by Tim Hashaw


Writer’s biography: Tim Hashaw is an award winning investigative reporter who has worked in radio, television and print. He has been honored by the Radio and Television News Directors’ Association, the Associated Press, United Press International, the National Headliner’s Club and others.  Tim is a descendant of John Geaween of Virginia, who, in 1640, was the first African-American yet documented in British North America, as “free”.




“And a mixed multitude went up also with them.” Exodus 12:18



The following advertisement was placed in the North Carolina Gazette on April 10, 1778 by Johnson Driggers, a desperate Melungeon father seeking his abducted children.

"On Saturday night, April the 4th, broke into the house of the subscriber at the head of Green's Creek, where I had some small property under the care of Ann Driggers, a free Negro woman, two men in disguise, with marks on their faces and clubs in their hands, beat and wounded her terribly and carried away four of her children, three girls and a boy, the biggest of said girls got off in the dark and made her escape, one of the girls name is Becca, and other is Charita, the boy is named Shadrack..."


This early newspaper notice described a common threat to free blacks and Melungeons in 18th century America.  The lucrative American slave market enticed man-stealers to prey on free African and free mulatto communities. Freeborn mulatto Drury Tann of the Melungeon Tann family of North Carolina, applied for his Revolutionary War pension in 1834.  In his pension application is an account of his early abduction by man-stealers.

"He (Tann) was stolen from his parents when a small boy by persons unknown to him, who were carrying him to sell him into Slavery, and had gotten with him and other stolen property as far as the mountains on their way...his parents made a complaint to a Mr. Tanner Alford who was then a magistrate in the county of Wake State of North Carolina, to get me back from those who had stolen me and he did pursue the rogues and overtook them at the mountains and took me from them."


On March 12, 1754, John Scott, a "free Negro" of Berkely County, South Carolina with Melungeon ties filed an affidavit notifying authorities in Orange County, North Carolina of a similar abduction.

"Joseph Deevit, Wm. Deevit, and Zachariah Martin entered by force the house of his daughter, Amy Hawley, and carried her off by force with her six children, and he thinks they are taking them north to sell as slaves."

These three cases among many illustrate that by 1750, free blacks and mulattos in the American colonies were living under the threat of illegal abduction and loss of liberty.  Any hint of African blood could possibly land a free Melungeon in court, fighting allegations that he or she was a fugitive runaway. The “mystery” of the Melungeons often talked about today is a result of attempts by mixed, 19th century groups to deny an African heritage with its past American disadvantages. The ancestry of Melungeons became more obscure in proportion to America’s discriminatory laws and attitudes against Negroes.  Individual descendants claim the name Melungeon today with pride, but from the 1790 federal census up to the present, Melungeon communities have avoided and denied the label. However, there is evidence that before the 1790 census, Melungeons named themselves in their native Mbundu tongue shortly after leaving their homeland in the Malange highlands of Angola Africa.   

It was just a few months after their departure from the Angolan port of Luanda, some 400 years ago, that an armed man-o-war, the “White Lion,” emerged from a storm off Point Comfort, Virginia in Chesapeake Bay.  Its captain was a legendary pirate.  He carried a human cargo of Mbundu Bantu war captives he had “liberated” from a Portuguese merchant slaver leaving the western African port of Luanda.  The captain of the White Lion traded “20 and odd” of these Mbundu Angolans to Virginia planters.  This well-known incident in August 1619 is the earliest documented entry of Africans into British-ruled North American colonies; the first Middle Passage out of Africa.  Not known however is the connection between those Mbundu on board the White Lion and the “poor whites” of Appalachia who are called “Melungeons”.


Later, from 1620-1720, other privateers with Angolan captives followed the White Lion to Virginia.  Arriving before chattel slavery was universal in North American colonies, many of these black men and women escaped plantation bondage.  They voted, held office and intermarried with whites in the South.  Many of their mixed Mbundu Angolan descendants achieved prominence in America; Abraham Lincoln’s mother Nancy Hanks, scientist Benjamin Banneker, humanitarian Ralph Bunch, athletes Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe, and such celebrities as Tom Hanks, Elvis Presley, Ava Gardner, Heather Locklear, Rich Mullins, and comedian Steve Martin, to name a few.  Also include infamous outlaw Sam Bass and former NAACP director Benjamin Chavis.


From the time of their first arrival, these Mbundu Angolans called themselves “Malungu” which in their native Kimbundu language meant “countrymen who had crossed the water on the same ship”. In time the name came to convey the idea of “friend.”  This series explores the ancestry of the original Malungu and presents a brief history of their Melungeon descendants through 400 years in America.





They landed in Virginia one year before the Pilgrims reached Plymouth Rock.  They sparked a major conflict between the English Crown and the American colonies one hundred and fifty years before the American Revolution.  They lived free in the South nearly two hundred and forty years before the American Civil War.  Yet the African ancestors of the American Melungeons have remained elusive ghosts for the past four centuries; the missing characters in the saga of America’s largest and oldest mixed communities. Vehemently denied by some descendants and misunderstood by others, the African fathers and mothers of Melungia have yet to take their place in American history. Most scholars remain reluctant to tackle the so-called “mystery of the Melungeons”.  Those who have tried have often found themselves retreating from earlier positions.  The Melungeon story is complex and has, so far, eluded even the most determined researchers.

Perhaps the greatest misconception about the origin of the Melungeons stems from the complexities in the 17th century status of the African-Americans who, along with whites and Indians, gave birth to the Melungeons.  Modern scholars assume that mixed African heritage begins with the offspring of white plantation owners and black female chattel slaves in the years 1780 to 1820.

Wrong on two counts.  In fact:

1.  The first black ancestors of the Melungeons appeared in tidewater Virginia, not in the 18th century, but as early as 1619.

2.  Not a single Melungeon family can be traced to a white plantation owner and his black female slave.  The vast majority of the African ancestors of Melungia were free.

This is worth repeating.

Melungeons descended from free colonial Africans with American roots reaching back to the days of Captain John Smith of Pocahontas fame.  The African ancestors of Melungeons were frequently black men and women who entered America as indentured servants, no different from the way many white English-born settlers arrived in the 1600s. In fact, a great number of these free African-Americans became successful and even owned white English, Irish, and Scottish servants in the southern British American colonies prior to 1770.

The original ancestors of the Melungeons were free African-Americans who married whites in Virginia and other southern colonies.  Paul Heinegg in his revealing book, "Free African Americans in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware," provides strong evidence that less than one percent of all free Africans, including Melungeon ancestors, descended from the unions of whites slave-owners and black slaves in the original tidewater colonies.  The background of the colonial social status is critical to understanding the history and the origin of the mixed "Melungeon".


The traditional definition of “Melungeon” has been limited to descendants of regional 19th and 20th century mixed people of Appalachian Tennessee and clustered areas of Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky.  But new research calls for a broader definition of Melungeon to include some forty variously named mixed groups who all descended from early free blacks of 17th century colonial America.


Genealogical records show that these different groups, now scattered from Maryland to Ohio to Louisiana, first appeared in the original southern tidewater colonies on the Atlantic seaboard from 300 to about 400 years ago. Records indicate that most of these 40 mixed groups came from about 200 common ancestors from 1619-1720 Virginia who married whites and Indians and who likely referred to themselves by the Kimbundu Angolan term “malungu” before they separated into smaller clans to begin migrating west from 1790 through 1860. Many scholars have noted a common “Melungeoness” in these variously identified mixed groups, linked by a handful of identical surnames traceable to free black people in the 17th century Southern colonies. 


For example, the surname “Goins” can be found, not only among traditional Melungeons, but also with the Lumbee, Redbones, Free Issues, Ramps, Moors and other variously named mixed groups.  It should be acknowledged that no local community identifies itself as “Melungeon” today, nor have any identified themselves as such in the past 200 years. Their Lumbee brothers and sisters call themselves “Lumbee”, and their Redbone brothers and sisters call themselves “Redbone”, but Melungeons after 1790 never identified their own communities as “Melungeon,” though few scholars would deny that Melungeon communities have existed from that time.  A new definition of Melungeon should be based on four documented points.


1.       Melungeons are descendants of black colonial settlers of the 17th and early 18th centuries in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware.

2.       The vast majority of 17th and early 18th century blacks arriving in British North America were from the Kimbundu-speaking area of Angola, Africa’s Malange district.

3.       Mbundu Angolans in 17th and early 18th century America called themselves “malungu,” meaning “those who came in ships from a common homeland”.

4.       The general migrations of the original 17th century mixed Negro families and their descendants coincide where these 40-odd mixed groups eventually settled.  In the 17th and early 18th centuries, descendants of the original Angolan-Americans migrated from Virginia into North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries they moved along two general lines: a.  Northwest to Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana in that order. b. Or south from the Carolinas into Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas in that order.




The word “Melungeon” in an American-English dictionary first appeared in the Century Dictionary and Encyclopedia, 1906, which defined Melungeons as a dark people of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina with a discernable mix of “white, Indian and black blood”.  New research further specifies the earliest Melungeon ancestors were white northern Europeans and Kimbundu-speaking Africans who intermarried in 17th and early 18th century British-America. From northern Europe, white ancestors of Melungeons include among others, English, Scot, Irish, Welsh, Dutch, and German parents.  It is also possible that, in the later 18th century development of some Melungeon families, there is a connection to the French Huguenots of Virginia and the Carolinas.


The African ancestors of the Melungeons came from northeast Angola and southern Kongo.  They arrived in Virginia generally from 1619 to 1690.  It was previously thought black people in 17th century Virginia arrived from Africa via Spanish and Portuguese settlements in Central and South America. But new evidence disputes this. Most black 17th century ancestors of the Melungeons came directly to Virginia from sub-Sahara west central Africa as captives of war.  Also at the same time a significant number of Angolans were shipped to New Amsterdam (New York) and from there sold to the southern colonies.


The North American Indian ancestors of Melungeons are alleged to come from communities of the Powhatan, Mattaponi, Monie, Nansemond, Rappahanock, Pamunkey, Chickahominie, Catawba, Haliwa-Saponi, Occaneechi, Monacan, Cheraw, Meherrin, Nottoway, Pochick, Tuscarora, Cherokee, Choctaw and others.  However, some scholars dispute a Melungeon descent from several of these Indian communities.  It is unlikely that all Melungeons are related to a single Indian group. The Choctaw contributed to two or three Melungeon famlies in one area, as did the Saponi, Cherokee and other Indian people at different times and in different places.  Some Melungeon families may have absolutely no Indian ancestry.  But all Melungeon descendants have West African and northern European ancestors.

Today, communities identified as “Melungeon” by outsiders still thrive in Hancock County, Tennessee, in Lee and Wise counties in Virginia, and in other enclaves on the Cumberland Plateau.  Appalachian Melungeons are sometimes designated as  “poor whites”.  Elsewhere Melungeons are known by many regional names; the Redbones of Louisiana and Texas, the Lumbee Indians of South Carolina, the Moors of Delaware, the Brass Ankles and Turks of South Carolina, the Brown People of Kentucky, the Carmel Indians of Ohio, and the Guineas of West Virginia.  In all there are about 40 of these early mixed African-American groups scattered through the South.  These mixed communities do not share the same American origin as the later Gullah people, though Melungeons and Gullah both have roots in Angola.  The Gullah (f“Angola”) arrived in the early 19th century as chattel slaves.  The Angolan ancestors of the Melungeons lived free in America 150 years before the Angolan ancestors of the Gullah arrived.

The European conquest of interior Angola began in 1618 when Portugal attacked the Mbundu kingdom of Ndongo in a military campaign lasting until 1621. At the time, England and its American colonies had no direct trade in African slaves. Nevertheless, during Portugal's war on Ndongo, Africans began appearing in British Virginia aboard Dutch and English ships robbing Iberian merchant-slavers leaving the Portuguese slave-port of Luanda, Angola.  


Of all the ethnic groups presented as possible ancestors of Melungeons, not one provokes more heated debate today than the claim that Melungeons have forebears who were African. (Ironic because tolerance is the lesson Melungeon history is uniquely qualified to teach).  Every single observer who visited Melungeon communities before 1890 without fail noted their African ancestry.  From 1813-1890 mixed people in that region tried their best to deny the name “Melungeon” because the African ancestry of anyone called a Melungeon was common knowledge in the original tidewater colonies.  In the earliest published appearances of the word “Melungeon,” people in Virginia, the Carolinas and Tennessee always reported Melungeons as having mixed black and white, or black and Indian ancestry. But any combination always included Negro. The name “Melungeon” is first found in writing in 1813 in western Virginia in the minutes of Stony Creek Primitive Baptist church.  The Melungeons on the church rolls were Gibsons, Collins, Sextons, and Bolins described in earlier census records as “mulattoes” and “other free persons”.


The term Melungeon also appeared In 1840 when future Tennessee governor William Gannaway “Parson” Brownlow, originally from southwestern Virginia, used the name in a popular political newspaper.   According to C S Everett in the Appalachian Journal magazine:


“In the Jonesboro Whig and Independent Journal of October 7, 1840, Brownlow, later the editor of the Knoxville Whig, used the word “Melungeon” to refer to a presumably half Indian/half Negro from “Washington City”: “[A]nd withal an effort was made, to get an impudent Melungeon…a scoundrel who is half Negro and half Indian, and who has actually been speaking in Sullivan…”  Over the course of the next two weeks, Brownlow referred to the same individual as “the big Indian Negro,” “the Negro,” “impudent Free Negro”- “a miserable loafer” who was “a half-breed Cherokee Indian” and a “half-breed Cherokee Negro.”  In the October 28th edition of the Whig, Brownlow reported:


“[a] half Negro and half Indian has been speaking to the citizens of Sullivan on the subject of politics! This surely is a great insult and ought not to be tolerated…we have seen and heard the vile scamp.  And he was put up by the Democratic party, and by that party sustained, an now apologized for, on the ground of his having some Indian blood…”


Everett continues:


“In a final affront a week later, the Whig referred to the speaker as an “infamous and discipated [sic] Mulatto” as well as a “kinky headed villain,” while also acknowledging that the Sentinel [the Democratic opposition paper] referred to the individual as “part Indian”….In Brownlow’s language, the connotations are unambiguous- “Malungeon” unequivocally meant “black-Indian”.


Today’s political mudslinging is tame in comparison to the inflammatory rhetoric used by politicians in Brownlow’s day.  His effort was to taint and besmirch his opponent as an inferior based on his ancestry.  Obviously Brownlow was repeating the term in a context understood by folks in Tennessee and Virginia.


Later in the same decade, the name appeared in print again in a travelogue in the Louisville Kentucky Examiner.  Reprinted in the Knoxville Register in 1848 and in Littell’s Living Age Boston in 1849, the article is the first yet documented to apply “Melungeon” to a mixed ethnic community at Vardy, Newman’s Ridge, Hancock County (then Hawkins County,) Tennessee according to Everett.  The article contained a supposed conversation of “Melungens” at the Vardy community.  Everett writes:


“During a rather “spirited” dance one evening, a Mr. Jord Bilson, while “cutting the pigeon-wing,” clodded ungraciously upon the toes of one Miss Syl Varmin.  Syl remarked that Jord needed to keep his feet off her, or she would “shorten ‘em for him.”  Jord responded that Syl was “nothing but a cross-grained critter, anyhow.”  “And you’re a darned Melungen,” snapped back Syl, an insinuation to which Jord retaliated, “Well, if I am, I aint nigger-Melungen, ANYHOW- I’M Indian-Melungen, and that’s more ‘an you is.”


Here, the term, in a supposed Melungeon conversation was a slur, as in the cases of Brownlow and the members of Stony Creek Baptist, claiming Negro blood.


In 1889, an article appeared in the October issue of American Anthropologist again referring to the Melungeons on Newman’s Ridge as “a mixture of the white, Indian, and Negro.”  Everett writes that a further example of the “opprobrious” nature of the designation was published when the writer, Swan M. Burnett noted of these Melungeons:


“they resented the appelation [sic] Melungeon, given to them by common consent by the whites.”




From 1813 to 1890 all external literary observations of Melungeons stated they were of a mixed ancestry which always included “Negro.”  The first conflicting claim occurred when newspaper articles, theorizing that some Melungeons were not part black, were published shortly before 1900 by Will Allen Dromgoole, an inexperienced writer who was in her 20s when she first visited Big Sycamore, Hancock County.  Yet even Dromgoole acknowledged that other Melungeons were indeed black.


“I found here…Malungeon women with brown babies and white babies, and one, a young copper-colored woman with black eyes and straight Indian locks, and two black babies, negroes, at her heels and a third at her breast.” 


But Dromgoole went on to claim that certain groups of Melungeons she called “Portuguese Indians,” were of Cherokee descent, and lived apart from Negro Melungeons.  Responses to her articles in the Daily American according to C.S. Everett, led to heated exchanges in late 1890. 


“Dromgoole was challenged on several fronts, the most forceful complainant urging that “Malungeons” were nothing other than mulattoes – meaning of course, the progeny of black-white unions.  On September 14, 1890, a letter to the editor of the Daily American signed “C.H.” of Hancock County stated,  “When we ask (old Negroes) who the Malungeons or Ishes [Issues] were, they said they were runaway Negroes, who had married Indians…These Negroes, both blacks and mulattoes, held these Malungeons in great contempt. They were always insulted if called a Malungeon.”


After the Dromgoole articles suggested that some Melungeons were not mixed Negro but rather “Portuguese Indians,” a flood of articles advocating non-Negro Melungeon origins began to appear at the turn of the century. Everett cites a number of cases. Borrowing Dromgoole’s theories, the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1894 published, “Report of Indians Taxed and Not Taxed.”  The report repeated Dromgoole’s Cherokee theory and for the first time made the claim that the term “Melungeon” was a “corruption of ‘Melange,’ a name given them by early settlers (French) which means mixed.  Everett writes:


“This report made use of Hamilton McMillan’s and Stephen Week’s writings on a “mixed” Indian community in southeastern North Carolina.  Weeks, who was in communication with McMillan, cited Dromgoole, and the works of both McMillan and Weeks certainly influenced the Interior Department’s report, which accepted at face value the assertions of the Melungeons themselves that they were Indian.”


