Excerpts from Malungu: The African Origin of the American Melungeons

Excerpts from MALUNGU: The African Origin of the American Melungeons by Tim Hashaw

1. The very first black ancestors of Melungeons appeared in tidewater Virginia, not in the 18th century, but in 1619.

2. Not one single Melungeon family can be traced to a white plantation owner and his black female slave. The vast majority of the African ancestors of Melungia were freeborn for more than three hundred years.

This bears repeating.

Melungeons are not the offspring of white southern plantation owners and helpless black slaves. Most of the African ancestors of Melungeons were never chattel slaves. They were frequently black men freed from indentured servitude just like many white servants of the 17th century. Less often, African ancestors of the Melungeons either purchased their freedom from slavery or were freed upon the deaths of their masters.

The black patriarchs of the Melungeons were commonly free African-American men who married white women in Virginia and other southern colonies, often before 1700. Paul Heinegg in his revealing book, “Free African Americans in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware” provides strong evidence that less than one percent of all free Africans were born of white slave-owners.

Melungeons are an ethnically diverse group originating in early 1600s Virginia, Carolina, Maryland, and Delaware. Their descendants’ later spread into Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana, and Texas. The earliest Melungeon ancestors were white northern Europeans, Bantu Africans and North American Indians.

Among the northern Europeans, the Melungeon ancestors include English, Scot, Irish, Welsh, Dutch, and German parents. North American Indian ancestors include people from the tribes of Powhatan, Mattaponi, Monie, Nansemond, Rappahanock, Pamunkey, Chickahominie, Cherokee (Buffalo Ridge) and Choctaw.

From the 1620s, in southern British colonies like Virginia, white northern Europeans intermarried with Indians. They also intermarried with Africans who began entering the American colonies as early as 1619. Melungeons originate from these red, white and black peoples in this period of American history. They began forming identifiable separate mixed communities when the first anti-African laws started restricting some of their freedoms by 1660.

Until recently, not much has been known about the Melungeons’ African ancestors. New evidence now indicates that the black ancestors of Melungeons were peoples of Kimbundu and Kikongo-speaking Angola and historic Kongo along Africa’s lower west coast. The nation of Mbundu in Angola yielded more black ancestors for Melungeons than any other African people.

ANGOLAN ANCESTORS OF MELUNGEONS IN EARLY 17TH CENTURY VIRGINIA, MARYLAND, DELAWARE AND CAROLINA

1620’s: Carter, Cornish, Dale/Dial, Driggers, Gowen/Goins, Johnson, Longo, Mongom/Mongon, Payne

1630’s: Cane, Davis, George, Hartman, Sisco, Tann, Wansey

1640’s: Archer, Kersey, Mozingo, Webb

1650’s: Cuttillo, Jacobs, James

1660’s: Beckett, Bell, Charity, Cumbo, Evans, Francis, Guy, Harris, Jones,Landum/Landrum, Lovina/Leviner, Moore, Nickens, Powell, Shorter, Tate, Warrick/Warwick

In the above lists of surnames there is found other documentation that these Africans arriving from 1620-1660 were mostly Angolan. Anthony Johnson’s grandson named his Maryland plantation “Angola”. The sister of Sebastian Cane was also named “Angola”. Additionally, a number of early place names in Virginia and other original tidewater colonies bear testimony of the 17th century presence of the Melungeons’ African ancestors. A land deed shows reference to “Angola Neck” near Rehoboth Beach in Delaware as early as 1680. In Cumberland County, Virginia, an “Angola Creek” was on the map before the 18th century. In North Carolina another Angola Creek is the site of a modern nature preserve. Also several Africans in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (New York) in the early 17th century were surnamed either “Angola”, or “Congo”.

Not all of the paternal surnames passed down to Melungeons were originally borne by Africans in America. Some families such as Banks, Bass, Berry, Chavis, Sweat, Davis, Hanser, Lang, Lawrence, Fisher, Hammond, Lucas, Matthews began with white male or female ancestors from whom certain branches initially intermarried with Indians. However all of these white and Indian families intermarried with Angolans in America, often before 1700.

The original name of malungu used by early Kimbundu and Kikongo-speaking Africans in Virginia, eventually extended to include all mixed red, white and black family members associated with the Angolans in the original southern colonies. The idea of malungu as “shipmates from a common homeland” gradually came to mean”countrymen”, “close friends” and “relatives” in the mobile freeborn Melungeon community. This name would not have included chattel slaves who were separated from the free community by plantation bondage.

LATER 17TH CENTURY FAMILIES ASSOCIATED WITH FREE AFRICAN AMERICANS

1670’s: Anderson, Atkins, Barton, Boarman, Bowser, Brown, Bunch, Buss, Butcher, Butler, Carney, Case, Church, Combess, Combs, Consellor, Day, Farrell/Ferrell, Fountain, Game, Gibson/Gipson, Gregory, Grimes, Grinnage, Hobson, Howell, Jeffries, Lee, Manuel, Morris, Mullakin, Nelson, Osborne, Pendarvis, Quander, Redman, Reed, Rhoads, Rustin, Skipper, Sparrow, Stephens, Stinger, Swann, Waters, Wilson.

