Melungeon Mystery

mel-logo_smI guess it’s time to wade into the mystery of the melungeon people.  It’s hard to get organized to talk on this subject, because there is already SO MUCH information on the internet already.  Makes me wonder why I should bother adding my two cents.  But I’m going to because I have an interest in these people.  I am by no means a well-versed expert on this, but I have done some of my own research and developed my own opinions.  You will no doubt have to do the same.  The tremendous volume of information, research, folklore, myth, and totally unsubstantiated opinion that is available online could take a lifetime to wade through and evaluate.  In fact, some people have spent nearly a lifetime researching the melungeons, such as Jack Goins and Roberta Estes to name just two.  There are numerous books available online, as well as scientific research papers.  It’s all there for the reading.  What I’m going to do here is talk about some of the aspects of the melungeon research that I have found the most intriguing.  There will be no amazing revelations or answers to the mystery of the melungeons.  If that’s what you’re looking for, you’ve already read too far.  Sorry.

I’m going to start by going back to the 1600’s and the early colonists at Jamestown.  There’s a book, “Children of Perdition” by Tim Hashaw that discusses the early days of the Jamestown Colony in Virginia, and the shenanigans that were going on.  I’m going to try to give you the gist of the situation, and then hopefully you will visit the provided links and learn all the intriguing details!

In 1619, the Portuguese were heavily involved in the slave trade.  In May of 1619 a Spanish/Portuguese frigate named “St. John the Baptist”  left the slave fortress on the Angolan island of Luanda with 350 Africans taken captive months earlier in a Portuguese invasion of the Malange plateau in the central Angolan highlands.  The ship was bound for Mexico where the slaves would be sold.  In the meantime, two pirate ships manned by English and Dutch soldiers, met in Cuba to search for treasure-laden Spanish and Portuguese merchant ships.  This was in direct violation of the treaty between King James of England and Spain/Portugal.  Around the middle of July,  the Spanish/Portuguese slave ship “the Baptist” had crossed the Atlantic and was  sailing between Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula enroute to Vera Cruz, Mexico when she crossed the path of the two pirate ships.  There was a fierce battle in a sea storm, that ended with the surrender of the Portuguese merchant/slave ship.  The pirates boarded the ship and took the healthiest of the Africans and left the crew and remaining Africans onboard the badly damaged “Baptist”.

In August 1619, the two pirate ships arrived in Virginia.  And because their plundering was not an authorized activity, that is when the conspiracy and colonial corruption really got underway!  Somehow, it’s hard to believe so much underhandedness was going on 400 years ago; and yet I know I shouldn’t be surprised.  The bottom line is that recordkeeping and documentation of the origins and disposition of those Africans was sorely lacking and possibly subverted due to the way in which they were acquired.  There were just suddenly new Africans working on tobacco plantations in Virginia and no one spoke of where they came from or how they were paid for.  If you continue reading on this story line, you will learn the details of the conspiracy and cover-up.  This specific story provides information about an African, John Geaween (Gowen/Goins) and some of the other early slaves.

The Goins surname is a known melungeon name along with many others.  The melungeons have been defined as a “tri-racial” group of people:  European, African, and Native American.  But I seriously doubt it’s as simple as that.  Personally, I think their origins are more complex, but I doubt we’ll ever know for sure.  The scientific DNA research that has been done shows melungeons with African and Native American DNA, but it depends on which family and branch you’re from as to what the DNA shows.  For instance, the Sizemore melungeon family has been shown to contain Native American DNA, and I have those same Sizemores in my family tree, yet my DNA shows 0% Native American.  So, does that mean my family tree is wrong?  Or is today’s DNA testing incapable of detecting such minute DNA from so far back?  I have the Goins in my family tree, and yet my DNA show 0% African.  And so the mystery continues, and probably always will.  But the research, reading, and learning is quite interesting nevertheless, so I will continue!

Click here to read more about the story I described above with far more details, from the writings of Tim Hashaw.  Click here for books by Tim Hashaw.  Click here for books about melungeons on Amazon.

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