Saturday, April 15, 2006

Jan 1943 - Plecker Surnames by County

Be aware that the language in this letter written by Plecker is certainly not "PC" by current standards. It does certainly show exactly what he felt about anyone who he considered to not be 'white.'


Commonwealth of Virginia
Department of Health
Bureau of Vital Statistics

January 1943

Local Registrars, Physicians, Health
Officers, Nurses, School Superintendents
and Clerks of the Courts

Dear Co-workers:

Our December 1942 letter to local registrars, also mailed to the clerks, set forth the determined effort to escape from the negro race of groups of "free issues," or descendants of the "free mulattoes" of early days, so listed prior to 1865 in the United States census and various types of State records, as distinguished from slave negroes.

Now that these people are playing up the advantages gained by being permitted to give "Indian" as the race of the child's parents on birth certificates, we see the great mistake made in not stopping earlier the organized propagation of this racial falsehood. They have been using the advantage thus gained as an aid to intermarriage into the white race and to attend white schoools, and now for some time, they have been refusing to register with war draft boards as negroes, as required by the boards which are faithfully performing their duties. Three of these negroes from Caroline County were sentenced to prison on January 12 in the United States Court at Richmond for refusing to obey the draft law unless permitted to classify themselves as "Indians."

Some of these mongrels, finding that they have been able to sneak in their birth certificates unchallenged as Inidans are now making a rush to register as white. Upon investigation we find that a few local registrars have been permitting such certificates to pass through their hands unquestioned and without warning our office of the fraud. Those attempting this fraud should be warned that they are liable to a penalty of one year in the penitentiary (Section 5099 of the Code). Several clerks have likewise been actually granting them licenses to marry whites, or at least to marry amongst themselves as Indian or white. The danger of this error always confronts the clerk who does not inquire carefully as to the residence of the woman when he does not have positive information. The law is explicit that the license be issued by the clerk of the county or city in which the woman resides.

To aid all of you in determining just which are the mixed families, we have made a list of their surnames by counties and cities, as complete as possible at this time. This list should be preserved by all, even by those in counties and cities not included, as these people are moving around over the State and changing race at the new place. A family has just been investigated which was always recorded as negro around Glade Springs, Washington County, but which changed to white and married as such in Roanoke County. This is going on constantly and can be prevented only by care on the part of local registrars, clerks, doctors, health workers, and school authorities.

Please report all known or suspicious cases to the Bureau of Vital Statistics, giving names, ages, parents, and as much other information as possible. All certificates of these people showing "Indian" or "white" are now being rejected and returned to the physician or midwife, but local registrars hereafter must not permit them to pass their hands uncorrected or unchallenged and without a note of warning to us. One hundred and fifty thousand other mulattoes in Virginia are watching eagerly the attempt of their pseudo-Indian brethren, ready to follow in a rush when the first have made a break in the dike.

Very truly yours,

W. A. Plecker, M.D. State Registrar of Vital Statistics


Moon, Powell, Kidd, Pumphrey

Amherst: (Migrants to Allegheney and Campbell)
Adcock (Adcox), Beverly (this famiy is now trying to evade the situation by adopting the
name of Burch or Birch, which was the name of the white mother of the present adult
generation), Branham, Duff, Floyd, Hamilton, Hartless, Hicks, Johns, Lawless, Nukles
(Knuckles), Painter, Ramsey, Redcross, Roberts, Southwards (Suthards, Southerds,
Southers), Sorrells, Terry, Tyree, Willis, Clark, Cash, Wood

McVey, Maxey, Branham, Burley (See Amherst County)

Rockbridge: (Migrants to Augusta)
Cash, Clark, Coleman, Duff, Floyd, Hartless, Hicks, Mason, Mayse (Mays), Painters,
Pults, Ramsey, Southerds (Southers, Southards, Suthards), Sorrell, Terry, Tyree, Wood,

Charles City:
Collins, Dennis, Bradby, Howell, Langston, Stewart, Wynn, Custalow (Custaloo), Dungoe,
Holmes, Miles, Page, Allmond, Adams, Hawkes, Spurlock, Doggett

New Kent:
Collins, Bradby, Stewart, Wynn, Adkins, Langston

Henrico and Richmond City:
See Charles City, New Kent, and King William

Byrd, Fortune, Nelson. (See Essex)

Essex and King and Queen:
Nelson, Fortune, Byrd, Cooper, Tate, Hammond, Brooks, Boughton, Prince, Mitchell, Robinson

Elizabeth City & Newport News:
Stewart (descendants of Charles City families).

Epps (Eppes), Stewart (Stuart), Coleman, Johnson, Martin, Talley, Sheppard (Shepard),

Norfolk County & Portsmouth:
Sawyer, Bass, Weaver, Locklear (Locklair), King, Bright, Porter

Sorrells, Worlds (or Worrell), Atwells, Butridge, Okiff.

Shifflett, Shiflet

Prince William:
Tyson, Segar. (See Fauquier)

Hoffman (Huffman), Riley, Colvin, Phillips. (See Prince William)

Dorsey (Dawson)

Beverly, Barlow, Thomas, Hughes, Lethcoe, Worley

Roanoke County:
Beverly (See Washington)

Lee and Smyth:
Collins, Gibson, (Gipson), Moore, Goins, Ramsey, Delph, Bunch, Freeman, Mise, Barlow,
Bolden (Bolin), Mullins, Hawkins

Dingus (See Lee County)

Keith, Castell, Stillwell, Meade, Proffitt. (See Lee and Tazewell)

Hammed, Duncan. (See Russell)

See Lee, Scott, Smyth, and Russell Counties.


Plecker Letters - 1942

Walter A. Plecker was the first Director of Vital Statistics for the state of Virginia. He was an avowed racist, and determined to label anyone who he felt was not 'white.' Here are several letters written by Plecker regarding his views.




August 5, 1942
Walter Plecker Letter to
Tennessee Secretary of State
Regarding Melungeon

August 5, 1942
Secretary of State,
Nashville, Tennessee.

Dear Sir:

Our bureau is the only one in any State making an intensive study of the population of its citizens by race.

We have in some of the counties of southwestern Virginia a number of so-called Melungeons who came into that section from Newmans Ridge, Hancock County, Tennessee, and who are classified by us as of negro origin though they make various claims, such as Portugese, Indians, etc.

