Friday, June 26, 2009

A Visit To The Melungeons

By C.H. Humble, 1897

Home Mission Monthly

Woman’s Board of Home Missions
The Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A

The Blackwater Valley lies between Mulberry and Newman’s Ridges, and is from half a mile to mile wide. Twenty years ago it was still a wilderness, but is now under good cultivation, and divided into small farms upon which are rather poor dwellings and outbuildings. In this valley and along Newman’s Ridge, reaching into Lee County, Virginia, are settled the people called Melungeons. Some have gone into Kentucky, chiefly into Pike County, others are scattered in adjacent territory.

The name Melungeons is of obscure origin supposed to be derived from Melange, (French) meaning a mixed people. When I privately asked the son of Beatty Collins, a school teacher, about this name, he strongly resented its application to his people, saying, “We are a pure blood people,” meaning at least that they had no negro blood in their veins.

They feel that oursiders look down on them and this is stimulating them to a better life.

The first settlers here were the great grand parents, Varday Collins, Shephard Gibson, and Charley Williams, who came from Virginia it is said, though other say from North Carolina. They have marked Indians resemblances in color, feature, hair, carriage, and disposition.

In the picture given is seen the typical family of Beatty Collins, chief of the clan, who stands with uncovered head to the right; before him sits his wife. The youngest daughter, about eighteen, a blonde with light wavy hair, can walk, ride, plough or hoe with the best of them. The young man–the school teacher and store keeper----is swarthy like his father. Altogether they are an intelligent, agreeable, and hospitable family. The man in the slouch hat is not of them, but would seem to be looking that way, as through the night till break of day he talked or sang to the daughter who stands beside him.

The second settlers were from North Carolina; they were the Goans, Miners, and Bells; they were charged with having negro blood in them and, before the war, were prosecuted on this ground for illegal voting, but were acquitted. They explained their peculiarities by claiming a Portuguese origin.

Later Came Jim Mullens, an Englishman, who married a Collins, and whose son John married Mehala Collins, to be referred to again. Jim Moore, a British sailor, also settled here, and married a daughter of old Charley Gibson, so that while in one sense, they are a mixed people, their names indicate an origin on one side not differing from their neighbors. Their isolation may be due to the seclusion preferred by the Indians and the exclusion on account of suspected negro blood.

To read this article in its entirety, and more: Click Here.

Note: Varday, as rendered above, is correctly spelled Vardy, and Mehala, Mahala.

Christopher Humble's visit to Vardy led directly to the establishment of the Presbyterian mission in Vardy and the building of the Vardy School. For more on that: Click Here.

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