how, when he came to die he called his wife and asked her to sing, "Come, Ye Sinners." He drew his point: the rich man wanted the beggar’s song sung over him. And he lamented that it was "tu late, tu late" for Mr. Vanderbilt. He died and went to torment , "an wher uz all his money?" I took it upon myself to tell him where a good slice of it was. I could not call myself a Tennesseean and sit by and hear Mr. Vanderbilt slandered, and right here in Tennessee, too, preached right into hell by the people his wealth was given to bless. So when the service was over I went to the preacher and I said: "Brother, you are doing the memory of Mr. Vanderbilt a great wrong. He was a good man, if a rich one, and Tennesse is indebted to him for the grandest school she has."

He looked at me a minute, and then he said:

"He uz a Christian?"

"Yes," I said, "and had a Christian wife."

His face brightened. "Waal," he said, "I air glad to know that; I’ll tell ‘em so nex’ time I preach."

I hope he did.

The Rate of Black-to-White “Passing”

The Rate of Black-to-White “Passing” Essays on the Color Line and the One-Drop Rule
by Frank W Sweet
September 15, 2004


F. Sweet (with permission of the author)

In early twentieth-century South Carolina, at the height of the Jim Crow era when the one-drop rule was supposedly the law of the land, Louetta Chassereau, an orphaned infant of known, documented, but invisible African ancestry was placed in a White orphanage and adopted by a White family. As the little girl matured, her White adoptive family became influential in the White community. She married very well indeed, to a wealthy White man (F. Capers Bennett), in an upscale White church (Spring Street Methodist Church in Charleston). Throughout her marriage to Bennett, she voted in White primaries (Democrat), her children attended White schools and when they grew up, joined White churches (two became Episcopalians and two were Methodists). The godparents of her children were White (Mr. and Mrs. I. M. Fishburne), he being the president of the local Farmers & Merchants Bank. The problem came when Mr. Bennett died. His will left all to his beloved wife, Louetta. But his relatives contested the man’s will on the grounds that their long and fruitful marriage had been illegal all along, because Louetta had started life as a Black baby. In a terse opinion, Bennett v. Bennett,1940 South Carolina, (most of which is the above summary), South Carolina Supreme Court Justices Milledge L. Bonham, D. Gordon Baker, E. L. Fishburne, Taylor H. Stukes, and L. D. Lide ruled that over her lifetime, Louetta had become irrevocably White, and they dismissed the will contestation unanimously.1

* * * * *

This essay discusses the annual rate of Black-to-White endogamous-group switching by Americans in four topics. The first section, The Average Yearly Rate is Between 0.10 and 0.14 Percent, uses several independent methods to compute the rate of switching. It shows that all converge to the same narrow range of numbers. The Percentage Rate Has Remained Relatively Steady over the Years, demonstrates why we know that Black-to-White group switching has been steady and continuous over the centuries. Our DNA reveals that the current African admixture in White Americans was neither the result of a one-time event before intermarriage was outlawed in 1691, nor the result of intermarriageafter Loving v. Virginia 1967 ruled anti-intermarriage laws unconstitutional. How Can so Many People Falsify Their Paper Trail and Cut all Family Ties, explains that, except for a brief period in U.S. history—the Jim Crow era—there has never been a need to deceive nor to cut family ties. For most of the past 300 years, endogamous-group switching was done openly, just as it is today. Finally, The Maroon Escape Hatch suggests how, even during Jim Crow, families could pass from Black to White through a two-step process that included an in-between stage.

The Average Yearly Rate is Between 0.10 and 0.14 Percent

Nowadays (as of the 2000 census), between 35,000 and 50,000 young adults every year, who previously were identified by their parents as Black, switch to identifying themselves publicly as White or Hispanic. The number has fallen and risen more or less in step with the intermarriage rate over the decades and it is higher today than during Jim Crow, when switching your endogamous group membership was considered criminal fraud.