The law of Virginia says that any one with any ascertainable degree of negro is to be classified as colored and we are endeavoring to so classify those who apply for birth, death and marriage registrations.

We have a list of the free negroes, by counties, of the 1830 U. S. Census in which we find the racial origin of most of these Melungeons classified as mulattoes. In that period, 1830, we do not find the name of Hancock County, but presume that it was made up from portions of other counties, possible Grainger and Hawkins, where we find considerable numbers of these Melungeon families listed.

Will you please advise as to that point and particularly which of these original counties Newmans Ridge was in.

Thanking you in advance and with kindest regards, I am

Very truly yours,

W. A. Plecker, M. D.
State Registrar.

August 12, 1942
Mrs. John Trottwood Moore
Letter to Walter Plecker
Regarding Melungeon Classification


August 12, 1942

Mr. W. A. Plecker,
State Registrar
Bureau of Vital Statistics
Richmond, Virginia

My dear Sir:

The Secretary of State has sent your letter to my desk for reply.

You have asked us a hard question.

The origin of the Melungeons has been a disputed question in Tennessee ever since we can remember.
Hancock County was established by an Act of the General Assembly passed January 7th, 1844 and was formed from parts of Claiborne and Hawkins counties.

Newman's Ridge, which runs through Hancock county north of Sneedville, is parallel with Clinch River and just south of Powell Mountain. The only map on which we find it located is edited by H. C. Amick and S. J. Folmsbee of the University of Tennessee in 1941 published by Denoyer-Geppert Co., 5235 Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, listed as [TN 7S]* TENNESSEE. On this map is shown Newman's Ridge as I have sketched it on this little scrap of paper, inclosed. But we do not have the early surveys showing which county it as originally in. It appears that it may have been in Claiborne according to the Morris Gazetteer of Tennessee 1834 which includes this statement: "Newman's Ridge, one of the spurs of Cumberland Mountain, in East Tennessee, lying in the north east angle of Claiborne County, west of Clinch River, and east of Powell's Mountain. It took its name from a Mr. Newman who discovered it in 1761."

Early historians of East Tennessee who lived in that section and knew the older members of this race refer to Newman's Ridgeas "quite a high mountain, extending through the entire length of Hancock County, and into Claiborne County on the west. It is between Powell Mountain on the north and Clinch River on the south." Capt. L. M. Jarvis, an old citizen of Sneedville wrote in his 82nd year: "I have lived here at the base of Newman's Ridge, Blackwater, being on the opposite side, for the last 71 years and well know the history of these people on Newman's Ridge and Blackwater enquired about as Melungeons. These people were friendly to the Cherokees who came west with the white imigration from New River and Cumberland, Virginia, about the year 1790...The name Melungeon was given them on account of their color. I have seen the oldest and first settlers of this tribe who first occupied Newman's Ridge and Blackwater and I have owned much of the lands on which they settled.. They obtained their land grants from North Carolina. I personally knew Vardy Collins, Solomon D. Collins, Shepard Gibson, Paul Bunch and Benjamin Bunch and many of the Goodmans, Moores, Williams and Sullivans, all of the very first settlers and noted men of these friendly Indians. They took their names from white people of that name with whom they came here. They were reliable, truthful and faithful to anything they promised. In the Civil War most of the Melungeons went into the Union army and made good soldiers. Their Indian blood has about run out. They are growing white... They have been misrepresented by many writers. In former writings I have given their stations and stops on their way as they emigrated to this country with white people, one of which places was at the mouth of Stony Creek on Clinch river in Scott County, Virginia, where they built fort and called it Ft. Blackamore after Col. Blackamore who was with them... When Daniel Boone was here hunting 1763-1767, these Melungeons were not here."

The late Judge Lewis Shepherd, prominent jurist of Chattanooga, went further in his statements in his "Personal Memoirs", and contended that this mysterious racial group descended from the Phoenicians of Ancient Carthage. This was his judgment after investigations he made in trying a case featuring the complaint that they were of mixed negro blood, which attempt failed, and which brought out the facts that many of their ancestors had settled early in South Carolina when they migrated from Portugal to America about the time of the Revolutionary war, and later moved into Tennessee. At the time of this trial covered by Judge Shepherd "charges that Negro blood contaminated the Melungeons and barred their intermarriage with Caucasians created much indignation among families of Phoenician descent in this section."

But I imagine if the United States Census listed them as mulattoes their listing will remain. But it is a terrible claim to place on people if they do not have negro blood. I often have wondered just how deeply the census takers went into an intelligent study of it at that early period.

I have gone into some detail in this reply to explain the mooted question and why it is not possible for me to give you a definite answer. I hope this may assist you to some extent.


Mrs. John Trotwood Moore
State Librarian and Archivist


August 20, 1942
Walter Plecker Letter to
Tennessee State Librarian and Archivist
Regarding Melungeon Classification


August 20, 1942

Mrs. John Trotwood Moore
State Librarian and Archivist
State Department of Education
Nashville, Tennessee

Dear Mrs. Moore:

We thank you very much for your informative letter of August 12 in reply to our inquiry, addressed to the Secretary of State, as to the original counties from which Hancock County, Tennessee, was formed. We are particularly interested in tracing back, as far as possible, to their ultimate origin the melungeons of the Newmans Ridge section, especially as enumerated in the free negro list by counties of the states in the U. S. 1830 census. This group appears to be in many respects of the same type as a number of groups in Virginia, some of which are known as "free issues," or descendants of slaves freed by their masters before the War Between the States. In one case in particular which we have traced back to its origin, and which we believe to be typical of the others, a slave woman was freed with her two mulatto sons and colonized in Amherst County in connection with a group of similar freed negroes. These sons were presumably the children of the woman's owner, and this seemed to be the most satisfactory way of disposing of them. One of those sons became the head of one of the larger families of that group. All of these groups have the same desire, which Captain L. M. Jarvis says the melungeons have, to become friends of Indians and to be classed as Indians. He referred to the effort which the melungeon group made to be accepted by the Cherokees, apparently without great success. It is interesting also to know the opinion expressed by Captain Jarvis that these freed negroes migrated into that section with the white people. That is perfectly natural as they have always endeavored to tie themselves up as closely as possible either with the whites or Indians and are striving to break away from the true negro type.

