Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Portuguese - Not a Cover Story

Over the years many researchers, authors, speakers, etc., have reported the Portuguese ancestry of the Melungeons was a cover story made up by these people called Melungeons to hide their African ancestry.  Recently I received a comment to this blog by one of these author/speakers regarding the 1848 publication of their 'Legend" - he wrote;
“The article was published shortly after the illegal voting trials in Tennessee…” That fact alone provides ample reason for the Melungeons to “hide their identity” or to claim an ancestry other than their own. "   
While he went on to say he wasn't saying they did but -- "they had reason to deny African ancestry,....  for fear of being enslaved." 

What did the Melungeons tell the reporter of the "Present race of Melungeons"? 

''These Portuguese people intermixed with the Indians, and subsequently their descendants (after the advances of the whites into this part of the state) with the negroes and the whites..."
So are we to believe that Vardy Collins, or perhaps his wife, made up a story about their ancestry because they were afraid they would be enslaved? Yet in the next breath said 'our children did intermix with the Africans'  -- we must presume Vardy Collins, his wife, or whoever 'made up this cover story' didn't give two hoots whether someone came along and enslaved their children?  SMH  ---Seriously?

They do not take into account these people who were charged with illegal voting had the charges dropped, convincing their accusers they were of Portuguese ancestry and not African. Why would they be afraid of being enslaved a few months later?


There are court records spread over the 19th century in many counties and states across the nation that questioned the ancestry of these people who were called Melungeons. In early 1800 the Hagan who married into the Ivey family proved by neighbors they were called Portuguese since the time of the Revolution. 


In 1871 Judge Giles Leitch testified before  1871 North Carolina Joint Senate and House Committee on the ancestry of the people of Robeson County  (known as a branch of the South Carolina and East Tennessee families) and what did he say?  

"I think they are a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, and Indian; about half of them have straight black hair, and many of the characteristics of the Cherokee Indians in our State; then, as they amalgamate and mix, the hair becomes curly and kinky, and from that down to real woollen hair; I think they are mixed Portuguese, Spaniard and Indians; I mean to class the Spaniards and Portuguese as one class, and the Indians as another class; I do not think that in class of population there is much negro blood at all; of that half of thecolored population that I have attempted to describe all have been always free; I was born among them, and I reckon that I know them perfectly well."
The researchers, authors, speakers, etc.,  of today are not claiming this 'cover story' to 'hide their real ancestry' for a lack of evidence of the Portuguese/Spanish people inhabiting Virginia and the Carolinas in the early days of this country, there are numerous documents.   They are apparently making this claim to further their own *theories* as to the origin of the Melungeons for personal reasons. 

I've not found one article from the late 1800s to early 1900s who claim the Melungeons were nothing but a group of African men and white women, quite the contrary -- almost all of the published reports stated they showed, Portuguese, Indian, and sometimes African ancestry.



Virginia Easley DeMarce


Looking at Legends-Lumbee and Melungeon: Applied genealogy and the Origins of Tri-racial Isolate Settlements, National Genealogical Society Quarterly 81 (March 1993): 24-45.   Excerpt;  page 37

"The fact that the Portuguese were noted seafarers for centuries. Portuguese laborers--particularly sailors, fisherman, and tradesmen such as net menders and sail menders--were common in towns and harbors throughout the western world, including England and her colonies; and English ships used some Portuguese sailors. In early America, references to them appear in colonial records from New France [Canada] to New England, to the Gulf. There is no reason to doubt that they also sailed into Virginia's ports, and their extensive contact with the English shipping trade might well explain their apparently rapid acquisiton of the English language and their quick acculturaton in Virginia."

Washington Post  1902     PHASE IN ETHNOLOGY

Mr. James Mooney Investigates Early Portuguese Settlements.

Mr. James Mooney, who has just returned from Indian Territory, where he has been making a study of the Kiowa tribe for the Bureau of Ethnology, has also during his career as an anthropologist done considerable work in the way of investigating the Portuguese settlements along the Atlantic coast of the United States, a subject about which less is known than most any other phase of the modern ethnology of America. All along the southern coast there are scattered here and there bands of curious people, whose appearance, color, and hair seem to indicate a cross or mixture of the Indian, the white, and the negro. Such, for example, are the Pamunkeys of Virginia, the Croatan Indians of the Carolinas, the Malungeons of Tennessee, and numerous other
peoples who in the days of slavery were regarded as free negroes and were
frequently hunted down and enslaved. Since the war they have tried hard by act of legislature and other wise to establish their Indian ancestry.

Wherever these people are found there also will the traveler or investigator passing through their region encounter the tradition of Portuguese blood or descent, and many have often wondered how these people came to have such a tradition or, in view of their ignorance, how they came to even know of the name of Portugal or the Portuguese. The explanation is, however, far simpler than one might imagine. In the first place, the Portuguese have always been a seagoing people, and according to Mr. Mooney, who has looked up the subject, the early records of Virginia and the Carolinas contain notices of Portuguese ships having gone to wreck on the coasts of these States and of the crews settling down and marrying in with Indians and mulattoes.

Moreover, there are records of Portuguese ships having sailed into Jamestown Bay as early as 1655, and since then there has been more or less settlement of Portuguese fishermen and sailors from Maine to Florida. Now it has been the history of the Portuguese race that wherever they settled they mixed in with the darker peoples forming the aboriginal populations of the countries  occupied by Portuguese settlers, and this is the reason and cause of the Portuguese admixture among the tribes along the coast of the United States.


In further proof of this he calls attention to the case of a colony of
Portuguese fishermen who settled on the coast of Massachusetts a few years ago. These settlers have nothing whatever to do with the white or Yankee population around them, but are intermarrying and intermixing among and with the small remnant of the Narragansett Indians who have survived down to the present day. In short, it has been the history of the Portuguese that wherever they settled along the Atlantic coast they have intermixed and intermarried among the remnants of the Indian tribes that were once the sole
proprietors of that region.

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