Who Are the Melungeons?


A Research Paper by Kelly Pritchard

There have always been tales, it seems, of people who are diffrent than ourselves.The author, in researching her own questions about her genealogical roots has found an interesting twist regarding the background of descendants who may have given her brown skin, while her brown family insists that they are white. It was this search for a mythical cherokee princess which led to the discovery of the Melungeons. Hundreds of years of oral and phyical proof exists in the Americas proving that the aborigines were not the only race around. There were also people of Tri-racial background. Who were these mysterious people? Are they truly descendants of an ancient time and culture, or are they an isolated offshoot which formed their own society, when they discovered that they had no place in the societies around them? Why has there been a reservation to make known who they are and how they live?

The earliest mentions, and phyical proof of tri-racial persons were found in La Venta, Mexico from 800B.C. to 400 B.C. The culture of the Olmecs had giant heads of statues which had three faces on them, one each of Negroid, Caucasian, and Asian. Some features also appear to be Phonician. These aliens entered the Gulf of Mexico during the original construction of the Ceremonial Court in La Venta. (1)

Mention of a mythical people is also found in the Cherokee's oral history. Many tales exist, not only amoungst the Cherokee, but from all tribes of a people who live underground, and who live in a world which mirrors our own, but with no death and no unhappiness. (2) Even as far away as Scotland there persists the tales of "Brigadoon"

There also remains then tales of a lost party of english speaking men who were deep in the Appalachian mountians who found a lost tribe of copper- colored English, {or Welsh, or Portuguese} who brought them in for the night, spared their lives, and then, true to the tales, were not seen again for one- hundred years.

The most practical explanation of these people are that they are the direct desendants of Portuguese sailors shipwrecked off the Cape Hatteras in the 1500's, or deserters of De Soto's expedition in 1539. There is oral history to suggest that they inter-married with a band of Indians named the Sara Indians. (3) Melungeons are described as phyically being of a chocolate complexion, with brown palms and soles. Some of them have striking blue eyes and sharp aquiline features.

Little mention is made of the Melungeons througout our history. As America grew, in the 1700's the Scot-Irish setteled on land which was once held by the Melungeons. The Melungeons were classified as Free Persons of Color, or Mulattos and were not allowed to own land, educate their children, vote, or inter-marry with anyone who was not Melungeon also.

A man named Walter Plecker was responsible for taking away Melungeon's civil rights. Mr. Plecker was the state of Virginia's Director of Vital Statistics, and it was he who continued the usage of the name Melungeons. Although the term Melungeons had been around for scores of years, The Melungeons had their own label that they chose to call themselves. They called themselves Black Irish, Black Dutch, Black German, and would become vauge if you ask them to explain what they meant.(3)

A few lawsuits were brought before the court to gain back the rights of the Melungeon people, and to help classify them into non-negroid catagories. In the Gowains family research papers, it is printed; "Lewis Sheppard, attorney, [later judge] of Chattanooga won a lawsuit proving that the Melungeons were not Negroid. John Netherland won a simular lawsuit in Hancock County. As recently as WWII the Tennessee Supreame Court ruled that Melungeon soldiers should be classified as Non-negroid by the Military."(4)

In the Past, an effort to assimulate into American society, most melungeons have intermarried into other cultures, and the myth of the Cherokee background persists. Genetically, the Melungeon descendants have the closest blood types. Eloy Gallegos provides a table of index of gene study frequencies in an attempt to match the melungeons genetically with other racial groups of peoples. The closest matches are with the Libyans in Libya. Cyprus, Malta, and the Canary Islands provide the closest next matches. All check in between 0.017 to 0.019; with a match of 0.00 being the closest and a match of .999 being the furthest away. Cherokees check in at 0.256, and American Negros at 0.189.(5)

Today, the search for any Melungeon information is in full swing. Many families are at last having their questions answered about their brown skin. Today's Melungeon descendants cannot prove that they are direct desendants of a lost Coloney, a mythical Colony, or of Shipmates. As technology expands and increases however, the author has no doubt that the questions will be answered once and for all.


  1. Sertima, Ivan Van "They Came Before Columbus" 1976, Random House, New York. page 147.
  2. Mooney, James. "History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees." 1992 Bright Mountain Books, Ashville, North Carolina. Page 15/16.
  3. Gowen Research Foundation "Gowan Research Newsletter" volume1, number 1 September 1989.
  4. Gowen Research Foundation "Gowan Research Newsletter" volume1, number 1 September 1989.
  5. Morrison, Nancy Sparks, Roanoke, Va. Email containing the following indexing; Gallos, Eloy "Melungeons: The Pioneers of the Interior Southeastern United States; page 80

This page was submitted by Kelly Pritchard and the opinions in this page are strictly the author's, based upon her reading and research of various materials noted herein.

If you have any questions or comments please e-mail Kelly at [email protected]

Kelly Pritchard, 1998, 1999.

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