From: Steven J. Coker
Date: October 27, 1998


"We should probably begin with a general overview of who the Melungeons are.
Melungeons are a group of dark-featured people who have lived in Appalachia for
at least 200 years and probably longer. They are not, at least exclusively,
Native Americans, not African American and not the "usual" Caucasian (read:
Scott Irish/German) Appalachians. They were reported to have been here when the
first "white" settlers came and were living in cabins, speaking broken
Elizabethan English and saying they were "Portyghee". Right now, the term
Melungeon seems to be most strongly associated with the area around Hancock Co.
Tennessee but there are Melungeons and their descendants all over the region,
east Tennessee, southeastern Kentucky, western Virginia and western North
Carolina. While their darker, rather Mediterranean features once set them apart,
inter--marriages have taken place over the years and the "look" is probably not
as apparent in many families.

Melungeons have over time gotten a lot of media attention but it has not always
been good or useful. The media it seems has always liked to tell things the way
they want and Melungeons often come off as a folk tale --- another Appalachian
mystery --- but they are a real people, just one with a lost history. There are
lots of theories as to where the Melungeons came from. One is that they descend
From the Lost Colony of Roanoke who intermarried with local Native American
populations. Another says they are the descendants of the Welsh explorer, Madoc
who came to North America around 1100 with ten ships filled with colonists. Some
believe that they were the descendants of shipwrecked Portuguese sailors. Still
others suggest that Melungeons are the lost tribe of Israel, lost Spanish
explorers, or simply "tri-racial isolates", meaning a Native American/ African
American/ Caucasian mixture which continued intermarrying.

Personally, I lean very heavily to the theory put forth by Dr. N. Brent Kennedy
in his book, "The Melungeons, the Resurrection of a Proud People, A Story of
Ethnic Cleansing in America" (Mercer University Press 1994). Dr. Kennedy
suggests that the Melungeons were stating fact when they said they were
"Portyghee". He suggests that Portuguese/Moorish people who were being
increasingly attacked during the Spanish Inquisition were a large part of the
settlers Spain brought to North America in the 1500s. He has good evidence that
these people were, in various ways, abandoned or fled the settlements and that
they then intermarried with the local Native Americans. These people then
migrated westward in front of the larger settlements and, on the way may have
continued to intermarry with other groups including possibly escaped slaves, and
English or English/Native American mixed people...."

Possible Melungeon Surnames

The following are the Melungeon-related surnames (NC, VA, TN, KY) from Brent
Kennedy's book, "The Melungeons, the Resurrection of a Proud People, A Story of
ethnic Cleansing in America" (Mercer University Press). 

A word of caution with surnames though, having one of the following does not
necessarily mean that an ancestor was Melungeon, just like not having one does
not mean that he or she was not. 

Adams, Adkins, Barker, Barns, Beckler, 

Bell, Bennett, Berry, Biggs, Bolen/Bowlin/Bowling, Bowman, Branham, Brogan,
Bullion, Burton, Byrd, 

Campbell, Carrico, Carter, Casteel, Caudill, Chavis, Clark, Coal, Coffey, Cole,
Coleman, Coles, Colley, Collier, Collins, Collinsworth, Colyer, Counts, Cox,
Coxe, Cumba, Cumbo, Cumbow, Curry, 

Davis, Dorton, Dye, 

Ely, Evans, 

Fields, Freeman, French, 

Gann, Garland, Gibson, Gipson, Goins, Goings, Gorvens, Gowan, Graham, Gwinn, 

Hall, Hammond, Hendrix, Hill, Hillman, Hopkins, 


Keith, Kennedy, Kiser, 

Lawson, Lopes, Lucas, 

Maggard, Maloney, Martin, Miner, Minor, Mizer, Moore, Morley, Mullins, 

Nash, Niccans, Noel, 

Orr, Osborne, 

Perry, Phipps, Polly, Powers, Pruitt, 

Ramey, Rasnick, Reaves, Reeves, Roberson, Robertson, 

Sexton, Shephard, Short, Sizemore, Stallard, Stanley, Steel, Swindall, 

Tolliver, Turner, 


Watts, White, Whited, Williams, Willis, Wright and Wyatt. 

In addition, ftom "Verry Slitly Mixt: Tri-Racial Isolate Families of the Upper
South-A Genealogical Study" by Virginia Easley DeMarce, National Genealogical
Quarterly VoL 80, No. I March 1992. comes the following.- 

Bean, Bunch, Delp, Denham, Goodman, Hale, Locus, Locust, Mize, Mosley, Nicholas,
Pinore, Pinion, Sweat, Sweats, Sweet, and Swett. 

If you would like to write to Bill Fields about the newsletter, the Southeastern
Kentucky Melungeon Information Exchange (SKMIE) or for a subscription, that
address is:

Mr. Bill Fields
Southeastern Kentucky Melungeon Information Exchange
P.O. Box 342
Alcoa, TN 37701
[email protected]

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