Saturday, August 1, 2009

Questioning the Existence of Genetic Diseases Among Melungeons

I'm sure most folks visiting this blog have heard some say there are Melungeon diseases and other physical characteristics such as six fingers and toes, Anatolian knot, etc. Some have probably visited a well known website, which despite the owner's denial, gives every appearance of advocating the existence of Melungeon diseases.

Let us first examine who the Melungeons were and then try to look at this from a genealogical and scientific viewpoint.

The oldest known record, 1848, which identifies the Melungeons ethnic mixture and the location where they lived:

"You must know that within ten miles of this owl's nest, there is a watering-place, and Mineral Springs in Vardy, Hancock County, Tennessee known hereabouts as 'black-water springs.' It is situated in a narrow gorge, scarcely half a mile wide, between Powell's Mountain and the Copper Ridge, and is, as you may Suppose, almost inaccessible. Now this gorge and the tops and sides of the adjoining mountains are inhabited by a singular species of the human animal called MELUNGENS. We stopped at 'Old Vardy's, the hostelries of the vicinage. Old Vardy is the 'chief cook and bottle-washer' of the Melungens, and is really a very clever fellow: but his hotel savors strongly of that peculiar perfume that one may find in the sleeping-rooms of our Negro servants.

The Melungeons carefully preserved the Legend of their history." This "Legend" according to the writer in Littell’s Living age, included an original descent from Portuguese adventures who later mixed with Indians,Negroes, and whites to form the present race.(Littell's Living Age, March, 1849 The Melungens, This was reprinted from the Knoxville Register September 6, 1848, quoting from the Louisville Examiner. This issue of the Knoxville Register has not been located.)

There appears to be no reason for this writer to have invented this detail, "The Melungeons carefully preserved the 'Legend of their history'." This "Legend" according to the writer, included an original descent from Portuguese adventures and later intermarriages with Indians, Negroes, and whites. The visit to Vardy in 1848 was revisited to his grand-children about 50 years later. " on Friday July 2, 1897.C.H. Humble returned to the same place as the writer in Littell’s Living age. This visit may have been to a mission house, because a New Presbyterian Church was completed in 1899.

"On Friday forenoon, July 2, (1897) the writer and Rev. Joseph Hamilton, of Parkersburg, West Virginia, started in a hack from Cumberland Gap, Tennessee for Beatty Collins, chief of the Melungeons, in Blackwater."

Using Vardy Collins as a benchmark for Melungeon identity: Vardemon Collins was born sometime around 1767 in Botetourt, County, Virginia, in an area now in Grayson County. He was known in the community as Vardy, but most legal documents, including his first grant in Hawkins County, used his given first name. On one bond he was called Vardy Collins, but signed his name Vardimon Collins, named from his grand-father John Vardiman.

A list of Tithables for 1771 in Botetourt County, Virginia, along the New River:

Capt. William Herbert’s Company

Charles Collins 1
John Collins 4
Samuel Collins 2
John Vardeman 1
(Mary B. Kegley, New River Tithables, 1972 (2nd print, 1973)

Since JOHN COLLINS was married to a daughter of JOHN VARDEMAN it is likely that VARDEMAN COLLINS was their son. Other evidence suggests that SAMUEL COLLINS was the oldest member of this group. Perhaps he was the father of CHARLES and JOHN. (C Goyne)

Vardiman "Vardy" Collins appears on a 1790 tax list of Wilkes County, North Carolina with two males and four females in his family. This area became Ashe County in 1799 and Vardy Collins land fell in the new county. Vadery (Vardy) and his family is listed on the 1800 census of Ashe County, North Carolina, as "6 free colored." Vardy Collins also shows up in Wilkes County court records, but no records have been found in this area which use the term "Melungeon." Vardy moved from Ashe County, North Carolina to the Blackwater area of Hawkins County in the early 1800s along with several others. According to attorney Lewis M. Jarvis they were "derisively dubbed" with the name "Melungeon" by their white neighbors who lived here among them. Most likely between 1800 and 1813.

