Origin of the Melungeons

Azores Islands

                The Azores Islands lie about 700 miles off the Portuguese coast; 750 miles from Africa; 1,100 miles from Newfoundland; and 2,200 miles from the east coast of the United States.  It is nearly midway between Europe the North America.  The archipelago stretches about 350 miles from end to end and are found in three separate groups.


These islands, it seems, were uninhabited when discovered by Portuguese sailors in 1427 although coins and other more ancient artifacts have been found that remain unexplained.  The Azores were finally settled or colonized in 1439 for the Portuguese, but not completely by the Portuguese.  The first settlers were a mixed group of people from the provinces of Algrave and Minho; Moorish prisoners, black slaves, French, Italians, some Scots and English, and Fleming's. These among the first group were considered petty criminals, some clergy and soldiers, and a few merchants and sugar cane growers.  The purpose of the settlement was quite plain; to produce something agricultural for Portugal.


The islands were colonized under the Holy Order of Christ, or the Knights Templar, so these settlers had to be Christians. Portuguese was the standard language, although it was not the sole language among these men. As time passed on, more Portuguese and Flemings came to these islands reaching a peak migration between 1450 and 1490.  But soon the Flemish language disappeared and everyone was speaking Portuguese or a variation of Portuguese.


It was under the tutelage of Henry the Navigator (Prince Henry - Dom Henrique son of King Joao of Portugal) that the Azores were discovered, although he did not make the discovery himself.  His sailors were testing the new vessel Henry had developed called the Caravel, familiar to us as the type of vessel Christopher Columbus used in his various sails of discovery.  Henry's sailors were also testing new navigation methods and were seeking ways to exploit the African Coast when the Azores were discovered.


There are two records that seem of interest in this discussion: (1) equipped with a new and capable style of sailing vessel and a navigational system, Prince Henry is reported to have ordered Goncalo Velho Cabral and his men in 1431 "to sail towards the setting sun until he came to an island."  Their return is not recorded. (2) Not all of the vessels sent to the Azores reached the islands.  Early on, the navigational advice was to "sail the coast of Africa out of sight of land until you reach the islands."  Speculation has it that some vessels, after missing the islands,  kept sailing with the trade winds,  as Columbus did years later, until land was reached.


We know that the Portuguese had developed maps and at least one map dated 1424 seems to show the coast of the Americas.


We love a mystery.  So, let us add a few more sticks to the fire of wonder.


During his fourth voyage to the New World on July 31, 1502, Columbus recorded having encountered a galley-type ship larger than his own, which was similar to galleys present in the Mediterranean at the same and earlier times.  His son, Ferdinand, recorded that the ship was manned by forty men and women, and carried a cargo of tools, metal implements, and forges.  The people wore "mantelets," sleeveless shirts with an intricate design on them.


In 1504 Columbus made another curious find; in a native settlement he came across an iron pot and the stern post of a European ship, too heavy and distant to be that of the wreck of the Santa Maria.  All who saw it thought it could only have come from the Canaries, proof, it is thought, that at least one ship had made it across the Atlantic before Columbus.


In the mid-1600's the English began pushing inland in the new colonies.  One such exploration took place in 1673 in the southern Alleghenies by English explorer James Needham.  He related his journey into the Tennessee Valley in written form and a portion of that is about his party’s encounter with, "A white people which have long beards and whiskers and weares clothing, and on some of the others there was much hair. . . the white people have a bell which is six foot over which they ring morning and evening and at that time a great number of people gather together and talk."  Soon it was discovered that these people spoke a language that was "Pidgin Elizabethan English".  They called themselves "Portygee" and they practiced a religion very close to the Christian religions the English were familiar with.


In exploration terms and in historical sensibilities, this amounts  to an, Uh Ohh!!! Where did these people come from?


What you have read so far are the facts as we found them.  Theories follow - theories are speculation.  But as you can see, we feel the Azores has much to do with this startling discovery.


One theory: These are descendants of the lost colony at Roanoke Island which took place c 1585.  And that they intermarried with native tribes.


