Melungeon Origins

This entry is part 8 of 14 in the series Melungeons

originsSo, where did these mysterious people come from? Since it’s apparently impossible to respect their own words, we’ve yet to encounter a definitive answer. Most resources push the people across the globe for one reason or another. The overwhelming majority of theories hinge on circumstantial “evidence” and supposition as opposed to fact regarding their origins. Today, they’re “multiracial,” “bi-racial” or even “tri-racial.”

In 1894, The Morning Call, a San Francisco newspaper, published a theory from R. C. Borden, in Asheville, North Carolina. Mr. Borden decided this reclusive community had descended from the ancient Aztecs. His reason was their unusual appearance, strange language and the rumors that their ancestors were buried in mounds in North Carolina. The validity of this claim is hereby left up to the reader.

Or, were they Turks? Many researchers are shifting history to push them in that direction. “Melun can” is the Turkish word for a soul that’s damned. How this might be related with an isolated community in Tennessee remains uncertain. We also can’t forget that Melungeons did not give the term to themselves. It’s certainly possible the term “Melungeon” could’ve been coined from a Turkish phrase, but the immigration of Turkish people to the United States has always been rare. The 2000 United States Census, only around 117,000 Americans claim Turkish ancestry. This theory also states they were Muslims, however missionaries who came to the community clearly stated a few of the older families still had their bibles.

Perhaps they were Spanish, as both Spain and Portugal share similar peoples. Or you can throw them all together, as Turks were believed to use this term for enslaved Muslims captured from Spanish galleons. The Spanish theory is the most plausible of the non-Portuguese theories, as Europe was a chaotic series of mass migrations during the Inquisition period.

Or could they be Arabic? Many Arabic peoples have darker complexions and speak a language far different from English. Again, it is possible, but unlikely. There were Moorish individuals traveling with Columbus, but South America has a far larger population of Arabic descendents than North America.

Egyptians are another group that is darker than Europeans are, yet many have European features. They would also have spoken a strange language unlike what is commonly known in colonial America. Sadly, this theory hits a snare as the migration of Egyptians into America occurs after 1952.

They could also be related to the Roma peoples, also known as gypsies. These dark-featured individuals migrated out of India a millennium ago and eventually migrated globally. They are known to be isolationists who also have their own language. They were known to be illiterate and to regard outsiders as being inferior. The Romani lived primarily in Europe until the early part of the Nineteenth Century. There were a few who had immigrated before, but their information is difficult to locate. The middle of this century was the most common migration period for the Romani, when newly liberated slaves fled the nation of their oppression. This was long after Newman’s Ridge was settled and those who settled weren’t nomads, in any way.

Wading through Melungeon researchers can often be like shopping at a mega mart. You can find a theory to support nearly any and every ethnic possibility imaginable. Researchers have connected them to Africans, Black Irish, Black Dutch, Jewish, Carthaginians, Moors, and Arabic Muslim individuals. We can also select from a variety of Native American peoples, as they’ve been linked with the Powhatan, Cherokee, Saponi, Croatoan and several other tribes.

There are also several issues to claiming the original Melungeons were Native American. They observed no tribal laws or rituals associated even with the Native Americans listed above. Considering the native removals, such as the Trail of Tears, didn’t occur until the Nineteenth Century, native ceremonies, observances and habits would not have changed so quickly.

The community remained a community upon their land. They did not follow game or the seasons. Lastly, they were examined for the right to vote. Native Americans were also banned from voting during this period. The Melungeons did not resemble Native Americans upon examination.

Again, this article focuses on the original settlers, exclusively. It has been documented that later residents did claim Native American ancestry.

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