There are several ways of measuring the annual rate of Black-to-White self-identity switching, but the most straightforward is simply to ask large numbers of people how they self-identify, repeat the question every few years, and then count how many changed their answer from Black to something else. The Departments of Labor and of Health and Human Services do precisely this (along with many other questions) in longitudinal studies meant to track lifelong earnings and health, respectively, of large numbers of Americans. For example, the Department of Labor’s NLS79 National Longitudinal Survey has interviewed 12,686 young men and women yearly since 1979 to measure their career progress. Each year they are asked the same hundred or so questions. Between 1979 (when they were 14 to 22 years old) and 1998, 1.87 percent of those who had originally answered “Black,” switched to answering the interviewer’s “race” question with either “White,” “I don’t know,” or “other.”2 This comes to 0.098 percent per year. Extrapolated to the Black census 2000 population of 36 million, this comes to about 35,000 individuals per year.3

Another approach is to start with the 0.7 percent African admixture found in the White U.S. population today.4 Assuming that the mixing has happened at an unvarying rate for three centuries (since 1704), to reach this number would have required the average yearly injection into the White community of the alleles from one person of one hundred percent African genetic admixture for every 43,000 living White Americans (.0023 percent).5 Of course, such a flow is unlikely to have happened at a steady rate. Switching between endogamous groups was easier at some times than at others. But you can adjust for historical variation after establishing the baseline.

In practice, real people of one hundred percent African genetic admixture could not possibly have been accepted as members of the White endogamous group and so an adjustment is needed for the fraction of African admixture in those Blacks who did re-identify as White. Most sources agree that families with more than 25 percent African admixture are seldom accepted as White in the United States (although they may be in the Caribbean).6 On the other hand, many Blacks have no detectable African ancestry at all.7 Hence, a reasonable estimate is that typical families who successfully switched from the Black endogamous group to the White group had about 12.5 percent of African admixture. This would put them in the median of the White portion of the scatter diagrams of the essay Afro-European Genetic Admixture in the United States. It would have taken eight such carriers to transport across the color line the allele equivalent of one person of 100 percent sub-Saharan ancestry. And so, to reach the current measured African admixture in White Americans would have required one such person per year switching self-identity for every 5,400 living White Americans.8

The next step is to convert this number of group-switching individuals into a fraction of the Black population. As of the 2000 census, the Black population was about 12.8 percent of the total U.S. population, but this has varied from a high of 19.27 percent in 1790 to a low of 9.65 percent in 1930. The weighted average since 1790 has been 13.51 percent. And so, the number of individuals we must account for represents a movement from the Black community to the White of some 0.1382 percent of the Black population (0.007 x 8) / (300 x .1351) per year. As of census 2000, this comes to about 50,000 individuals per year.9

Another approach would be to use the Philadelphia rate at which European-looking children are born into the Black community (one out of every 500) and extrapolate this to the national Black yearly cohort. [For details, see the topic “How Many White Children are Born Into Black Families?” in the Essay The Heredity of “Racial” Traits.] This yields about 72,000 individuals per year as of census 2000. Most of these, of course, might choose not to switch.

Finally, Joel Williamson suggests yet another approach. It is based on the assumption that women are less likely than men to cross the color line permanently.10 Approximately equal numbers of male and female infants are born. But from age 16, millions of African-American men disappear from the census but women do not. In 2000, this came to 2.77 million individuals. Where did they go? The assumption of this method is that they redefined themselves as White. This approach yields 0.1019 percent per year or about 37,000 individuals per year as of census 2000.

The Percentage Rate Has Remained Relatively Steady over the Years

The preceding section used several methods to compute the average yearly rate at which Black Americans became White by switching their “racial” identity. One method was to divide the African admixture presently observed in White Americans equally among the 300 years since the endogamous color line was invented. However, the Chesapeake Bay colonies had been in operation for nearly a century when intermarriage was first outlawed in 1691. There was much Afro-European intermarriage in British North America before the endogamous color line was invented. Perhaps there has been no Black-to-White gene flow ever since. Could the African admixture found in White Americans today merely be an echo of the intermarrying 17th century, rather than evidence of the continual, steady passing of biracials into White society in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries?

There are three reasons to think that the African admixture found in today’s White Americans is the result of an ongoing process and not the remnant of a one-time event. First, as mentioned in the preceding section, longitudinal studies show that the current rate of openly avowed Black-to-White identity-switching would suffice to yield the observed admixture had it always been going on. Second, if the White-to-Black gene flow that we know has been going on for 400 years (in the form of the children of interracial unions) had not been balanced by an equal Black-to-White flow, Afro-Americans would have vanished by genetic assimilation, as did the Afro-Spanish and Afro-Portuguese by 1700, the Afro-Mexicans by 1800, and the Afro-Argentines by 1900. The third argument comes from molecular anthropology itself. It comes from observing linkage disequilibrium (defined below).