Theory two:  Some claim these are Carthaginian or Phoenicians who discovered North America 2,000 years before the birth of Christ.  The problem with this theory is the language and religion aspects.


Theory three:  That these were Knights Templar from an early time, possibly around 1307.  Supposedly there was a discovery of second century Hebrew Bar Kokhba coins in Kentucky - this along with an early analysis of religious practices suggests to some an early order of eastern descent.


Theory four:  DNA has shown these people to be of a Caucasian origin mixed with small ancestral elements of American Indian, African, Middle Eastern and Asian bloodlines.  This is exactly the mix you would expect to find from the early Azores colonization.  While we would not speculate that the Azores were the sole source of ancestry, we might suggest that this is the central most plausible theory.  So, how did they get here?  They sailed the tradewinds, missed the Azores, and having no other place to go, kept on sailing.  Consider that they were prepared to scratch out a living on the Azores, they had no options back in their country of origin, and the place they landed was fertile and virgin.


What are your thoughts?



Here is what one website had to say about the origin of Melungeons (1999) – there are references to books on the subject in this article.



Most families in the Southern part of North America in some way have family roots to the Melungeons. So let’s start from the beginning. Where did the Melungeons come from? That is a good question. Some call the Melungeons the "Lost People " or the "Mysterious " people of Appalachia. There are a lot of stories of where the Melungeons came from. I will try to explain a few. They say that they are descended from the "Lost Colony of Roanoke" who married into the local Native American tribes. Others say that they were descendants of Welsh explorer Modoc who came to North America around 1100 AD, with ten ships of colonists. Still others say that Melungeons are the lost tribe of Israel, lost Spanish explores and just simply a "tri -racial isolate, made up of Native American/ African American/Caucasian mixture.” But then there are those that say they were Portuguese.


The Melungeons according to Brent Kennedy writer of " The Melungeons, the Resurrection of a Proud People." suggested that the Melungeons were stating fact when they said they were " Portyghee". Saying that Portuguese/Morrish people who were being increasingly attacked during the Spanish Inquisition were a large part of the settlers Spain brought to this country in the 1500’s.


The largest bans of Native Americans to intermarry with the settlers were the Cherokee, Powhatans and the Pamunkeys. These people migrated westward in front of the immigrants and on the way married with other groups, possibly escaped slaves, English, English/Native Americans and Scotch /Irish. The language that they spoke was broken or Elizabethan English. Their features were said to be from Dark skin to Light skin, eyes could be Brown or Steel Blue in color while the hair could be Brown, Black or Blonde. This comes from intermarrying.


When the white people caught up with them in Tennessee Kentucky and other Southern States they did not like them around and the sad part is that for these people they were deemed "Free Persons Of Color " and laws were made and set up to deprive the Melungeons of their basic rights. Such as the right to Vote, the right to own land, and the right for their children to have an education. Being Melungeon was not the best way to get ahead in those times. Many of them hid their ancestry with other "covers" that could account for their dark features, saying that they were “Black Dutch, Black Irish" or having “Native American ancestry"


Today trying to find your Melungeon ties is not easy. Here is a few ways you can get some help or tell if there is Melungeon ancestry in your roots. Check census records for changes, ie from FPC to white, to Mulatto, to Indian and back again. This is not for the direct lines but your Aunts, Uncles and Cousins. Families would change to protect the children and also so that they could own land and vote.


One good source of obtaining information is the books “Cherokee by Blood “written by Jerry Jordan, this can be helpful in looking at Cherokee lines, these books are a collection of accepted and rejected applications. And look for families that seem to have no history or one that does not fit. Not all of this alone means that a family is or was Melungeon but taken several together may be a good overall view that they are.

But yet in many cases there is no proof. There is another way to check to see if there is a chance that there is Melungeon in your family lines not only the features of skin and eyes and hair, but also the Teeth. Melungeons have “Shovel Teeth “curving of the inner surface of the front teeth makes the shape of a shovel. This trait is also common in the Native American Roots. There are also genetic diseases that are particular to the North Africans and Mediterranean lines that show up in the people from Appalachia.