1680’s: Artis, Booth, Britt, Brooks, Bryant, Burkett, Cambridge, Cassidy, Collins, Copes, Cox, Dogan, Donathan, Forten/Fortune, Gwinn, Hilliard, Hubbard, Impey, Ivey, Jackson, MacDonald, MacGee, Mahoney, Mallory, Okey, Oliver, Penny, Plowman, Press/Priss, Price, Proctor, Robins, Salmons/Sammons, Shoecraft, Walden, Walker, Wiggins, Wilkens, Williams

1690’s: Annis, Banneker, Bazmore, Beddo, Bond, Cannedy/Kennedy, Chambers, Conner, Cuffee, Dawson, Durham, Ford, Gannon, Gates, Graham, Hall, Harrison, Hawkins, Heath, Holt, Horner, Knight, Lansford, Lewis, Malavery, Nichols, Norman, Oxendine, Plummer, Pratt, Prichard, Rawlinson, Ray, Ridley, Roberts, Russell, Sample, Savoy, Shaw, Smith, Stewart, Taylor, Thompson, Toney, Turner, Weaver, Welsh, Whistler, Willis, Young

These African-American families appeared in the southern tidewater colonies when evidence indicates that most all of the blacks coming to America, were Angolan by birth.

THE EARLIEST MELUNGEON CLANS IN SOUTHERN TIDEWATER COLONIES

The following are some of the first black, white, Indian and mixed families who began intermarrying in the 1600s in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and the Carolinas to produce the people who became known as “Melungeons”.

The African who became known as John Gowen of Virginia, was born about 1615. Before 1775, his descendants had married into the black, white, Indian and mixed families of Ailstock, Bass, Chavis, Corn, Cumbo, Dungill, Findley, Hill, Jones,Locklear, Lucas, Matthews, Mason, Miner, Mills, Patterson, Pompey, Stewart,Simmons, Singleton, Tyre, Webb, and Wilson; many of whom can also be traced to the 17th century.

Thomas Chivers/Chavis was born in 1630. Before 1775, his descendants had married into the mixed families of Bass, Locklear, Singleton, Stewart, Cumbo, Matthews, and Wilson as had descendants of John Gowen. In addition the Chivers/Chavis group intermarried with Bird, Blair, Blythe, Brandon, Bunch, Cannady, Carter, Cypress, Drew, Earl, Evans, Francis, Gibson, Gillet,Haithcock, Harris, Hawley, Hull, Kersey, Lowry, Manly, Manning, Mitchell, McLin, Scott, Silvey, Smith, Snelling, Silver, Sweat, Thaxton, Tyner, Thomerson, Taborn, Valentine, Watts, and Walden; many of whom were 17th century Africans in the British-American colonies.

The family of Eleanor Evans, born in 1660, shares with the Gowen and Chavis families the following names: Bird, Brandon, Chavis, Dunghill, Harris, Kersey, McLinn, Mitchell, Snelling, Scott, Stewart, Sweat, Taborn, and Walden. In addition, the Evans were early related to the families of Anderson, Boyd, Bee, Blundon, Doyal, Green, Hudnall, Hunt, Jeffries, Jones, Lantern, Ledbetter, Penn,Pettiford, Redcross, Richardson, Rowe, Sorrell, Spriddle,Tate, Thomas, Toney, and Young.

The Gibson/Gipson family which descended from Elizabeth Chavis, born in 1672, also shares with the 17th century Gowen, Chavis, and Evans families, the surnames of Bass, Bunch, Chavis, Cumbo, and Sweat. They add Driggers,Deas, Collins, and Ridley.

The family of the Angolan named Emmanuel Driggers, [Rodriggus] born in 1620, also has several families in common with the Gowen, Chavis, Evans and Gibson clans: namely Carter, Collins, Sweat, Gibson, and Mitchell. In addition, the Driggers intermarried with Beckett, Beavens, Bingham, Bruinton, Copes, Fernando, Francisco, George,Gussal, Harman, Hodgeskin, Jeffrey, Johnson, King, Kelly Lindsey, Landrum, Liverpool, Moore, Payne, Reed, and Sample.

From Margarett Cornish, born about 1610, comes the Cornish family with ties to Gowen and Sweat in addition to Shaw and Thorn.

With the Cumbo family dating back to 1644, we have links to Gibson, Gowen, Jeffries, Matthews, Newsom, Wilson and Young in addition to Hammond, Maskill, Potter, and Skipper.