Chromosomes come in pairs. You have two copies of chromosome #1, two copies of chromosome #2, two copies of #3, and so forth. One copy of each chromosome came from your mother’s egg cell; the other came from your father’s sperm cell. Focus on a single chromosome pair; say the pair of chromosomes #5. When your body wants to produce a gamete (a spermatozoon if you are male, an ovum if you are female) it must place a single copy of chromosome #5 into the gamete. Which copy does it choose?

Think about it. You have two copies of #5, but you must place only a single copy of #5 into the new gamete. Does your body pick one or the other at random (either the #5 copy from you father or the one from your mother)? Does your body simply make up a brand new #5 never seen before? Does it blend together the material from your two copies—both the #5 copy from your father plus the one from your mother—and mold a new #5 using only half of the resultant mixture (otherwise the new #5 would be way too big)?

In fact, the process lays your two #5 chromosomes side-by-side, like two strands of yarn. It then cuts them crosswise into matching pieces and swaps the pieces between strands. Imagine that the DNA strand from your father was red, say, and your mother’s strand was blue. The cut-and-swap process (called meiosis) with just two cuts would yield one strand that was blue-red-blue and another that was red-blue-red. Many cut-and-swaps later, each new patchwork #5 then goes into a different gamete. And so, the single #5 chromosome in each gamete winds up being a mix of material from your mother’s #5 and your father’s #5. Only thus can your child inherit your mother’s eyes and your father’s chin. The single #5 in the gamete is not a “blend” in the sense of being purple (the combination of blue and red). Instead, it resembles a barber pole with broad blue and red stripes. The width of the stripes is called “linkage disequilibrium.”

As explained in the essay Afro-European Genetic Admixture in the United States, markers throughout the genome can be used to distinguish African from European ancestry. A first-generation Afro-European biracial individual will have one purely African chromosome #5 (from one parent) and one purely European chromosome #5 (from the other). But the strands are cut and their pieces swapped in meiosis at each subsequent generation. So if you observe that an individual has barber-pole stripes of African and European DNA within the same strand, then he must be at least a second-generation biracial. Now the chance that, in the next generation, any given cut will just happen to hit the seam between two existing stripes is negligible. Consequently, the stripes of African and European DNA get narrower and narrower (linkage disequilibrium diminishes) with each passing generation. One can estimate how many generations have elapsed since any individual’s original Afro-European admixture took place, by the width of the stripes (by the degree of linkage disequilibrium).

A recent one-time wave of intermarriage (since the 1955-65 civil rights movement, say) would result in uniformly high linkage disequilibrium in admixed Americans. This is not observed. An ancient one-time wave of intermarriage (in the seventeenth century, say) would result in uniformly low linkage disequilibrium in admixed Americans. This is not observed either. An ongoing slow but steady Black-to-White genetic leakage across the color line for 400 years would result in a distinctive pattern of linkage disequilibrium distribution (stripes of every width occurring with equal frequency). This, in fact, is what is observed.11

How Can so Many People Falsify Their Paper Trail and Cut all Family Ties?

Some people are startled by what, to them, seems an extraordinarily high rate of White-to-Black endogamous-group switching over the past three centuries, a rate that is still going on. They ask:

You mentioned the phenomenon of “passing,” which you define as those who were identified as one race as children but another as adults, generally ‘black’ as a child and ‘white’ as an adult. One sees that this was relatively common in the past - but how common is this today, when we are more careful about civil records, tracking, driver’s licenses, etc.? Is this in fact a common, modern-day phenomenon? How difficult it must be for someone to cut all ties to family and literally walk away!12

First, a paper trail indicating “racial” identity was a transitory phenomenon in U.S. history, lasting only from about 1880 to about 1965.13 Most nineteenth-century births were not recorded on civil birth certificates, just with local churches. And since Alabama ended the practice in 1991, only five states (Connecticut, Hawaii, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas) put infant “race” on birth certificates today. Some states never did so, and most stopped doing soin the late 1960s.14 Similarly, neither driver’s licenses nor voter registration cards record “racial” identity in most jurisdictions today. This is precisely why “racial” profiling is so controversial. In Florida, for example, neither the state voter registration web site nor the Flagler County voter registration card has any entry for “race,” while the Alachua County card does. The few civil records today that capture one’s “race” (jobs, school matriculation, etc) are voluntary. You can check off or write in whatever you want and, with one exception, nobody questions it.15 If you look European and claim to be White, nobody cares.