In summing this up is to say that to understand this is to have to redefine the assumptions about the ethnic heritage of the Appalachians. We know that there are genetic diseases and conditions associated with the folks of Melungeon descent that are not in " Scotch-Irish Appalachians". All we need to know is that the explanation of who we are, as a region is not as simple as isolated Scotch -Irish with a dab of Cherokee. It will take a lot of looking and studying your family lines.


I am going to list a few of the SURNAMES that have been associated with the Melungeons. They are as follows.



Here are a few references that can help you.

The Melungeons , The Ressurrection of a Proud People , by N.Brent Kennedy
Lost Tribes of Tennessee Mountains by James Aswell
The Melungeons by Bonnie Ball
The Melungeons of Newman Ridge by Phyllis Cox Barr
Almost White by Berry Brewton
The Melungeons Yesterday and Today by Jean Patterson Bible

I want to thank Bill Fields for the wonderful article he has written if it were not for it I would have no idea of where to start. Even though there is much more to be written.


Additional Melungeon names :

1830 CENSUS OF HAWKINS COUNTY, TENNESSEE                    
Goen, Fountain (fc)                     Goen,Harden (fc)
Goen, George (fc)                         Mullens, Samuel (fc)    
Goen , John (fc)                             Nichols,William (fc)
Goen, Betsy (fc )                           Minor, John (fc)
Minor, Zachariah (fc)                 Hale, Thomas (fc)
Collins, Wiatt  (fc)                        Collins, Millenton (fc)                    
Collins, Andrew (fc)                    Collins, James(fc)
Collins , Martin (fc)                      Gibson, Charles (fc)
Collins, John (fc)                            Gibson, Esau (fc) 
Collins, Martin (fc)                       Gibson, Cherod (fc)                                                                            
Collins, Simeon (fc)                       Gibson Joseph F. (fc)
Collins, Vardy (fc)                         Gibson, Andrew (fc)
Collins , Mary (fc)                          Gibson, Shephard (fc)
Collins , Levi (fc)                            Gibson, Jordon (fc)
Collins , Benjamin (fc)                 Gibson Polly (fc)
Collins, Edmund (fc)                    Gibson , Jonathan (fc) 
Jones , Betsy(fc)                               Gibson, Jesse (fc) 
Goodman. Edmund (fc)                Goodman, Jordan (fc)
Moore, James (fc)                            Cold, Burton (fc) 
Beare, Charles (fc)                           Bowling , Michael (fc) 
Williams, Timothy(fc)                   Mosely , Henry (fc)

This list was made up in 1830, the names were followed by the fc for they could not make up the name MELUNGEONS on the Census Records . So they were called Free Persons of Color .


Edmund Bolen (fc)                         Ezekel, Bolen (fc)
Shadrach, Bolen (fc)                      Clabourn , Bolen (fc) 
Edmund Bolen ( fc )                       Moses Collins ( fc)
David Goan (fc)                              Gondly Collins (fc) 
Thomas Goan (fc)                          Dowell Collins (fc )
Nancy Goan (fc)                             Lewis Collins (fc)
Preston Goan (fc)                           Encey Collins (fc
Fanny Goan (fc)                              Hardin Collins(fc)
Joseph Collins (fc)                          Andrew Collins (fc)
Griffin Collins (fc)                          Allen Collins (fc)
Levi Collins (fc)                              Lavinia Lafes(fc)

The Melungeons were most often being below average in height and very pretty.

The largest concentration was in Tennessee, but they also inhabited Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina. They lived a simple life, as much the inhabitants of the Appalachia did.


Most experts believe that the Melungeons were descendants of the Lost Colony of Raleigh, North Carolina. The theory behind this is that many early Melungeons spoke of being descended from a lost colony. Another is that they were of Carthaginian descent. Believed they may have been of the Carthaginians who fled after their defeat by Rome in 146 BC.