The Bass family originates in 1638 America and shares several connections from an early period with Gowen, Chavis, Evans, Cornish, Driggers, Cumbos and Gibsons which are: Anderson, Byrd, Bunch, Cannady, Chavis, Day, Mitchell, Gowen, Pettiford, Richardson, Snelling, Valentine and Walden. In addition, they are related to the mixed families of Farmer, Hall, Lovina, Nickens, Perkins, Pone, Price, Roe, and Roberts.

If given the space, we could present complex scores of intermarriages of Melungeon and other mixed surnames beginning in the 1600s of colonial America. These common kinships of cousins show the Melungeon society was becoming cohesive and distinctively apart in colonial America at least 100 years before the American Revolution. The Melungeon community began before 1700.

For example: The Banks family originates in 1665 colonial America with related families of Adam, Brown, Day, Howell, Isaacs, Johnson, Lynch, Martin, Walden, Wilson, and Valentine along with several Melungeon surnames.

The Archer family begins in 1647 America with related families; Archie, Bass, Bunch, Heathcock, Manly, Murray, Milton, Newsom, Roberts, and Weaver.

The Bunch clan traces back to 1675 colonial America with kinship to: Bass, Chavis,Chavers, Collins, Gibson, Griffin, Hammons, Pritchard, and Summerlin.

The Beckett family of 1655 ties to Bibbins, Beavens, Collins, Driggers, Drighouse, Liverpool, Mongon, Morris, Moses, Nutt, Stevens, and Thompson.

The family of Carter begins in 1620 America with the related families of: Best, Blizzard, Braveboy, Bush, Cane, Copes, Dove, Driggus, Fernando, Fenner, Godett, George, Harmon, Howard, Jacobs, Jones, Kelly, Lowery, Moore, Norwood, Nicken, Perkins, Rawlinson, and Spellman.

Mixed red, white, and black Melungeons can be found in Virginia and Maryland within one and two generations of the first Mbundu-Angolan appearance in Jamestown in 1619. The general Melungeon community is more than 350 years old in North America.

All of these families descended from, or intermarried with, 17th century Angolans of Virginia. They began building the Melungeon community more than a century before it appeared in Tennessee.

ANGOLANS AND 17TH CENTURY CUSTOM IN VIRGINIA

The two most important social distinctions in early colonial Virginia were Class and Religion. In 1616, John Rolfe brought his newly baptized Algonquian Indian bride Pocahontas to England. Receiving them at court, King James and his courtiers were appalled that Rolfe, an English commoner, had presumed to marry a princess. In the eyes of Europe, Pocahontas was Rolfe’s social superior and the marriage of a princess to an untitled husband was offensive and inappropriate. That Pocahontas was red and Rolfe was white was irrelevant. There was nothing in English literature or thought in the 17th century, which entertained the notion of “white” as a class distinction.

The equality of free whites and free blacks in Virginia in the 1600s can be documented in several areas of colonial life important in the development of the Melungeon community.

1. Free African-Americans could own property.

2. Free African-Americans could own servants of any skin color.

3. There were no laws for most of the 17h century against inter-marriage based on skin color.

4. Free baptized African-Americans were allowed to give testimony in court and hold office.

The most famous Melungeon ancestor in the colonies was the Angolan who took the name Anthony Johnson. His Portuguese name, “Antonio” was shared by a number of other early Virginia African-Americans and because of this, there is confusion over which “Antonio” was actually Anthony Johnson. J. Douglas Deal makes a pretty good argument in “Race and Class in Colonial Virginia” that Anthony Johnson was the Antonio or Anthony of Warrosquoke who married a black woman named Mary. This Antonio was a passenger on the “James” from England or Bermuda to Virginia in 1622. Another Antonio who lived in Kecoughtan, married a black woman named “Isabelle” and had the first recorded African-American infant, William.

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7 thoughts on “Excerpts from Malungu: The African Origin of the American Melungeons

  1. Please look at the family names in Cumberland County NJ. The names Pierce, Murray, Winrow, Jones Clark, Jones make up part of my family tree. Gouldtown dates to the early 1600’s. I think you would be very interested in including this history in your research.

  2. There are many Carney, Dean, Street, Berry, Butler, Mitchell, Harmon, Carter, Ridgeway, Gould, Pierce, Pearce, Sammons, Wright, Winrow Winchester,Valentine families with Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, PA, family ties and connections.

    1. Thanks Donna and the names you mention above, several are in my tree and this particular group were listed as members of the Nanticoke tribe. Which I plan to post about the Nanticokes. Did you see the old news article on Gouldtown. It is has a great quantity of pictures.

  3. This is deep to me! This post is the first time I’ve ever seen a variation of one of my family surnames Cotillier/Cutillo associated with the Melungeon community. Some of the other surnames associated with my Cotillier branch from that era are Francis, Berry, Combs, Epps and a couple/few more that I can’t recall at this time. So interesting, thanks so much!

  4. I am an ancestor of Emmanuel Driggers. I am interested in anymore information that anyone has to share. Thank you!!
    Deborah Driggers Wilkes

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