The word “passing” is a misnomer to the extent that it is associated with deceit or pretense. As far as anyone can tell, most of the individuals who redefine themselves from Black to White or Hispanic make no secret of their partial African ancestry. They just do not feel that this trivial fact should stop them from adopting a “racial” self-identity that matches their appearance. There is no need to “cut all family ties and walk away.”

White Americans with openly acknowledged partial African ancestry abound in the entertainment industry. The official web sites of many entertainers claim mixed ancestry. As of July 1, 2003, URL addresses and provide links to hundreds of such sites. Among these are blue-eyed blondes like Broadway star Carol Channing and Heather Locklear, star of the TV show Melrose Place.16 At the other extreme are brunettes like Jennifer Beals, star of the movie Flashdance (who has a Black father). Of in-between skin tone are Oscar-winning film and TV star Martin Sheen (an Afro-Cuban grandmother) and Emmy-winning vocalist Linda Ronstadt (an Afro-Mexican grandfather). Additionally, there are thousands of Hispanic entertainers, such as Geraldo Rivera, Jimmy Smits, Jennifer Lopez, or Mariah Carey, who proudly claim African as well as Spanish roots through their Latin American heritage.

That switching sides has risen in the past few decades makes it likely that many switchers are following the example of the millions of Puerto Ricans who have come to the mainland since 1950. Most Puerto Ricans have obvious African ancestry, but 90 percent check off “White” onthe census form anyway.17 In fact, given that all methods of estimating the rate of Black-to-White identity-switching converge on the 0.10-to-0.14 percent per year figure derived from the observed African admixture in White Americans, legendary tales of “cutting all family ties” and deception more likely belong to the realm of fictional “passing” novels than to the reality of America’s notoriously mobile society. (Except perhaps during the Jim Crow period and, even then, apparently only Whites were deceived regarding ongoing family contact.) As Maria P.P. Root put it in “Resolving ‘Other’ Status: Identity Development of Biracial Individuals,” Women and Therapy 9 (1990): 202 , “It is not uncommon that many individuals emerge out of college years with a different resolution to their racial identity than when they graduated high school.”

Part II follows:

The Rate of Black-to-White “Passing” Part II

The Maroon Escape Hatch

On the evening of January 18, 1958, a hundred members of the Ku Klux Klan gathered in Maxton, North Carolina for a rally. They had advertised that their planned marching, speechifying, and cross burning would terrorize and teach respect to the Lumbee Indians of Robeson County. Apparently, the locals were “forgetting their place.” One Lumbee woman had been dating a White man and a Lumbee family had moved into a White neighborhood. The Klan had already burned crosses at each of those two homes, and so the large rally was meant to drive the lesson home countywide.

The Klansmen began assembling at 8:00 P.M., shotguns in hand. The Grand Vizier strutted about in full regalia. A huge “KKK” banner was unfurled. A public address system with a microphone was set up. Newspaper reporters and photographers scurried for photo-ops. The Klansmen ignored the 500 Lumbee men who had gathered across the road, also carrying rifles and shotguns. At a signal, the Lumbees fanned out across the highway, shouting war cries and shooting into the air. The Klansmen dropped their weapons, flags, robes and hoods, jumped into their cars, and raced away, leaving their paraphernalia strewn all about. They had not yet set fire to their cross. The state police arrived within minutes, escorted the fleeing Klansmen to safety and disarmed the Lumbees. Despite thousands of shots fired, no one had been hurt (except one news photographer who was nicked by a bullet). Only one person was arrested—a Klansman who was too drunk to stand.