Dromgoole, who had no background in historical research or ethnography, was the first to introduce a non-Negro origin for the Melungeons, though in her case, not for all Melungeons.  And only after her articles appeared shortly before 1900 did the name “Melungeon” receive a French etymology.  Dromgoole largely ignored the testimony of outsider sources.  Rather she relied totally upon the claims made by Melungeons who had much to gain in denying Negro ancestry at that time in the Jim Crow South.  Everett notes that after Dromgoole’s publications, “the literary exploitation of the Melungeons took off.”  He cites the short story “Though the Gap” written by John Fox Jr. in 1897.  Fox described Melungeons as half-breed Indians rather than mixed Negroes.   Also published in 1897 was the story “A Visit to the Melungeons” by Presbyterian missionary C.H. Humble who, according to Everett, “suggested that the Collinses, Gibsons, and Williamses had no Negro blood but were-according to their own words-a “pure blood people.”  Humble believed the Melungeons he visited were Indian.  Also cited by Everett is the fictional story “The Melungeon Girl’s Duel” by Lucious Evins Smith about 1900.


 “Evins saw the Melungeons as an American Indian tribal community. While she was no Melungeon and neither a trained ethnographer nor ethnologist, Evins made constant reference to the Melungeon “tribe” and its clandestine “tribal council” (and described a Melungeon elder) as being “dark as an Egyptian, straight as an Indian.” C S Everett, Melungeon History and Myth, Appalachian Journal 1999.


Such late claims, made at the start of the 20th century and ongoing, provide support today for the repeated attempts by some who regard themselves as Melungeon, to seek government-recognized status for a Melungeon Indian tribe.  There is certainly a ton of 20th century literary fodder for such a movement, though rarely from trained historical researchers. Everett also mentions Paul Converse who, in The Southern Collegian described Melungeons of “swarthy complexion, with prominent cheek bones, jet black hair…deep set dark eyes” and according to Everett, “that the small boys…look like young Indians fresh from their smoky wigwams.” 




It is at this time, Everett writes, that theories of exotic and mysterious Melungeon origins began to appear.


“The mythical image can be traced through documents spanning roughly 50 years.  Still, while about 50 percent of the descriptions of the east Tennessee Melungeons from about 1890 to 1940 maintained that they were primarily of Indian stock (several even reporting that Melungeons referred to themselves as such), about 50 percent of the descriptions espoused an exotic or mysterious origin.  Interestingly, it was only during the early decades of the current  (20th) century that the “mystery” began to develop.”


Watson’s Magazine in 1913 published “Romantic Account of the Celebrated Melungeon Case” in which Everett notes, the Melungeons became a people who “crossed the Atlantic and settled in the coast of South Carolina” but who were later driven out and “wandered across the mountains to Hancock County, East Tennessee.”  This tale promoting an unknown and exotic Melungeon origin was followed in 1914 by an article written by Samuel Tyndale Wilson in The Southern Mountaineers. In which Everett quotes him as writing, “[o]ccasionally the student of ethnology may stumble upon a community that is a puzzle, as, for example, that one occupied by the ‘Malungeons” of upper East Tennessee.”  The word “mysterious,” was first used to describe Melungeons in 1923 when John Trotwood Moore and Austin P. Foster wrote Tennessee, the Volunteer State.  According to Everett, the authors described Melungeons as:


“a distinct race…as different from all the other races in the Western Hemisphere as the Negro is from the Indian.  Moreover, this race is found nowhere else in America…It is the race of the Melungeons, a mysterious race, few in numbers, whose origin is open to speculation.”


Everett adds, “It seems the allure of the exotic and the romantic proved too powerful for common sense.”  Yet another example he cites using the description “mysterious” was published in 1939. 


“Otha Walraven and Leo Zuber, writing for the Works Progress Administration Federal Writers’ Guide series, further enhanced the Melungeon mystery in two separate pieces.  In “The Melungeons at Oakdale” Walraven discussed “a small colony of that mysterious race of people known as the Melungeons” living in southeastern Morgan County approximately 35 miles west of Knoxville”.


Exotic theories followed published accounts of “mysterious” origins.  Some of the exotic examples cited by Everett include the theory of Bonnie Ball in 1945 who compared Melungeons to "South Sea Islanders.”  William Worden introduced the Welsh and Phoenicians as likely Melungeon progenitors in 1947.  In 1952 North Calahan in the book Smoky Mountain Country, mused that the Melungeons descended from the North African Moors and alluded to the 1913 theory of Lewis Shepherd, that Melungeons were ancient Carthaginians from Morocco.  Everett also includes the exotic origins presented by Paul Brewster in a 1964 Ethnos article.


“[Brewster] concluded that the best [theory] was that they were the descendants of Portuguese pirates who mutinied off the Carolina coast. The crew attacked a local Indian village, took all of its women, and fled to the hills.  Brewster’s article ends on this note: “Whatever they may be-Welsh, English, Phoenician, Portuguese or just Indian-[they] will probably be found on Newman’s Ridge as long as any are left”.


By the 1970s the exotic Melungeon origin theories also included Gypsy and Chinese.  These 20th century claims took a scientific turn when Dr. James L. Guthrie included Mediterranean possibilities in the 1990s with a reinterpretation of DNA data originally presented by William S. Pollitzer and William H. Brown.   In a 1969 article, “Survey of Demography, Anthropology and Genetics in the Melungeons of Tennessee: An Isolate of Hybrid Origin in Process of Dissolution”  Pollitzer and Brown had determined Melungeons to be of black, white and Indian genetic ancestry after analysis of 177 Melungeons in mixed communities in Virginia and Tennessee. 


Regardless of the singular merit of each of these 20th century descriptions of mysterious, exotic and non-Negro origins of the Melungeons, those theories would have been news to the observers of the previous century who never failed to mention the Negro ancestry of the Melungeons they knew. From the first written appearance of the name “Melungeon” in 1813 to the 1890s, no non-Negro origin for Melungeons and no French etymology for the word “Melungeon” were ever proposed.  In addition, from 1813 the name “Melungeon: always carried with it a stigma of mixed “Negro” ancestry that Melungeons sought to avoid.  While Melungeons themselves claimed they were non-African Portuguese prior to 1890, they made the claim under stress while facing discrimination.   Outside observers who noted the possible Portuguese ancestry of Melungeons always included the Negro ancestry,


There are however, reasons to conclude that the name “Melungeon,” like the people it identified, originated in an era of American history before African-Americans faced legal discrimination and the contempt of white neighbors.  It was during this time, more than a century before 1800 that Melungeons had no cause to deny their African heritage or their name.



The changing evolution of the name “Melungeon” reflects the history of the Melungeon community; first welcomed in mainstream American society, then later vilified and shunned.  Evidence indicates the name "Melungeon" came from the Kimbundu-Angolan word “malungu”, which originally meant "watercraft". The word came to mean, “those who crossed over on the same ship from the same homeland”.  Kimbundu was a language of the Mbundu nation, which included the kingdom of Ndongo. The first Africans coming to Virginia in 1619 and for many years afterward were Mbundu. This Kimbundu word “malungu” identified Mbundu Angolan people in the Americas.  John Thornton of Millersville University of Pennsylvania, and Linda Heywood of Howard University, have found this definition applied to other New World Africans of the same origin and destiny as that of the Africans of Virginia.

"In Brazil, which had a heavily Kimbundu-speaking African population, the term “malungu” was used to mean anyone who had traveled on the same ship together, and gradually extended (by definition) to other close companions or friends.  Since the word derives from Kimbundu (the same word is also used in Kikongo) and not Portuguese, there is no reason that it can't also be used in areas outside Brazil where the Angolans went."

The Mbundu in Virginia, as in Brazil, used "malungu" to describe their countrymen in the Americas.  Professor Robert Slene, of Brazil University, wrote an article entitled, "Malunga, ngoma vem! Africa encoberta e descoberta no Brasil" [Malungu, ngoma comes! Africa uncovered and discovered in Brazil].  Thornton and Heywood quote Slene as noting that in Brazil the word was borrowed into Portuguese as "melungo" (shipmate) from the Kimbundu and Kikongo languages. He cites the philologist Macedo Soares as giving a definition of "malungo"in 1880 (in Portuguese):

"companheiro, patricio, da mesma regiao, que veio no mesmo comboio" parceiro da mesma laia, camarada, parente." (translated: companion, fellow countryman, from the same region, who travels on the same conveyance, from the same background, comrade, relative).


Soares quotes a 1779 Portuguese dictionary with the example, "Malungo, meu malungo...chama o preto a outro cativo que veio com ele na mesma embaracao" which is translated ("Malungo, my

malungo"...the black calls another captive who came with him on the same ship)"

Slene finds the etymology of the later Portuguese word melungo in the earlier Angolan  malungu from the languages of Kimbundu, Kikongo, and Umbundu (spoken in central Angola).  In the modern languages, the definition of malungu can mean "companion".  Thornton and Heywood write:

"...the idea that the term means "shipmate" and could be extended to "countryman" or "close friend" and “relative" makes great sense to us and gives the term "Melungeon" great significance."

Likewise, C S Everett of Vanderbilt University consulted several Portuguese language scholars and Portuguese and Brazilian sources for “terminology and slang”.  In the 1999 issue of Appalachian Journal he wrote of two definitions of the Portuguese “melungo”.


“The first is a Brazilian-Portuguese term originating as a West African neologism during the Portuguese colonization of South America.  It meant “shipmate” but only in the sense that newly transported African slaves utilized the term to refer to other slaves recognized as having been aboard the same slave vessel or as having originated in the same native region of sub-Saharan Africa.  As the term was domesticated in Brazil, it was gradually applied exclusively to young children who were known to have nursed at the same breast (like siblings, regardless of actual familial relations).”

The North American name "Melungeon" developed as an English elongation of the Kimbundu “malungu” used by Angolans to describe themselves: companions, shipmates, fellow passengers from a common homeland who had endured the trans-Atlantic crossing together. The word "Melungeon" did not derive from the Portuguese "melungo".  Rather, the English “Melungeon” like the Portuguese “melungo” came directly from the Kimbundu African word "malungu".


From the beginning, two important social features uniquely marked Melungeons; their close-knit communities and their mixed blood.   Records reveal these two features in Melungeon ancestors as early as the 17th century.  These visible features of 17th century ancestors of the Melungeons were identical to the features of 19th century Melungeons.  Since the observable characteristics remained the same, the 17th century ancestors were likely known by the name “Melungeon” even if a variation.   These ancestral mixed black families originated in the same generation of the Kimbundu-speaking Mbundu Angolans who arrived in Virginia in 1619 and other Angolans who continued coming to the southern tidewater colonies through 1700.  Shipping records show that the vast majority of Africans arriving in British North America at this time were taken from pirated Portuguese ships leaving Luanda, Angola.  Early Kimbundu speaking Angolans in the New World described themselves with the Kimbundu word "malungu". In the 17th century, after serving about 7 years as indentured servants, the Angolan ancestors of the Melungeons were free to move from county to county.  Some were free as early as 1640 to purchase property.  It makes sense that they identified themselves in the Kimbundu language since Kimbundu speaking Africans were alive and free at the time the Melungeon similarities are first evident in Virginia. There was no plantation assimilation, no loss of African identity among the ancestors of the Melungeons. The sense of “malungu” developed on the trans-Atlantic voyage regardless of whether the ship made it to a Portuguese-American colony, or was captured by English privateers and sent to the British Virginia colony.

“Melungeon” or some other form, was likely a name they originally called themselves when white America accepted them in the 17th century. Stony Creek church records near the Virginia-Tennessee border in 1813 show the name "Melungeon" first appeared in Virginia.  By the 19th century the origin of the name “Melungeon” was forgotten or denied by mixed descendants desiring to avoid the discrimination directed against African-Americans.  They were called this name as a slur by white Virginians whose grandparents would have remembered their earlier origin.  The slur is evident in the Stony Creek Primitive Baptist church minutes. The gradual westward development of America resulted in ignorance in new settlements over the ethnic origin of the Melungeons.  However within Virginia and the older colonies white people were very sure of the Negro ancestry of the mixed Melungeons.



1.  People who were ancestors of Melungeons, and who exhibited the social and ethnic characteristics of Melungeons, formed identifiable communities within the lifetimes of the first Kimbundu-speaking Angolans to arrive in Virginia in the 17th century.

2.  The Melungeon community began to be isolated from mainstream America near the end of the 17th century when Virginia and the other original colonies started passing laws partially depriving free African Americans of equal rights. This legislative discrimination, beginning about 1670, further defined the Melungeon community.

3.  Melungeons are descendants of northern Europeans, Native Americans, and Kimbundu-speaking Angolan-Africans.  Therefore it is likely that their name came from one of the languages of those people.  No English, Welsh, German, Dutch or Indian etymology for "Melungeon" is considered at present.  Only the Mbundu referred to their community with any word similar to Melungeon; "malungu".  It is likely that this Kimbundu name became the source of the anglicized word "Melungeon" in America.

4.  The Melungeons were not the descendants of helpless African-American slaves.  They descended from free blacks with the power to buy and sell property, to move from place to place and to name themselves.  The name fit them.  They were people who had all come by ship from a common homeland (Angola) and they were people who remained together for many years after in a number of far-flung communities-they were malungu.


The original Melungeon community began with Mbundu Angolans arriving in Virginia in the early 1600s. These Africans called themselves “malungu” during the first generations of the Kimbundu-speaking Africans arriving in Virginia. By the 1650s, the Mbundu malungu community had begun to include the mixed descendants of whites and Indians who were intermarrying into their families.  

Then, from 1670-1720, the Virginia legislature enacted a series of laws restricting certain rights of free African Americans and their mixed descendants.  Previously, many of the black ancestors of the Melungeons had enjoyed full civil liberties as freemen after they had served their few years of indenture.  Free blacks could purchase white servants to work their growing farms.  In1670 the Virginia legislature forbade free African-Americans from owning white servants. In 1691, Virginia outlawed the manumission of slaves and banned black and white intermarriage.  In 1705, Virginia denied slaves the ability to pay for their freedom when it seized their farm stock. .

These laws indicate that virtually all African-Americans who were free in Virginia after 1720 were born of free black ancestors; the original Angolan Bantu of the 1600s.  And indeed other evidence supports this conclusion.  Many of the surnames of free 18th century African-American in the South can be traced back to the Angolan Virginians of the 17th century.

The first ship carrying the Mbundu ancestors of the American Melungeons sailed into Chesapeake Bay as a result of a savage African war and the daring attack of Dutch and English pirates which followed it in 1619.   A 1619 census discovered by William Thorndale and published in the Magazine of Virginia Genealogy in 1995 was initially believed to indicate the presence of 32 Africans in Virginia prior to the arrival of the Mbundu Angolans in August 1619.  However, many scholars now believe that the Thorndale census covered the fiscal period of March 1619 to March 1620.  Apparently the Thorndale census reflected the number of Africans in Virginia by March of 1620.  If so, the “20 and odd” Angolans arriving on the “Dutch” man-o-war in August 1619 would remain the first recorded Africans in the British-North American colonies.


The Melungeons of the Cumberland Plateau in Appalachia originally came from the Melange Plateau of Angola. Today the beautiful mountain district of modern Malange, Angola is home to many of the maimed poster children of the current international peace initiative to ban landmines.  The Malange plateau became a civil war battleground immediately after Portuguese colonialism ended in the 1970s.  However, 400 years ago, the highlands were home to the flourishing pre-colonial villages of the realm of Ndongo.  The Ndongo kingdom, populated by the Mbundu Bantu, lay along a thin stretch of land, 30 miles wide and 50 miles deep between the Lukala and Lutete rivers, described as a cool plateau over 4,000-feet high. The king in the royal capital of Kabasa in 1617 was Mbandi Ngola Kiluanji.  Angola's name comes from Ngola, meaning "ruler".   

In late 1618 Portuguese general Luis Mendes de Vasconcelos launched a military campaign
against Ndongo to capture slaves.  When the campaign ended in 1621, the Portuguese had taken captive some 50,000 men, women and children from Ndongo and surrounding kingdoms. Professor John Thornton, in a 1997 article for the William & Mary Quarterly, found that this large number of captured Africans was "far more than were exported before or would be again for some decades."   

Forty years earlier, Ndongo had thrown off servitude to the king of Kongo in a battle on the Lukala River.  Vasconcelos was not about to under-estimate Ndongo and its allies in the highlands.  According to Thornton’s research the general planned his campaign to include the mercenary African tribe called the "Imbangala".  These hired warriors were feared cannibals who, according to one European eyewitness in the 17th century, practiced witchcraft; a "quasi-religious cult devoted to bloodlust, selfishness and greed".  They were ruthless fighters, burying alive any infant born in their camps so that they might always be ready to move.  The Imbangala maintained their numbers exclusively by training the children of their victims to be warriors.  Thornton says of their battle tactics:

"The Imbangala generally made a large encampment in the country they intended
to pillage, after arriving near harvest time. They forced the local authorities either to fight them outright, or to withdraw into fortified locations, leaving the fields for the Imbangala to harvest. Once their enemies were weakened by fighting or lack of food, they could make the final assault on their lands and capture them. The presence of Portuguese slave-traders who also provided firearms, made the raiding of people as profitable or even more profitable as raiding food and livestock had been before"

Vasconcelos hired three Imbangala mercenary

companies to join his army in the assault on Ndongo in 1618. At this time, the African kingdom was ripe for outside attack.  Brothers-in-law of the king Kiluanji, exploiting royal ties to commit crimes, had enraged local chiefs.  A rebel soba  [district chieftain], Kavalo Ka Kabassa, had lured his king into a trap in 1617 and deposed him. Kiluanji's son, Ngola Mbandi, was still wooing rebel sobas when Portugal attacked in 1618. The Portuguese, with Imbangala companies in front, struck and defeated the armies of Prince Mbandi's  soba, Kaita Ka Balanga, across
the Kwanza River.  With the loss of Balanga's forces, the royal palace in Kabasa fell to the Portuguese and thousands of Mbundu were captured.

After the winter season, the military campaign resumed in the spring of 1619 with Portuguese forces defeating the armies of 95 assembled Ndongo sobas.   Prince Mbandi fled Kabasa, abandoning his family and many wives who were
captured with a great multitude of Ndongo commoners.  

Later, under the dynamic leadership of the famous Jaga queen Ann Njinga, [1624-1663] Ndongo resisted Portuguese colonialism for decades, while bleeding thousands of captives to Portuguese plantations and mines through out the 17th century.  Some of these Mbundu prisoners were stolen from the Portuguese at sea by Dutch and English privateers.  They would become the African ancestors of the Melungeons.


