Wicocomico Indian Nation: Research






Tribal Reps














The purpose of our research site is to put forth new ideas, theories, speculation and articles that in some way may reflect or connect to the Wicocomico Indian Nation and the Powhatan Empire. At no time will we attempt to analyze the Indians mind 400 hundred years later, we will deal in facts that may lead to an intelligent conclusion or theory. The problem today is that many historians try to reconstruct the Indian's mind set based on the training they received in today's world, this is not the way to build a solid base of past history. The prehistoric Indian's mind set and world view can not possibly be reconstructed by contemporary white people with their mind set and world view.

What is amazing is that more historians do not research contemporary Native American Tribes literature, religion, folk lore, and oral history to make rational conclusions concerning the past. In almost all available information on contemporary Native Americans, they all have many things in common, their close relationship to Mother Earth, fire, water wind, the four directions, the circle, and other symbols of their past. This is their culture that has been passed down from their ancestors. Many of these symbols are discussed in the history written by the Europeans 400-500 years ago, a clear indication that, our contemporary Native American Indians continue to have a different world view than the white race, a strong desire to keep and maintain their heritage.

The articles that we place on our site are in no way implying that the subject matter is part of our history or connected to the Wicocomico Indian Nation in any way, but simply stated, an area of research that runs parallel with our research and subject matter may have covered areas that we previously researched.

The following article is submitted by Wayne Winkler, a well known researcher in the origins of the "Melungeons" a group of people that are older than America. Some of his research and theories include the role and connections the Powhatan's have in Melungeon history.


By Wayne Winkler

For more than a century, the Melungeons have been the focus of anthropologists, social scientists, and (especially) feature writers for newspapers and magazines. The most common adjective used to describe the Melungeons is "mysterious;" no one seems to know where the Melungeons originated. More significantly, the Melungeions did not fit into any of the racial categories which define an individual or group within American society, they were considered by their neighbors neither white, black, nor Indian. 

The Melungeons are a group of mixed ethnic ancestry, found primarily in northeastern Tennessee, southwestern Virginia, southeastern Kentucky. Similar groups of "mysterious" people, or at least remnants of these groups, are found all along the Atlantic seaboard. While these other groups have no known connection to the Melungeons, they have suffered similar problems due to the difficulty of placing them within an established racial category. Anthropologists called them "racial islands" or "tri-racial isolates."

Several surnames are associated with the Melungeons, including Collins, Gibson, Goins, Mullins, Bowlin. The Melungeons have historically been associated with Newmans Ridge in Hancock County, Tennessee. Newspapers and magazines have found the Melungeons a fascinating topic since the 1840s, but the Melungeons have resented most of the publicity they have received over the years. Most of the articles on the Melungeons speculated on the legends, folklore, and other theories surrounding their ancestry.

Some of these legends and theories have suggested descent from Spanish or Portuguese explorers, from the "Lost Colonists" of Roanoke Island, from the shipwrecked sailors or pirates of various nationalities, from one of the Lost Tribes of Israel, or from ancient Phoenicians or Carthaginians. More recent theories have proposed that the Melungeons descended from Mediterranean or Middle Eastern ancestors.

None of these theories originated with the Melungeons themselves. Early accounts reflect the Melungeons' self description as "Indians." Some Melungeons reportedly described themselves a Portuguese," or, as many pronounced it, Portyghee."Most of their white neighbors considered the Melungeons a mixture of black and Indian or white, black, and Indian.

There is no consistent definition of the word "Melungeon." Some anthropologists have limited the term to a few families located near Newman's Ridge, while others have expanded "Melungeon" to include other mixed-race groups in the southeastern United States. At one time, the word was used as a racial epithet against a mullatto, at another time as a political epithet for east Tennessee Republicans. The common usage of the term had an element of socio-economic status attached to it; families who were financially successful were not necessarily considered Melungeon, no matter who their ancestors were.

 By the early 1960s, newspaper articles predicted the disappearance of the Melungeons; out-migration and intermarriage with whites had nearly rendered the Melungeons indistinguishable from their white neighbors. However, by the end of that decade, Melungeons in Hancock County were acknowledging and celebrating their heritage with an outdoor drama. By the mid-1900s, a "virtual community" of Melungeons had developed on the internet.

One question which has been examined by nearly every writer on this subject is the origin of the name "Melungeon." The most commonly accepted theory is that the word derived from the French melange, meaning mixture. A French colony in southwestern Viginia in the late 1700s may have dubbed these people with the plural form of melange, which is melangeon or melangeons, which could conceivably have been corrupted to "Melungeon." Another proposed theory for the origin of "Melungeon" is the Afro-Portuguese term meaning melungo, supposedly meaning shipmate." Yet another is the Greek term melan, meaning "black."

Author Brent Kennedy, in arguing a Trukish origin for the Melungeons, maintains that "Melungeons" derives from the Arabic melun jinnand the Turkishmelun can, both pronounced similarly to " Melungeon" and both translated to "cursed soul" "or one who has been abandoned by God."Kennedy maintains that the Melungeons identified themselves by that name.

Historian C.S.Everett suggests another possible origin for the term melongena, originally an Italian term related to the more modern melanzane (pronounced meh lun zhen eh) which means "eggplant." The eggplant has a dark skin, and the term was used to describe sub-Saharan Africans.

Karlton Douglas and Joanne Pexxullo suggests that the word "Melungeon" originated as the old English term "malengin"(singular) or "malengine"(plural). An old copy of Webster's Dictionary defines "malengine" as "Evil machination; guile;deceit. Douglas and Pessullo write, "It is well known the people of Appalachia, and Melungeons in particular, used words that were becoming archaic, and not much in use beyond Appalachia."

Nearly everyone that has written about the Melungeons agrees that they fiercely resented the name. Even in mid-20th century, to call a Hancock Countian a Melungeon was to insult him. The stigma attached to the name "Melungeon" leads most researchers to the conclusion that the name was imposed upon the people, that it was not a name they ever used for themselves.

Most Melungeons in Hancock County lool very much like their "white" neighbors, many of whom are quite swarthy from a lifetime of outdoor work. In 1963, Brewton Berry wrote,"[N]either in their culture nor their economy are they distinguishable from other mountain folk. Among those bearing the telltale surnames are individuals of dark complexion and straight black hair...But the physical features of most of them suggest no other ancestry than white." Some historic descriptions of Melungeons include:

They are tall, straight, well-formed people, of a dark copper color...but wolly heads and other similar appendages of our negro.

They are swarthy complexion, with prominent cheek bones, jet black hair, generally straight but at times having a slight tendancy to curl, and the men have heavy black beards...Their frames are well built and some of the men are fine specimens of physical manhood. They are seldom fat.

While some of them are swarthy and have high Indian cheekbones, the mountain whites, too, often display these same characteristics. Also, many of the Melungeons have light hair, blue eyes, and fair skin.

The color of the skin of a full-blooded, pure Melungeon is a much richer brown than an Indian's skin. It is not the color of a part Indian and part white, for their skin is lighter. The full-blooded, pure Melungeon had more the color of a skin of a person from India and Egypt.

In 1946, William Gilbert presented the first comprehensive survey of tri-racial groups in the U.S. He estimated that there were at least 50,000 person who were "complex mixtures in varying degrees of white, Indian, and Negro blood."

Gilbert listed ten major tri-racial groups with several related groups. These included:

  1. BRASS ANKLES and allied groups in South Carolina, including Red Bones, Red Legs, Turks, Marlboro Blues and others.
  2. CAJANS and CREOLES of Alabama and Mississippi.
  3. CROATANS of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.
  4. GUINEAS of West Virginia and Maryland.
  5. ISSUES of Amherst and Rockingham Counties, Virginia.
  6. JACKSON WHITES of New York and new Jersey.
  7. MELUNGEONS the Southern Appalachians.
  8. MOORS and NANTICOKES of Delaware and New Jersey.
  9. RED BONES of Louisiana.
  10. WESORTS of southern Maryland.