An Introduction to Melungeons- An Appalachian Mystery

This is one of the most difficult ethnic groups to research today. The overwhelming majority of information is authored by those who use the research process to support preconceived notions. A quest to learn of this mysterious group ceases to be an educational effort and becomes nothing more than a search for possible validation.

The purpose of this work is to provide information from a wholly neutral perspective. The author of this work is not, in any way, related to or descended from Melungeon individuals. There are no predetermined theories to prove or suppositions to support.

Residents throughout Nineteenth Century Tennessee were told wild stories and tales of these remote peoples. The stories were akin to fairy tales of witches, ogres and trolls. Parents tamed unruly children with threats of “The Melungeons will get you!” if they didn’t behave. Proverbial phrases like “sneaky as a Melungeon” also grew in use. The stereotypes said they were wild, fierce, with little capacity for mercy or compassion. They became larger-than-life.

Many accounts of this secluded group circulated in nationwide newspapers from the 1880s and ran into the first decade of the Twentieth Century. Perhaps the facts from these earliest publications are even more relevant than what we see today, as they were gathered directly from the people. This piece relies on information primarily gleaned from that initial coverage.

The word “Melungeon” today has been a boon to tourism in most rural Appalachian regions. It has been romanticized and commercialized to the point of ludicrousness in many cases. Entire histories have been fabricated, and much of it based on non-existent information. Every region has its “Melungeon heritage” regardless of the validity of the claim.

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