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Sorry, Jack, no cigar. Your Grandpa's Indians are not what you think. And it is not true "most free African American families that originated in colonial Virginia and Maryland descended from white servant women who had children by slaves or free Africans" (source). Negro males did not go around selectively "fathering" little man-children on "white servant women" in early America.
It is ironic that these fantasies should even emerge in the recently publicized report, "Melungeon DNA Study Reveals Ancestry, Upsets a 'Whole Lot of People.'" The authors of the report, Roberta J. Estes, Jack H. Goins, Penny Ferguson and Janet Lewis Crain, have spent the better part of ten years trying to prove they and others with Melungeon ancestry are just plain folks, that is, white folks.
Maybe they are just that, though. Among the conclusions of the report are that Melungeons aren't Portuguese, aren't Native American, aren't Jewish, aren't Romani/Gypsy, aren't . . . . On and on. They just have a teeny-tiny bit of Sub-Saharan African in some lines. Not to worry, though, it is just a little soupçon of non-white. And it goes back to a few heroic "negroes" (the report's language) who left a trace their Sub-Saharan African Y chromosomes in the fathers and sons and grandpas of three Melungeon families.
From an article published, lo! way back in 2002 in the Appalachian Quarterly, now sadly defunct,
Shalom and Hey, Y'all (243 KB)
comes the true story of these "negroes" (the report's language) fathering "multiethnic" babies on innocent white indentured servant women.
In discussing the will of Indian trader James Adair, the author of the study remarks on the fact that Adair did not apparently approve of his daughter Agnes marrying John Gibson (from the selfsame Melungeon Gibson family that is creating all the brouhaha today). (Agnes, by the way, was not an indentured servant; her father had a considerable fortune.)
"Notice the harsh treatment Adair accords his daughter Agnes, leaving her and her husband John Gibson the nominal sum of only one shilling (if he had left her nothing, she could have protested to the probate court that he simply forgot her). John was one of the “mulatto” Gibsons of the Great Pee Dee river valley region. Gideon Gibson stands large on the pages of history for his role in the so-called Regulators Revolt. The Gideon Glass Antiques Store today pays testimony to the “richest man in South Carolina” of his time. When members of the Gibson family first moved to the state in 1731, representatives in the House of Assembly complained “several free colored men with their white wives had immigrated from Virginia.” Governor Robert Johnson summoned Gibson and his family and reported:
I have had them before me in Council and upon Examination find that they are not Negroes nor Slaves but Free people, That the Father of them here is named Gideon Gibson and his Father was also free, I have been informed by a person who has lived in Virginia that this Gibson has lived there Several Years in good Repute and by his papers that he has produced before me that his transactions there have been very regular. That he has for several years paid Taxes for two tracts of Land and had several Negroes of his own, That he is a Carpenter by Trade and is come hither for the support of his Family [Box 2, bundle: S.C. Minutes of House of Burgesses (1730-35), 9, Parish Transcripts, N.Y. Hist. Soc. By Jordan, White over Black, 172.]
"The Gibsons are discussed as Melungeons in Brent Kennedy and as true-to-form Sephardic Jews in Hirschman. Melungeon Gibsons derive their origins from the Chavis family, one of the oldest Portuguese-Jewish names in America. If they are Jewish, it is ironic—and probably funnier than any Fanny Brice skit—that historians trot them forth as shining examples of non-slave African American colonials owning land and marrying white women."
The moral of the story? Melungeons have often been hauled into court to prove they are not black. Now they are being dragged through the court of Internet opinion. The outcome is doubtful.
Now about those Indians . . . That will have to wait until another blog post.
Photo: Black Revolutionary soldier. Blackpast.org.
Article cited: Donald N. Panther-Yates, “Shalom and Hey, Y’all: Jewish-American Indian Chiefs in the Old South,” Appalachian Quarterly 7/2 (June 2002) 80-89.
More information about Melungeons
Toward a Genetic Profile of Melungeons in Southern Appalachia
Melungeon DNA Fingerprint Plus
The War on Melungeons
Shalom and Hey, Y'all (243 KB)