Another theory is that they were of Welsh descent. Some Melungeon elders lay claim to this. It is believed that the Welsh explorer Prince Madoc was on of the earliest white explorers of this part of the country.


In 1872 it was necessary to establish a plausible origin theory to prove that they were not of Negro Descent. The lawyer whom worked on this was Lewis Shepherd. He convinced a court in Chattanooga to compare the features of the Melungeons with that of a Negro .Had they been found to have a hint of blood that was Negro they would loose all full rights of Citizenship.


In working Melungeon history and heritage some Caucasian families are surprised to find them or their ancestors listed as FREE PERSONS OF COLOR or as MULATTO. This taken that they were of African blood. So they thought. As time passed most Melungeons migrated to the northern and eastern states for economic reasons and to escape the prejudice of the time.


When working Melungeon blood lines you need to shake the tree hard, look at all the census. Follow all records that are on your family line. If a family member is listed as “M” or "F P” then there is a chance you will be looking for Melungeon ancestors. Here is a list of books that will help you in your research.






There are many books I can list these will get you started. I suggest reading the one by Bonnie Ball first. Hers is simple and gives a lot of the history, names and census of Tennessee, Va. and Kentucky.



Here is yet another version.  This one was written by a Turkish College student, thus his orientation.  He does offer a theory, better than most, I might add.


Hundreds of years ago, there were tales of a tri-racial people different from others. This tri-racial group of people was simply called mysterious. In eighteenth century Virginia this mysterious group was pushed and forced further west, higher up in the mountains as Scotch, Irish, English and other settlers moved into the area where the mysterious people had been living for centuries. Only one, yes, only one word.


One awful word, a dark word, a lonely word, a mysterious but a powerful word continued over the centuries in confusion, derision but pride.




Racial, social, and cultural differences over three hundred years made them second class citizens in the regions where this people was named Melungeons.


A little mention is made of these enigmatic Melungeons throughout history as a mysterious and lost people. Nobody seemed to know for sure who these people were or where they came from. They spoke an earlier form of English but with dark skin did not look white European.


The loss of rights and land caused many Melungeons to leave the areas where they lived for centuries and to start over in new areas where no one knew them. These people made themselves friendly with the Indians and lived in a peaceful Utopia of their own creations. Afterwards, they married the local Indians, and also subsequently their descendants married the local Negroes and the whites, thus this mixture was going to become the formation of the present day Melungeons.


Current popular theory suggests that the Melungeons were descendants of abandoned Portuguese and Spanish settlers.


The English word Melungeon has both Arabic and Turkish roots, meaning "cursed soul." Also in Portuguese, "Melungo" means shipmate. In the Turkish language Melungeons are called Melun-can, "Melun" being a borrowed word from Arabic meaning one that carries bad luck and ill omen. And "can," which is Turkish, means soul. Meluncan then means a person whose soul is a born loser (Melungeons' Home Page). This term was in common usage among sixteenth-century Ottoman Turks, Arabs, and Muslim converts to Christianity in Spain and Portugal, and is still understood by modern Turks as a self-deprecating term by a Muslim who feels abandoned by God.


Traditionally, Melungeons have been darker skinned people and, as a result, have frequently been discriminated against by their Anglo-Saxon neighbors. Many Melungeons have hidden their heritage, and until recently, history has not revealed where they came from or even how long they have lived on the American Continent. During the struggles for land, when the white settlers arrived to the territory of the copper-skinned Melungeons, the whites declared that they were "free persons of color." In many cases this legal designation stripped the Melungeons of their many rights, including the right to vote, to own their own land, educate or send their children to schools, to defend themselves in courts of law, and also to intermarry with anyone who was not also Melungeon. Kennedy, a Melungeon researcher, says that "Melungeons had always been precluded to get all those rights until 1942." This designation led to the taking of Melungeon land by the new white settlers.


