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Posts Tagged ‘multi-racial’

melungeon family I recently came across an article posted in the British journal Mail Online, and wanted to share it’s discussion of a group of Appalachian people trying to avoid being racially tagged.

I have never heard of the Melungeons before reading this article, “Revealed: Ancient Appalachian people who boasted of Portuguese ancestry to avoid slavery were actually descended from African men and white women.”

Apparently the term refers to almost anyone of mixed-race ancestry, on the east coast from New York to Louisiana, but primarily to mixed native American or black blood, distinguished from the “mestizos” and “creoles” of Mexican or Spanish heritage further south in Texas and Louisiana. Other terms similar to Melungeon, in New York, included “Montauks”, the “Mantinecocks”, “Van Guilders”, the “Clappers”, and “Shinnecocks”. Pennsylvania had the “Pools. North Carolina the Lumbees, Waccamaws and Haliwas and South Carolina the Redbones, Buckheads, Yellowhammers, Creels and others.

As the article describes,

Some speculated they were descended from Portuguese explorers, or perhaps from Turkish slaves or Gypsies but a new DNA study attempts to separate truth from oral tradition.
Genetic evidence shows that the families historically called Melungeons are the offspring of sub-Saharan African men and white women of northern or central European origin

However I began to disagree with the tone the article took, in their explanation as to why the group would ‘hide black ancestry with claims of being Portuguese in identity.’ In a day and age when “Southern high-bred people will never tolerate on equal terms any person who is even remotely tainted with negro blood, but they do not make the same objection to other brown or dark-skinned people, like the Spanish, the Cubans, the Italians, etc,” it was merely a matter of survival.

The study quotes from an 1874 court case in Tennessee in which a Melungeon woman’s inheritance was challenged.
In that instance, if the defendant Martha Simmerman were found to have African blood, she would lose the inheritance.
Her attorney, Lewis Shepherd, argued successfully that the Simmerman’s family was descended from ancient Phoenicians who eventually migrated to Portugal and then to North America.

Obviously, if one’s genetic heritage could mean the difference between being free or likely to be enslaved or treated differently under the law, it was very important to maintain their historic claim that they were Portuguese. However, both claims could have been equally true. Ancestors of the Melungeons would have immigrated from Portugal originally, yet not necessarily been of “phoenician blood”. Instead their ancestors could have arrived in Portugal from any Portuguese colonial territories in sub-saharan Africa, such as Mozambique, Angola, or Cape Verde. Thus present-day researchers would be correct as to the genetic heritage being south African, and the Melungeons claim that they were Portuguese, being equally true.

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