The View from a Drawbridge

The random musings of a bridgetender with entirely too much time on her hands.

There is a group of people in Eastern Tennessee whose ancestry is said to date back in this country to the late 1700’s. At the time there was talk of people who lived in the forests as Indians, but who looked European and spoke a broken form of Elizabethan English. Their descendants are called the Melungeons, and based on a DNA project that has been going on since 2005, they are a mixture of European, sub-Saharan African, and some Native American.

They tend to have the last names Bunch, Goins, Gibson, Minor, Collins, Williams, Goodman, Denham, Bowlin, Mullins, Moore, Shumake, Boltons, Perkins, Mornings, Menleys, Breedlove, Hopkins and Mallett, but it is believed that both Elvis Presley and Abraham Lincoln were of Melungeon descent as well.

No one knows where they originated exactly, but one theory is that they started with the unions of white and black indentured servants, and then as laws were put into place to penalize mixed race marriages, they only married amongst themselves and also with area Indians. Another is that shipwrecked sailors moved inland and were taken in by the Native Tribes. Whatever the case, I think this makes for a fascinating family tree.

I had never heard of this group until this month, but I’ve since discovered that there are lots of little pockets of people throughout the US who can’t be considered distinct races, but they are groups of people who share unique bloodlines. These include the Dead Lake People of Florida, the Ben-Ishmael tribe of Indiana, the Nanticoke-Moors of Delaware, the Brass Ankles of South Carolina, and the Redbones of Louisiana and Texas.

I don’t think of America as a melting pot, because to me that implies that we all mix together and become this substance that is consistent throughout. No, I think of America as more of a hearty stew with very unique and varied ingredients, and we are all the more deliciously interesting for being so.

abraham elvis

In retrospect, they DO bear a resemblance, don’t they?

3 thoughts on “The Mysterious Melungeons

  1. Yeah… I don’t want to be a glob of melted cheese in a fondue… I want to be a big chunk of meat in a stew!!!

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