Thus, Melungeons are a small group of people of uncertain origin who have lived for years in the mountains of the East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and Western North Carolina. The Melungeons are copper-skinned, dark eyed, and dark haired, but they mostly had English names and were commonly speaking Elizabethan English. Some historians claim that Europeans encountered the Melungeon settlers in the region of Carolina and Virginia. Also the Melungeons mixed with remnants of Indian tribes, but the Melungeons called themselves "Portygee," which means "Portuguese" (Melungeons' Home page).


They over time were generally pigeonholed into one of the four permissible (and inflexible) American racial classifications: white (northern European), black (African), Indian, or mulatto (a mix of the first three, or anyone of questionable racial background). And thus an entire layer of early American ethnic and cultural fusion was effectively "erased." By the time the first U.S. census was conducted, the mixing and cultural fusion had been underway for 200 years, ensuring that the story would remain buried and certainly never be told via standard census records. Around one thousand Melungeon descendants now live in the United States, but Melungeon researcher Kennedy claims that "the number more than doubles that, and included, to the consternation of some family members, his own lineage" (Melungeons' Home page).



The Melungeons are most likely the descendants of the late sixteenth century Turks and Portuguese stranded on the Carolina shores when the Spanish force abandoned the settlement of Santa Elena and Carolina. They may have also been survivors of several hundred Turkish sailor slaves who were left on Roanoke Island by Sir Francis Drake in 1586. A large part of the Turkish fleet was destroyed by the Crusaders in the Inebahtin war in 1570 and several hundred Turkish sailors were captured by Sir Francis Drake in the same war. They were rescued from slavery in South America and put on the coast of Roanoke Island by Francis Drake in the late 1500s The Melungeons later intermarried with the Powhatan, Pamukey, Chickahominy, and Catawba Indians, and later the Negroes. After they were abandoned by the Spanish force, they started to survive in the Appalachians and intermarried with the Cherokees and afterwards with the northern European settlers, who were becoming part of the classic American melting pot (Melungeons' Home page). The resulting mixture created a unique appearance, which Europeans could not recognize.


The basis for the link between Melungeons and Turks is linguistic, genetic, medical, historical, cultural, etc.


More than 1000 Melungeon and related Native American terms have been preliminarily linked with Ottoman Turkish and Arabic words with identical pronunciations and meaning. The old name for Kentucky was "Kain Tuck" which means dark and also bloody ground in the local Indians dialect. "Kan Tok" is Turkish for "full of blood." "Kan" means blood and "Tok" means filled or full. The Turkish word for "huge noise" is "Ne yaygara," also pronounced identically to "Niagara". The Turkish term for "good cotton" is "pamukey" (pamuk iyi) similar to "Pamunkey," an eastern Virginia Native American tribe to which many Melungeons claim a relationship. The old Appalachian term "gaum," which means messy or sad, is pronounced identically to the Turkish "gam," meaning messy or sad. In the late nineteenth century the Melungeons of East Tennessee and also Southwest Virginia used to say "Satz" for a watch or a timepiece which is spelled as "Sotz." The Turkish word for timepiece or watch is 'Saat." The top tribal administrator for the Creek Indian was called a "Mico." A Mico held the same position on a sixteen-century Ottoman galley. Hodja is also the Creek Indian word for the tribe's wisest and strongest warrior. Hodja is also the Turkish word for the most respected teacher in the Muslim community (Melungeons' home page). All of those words are still used and pronounced incredibly the same as Turkish people today pronounce them.


There is credible historical evidence that Turks were abandoned in the New World. The Ottoman archival confirmations prove that the Ottoman marines had been taken to the Canary Islands in both early sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Also, a Turkish journalist discovered archival records of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul that report the Portuguese had sold to the British Navy a huge number of the Ottoman prisoners of war, who were probably taken to the New World for labor purposes by the British Navy (Nuri Yilnaz).


