Monday, June 29, 2015

History of Melungeon Origin by William E. Cole and Joe Stevenson Looney... University of Tennessee

This article was written in 1934, and it speaks for itself. I don't know of any connection between my kindred and the family mentioned below. It's a good historical article.


The following article was written in 1934. This was a Project by William E. Cole Associate Prof. of Sociology, and Joe Stevenson Looney University of Tennessee This document states the Melungeon were well known after the War Between the States and most of the politicians in East Tennessee were referred to as Melungeons.

It seems that the history of Hancock County concerning the origin of the Melungeons have come up at regular intervals. About 30 years ago (1904?) some of the white people whose children attended the same school as the Melungeon children objected to a certain family of Melungeons sending their children to this school. This Melungeon family the Bells, claimed to be of Portuguese descent. They, with the aid of some lawyers who sponsored their cause, brought suit against the county to allow them to send their children to school along with all the other white and Melungeon children in the community. They lost the suit on the following evidence. There was at that time living in an adjacent county, Claiborne, an old woman about 90 years of age. The court took her deposition concerning the ancestors of the Bell family in question. The substance of her statement was as follows:

“The Bells lived on my father’s farm when I was a little girl. They were known at that time as free Negroes. These Bells that are now living on Newman Ridge are descendants of the Bell family that lived on my father’s farm. As they were accepted as free Negroes at that time they should still be classed as Negroes.”

On this deposition the court declared the Bells free Negroes and did not allow them to send their children to that school. The same court failed to state that the county should establish a school for these segregated people.   Thus they were deprived of a chance to get even the rudiments of an education because of racial prejudices which were not based, in my opinion, on authentic facts. Other instances are cited by residents of Sneedville and `surrounding areas of cases which have come up in court from time regarding the racial origin of the Melungeons, particularly the Bell family and other related families which were as a rule, a darker skinned people with more Negroid characteristics than other Melungeon families.

When the men were conscripted during the World War the Melungeon soldiers of Newman Ridge were sent as Negroes They resented this so much that it was necessary to take legal action in order to make them obey orders and `stay where they were placed. This in the writer’s opinion was a mistake. One of the commissioners, who classified these troupes, told the writer at the time that seemed to be the only thing to do about it. The white companies refused to receive them and the Negroes, whose color nearly matched theirs, did not object to receiving them in their ranks. Thus the Melungeons, may be said to represent practically all the different races in America.

William E. Cole  and Joe Stevenson Looney University of Tennessee.

 Hat tip to Jack Goins

1 comment :

  1. The Bells intermarried with the Collins, Gibsons, Mullins, Goins, etc in the Newmans Ridge and Snake Holler areas, including my ancestor, Simeon Bell, who married Caroline Gibson (some say Lawson, but her mother was Eura Gibson) Miser, and fought and died in the Civil War in, from what I could tell, was a White Union regiment. In 1850, the Bells were living in Claiborne Co, as the article states. There was intermarriage between the Bells and the Denhams. By 1860, the Bells were in Hancock Co. Most of the Bells Ive seen looked either white, or showed strong NA features.
    Kevin Mullins