We have a book, compiled by Carter G. Woodson, a negro, entitled "Free Negro Heads of Families in the United States in 1830," listing all of the free negroes of the 1830 census by counties. Of the names that Captain Jarvis gave, we find included in that list in Hawkins County, Solomon Collins, Vardy Collins, and Sherod (probably Shepard) Gibson. We find also Zachariah Minor, probably the head of the family in which we are especially interested at this time. We find also the names of James Moore (two families by this name) and Jordan and Edmund Goodman. In the list for Grainger County we find at least twelve Collins and Collens heads of families. This shows that they were evidently considered locally as free negroes by the enumerators of the 1830 census.

One of the most interesting parts of your letter is that relating to the opinion of the Judge mentioned, in his "Personal Memoirs," who

Page Two

Mrs. John Trotwood Moore, #2
August 20, 1942

seemed to have accepted as satisfactory certain evidence which was presented to him that these people are of Phoenician descent from ancient Carthage, which was totally destroyed by Rome. We havein Virginia white people, descendants of Pocahontas, who married John Rolfe about 1616. About twelve generations have passed since then, and we figuredout that there was about 1/4000th of 1% of Pocahontas blood now in their veins, though they seem to be quite proud of that. If you go back to the destruction of Carthage in 146 B. C., or to the destruction of Tyre by Pompey in 64 B. C., when all characteristic features of national life became extinct and with it racial identity, you will see that the fraction of 1% of Phoenician blood would reach astronomical proportions and be totally lost in the various mixtures of North Africans, with which the Carthaginians afterwards mixed. The Judge also speaks of the inclusion of Portuguese blood with this imaginary Phoenician blood. It is a historical fact, well known to those who have investigated, that at one time there were many African slaves in Portugal. Today there are no true negroes there but their blood shows in the color and racial characteristics of a large part of the Portuguese population of the present day. That mixture, even if it could be shown, would be far from constituting these people white. We are very much afraid that the Judge followed the same course pursued by one of our Virginia judges in hearing a similar case, when he accepted the hearsay evidence of people who testified that they had always understood that the claimants were of Indian origin, regardless of the documentary evidence reaching back in some cases to or near to the Revolutionary War, showing them to be descendants of freed negroes.

We will require other evidence than that of Captain Jarvis and His Honor before classifying members of the group who are now causing trouble in Virginia by their claims of Indian descent, with the privilege of inter-marrying into the white race, permissible when a person can show his racial composition to be one-sixteenth or less Indian, the remainder white with no negro intermixture. We have found after very laborious and painstaking study of records of various sorts that none of our Virginia people now claiming to be Indian are free from negro admixture, and they are, therefore, according to our law classified as colored. In that class we include the melungeons of Tennessee.

We again thank you for your care in passing on this information and would be delighted if you ever visit in Virginia and in Richmond if you will come into our office. Miss Kelley and I would be greatly pleased to talk with you on this and kindred subjects and to show you the work which Miss Kelley is doing in properly classifying the population of Virginia by racial origin. She is doing work which, so far as I know, has never before been attempted.

Very sincerely yours,

W. A. Plecker, M. D.
State Registrar


September 10, 1942
Mrs. John Trottwood Moore
Letter to Walter Plecker
Regarding Melungeon Classification


September 10, 1942

W. A. Plecker, M. D. Registrar
Bureau of Vital Statistics
Department of Health
Richmond, Virginia

My dear Dr. Pleckner:

You were most kind to reply so fully to my letter, and you have given me so much information on this vitally interesting subject that I am really grateful.

My husband was so interested in it and had studied it with a view to writing on the subject but never got around to it. I recall that he was interested in an article on the Melungeons that appeared perhaps two years before his death (May 10, 1929) in the Dearborn Independent. I do not have the article but I think it was written by a North Carolina writer. I am sorry I cant be more definite but if there is a file in the State or Public Library it might interest you.

We have Carter G. Woodson's "Free Negro Heads of Families in the United States in 1830", but I have never made a study of it.

Virginia is fortunate to have you and Miss Kelly doing such an important piece of research. I wish Tennessee could borrow you. Anyhow, what you are doing will be, in effect, for all the Southern States and there was never a time when it was more needed.

If I am in Richmond at any time I shall certainly be pleased to stop by your office and talk with you and Miss Kelley. If your work is to be published we shall want to secure a copy for this library.

Thank you for the circulars inclosed and I wish you full success with your undertaking.


Mrs. John Trotwood Moore
State Librarian and Archivist



Carried Away in the Night - 1778

I do not know the author of this piece. I have had it in my files for sometime and am sharing it here with thanks to the unknown author:



On April 10, 1778, the following ad was placed in the North Carolina Gazette
by Johnson Driggers, a desparate Melungeon father:

"On Saturday night, April the 4th, broke into the house of the subscriber at
the head of Green's Creek, where I had some small property under the care of
Ann Driggers, a free negro woman, two men in disguise, with marks on their
faces and clubs in their hands, beat and wounded her terribly and carried
away four of her children, three girls and a boy, the biggest of said girls
got off in the dark and made her escape, one of the girls name is Becca, and
other is Charita, the boy is named Shadrack..."

The advertisement described a common horror inflicted on free Melungeons in
the 18th and 19th centuries. The lucrative American slave market tempted
manstealers into preying on many communities of mixed-race people. Anyone
with the slightest amount of Negro blood might be stolen in the middle of the
night regardless of their free status.

In 1834, free-born mulatto Drury Tann of the Melungeon Tann family of North
Carolina, applied for his Revolutionary War pension. In his application is
an account of his childhood.

"He, (Tann) was stolen from his parents when a small boy by persons unknown
to him, who were carrying him to sell him into Slavery, and had gotten with
him and other stolen property as far as the mountains on their way...his
parents made a complaint to a Mr. Tanner Alford who was then a magistrate in
the county of Wake State of North Carolina, to get me back from those who had
stolen me and he did pursue the rogues and overtook them at the mountains and
took me from them."