The Lumbees then put on a show for the newspapers. They marched triumphantly around the field of battle, wrapped themselves in the KKK flag, hollered into the microphone, burned the cross, hanged the Grand Wizard in effigy, and a rousing good time was had by all. The next day, newspapers across the nation ran wild with the story. “The Klan had taken on too many Indians,” said Life magazine. “Look Who’s Biting the Dust! Palefaces,” wrote columnist Inez Robb. That the Indians had finally defeated the palefaces in Robeson County, North Carolina in January of 1958 was the most hilarious story of the week, nationwide.18

But wait. Are the Lumbees really American Indians? Although no one has published an admixture study of the Lumbees since the decoding of the human genome made admixture mapping reliable and consistent, an older study used blood proteins and craniofacial anthropometry methods (the latter is the method used today by forensic anthropologists when asked by the police to tell the “race” of a skeleton). That study found that the Lumbees were “about forty percent White, forty-seven percent Negro, and thirteen percent Indian.”19

The Lumbees have the right to call themselves whatever they wish, of course. They have worked hard to be seen as Native Americans, and some deny having African ancestry. The North Carolina legislature formally designated them “Lumbee Indians” in 1953 (the name is from a Robeson County river). The U.S. Congress officially designated them “Lumbee Indians of North Carolina” on June 7, 1956. And yet, according to the census, there were zero Amerinds in Robeson County in 1950 (although there were 30,000 “mulattos”). In the 1960 census, after the legislative fiats, Robeson county’s 30,000 “mulattos” vanished and 30,000 “Lumbee Indians” suddenly appeared. The mulatto “Croatans” had become the “Lumbee Indians.” The Lumbees’ self-reinvention has not yet been a complete success. The Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs refuses to recognize them as legitimate, in part, because of their very strong African admixture. Genetically, they are a typical U.S. maroon community.

Numerous communities, like the Lumbees, are scattered throughout the eastern United States. They are called triracial isolate groups (the anthropological term), maroon communities (the historical term), or mestizos (the sociological term).20 All such groups descend from Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans who escaped involuntary labor in colonial plantations and formed their own communities on the fringes of civilization. In 1946, William Gilbert published the first comprehensive survey of these groups in the Southeastern United States. According to him, these groups comprised, “at least 50,000 persons who were complex mixtures in varying degrees of white, Amerind, and Negro blood.”21 The major maroon communities that Gilbert studied were:

  • The Brass Ankles, Red Bones, Red Legs, Turks, and Marlboro Blues of South Carolina;
  • The Cajans (not the Acadians of Louisiana) and Creoles of Alabama and Mississippi;
  • The Croatans (called the “Lumbees” since 1953) of Robeson County North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia;
  • The Guineas, West Hill Indians, Cecil Indians, and Guinea Niggers of West Virginia and Maryland;
  • The Issues of Amherst and Rockingham Counties, Virginia;
  • The Jackson Whites of New York and New Jersey;
  • The Melungeons of theSouthern Appalachians, centered on Hancock County Tennessee;
  • The Red Bones of Louisiana and Arkansas;
  • The Wesorts of southern Maryland.22

Today, the two largest maroon groups are the Seminoles of Florida (a corruption of the Spanish word cimarrones or “runaways”), who were not studied by Gilbert, and the Melungeons (the largest group to have self-identified as White over the centuries, rather than as Amerind).

Most of the above names were derogatory epithets given by Whites, not self-labels adopted by the maroon communities themselves. In 1960, a friend warned Brewton Berry that he was likely to be murdered on the spot if he called someone a “Melungeon” to their face.23 During the Jim Crow era, many members of these groups vehemently denied having even the slightest drop of “Black blood.” In fact, some were able to receive “White” civil documents and avoid their children’s assignment to Negro schools by their willingness to commit mayhem against any official who mistook them for Blacks.24 The maroon communities are potentially important to the study of people switching from Black to White across the color line because they may form an escape hatch similar to what Carl Degler observed in Brazil.

In 1971, Carl Degler coined the term “mulatto escape hatch” to describe how Brazil differed from U.S. customs. According to Degler, White Brazilians enjoy the privileges of Whiteness, including that of looking down with disdain upon Black Brazilians. According to Degler, this “colorism” resembles White American customs during the Jim Crow era. On the other hand, most White Brazilians have Black parents or grandparents and are proud to acknowledge their fractional African ancestry. This is different from White American customs during the Jim Crow era. The U.S. tradition of hypodescent made it unlikely for any non-Hispanic of known African ancestry to be socially welcomed as White during the Jim Crow era. In Latin America, in contrast, generational acculturation and assimilation took place via intermarriage. Medium-brown offspring of even dark parents were no longer “Black,” but were labeled with any of a half-dozen terms denoting class as much as skin tone. Their European-looking descendants, in turn, were accepted as White.25

A similar mechanism may have operated in the United States during the Jim Crow era through the maroon communities. Three points suggest this. First, these groups have unusually high fractions of African genetic admixture for White Americans. Second, inflow into the groups from those designated “free people of color” has been steady. Third, outflow to the White mainstream has also been steady.