The first Angolan-Africans came to Virginia at a particular time and under circumstances exclusive to the 17th century colonies which would shape the future for them and for their Melungeon descendants.

1.  Manpower Shortages in Early 17th Century Virginia

When Portugal attacked the kingdom of Ndongo in 1618, the British Virginia colony in North America was hardly a decade old.  Settlers, recently discovering economic salvation in a new tobacco hybrid, needed a large work force to exploit the lucrative product.  Smoking was the rage in Europe, and Virginians, backed by their long-suffering London financiers were eager to finally declare a profit.  However, the ranks of white laborers willing to come to America in the early 1600s did not meet demands for colonial manpower.  Virginia was a ready market for black labor in 1619.           

2.  Equality Among Blacks and Whites in the Early Virginia Class System

An important custom in the development of the Melungeon community was the institution of indentured servitude. Newcomers to slave trading in the 17th century, Virginians were still relatively unfamiliar with the permanent slave chattel system used by Spain and Portugal.  The English custom of indentured servitude freed servants after 7 or 10 years regardless of skin color.   This equal status in colonial America initially offered a bright future for aspiring black Americans.


Describing the status of bound Virginians, 23 year-old English servant George Aslop in 1635 wrote the following letter to his parents in England:


“The indentured servants of this colony (Virginia) which are stigmatized as slaves by the clabber mouth jaws of the vulgar in England, live more like Freemen here than most Mechanic Apprentices in London, wanting for nothing that is convenient or necessary and accordingly are extraordinarily well used and respected”.

The Virginia Company required former masters to provide freed servants with food supplies, clothing and livestock so that they could make their own start in the colony.  Once they had fulfilled the terms of their indenture contracts, the new freemen, black and white, were entitled by colonial law to the following:



1.       A tract of land of at least 25 acres.

2.       Enough corn to last for twelve months.

3.       A new house.

4.       A cow worth 40 shillings.

5.       Armor for defense against Indians.

6.       Farm implements and tools.

7.       Two sets of clothing.

a.       A suit of kersey and a suit of cotton.

b.       One pair of canvas drawers.

c.        One canvas and one lockram shirt.

d.       One felt hat.

e.       One gun and a year’s supply of ammunition.


Thus equipped to start life as 17th century American farmers, freed blacks set out as equals with their white peers. Successful African-Americans bought white and black, male and female servants.  Lerone Bennett Jr. writes about 17th century America for Africans.

"In Virginia, then, as in other colonies, the first black settlers fell into a well-established socio-economic groove which carried with it no implications of racial inferiority.  That came later.  But in the interim, a period of forty years or more, the first black settlers accumulated land, voted, testified in court and mingled with whites on a basis of equality. They owned other black servants and certain blacks imported and paid for
white servants whom they apparently held in servitude.

Not only did pioneer blacks vote, but they also held public office. There was a black surety in York County, Virginia in the first decades of the 17th century, and a black beadle [court bailiff] in Lancaster County, Virginia."

Maryland elected an African from Iberia to its colonial legislature in the early 17th century.

Marriage between blacks, whites and Indians was legal in Virginia for most of the 17th century. Genealogist Paul Heinegg found that 99% of all mixed children in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and the Carolinas before 1810, came from intermarriages of free blacks with whites.  Cases of white masters having children by black slaves in the original tidewater colonies were virtually non-existent, making up only one percent of the free mulatto population.


Although indentured servitude offered future freedom, it had a dark side.  During a bound laborer’s contract of indenture there was for him no distinction between the words “slave” and “servant”.  Servants were temporary slaves subject to the temperaments of masters.  Many white Europeans were forced to enter the colonies like the Africans, with little or no choice.  Poor parents bound out their sons through the enticements of colonial agents promising an easy land of milk and honey.  In early 1623, after enduring a hard winter on a plantation in Martin’s Hundred, Virginia, bondservant Richard Frethorne wrote home to his parents in England complaining of scarcity of food and ill treatment.  He told of fellow Virginians who pitied him and who…


“… marveled that you would send me (as) a servant to the (Virginia) Company…(saying) I had been better knocked on the head.  And indeed so I find it now, to my great grief and misery, and saith that if you love me you will redeem me suddenly.”


Hundreds of white British citizens were kidnapped outright since not many were eager to face the challenges of the raw hostile American frontier in the 1600s.  The premature mortality rate in Virginia before 1620 was an incredibly high 50%, and for the period of 1620-22, some have argued convincingly that the death rate was even higher.


Men, women, and children from England, Scotland, and Ireland were coerced or compelled into coming to America as felons, orphans, religious dissenters, prostitutes, the unemployed and the penniless ne’er-do-well sons of gentleman.  The earliest European middle passages could be as terrible as the African passage.  Crammed aboard overloaded ships swarming with vermin and filth, white servants were sometimes quarantined to rot offshore in the Chesapeake if disease broke out.   Small pox and starvation claimed large percentages of each shipload of whites coming from England to the American colonies.  Those who survived were sold to the highest bidder.  White and black indentured servants were totally at the mercy of masters who could injure and even kill them without legal repercussion.  Colonial life was sometimes so harsh that white and black servants joined together from time to time to attempt escape through the wilderness to other settlements.  Temporary servants might endure greater cruelty than slaves because the slave-owner had more of an incentive to protect his life-long investment in the latter.


Circumstances indicate that Africans arriving in Virginia in the 17th century were mostly from Angola.  England was not a significant slave-trading power before 1680. To obtain Africans, the British colonies relied completely on English and Dutch freebooters who attacked Portuguese slavers sailing from Africa to the Americas with Angolan prisoners.  Only very late in the 17th century would British ships begin taking captives directly from Africa.  

Early Africans came to Virginia by freelance opportunists like Captain John Powell of the pirate ship 'Hopewell', and John Colyn Jope of Cornwall who privateered under a Dutch marque.  Another buccaneer bartering with Virginians was Captain Arthur Guy of the ship 'Fortune' who traded "many Negroes" he had taken from a Portuguese ship in Luanda, Angola.  Captain
Daniel Elfrith of the man-o-war "Treasurer" also preyed on Iberian slavers, as did Samuel Axe in the 1630s in the employ of the Providence Island
Company owned by Warwick and Pym.  

In addition, Dutch privateers shipped Angolan captives to the New Amsterdam (New York) Dutch, who then sold them to southern British-American colonies. These Protestant sea-raiders concentrated their attacks exclusively on Catholic Portuguese and Spanish slavers carrying Angolan prisoners to the New World from 1619-1680, according to Thornton and Heywood. 

"Our contention is that until the English developed their own slave purchasing posts along the coast of West Africa...all their slaves came from privateering on Portuguese ships, and these in turn almost all...came from Angola.  In De Laet's History of the West India Company (pub.1644, a report on all the privateering activities of the WIC from its foundation to 1638), all but one of the ships they took was from Angola."
Privateers were seizing Angolans from Portuguese slavers during the relatively short period when British colonial law gave blacks equal rights with whites in America.  In the young 17th century settlement of Virginia, these freed Angolans began forming kinships, which eventually became communities.    Thornton:

"It is probable that, in the decades that followed, those who survived the first year in Virginia eventually encountered more Angolans from their homeland or from the nearby Kongo, brought especially to New York by Dutch traders and resold to Virginia colonists.  These new captives perhaps gave a certain Angolan touch to the early Chesapeake."

The common experience of the original Kimbundu and Kikongo-speaking Mbundu
bound them together as "malungu";

shipmates and companions of the arduous
middle passage.  This bond was not broken in America.  It defined their children, the Melungeons, and prepared them for four centuries in a hostile land that eventually became uniquely theirs.  Indians came from Asia, whites came from Europe and blacks came from Africa. But Melungeons are strictly an American breed.


 MALUNGU: Part 2


In the aftermath of the brutal Portuguese invasion into Ndongo, historian Manuel Bautista Soares recorded that, by September 1619, the bodies of thousands of butchered casualties polluted the rivers and a "great multitude of innocent people had been captured without cause."  Professor John Thorton writes:

"The demographic impact of this war was starkly obvious when the [Portuguese] campaign was resumed the next year [1619]; the army met no resistance in any part of the back country [Sertao], these provinces having become destitute of inhabitants."

Deaf to the pleas of priests and the protests of Portuguese settlers whose lands were being ravaged, Vasconcelos let the uncontrolled killing and enslavement continue for many months.  The conduct of rampaging Imbangala mercenaries was chronicled by Vogado Sotomaior, the ouvidor geral de Angola, who complained of the destruction of the royal Ndongo city of Kabasa, that it was "sacked in such a way that many thousands of souls were captured, killed and eaten".  

The historian Soares concludes that with the presence of the Imbangala, "the wars were without any danger, but with discredit to the Portuguese."   Vasconcelos, who permitted his marauding mercenaries to pass beyond the
Ndongo realm into the villages of his own African allies in Kongo, also stood by as Christian baggage handlers in his own military train were seized in the frantic rush for slaves.  


From 1618 through the spring of 1619, the slow tread of hundreds of Angolan captives grew to a steady forced march of many thousands streaming into the Portuguese-built port of Luanda.  Tens of thousands of prisoners from the interior Angolan highlands choked the capabilities of the port to hold them.   Those surviving Ndongo who had not been slaughtered and eaten by the Imbangala, were packed into flimsy, hastily built facilities, which could not nearly contain them all.  

The Portuguese had not planned on the overwhelming success of their enterprise.  Only 36 merchant-slave ships arrived in Angola in the fiscal year of 1618-1619.  Each slaver was capable of holding an average of from 350-400 captives.  The logistics of sheltering, feeding and guarding 50,000 prisoners were woefully underestimated.  This was one of the largest slave expeditions ever mounted in the history of Africa.  The Angolans waited, bound in the heat and rain for months, as the trickle of arriving slavers loaded them for the dangerous Atlantic crossing to the Americas.

The common regionality of the thousands of Angolan captives assembled at Luanda between 1618 and 1620, differed greatly from the routine trade of Africans crossing by single shiploads, arriving in a new country to be lost among the blacks already present, their tribal identity quickly removed on chattel plantations.  To the contrary, 50,000 Angolans were a nation who came to America before any other African-American culture and before there was a plantation system to swallow them up.  Thorton writes:

"In America, when Kimbundu-speaking people were able to communicate and visit each other, a sense of an "Angolan Nation" emerged.  It was certainly observable in Spanish America, if not yet at the very beginnings of English-speaking Virginia's reception of Africans."

The Angolans in Virginia recognized fellow countrymen from their native land. By the time chattel slavery began in the colony, early Angolans and their mixed descendants had already formed a separate freeborn community. Later, Melungeons moved west together in large wagon trains like the hundred-family Mayo party rolling into Louisiana and Texas in 1857.  Even on remote western frontiers, they settled
together.   They were bound together at different times by different pressures, external and internal.  As smaller groups fractured off to settle on various new frontiers, they retained many of the same family surnames in, for example 1880 Louisiana, as they had in 1680 Virginia.


In his book “Melungeons- The Resurrection of a Proud People”, author Brent Kennedy shows Melungeons spreading out original tidewater colonies westward. The many of the surnames of the Virginia and Carolina Melungeons of the 1600s are the same among the Louisiana Redbones.



Adams, Ashworth, Bedgood, Bench, Bennett, Berry, Bolan - Bolen, Boone, Braveboy, Bunch, Butters, Buxton, Chavis, Clark, Cloud, Cole, Coleman, Collins, Criel – Creel, Cumba – Cumbo, Dalton, Davis, Dyal – Dial – Doyle, Dye – Dyas – Dyess, French, Gibbs, Goins, Goings, Hall, Hyatt, Hopkins, James, Johnson, Jones, Keith, Kennedy, Maddox, Martin, Miner, Mullins, Nash, Nelson, Nichols, Orr, Patterson, Perkins, Pinder, Powell, Pritchard, Poberson, Robertson, Robinson, Russell, Smiling, Smith, Strothers, Sweat, Swett, Swindall, Thompson, Ware, Williams, Williamson, Willis, Wisby and Wright.


Genealogist Johnnie Blair Deen has found the additional surnames of Ivey, Mancil, Maricle, Mayo and West.


Particularly revealing are the two names; Sweat and Goins, together in 19th century Louisiana.   John Gowen (or Geaween), ancestor of the Goins, had married Margaret Cornish two hundred years earlier in Elizabeth City, Virginia.  The couple had at least two sons, including Michael Gowen.  But in 1640 Margaret Cornish had an affair with a white man named Robert Sweat and she bore his mixed child.  The relationship was discovered and the Virginia court censured Sweat and had Margaret publicly whipped. John Gowen reacted to the scandal by immediately suing in court to remove his six-year old son Michael from his mother’s custody.  However 200 years later the mixed black and white Goins and Sweat families remained neighbors in mixed communities in far away Louisiana.


Redbones, as Melungeons in Louisiana were called, settled together in the same counties:  Opelousas Parish in the Territory of Orleans in 1810, Natchitoches Parish in 1810, Rapides Parish in 1810, St. Landry (Opelousas Parish) in 1820, and Rapides Parish in 1820.

Beginning in the 1840s many of these Louisiana families moved together into East Texas.  Boone, Dial, Guynes (Goins), Johnson, Odom, Clark, Maddox, Perkins and others can be found together in the Texas counties of Walker, Trinity, and Houston in the early 20th century. Records in Newton County, Texas west of the Sabine, show the presence of  Adams, Bass, Bennett, Bond, Brack, Brown, Clark, Coleman, Cole, Collins, Davis, Droddy, Hall, Harper, Hart, Hames, Johnson, Knight, Lee, Lewis, Martin, Mattox, Moore, Nash, Page, Parker, Perkins, Powell, Smith, Taylor, Thompson, Weeks, West, White, Willis, Williams, Woods, Wright and Young.  Most of these Louisiana names can be traced back to 17th century Virginia blacks.


From Angola to Texas in a span of 200 years, the Mbundu and their children traveled together even as their skin turned from black to tan to white.  The single greatest event forging their common identity was the slave port of Luanda.



Europeans and their customs were not entirely alien to Mbundu Africans before they came to colonial Virginia.  By the 15th century Portugal had already made contact with people of Kongo north of Angola.  During this time, Ndongo was a vassal state, subject to Kongo rulers.  King Alphonso, [1509-42] of Kongo, opened his nation to Catholic missionaries and merchants very early in the 16th century.  

Portugal was unlike other colonial powers in that it regarded its colonies as "states" and, according to "Brittanica", Angola was the largest state of Portugal.  Catholic Portugal required African captives to be baptized into Christianity before they were shipped west to the New World.  But not all baptisms were forced. Jesuit priests who came in 1575, translated catechism into the Kimbundu language for the growing number of Angolan converts.   Professor Thornton writes:

"Such a rudimentary instruction was probably oriented to the syncretic practice of the Angolan church, which followed patterns, already a century old, from the Kongo church that had originally fertilized it. Thus, early 17th century Spanish Jesuits, conducting an investigation of the state of knowledge of the Christian religion among newly arrived slaves, found that, for all the problems they noted, the Angolan slaves seem to have adequate understanding of the faith by the time they arrived."

Many Mbundu Angolans bound for the mines of Mexico had at the very least, a basic education in Christianity before arriving in the 1600s.  In the North American colonies and later in the states, a number of Melungeons argued they were Portuguese Christians and on that basis, they insisted they should be exempted from life-long chattel slavery.  In 1667 in Lower Norfolk, Virginia, an African slave named Fernando sued in court for freedom insisting that he was a Christian.  He presented documents in "Portuguese or some other language" which the county court could not read and his suit was denied.   Thornton and Heywood have found that in the early American colonies:

"People with a Spanish/Portuguese last name that is also a first name like John Francisco or John Pedro (on the 1625 census) are following an Angolan naming pattern.  The source of the Iberian names, in our opinion, is not the
forced baptism given by the Portuguese in Luanda.  In our opinion, whatever names people might have received in those circumstances would probably have been either forgotten or rejected when circumstances changed.  Rather we think these names were taken voluntarily in Africa long before their owners were enslaved when the people were baptized.  

In Kongo, the Christian Church goes back to 1491 and was so well established
by the 17th century that virtually everyone had a "Portuguese" name, but it was not so well established in Kimbundu-speaking areas.  On the other hand, the bishop of Angola did complain that during the 1619-20 campaign, the
rampaging armies of Mendes de Vasconcelos captured some 4,000 Christian porters and sold them into slavery.  In 1621, the campaigns went deep into Kongo, and thousands were
captured at the battle of Mbumbi at the very end of the year.  These would all have been Christian, indeed, probably third or fourth generation Christian.  Since they took the Christian names voluntarily, they would make these names known to their new masters in Virginia.  The many people who are not listed with any names in the census of 1624 and 1625 and in the headright documents, might be, in our opinion, the non-Christians from the Kimbundu-speaking areas"

Claims of Portuguese nationality by early Melungeons have been presented as mere attempts to escape slavery by denying African blood.  In this Melungeons have been mis-interpreted.  It is true that such was the motive of later 18th century Melungeons.  But English custom frowned on the practice of Christians enslaving other Christians in the early 17th century.  A citizen of Portugal was recognized as a baptized Christian by other Christians regardless of skin color.  Such recognition had offered exemption from slavery before colonial legislatures set up the color bar. Throughout the 1600s and 1700s the basis of the protests of the Mbundu in America was not that they were not African, but that they were Christians of Portuguese Angola.  However, in order to keep their slaves, many Virginia, Maryland and Carolina slave-owners conspired to deny or conceal evidence of Portuguese baptisms. 


The letters of an Anglican missionary in early South Carolina reveal the hostility of many slave owners against missionaries attempting to evangelize blacks.   Doctor Francis Le Jau of the St. James Parish in South Carolina wrote in 1710, of the desire of Portuguese Africans to convert from Roman Catholicism to the Anglican faith.  On Febrary 1, 1710 Le Jau wrote to the Church’s missionary arm, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, (SPG) that:


“A few Negroe Slaves..born and baptised among the Portuguese…express a great desire to receive the Holy Communion amongst us…”


These Catholic Africans had been previously converted in Angola, Kongo, or another Portuguese territory before being brought to South Carolina.  They, as Christians, had voluntarily approached the Anglican priest of Goose Creek seeking to participate in the Protestant Eucharist ceremony.  The priest sent them away, suspicious of their motives. But some returned a year later still desiring to join the Anglican congregation.  In other letters Le Jau complained to the mission office of hostility from certain plantation owners against his efforts to win souls among black slaves in his parish.  Le Jau, who had married the daughter of a plantation owner, relented to adding a clause in the baptism ceremony of Africans in order to convince white slave owners to allow the gospel to be preached to black slaves.


