Recently I went to the Hancock County Historical Society in that northern sliver of Tennessee that the rest of the state forgot exists. It kind of makes you understand why East Tennessee generally sided against secession. This specifically is in Sneedville, Tennessee, a full county seat without a McDonald’s or a Taco Bell.
Hancock County is the area where the Melungeon people came from, which I’ve written about before. This is why I look like a Muslim terrorist instead of an Aryan superman. It’s really hard to find information on the internet about the Melungeons, so like a salmon swimming upstream, I traveled to my ancestral homeland of the Cumberland Mountains to lay my eggs.
There wasn’t much in the actual museum, though I bought some interesting folk-history books in short circulation for less than I could have wasted on an ancestry test. I did get to meet the local historian, a Mr Gibbons, who looks amazingly like my grandfather. Same skin tint, same bald spot, same kind of mole, and fairly similar facial features.
My actual last name is Martin, which I learned is a very common last name in Hancock County (and Tennessee in general), including an allegedly famous bluegrass player. My theory is that a Martin married a Melungeon girl and they or their descendant moved to southern Indiana to find work. This was so common that the Tennessee national anthem is about leaving the mountains to find work in the city. My trip to Hancock County only cemented this theory.
I also have to say that the people were super friendly and accommodating and seemed glad that a stranger came to town to learn more about them (and spend money).
I come from a family of proud cuckservatives who couldn’t bother with caring why we don’t look white. I doubt anyone even knows (I’ve read Melungeon migrants tried to keep it a secret because of the racial structure in America). No one bothered to research it or ask around, despite the vast web of great aunts I know exist. My father just said “we’ve got some Cherokee,” as though not everyone in East Tennessee does. And again, the Martin line comes from Indiana.
Before I wrote that the Melungeons were a tri-racial group that were the descendants from early mullatos. I now reject that theory. There was an early Spanish settlement in South Carolina with some Portuguese hanging around and using Turks as slaves. These were run off, and they headed west to find a holler where no one would ever find you. There they married in with the Injuns, and it appears they spoke a kind of Portuguese creole and practiced some form of Christianity, though it isn’t clear. When the British settlers found them, the people claimed they were Portuguese. That seems pretty convincing to me. There are also folk dances and pictures of clothing that are supposedly identical to what the Turks did and wore, and the word Melungeon is thought to be of Turkish origin, meaning “cursed one,” since God had seemed to abandon them.
There’s some evidence of Jewish and Moorish ancestry, but I’m not convinced.
DNA testing also supports this. I have a printout they gave me in Sneedville, but it isn’t available online. They said this book is the only academic book on the topic and that Mr Collins collaborated on it without credit.
But ultimately it’s a mystery to history where the Melungeons came from, and no pure-bred Melungeon exists, so they can’t do accurate testing.
Previously I claimed to be Black. Now I’m Hispanic and Muslim. I’m the whole rainbow of America. I’d like to claim some victim points, please.
Sneedville is in the southern valley from Newman’s Ridge. The Melungeons mostly lived on the northern side and in Vardy Valley below (as I understand it). There’s a kind of outdoor museum there that was very interesting and provided far more information than the Historical Society.
The area is extremely isolated, and before the invention of Rite Aid, people had to hunt rabbits in the winter to keep from starving. Unsurprisingly the people did not give one single damn about fighting a war for rich people to keep their slaves, as they were more worried about slaughtering the hog and protecting their families.
This is kind of mean to say, but in some of these really isolated areas of Appalachia, you can really see the inbreeding on people’s faces. I especially found this in the Blue Ridges east of the Tri-Cities.
You’ll also find the most depressing housing. Real Appalachian homes aren’t log cabins — they are beaten down trailers and vinyl on cinder block houses crammed against the side of the mountain. But don’t worry — they worship the television as much as you do.
I still haven’t figured out what these people do for work. The whole country can’t be on welfare. This was most stark in the northeastern Blue Ridges in Carter, Johnson and Unicoi counties.
In 1899 the Presbyterians built a school and church to educate and feed the starving brown kids of Newman’s Ridge. Notice the lack of atheists doing this.
There were four clans of Melungeons from whom later families descended: The Gibsons, the Mullins, the Goins, and the Collins. They had dark skin, but not really a negro tint. They were often very tall (my brother is 6’5″) and otherwise had European features.
The local hero of legend is a 600 pound moonshining woman who had 26 kids. They’ve preserved her log cabin. There’s a lesson somewhere in there for today’s America.
I would also recommend the Museum of the Appalachias in Clinton/Norris, Tennessee off I-75 in Anderson County, maybe half an hour from Knoxville.
Sneedville from Newman’s Ridge. The sight was better in person. You’d be amazed how hard it is to get a good mountain photo.
What’s not pictured is a part of America that cares about transgender bathrooms, Crimea, or whether Drumpf is a racist.
The enclosure was too narrow for me to get a good shot. I had to stand to the side of my phone to take this.
The Mahala Mullins Cabin. Notice the logs are planks and not the stereotypical “Lincoln Logs” you played with as a child.
The Vardy Community Presbyterian Church. I’m not sure if it’s still active. Looking in the window, it seems to be used for storage.
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