That America’s maroon communities have unusually high fractions of African genetic admixture are evident in studies by Pollitzer, Jones and others. The Lumbees have about 47 percent African admixture.26 The Melungeons (who in the past self-identified as White) have about five percent African admixture.27 Inflow into these groups by free persons of color has been going on steadily since the mid-1700s.28 Outflow has also been steady. From 50,000 in 1946 as counted by Gilbert they had grown to at least 77,000 according Beale in 1957.29 Between 1943 and 1953 hundreds of thousands of these hill people from the Southern Appalachians fled poverty and isolation and migrated to northern industrial cities.30 The major economic change they have undergone is that they have been integrated into the mainstream economy. The major social change is that they have become thoroughly White (accepted as suitable marriage partners by Whites, but no longer by Blacks).31

And so it appears likely that, even during the Jim Crow period, when the rate of Black-to-White endogamous group switching was at an all-time low, significant numbers of Americans crossed the color-line barrier through the Melungeon and other maroon communities. Where it would have been dangerous or difficult to “pass” into the White endogamous group directly from the Black side of the color line, it could still be done by using a maroon community as a way-station or stopping point. In one generation, a Black family of strongly European appearance could join the Melungeons, Lumbees, Redbones, or one of the other maroon groups. Then, in a subsequent generation, the descendants of the same family could leave Appalachia and join the White endogamous group in the anonymous cities of the North.

* * * * *

This essay computed the annual rate of Black-to-White endogamous-group switching by Americans. It showed that the rate has been continuous over the past three centuries and not a one-time event. It explained that only during the Jim Crow was there ever a need to deceive or to cut family ties. Except during Jim Crow, and for most of America’s past, endogamous-group switching was done as openly as it is today. It suggested how, even during Jim Crow, families could pass from Black to White through a two-step process that included an in-between stage.

Visit OneDropRule, a discussion group on the history of U.S. racialism (the “race” notion) sponsored by Backintyme Publishing.

1. 195 S.C. 1.

2. The data can be downloaded from

3. 36,023,000 x .0187 / 19.

4. See the essay Afro-European Genetic Admixture in the United States.

5. 300 / 0.007 = 42,900.

6. See the essay The Heredity of “Racial” Traits.

7. E.J. Parra and others, “Ancestral Proportions and Admixture Dynamics in Geographically Defined African Americans Living in South Carolina,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 114 (2001): 18-29, Figure 1; Mark D. Shriver and others, “Skin Pigmentation, Biogeographical Ancestry, and Admixture Mapping,” Human Genetics 112 (2003): 387-99, Figure 3.

8. 300 / (8 x .007) = 5,400.

9. 36,023,000 x .001382 = 49,784.

10. Joel Williamson, New People: Miscegenation and Mulattoes in the United States (New York: Free Press, 1980) 100-6, 119-20.

11. For details, see C.L. Pfaff and others, “Population Structure in Admixed Populations: Effect of Admixture Dynamics on the Pattern of Linkage Disequilibrium,” American Journal of Human Genetics 68 (2001): 198-207 or Heather E. Collins-Schramm and others, “Markers Informative for Ancestry Demonstrate Consistent Megabase-Length Linkage Disequilibrium in the African American Population,” Human Genetics 113 (2003): 211-9.

12. Barbara Yanez, “Taking a Closer Look at the ‘One Drop Rule’: An Interview with Frank Sweet,” Mulatto Nation Times, July 2004.

13. Antebellum American society attempted meticulously to keep track of who was slave and who was free, but this is quite something else again.

14. Major W. Cox, “Alabama Quietly Ends Race Certification Policy,” Montgomery Advertiser, May 1993. Interestingly, Puerto Rico’s birth certificate, like those of most Latin American cultures, records the skin tones of both parents (choosing from among the plethora of available designations). This is presumably for identification purposes. But it does not record the infant’s skin tone.

