What Is A Melungeon?

A definition of a Melungeon?


Well, just when I feel no one is listening.  I found this on the internet in a Google search for blood types nassau melungeon.  Underlinings, bolds, etc., by unnamed moderator who posted it.  

The Study of Racialism


 Post subject: A definition of a Melungeon?     Posted: Fri 02 Jun 2006 13:28 

Definition posted to the Melungeon Mailing List at Melungeon-L@rootsweb.com on Thursday, September 28, 2000, by Mike Nassau: 
A Melungeon (during the formative period from about 1700 to 1860) was someone who was free but was not thought to be pure white in the area where the word was used - northern North Carolina, southern and western Virginia, eastern Tennessee, eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia, southern Ohio, western Louisiana, the eastern edge of Texas, the panhandle of Florida, northern Alabama. The person might actually be white, but of a darker strain like a Greek, Tzigane or Lebanonese. The person might be mixed white and black, white and Indian or all three. The white might be northern European or Mediterranean or both. People who were definitely considered to be Black or Indian or were members of a Black or Indian group probably would not be counted unless they joined or married into a Melungeon group. After becoming a Melungeon by coming to live in one of these areas, these persons tended to intermarry and produce a more uniform mixed population. So today, most Melungeons have quite a little of both northern European and Mediterranean white, some Black and at least a trace of American Indian. But anyone who traces back to someone considered Melungeon before the Civil War is definitely Melungeon, and that is many thousands and a very diverse group.

From the Melungeon Family Genealogy Forum, answer by Mike Nassau to
a question as to how Mediterranean ancestry might distort
Pollitzer's genetic study on Melungeons:

First, let me make it clear that I am not excluding Indian origins
for the Melungeons. I firmly believe that most of their origin is
from groups which were originally Indian. See my message
to the Melungeon mailing list back when we were discussing
what to put for race on the Census:

From: Mike Nassau <mikenassau@yahoo.com> 
To: Melungeon-L@rootsweb.com 
Date: Friday, February 04, 2000 10:54 AM 
Subject: Melungeon definition? 

A definition of a Melungeon? Interesting idea.
1. The fifth remnant of the Saponi Siouan Indians
driven out of Virginia by the Iroquois coming down
from the New York area.
 From east
to west, and in declining amount of Saponi left in
them, the fine groups are the Haliwa-Saponi, the
Person County Indians, the Goinstown Indians
(all on the northern edge of North Carolina) and
the original Melungeons of Tennesee and Virginia.
2. Many different mixed race people who joined these.
a. This includes an early infusion of Virginia Algonquian
Indians such as the Powhattan and Pamunkey. These
also settled in Kentucky to form the Magoffin County
People, now called the Melungeons of Kentucky, in West
Virginia to form the Mayles (Guineas) and the Hatfields of
feud fame. The Carmel Indians of Ohio are an extension
of the Kentucky Melungeons.
b. A later infusion of (mixed) Cherokees who escaped
the deportation to Oklahoma and joined the Melungeons.

This group is especially prominant in central Tennessee
(Graysville Melungeons, etc.).
The problem with this description is that it makes us sound
much more Indian than we are racially. Historically accurate,
genetically hogwash. The Virginia Indians had white infused
into them from Elizabethan times.
 Kennedy is working on
documenting several infusions of Mediteraneans into these
"Indian" ancestors. There may be descendants of the Spanish
and Portugese explorers very early on (anyone want to claim
DeSota?). Almost definitely some descendants of the
Spanish settlements along the Carolina coast, though these
are probably more in groups like the Brass Ankles of SC.
Probably the descendants of some Muslim galley slaves
freed from Spanish ships by Francis Drake and dumped
on the Virginia coast. Then when slavery began in the English
colonies, the Indians were joined by free mulattos, runaway
slaves and white women with mixed children.

3. After the formation of the mixed race groups, there is
movement back and forth between them.
 Goins is a type
name which is found in many of these groups and shows
the extent of this movement. The only way to avoid
inbreeding in some of these groups is by such movement.

