When I requested to administer the Core Melungeon DNA project with Family Tree DNA, July 25, 2005, Penny Ferguson and Janet Crain were also involved, and agreed to be co-administrators. Our objective was for the descendants of the Core families to use DNA and family genealogy to find their core Melungeons progenitors, their siblings and kinfolks, which could tell us who they were and where they came from. By finding matches in the core group they would know which core group of Collins, Gibson, Goins etc. their family was from. Many of the siblings and cousins of the core group did not migrate to this area, thus genealogy and DNA is used to find them. These tests; Y-paternal and mt-maternal would only show the progenitors’ original haplogroups, thus would not prove the Melungeons ethnic makeup (ethnicity).
Family Tree has the largest data base in the world and being notified of others you match sometimes adds to your family tree and may also plot the migration path of your ancestors. When folks view the Melungeon DNA public site they will sometimes see names not common to core Melungeon names, this is because DNA tests within the core group sometimes leads to families of interest when they match other surnames.
Our core Melungeon names were established by written records from men who lived in the days of the first known Melungeon settlement. No written records have been found of a Melungeon settlement existing prior to the Newman Ridge Blackwater group. No written document has presently been uncovered naming Melungin, Melungeons, or any such name prior to the 1813 minutes of Stony Creek Church.
The Stony Creek Church minutes is a real
Capt. L.M. Jarvis, an old citizen of Sneedville wrote in his 82nd year:
“These people were friendly to the Cherokees who came west with the white immigration from New River and Cumberland, Virginia, about the year 1790.The name Melungeon was given them on account of their color. I personally knew Vardy Collins, Solomon D. Collins, Shepard Gibson, Paul Bunch and Benjamin Bunch and many of the Goodmans, Moores, Williams and Sullivans, all of the very first settlers and noted men of these friendly Indians. In the Civil War most of the Melungeons went into the Union army and made good soldiers. Their Indian blood has about run out. They are growing white. They have been misrepresented by many writers. In former writings I have given their stations and stops on their way as they emigrated to this country with white people, one of which places was at the mouth of Stony Creek on Clinch River in Scott County, Virginia, where they built a fort and called it Ft. Blackmore after Col. Blackmore who was with them. When Daniel Boone was here hunting 1763-1767, these Melungeons were not here." This 1790 date for the migration would also include Grainger County formed 1796 from Hawkins and Claiborne County formed 1801 from Grainger and Hawkins. ( this letter from Jarvis used by Mrs. John Trotwood Moore in her August 12, 1942 response to a letter from Walter Plecker.)
In Jarvis article in Sneedville Times April 17, 1903, he was 71 years old. He does not name the Moores, Williams and Sullivans but adds James Collins, Mike Bolin, John Bolin and some not remembered.. He also adds “Their word is their bond. The first ones of them, who came to Hancock County, TN, then to Hawkins County and Claiborne, are well remembered by some of the present generation here now. And they left records to show these facts.”
The names we have listed on the core project are not set in stone. From the beginning of this DNA project we stated; "Others may be added as this research continues." I'm sure many who joined the core Melungeon DNA project have spent countless hours tracing the families they have matched in the Family Tree Data base. Everyone needs to be aware that Family Tree has the largest data base of any DNA testing company in the world and they notify you and the person you match. Your genealogy, either confirms those matches, or you try to correct your genealogy. Finding others you match sometimes adds ancestors you never knew existed. We have recently added Melungeon_Families to our DNA projects for related families and families of interest.
These core families migrated to Tennessee and southwest Virginia from North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Some who started this migration from the Pamunkey River area lived to own land on Newman Ridge, this migration journey was over 50 years. From Louisa and Hanover County to the Flat River 1750 to1767, then to Indian lands 1767 along the New River, then to Fort Blackmore 1800-1804 some left Stony Creek to Blackwater in 1801. The reason I list these places is because they always left a few behind.
I first visited the Flat River area in 1999 and stayed in Roxboro, county seat for Person County, North Carolina for two days and spent some time in the Flat River Baptist Church area. This church was established in 1750 and was the same denomination as those churches established along the Clinch River in 1800 such as Blackwater and Stony Creek. I did not find anyone who knew about the Melungeons. In the summer of 2010 I contacted the Person County Historical Society in hopes of finding core names such as Collins, Gibson, Bunch and Goins. A Mrs. Whitfield who was a life long member and had worked 35 years as a clerk in the court house was really helpful, although she had never heard of the Melungeons. She gave me the name of the Sappony Indian Chief and a Mr. Stewart who gave me some valuable information on his people and others, but as of yet we have not found any core names who remained in that area. We need to locate people with these core names who would volunteer for a DNA test, especially in Louisa and Hanover County, Virginia. Finding matches in this area could lead to a new discovery.
What do we mean by families of Interest? A good example is the Vardiman family who were neighbors to the Collins in the New River settlement; John Vardeman was on the same tax list with John Collins, who may be the father of Vardy, in Botetourt County, Virginia. This is also evident by family naming patterns. The name Letitia in the Vardeman and Vardiman Collins family. Vardy named his oldest son Morgan and a daughter Letitia which appears to come from Letitia (Evans) Morgan who was the mother of Elizabeth (Morgan) Vardeman. Elizabeth Morgan Vardeman was the wife of John Vardeman. To find this possible relation mtDNA tests would be needed since this is a maternal connection.
“ John Vardeman (John Vardeman II) married
(Elizabeth Betsy Morgan – a native of Wales) in south Carolina & soon
after removed & settled in Bedford Co. Va., & there (illegible) united with the
Baptists, & ever after continued religious professions – Abt. The year 1767
moved to New River; in 1777 removed to Clinch, & there forted at Shadrach
Whites’s, in the neighborhood of the Maiden Spring fork of Clinch – the Skeggs
– James & Henry, & Richards, all noted hunters - & their families, all forted at
the same time at White’s. ……”
Source: Lyman Copeland Draper Manuscripts, Kentucky Papers, Reel 12 C,
pages 63-?, Interview with Morgan Vardeman, son of John Vardeman Jr.,
conducted May 25-26th 1868, probably in Lincoln County, Kentucky.
There seems to be a great interest in the Melungeons ethnic mixtures on the Internet. The most popular being Native American. Descendants of the Collins and Gibson Families who migrated to Kentucky claim they were Saponia Indians, but some from the related Collins families who stayed in the Hancock County area favored Portuguese. There may have been unreasonable expectation that the Core Melungeon DNA Project would solve this question once and for all. DNA tests have not yet proven any of the above.
When the head Collins families on Newman Ridge along with the Minor family were charged for Illegal Voting in 1845, it was because the state claimed they were free colored and not allowed to vote. You can be sure in their defense they named their race and from reports of people who lived in that time period they claimed to be Portuguese.
From Sandra Keys Ivey dissertation was a letter written by J.G. Rhea to Martha Collins and I quote; “I knew when I was a boy Navarrh, or as he was called Vardy Collins was a fine old patriarch said to be of Portuguese nationality he settled on Blackwater Creek and owned Vardy Mineral Spring. I was at his home often with other boys. He was highly respected in his time and founded a Church at his home. He had sons and daughters, Alfred Collins, Morgan Collins, and Allen Collins were his sons. Etha Goins, Clarkie Biggs and Letitia Williams were his daughters.”
This message is not intended to speak for our other project Administrators; Janet Crain, Penny Ferguson, Roberta Estes and Kathy James, but to respond to negative opinions expressed by people who do not understand our Core Melungeon DNA program. We are hoping by the end of 2011 we will know more about our ancestors as this research continues. Jack Goins Administrator