15. The exception, where you can still be prosecuted in America today for claiming to be of a “race” to which you do not “really” belong, is if you claim Blackness in order to reap affirmative action benefits. In such cases, your “true race” is determined by the testimony of local Black community leaders. Your appearance is irrelevant. If local Black community leaders disown you, you may be found guilty of criminal fraud.

16. For Channing, see her autobiography Carol Channing, Just Lucky I Guess: A Memoir of Sorts (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002). For Locklear, see Gerald M. Sider, Lumbee Indian Histories: Race, Ethnicity, and Indian Identity in the Southern United States (Cambridge UK: Cambridge University, 1993).

17. See the discussion in the essay The Heredity of “Racial” Traits.

18. Brewton Berry, Almost White (New York: Macmillan, 1963), 9-11.

19. William Pollitzer, “The Physical Anthropology and Genetics of Marginal People of the Southeastern United States,” American Anthropologist 74, no. 3 (1972): 723-30.

20. The term “triracial isolate” was coined in Calvin Beale, “American Triracial Isolates,” Eugenics Quarterly 4, no. 4 (1957): 187-96.

21. William Harlan Gilbert, Jr., “Memorandum Concerning the Characteristics of the Larger Mixed-Blood Racial Islands of the Eastern United States,” Social Forces 24, no. 4 (1946): 438-47, 438.

22. The tabulation is from Wayne Winkler, Walking Toward the Sunset: The Melungeons of Appalachia, 1st ed. (Macon GA: Mercer University, 2004), 19.

23. Brewton Berry, Almost White (New York: Macmillan, 1963), 38.

24. Ibid., 30-49.

25. Carl N. Degler, Neither Black nor White: Slavery and Race Relations in Brazil and the United States (New York: Macmillan, 1971). Incidentally, Degler’s concept of a “mulatto escape hatch” enabling gradual ethnic acculturation or assimilation over the course of generations is sometimes misunderstood. In 1988, reviewer Judy Beiber wrote that recent studies “lay bare the limitations of Degler’s ‘mulatto escape hatch’ [in that Brazilian] mulattos never truly gained white status regardless of social class.” See Judy Bieber, “Race, Resistance, and Regionalism: Perspectives from Brazil and Spanish America,” Latin American Research Review 32, no. 3 (1997): 152-168, 160. Of course Degler claimed no such thing. Degler’s point was that White Brazilians enjoy the privileges of whiteness, even those White Brazilians who happened to have Black or mixed parents or grandparents.

26. Wayne Winkler, Walking Toward the Sunset: The Melungeons of Appalachia, 1st ed. (Macon GA: Mercer University, 2004), 232-41.

27. Kevin Jones, “DNA Study Results,” in Fourth Union: A Melungeon Gathering, ed. N. Brent Kennedy (Kingsport TN: Melungeon Heritage Association, 2000).

28. See, for instance Winthrop D. Jordan, “American Chiaroscuro: The Status and Definition of Mulattoes in the British Colonies,” in Slavery in the New World: A Reader in Comparative History, ed. Laura Foner and Eugene D. Genovese (Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969), 189-201, 193-6; Larry Koger, Black Slaveowners: Free Black Slave Masters in South Carolina, 1790-1860 (Jefferson NC: McFarland, 1985), 12-13; or James Hugo Johnston, Race Relations in Virginia & Miscegenation in the South, 1776-1860 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 1970), 206-10.

29. Calvin Beale, “American Triracial Isolates,” Eugenics Quarterly 4, no. 4 (1957): 187-96, 187.

30. Wayne Winkler, Walking Toward the Sunset: The Melungeons of Appalachia, 1st ed. (Macon GA: Mercer University, 2004), 153.

31. Additional accounts of the maroon communities are: Jim Callahan, Lest We Forget: The Melungeon Colony of Newman’s Ridge (Johnson City TN: Overmountain Press, 2000); N. Brent Kennedy, The Melungeons, The Resurrection of a Proud People: An Untold Story of Ethnic CLeansing in America (Macon: Mercer University, 1997); Bonnie Ball, The Melungeons: Notes on the Origin of a Race (Johnson City TN: Overmountain, 1992).