Friday, October 15, 2010

Book Review: a 1983 book which gives Melungeon info

Book Review: a 1983 book which gives Melungeon info

Review of:

From Newman's Ridge, Tennessee to Southeastern Kentucky Highlands: (Trail of the Portuguese Indian and English Mixed Clans)

By Norm Isaac 1983

This review was written by Nancy Sparks Morrison:

From the frontispiece map of total area of Portuguese mixed clans in this book are the following places:


Hancock County; Newman Ridge; Sneedville; Mulberry Gap


Rose-Hill (Martins Station); Jonesville (Glade Spring); Pennington Gap; Big Stone Gap


Pineville; Bell County; Harlan; Whitesburg, Letcher County; Pikeville; Manchester, Clay County; Hyden, Leslie County; Hazard, Perry County; Handman, Knott County; Prestonburg, Floyd County; Lexington; Jackson, Breathitt County; Salyersville; Paintsville, Johnson County; Boone's Camp; Inez, Martin County.

Nowhere in this book is the term Melungeon used, but the fact that there was a derogatory term used to describe the earliest settlers in the mountains of Tennessee and Kentucky is mentioned. The author uses the term "Portuguese Mixed Clans" or "mixed Portuguese kinfolk on the Ridge."

The author begins by talking about Mahala Mullins noting a visit to her old house on the Ridge. He notes that he "found her grave in the little cemetery near her homestead." "The grave covered an area about six feet wide by eight feet long and was sunken two and one-half feet deep."

His description of how he got to the Ridge is of interest. Accompanied by Ms. Martha Collins, a descendant and Mr. Tom Zackery, (the high school principal) he notes that he was "guided through the old barbed wire, chopping small trees and bushes and digging out rocks to make a trail for the Jeep to the old home of Mahala Mullens."

He says the farmstead sits directly above an almost sheer cliff of probably one thousand feet. The house itself he reports was mostly papered with several layers of newspaper both upstairs and down. He noted a huge fireplace at the north end of the building with a smaller one on the south side. The bigger of the two fireplaces was unfinished when Mahala died, so she was taken to the cemetery from the enlarged hole of that fireplace. North of the house, and eastward of the cemetery, the land began to be meadow-like with an apple orchard which ran flat to the very edge of the cliff.

The author notes that in pioneer times, Newman Ridge was named for an early longhunter named Walter Newman who hunted the area in the years from 1763-1775 and to 1785. He notes that the mixed Portuguese people were living on the Ridge at that time, but no mention of them was made by either Newman or Daniel Boone. How he knows this to be so, he does not explain.

He does mention Governor Sevier recognizing the mixed settlers in the 1780's. He says that the Cherokee called them "white Indians": and mentions the huge bell they used to alert the others that strangers were in the area. He notes that probably after 1785 and the surge of Revolutionary War veterans, the folks farming the bottom lands were forced up onto Newman's Ridge. The author notes that both he and Ms. Martha Collins believe that the Portuguese came into the mountains from a Portuguese ship or shipwrecked sailors. He says this incursion may have been as early as shortly after 1600 or a few years before. He notes the Portuguese soldiers with DeSoto when he traveled through the high ridges in the sixteenth century, but mostly they came he believes from the Carolinas, some of them marrying into the various tribes east of Newman Ridge as well as the white traders commonly found in the area.

The author notes that he tried everything he could to set up a memorial for Mahala Mullens and that many of her descendants and local folks supported the idea. He notes that he wrote to Ms. Bonnie Ball of Big Stone Gap, who also supported the idea as did Jean Patterson Bible of Dandridge, TN. He notes that the Park Conservation Department at Knoxville sent a representative to Sneedville and Hancock County who wrote that not enough people were interested in the project.

Among the surnames the author mentions as early members of the colony were Mullens and Vardaman Collins, and Denham, a Portuguese shipwrecked sailor. An important note here is that the author says that both Ms Bible and Ms Ball recognized that a majority of the original residents and their descendants migrated to more northerly sections of the country.

The author notes the possible inclusion of Basque ancestry amongst the Melungeons since from that area, boats traveled to America in the time of Columbus and later. Other names mentioned were Bowling or Bowlin, Gibson, Goins, Gilbert, Campbell, Manis, Sexton and Bell.

As to why the Melungeons migrated, the author offers up the theory that coal mining lured them at the turn of the century. (1900)

It is at this point that the author begins to spend more time on strip mining than Melungeons, but he lists many of the disastrous strip mining sites in Kentucky and Virginia as places that the Mixed Portuguese Clans migrated and notes that he fought against these in any way that he could.

The author lists the Kentucky counties of Johnson, Pike, Bell, Harlan, Knox, Clay, Owsley, Leslie, Perry and Breathitt as having a good number of the Mixed Clans. And he mentions Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes, Kentucky. Alice Lloyd came to the area from Boston and with grit and determination began to teach the children of the area. The author mentions that he has heard of both oral and written biographies of the pioneers of the area, many of whom he believes to be Melungeon. I have written an e-mail to the college to see if indeed it has such in its archives. I will let you know when I hear from them.

The remainder of this book deals with trips and travels through the areas that the author believes are Melungeon (Mixed Portuguese Clans). On page 90, he notes that "I have interviewed many people and families of Portuguese Mixed Clans from Viper to Perry County to Lilly Cornett's Woods in Letcher County, Whitesburg, Hindman in Knott County, Salyersville, Magoffin, and Prestonburg in Floyd. Sometimes a real true gender of a descendant of these people is found - - mostly in the Mullens (Mahala's kinfolks, no doubt), Collins and Gibson progeny. (These were all of the founding of the Portuguese Mixed Clans. There are possibly thirty to forty different families of authentic individuals of the Newman Ridge kith and kin who are found throughout the Southeastern Highlands.)"

Note that Mahala's cabin has been moved from the mountain top and restored as a kind of museum. It sits in Sneedville, TN now.

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