An affadavit filed by John Scott, a "free Negro" of Berkeley County, South
Carolina was found by genealogist Paul Heinegg. It notified authorities in
Orange County, North Carolina of the following on March 12, 1754:

"Joseph Deevit, Wm. Deevit, and Zachariah Martin, entered by force the house
of his daughter, Amy Hawley, and carried her off by force with her six
children, and he thinks they are taking them north to sell as slaves."

Records show only one child, "a mulatto boy Busby, alias John Scott" was
rescued and returned home from the ordeal.

By 1750, these and other free Melungeons lived in constant fear of abduction
and the loss of liberty during the long night of American slavery. The
slightest trace of African blood in a person who was essentially white, had
become a subpeona into slavery by this time. For this and other reasons the
light-skinned children of the original Angolans of the 1600s, began claiming
non-African descent. Some Melungeons argued strongly that they were of
Spanish, Portuguese or East Indian blood. They could claim Portuguese
nationality on the technicality that Angola was considered a state of
Portugal. Others resorted to other claims.

William Dowry, a grandson of Mary Dove, was detained as a slave in Maryland
in 1791 when he claimed in court of being held illegally. Witnesses on his
behalf testified that Dowry's grandmother was a granddaughter of a woman
brought into the country by the "Thomas" family, as a "Yellow Woman", said to
be either a Spanish woman named "Malaga Moll" or an East Indian. However,
records indicate the Dove family descended from John Dove, a mulatto slave of
Doctor Gustavus Brown of Charles County, Maryland.

The Perkins family of Accomack County descended from Esther Perkins who had
an illegitimate child in 1730. Joshua Perkins was taxed as a "free Negro",
but in 1858 in Tennessee, his great grandson, Jacob F. Perkins brought a
lawsuit against a man for slandering him as a "Negro". By then, the Perkins
family, after three generations of intermarriage, was white-skinned and
claimed to be of "Portuguese" descent. Witnesses were called to testify for
both parties in the lawsuit.

John E. Cossen said of the Perkins ancestors:
"Can't say whether...full blooded. The nose African. Believe they were
Africans...always claimed to be Portuguese. All married white women."

Reuben Brooks stated of the first Perkins patriarch:
"He was a very black and reverend negro..."

88-year old John Nave testified:
" man, hair nappy...Some called Jacob (his son) a Portuguese and some
a negro..."

Larkin L. White swore on the stand:
" black as any common mulatto. Hair short and curled and kinky..."

On behalf of the Perkins, several witnesses presented sometimes conflicting
testimonty of the family, but generally agreed that the Perkins were
"Portuguese" who had lived as equals among whites and who had married whites.
However, the Johnson County court ruled that Jacob F. Perkins was indeed a
"free Negro" as his neighbor had alleged.

Thomas Hagans was not trying to escape slavery or slander, but taxes on "free
Negroes, Mulatoes, and Mestizos" in 1809 South Carolina, when he sued in
court claiming Portuguese ancestry. But Hagans was the great-grandson of
Thomas Ivey whose children were identified as "free Negroes and Mulattoes" in
a 1773 county census. His ancestor George Ivey had even publicly protested
against the colonial ban on black and white intermarriage after it was passed
by the legislature in the 1720s.

Melungeon ancestors with Portuguese and Spanish surnames such as Pedro,
Cumbo, Rodriggues, Manuel, Fernando, Francisco, Dial and Cottulo were
described as "Negroes" in the 17th century. Their black skin and their
Iberian names indicate they were Portuguese Angolans who had voluntarily
converted to Christianity in their native land.

Many have argued that some colonial slaves described generically as colored,
mulatto, and dark-skinned, did not arrive in Virginia directly from Africa
and therefore could have been of non-African descent. Indeed there was an
Armenian in Virginia as early as 1615, Turks by 1690 and other Mediterrenean
ethnics present in the 17th century colonies. But we know about these
exceptions precisely because they were distinguised from "Negroes" in
colonial records. No doubt some Mediterrenean non-African "coloreds" joined
African, white and Indian mixed groups like the Melungeons, and non-African
"coloreds" may have been classed as "Negro". But the largest and most
dominant "colored" group described as "Negro" were by far the
Angolan-Africans. Their surnames appear today in mixed communities such as
the Melungeons.

Angolans were found up and down the North American seaboard in the 1600s.
Sebastian Cane was a free "Negro" who came to Virginia from Dorchester, New
England. In 1656, he purchased the freedom of a slave, (believed by some to
be his sister) from Ann Keane of New England. The freed slave's name was
"Angola". During the 1600s, thousands of Africans from Angola were turning
up in England, France, the West Indies, and in Central and South America. By
the 1640s there was a discernable Angolan-Dutch population in Manhattan, New
Amsterdam (New York). During the developing period of English-American
colonies from 1610-1660, central Angola was bleeding several tens of
thousands of Africans to trans-Atlantic slavers.


There is ample evidence that the community known as Melungeon, formed much
earlier than previously thought. Records show that many descendants of 17th
century Angolan-Americans had intermarried with descendants of fellow Angolan
countrymen before 1700. Melungeon communities existed in Virginia, Maryland,
Carolina and Delaware one hundred years before the American Revolution.


The Angolan who became known as John Gowen of Virginia, was born about 1615.
Before 1775, his descendants had married into the Angolan and mixed families
of Ailstock, Bass, Chavis, Corn, Cumbo, Dungill, Findley, Hill, Jones,
Locklear, Lucas, Matthews, Mason, Miner, Mills, Patterson, Pompey, Stewart,
Simmons, Singleton, Tyre, Webb and Wilson; most of whom can also be traced to
the 17th century.

Thomas CHIVERS/CHAVIS was born in 1630. Before 1775 his Angolan descendants
had married into the families of BASS, GOWEN, LOCKLEAR, SINGLETON, STEWART,
CUMBO, MATTHEWS, and WILSON along with descendants of John Gowen. In
addition the Chivers/Chavis group intermarried with Bird, Blair, Blythe,
Brandon, Bunch, Cannady, Carter, Cypress, Drew, Earl, Evans, Francis, Gibson,
Gillet, Haithcock, Harris, Hawley, Hull, Kersey, Lowry, Manly, Manning,
Mitchell, McLin, Scott, Silvey, Smith, Snelling, Silver, Sweat, Thaxton,
Tyner, Thomerson, Taborn, Valentine, Watts and Walden; many of whom were 17th
century Africans in the British-American colonies.