No trace was found of these people when later English vessels dropped anchor for re-resupplying. It is possible, if not likely, that many of them survived and were absorbed into the surrounding Native American tribes. This is particularly intriguing when one considers that most sixteenth-century Turkish sailors were themselves of central Asian heritage, thus making them literal cousins to the Native Americans they would have encountered, if the purported Bering Strait-migration thesis is to be believed. Furthermore, there is documented evidence of the importation of Karachai and Kavkaz Turkish textile workers, artisans, and servants by both the English and the Spanish into sixteenth-century Virginia, the Caribbean, Brazil, and Mexico, lending even more support to previous Melungeon claims of a Turkish origin. All these people survived by blending into the various Native American, European, and African communities.  


Turkish historical archives in Turkey, Eurasia, and Central Asia include cultural links, medical and genetic data, and linguistic similarities between Turks and Melungeons. The historical, cultural, genetic and oral traditions lend very important credence to the Melungeon-Turkic tie. "Qualified linguists and historians may find other explanations for the similarities in the language, and also culture," says Kennedy.


According to the English records only one hundred Turks were taken back to England where they were ransomed to the Turkish dominions, but there is no further mention of the other remaining Turkish sailors. "Perhaps those who returned to Turkey left statements regarding the others that were apparently left in North Carolina. History already shows through the archives, for example, that in the 1500s other Turkish sailors having no connection to Drake were also left in the Caribbean. The records are there," says Ozdogan.


Plans are also underway for similar cooperative efforts in general historical data, especially those data relating to Turkish and Ottoman naval efforts, as well as the transportation of Ottoman peoples, both captives and employed textile workers, to various destinations in the New World, generally by the Spanish, Portuguese, and English. "The Ottomans maintained wonderful records, though usually in old Turkish script. There may be a wealth of data pertaining to lost or abandoned Turkish sailors, for example, or the reports of those 100 young Turkish men who we know were documentably returned home by Sir Francis Drake in 1587," says Ozdogan.


Modern science has added new support to the Turkish theory in the form of DNA, related to disease and appearance.


Recent genetic studies show an undeniable link between the Melungeon people and the Mediterranean region. A 1990 reanalysis of blood samples taken in 1969 from 177 Melungeon descendants showed no significant differences between east Tennessee and southwestern Virginia Melungeons and populations in Portugal, Canary Islands, North Africa, Malta, Cyprus, and Turkey (the Levant). Furthermore, significant genetic relationships also appear to be present between the Melungeons and Virginia and certain populations in South America and Cuba. Perhaps Sir Francis Drake really did leave those people on Roanoke Island! Amazing "coincidences," but perfectly in line with what the first Melungeons had so persistently claimed (The Melungeons 127).


Modern-day Melungeons have found an intriguing link between their peculiar diseases and those of eastern Mediterranean. Diseases identified in the Melungeon population include thallasemia, Behcet's Syndrome, Machado-Joseph (Azorean) Disease, sarcoidosis, and Familial Mediterranean Fever.


"Behcet's Syndrome, which is a disease from the region of Anatolia and Mediterranean, is a relapsing, multi-system inflammatory disease in which there are oral/genital ulcers. There may be inflammation of the eyes, joints, blood vessels, central nervous system and gastrointestinal tract involvement. Attacks last about a week to a month and recur spontaneously. Onset is usually between twenty to thirty years of age with symptoms occurring up to several years after the onset. Twice as many men as women are affected. There is a genetic predisposition, with autoimmune mechanism and viral infection which may all play a part" (Morrison).


There are some physiological characteristics, which are not entirely documented, but seem to be passed on through the lines of some Melungeon descendants. There is a bump on the back of the head of some descendants of Melungeons, that is located at mid-line, just above the juncture with the neck. It is about the size of half a golf ball or smaller. Some people who live in the Anatolian region of Turkey also have that Anatolian Bump (Morrison).


The possible Turkish-Melungeon link has created considerable interest among both groups, leading to the establishment of sister cities.


The sister cities of Wise, Virginia, and Cesme, Turkey, were selected to receive the Diverse Community Award at the 35th Annual Awards Program of Sister City International's Annual Conference in San Diego, California in 1996.


End  - - - whatever!


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