Melungeons were a group of dark-skinned people with European features
discovered already inhabiting parts of Virginia and North Carolina
when the English and Scottish immigrants arrived. The name has been
said to be a corruption of French for mixture - or melange, although
archaic Mediterranean words nearly duplicate the modern English pronunciation.
They farmed and spoke somewhat fractured English, but they weren't
Native Americans and neither were they Black.
Their dark skin caused the white settlers to label them in legal terminology
as "Free Persons of Color" thus depriving them of many rights - including
the right to school their children or own land. With their straight
black hair, blue eyes and high cheekbones - the simple explanation
was a mixing of the races - not a popular concept at the time.
|The Osburn Family:
John and Martha Osburn, Eva, Mary Ann "Polly" and James ("Jim") held
Photo courtesy Caroll Osburn Zerkle
"Discovered" as a separate group in the late 1800s, speculation of
their origin ran from the "Lost Tribes of Israel" to Phoenician sailors
or even (for the more imaginative) survivors from the Lost Continent
The Melungeons were pushed across the Appalachians into Kentucky,
Tennessee and West Virginia. They soon learned to keep quiet about
themselves and many melted into the general populace, taking Anglo
surnames along the way. A few pockets of "true" Melungeons remain
in certain Tennessee and Virginia counties and this is the center
of current Melungeon study and research.
Like the shipwrecked sailors of the Spanish Armada in England or the
stranded Hessian mercenary troops of the American Revolution - they
were men who (with no chance of getting "home") married local women.
That they were originally sailors there is little doubt. Modern DNA
testing has matched certain genetic markers with Turkish and Portuguese
When they were finally allowed to send their children to school; it
was often a segregated experience. Melungeons who became household
words in the 20th Century were (allegedly) Ava Gardner and Elvis Presley
and it is said the Abraham Lincoln was Melungeon (on his maternal
| The account
was pieced together from genealogical research excavated by grand-daughter
Carrol Osburn Zerkle who sent it to us to share with our readers.
There is a lot of research being done on Melungeons in general - but
we haven't heard of any research in Texas.
After the Civil War, the huge influx of settlers to Texas
from Tennessee must certainly have included many Melungeon families.
Going back further - to Davy Crockett's Tennesseans at the Alamo
- it's entirely possible that Melungeons gave their lives for Texas
shoe horses, don't they?" - February 1, 2005 column
Subject: Melungeons in Texas
I have spent decades researching and writing and my novel, “The
Drifters: A Christian Historical Novel About The Melungeon Shantyboat
People” is about a Melungeon family with their lifestyle during
the times of the Trail of Tears, Civil War in Arkansas and participation
in the Texas cattle drives. It is basically a true story but must
be called fiction due to connecting the dots of known facts. This
book is in the Texas State Genealogical Archives. If anyone wants
to know what it was like to be from this little known culture plus
a part of a very little known shantyboat people, then this book
will fill you in. It needs to be a movie. The Lawton Constitution’s
genealogical columnist compared “The Drifters” to Alex Haley’s “Roots.”
I am a published author, my 7 books can be seen on Amazon. - Tonya
Holmes Shook, November 25, 2010
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