The family of Eleanor EVANS, born 1660, shares with the Gowen and Chavis
families the following names: BIRD, BRANDON, CHAVIS, DUNGILL, HARRIS, KERSEY,
adition the Evans were early related to the families of Anderson, Boyd, Bee,
Blundon, Doyal, Green, Hudnall, Hunt, Jeffries, Jones, Lantern, Ledbetter,
Penn, Pettiford, Redcross, Richardson, Rowe, Sorrell, Spriddle, Tate, Thomas,
Toney and Young.

The GIBSON or GIPSON family descended from Elizabeth Chavis, born in 1672,
also shares with 17th century African-Americans Gowen, Chavis, and Evans, the
surnames of BASS, BUNCH, CHAVIS, CUMBO, and SWEAT. They add Driggers, Deas,
Collins and Ridley.

The family of the Portuguese-Angolan named Emmanuel DRIGGERS, (Roddriggus)
born in 1620, also has several families in common with the Gowen, Chavis,
Evans and Gibson clans: CARTER, COLLINS, SWEAT, GIBSON and MITCHELL. In
addition the Driggers intermarried with Beckett, Beavens, Bingham, Bruinton,
Copes, Fernando, Francisco, George, Gussal, Harman, Hodgeskin, Jeffrey,
Johnson, King, Kelly Lindsey, Landrum, Liverpool, Moore, Payne, Reed and

From Margarett CORNISH, born about 1610, comes the Cornish family with ties
to GOWEN and SWEAT in addition to Shaw and Thorn.

With the CUMBO family dating back to 1644, we have links to GIBSON GOWEN,
JEFFRIES, MATTHEWS, NEWSOM, WILSON and YOUNG in addition to Hammond, Maskill,
Potter and Skipper.

The BASS family originates in 1638 America and shares several intermarriages
from that period with Gowen, Chavis, Evans, Cornish, Driggers, Cumbos and
they have the names of Farmer, Hall, Lovina, Nickens, Perkins, Pone, Price,
Roe and Roberts.

If given the space we could find complex scores of intermarriages of
Melungeon and other tri-racial surnames beginning in the 17th century of
colonial America. These common kinships of cousins show the Melungeon
society was becoming cohesive and distinctively apart in colonial America at
least one hundred years before the American Revolution. The Melungeon
community began before 1700.

For example: The BANKS family originates in 1665 colonial America with
related families of Adam, Brown, Day, Howell, Isaacs, Johnson, Lynch, Martin,
Walden, Wilson and Valentine and other Melungeon surnames.

The ARCHER family begins in 1647 America with related families; Archie, Bass,
Bunch, Heathcock, Manly, Murray, Milton, Newsom, Roberts and Weaver.

The BUNCH clan traces back to 1675 colonial America with kinship to: Bass,
Chavis, Chavers, Collins, Gibson, Griffin, Hammons, Pritchard and Summerlin.

The BECKETT family of 1655 ties to Bibbins, Beavens, Collins,Driggers,
Drighouse, Liverpool, Mongon, Morris, Moses, Nutt, Stevens and Thompson.

The family of CARTER begins in 1620 America with the related families of:
Best, Blizzard, Braveboy, Bush, Cane, Copes, Dove, Driggus, Fernando, Fenner,
Godett, George, Harmon, Howard, Jacobs, Jones, Kelly, Lowery, Moore, Norwood,
Nicken, Perkins, Rawlinson, and Spellman.

In addition to the above, other mixed families from America in the 1600s are:
Artis, Berry, Cane, Causey, Charity, Collins, Cuttilo, Dial/Dale, Hall,
Harris, Hammond, Hawley, Hilliard, Holman, Howell, Ivey, Jacobs, Jeffires,
Johnson, Jones, Mongom, Payne, Reed, Roberts, Shoecraft, Sisco, Francisco,
Stephens, Stewart, Sweat, Tann, Webb, Williams, Wilson and Young. These 17th
century mixed families are each related to a dozen or more later Melungeon
surnames with links to almost all mixed communities in America.
It might be said convincingly that there are more early 17th century American
"blue-bloods" to be found in the shanties of Appalachia than in all of Boston.

Groups like Melungeons, Brass Ankles, Redbones, Lumbees, and many others are
all connected by common blood to each other from the first two centuries of
English-American colonization. Mixed red, white, and black Melungeons can be
found in Virginia and Maryland to within one or two generations of the first
Angolan Ndongo appearance in Jamestown in 1619. The general Melungeon
community is decisively shown to be more than 350 years old in North America.

All of these families descended from 17th century Angolans in Virginia, who
began building the Melungeon community long before it appeared in Tennessee
in the 19th century.


The greatest price for Melungeon freedom from chattel slavery was usually
paid by women; white European women of English, Scottish and Irish ancestry,
who married or cohabited with newly arrived black West African slaves. From
1660-1720, most English-American colonies forbade black and white marriages.
Refused the protection of legal unions, interracial couples were hauled into
court on morals-related charges. In such cases the man sometimes
disappeared, leaving the woman holding the interracial child alone. Often
the woman would refuse to name the father. Faced with the prospect of a
single parent child dependant upon the welfare of the county, the colonial
legislators imposed severe penalties upon mother and child hoping to send a
message. Fatherless mulattos were often bound out in slavery for up to 30
years, and the mother usually had additonal years added to her original term
of servitude.

In other cases, the man would finally get his freedom with the opportunity to
move away and purchase new frontier land. However, his wife might still be
bound for several years. The man would take his freeborn children and
abandon his indentured wife. These were the tragedies facing the early
ancestors of Melungeons.

Before the restrictions against interracial unions in America, there were
many legitimate black and white marriages sanctioned by the church. Paul
Heinegg cites the 1681 case of Elizabeth Shorter who married a "negro man"
named Little Robin in nuptials administered by Nicholas Geulick, a priest.
They had three mulatto daughters in St. Mary's County. But gradually,
colonial society turned on the mixed unions it had previously allowed.

After 1720 in Northampton County, Virginia, Tamar Smith had to serve half a
year in prison and pay a ten pound fine to marry Major Hitchens.