“To remove all pretence from the Adult Slaves I shall baptize of their being free upon that Account, I have thought fit to require first their consent to this following declaration, You declare in the Presence of God and before this Congregation that you do not ask for the holy baptism out of any design to free yourself from the Duty and Obedience you owe to your Master while you live, but merely for the good of Your Soul and to partake of the Graces and Blessings promised to the Members of the Church of Jesus Christ”  Francis Le Jau, October 20, 1709.


But three years later the missionary was still battling against white resistance to his efforts to convert African plantation workers.


“…I thought to have baptized some more Negro Slaves this Advent they are well-instructed and I hear no complaint concerning them.  Their Masters Seem very much Averse to my Design, Some of them will not give them Leave to come to Church to learn how to Pray to God and to Serve him, I cannot find any reason for this New Opposition but the Old pretext that Baptism makes the Slaves proud and Undutiful: I endeavor to convince them of the Contrary From the Example of those I have baptized and Chiefly those who are Admitted to our holy Communion who have behaved themselves very well,…”  Le Jau Dec 11,1712.


What else would cause African slaves to appear “proud and undutiful” (in the eyes of slave owners) but their belief that their common faith made them equal with white Christian plantation owners? There can be little doubt that Africans, free or slave, believed Christian baptism protected them from abusive treatment.  Le Jau constantly urged slave owners and overseers to show restraint and mercy.  For example, South Carolina law ordered runaway slaves to be punished by maiming; males by castration and females by mutilation of the ears.  The missionaries countered man’s law with God’s law, citing Exodus 21, that any master who maimed a slave was to set him free.  The colonial clergy vigorously preached that slaves should be treated humanely and it is certain that Africans in America welcomed the sermons, even if some slave owners did not.


While it is clear that Melungeons claimed Portuguese nationality during times of stress, the claim was technically true even though they were not ethnically Portuguese.  The use of “Portuguese” by the first generation changed among their descendants over time. The former used “Portuguese” to mean “Christian” while the latter, because of ethnic discrimination, used “Portuguese” to allege they were “not African”.

By the 1720s, several laws had appeared, including requirements that all Africans arriving by sea, regardless of Christian faith, must be regarded as permanent chattel slaves. America’s growing prosperity demanded more labor. Slavery gangs illegally kidnapped free Melungeons from their Virginia and Carolina homes.  The line separating free and slave Africans was occasionally ignored to the dismay of the mixed free population and their response was to claim other origins.

William Dowry, a grandson of Mary Dove, was detained as a slave in Maryland in 1791.  Dowry claimed in court of being held illegally.  Witnesses on his behalf testified that Dowry's grandmother was a granddaughter of a woman brought into the country by the "Thomas" family, as a "Yellow Woman", said to be either a Spanish woman named "Malaga Moll" or an East Indian. However, records indicate the Dove family descended from John Dove, a mulatto slave of Doctor Gustavus Brown of Charles County, Maryland.

In another case, the Perkins family of Accomack County descended from Esther Perkins who had a child in 1730.  This son, Joshua Perkins, was taxed as a "free Negro", but in 1858 in Tennessee his great-grandson, Jacob F. Perkins brought a lawsuit against a man for slandering him as a "Negro".  By then, the Perkins family, after three generations of intermarriage, was light-skinned and claimed to be of” Portuguese" descent. Witnesses were called to testify for both parties in the lawsuit.

John E. Cossen said of the Perkins ancestors: "Can't say whether...full blooded.  The nose African.  Believe they were Africans...always claimed to be Portuguese.  All married white women."

Reuben Brooks stated of the first Perkins patriarch:  "He was a very black and reverend negro..."

88-year old John Nave testified of Perkins:  " man, hair nappy...Some
called Jacob (his son) a Portuguese and some a negro..."

Larkin L. White swore on the stand concerning the Perkins: " black as any common mulatto.  Hair short and curled and kinky..."

The Johnson County court ruled that Jacob F. Perkins was indeed an African, and denied his claim of Portuguese nationality.  During the days of early colonial America, life in the tidewater colonies was harsh and few regarded the color of a helpful neighbor in the rugged wilderness.  One old colonial settler, Daniel Stout of Tennessee, was also called to testify about the African ancestry of the great grandfather of Jacob Perkins and in 1858 Stout, a white man, summed up perfectly the great change that had occurred in America when he said of Joshua Perkins:


“Never heard him called a Negro.  People in those days said nothing about such things.”




A giant step in recovering the African past of the Melungeons was made when historian Engel Sluiter located Spanish records of the Atlantic passages of some of the Mbundu Angolans captured in the 1618-21 Portuguese campaign and loaded aboard ship in Luanda on the African coast. His research was published in the 1997 issue of William & Mary Quarterly. Sluiter was also able to document the first leg of the voyage of the Virginian "20 and Odd Negroes" before they were taken from a Portuguese slaver in the West Indies by English privateers.  Now, new light offers more details on the second leg of the passage that began when the privateers engaged the Portuguese slave ship and ended with their historic arrival in Jamestown.  This information, along with the evidence from Engel Sluiter and Dr. John Thornton completes the picture of the first middle passage of the Mbundu Angolan ancestors of the Melungeons to Virginia in 1619.

The Portuguese-Spanish slave traffic from Angola to Central and South America
in the 17th century was managed by a general contractor called an asentista.  As the highest bidder the asentista had the exclusive commission to export African slaves for Spain and Portugal. The asentista agreed to pay a set amount annually to the Spanish king. A Lisbon banker, Antonio Fernandes Delvas, held the asentista contract from 1615-1622. For the sole right to export slaves, Delvas paid the Spanish crown the sum of 115,000 ducats annually. He was permitted to ship not more than 5,000 but not less than 3,500 African captives per year, and only to two ports; Vera Cruz and Cartagena.

Records from the Vera Cruz treasury in Mexico for the fiscal year June 18,1619 to June 21, 1620 show the amount of taxes paid on incoming Africans. Sluiter writes:

"During that year, six slavers arrived at Vera Cruz. All had loaded their human cargoes at Sao Paulo de Loanda, the capital of Portuguese Angola.  Out of some 2,000 blacks they had taken aboard in Africa, 1,161 were delivered alive in Vera Cruz. The losses were caused not only by the rigors of the middle passage, but also by shipwreck and, in one, by corsair attack."

This is the account from Spanish records as translated by Sluiter, of the single Iberian slave ship attacked by privateers in fiscal year 1619 as it sailed from Angola to Mexico.

"Enter on the credit side the receipt of 8,657,875 pesos paid by Manuel Mendes de Acunha, master of the ship Sao Joao Bautista on 147 slave pieces brought by him into the said port on August 30, 1619 aboard the frigate Santa Ana, master Rodrigo Escobar. On the voyage inbound, Mendes de Acunha was robbed at sea off the coast of Campeche by English corsairs. Out of 350 slaves large and small he loaded in said Loanda [200 under a license issued to him in Sevilla and the rest to be declared later], the English corsairs left him with only 147, including 24 slave boys he was forced to sell in Jamaica, where he had to refresh, for he had many sick aboard and many had already died."

Those Africans taken from the 'Bautista' by English corsairs, probably no more than 200, were from among the thousands captured in the Portuguese-Ndongo war of 1618-1619 described by Dr. John Thornton. Sluiter points out that the Bautista...

"...was the only slave ship among the 36 named as arriving at Vera Cruz during the fiscal years 1618-1619 through 1621-22 to be attacked inbound from Angola, by corsairs."

At the time, King James of England had a peace treaty with Spain and Portugal.  Therefore the attack on the Bautista by privateers was illegal for ships with British marques.  The two men of war were the “White Lion” out of Flushing, the Netherlands, and the famous “Treasurer”, in the hire of the Earl of Warwick and Virginia governor Samuel Argall.  John Colyn Jope of Merefield, Cornwall, captained the White Lion and Daniel Elfrith commanded the Treasurer.  The attack on the Bautista can also be found recorded in British admiralty records.  A trial was held in England in the aftermath of the 1619 Bautista incident and sailors from the Treasurer were called forth to testify.


“Reinhold Booth, of Reigate, Surrey, gent. Aged 26.  He has known Daniel Elfrith for 10 years.  In 1619 the deponent went on the ‘Treasurer’ [man-o-war owned by the Earl of Warwick of the Virginia Company] to Bermuda from Virginia and at the end of June 1619 she was compelled while in the West Indies, to consort with a Flemish man-o-war, the White Lion of Flushing, [Vlissingen, Holland] commanded by Captain Chope (Jope) who threatened to shoot at the Treasurer unless Captain Elfrith complied with his wishes. Chope had permission to seize Spanish Ships and in mid- July of 1619, he took 25 men from his own and Elfrith’s ship and sailed away in a pinnace [a small, fast boat attending a larger vessel].  After 3 days, he brought back a Spanish frigate, which he had captured and out of good will towards Elfrith, gave him some tallow and grain from her.  Immediately after this, the deponent departed from Bermuda, leaving the “Treasurer” and the “Seaflower”, left Bermuda for England., 23 July 1620”.  See also Warwick v. Brewster p. 12ff.


Because the attack on the Portuguese Bautista was illegal, mention of the Mbundu Angolan slaves (who, should they be located could testify against them) was omitted by the accused crewmembers of the English man-o-war Treasurer.  However, a letter from the governor of Bermuda reveals that the consort of the Treasurer and White Lion had indeed taken from the Bautista, not only “tallow and grain” but many African prisoners.  The Bermuda governor admitted he had purchased a number of the slaves from the “Treasurer” in September 1619.  (The Treasurer was forced to leave Virginia in August of that year without selling its African captives). According to Wesley Frank Craven’s “Dissolution of the Virginia Company”, the governor acknowledged that he had purposefully concealed the Africans;


“for fear of the Company’s finding it out and taxing him for not informing them of it” as well as “for fear of prejudicing your lordship.”


A recently discovered piece of the puzzle completes the findings of professors Sluiter and Thornton; the identity of a privateer first referred to as “English” and later called “Dutch”.


In 1624, Captain John Smith who had been instrumental in establishing the colony, wrote in his "General History of Virginia" a description of the first Africans arriving in 1619.

"About the last of August came in a Dutch man o warre that sold us twenty Negars."

However, the famous Captain Smith, penning his memoirs near the end of his adventurous career, had not himself witnessed the arrival of the privateer. He was not in Virginia at the time. Smith was quoting a letter written by Virginia tobacco planter John Rolfe, widowed husband of Pocohontas, to Virginia Company director Sir Edwin Sandys. Rolfe personally saw the arrival of the ship and wrote:

"About the latter end of August, a Dutch man of Warr of the burden of 160 tons arrived at Point Comfort, the Comandor's name was Capt. Jope, his Pilot for the West Indies one Mr. Marmaduke an Englishman. They mett with the 'Treasurer' in the West Indies and determined to hold consort shipp hetherward,but in their passage lost one the other.  He brought not anything but 20 and odd Negroes, which the Governor and Cape Merchant bought for victualle [whereof he was in greate need as he pretended] at the best and easyest rate they could. He hadd a lardge and ample Comyssion from his Excellency to range and to take purchase in the West Indies."

 A few days after the White Lion arrived,  the Treasurer also appeared.

"...Three or 4 days after (Jope) the Treasurer arrived. At his arrivall he sent word presently to the Governor to know his pleasure, who wrote to him, and did request myself, Leiftenante Peace and Mr. Ewens to goe downe to him, to desyre him to come up to James City. But before we gott downe he hadd sett saile and was gone out of the Bay. The occasion hereof happened by the unfriendly dealing of the inhabitants of Keqnoughton, for he was in greate want of victualle, wherewith they would not relieve him nor his Company upon any termes." [From the "Record of the Virginia Company of London" Susan Myra Kingsbury, editor.]
In addition to Rolfe's manuscript, we have a letter from the Secretary of State of the Virginia colony, John Pory, who on September 30, 1619, wrote from Jamestown to Sir Dudley Carleton, English envoy to the Hague. Pory sent his letter by Jope's English pilot, Marmaduke Rayner. The date of the letter proves the Dutch ship of Captain Jope spent about a month at Jamestown. Pory was also an eyewitness to the first Africans arriving in Virginia and also to the arrival of the Treasurer four days later.

"Having met with so fitt a messenger as this man of warre of Flushing, I could not impart with your lordship...these poore fruites of our labours
here...The occasion of this ship's coming hither was an accidental consortship in the West Indies with the Treasurer, an English man of warre
also licensed by a Commission from the Duke of Savoy to take Spaniards as lawfull prize. This ship, the Treasurer, went out of England in Aprill was twelve moneth, about a moneth, I think before any peace was concluded between the king of Spaine and that prince. Hither shee came to Captain Argall, then the governour of this Colony, being parte-owner of her. Hee more for love of gaine, the root of all evill, than for any true love he bore to this Plantation, victualled and manned her anew, and sent her with the same Commission to raunge the Indies."

In Pory’s letter, we learn that the Treasurer had visited Jamestown twice in 1619; the first time in the Spring while Samuel Argall, part owner of the man-o-war, was Virginia's governor, and the second time later in the Summer after Argall had been removed from office. Argall’s captain on the Treasurer was Daniel Elfrith. After that first Virginia call, the Treasurer had sailed to the West Indies where she accidentally met the "Dutch" man-o-war and consorted in taking the Portuguese Bautista with its Mbundu Angolan slaves in July 1619.  But during the period of this consortship at sea, Secretary Pory, a member of new governor George Yeardley's administration, had arrived in Virginia from England, before the "Treasurer" returned the second time that year in August loaded with pirated Angolans and trailing Jope by four days.

When we study Pory's complaint against Argall, we begin to catch glimpses of in-house Virginia Company politics and the infighting, which would eventually dissolve the company financing the Virginia colony.  To briefly summarize: an older clique of Virginia company investors who were impatient to finally realize a profit in Virginia had set up a scheme to defraud newer investors.  By 1619, the Earl of Warwick, Robert Rich, who was the ring leader of the scheme, and his crony, Virginia governor Argall, had organized a black market at Jamestown to sell contraband goods from pirated Portuguese and Spanish ships.  Though both of these gentlemen were investors in the Virginia Company, they had figured out a way to double-dip into Company profits; first by exploiting the Company’s monopoly on goods to Virginia, and second by breaking the monopoly.  But the “20 and odd” Mbundu Africans stolen from the Portuguese slaver and sold in Virginia and Bermuda caused an international scandal in England exposing the scheme.  The single most important event leading to the loss of the Virginia charter was the Bautista’s stolen Angolans; the same malungu Angolans destined to become the ancestors of the Melungeons. The capture of the Portuguese slaver 'Bautista' changed the destination of her Mbundu Angolan captives but also changed the future of America.  For, once the British crown began intervening in the affairs of the American colonies in the aftermath of the Bautista scandal, it would continue interfering in the colonies until the American Revolution some one hundred and seventy years later.  The incident with the Angolan ancestors of the Melungeons in 1619 was the first event sparking a slow-burning fuse to eventual war between England and America. 


Of the two ships involved in the attack on the Portuguese slaver “Bautista”, the man-o-war named “Treasurer” is the more famous.  Nearly half a dozen years prior to 1619 this ship under the command of Argall, had been instrumental in the abduction of the Indian princess Pocahontas as part of Jamestown’s endeavor to win concessions from Chief Powhatan.  It was aboard the Treasurer that Pocahontas and the Englishman John Rolfe had met and fallen in love.  The Treasurer had anchored off Point Comfort and fired her cannons in salute when Pocahontas and Rolfe were wed.  William Cridlin, in “A History of Colonial Virginia” makes several excellent points that the Treasurer was far more instrumental in the founding of colonial America than the more famous “Mayflower”.  The privateering “Treasurer” and the commercially oriented Virginia colony lost the public relations battle to the less glorious Mayflower and Plymouth, despite arriving in America first, because of the nationally idealized religious mission of the latter.  In fact, Lord Rich, a Puritan, while a major stockholder in Virginia, was also later a very important force in founding the Plymouth colony of religious dissenters..


Until now far less has been known of the second ship in the consort; the White Lion which actually delivered the first Africans to colonial North America.  Her captain in 1619 was the privateer John Colyn Jope out of Cornwall, England and Flushing, the Netherlands. His descendant, Hugh Fred Jope has researched the origins of the captain and the White Lion.

Jope's ship, famously painted on canvas, but hitherto un-named, was called the "WHITE LION" because she had carried this name under three previous nationalities and languages; Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch.. This was not the Dutch "Witte Leeuw" that burned and sank in 1613 with a load of china near St. Helena. The Jope man-o-war "White Lion" was built, ironically, in the Villa Franca shipyard near Lisbon, Portugal in 1570. She was originally located in records bearing the name “Leona Blanca;” which is the Spanish equivalent of  "White Lion," though she was likely originally christened under the Portuguese translation "Leao Branca". Her future captain, John Colyn Jope, 1588-1634, was born in Merefield, Cornwall, England. His father was Roger Jope of Merefield and his mother was Jane, daughter of Collyn.  John married Katherine, daugher of John Trenouth of Stoke Clymsland. He was a native of England who would one day sail out of Cornwall and out of Vlissingen (Flushing), the Netherlands.

Many sources have claimed that Captain Jope (or Jupe, Chope, Choppe etc as he is also identified) provided the basic model for the main character in Wagner's opera, "Der Fliegende Hollander". It is commonly known that Wagner found the source for his "Flying Dutchman" in a Heinrich Heine work. Hansel Voorhees published "Flemish Archives of Classical Music" in 1872. He wrote:

"Wagner has taken his obvious anti-semitism to new levels in Der Fliegende Hollander which he copied from Heine's "Memoirs of Herr Von Schnabelwopsky". He assigned satanic symbolism to the lead role of his opera and imposed a curse, which condemned him to sail the seas eternally until he met and married a good woman. Furthermore, it was common knowledge that the original Flying Dutchman was a "Sea Beggar" who sailed between Antwerpen and Cornwall under the Marque of William of Orange. His name was Johan Chope, (John Jope) a man of the cloth and a gentleman also. Wagner's Flying Dutchman was indeed a finely finished work but alas, his so-called trip to the sea when he envisioned the particulars of this work differs greatly with the true events but is without a doubt, where the master got the idea and imposed creative license on it." [Hansel Voorhees, 29 June1872]

In March 1821, the Virginia Chronicle published a story describing how Captain John Jope of the White Lion had gotten the nickname of the "Flying Dutchman".  Jope infuriated captains of ships consorting with him by using a method he had devised whenever a prize came into view. Jope would launch a pinnace and strip the prize clean before the other consorters could participate. The Chronicle states,

"It was this maneuver which earned him the reputation of the Flying Duthman."

