Melungeons Beginning to Emerge from Mists

border crossings bookDescribing himself as “a cultural geographer by training,” Peter McCormick contributed an interesting chapter mentioning Melungeons to a recent volume of political science and anthropological essays. Titled Border Crossings:  Transnational Americanist Anthropology, the collection is edited by Kathleen Sue Fine-Dare and Steven Rubinson and published by the University of Nebraska Press (2009). It may be the first time a practicing academic historian has committed to a considered opinion on the subject since Melungeons first appeared on the radar of Americanists with Price’s “tri-racial isolate” definition in the 1950s.

McCormick has a Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma and is an associate professor of Southwest studies and Native American and indigenous studies at Fort Lewis College in Colorado. His most recent work has been on the autogeography and autohistory of his extended family in the plains, the Southwest, Appalachia, Iberia, South America and the Mediterranean.

Here’s how he describes Melungeons (p. 286):

The Melungeon population of Appalachia has been the subject of a tremendous amount of interest and controversy lately. A consensus appears to be building that this population, once thought to be small, is rather large and is a result of the mixing of Iberian and Middle Eastern settlers who had been part of Spanish and English trading parties with the indigenous population of the American Southeast. Later migrations into the Piedmont and upper South by refugees of the Inquisition (Sephardic Jews and Moors) in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries supplemented this population (see Hirschman 2005; Kennedy and Kennedy 1997). Our families were of this mixture.

Professor McCormick goes on to write about his personal Melungeon genealogy:

Sephardic names include Cuba, Pillo Monnis Callahin, Jorgas, Nassi, Khanadi, Rosa, David, Baez, Santos and Gascon. The families that were at one point crypto Jews include Kieffer, Mayabb, Dula D’Aultun, Baigne and Ball.  Our Melungeon families are Sizemore, Yates, Brashears, Collins, Lucas, Noel, Bass, Kennedy, Davis, Nash, Mullins, Center and Carrico. The family names on the Miller-Guion and Dawes rolls include Tunnell, Mabe, Waller, Yates and Doolin.

McCormick’s testimony and evaluation of the evidence, together with his willingness to name names and self-identify as a Melungeon in academia, are important signs that the Melungeon thesis advanced by Kennedy and further documented by Hirschman and others is winning the day.

We thank McCormick for his part in bringing the true story of Jewish and Middle Eastern ancestry in Appalachia to a wider attention.

Review of Border Crossings
For anthropologists and social scientists working in North and South America, the past few decades have brought considerable change as issues such as repatriation, cultural jurisdiction, and revitalization movements have swept across the hemisphere. Today scholars are rethinking both how and why they study culture as they gain a new appreciation for the impact they have on the people they study. Key to this reassessment of the social sciences is a rethinking of the concept of borders: not only between cultures and nations but between disciplines such as archaeology and cultural anthropology, between past and present, and between anthropologists and indigenous peoples.

Border Crossings is a collection of fourteen essays about the evolving focus and perspective of anthropologists and the anthropology of North and South America over the past two decades. For a growing number of researchers, the realities of working in the Americas have changed the distinctions between being a “Latin,” “North,” or “Native” Americanist as these researchers turn their interests and expertise simultaneously homeward and out across the globe.

Melungeon DNA Studies

More information about Melungeons
Toward a Genetic Profile of Melungeons in Southern Appalachia
Melungeon Studies
Melungeon Match

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