WHO ARE THEY?
Updated: November 29, 2005
Mary Arminta Musick
The opinions on this site are strictly
my own, but have been based upon my reading and research of various
materials noted herein. You may SHARE my work with anyone, but it is
not to be sold or used for profit in any way, without my permission. I
would be glad to have your site on my links page. Please e-mail me.
If you ask, " Who are the Melungeons?" you are like most people.
If you have been researching your family in the Cumberland Plateau of
Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Tennessee,
during the early migration years, you may be able to find them through
a connection to this group of people who are only now being researched
with unbiased eyes. The Melungeons are a people of apparent
Mediterranean descent who may have settled in the Appalachian
wilderness as early or possibly earlier than 1567.
(The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People; N. Brent
Kennedy, Mercer University Press,Macon, GA, USA, 1997; introduction, p.
xiii) The Mediterrean includes areas of North Africa, southern Europe
and Central Asia.
According to Dr. Kennedy, the
Melungeons were "a people who almost certainly intermarried with
Powhatans, Pamunkeys, Creeks, Catawbas, Yuchis, and Cherokees to form
what some have called, perhaps a bit FANCIFULLY, a `new race.' Dr.
Kennedy does not believe that the Melungeons can be called a `race of
people.' No dictionary definition of race fits with what we know of the
Melungeons and recently, the American Anthropological Association,
declared that `race,' was an inaccurate, artificial way of defining a
people and was no longer of any value.
Be aware, however, that many people
bearing these surnames, even if they come from the Appalachian area,
are NOT connected to the Melungeons. The surnames are to be used as an
INDICATOR of POSSIBLE Melungeon ancestry. Also, note that many
Melungeon women `out-married,' carrying the heritage with them, but not
the names. Not having one of these names DOES NOT mean that the family
was not of Melungeon descent.
Finding out about the Melungeons and my
possible connection to them is the MOST fascinating thing I have EVER
run into in my 20 years of genealogical research. The `so-called,'
Melungeons were `discovered' in the Appalachian Mountains in 1654 by
English explorers and were described as being `dark-skinned,
reddish-brown complexioned people supposed to be of Moorish descent,
who were neither Indian nor Negro, but had fine European features, and
claimed to be Portuguese." (Louise Davis, "The Mystery of the
Melungeons." Nashville Tennessean, 22 September, 1963, 16.)
In April of 1673, James Needham, an
Englishman and Gabriel Arthur, possibly an indentured servant came with
approximately eight Indians, as explorers to the Tennessee Valley.
There, Needham described finding "hairy people .... (who) have a bell
which is six foot over which they ring morning and evening and at that
time a great number of people "congregrate togather and talkes" in a
language not English nor any Indian dialect that the accompanying
Indians knew. And yet these people seemingly looked European. Needham
described them as "hairy, white people which have long beards and
whiskers and weares clothing." This bell seems to me to speak of a
Latin influence among these people. Other, later explorers, found
people who lived in log cabins with peculiar arched windows. Dr.
Kennedy says that by the late 1700's they were practicing the Christian
These people claimed that they were
descended from a group of Portugese who had been shipwrecked or
abandoned on the Atlantic coast. (Byron Stinson, "The Melungeons,"
American History Illustrated, November, 1973:41) The term they used was
`Portyghee.' In other documents, some of these peoples were also
described as having red hair and others with VERY distinctive blue or
blue/green eyes. This description leads me to believe that these people
were not Native American Indians. Altogether they must have been a
striking looking people.
Most Americans have been taught in
school about the Lost Colony and Jamestown in 1607, Plymouth in 1620,
with a few Spaniards and a smattering of Viking thrown in for good
measure. Where did these people come from? First of all, as the
mixed-ancestry descendents of native Americans as well as other ethnic
identities, many Melungeons will find this question to be offensive--
many of their true ancestors were ALREADY here, prior to contact with
European and African in-migrants, the Official Voice of the Second
Union Planning Committee says. But recent research is giving an
interesting answer to that question. And from the research I am led to
believe that they are a sizable mixed-ethnic population spread
throughout the southeastern United States and into southern Ohio and
While the term applied to those group members living in eastern
Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, eastern Tennessee, and southern West
Virginia, related mixed-ancestry populations also include the Carmel
Indians of southern Ohio, the Brown People of Kentucky, the Guineas of
West Virginia, the We-Sorts of Maryland, the Nanticoke-Moors of
Delaware, the Cubans and Portuguese of North Carolina, the Turks and
Brass Ankles of South Carolina, and the Creoles and Redbones of
Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
There is also new evidence or rather
old evidences re-examined without prejudice, which show a significant
Spanish and Portuguese presence in sixteenth-century America, including
the large South Carolina coastal colony of Santa Elena, as well as five
outlying forts in what is now present day South Carolina, North
Carolina, north Georgia, and east Tennessee.
Additionally many of the Spanish and
Portuguese newcomers were so-called `Conversos,' - that is, ethnic
Jewish and Moorish people who had converted to Catholicism prior to or
during the Spanish Inquisition. Evidence is also strong (see the work
of English historian David Beers Quinn) that in 1586 Sir Francis Drake
deposited several hundred Turkish and Moorish sailors, liberated from
the Spanish, in present-day Central America, on the coast of North
Carolina at Roanoke Island. No trace was found of these people when
later English vessels dropped anchor for re-supplying.
By the time that the first U.S. census
was conducted, there had been 200 years of admixture and cultural
fusing. This ensured that the story would remain hidden and buried, and
that no amount of the census research could ever tell the story
accurately. Traditional genealogy can not be used to find these people.
