Friday, January 28, 2011

The Infamous Walter Plecker and his Letters cont.

This letter was written by Mrs. John Trottwood Moore, State Librarian and Archivist in reply to Walter A. Plecker's letter of inquiry about the location of the Melungeons.
August 12, 1942
Mrs. John Trottwood Moore
Letter to Walter Plecker
Regarding Melungeon Classification
August 12, 1942
Mr. W. A. Plecker,
State Registrar
Bureau of Vital Statistics
Richmond, Virginia
My dear Sir:
The Secretary of State has sent your letter to my desk for reply.
You have asked us a hard question.
The origin of the Melungeons has been a disputed question in Tennessee ever
since we can remember.
Hancock County was established by an Act of the General Assembly passed
January 7th, 1844 and was formed from parts of Claiborne and Hawkins
Newman's Ridge, which runs through Hancock county north of Sneedville, is
parallel with Clinch River and just south of Powell Mountain. The only map
on which we find it located is edited by H. C. Amick and S. J. Folmsbee of
the University of Tennessee in 1941 published by Denoyer-Geppert Co., 5235
Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, listed as [TN 7S]* TENNESSEE. On this map is shown
Newman's Ridge as I have sketched it on this little scrap of paper, inclosed
  But we do not have the early surveys showing which county it as originally
in. It appears that it may have been in Claiborne according to the Morris
Gazetteer of Tennessee 1834 which includes this statement: "Newman's Ridge,
one of the spurs of Cumberland Mountain, in East Tennessee, lying in the
north east angle of Claiborne County, west of Clinch River, and east of
Powell's Mountain. It took its name from a Mr. Newman who discovered it in
Early historians of East Tennessee who lived in that section and knew the
older members of this race refer to Newman's Ridge as "quite a high mountain
  extending through the entire length of Hancock County, and into Claiborne
County on the west. It is between Powell Mountain on the north and Clinch
River on the south." Capt. L. M. Jarvis, an old citizen of Sneedville wrote
in his 82nd year: "I have lived here at the base of Newman's Ridge,
Blackwater, being on the opposite side, for the last 71 years and well know
the history of these people on Newman's Ridge and Blackwater enquired about
as Melungeons. These people were friendly to the Cherokees who came west
with the white imigration from New River and Cumberland, Virginia, about the
year 1790...The name Melungeon was given them on account of their color. I
have seen the oldest and first settlers of this tribe who first occupied
Newman's Ridge and Blackwater and I have owned much of the lands on which
they settled.. They obtained their land grants from North Carolina. 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. They took their names from white people of that name with whom they
came here. They were reliable, truthful and faithful to anything they
promised. 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 fort and called it Ft. Blackamore after Col. Blackamore who was with
them... When Daniel Boone was here hunting 1763-1767, these Melungeons were
not here."
The late Judge Lewis Shepherd, prominent jurist of Chattanooga, went further
in his statements in his "Personal Memoirs", and contended that this
mysterious racial group descended from the Phoenicians of Ancient Carthage.
This was his judgment after investigations he made in trying a case
featuring the complaint that they were of mixed Negro blood, which attempt
failed, and which brought out the facts that many of their ancestors had
settled early in South Carolina when they migrated from Portugal to America
about the time of the Revolutionary war, and later moved into Tennessee. At
the time of this trial covered by Judge Shepherd "charges that Negro blood
contaminated the Melungeons and barred their intermarriage with Caucasians
created much indignation among families of Phoenician descent in this
But I imagine if the United States Census listed them as mulattoes their
listing will remain. But it is a terrible claim to place on people if they
do not have Negro blood. I often have wondered just how deeply the census
takers went into an intelligent study of it at that early period.
I have gone into some detail in this reply to explain the mooted question
and why it is not possible for me to give you a definite answer. I hope this
may assist you to some extent.
Mrs. John Trotwood Moore
State Librarian and Archivist
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