In "English Adventurers and Immigrants" by Peter Wilson Coldham, page 182 (Warwick v. Brewster) we read a testimony of this very method employed by Jope and the White Lion in consort with the "Treasurer" in the attack on the
Portuguse merchant slaver,  'Bautista' in July 1619.

"Chope (Jope) had permission to seize Spanish Ships and in mid-July, 1619, he took 25 of his own and Elfrith's and sailed away in a pinnace."

"Der fliegende" Jope also managed to outrace the "Treasurer" back to Virginia. He had already traded the famous "20, and Odd" Africans four days before Captain Elfrith arrived at Jamestown.

The model for Wagner's "Flying Dutchman", Captain John Colyn Jope was not Dutch, but an Englishman carrying a Dutch marque. The reference to a "Dutch" man-o-war came from the ship's permit, issued from one of the titled Dutch provinces prior to 1619. (Captain Jope's father, Roger, may also have been involved with the Sea Beggars during the time of William of Orange). From the reign of Elizabeth into the reign of James, many English privateers routinely avoided the hassle of on-again, off-again treaties by obtaining marques from foreign governments embroiled with Spain and Portugal. The Dutch commission gave Jope's privateering the vestage of legality needed to avoid charges of piracy.

Rolfe and Pory referred to Jope's man-o-war as "Dutch" and "Flemish" because of Jope's homeport in the Netherlands and the source of his Marque.  Additionally they may have intentionally withheld his full identity. They were not opposed to Jope's freelance privateering in Virginia.  They were opposed to the Company-related privateering by Rich, Argall and Elfrith, which could have gotten them in trouble with the English Crown. The Spanish report on the "Bautista" attack in July 1619 revealed the English nationality and language of the two attacking privateers, while the Virginians noted Jope’s papers, the Dutch marque, which let the colonists off the hook with the British government. The colonists were reporting the freebooting scheme to the Company, not to the government. They left the task of filing official legal charges against Rich’s “Treasurer” to Virginia Company director Sandys. Jope, a free-lance privateer, was not a vested partner in the contraband operation and therefore presented no threat to the Company. From this perspective there is no contradiction in the Spanish identification of both men-o-war as "English corsairs". It is important to note that Jope and the "White Lion" were not employed by Lord Rich, had no ties to the Virginia Company, and therefore, with his Dutch authority, presented no legal threat to the Company or the colony in August 1619.

The Mbundu Angolans were the first Africans to arrive in a British- North American colony, and they were the first of the African ancestors of the Melungeons.  They disembarked at Point Comfort from the man-o-war "White Lion", commanded by Captain John Colyn Jope of Cornwall, England, sailing out of Vlissingen, the Netherlands.



Because of the cohesive identity of the Mbundu Angolans in colonial America we can see how the black ancestors of the Melungeons survived and even thrived in the new land.  The Angolans found similarities in the land favoring them over the urban English laborers in Virginia.  The Ndongo homeland had been densely populated in the narrow strip of land between its two major rivers before 1618. One Ndongo village was said to have held nearly 100,000 residents.  This was likely an exaggerated number according to Professor John Thornton of Millersville University, but it shows the European perception of the populous region.


At the same time Thornton notes that Ndongo towns were separated at intervals by sections of farmland.  These Bantu Mbundu were urban, yet they grew crops and kept domesticated animals. They certainly had an edge in the North American wilderness over many of their white colonial counterparts; indentured Europeans plucked from prisons, poor houses, alleys, brothels and taverns in large squalid sprawls like London and Bristol.   The Mbundu were accustomed to markets and town life and they also knew how to grow sorghum, millet, rice as well as how to keep large herds of cattle, goats and chickens long before the Portuguese invasion in 1618.  Lerone Bennett Jr. wrote:


“There were skilled farmers and artisans among the first group of Africa-Americans, and there are indications in the record that they were responsible for various innovations later credited to English immigrants.  An early example of this was reported in Virginia, where the governor ordered rice to be planted in 1648 “on the advice of our Negroes”.


Bennett also quotes Washington Irving who said about the colonial African-Americans:


“These Negroes, like the monks of the Dark Ages, engross all the knowledge of the place and being infinitely more adventurous and more knowing than their masters, carry on all the foreign trade; making frequent voyages in canoes loaded with oysters, buttermilk and cabbages.  They are great astrologers, predicting the different changes of weather almost as accurately as an almanac.”


The enterprising character of the earliest Mbundu in Virginia gave their children, the Melungeons, the necessary qualities as freemen enabling them to escape the snare of slavery into which they might easily have fallen with the enactment of anti-African laws in the colonies beginning in 1670.

 MALUNGU: Part 4


The first "20 and odd” Africans aboard the White Lion in 1619  were not the only Mbundu coming to Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and the Carolinas in the 17th century, nor were they the only Angolan ancestors of Melungeons.  Dozens of privateers would ship Angolans into the southern colonies for decades afterwards.  A number of captives from Kongo were among them but the center of the Portuguese slave trade had shifted from the port in Kongo, to Luanda, Angola by 1618 and the majority of Africans in Virginia until 1670 were Angolans.


In 1628, a decade after the 1618-1621 Vasconcelos campaign against Ndongo in Kabasa, the Portuguese under Fernao de Sousa mounted another attack on Ndongo that by then had retreated to islands in the Kwanza River.  The disgraced Ndongo king Ngola Mbandi had committed suicide in 1622.  His seven year-old son was placed in the guardianship of his sister, the acting ruler, Njinga Mbandi.  The young prince was quickly slain and suspicion fell upon the regent.  However Njinga, who had been baptized Ana de Sousa in 1622, prevailed over her competitors and became queen of Ndongo.  Njinga found her kingdom’s gravest concern to be the encroaching Portuguese.  Linda Heywood of Howard University and John Thornton of Millersville University write:


“She (Njinga Mbandi) sought in her first years to get the Portuguese to meet obligations under the 1622 treaty which she had negotiated on her brother’s behalf in Luanda (this is when she was baptised).  For a few years there were uneasy negotiations, but in 1626 war broke out and the Portuguese drove Queen Njinga from her base in the Kwanza Islands.  By 1627 she was back in the islands and Fernao de Sousa took the war to her a second time in 1628.  Her allies deserted her and she was forced to quit the islands again,but not without a substantial fight.”


The Portuguese took a great number of Ndongo prisoners on the Kwanza as they had previously in the Vasconcelos campaign ten years earlier at Kabasa.  They marched their captives to Luanda to be picked up by the slave transports in 1628.  That year the English privateer, Captain Arthur Guy of the man-o-war “Fortune” was lying in wait off the Angolan coast when a Portuguese slaver loaded with some of these Ndongo prisoners-of-war cross his path.  A few weeks later the Fortune appeared off the Virginia coast with a cargo described in 1628 as “manie negroes”.  Guy traded the Mbundu Angolans for tobacco.  These newly arriving war captives in 1628 were no doubt heartened to find fellow Kimbundu-speaking Angolans from the 1619 Portuguese campaign to meet them in Jamestown.


Records of the West India Company reveal Dutch and English privateers robbed only Portuguese slavers out of Angola, and these raids accounted for the overwhelming majority of Africans in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Amsterdam,  North Carolina and South Carolina for a good part of the century.  Thornton and Heywood have documented colonial America's reliance on those privateers exclusively targeting Angolan slave ships from a Bermuda-based operation with:


"...half a dozen privateering commissions issued by this company (including Elfrith and Axe) that include specific provisions about taking slave ships and delivering them to Bermuda, Virginia and even New England...virtually all, if not all, Africans arriving in Virginia (or any other colony of England or the Netherlands) prior to 1640, and perhaps even after that for some years, originated in Angola (either Kimbundu or Kikongo speaking regions).  
About 200 surnames of free 17th century African Americans who mixed with white settlers, have been found by researchers Paul Heinegg and J. Douglas Deal.  Those Africans appeared in America when English and Dutch privateers were exclusively raiding Portuguese merchant-slavers leaving Angola.  Many of those surnames taken by Angolan-Americans in the 1600s are still carried by their descendants, the Melungeons, today. The following dates represent either the time of their appearance in America or their date of birth.


Carter, Cornish, Dale/Dial, Driggers, Gowen/Goins, Johnson, Longo, Mongom/Mongon, Payne,

Cane, Davis, George, Hartman, Sisco, Tann, Wansey

Archer, Kersey, Mozingo, Webb

Cuttillo, Jacobs, James,

Beckett, Bell, Charity, Cumbo, Evans, Francis, Guy,  Harris, Jones,Landum/Landrum, Lovina/Leviner, Moore, Nickens, Powell,  Shorter, Tate, Warrick/Warwick

In colonial records of the above Africans there is found other documentation that from 1620-1660 their nationality was mostly Angolan.  Anthony Johnson's grandson named his Maryland plantation "Angola".  The sister of Sebastian Cane was also named "Angola".  Their Angolan identity can also be found in a number of early place names in Virginia and other original tidewater colonies.  A land deed cited by Heywood and Thornton shows reference to “Angola Neck” near Rehoboth Beach in Delaware before 1680.  In Cumberland County, Virginia, an  “Angola Creek” was on the map before the 18th century.  In North Carolina another Angola Creek is the present site of a nature preserve. 

Not all of the paternal surnames passed down to Melungeons came from Africans in America.  Some families such as Banks, Bass, Berry, Chavis, Sweat, Davis, Hanser, Lang,
Lawrence, Fisher, Hammond, Lucas, and Matthews began with white male or female ancestors who initially married Indians. However several branches of these families intermarried with Angolans in America, often before 1700.

The original name of malungu used by early Kimbundu and Kikongo-speaking Africans in Virginia, eventually extended to include all mixed red, white and black family members associated with the Angolans in the original southern colonies. The idea of malungu as "shipmates from a common homeland" gradually came to mean"countrymen", "close friends" and "relatives" in the mobile freeborn Melungeon community. “Melungeon” would not have included chattel slaves who were separated from the free black community by plantation bondage.  


Anderson, Atkins, Barton, Boarman, Bowser, Brown, Bunch, Bass, Butcher, Butler, Carney, Case, Church, Combess, Combs, Consellor, Day, Farrell/Ferrell, Fountain, Game,

Gibson/Gipson, Gregory, Grimes, Grinnage,

Hobson, Howell, Jeffries, Lee, Manuel, Morris, Mullakin, Nelson, Osborne, Pendarvis, Quander, Redman, Reed, Rhoads, Rustin, Skipper, Sparrow, Stephens, Stinger, Swann, Waters, Wilson.

Artis, Booth, Britt, Brooks, Bryant, Burkett, Cambridge, Cassidy, Collins, Copes, Cox, Dogan, Donathan, Forten/Fortune, Gwinn, Hilliard, Hubbard, Impey, Ivey, Jackson, MacDonald, MacGee, Mahoney, Mallory, Okey, Oliver, Penny, Plowman, Press/Priss, Price, Proctor, Robins, Salmons/Sammons, Shoecraft,
Walden, Walker, Wiggins, Wilkens, Williams

Annis, Banneker, Bazmore, Beddo, Bond, Cannedy/Kennedy, Chambers, Conner,
Cuffee, Dawson, Durham, Ford, Gannon, Gates, Graham, Hall, Harrison, Hawkins, Heath, Holt, Horner, Knight, Lansford, Lewis, Malavery, Nichols, Norman, Oxendine, Plummer, Pratt, Prichard, Rawlinson, Ray, Ridley, Roberts, Russell, Sample, Savoy, Shaw, Smith, Stewart, Taylor, Thompson, Toney, Turner, Weaver,
Welsh, Whistler, Willis, Young.
These black and mixed families appeared in the southern tidewater colonies when evidence indicates that most free African-Americans were Angolan by birth.


Additional evidence showing that most Africans coming into North America in the early 1600s were Angola, can be found in records from the Dutch of New York of the same period.  The following lists of baptisms show several African-Americans surnamed "Angola" in the Reformed Dutch Church of New Amsterdam from 1639-1649.  At one time Dutch farmers of New York's Hudson River Valley were the largest importers of African slaves in North America.   Virginia and Maryland planters like Edmund Scarborough purchased about forty Angolans in Dutch New York as Mbundu captives were also being delivered to the southern colonies by English privateers preying on Portuguese slavers out of Angola.  While surnames of Africans were frequently anglicized in the southern tidewater colonies, the names taken by Dutch Africans often directly reflected their African heritage.

(includes parents, witnesses)

1639-Susanna D'Angola

1640-Samuel Angola, Isabel D'Angola, Emanuel van Angola, Lucie Van Angola

1641-Susanna Van Angola, Jacom Anthoney Van Angola, Cleyn Anthony Van Angola

1642-Susanna Simons Van Angola, Andrie Van Angola, Isabel Van Angola, Maria Van Angola, Emanuel Swager Van Angola, Andries Van Angola, Marie Van Angola

1643-Pallas-Negrinne Van Angola, Catharina Van Angola, Anthony Van Angola,

1644-Anthony Van Angola-Negers, Lucretie d'Angola-Negrinne

1645-Andries Van Angola, Mayken Van Angola

1646-Paulus Van Angola

1647-Marie Van Angola, Jan Van Angola-Neger

1648-Emanuel Angola

1649-Christyn Van Angola

New York  Angolans and Virginia Angolans arrived in America by similar transport in the 17th century; privateer Protestants exclusively robbing Portuguese merchant slavers out of Luanda Angola.


The following are some of the first black, white, Indian and mixed families who began intermarrying in the 1600s in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and the Carolinas to produce the people who became known as "Melungeons".

The African known as John Gowen of Virginia was born about 1615.   Before 1775, his descendants had married into the black, white, Indian and mixed families of Ailstock, Bass, Chavis, Corn, Cumbo, Dungill, Findley, Hill, Jones,Locklear, Lucas, Matthews, Mason, Miner, Mills, Patterson, Pompey, Stewart,Simmons, Singleton, Tyre, Webb and Wilson; many of whom can also be traced to the 17th century.

Thomas Chivers/Chavis was born in 1630.  Before 1775, his descendants had married into the mixed families of Bass, Locklear, Singleton, Stewart, Cumbo, Matthews, and Wilson as had descendants of John Gowen. In addition the Chivers/Chavis group intermarried with Bird, Blair, Blythe, Brandon, Bunch, Cannady, Carter, Cypress, Drew, Earl, Evans, Francis, Gibson, Gillet,Haithcock, Harris, Hawley, Hull, Kersey, Lowry, Manly, Manning, Mitchell, McLin, Scott, Silvey, Smith, Snelling, Silver, Sweat, Thaxton, Tyner, Thomerson, Taborn, Valentine, Watts and Walden; many of whom were 17th century Africans in the British-American colonies.

The family of Eleanor Evans born in 1660 shares the following names with the Gowen and Chavis families: Bird, Brandon, Chavis, Dunghill, Harris, Kersey, McLinn, Mitchell, Snelling, Scott, Stewart, Sweat, Taborn and Walden.  In addition, the Evans were early related to the families of Anderson, Boyd, Bee, Blundon, Doyal, (Dial) Green, Hudnall, Hunt, Jeffries, Jones, Lantern,
Ledbetter, Penn, Pettiford, Redcross, Richardson, Rowe, Sorrell, Spriddle, Tate, Thomas, Toney and Young.

The Gibson/Gipson family which descended from Elizabeth Chavis, born in 1672, also shares with the 17th century Gowen, Chavis, and Evans families, the surnames of Bass, Bunch, Chavis, Cumbo, and Sweat.  They add Driggers,Deas,
Collins and Ridley.

The American family of the Portuguese-Angolan named Emmanuel Driggers, [Rodriggus] born in 1620, also has several families in common with the Gowen, Chavis, Evans and Gibson clans: namely Carter, Collins, Sweat, Gibson and Mitchell.  In addition, the Driggers intermarried with Beckett, Beavens, Bingham, Bruinton, Copes, Fernando, Francisco, George, Gussal, Harman, Hodgeskin, Jeffrey, Johnson, King, Kelly, Lindsey, Landrum, Liverpool, Moore, Payne, Reed and Sample.

From Margarett Cornish, born about 1610, comes the Cornish family with ties to Gowen and Sweat in addition to Shaw and Thorn.

With the Cumbo family dating back to 1644, we have links to Gibson, Gowen, Jeffries, Matthews, Newsom, Wilson and Young in addition to Hammond, Maskill, Potter and Skipper.

The Bass family originates in 1638 America and shares several connections from an early period with Gowen, Chavis, Evans, Cornish, Driggers, Cumbo and Gibson which are: Anderson, Byrd, Bunch, Cannady, Day, Mitchell, Pettiford, Richardson, Snelling, Valentine and Walden.  In addition, they are related to the mixed families of Farmer, Hall, Lovina, Nickens, Perkins, Pone, Price, Roe and Roberts.

If given the space, we could present complex scores of Melungeon surnames beginning in the 1600s of colonial America.  These interlaced kinships show Melungeon society was distinctly identifiable in colonial America at least 100 years before the American Revolution. The Melungeon community began before 1700.  While the origin of the name “Melungeon” may be debated, there is no evidence to deny that the Melungeon community existed, if not by that name, long before it appeared in Tennessee at the end of the 18th century.

For example: The Banks family originated in 1665 colonial America and is found in the related families of Adam, Brown, Day, Howell, Isaacs, Johnson, Lynch, Martin, Walden, Wilson, Valentine and several other Melungeon surnames.

The Archer family begins in 1647 America and married into the families of Archie, Bass, Bunch, Heathcock, Manly, Murray, Milton, Newsom, Roberts and Weaver.

The Bunch clan traces back to 1675 colonial America and developed kinship with Bass, Chavis, Chavers, Collins, Gibson, Griffin, Hammons, Pritchard and Summerlin.

The Beckett family of 1655 ties to Bibbins, Beavens, Collins, Driggers, Drighouse, Liverpool, Mongon, Morris, Moses, Nutt, Stevens and Thompson.

