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The term melungeon has been applied to a number of peoples in isolated areas (primarily in Appalachia) which are geographically and racially mixed. Melungeons were located primarily in the Tennessee counties of Hawkins, Hancock and Rhea. In Virginia they were concentrated in the counties of Wise, Scott, Lee and Dickenson. In North Carolina they found refuge in Ashe, Yancey, Surry and Alleghaney Counties. The West Virginia mountains also provided safety for other family members. The Kentucky counties of Harlan, Letcher, Floyd, and Pike were also receptive to the melungeons.

Families may be composed of family members from a combination of European, African and native American sources. Most often the family members are various combinations of the above but can also include those who appear to be more of one race than another.

During the initial period of expansion of slavery in the English colonies, it was not unusual for gypsies from various parts of Europe to be rounded up and shipped to the English colonies as endentured servants. This group was initially housed with the other servants and contributed to the overall gene pool.

Because of real or perceived stigmas associated with the mixing of races and peoples, some of our relatives have claimed to be of other ethnicities. In the South Carolina districts and in Eastern Tennessee, for instance, it was not unusual for melungeons to claim to be Portugese.

The difference between a Melungeons and Mulattos is that Melungeons were not born as slaves and Mulattoes were born as slaves, unless the Mulatto’s mother had been set free before their birth.

John Geaween, Mihil Gowen

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