The term "Melungeon" can actually refer to any of several different groups of people who inhabit a broad area east of the Mississippi River. They
are said to be products of a union between various combinations of cultures and ethnicities. For example, many believe that the Melungeons are a
combination of African, European and Native American ethicity. Other ethnic origins that have been put forward as the root of the Melungeons have
included Portuguese, Turkish, Moorish, Arabic, Jewish and Scottish (Source - Wikipedia
The Melungeons have often been referred to as the "lost people". This label probably stems from two sources. The first is a theorised origin of the
word itself, which some have said stems from the Turkish word "Meluncan", meaning "lost soul". The other is the theory that the Melungeons are
descendants of the lost colony of Roanoke
, whose settlers disappeared in the late 16th
century. This theory holds that the missing colonists interbred with the local Native American cultures, leading to the mixed ethnicity of the
Melungeon peoples. Whilst I find this aspect of the theory to be somewhat exaggerated and unlikely, there have been credible arguments made that the
Melungeons were originally of Spanish or Portuguese origin and later interbred with Native Americans
; Reference 2
). These arguments hold that the Melungeons may have
been Spanish or Portuguese, including many Moors, who were fleeing the Spanish Inquisition by escaping to the Americas where they
almost certainly intermarried with Powhatans, Pamunkeys, Creeks, Catawbas, Yuchis, and Cherokees
Recent theories also highlight the possibility that the Melungeons were of Middle Eastern descent, which adds credibility to the theory that they are
the descendants of Moors and ethnic Spaniards and Portuguese who travelled to the United States and interbred with local Native American peoples. It
is also interesting to note that the Melungeons themselves seem quite proud of their "Indian" heritage and also that many of them referred to
themselves as Portuguese, or "Portyghee" (Reference
). The site
you mentioned states that Melungeons were known by locals as a mixture of
white trash, renegade Indians, and runaway slaves
Prior to the late 20th century, the very existence of Melungeons as a distinct cultural group was somewhat debated. As the site you mentioned implies,
their existence was more of a rumour then a verified fact:
A few generations ago, children in Tennessee, Virginia and surrounding areas were told, “If you don’t behave, the Melungeons will get you!” Many
people grew up believing the Melungeons were simply an Appalachian version of the boogeyman – a fearsome and mysterious but mythical bit of
As this quote suggests, the term "Melungeon" has long been utilised to refer vaguely to the mountain peoples of the Appalachians. Even after the
Melungeons were identified as a tangible cultural group, debate continued concerning whether or not they in fact represented a distinct ethic group or
merely a distinct cultural group with attributes from a number of contributing ethnicities. Early anthropologists sometimes referred to the Melungeons
as a distinct race, but modern anthropologists are virtually unanimous in declaring that classifying people by race is both prejudicial and grossly
misleading. I agree with the current consensus that the Melungeons are the product of a variety of different ethnicities, most probably
Spanish/Portuguese, Middle Eastern (Moors, for example), African and Native American, which have been combined through the unions of those people to
form the Melungeon people. They do not represent a distinct ethnic group, but are, rather, a fascinating combination of at least two, and possibly a
good number more, different ethnicities.
In modern times, a number of people seem quite eager to rediscover their Melungeon heritage. Now that anthropologists can state with certainty that
the Melungeons are in fact real and not mere Appalachian boogeymen, the air of taboo that has surrounded these people has been largely lifted. This
has also no doubt been due to the lifting of stigmas involved with "inter-racial" marriages and sexual unions.
For more information on the Melungeons, check out the following links:
- an excellent starting point, Wikipedia has a short but useful article on the Melungeons
that goes into their theorised origins, as well as the origins of the word itself. It also lists different Melungeon groups and their locations.
- a very difficult to navigate site which may be helpful if you are looking for more information
on people's search for their Melungeon heritage. Might be a little harder to find solid info here, though.
- an excellent site with lots of pertinent information concerning the origins of
the Melungeons. It also suggests further references for finding more info on the Melungeons, though none of them are internet links.
- another useful site that goes into the ethnic origins of the Melungeon
people. It also has an interesting section on distinct Melungeon physical characteristics. Be warned, however, that classifying people into specific
ethnicities based on perceived or believed physical characteristics can sometimes backfire.
Hope this was useful, Boatphone.
[edit on 28/9/05 by Jeremiah25]