The family of Carter begins in 1620 America with the related families of: Best, Blizzard, Braveboy, Bush, Cane, Copes, Dove, Driggus, Fernando, Fenner, Godett, George, Harmon, Howard, Jacobs, Jones, Kelly, Lowery, Moore, Norwood, Nicken, Perkins, Rawlinson, and Spellman.

Mixed red, white, and black Melungeons can be found in Virginia and Maryland within one and two generations of the first Mbundu-Angolan appearance in Jamestown in 1619. The general Melungeon community is more than 350 years old in North America.

Most of these families are related through descent or marriage to the 17th century Angolans in Virginia. They began building the Melungeon community more than a century before it appeared in Tennessee.


The two most important social distinctions in early colonial Virginia were Class and Religion. In 1616, John Rolfe brought his newly baptized Algonquian Indian bride Pocahontas to England. Receiving them at court, King James and his courtiers were appalled that Rolfe, an English commoner, had presumed to marry a princess. In the eyes of Europe, Pocahontas, who was baptized “Rebecca” in 1614, was Rolfe's social superior and the marriage of a princess to an untitled husband was offensive and inappropriate.  That Pocahontas was red and Rolfe was white was irrelevant.  There was nothing in English literature or thought in the early part of the 17th century putting forth the notion of  "white" as a class distinction.

The equality of free whites and free blacks in Virginia in the 1600s can be documented in several areas of colonial life important in the development of the Melungeon community.

1.  Free African-Americans could purchase land,

     livestock and other property.
2.  Free African-Americans could own servants of

     either sex and of any skin color.
3.  The law did not forbid mixed black

      and white marriage until late in the 17th

      century and even then mixed marriages

      commonly continued into the 19th century in

      the South.
4.  Free baptized African-Americans were

     allowed to give testimony in court.

The most famous Melungeon ancestor in the colonies was the Mbundu Angolan who took the name Anthony Johnson.  His Portuguese name, "Antonio" was shared by a number of other early Virginia African-Americans and because of this, there is confusion over which "Antonio" was actually Anthony Johnson.  J. Douglas Deal makes a sound argument in "Race and Class in Colonial Virginia" that Anthony Johnson was the Antonio or Anthony of Warrosquoke who married a black woman named Mary.  He was a passenger on the "James" from England to Virginia in 1622.  Another Antonio who lived in Kecoughtan, married a black woman named "Isabelle" and had the first recorded African-American infant, William.
But lost in the controversy over which Antonio became Anthony Johnson, is evidence that BOTH of the two Anthonys were among the Angolans taken from the Portuguese slaver "Sao Joao Bautista" in 1619.  If Anthony Johnson was simply a black Englishman, why did his grandson later name his plantation "Angola"?

The full civil liberties enjoyed by the 17th century Mbundu Angolan ancestors of the Melungeons were reflected in the lives of Anthony Johnson and his family. They owned a thousand acres on Pungoteague Creek.  Anthony was the master of white European servants of both sexes.  By 1651, the abstract of his deed read,


“Anthony Johnson, 250 acres, Northampton County, 24 July 1651…at great Nawattock Creek, by two small branches issuing out of the mayne Creek. Transfer of persons: Tho. Bemrose, Peter Bughby, Antho. Cripps, Jno Gesorroro, Richard Johnson”  (his white servants).


When a fire destroyed the Johnson plantation in 1652, he appealed to the court and received relief from paying taxes.  In 1655 Anthony sold his Virginia farm and moved his family to Somerset County, Maryland.  He brought with him a mare, 18 sheep and 14 head of cattle.  In 1666 Johnson leased 300 acres in Wimico Hundred and the farm was called "Tonies Vinyard: (from "Anthony") for 200 years after.

John Johnson, son of Anthony, owned 550 acres in Virginia and he was master of about a dozen black and white, male and female servants listed as:


“John Edward, Wm. Routh, Tho. Yowell, Fra. Maland, William Price, John Owen, Dorthy Riley, Richard Hemstead, Law, Barnes, Row, Rith, and Mary Johnson.”


On several occasions, Johnson testified in court cases.  He served as a witness in a number of land transactions.  A white man, Edward Surman appointed John as guardian of his children in his will, proved in a Maryland court in 1676. According to genealogist Paul Heinegg,  
John Johnson was called a "Free Nigroe", aged 80 years "poor and past his labour" when the Sussex County court agreed to maintain him for life on public funds.

John Johnson had a son, John Jr. born about 1650 who bought about 50 acres for a farm in Maryland, which he called "Angola".  This John Jr., a "free negro", married a white 17 year-old English girl, Elizabeth Lowe in Sussex County, Delaware on March 13, 1680.

Anthony had another son; Richard Johnson called "a negro" who married a white woman named Susan.  Their son Richard was described as a "mulatto".

A great-grandson of the old Ndongo African was Cuff Johnson, head of a Beaufort County, North Carolina household numbering two "free" blacks and one white woman in 1800.

In colonial America these examples were repeated many times in numerous Melungeon families designated as "free people of color".  They were landowners of Virginia, the Carolinas, Maryland and Delaware.


The mixed Melungeon descendants of the African who became known as John Gowen (Geaween) b. 1615, can be traced generation to generation through five centuries in America.  Gowen was the earliest African-American documented in the southern British-American colonies as free.  He and his sons filed a number of legal cases in court from 1641-1700.  Descendants of John Gowen and his wife Margaret Cornish were among the earliest original Angolan-American families to be recorded as "white". The following list shows 14 generations of one branch of the Gowen family, (variously spelled Goins, Goings, Gowing, Goyne, Guynes, Guines etc.) from 1615-2000.

1.  John Gowen I (originally "Geaween" and sometimes wrongly translated "Graweere") was born about 1615.  By 1640, Gowen, described as a "Negro", was the former servant of William Evans of Virginia.   John Gowen, a hog farmer, became a free man in the first generation of the British colonization of North America.  He had a son by his African-American wife, Margaret Cornish, about 1635.  Shortly after John Gowen’s wife Margaret had a child by a white man named Sweat In 1641, Gowen purchased the freedom of his son Michael (originally "Mihill") from Lt. Robert Sheppard, master of Margaret Cornish.  Gowen, Sweat, and Cornish were all names found among Melungeons.

2.  Michael Gowen, son of John Gowen was born about 1635 in Virginia.  He was indentured to Captain Christopher Stafford of Martin's Hundred, Virginia.   While a servant in the household of Stafford's sister, Amy Barnhouse, Michael had a son by his first wife, Amy's Negro servant Prossa.  Michael named the child William.  In 1657, Michael was released from indenture and took his son William with him to old James City County, Virginia. However, his wife Prossa remained indentured to Amy Barnhouse.  The freeman Michael Gowen remarried a white woman by whom he had several children described in court records as "mulatto", including...

3.  Thomas Gowen, born 1660 in old James City County, son of Michael Gowen, son of John Gowen.  Thomas was referred to in court records as a free "mulatto".  Thomas Gowen raised racehorses in Westmoreland County.  The descendants of the Thomas Gowen branch of the Gowen family were never explicitly referred to as "Negro".  Thomas had at least two sons including:

4.  William Gowing or Gowen I, born about 1680, son of Thomas Gowen, son of Michael Gowen, son of John Gowen.  William married Katherine, a white woman and they lived in Stafford County. William, a freeman, owned two slaves and over two hundred acres of land in Stafford County. William Gowen had a son named:

5.  John Gowen II, born 1702, son of William Gowen, son of Thomas Gowen, son of Michael Gowen, son of the African-American John Gowen I.  John Gowen II married Mary Keife, a white woman, and they lived in Lunenburg County, Virginia.  Among the children of John and Mary Gowen was:

6.  William Gowen II, born 1725 in Lunenburg County, Virginia, son of John Gowen II, son of William Gowen I, son of Thomas Gowen, son of Michael Gowen, son of John Gowen I.  William II was recorded as a white taxable.  He lived in Lunenburg County Virginia, and Orange County North Carolina.  He too married a white woman and among their children was:

7.  James Gowen or Goyne, born 1755 in Lunenburg County, son of William Gowen
II, son of John Gowen II, son of William Gowen I, son of Thomas Gowen, son of Michael Gowen, son of John Gowen I. This 7th generation son of the "negro" John Gowen, of old James City was recorded as "white".  James fought in the

American Revolution and afterwards moved from South Carolina to Louisiana and Mississippi.  He and his wife Mary had several children including:

8.  John Goyne (aka Guynes) III, born 1776 in the Camden District of South Carolina, son of James Goyne, son of William Gowen II, son of John Gowen II, son of William Gowen I, son of Thomas Gowen, son of Michael Gowen, son of John Gowen I.  John Guynes married Matilda Hall and they moved to Copiah County, Mississippi where they owned several hundred acres and about a dozen slaves.  Many of his sons and grandsons achieved prestige in mainstream white America including a state lawmaker, a circuit judge,

several army officers etc. Among the children of  John and Matilda Guynes was:

9.  Harmon Runnels Guynes, born in Mississippi in 1820, son of John Guynes III, son of James Goyne, son of William Gowen II, son of John Gowen II, son of William Gowen I, son of Thomas Gowen, son of Michael Gowen, son of John Gowen I.   Harmon Guynes married Emily Whittington of Mississippi and moved to Texas about 1850.  Harmon and Emily Guynes had several children including a
daughter named:

10.  Nancy Guynes, born 1863 in Goliad County, Texas, daughter of Harmon Guynes, son of John Guynes III, son of James Goyne, son of William Gowen II, son of John Gowen II, son of William Gowen I, son of Thomas Gowen, son of  Michael Gowen, son of John Gowen I.  No hint of African blood can be found in the records at this stage, only family stories that Nancy was "Indian".  The Guynes-Hashaw family cemetary on the

Walker/Trinity County line in Texas is marked by the state as an "Indian cemetery".  In 1880 Nancy Guynes married William "Dude" Hashaw in Trinity County, Texas and had several children including,

11.  Thomas Hashaw, born 1881 in Trinity County, Texas, son of Dude and Nancy Guynes Hashaw, daughter of Harmon Guynes, son of John Guynes III, son of James Goyne, son of William Gowen II, son of John Gowen II, son of William Gowen I, son of Thomas Gowen, son of Michael Gowen, son of John Gowen I. Thomas Hashaw was said to be part Choctaw Indian.   He married Margaret Aden about 1900 and they had three sons including,

12.  Woodrow Hashaw, born about 1905 in Dodge, Texas, son of Thomas Hashaw,
son of Nancy Guynes Hashaw, daughter of Harmon Guynes, son of John Guynes III, son of James Goyne, son of William Gowen II, son of John Gowen II, son of William Gowen I, son of Thomas Gowen, son of Michael Gowen, son of John Gowen I.  Woodrow Hashaw married Zelma Jordan and they had two sons including

13.  Carl Hashaw, born in Dodge, Texas in 1936, the son of Woodrow Hashaw, son of Thomas Hashaw, son of Nancy Guynes Hashaw, daughter of John Guynes III, son of James Goyne, son of William Gowen II, son of John Gowen II, son of William Gowen I, son of Thomas Gowen, son of Michael Gowen, son of  John
Gowen I.  Carl Hashaw is the father of this writer. By 1960, only undocumented rumors of  "Indian" blood persisted in this branch of the family long after the Angolan-African who became known as John Gowen first appeared in Virginia nearly 400 years earlier.



Mixed descendants of the first African-Americans entered all walks of life. Many are world famous. Among the offspring of colonial-era Angolan Americans; the mother of Abraham Lincoln Nancy Hanks, Tom Hanks, Benjamin Chavis, Ava Gardner, Elvis Presley, Heather Locklear, Rich Mullins and comedian Steve Martin from Waco, Texas.

Many of the patriarchal surnames of these 17th century Angolan-Americans survive today because, more often than not, Angolan men married white women of English, Irish and Scottish ancestry.  White men also married Angolan women but their families are harder to trace. 
In Virginia and other colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries, and even into the 19th century, white women showed no repugnance to Africans of equal status.  Lerone Bennett Jr. in "Before the Mayflower" quotes Edward Long, an early colonial witness who observed that,


"The lower class of women in England, are remarkably fond of the blacks, for reasons to brutal to mention."

Genealogist Paul Heinegg found many early mixed marriages in colonial Virginia, between free African-Americans and white Europeans.  -Cases he gives:

"Francis Payne was married to a white woman named Amy by September 1656 when he gave her a mare by deed of jointure. [DW 1655-68, fol.19].

"Francis Skiper was married to Ann, an African American woman, before February 1667 when they sold land in Norfolk County." [W&D E:1666-75; Orders 1666-75,73]

"Elizabeth Kay, a "Mulatto" woman whose father had been free, successfully sued for her freedom in Northumberland County in 1690, and married her white attorney, William Greensted". [WMQ, 3rd ser, XXX, 467-74]

Sometimes white planters promoted mixed marriages of African men and white women for economic reasons; hoping to reap the servitude of the offspring as legal chattel.  Bennett cites a famous case involving an indentured servant girl named "Irish Nell" who was brought to Maryland by Lord Baltimore.  


Upon sailing back to England, Baltimore sold Nell to a planter who encouraged her to marry a black man named Butler. The planter desired the mixed offspring of the marriage for chattel slavery. Returning to America, Baltimore was appalled and moved to enact a law forbidding such practices in 1681.  It began with the words:


"Forasmuch as divers free-born English or white women, sometimes by the instigation, procurement or connivance of their masters, mistresses, or dames, and always to the satisfaction of their lascivious and lustful desires, and to the disgrace not only of the English, but also of many other Christian nations, do intermarry with Negroes and slaves, by which means, divers inconveniences, controversies, and suits may arise, touching the issue of children of such freeborn women aforesaid; for the prevention whereof for the future, Be it enacted: That if the marriage of any woman servant with any slave shall take place by the procurement or permission of the master, such woman and her issue shall be free."

This new law did not outlaw mixed marriages.  It attempted to discourage mixed marriages in which children of British subjects might be regarded as chattel property.  Baltimore was more concerned about stopping an attempt to circumvent the Magna Carta.  His law slowed the rate of legal marriages between white and black servants in Maryland, but it also caused an unforeseen problem according to Bennett. While legal intermarriages dropped, the births of mixed children to single females rose. The legislative act raised the birthrates of illegitimate mulatto children who eventually became a public burden. Three times in ten years Maryland, lawmakers attempted to slow the growing number of mixed unions and the children from them.
Virginia, Massachusetts, North and South Carolina and Delaware also passed laws against intermarriage by lengthening the terms of servitude for white women who married African-American men, or who bore mulatto children.   Bennett cites cases of ministers who performed mixed marriages being levied fines.  In 1725 John Cotton was indicted for marrying a "Molatto Man to a White woman".  In North Carolina, the Reverend John Blacknall was fined fifty pounds in 1726 for joining in matrimony Matthew Thomas Spencer and a mulatto woman named Martha Paule. [Saunders, Colonial Records]  

Vigilante groups tried to enforce the laws and churches were called to thunder against black and white marriages, but it did not work. Case after case can be found as intermarriage and unsanctioned unions continued to openly flaunt the law.   Groups strongly protested the new restrictions prohibiting mixed marriages according to Bennett.

"On May 11, 1699, George Ivie and others sent a petition to the Council of Virginia asking for the repeal of the Act of the Assembly against English peoples marrying with Negroes, Indians or mulattoes.  Of equal or perhaps even more pointed political concern was the action of whites who simply defied the laws.  Shortly after the enactment of Virginia's ban on intermarriage, Ann Wall was convicted of "keeping company with a Negro under pretense of marriage."  The Elizabeth County court sold Ann Wall for five years and bound out her two mulatto children for thirty-one years.  And "it is further ordered" the court said, "that if ye said Ann Wall after she is free from her said master doe at any time presume to come into this county, she shall be banished to ye Island of Barbadoes."

In 1692, the case of Bridgett, a white servant who bore a mulatto child by a black man went all the way to the grand jury in Henrico County, Virginia. In addition, in Pennsylvania, legislators outlawed mixed marriages only to repeal the ban during the years of the American Revolution.  Bennett quotes Thomas Branagan who visited Philadelphia in 1805 and observed:

"There are many, very many blacks who...begin to feel themselves consequential...will not be satisfied unless they get white women for wives, and are likewise exceedingly impertinent to white people in low circumstances...I solemnly swear, I have seen more white women married to, and deluded through the arts of seduction by Negroes in one year in Philadelphia, than for eight years I was visiting [West Indies and the Southern states]...There are perhaps hundreds of white women thus fascinated by black men in this city and there are thousands of black children by them at present."

During the rise of laws banning mixed marriage, newspapers carried notices of black and white servants running away together.  From the southern journal, "American Weekly Mercury" of August 11, 1720:

"Runaway in April last from Richard Tilghman, of Queen Anne County in Maryland, a mulatto slave, named Richard Molson, of middle stature, about forty years old and has had the small pox, he is in company with a white woman...who is supposed now goes for his wife."

And in the "Pennsylvania Gazette" of June 1, 1746:

"Runaway from the subscriber the second of last month, at the town of Potomac, Frederick County, Maryland, a mulatto servant named Isaac Cromwell, runaway at the same time, an English servant woman named Ann Greene."

Legislation banning mixed marriages was largely ignored.  Heinegg observes,

"Despite the efforts of the legislature, white servant women continued to bear children by African American fathers through the late 17th century and well into the 18th century.  From these genealogies, it appears that they were the primary source of the increase in the free African American population for this period...Since so many free African-Americans were light-skinned; many observers assume that they were the offspring of white slave owners who took advantage of their female slaves.  Only one of more than 280 families in this history was proven to descend from a white slave owner".

These mixed marriages were by no means the practice of the servant class only. Bennett mentions Lemuel Haynes, the son of a white woman and an African.  Lemuel was the first black to pastor a white New England church,
and he married Elizabeth Babbitt, a white woman. The grandmother of astronomer-mathematician Benjamin Banneker was Molly Welsh, an English woman.

The "founding fathers" were also involved in mixed relationships.  Benjamin Franklin was said to frequently associate with black women. Thomas Jefferson took Sally Hemings for his mistress according to Bennett and Jefferson's romance with Sally became the subject of a tavern ditty to the tune of Yankee Doodle.

"Of all the damsels on the green,
...on mountains or in valley,
A lass so luscious ne'er was seen,
...As Monticellian Sally."