On August 16, 1705, a "Mulatto" named John Bunch and a white woman named
Sarah Slayden, appealed to the Council of Virginia to permit them to be
married after such a request had been denied by the Blisland Parish minister.
The Council countered that the "intent of the Law (was) to prevent Negroes
and White Persons intermarrying".

The matriarch of the Welch family was Mary. In 1728 in Maryland, she
testified that she had born a mulatto child. Her original term of servitude
to Thomas Harwood was lengthened by seven years and her two-month old son
Henry was bound to Harwood for 31 years.

Mary Wise, the servant of a man named Wells admitted in 1732 to having a
mulatto child in Prince George County. The court sold her nine week old
daughter Becky into 31 years servitude for 1,500 pounds of tobacco.

In Delaware, Mary Plowman was charged in 1704 of giving birth to a child by a
"Negro" slave named Frank. The court gave her 21 lashes and an additional
term of servitude to her master. Her mulatto daughter Rose was bound until
the age of twenty-one.

In Kent County, Delaware, 17 year old Eleanor Price admitted to "Fornication
with a Negro Man named Peter" in 1703. She received twenty-one lashes and an
extended period of 18 months servitude. Her daughter was bound to the
children of her master until the age of twenty-one.

In Accomack County, Virginia in 1721, Ann Shepherd, a "Christian white woman"
was presented for having an illegitimate child. Pressured to name the
father, she first indicted one "Indian Edmund", but later admitted the father
was a mulatto, Henry Jackson. Ann was sold for a five year term.

In Virginia in 1716, Elizabeth Bartlett was ordered to pay 1,200 pounds of
tobacco to her mistress Mary Bailey, for eloping with the mistress' Negro
slave James.

Sarah Dawson was a white servant girl who endured twenty-one lashes in
Virginia in 1784 for having three illegitimate children by her master's
servant Peter Beckett whom she later married.

In Lancaster County in 1703, Elizabeth Bell ran away from her master and was
lashed twenty times at the county whipping post. A year later she was
indentured to another master during which time she had a child by a black
man. Five years were added to her sentence.

The case of Alice Bryan is also cited by Heinegg. Alice confessed to bearing
a "bastard Molattoe Child" by a "Negro man Called Jack." Thirty-nine lashes
and an extra two years indenture was the sentence of the court. Her mulatto
son Peter was bound out for 31 years and her daughter Elizabeth was enslaved
for 18 years.

Color-conscious American society tried to overturn stubborn customs
previously practiced by earlier settlers who had lived in a time when
frontier life was hard and the skin color of a helpful neighbor was
irrelevent. The new laws against people of color were not always respected
by old-time whites. In the words of one old white man, Daniel Stout of
Tennessee, who, when called to testify in court in 1858 as to the race of a
grandfather of a free African-American, said:

"Never heard him called a Negro. People in those days said nothing about
such things."


The Melungeon Tree and Its Four Branches

By Will Allen Dromgoole

This piece was provided by Tennessee State Library


Somewhere in the eighteenth century, before the year 1797, there appeared in the eastern portion of Tennessee, at that time the Territory of North Carolina, two strange-looking men calling themselves "Collins" and "Gibson". They had a reddish brown complexion, long , straight , black hair, keen, black eyes, and sharp, clear-cut features. They spoke in broken English, a dialect distinct from anything ever heard in that section of the country.


They claimed to have come from Virginia and many years after emigrating, themselves told the story of their past.


These two, Vardy Collins and Buck Gibson, were the had and source of the Melungeons in Tennessee. With the cunning of their Cherokee ancesters, they planned and executed a scheme by which they were enabled to "set up for themselves" in the almost unbroken Territory of North Carolina.


Old Buck, as he was called, was disguised by a wash of some dark description, and taken to Virginia by Vardy where he was sold as a slave. He was a magnificent specimen of physical strength,and brought a fine price, a wagon and mules, a lot of goods, and three hundred dollars in money being paid to old Vardy for his "likely nigger". Once out of Richmond, Vardy turned his mules shoes and stuck out for the wilderness of North Carolina, as previously planned. Buck lost little time ridding himself of his negro disguise, swore he was not the man bought of Collins , and followed in the wake of his fellow thief to the Territory. The porceeds of the sale were divided and each chose his habitation; old Vardy choosing Newman's Ridge, where he was soon joined by others of his race, and so the Melungeons became a part of the inhabitants of Tennessee.


This story I know is true. There are reliable parties still living who received it from old Vardy himself, who came here as young men and and lived, as the Melungeons generally did to a ripe old age.


The names "Collins" and "Gibson" were also stolen from the white settlers in Virginia where the men had lived previous to emigrating to North Carolina.

There is, perhaps, no more satisfactory method of illustrating this peculiar race, it's origin and blood, than by the familiar tree.


Old Vardy Collins, then, must be regarded as the body, or main stem, in this state, at all events.


It is only of very late years the Melungeons have been classed as "families". Originally they were "tribes", afterward "clans"and at last "Families". From Old Vardy the first tribe took it's first name "COLLINSES".Others who followed Vardy took the Collins name also.


Old Benjamin Collins, one of the pioneers, was older than Vardy, but came to Tennessee a triffle later.He had quite a large family of children, among them Edmond ,Mileyton (supposed to be Milton), Marler, Harry, Andrew, Zeke, Jordon.From Jordan Collins descended Calloway Collins who is still living today and from whom I obtained some valuable information.


But.....go back a step. Benjamin Collins was known as old Ben, and became the head of the Ben's tribe. Old Solomon Collins was the head of Sol's tribe. The race was increasing so rapidly, by emigration and otherwise, that it became necessary to adopt other names than Collins. They fell ,curiously enough, upon the first or christian name of the head of a large family connection or tribe.Emigrants arriving attached themselves as they chose to the several tribes. After a while, with an eye to brevity, doubtless, the word "tribe" was dropped from ordinary, everyday use.The "Bens" the "Sols" meant the Ben and Sols Tribes. It appeared that no tribe was ever calledfor Old Vardy, although as long as he lived he was reconized as head and leader of the entire people.


This is doubtless due to the fact that in his day the settlement was new, and the people, and the one name COLLINS covered the entire population. The origional Collins people were Indian, there is no doubt about that, and they lived as the Indians lived until sometime after the first white man appeared among them. All would huddle together in one room, sleep in one common bed of leaves, make themselves such neccessary clothing as nature demanded, smoke,and dream away the good long days that were so dreamily delightful nowhere as they were on Newman's Ridge.