There are are no written records, no censuses, no marriage or death
Dr. Kennedy's interest in the
Melungeons began with an illness that took him to the emergency room in
Atlanta, Georgia where he was diagnosed with erythema nodosum
sarcoidosis. In researching his own illness, Dr. Kennedy found that it
is a disease of primarily Middle Eastern and Mediterrean peoples,
although it is not unknown among the Irish and Scandanavians. He later
discovered it was equally common among the Portuguese immigrants of New
England, and both southeastern Blacks and Caucasians of seemingly
unrelated backgrounds. He was told that he would just have to wait to
see if he lived or died. How could a southerner, of Appalachian roots,
have a Mediterrean disease? It was this question that Dr. Kennedy set
out to answer, by tracing his family background, and in the process he
`rediscovered his heritage,' and found that he also had another
inherited illness called Familial Mediterranean Fever. His book,
mentioned earlier, is not about historical research, but his family's
genealogy and theoretical problem.
CHARACTERISTICS that are being found among some Melungeon descendants:
There are some physiological
characteristics which are called ethnic markers, that seem to be passed
on through the lines of some Melungeon descendants. There is a bump on
the back of the HEAD of SOME descendants, that is located at mid-line,
just ABOVE the juncture with the neck. It is about the size and shape
of half a golf ball or smaller. This is called an ANATOLIAN BUMP, and
indicates ancestry from the Anatolian region of Turkey. If you cannot
find the bump, check to see if you, like some descendants, including
myself, have a ridge, located at the base of the head where it joins
the neck, rather than the Anatolian bump.
This ridge is an enlargement of the base of the skull, which is called
a Central Asian Cranial Ridge. My ridge is quite noticeable. It is
larger than anyone else's that I have felt, except my father's. I can
lay one finger under it and the ridge is as deep as my finger is thick.
Other ridges are smaller. To find a ridge, place your hand at the base
of your neck where it joins your shoulders, and on the center line of
your spine. Run your fingers straight up your neck toward your head. If
you have a ridge, it will stop your fingers from going on up and across
From an article by Nadir Gülekon,1 M.D., Ph.D. and H. Basri
Turgut,1 Ph.D entitled:
The External Occipital Protuberance:
Can It Be Used as a Criterion in the Determination of Sex?
in the JOURNAL OF FORENSIC SCIENCES
comes the following information:
''It is known that the EOP can show
shape differences in various populations. The incidence of a prominent
EOP has been reported to be 10.9% in Germans, 8.3% in Asians, 8.3% in
Americans, 4.4% in Africans, 1.2% in Egyptians, and 0.0% in Australians
(1). The incidence of the EOP is found higher in the Anatolian
population (in general, 33.8% in the modern and 32.8% in the historic
samples) compared with other populations. As this trait relates to
activities and muscle development, physical labor will affect EOP
development. Increased physical activity (e.g., to plow arable fields,
to reap and carry crops) may explain some of the observed differences.''
The rest of this article may be located
From the above report:
8.3 % Asians
4.4 % Africans
1.2 % Egyptians
33.8 % Anatolian
47.7 % of the people w/ EOP come from the Anatolian region of what is
now Turkey, Central Asia, and North Africa. I personally believe that
this gives us a very good idea of where the trait being found among
Melungeon descendants comes from.
See the following diagram for the site
of both the ridge and bump.
( ___x___ ) ears x marks the bump's location
\valley / the ridge is the line __ shown
\ / neck
There is also a ridge on the back of the first four teeth - two front
teeth and the ones on either side (upper and lower) of some
descendants. If you place your fingernail at the gum line and gently
draw (up or down) you can feel it and it makes a slight clicking sound.
The back of the teeth also curve outward rather than straight as the
descendants of anglo-saxon parentage do. Teeth like these are called
Asian Shovel Teeth.
Many Indian descendants also have this
type of teeth. The back of the first four teeth of Northern European
descendants are straight and flat.
An example of northern European teeth would be similar to this diagram:
[ \l ]
Shovel teeth look like this diagram. Back of teeth [ )/ ] front of
SOME Melungeon descendants have what is
called an Asian eyefold. This is rather difficult to describe. At the
inner corner of the eye, the upper lid attaches slightly lower than the
lower lid. That is to say that, it overlaps the bottom lid. If you
place your finger just under the inner corner of the eye and gently
pull down, a wrinkle will form which makes the fold more visible. Some
people call these eyes, "sleepy eyes, dreamy eyes, bedroom eyes." Many
Indian descendants also have these kinds of eyes.
nose < 0 >
^ place your finger here and draw down gently
Some families may have members with
fairly dark skin who suffer with vitiligo, a loss of pigmentation,
leaving the skin blotched with white patches.
Some descendants have had six fingers
or toes. There is a family of people in Turkey whose surname translated
into English is "Six Fingered Ones." The term for that in Turkiq is
"AltI parmak." (pronounced "altah-par-mock) "AltI" ends with the
undotted Turkish "i" which is pronounced as "uh."
There is a region near Efes (Ephesus)
called "AltI Parmak" - many of the people there have historically had
six fingers. Some families have even taken the last name of
If your family has an Indian
Grandmother(father) `myth' which you have been unable to prove, an
adoption story that is un-provable, or an orphan myth, and they have
been hard to trace and they lived in NC, TN, KY, VA, WV areas in the
early migration years or if they seem to have moved back and forth in
these areas and if they share any of the mentioned surnames and
characteristics, you MAY find a connection here. Some descendants do
not show the physical characteristics and of course, there are many
people with the surnames who are not connected to this group.