Bennett also quotes reports that Patrick Henry fathered a black son named Melancthon. Alexander Hamilton was not only born with mixed blood in the West Indies, but he also fathered two sons by a black woman and one of his sons married into a white family, according to Maurice R. Davie of Yale University.

Kentucky's famous Daniel Boone was the grandfather of the mulatto, William Wells Brown. The ninth vice-president of the United States was another Kentuckian, Richard Johnson, whose black mistress was Julia Chinn.  Bennett says, "The couple had two daughters and Johnson married them off with style to white men."

Far into the period of chattel slavery, whites and Africans persistently intermarried.  Bennett shows a census as late as 1830 in Nansemond, Virginia reflecting the number of white women continuing to marry black men more than a hundred and fifty years after the first law restricted such marriages.

Jacob of Rega and white wife, Syphe of Matthews and white wife, Jacob Branch and white wife, Ely of Copeland and white wife,
Tom of Copeland and white wife, Will of Butler and white wife, Davy of Sawyer and white wife, Stephen of Newby and white wife,  Amarian Reed and white wife

The free, light-skinned, mixed children of black and white inter-marriage made up the many ethnically-diverse isolated communities in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Louisiana. Among those groups were the Melungeons.

With the growing success of the American colonies, small family farms, which had relied on indentured servants usually released after 7 years, became huge plantations exploiting life-long chattel slaves.  Whites and many of the earlier freed Angolan blacks were legally protected from permanent slavery. However, many other Africans arriving on slave ships by the 1670s were entering a system with no exits. In time, the lowest class of colonial society became exclusively made up of black chattel slaves where it had once been black and white indentured servants.  Class distinction became race distinction in the 18th century and eventually America viewed free Angolans and their mixed children with the same disdain by which she saw black slaves. These free "non-whites” retreated into isolated enclaves like the Melungeon communities. Heinegg writes,

" more and more slaves replaced white servants, the Legislature passed a series of laws which designated slavery as the appropriate condition for African-Americans.

1.  In 1670 the Virginia Assembly forbade free African-Americans and Indians from owning white servants. [Hening, Statutes at Large, II:280]

2.  In 1691, the Assembly prohibited the manumission of slaves unless they were transported out of the colony.  It also prohibited black and white intermarriages and ordered the illegitimate mixed-race children of white women to be bound out for 30 years. [Hening, Statutes at Large, III:86-87]

3.  In 1705 the Assembly passed a law which all but eliminated the ability of slaves to earn their freedom by ordering that the farm stock of slaves "shall be seized and sold by the church-wardens of the parish wherein such horses, cattle or hogs shall be, and the profit thereof applied to the use of the poor of said parish."  [Hening, Statutes at Large, III:459-60]

Like a slowly drawn net, new legislation over time cut off every avenue to liberty for newly arrived Africans.  The free people of color who lived separate from African slaves were gradually isolated as the rules of colonial society changed: they were not chattel property like the new blacks, but they were also "not white".  


In 1807 in Kentucky, John Levy Going attempted to marry a white woman in Livingston County and was denied by the Justice because of his rumored "Negro" blood.  The Marion, Kentucky library has an article which records, "They went away but a few days after, they returned for marriage.  The woman swore that she had "Negro" blood in her, which she did.  Just before they started, the man cut a vein and she drank some of his blood.  She had his blood in her."

Refused the protection of sanctioned marriage by the end of the 1600s, black and white couples were hauled into court on morals-related charges.  In such cases the man sometimes disappeared, leaving the woman holding the child
alone.  Often the woman would refuse to name the father.  Faced with the prospect of a single-parent child dependant upon the welfare of the county, the colonial legislators imposed severe penalties upon mother and child hoping to send a message.  Fatherless mulattos were often indentured for up to 30 years, and the mother usually had additional years added to her original term of indenture.

In other cases, the man might finally get his freedom with the opportunity to move away and purchase new frontier land.  However, his wife might still be bound for several years.  The man often took his freeborn children and abandoned his indentured wife.  These were the realities facing the early ancestors of Melungeons.

Before the restrictions against mixed unions in America, there were many legitimate black and white marriages sanctioned by the church.  Paul Heinegg cites the 1681 case of Elizabeth Shorter who married a "negro man" named Little Robin in nuptials administered by Nicholas Geulick, a priest.  They had three mulatto daughters in St. Mary's County.  

Slowly however, colonial society turned on the mixed unions it had previously allowed. After 1720 in Northampton County, Virginia, Tamar Smith had to serve half a year in prison and pay a ten-pound fine to marry Major Hitchens, a black man.  Paul Heinegg in his book “Free African Americans in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware has found numerous similar incidents below.

On August 16, 1705, a "mulatto" named John Bunch and a white woman named Sarah Slayden, appealed to the Council of Virginia to permit them to be married after such a request had been denied by the Blisland Parish minister. The Council countered that the "intent of the Law (was) to prevent Negroes and White Persons intermarrying".

The matriarch of the Welch family was Mary.  In 1728 in Maryland, she testified that she had born a mulatto child.  Her original term of servitude to Thomas Harwood was lengthened by seven years and her two-month old son Henry was bound to Harwood for 31 years.

Mary Wise, the servant of a man named Wells admitted in 1732 to having a mulatto child in Prince George County.  The court sold her nine week-old daughter Becky into 31 years servitude for 1,500 pounds of tobacco.

In Delaware, Mary Plowman was charged in 1704 of giving birth to a child by a "Negro" named Frank. The court gave her 21 lashes and an additional term of servitude to her master.  Her mulatto daughter Rose was bound until the age of twenty-one.

In Kent County, Delaware, 17 year old Eleanor Price admitted to "Fornication with a Negro Man named Peter" in 1703. She received twenty-one lashes and an extended period of 18 months servitude. Her daughter was bound to the children of her master until the age of twenty-one.

In Accomack County, Virginia in 1721, Ann Shepherd, a "Christian white woman" was presented for having an illegitimate child.  Pressured to name the father, she first indicted one "Indian Edmund", but later admitted the father was a mulatto, Henry Jackson.  Ann was sold for a five-year term.

In Virginia in 1716, Elizabeth Bartlett was ordered to pay 1,200 pounds of tobacco to her mistress Mary Bailey, for eloping with the mistress'  Negro servant James.

Sarah Dawson was a white servant girl who endured twenty-one lashes in Virginia in 1784 for having three illegitimate children by her master's
servant Peter Beckett whom she later married.

In Lancaster County in 1703, Elizabeth Bell ran away from her master and was lashed twenty times at the county whipping post.  A year later she was indentured to another master during which time she had a child by a black man.  Five years were added to her sentence.

The case of Alice Bryan is also cited by Heinegg.  Alice confessed to bearing a "bastard Molattoe Child" by a "Negro man Called Jack."  Thirty-nine lashes and an extra two years indenture was the sentence of the court.  Her mulatto son Peter was bound out for 31 years and her daughter Elizabeth was enslaved for 18 years.



The presence of mixed African and white blood in Melungeons was troublesome as early as the first known appearance of the name "Melungeon". The word was used in the September 26th, 1813 minutes of the Stony Creek church of Virginia. Sister Susanna Kitchen brought a complaint to the church against Sister Susanna "Sookie" Stallard over accusations of  "harboring them Melungins." Stony Creek previously had a membership, which included whites, free Negroes, slaves and Melungeons. Melungeons were among the earliest members when the church was established. But over time theirs was the only group forced out.  Melungeon surnames identical to those found on the Stony Creek church membership roll, are traceable to free African-Americans back in the 17th and early 18th century.  It is evident that by 1813, twelve years after the church was founded, an effort had been made by white members to expel their Melungeon brothers and sisters.  In an article for the 1999 Appalachian Journal, C.S. Everett wrote:


“Apparently, many individuals of typical Melungeon surname entered the newly organized Stony Creek Church near Fort Blackmore in the Clinch River Valley of what is now Scott County, Virginia, between December 1801 and March 1804.  Even before the end of their migration to Stony Creek, Melungeons were being dismissed and excommunicated from the church by request (letter) or otherwise.  In November of 1802, Henry Gibson was excommunicated, Tiny Collins and Thomas Gibson were placed under censure, and David Gibson was cited to appear before the church in the next meeting.  Most of the Melungeon church members continued to receive censures, excommunication, or letters of dismissal for the next several years, and most relocated to Blackwater or Mulberry.  The community called Blackwater is located on Blackwater Creek (near Newman Ridge), which runs through northeastern Hancock (then Hawkins) County, Tennessee, and southeastern Lee County, Virginia (where Stone Mountain rises).  The Mulberry Gap area of Hancock (Hawkins) County lies on Blackwater Creek near Powell Mountain, just southwest of what later became known as the “Vardy” community, a Melungeon settlement on Newman Ridge just opposite Indian Ridge.  Documentation demonstrates that at this time, 1802-1804, Melungeon men had acquired relatively substantial land holdings in these very locations through the usual Anglo-American legal channels.


In the summer of 1808, a new pastor was named at Stony Creek Primitive Baptist Church.Between that time and the winter of 1810, the only possible Melungeons mentioned in church minutes were Jessee Bolin, John Gibson, and Elisha Sexton.  From November 1811 to March 27, 1813 there is no mention of anybody with the Melungeon surnames in Stony Creek minutes.  In April though, a roster listing “the whole” of the congregation included three Gibsons, one Gipsons, and two Sextons.  Thereafter, only two entries mention a “Brother Sexton”, the Gibsons and Gipson having disappeared.  A few months later, in October of 1813, Sister Susanna Kitchen went before the church and “complained… against Susanna Stallard for saying she harbored “them Melungins”.  From the context “them Melungins” were most likely among the former congregation members who moved down into Blackwater and Mulberry at Newman Ridge.”


Everett points out that the name “Melungeon” never appeared in church records until after the Melungeons were gone.  This implies the name was considered derogatory at the time.  Why were Melungeons expelled from the church while free and slave Negroes remained?  Why did whites fear and loathe Melungeons?  Why were not free Negroes and slave Negroes forced out of the Stony Creek church along with the mixed Melungeons if indeed Negro ethnicity was at the heart of the church expulsions?  By 1813 the Southern states had forced African-Americans into the basement of the class structure.  And yet Stony Creek welcomed African-Americans into the fold as long as they were not Melungeons.


Melungeon ancestors of the 17th century had enjoyed social equality with whites.  In the 19th century Melungeons were shunned.  The name “Melungeon” was denied by the mixed people it described.  The single event more than any other stoking white fear of Melungeons at the end of the 18th century, was brought about by the very government many Melungeons had fought for in the American Revolution.  In 1790 in the first U.S. federal census, George Washington required marshals to determine the ethnicity of American citizens.  His purpose was not primarily to bring ill upon Melungeons.  Washington wanted to know how many white males were available for military service.  Those with African ancestry; free or slave, were not considered for military service. The new American republic required everyone to truthfully answer all questions under the penalty of law, including the question of one’s ethnicity.  Federal marshals were paid a bonus if they found any falsehood in the census.  The dreaded labels of “Negro, mulatto or free colored” threatened many successful, affluent, near-white Melungeons because of the stigma of “black” among many southern whites.  The “colored” label on Melungeons was authorized in official government documents in 1790.  One hundred and forty years later the state of Virginia used the ethnic information required by the 1800-1840 federal census to identify mixed descendants in its efforts to shield the “white race” from miscegenation.  In lobbying for the “Montague Bill”, Virginia State registrar Walter Plecker said of the 1800-1840 census that,


“…this information is of special value in tracing the racial descent of families”. [Plecker, Jan. 7, 1928]


In the younger states outside the original tidewater colonies, people were unfamiliar with Melungeons. Though both are in the South, there are two centuries separating Virginia society and the society of Georgia.  For example: William Goyens was born in North Carolina in 1794 to a "free Negro" father and a white mother.  In 1821, he came to Texas and became a prosperous businessman in Nacogdoches.  In 1832, Goyen proposed marriage to a white woman named Polly Sibley. Her brothers came from Georgia to block the marriage, but gave their blessing when they heard that William Goyens was not African, but "Melungeon.”  If Sibley’s brother had come from Virginia they would not have dropped their objections.  Virginians in 1832 had been familiar with Melungeons and their ancestors for more than a century.  Georgia however still had unsettled frontiers.  Anna Going Friedman, a researcher with the Gowen Research Foundation found that:


“The state of Georgia was a point of destination for free persons of color from Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.  The laws of Georgia were not greatly discriminatory and land was abundant at reasonable prices.  The names of the families who signed Petition 164 from the Camden District of South Carolina can also be found in the early counties of Georgia.  By 1810 the black population of Georgia had outgrown the white population.  More laws were enacted to restrict the rights of slaves and free persons of color.  By 1818 all FPC had to register twice a year and this register was published in local papers.  The exodus of FPC from Georgia to Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky and Louisiana commenced.  Louisiana had the most generous and lenient attitude to FPC than any other state.  However the scenario seen in the Eastern Seaboard states of the ratio of more black than white appeared in Louisiana and cause fear in the white population.  Subsequently laws of suppression began to appear against blacks and FPC”.


Evidence indicates that discrimination against blacks, and mixed black subgroups followed a few decades behind the expanding western frontier.  The Melungeons could settle in newly opened southern states and territories for a few decades before anyone came along asking about their ancestry in the 19th century.  Texas, on the farthest western frontier was, as to be expected, last in enacting discriminatory laws against blacks and mixed black groups like Melungeons. In fact the name Melungeon was practically unknown in Louisiana and Texas.  The new southern states of the 19th century knew very little about Melungeons and therefore knew little about their mixed Negro ancestry until late in the ballgame.

However, the original southern tidewater colonies in the East; Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and the Carolinas knew otherwise. Virginia grandfathers from the colonial era could remember the Negro ancestors of the Melungeons even though the issue of black and white marriage had never scandalized them as it did their grandchildren. For the Stony Creek church by 1813, the possibility of marriages of white members with Melungeon members presented cause for alarm.  There was gossip of white couples giving birth to dark-skinned babies. To marry someone with a vague pedigree was to court possible expulsion from white society and the Melungeons were the proverbial dark horses.  One popular definition of Melungeon in fiction today actually means “of uncertain ancestry”.  But more than any other reason the white church members of Stony Creek feared Melungeons, was the federal census and its requirement for ethnic descriptions in 1800..  Marshals with the U S government determined that known Melungeons were to be classed as Negro, Mulatto or Other Free Persons of color. The label varied from county to county depending on how much political clout mixed groups wielded. Federal marshals after all, were elected. But in those areas where they lacked a large enough presence, government policy, especially in the South, denied citizenship to non-whites.  Many white people in mainstream American society wanted to keep their sons and daughters isolated from otherwise light-skinned Melungeons who had, by then, a visibly diminishing yet still rumored Negro ancestry.  The opportunities offered American citizens such as an education in white schools, the right to vote and to govern, the right to avoid unjust taxation, the right to bear arms and other freedoms, were denied to those with African, Indian or mixed ancestry.  In addition, by this time, 130 years after the first anti-black law,  white America, especially in the South, had developed an acute case of social prejudice against African-Americans.

From time to time, the Clinch River Melungeons would return to visit Stony Creek, a 40-mile trip that required a one-night stopover.  Certain members came under suspicion from other white church members for "harboring them Melungins" overnight.   It is interesting that both surnames Stallard and Kitchen can be found at a later time intermarried with Melungeons.

In the Stony Creek case, the presence of African blood in Melungeons raised tensions because Melungeons were otherwise white. Free or slave, Negroes were welcome to worship with whites at the Stony Creek church.  Lighter skinned Melungeons were chased off.


Other events occurred at about the same time to move Melungeons from the original colonies to the new frontiers of Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Louisiana.  The French Revolution had begun with the storming of the Bastille in 1789.  In Haiti, free mulattos struck for freedom in 1791 in Port-Au-Prince and a bitter revolution followed.  Later that year France renounced slavery and began announcing the end of chattel bondage through all of its Caribbean territories.  The news quickly reached African slaves in the new United States.  Not generally realized is the extent to which the upheaval in Haiti had stunned and alarmed southern whites in the United States who were holding a sizable African population in bondage.  Indeed the Haitian revolution inspired black slaves along with some free Negroes and working class whites in North America, to plan an overthrow of slavery in the South. The attempted 1800 coup in Virginia was called the Gabriel Conspiracy. 


Gabriel was born a slave in 1776 on the Prosser tobacco plantation in Henrico County, Virginia.  Trained to be a blacksmith, he stood 6’2” and possessed charismatic leadership qualities.  He secretly began to enlist not only slaves but also free Africans and poor whites for a planned insurrection. Inspired by the recent revolution in St. Domingue, Gabriel styled his banner “death or Liberty” after the Haitian battle cry.  His plan called for the capture of the Capitol Square in Richmond Virginia. Recruiters went into areas in which Melungeons are known to have lived in 1800; in Petersburg, Norfolk, and Albermarle and in Caroline, Henrico and Louisa counties. Gabriel had also planned for one of his men to “go to the nation of Indians called Catawbas to persuade them to join the Negroes to fight the white people.”  Some Melungeons had intermarried with Catawbas.  William H. Blevins remembered stories that old Ned Sizemore came from the Catawba River on the Catawba Reservation.  Members of the Gibson family had apparently also joined the Catawba Indians in Macon County, North Carolina. Gabriel’s conspiracy became the largest planned slave revolt in the early history of the United States..  However on the scheduled day, August 30, 1800 a terrible thunderstorm washed out the roads and flooded the creeks. The gathered army dispersed with plans to attack the next day. But two slaves told their white masters and Governor James Madison was alerted.  The chief conspirators, including Gabriel and his brothers were rounded up, brought to trial and 27 were hanged. The trials dragged on for months after the August 1800 coup attempt. Suspected participants captured outside of Richmond were tried in other counties and many were hung.  Two slaves escaped with the help of free blacks outside the Hanover County prison.  The magistrates of Norfolk County, home of the Melungeon Bass clan, questioned slaves and working class whites, seeking other conspirators.  However no one would offer evidence and those arrested were released.  Four free blacks were arrested in Petersburg, Virginia but authorities were again frustrated by the lack of witnesses.  Slaves offered to testify against free blacks, but such testimony of slave against free was not admissible in the courts of Virginia.  Many suspected blacks, when no evidence could be found against them, were deported from Virginia. Within a year of Gabriel’s conspiracy, several Melungeons were leaving Virginia for the frontier.