The Collins tribe mulitplied more and more; it became necessary to have names, and a most peculiar method was hit upon for obtaining them.


Ben Collins children were distinguished from the children of Sol and Vardy by prefixing the Christian name either of the father or mother to the Christian name of the child.For instance; Edmund Ben, Singleton Ben; Andrew Ben; Zeke Ben, meant that Edmund,Singleton, Andrew, and Zeke were the sons of Ben Collins.Singleton Mitch; Levi Mitch, and Morris Mitch , meant that these men were the sons of Mitchel Collins. In the next generation there was a Jordan Ben( a son of old Benjamin Collins) who married Abbie Sol, had a son, who is called ( he is still living, as before stated) Calliway Abby for his mother. The wife before marriage takes her father's Christina name; after marriage that of her husband. Calloway 's wife, for instance, is Ann Colloway. It is not known, and cannot by any possibility be ascertained at what precise period other races appeared among the Collins. For many years they occupied the Ridge without distrurbance. The country was new,wild,and few straggling settlements wereglad of almost any new neighbors. Moreover, these strange people, who were then called the "Ridgemanites", the "Indains", and the "Black Waterites"(because of a stream called Black Water, which flowes through their territory, the bed of which was, and is, covered witha peculiar dark slate rock which gives the black appearance to the stream), had chosen the rocky and inaccessible Ridge, while the fertile and beautiful valley of the Clinch lay open and inviting to the white settler.


The Ridgemanites were not striving for wealth evidently, and as land was plentiful and neighbors few, they held their bit in the creation without molestation or interruption for many years. They were the Collins, as I sais; those who followed the first-commers accepting the name already provided them. There was no mixture of blood: they claimed to be Indians and no man disbuted it. They were called the "Collins Tribe" until having multiplied to the extent it was necessary to divide, when the descendants of the several pioneers were separated, or divided into clans. Then came the Ben clan, the Sol clan, the Mitch clan, and indeed every prominent head of a large relationship was reconized as the leader of his clan, which always bore his name. There was, to be sure,no set form or time at which this division was made. It was only one of those natural splits, gradual and necessary, which is the sure result of increasing strength.

They were still, however, we must observe, all COLLINSES, The main tree had not been disturbed by foreign grafting, and while all were not blood descendants of old Vardy they,at all events, had all fallen under his banner and appropriated his name.

The tree at last began to put forth branches, or rather three foreign shoots were grafted into the body of it; the English...or whites....Portuguese....and African.


The English branch began with the MULLINS tribe, a very powerful tribe, next indeed for a long time to the Collins tribe, and at present the strongest of all the several branches, as well as the most daring and obstinate.


Old Jim Mullins, the father of the branch, was an Englishman, a trader, it is supposed, with Indians. He was of a roving, daring disposition, and rather fond of the free abandon which characterized the Indian. He was much given to sports, and was always "cheek to fowl" with the Cherokees and other Indian tribes he like to mingle .What brought him to Newman's Ridge must have been , as it is said, his love for freedom and sport, and that careless existence known only to the Indians. He stumbled upon the Ridge settlement, fell in with the Ridgemanites, and never left them. He took for a wife one of their women, a descendant of old Sol Collins, and reared a family known as the MULLINS tribe. This is said to be the first white blood that mingled with the blood of the dusky Ridgemanites.


By marriage I mean to say(in their own language) they "took up together" having no set form of marriage service.So old Jim Mullins took up with a melungeon woman Collins, by whom he had a large family of children.Sometime after he exchanged wives with one Wyatt Collins, and proceeded to cultivate a second family. Wyatt Collins also had a large family by his first wife, and equally fortunate with the one whom he traded her for.

After the forming of Hancock Co.(Tenn) old Mullins and Collins were forced to marry their wives according to the law of the land, but all had children and grandchildren before they were lawfully wed.


The Mullins tribe became exceedingly strong, and remains today the head of the Ridge people.


The African branch was introduced by one Goins who emigrated from North Carolina after the formation of the state of Tenn.Goins was a negro, and did not settle upon the Ridge,but lower down the Big Sycamore Creek in Powell's Valley. He took a melungeon woman for his wife (took up with her),and reared a family or tribe.The Goins family may be easily reconized by their kinky hair ,flat nose and foot, thick lips, and a complexion totally unlike the Collins and Mullins tribes. They possess many negro traits, too, which are wanting to the other tribes.


The Malungeons repudiate the idea of negro blood, yet some of the shiftless stragglers among them have married among the Goins people.They evade slight,snubs,censure,and the law,by claiming to have married Portuguese, there really being a Portuguese branch among the tribes.


The Goins tribe, however,was always looked upon with touch of contempt , and was held in a kind of subjection, socially and politically, by the others.


The Mullins and Collins tribes will fight for their Indian blood. The Melungeons are not brave; indeed, they are great cowards and easily brow-beaten,accustomed to recieving all manners of insults which it never occurs to them to resent..Only in this matter of blood will they "show fight"


The Portugese branch was for a long timea riddle, the existence of it being stoutly denied. It has at last,however,been traced to one "Denham",a Portuguese who married a Collins woman.


It seems that every runaway or straggler of any kind whatever, passing through the country took up with abode temporarily or permenently, with the Melungeons, or as they were then called the Ridgemanites. They were harmless, social, and good-natured when well acquainted with one--although at first suspicious,distant, and morose. While they have never encouraged emigration to the Ridge they have sometimes been unable to prevent it.


Denham, it is supposed, came from one of the Spanish settlements lying futher to the south. He settled on Mulberry Creek, and married a sister of Old Sol Collins.

There is another story ,however, about Denham. It is said that the first Denham came as did the first Collins from North Carolina, and that he (or his ancestors) had been left upon the Carolina coast by some Portugese pirate vessel plying along the shore. When the English wrested the island of Jamacia from Spain in 1655, some fifteen hundred Spanish slaves fled to the mountains. Their number grew and their strenght multiplied. For more than a hundred years they kept up a kind of guerilla warfare, for they were both savage and warlike.They were called "mountain negros" or "maroons". The West Indian waters swarmed with piratical vessels at that time, the Portugese being the most terrible and daring. The crews of these vessels were composed for the most part of these mountain negros. When they became insubordinate,or in any way useless, they were put ashore and left to take care of themselves. It is said the Denhans were put ashore on the Carolina coast. Their instincts carried them to the mountains, from which one emigrated to Newman's Ridge, then a part of North Carolina territory.