For a definition of Melungeon, I would propose something
on this order:
A member of a community of individuals in the area of
eastern Tennessee, western Virginia, eastern Kentucky,
northern North Carolina, West Virginia, southern Ohio,
western Louisiana, Florida panhandle around Dead Lake,
and northern Alabama who were discriminated against by
fair skinned whites because they were darker and suspected
of being part black, although white in features and culture,
plus the descendants of these people whereever they are
now scattered. They are racially mostly white, with both
northern European and Mediteranean ancestry, with some
Indian and/or black in most of them.

How does that sound to the rest of you?
Mike (McGlothlen) Nassau

Pollitzer and Brown's study on the Melungeons had many defects.
Pollitzer, William S., and William H. Brown. 1969. Survey of demography,
anthropology, and genetics in Melungeons of Tennessee: an isolate of hybrid
origin in process of dissolution. Human Biology 41:388-400.
First, there were only a few blood antigens in the study and none of them
of the type where one allele (form) is found in one race and a different
in the other races. It is always a matter of working with different
Second, Indian standard was Cherokee, white standard was English and
black standard was taken from the eastern seaboard of the U.S. So you hit
part of the problem on the head. Indeed, yes, Portuguese, Moriscos (Moors
who converted to Catholicism in order to stay in Spain and Portugal),
Marranos (Jews who pretended to be Catholic inorder to stay), Moors,
Turks, and especially Tzigane (Gypsy or Roma) would be likely to test
somewhere between the black and the English. So definitely part of the
black percentage could be put down to Mediterranean sources.

Please see my statement, "What is a Melungeon", at

It is important to realize that the Indian in our ancestry was
already very mixed and with little Indian left racially by the
time they moved from NC and VA to TN. Please see
this site for the Occaneechi-Saponi in NC for photos
of the type Indians I believe were part of our heritage:

The identification is Indian, the culture is still partly Indian,
but the genes are mostly gone because of selection by
diseases which were brought in by the whites and blacks.

My guess would be something like this:
Indians absorbed Spanish, Portuguese, Morisco, Marrano,
Moorish and/or Turkish and some English from first contact
up to the establishment of plantations with African slaves,
became maybe 70% Mediterranean, 20% Indian and 10%
These new "Indians" absorbed large numbers of free
mulattos, and some Tziganes, Turks and Armenians during
this slave plantation period, plus some more British by
interbreeding. Also they were joined by white women with
mixed children, with or without the non-white partner.
Say they became 20% African, 30% British, 5% Indian
and 45% Mediterranean during this period before crossing
the Blue Ridge of the Smoky Mountatins. The identification
still Indian, the culture mostly Indian, otherwise mostly the
dominant surrounding British-American, but with some
Mediterranean and African elements added.

Then, in their new locations, they were surrounded by
whites and interbred with them, a process which is still going
on. Ulster Scots ("Scots-Irish"), English, Welsh and German
are introduced on a large scale. Selection by disease against
Indian continues at least until antibiotics become readily
available. So by time Pollitzer and Brown did their study,
say the group was 8%African, 2% Indian, 20% Mediterranean
and 70% North European in ancestry.
 Since the English
standard is intermediate between the black and the Indian,
they could well have missed 2% Indian, just including it in the
"white". The Mediterranean would be split between the black
and the white. So by using the wrong standards and by dealing
with averages of gene frequencies, they could easily double
the black input because of Mediterranean content and miss the
small but still existing Indian input.
What I want to stress is first that we are primarily derived from
groups with a direct descent from Indian groups, so our culture
represents Indian culture gradually being swamped by the
surrounding white culture. Secondly, all the Indian groups of the
Southeast were joined by many free mulattos, so one simply can
not claim Indian descent without admitting black as well. With the
selection against Indian ancestry by disease, this mulatto input was
magnified in its effect. The Lumbee, who tested out to be 50% black,
40% white and 10% Indian racially, are probably typical of those
Indian groups who had not already gained a large degree of disease
resistance by incorporating a large Mediterranean input. Even there,
the input was substantial, for there were many free mulattos with no
other niche in society where they would be accepted besides these
Indian groups.