In the aftermath of the Gabriel Conspiracy of 1800 white Virginia and the rest of the slave-holding South remained in a constant state of fear and suspicion lasting well past the slave rebellion of Nat Turner 30 years later.  Legislation banned free colored people from entering certain states.  Runaway slaves were known to seek out family members in free black and mixed communities for refuge.  Melungeons had the unique ability because of their dual ethnicity to pass between the communities of black slaves and free whites.  In view of white paranoia after the Gabriel Conspiracy, there is little doubt the mixed Melungeons were viewed with suspicion by their white neighbors.  Whites in Virginia, Carolina and other southern slave states were haunted by vivid accounts of the vengeful slaughter in Haiti of white French families.  The wildfire of abolition was sweeping through the lower Americas, the Caribbean and western Europe in the beginning of the 19th century.


Melungeons were driven out of the Stony Creek church not only because of their dual white and black ancestry, but also because they were free.  After the census of 1790 and 1800 forced the ethnic identification of Melungeons as “Negro” or “mulatto”, whites began to question what the mixed Melungeons would do, or with whom they would side in the event of their greatest fear; a mass slave rebellion in the South.  The era between the American Revolution and the American Civil War defined white America’s negative view of the name “Melungeon” in the older Southern colonies-turned-states.  Melungeons were not known as well or feared as much in newer southern states where the institution of chattel slavery was more recent. One must point not only to the federal census beginning in 1790 and 1800, but also the continuing threat of slave rebellions to understand the ill treatment of free mixed black Melungeons in the white South.  Melungeons were often viewed as sympathetic to escaped black slaves and not only because of blood ties: they themselves, though free, daily lived under the danger of being illegally kidnapped into slavery.




Frequently, the states of the original Southern colonies enacted legislation not only preventing mixed families from coming in, but also to forcibly eject those already settled.  They did this through a variety of acts targeting those families associated with mixed groups like the Melungeon community.  Anna Going Friedman researched one such example.  When the Revolutionary War ended, the colonies found they were saddled with huge foreign debts accrued from the war.  In March of 1789, South Carolina passed an ordinance aiming to kill two birds with one stone.  All free people of color in South Carolina were ordered to pay additionally two bits on the dollar head tax effective February 1791.  The legislature added two dollars per head for all above 16 years of age as of December 21, 1792.  The message was clear: slaves stay, but free Negroes and free mixed groups leave, even those who had fought in the Revolution. Several Melungeons from the Sumter and Camden districts filed Petition 164 in protest.  The petition argued that:


“…Before the War, and till very lately, your Petitioners were Freeholders or Tradesmen, paid a tax only for their Lands, trades and other Taxable property in common with others the Free White Citizens of the State, Poll Tax for any of their children while under their jurisdiction. 


That in March 1789, an Ordinance was passed Intitled an Ordinance for Funding and ultimately discharging the Foreign debt of this State, wherein it was Ordained that a Tax of one fourth of a Dollar per head per Annum be imposed upon all Negroes, Mustizoes and Mulattoes: the same to commence in February 1791, and from thence continue for the span of Ten years.”


“…That your Petitioners are generally a Poor needy People; have frequently large Families to Maintain; and find it exceeding difficult and distressing to support the same and answer the large demands of the Publick; which appears to them considerably more than Double what was formerly Exacted from them; In consequence of which they conceive their Situation in life but a small removed from Slavery; that they are likely to suffer continued incoveniences and disadvantages; and in the end to be reduced to poverty and want itself.”


The petition bore the Melungeon surnames of Morris, Going, Coal, (Cole) Bird, Portee, Anderson, and Jones, 17 in all, as well as prominent white supporters from Fairfield County. The legislative response to the petition was drawn out and the effect was that almost all of the petitioners had moved out of South Carolina into western Kentucky within three years.  By 1797 many of these families were settling on the Wabash River in the territory now made up of present-day Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and part of Minnesota.


In the book “Contributions in Black and Red”, Jacqueline Cortez wrote,


“Some of the earliest settlements in Indiana Territory were founded by Negro men and women.  Thomas Coles of Lyle Station, Indiana was a prominent farmer.  The residents of Pink Staff and Ft. Allison Illinois can trace their ancestors as far back as 1800.  They emigrated from Kentucky, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee.  Most of these residents are a mixture of Negro, Indian and Caucasian.”


These mixed Melungeon trailblazers; Allison, Morris, Anderson, and Tan built Ft. Allison and served as scouts in the War of 1812.




After the American Revolution, U.S. land purchases and Indian conquests quickened the pace of the white, free black and free mixed migration into Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia,  Louisiana and the Northwest Territory.  The U.S. Congress passed and President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, forcibly escorting Eastern Indians to lands west of the Mississippi. There is evidence that descendants of the original 17th century Angolans were on both sides of the removal of Southeastern Indian tribes to the West.  For example the Cherokee lists show the presence of many with the Melungeon surname “Goins”, indicating the presence of free Angolan descendants who had intermarried with that nation.  The Cherokee resisted relocation more than the other Indian nations, and a federal army had to be called up to march them at gunpoint to reserves in Indian Territory. On the other-hand, the Goins surname also appears among those moving into the eastern lands vacated by these Indians.  Guynes (Goins), and Finleys can be found settling in Scott and Leake counties in Mississippi not long after 1830.


About the time of the forced Indian exile, the Trail of Tears, there occurred another slave insurrection, one that was inspired by the earlier Gabriel Rebellion.  The Nat Turner uprising in August 1831 had a major impact on the history and movement of Melungeons.  In 1831 Billy Artis, a free man of color, along with slave preacher Nat Turner, organized and led a widespread slave insurrection in Southampton County, Virginia.  Nearly 60 whites were slain before the insurrection was checked.  Billy Artis was a descendant of several of the 17th century Mbundu Angolan families of early Virginia.  The Artis name can be found intermarried with numerous Melungeon families.  According to genealogist Paul Heinegg, Easter (Hester) Artis, born 1687, was among the slaves freed in the 1712 will of John Fulcher of Norfolk County, Virginia.  She was described in court papers as a “free Negroe woman living in Virga”.  She had a son, Robin Artis, by another freed slave, Robin Richards.  The Artis family had kindred connections to many Melungeon surnames including Brown, Gibson, Johnson, Powell, and Stewart.  Billy Artis committed suicide rather than surrender to the white posse tracking him down.  Another Nat Turner ally was Barry Newsome, a descendant of Moses Newsome, (white) who had married a free black woman named Judah, early in the 18th century.  The Newsomes also had Melungeon kinfolk including Cumbo, Goins, Stewart, and Byrd.


Angry vigilantes decapitated forty innocent Negroes and also executed 120 others in the wake of the Nat Turner insurrection.  Many hundreds of free persons of color were forced into exile during the ensuing reign of terror.  C.S. Everett, in “Melungeon History and Myth” writes:


“…in the wake of the Nat Turner slave insurrection, Virginia passed a law in 1831 threatening to enslave free mulattos if they did not leave the state.  Following events in Virginia, in 1834 the state of Tennessee disfranchised all free individuals classified as “Negro,” “mulatto,” “Indian,” or “mustee”- free persons of color who had exercised suffrage and other rights as citizens for over three decades.  North Carolina followed suit with similar legislation in 1835…Perhaps the devastating Dred Scott decision of 1857-arguably a case decided in the Southern interest of extending the institution of slavery- had an important impact. Although Dred Scott was an enslaved African American, Chief Justice Roger Taney’s opinion endangered ALL free persons of color.  In essence the Supreme Court issued a strong statement about who could and could not exercise rights as citizens.  “Black” was strictly equated with non-citizenship and, by implication, anyone so classified (“free person of color,” “mulatto,” or “Indian”) could potentially be enslaved.  Shortly thereafter a bill was introduced to the Tennessee legislature proposing “expulsion from the state of free persons of color.”


The result white hostility in the wake of the Nat Turner insurrection and later the Dred Scott decision pushed many of the Melungeons further out into the expanding frontier of the United States.


Among the early settlers of Texas were the Melungeon families of Ashworth and Goins, (Guynes, Goyens etc).  The Ashworths had traveled to Louisiana from South Carolina in 1799, about the same time other South Carolinian Melungeons were bound for the Northwest Territory.  The Ashworths, recorded as “free blacks”, owned land and slaves in Jefferson County when Texas was fighting Mexico for independence.  In 19th century Texas, the mixed Ashworth clan married white males and females.  Aaron Ashworth was the wealthiest man in Jefferson County.  Texas for the most part accepted these intermarriages without a fuss.  In 1840 the Republic of Texas, fearing a Nat Turner-inspired slave insurrection, enacted legislation ordering all free blacks and mulattos to leave the country or face slavery.  It was well known that runaway slaves fled to free blacks and mixed communities. White neighbors protested and petitioned the Texas Congress to exempt the Ashworths.  Texas passed the Ashworth Act before the end of the year, allowing free blacks living in Texas during the War for Independence to remain.


The Ashworth Act resulted from an act passed in February 1840 exiling free blacks from the Republic of Texas and stopping the immigration of any other free blacks.  This earlier act had repealed a previous law allowing free blacks settling in the Republic of Texas prior to the Texas Declaration of Independence.  Three petitions were presented in December 1840 requesting exemptions for Abner, Wiliiam, David, Aaron Ashworth, and William Goyens, early Melungeon immigrants into Texas.  Goyens, originally from the Carolinas, was a free African-American descendant of old John Geaween ca. 1640 Virginia.  William Goyens had served at the personal request of Sam Houston to persuade east Texas Indians to remain neutral during the Texas struggle for independence from Mexico.  Elisha Thomas, a brother-in-law of the Ashworths who had served in the army immediately after the battle of San Jacinto, was named in a third petition. Another Melungeon, James Richardson, an oyster vendor in Brazoria County who, at the age of sixty, had served in the garrison at Velasco in the revolution, was named in another petition seeking relief from the original act. In the Handbook of Texas Online it says of the first petition:


“The petition was signed by 71 citizens.  It claimed that William and Abner had been residents for six years and stated that they had contributed generously to the Texan cause during the revolution. It argued that the law of February 5, 1840 would “operate grievously” if enforced against them…In all three cases the petitions were signed by prominent (white) officials in Jefferson County (Texas)”.


The first petition passed the legislature and on December 12, 1840, was signed by Texas president Mirabeau B. Lamar.


“David and Abner Ashworth became the only free blacks to immigrate susbsequent to the Delcaration of Independence who were given congressional sanction to remain in Texas.”  -Nolan Thompson


In 1857, immediately after the Dred Scott decision removed their citizenship and left them vulnerable to slavery, a large Melungeon wagon train left the Carolinas and Georgia.  Alfred Franklin Mayo led the party.  During the trek to Louisiana, the wagon train eventually grew to over 100 mixed families.  Their names were the names of the Angolans of 17th century Virginia.  The wagon train halted near Valentine in central Louisiana.  Shortly before dispersing, all of the men and all of the boys older than twelve went alone into the woods.  Because of the ethnic persecution they had endured back east, the men made a pact to conceal their past and never divulge their origins. The name “Melungeon” was to be forgotten among them. Some of the families settled in Louisiana and others moved on into Texas. 


The mixed Melungeons, (known in Louisiana as Redbones) had to fight to remain in Texas and Louisiana.  A number of feuds and shoot-outs erupted between whites and Redbones and many were killed.  White hostility forced Melungeons to band together in their own towns and communities.  Westport, Louisiana was the earliest Redbone settlement.  As their Mbundu ancestors had in the slave prison in Luanda, and on the Portuguese slave ships, so their descendants looked to their numbers to survive.  A famous war erupted when white vigilantes stormed Westport. The Redbones won but many were slain. The surnames on the tombstones matched the surnames of the 17th century Angolans who had settled in Virginia.  The children of the survivors live in Westport today.


The mixed descendants of the 17th century Mbundu Angolans contributed much to the history and lore of the West.  Daniel William Cloud fought and died at the Alamo with Crockett and Bowie.  Besieged by a superior Mexican army, Commander William B. Travis informed the Texian defenders that no reinforcements would be coming to their aid.  According to legend Travis drew a line in the dust with his sword and invited anyone willing to meet doom at the Alamo to cross.  Daniel Cloud was the second man over the line.  The famous Yellow Rose of Texas was Emily D. West, the lovely mulatto woman entertaining Mexican general Santa Ana moments before the famous “Remember the Alamo” charge at San Jacinto.  The infamous Texas gunfighter-outlaw Sam Bass was Melungeon descendant.  Matthew Doyal (Dial) was with Jim Bowie in the Indian battle of San Saba.  The great Plum Creek Indian fight saw the participation of Archibald Gibson, James Bird and Joseph Wood, all from early Melungeon families.  During the American Civil War many Texas and Louisiana Melungeons sent their sons to fight for the Confederacy as the Melungeon sons of Indiana and Ohio fought for the North.




There are two significantly different periods of Melungeon history in America. The first era dates from 1619 to about 1790 when Melungeons at best enjoyed equal status with whites and at least avoided radical persecution.  The second era began about 1790 and continues today.  In this latter era Melungeons suffered extreme racial prejudice leading them to deny African ancestry or at best regard it with ambivalence. Modern descendants of Melungeons generally embrace a “Portuguese” ancestry or descent from a “Cherokee princess,” unaware that both were euphemisms for Negro descent.


Discrimination of one group over another was always based on religion, sectarianism, and politics in the known history of the world.  When the Virginia legislature ruled in 1670 that people of Negro and Indian ancestry, regardless of their religion or politics, were not entitled to the same rights as those held by whites, a new bigotry appeared in the world; a discrimination based on skin color.  These American policies along with Darwinian racial, social, and scientific theories eventually led to the worst Holocaust of history.  The relics of these forces remain active today as one ethnic seeks to control the population of a weaker ethnic it deems “undesirable.”


The Mbundu Americans who had enjoyed equal status with whites from 1619-1670 were left isolated in a fifth class; not white, not black, not Indian, not non-Christian. This isolation formed the only purely North American ethnic group in which some 40 similar mixed subgroups are included.  Called “mongrels” by their European, Asian and African racial parents, a new breed was born: the American breed.  Scholars have for the most part studiously avoided the Melungeons as has most of America.  In doing so America has ignored the noblest characters in her own unique history; people who under the immense pressures of a domineering society steadfastly refused to hate.









Biography:  Tim Hashaw is an investigative reporter living in Houston, Texas.  Letters may be addressed to:


Tim Hashaw

1937 Huge Oaks,

Houston, Texas


Email: [email protected]

MALUNGU: Sources

by: Tim Hashaw

Sources cited by this writer and other authors quoted in this article

1.    T.H. Breen, Stephen Innes, "Myne Owne

2.    Lerone Bennett Jr., "Before the Mayflower"
3.    Wesley Frank Craven, "Dissolution of the

       Virginia Company"
4.    John Thornton, "The African Experience of

       the "20.and Odd Negroes" Arriving in Virginia

       in 1619, WMQ Vol LV, No.3, 1998
5.    Engel Sluiter, "New Light on the "20. And

       Odd Negroes" Arriving in Virginia in 1619"

       WMQ Vol LIV, No 2, 1997
6.    Hugh Fred Jope, "The Flying Dutchman"

7.    Susan Myra Kingsbury, "The Records of the

      Virginia Company of London"
8.    Paul Heinegg, "Free African-Americans of

      Virginia and North Carolina"
9.    Virginia Chronicle: "Flying Dutchman" March

10.   Wagner, "Der Fliegende Hollander" Kobbe's

       Opera Book
11.   Linda Heywood, professor, Howard

12.   Carroll Goyne: Gowen Manuscript

13.   Brent N. Kennedy and Robyn Vaughn

        Kennedy, "The Melungeons:

        Resurrection of a Proud People"
14.   Arlee Gowen: Gowen Manuscript researcher
15.   Wesley Frank Craven, "White, Red and

         Black, the 17th Century Virginia"
16.   William Broadus Cridlin, "A History of

        Colonial Virgina: The First Permanent 

       Colony in America"
17.    Johnie Blair Deen, "Trinity County

         Kinsearching"  Groveton News
18.   Hugh Fred Jope, "Before the Mayflower"

19.   John Rolfe, "Ferrar Papers"
20.   Original Herald's Visitation Order of 1620:

        Jope of Merefield
21.   Peter Wilson Coldham, "English

        Adventurers and Immigrants"
22.   Hansel Voorhees "Flemish Archives of

       Classical Music" 1872
23.  Heinrich Heine, "Memoirs of Herr Von

24.   Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries: "Sir

       Francis Drake and Captain James Erisey" pg

       255 ff
25.  Nederland Scheepvaartmuseum, Maritiem

26.  Timothy Wilson, "Flags at Sea"
27.  Warwick V. Brewster
28.   Garrett Mattingly, "The Defeat of the

       Spanish Armada"
29.   Robin Milne Tyte, "Armada! The Planning of

       the Battle and After"
30.   Robert Whiting, "The Enterprise of England"
31.  Ernie Bradford, "The Wind Commands Me"\
32.  Bryce Walker, "The ARmada"
33.  A.E.W. Mason, "The Life of Francis Drake"
34.   Jack Beeching, "Richard Hakluyt, "Voyages

       and Discoveries"
35.   J.L. Braber, "Geschiendenis JOPPE"
36.   Rijksarchief in Zeeland
37.   Raymond Evans, "The Graysville

38.   Pollitzer and Brown, 1969: 388-400
39.  Pollitzer, 1972: 719-734
40.  Gilbert, 1946: 438-477
41.   Robert Slene, "Malunga, ngoma vem!"
42.   J. Douglas Deal, "Race and Class in

        Colonial Virginia"
43.   Saunders, Colonial Records
44.   American Weekly Mercury, August 11, 1720
45.   Pennsylvania Gazette, June 1, 1746
46.   North Carolina Gazette, Apreil 10th, 1778
47.   Hening, Statutes at Large
48.   Sherrie Browne, Guynes researcher
49.   Capt. John Smith, "General History of


50.    C.S. Everett “Melungeon History and Myth”, Appalachian Journal 1999

51.    Philip Reilly “The Virginia Racial Integrity Act Revisited”, American Journal of Medical Genetics 1983

52.    Texas Handbook Online “Ashworth Act” Nolan Thompson

53.    Webster Crawford, “Redbones in the Neutral Strip” Dogwood Press.

54.    Thirteen Days to Glory, Lon Tinkle

55.     Researcher Anna Going Friedman,

56.    South Carolina Records “Journals of the House of  Representatives 1792-1794”  Editor, Michael E Stevens