So we have the four races or representatives among, as they then began to be called, the Melungeons; namely, the Indians, the English, the Portuguese, and the African. Each is clearly distinct and easily reconized even to the present day.


The Portugese blood has been a misfortune to the first melungeons inasmuch as it has been a shield to the Goins clan under which they have sought to shelder themselves and repudiate the African streak.


There is a very marked difference between the two, however. There is an old blacksmith, a Portuegese, on Black Water Creek, as dark as a genuine African. Yet, there is a peculiar tinge to his complexion that is totally foreign to the negro. He has a white wife, a Mullins woman, a descendant of English and Indian. If Melungeons does indeed mean "MIXTURE", the children of this couple are certainly Melungeons. The blacksmith himself is a Denham, grandson of the old Portugese emigrant and a Collins woman.


This, then, is the account of the Melungeons from their first apperance in that part of the country where they are still found, Tennessee.


It will be a matter of some interest to follow them down to the present day. Unlike the rest of the world they have progressed slowly. Their huts are still huts, their characteristics and instincts are still Indian, and their customs have lost but little of the old primitive exclusive and seclusive abandon characteristic of the sons of the forest.



Lewis Jarvis Article


Lewis M. Jarvis was born in 1829, in Scott County, Virginia. He was the son of Daniel Jarvis and Mary COLLINS. He was an attorney in Sneedville, TN and wrote about the Melungeons. Here follows an early articled:


As transcribed by William Grohse, historian of Hancock County, Tennessee

from the Hancock County Times
Sneedville, Tennessee, 17 April 1903

Much has been said and written about the inhabitants of Newman’s Ridge and Blackwater in Hancock County, Tenn. They have been derisively dubbed with the name “Melungeons” by the local white people who have lived here with them. It is not a traditional name or tribe of Indians.

Some have said these people were here when the white people first explored this country. Others say they are a lost tribe of the Indians having no date of their existence here, traditionally or otherwise.

All of this however, is erroneous and cannot be sustained. These people, not any of them were here at the time the first white hunting party came from Virginia and North Carolina in the year 1761-- the noted Daniel Boone was at the head of one of these hunting parties and went on through Cumberland Gap. Wallen was at the head of another hunting party from Cumberland County, Virginia and called the river beyond North Cumberland Wallen’s Ridge and Wallen’s Creek for himself. In fact these hunting parties gave all the historic names to the mountain ridges and valleys and streams and these names are now historical names.

Wallen pitched his first camp on Wallen’s creek near Hunter’s Gap in Powell’s mountain, now Lee County, Virginia. Here they found the name of Ambrose Powell carved in the bark of a beech tree; from this name they named the mountain, river and valley for Powell, Newman’s Ridge was named for a man of the party called Newman. Clinch River and Clinch valley--these names came at the expense of an Irish man of the party in crossing the Clinch River, he fill off the raft they were crossing on and cried aloud for his companions to “Clench me", "clench me", and from this incident the name has become a historic name.

About the time the first white settlement west of the Blue Ridge was made at Watauga River in Carter County, Tennessee, another white party was then working the lead mines in part of Virginia west of the Blue Ridge. In the year 1762 these hunters turned, coming through Elk Garden, now Russell County, Virginia. They then headed down a valley north of Clinch River and named it Hunter’s Valley and buy this name it goes today. These hunters pitched their tent near Hunter’s gap in Powell’s Mountain, nineteen mile from Rogersville, Tenn. on the Jonesville, Va. road. Some of the party of hunter went on down the country to where Sneedville, Hancock County, now stands and hunted there during that season.

Bear were plentiful here and they killed many, their clothing became greasy and near the camp was a projecting rock on which they would lie down and drink and the rock became very greasy and they called it Greasy Rock and named the creek Greasy Rock Creek, a name by which it has ever since been known and called since, and here is the very place where these Melungeons settled, long after this, on Newman’s ridge and Blackwater.

Vardy Collins, Shepherd Gibson, Benjamin Collins, Solomon Collins, Paul Bunch and the Goodmans, chiefs and the rest of them settled here about the year 1804, possibly about the year 1795, but all these men above named, who are called Melungeons, obtained land grants and muniments of title to the land they settled on and they were the friendly Indians who came with the whites as they moved west. They came from the Cumberland County and New River, Va., stopping at various points west of the Blue Ridge. Some of them stopped on Stony Creek, Scott County, and Virginia, where Stony Creek runs into Clinch river.

The white emigrants with the friendly Indians erected a fort on the bank of the river and called it Fort Blackmore and here yet many of these friendly“Indians” live in the mountains of Stony Creek, but they have married among the whites until the race has almost become extinct. A few of the half-bloods may be found - none darker - but they still retain the name of Collins and Gibson, &c. From here they came to Newman’s ridge and Blackwater and many of them are here yet; but the amalgamations of the whites and Indians has about washed the red tawny from their appearance, the white faces predominating, so now you scarcely find one of the original Indians; a few half-bloods and quarter-bloods-balance white or past the third generation.

The old pure blood were finer featured, straight and erect in form, more so than the whites and when mixed with whites made beautiful women and the men very fair looking men. These Indians came to Newman’s Ridge and Blackwater. Some of them went into the War of 1812-1914 whose names are here given; James Collins, John Bolin and Mike Bolin and some others not remembered; those were quite full blooded. These were like the white people; there were good and bad among them, but the great majority were upright, good citizens and accumulated good property and many of them are among our best property owners and as good as Hancock county, Tenn. affords. Their word is their bond and most of them that ever came to Hancock county, Tennessee, then Hawkins County and Claiborne, are well remembered by some of the present generation here and now and they have left records to show these facts.

They all came here simultaneously with the whites from the State of Virginia, between the years 1795 and 1812 and about this there is no mistake, except in the dates these Indians came here from Stoney Creek.