Sorry to be so long-winded on this topic.
From the Melungeon Family Genealogy Forum, answer to question, "How Melungeon am I?":
I guess this question really falls to me, with my background in population genetics, albeit with cattle, but human genetics is not so different. I started my research on Melungeons and other Mestees as part of a project on the Dusky Seaside Sparrows, to determine if they are extinct since they went down to a few males and had to be saved by outbreeding to Scott's Seaside Sparrow females. I was looking at the state laws on how white someone had to be classified as white. The two most extreme states were Tennessee and Arkansas, which state that a person with any known black African ancestry is black, no matter how little or if it can be detected.
American Indians have had a lot of fights over "blood quantum" and acceptance as Indians. The government requires at least one-eighth Indian ancestry to qualify for Indian benefits.
The last census states that race classification is self-determined, a person is what they say they are. So these are the parameters within which we are working.
I guess everyone agrees that Melungeons were formed during the period from the establishment of the first successful English colony in Virginia in 1607 and the passing of the fourteenth amendment in 1864 (I believe). Prior to 1607, the Indians received some outside genes but remained culturally Indian. Some groups may have become genetically mostly Mediterranean before 1607, but that is hard to prove. Between 1607 and 1864, large numbers of free blacks, mulattos, quadroons, octaroons, etc., joined the Indians. Many groups lost their Indian language and most of the culture as a result, and most of them were genetically swamped both because of the numbers joining them and because disease killed so many of the more Indian individuals, children in particular.
After 1864, there is no distinction of free versus slave and part black individuals mostly stayed in the black community. This marks the end of the formation of Mestee groups. So the only substantial inputs to the Melungeons after 1864 are from breeding with the surrounding whites and accepting a few individuals who were already mixed, especially from other Mestee communities.

If one accepts, as I believe most Melungeons do, that the Melungeon ancestral population in 1864 included all mixed race individuals in the Melungeon areas, northern North Carolina and neighboring Virginia, eastern Tennessee, western Virginia, eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia, southern Ohio, northern Alabama, western Louisiana and neighboring Texas, and around Dead Lake in the Florida panhandle, there were a lot of Melungeons then. If one accepts all descendants from any of them as Melungeons, the number becomes very large indeed. I guess those who have been incorporated in the white community and don't want to be classed as Melungeon anymore are lost to the group, however, so the number is reduced probably to about what it was 1864.
Of course, many of the Melungeons in 1864 were accepted officially as white, and it is impossible to know to what extent they were socially acceptable in the white community. One could look for black traits like flat feet (the one which has legal precedent as being used to exclude a Melungeon from the voting rolls), lobeless ears, keloid scarring, short noses, diseases like sarcoidosis, etc., but the absence of all of these would not mean that a person did not trace back to 1864 Melungeons.
So my recommendation would be that a Melungeon is anyone who says they are melungeon. They should have an ancestor who was mixed and living in the Melungeon formative areas prior to 1864.

I have a hypothetical example of someone who I would want to include who does not have such an ancestor, though. Say two young Lebanese, a Muslim woman and a Christian man, fell in love in the late 1800's. Rejected by both families because of the religious difference, they elope. Finding themselves unacceptable in white society because they are dark with black, wavy hair, they join a Melungeon group and their children grow up as part of the Melungeon community. There you are, people who are not mixed, who have neither black African or Native American ancestry, but who have become part of a Melungeon community after 1864. Melungeon enough for me, how about the rest of you?
As for your worry about cousins marrying, it is only detrimental if they happen to both carry the genes for some defect. How much worse for two people who meet through being treated for some hereditary disease like diabetes, epilepsy or sickle cell anemia to marry.
Mike (McGlothlen) Nassau