It has been at least 200 years since these dark skin settlers were derisively dubbed with the name Melungeon, or at least seven generations, which adds 128 grand-parents to each Melungeon family. These families migrated to all parts of the United States, thus the so-called diseases would not be confined to the Appalachian area.

My question is how could any logical thinking person come up with Melungeon diseases from the makeup of the original Melungeons?. We know Portugal was made up of several ethnic groups, then add the Native American, the African, plus the white settlers. Another question is, what combination of these groups caused them to be labeled fpc, thus Melungeons? Most likely it would be a combination of the African and Native American. Then add all our other parents up to the present generation. Some diseases may be inherted from a certain ancestor, (founder effect) but this would be a medical scientific conclusion. This founder effect in this group has not been observed by any scientific study. And would this rare occurrence have happened 5 times with 5 different rare diseases?

One Melungeon writer claims she has a Mediterranean disease that would cause a reader to infer Melungeons are prone to, but lists no study for a connection between Melungeons and these Mediterranean diseases; such as Familial Mediterranean Fever, Behçet's syndrome, Thalassemia, Sarcoidosis and Macho-Joseph Disease. And the fact she adds no genealogy to prove a Melungeon connection puts this claim on shaky ground.

Additionally, the so-called Melungeon physical traits such as the Anatolian Knot and extra fingers and toes which have not been observed in any known Melungeon descendants are pure nonsense and deserve no credence at all.

Jack Goins

None of these Diseases.......

by Janet Crain

On the Internet you are likely to encounter sites suggesting that Melungeon people or their descendants are prone to several serious diseases. There is no proof of this theory other than anecdotal recounting of personal experiences. In other words, NO PROOF!!!!

This has led to a completely false characterations of Melungeons as sickly and frail in fiction and even in non fiction books.

On the contrary these people lived the harsh life of pioneers and still lived to advanced ages. There is no proof that Melungeons even have Mediterranean ancestry, so it seems foolish to include them as subject to acquiring any of these Mediterranean diseases. Could a person of Melungeon descent acquire one of these diseases? Of course, but it would not have anything to do with their Melungeon ancestry.

One contributing factor to this theory is the myth of Drake's Turks which has now been exposed as a vast exaggeration. No large group has been proven to have been dropped off on Roanoke or anywhere else on the Eastern Seaboard. Conditions existing there at the time render the survival chances of any such people nil.

  • Behçet's SYNDROME

Machado-Joseph Disease has been removed

The Melungeon Historical Society, MHS does not endorse the theory of Melungeon people being any more prone to any diseases than the general populations.


This article is not intended to provide medical advice or diagnosis. Consult
a medical health professional if you think you might be suffering from a
medical condition.

© History Chasers

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110 Year Old Melungeon Man Interviewed

Melungeons Ways Are Passing

News-Sentinel Staff Writer
Sneedville, Tenn

By Willard Yarbrough,
April 26, 1972

Spring air was nippy along Blackwater Creek in Vardy Valley. So chilly, in fact, that Howard Mullins lifted his hands with palms exposed to coal fed flames of the open fire. Such delicate hands, calloused from field work and 110 winters spent in isolated hill country where necessities of life long since have become luxuries to a mysterious people to whom Mullins belongs. He is one of the last of the Melungeons, oldest of them all in Hancock County, which has been home to the Melungeons for 200 years.

Those left in Snake Hollow, Blackwater, Vardy and Mulberry - are few in number, Most have left the hills for jobs in cities far and near. And time is catching up with those remaining. In 1931 there were 40 Melungeon families living on Newman's Ridge above their ancestral home. Today, only two families remain on the steep ridges. Genealogist William P. Grohse Sr., who lives near Mullins, estimates there may be under 200 families left in the country.

Cont. here: