In his paper, “Cherokee Communities of the South”, written in 1978 and published a year later, Robert Thomas analyzes and discussed the various groups of people of Native ancestry in the Eastern US who are not part of the official Cherokee tribe, but claim affiliation with or descent from the Cherokee. It is a very interesting paper and can be downloaded for free at this link: http://works.bepress.com/robert_thomas/24/
Note – if you have an original of this paper WITH page 30, please, PLEASE, send me page 30.
Mr. Thomas makes two very interesting statements in his paper. Unfortunately, he is deceased, or I could ask him about his sources. But since I can’t, I’m asking if any of you have any information that might be useful. Let’s take a look at what he says.
“There is a third and early small migration of Indians into the Appalachian area. It came into the region of Asheville, then went north along the French Broad River into east Tennessee. It appears to have “petered out” at this point. I am not clear as to the source of this stream. There are some indications that it came from a settlement of largely Hatteras Indians on the Neuse River near New Bern, North Carolina, on the coast. It may have originated in Granville County, or in both communities. There is evidence that there was intermarriage and movement between the Indian settlement in Granville County and the one on the Neuse. This is not an important stream in the history of Appalachia and we will have to wait for further investigation to be sure of its source.”
Given my numerous years of Native research focused on the eastern tribes, I was surprised to see this comment, as I’ve never heard of this before. I would love to be able to find and track some confirmed Hatteras families, but who are they?
I do know that for years, the Lumbee have claimed Hatteras ancestors of course, and that the older people could go back to the coastland and knew where their land was. Of course, those “older people” were “older people” a long time ago, in the late 1800s, so now that knowledge, whatever it was, is long gone. But maybe these two items are related. If anyone knows any specifics about the Lumbee and their eastern coastal relations, please, please, let me know.
Mr. Thomas’s second statement is as follows:
“It appears that when these people from Granville County first came into Appalachia, they were known to whites as Melungeons. In fact, some whites in southwest Virginia and east Tennessee still refer to these people as Melungeons. I would guess that this term was used by these Indians when whites asked their nationality. There is some evidence that his term was applied to early Indians in Robeson County, as well. It appears to have been a term that originated around New Bern, North Carolina. It was coined by the French speaking settlers of that section. It connotes a population that is mixed, coming from the French word melange, “to mix”; thus, Melungeons.”
To be sure, there are just about as many origin stories or hypothesis for the word Melungeon as there are drops of rain, but Thomas was an academic with no horse in this race. He obviously had found something, but what? The first written account of the word Melungeon is found in the Stoney Creek Church Minutes of Russell (now Scott) County, Virginia in 1813. According to various court records, the term was apparently used in both the Robeson County areas of North Carolina and the adjacent border counties of South Carolina in reference to people living there in the late 1700s. So it’s entirely possible that the term might have originated in the New Bern area.
These two statements, combined, if in fact they can be associated, certainly generate more questions than answers. Does anyone have any research that might suggest what it was that Mr. Thomas came across?