Thursday, June 21, 2012

Melungeons: A Singular People

 The Salt Lake Herald, June 18, 1893, Pag. 4, Salt Lake City, UT

People in this part of the country have probably never heard or at any rate know very little about the Melungeons. That is not the title of a new or old religious order. It is the name by which a body of people are known who live in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. It is but fair to them to state that they repudiate that name and declare with some show of dignity that they are Portuguese. Very little is known of their origin, but that they are of a different race from the poor whites or richer Southerners as also from the darky dwellers in that region is evident from their color, their general appearance and their ways. 

They have an account of their history which briefly epitomized is this: Many years ago some Portuguese settlers on the coast of Virginia desiring to be free from the restraints of the government, moved to the mountains of Tennessee. They made friends with the redskins, lived a free life, paid no attention to marriage ceremonies, neglected all kinds of religious observances, intermixed with the Indians and chiefly subsisted upon corn.

Of course they are now under the jurisdiction of the state government, but they are regarded as a distinct people and so treated by the rest of the population. They are tall, dark, well formed men and women, with Circassian features. They are easily excited to a quarrel, but are brave and hospitable. They despise religious forms, have no preachers and care nothing for the questions that agitate the social and political world. They now have a form of marriage but separate at will, and such easy divorce entails no disgrace among their own people. Why they are called Melungeons does not appear, but that is what they are called by the surrounding people who have little or no association with them.

 It is singular that at the close of the nineteenth century, a separate and distinct body of people can maintain their isolation and identity and be so entirely free from the influences advancements of modern civilization. Whether in their case “Ignorance is bliss” is a doubtful question. Knowledge undoubtedly brings wants and woes as well as powers, but few enlightened people will subscribe to the saying, “it is folly to be wise.”

No comments:

Post a Comment