This article is derived from Brent Kennedy’s book The Melungeons: The resurrection of a Proud People published by Mercer University Press (1994)
Nancy Hanks, Abraham Lincoln’s mother, was probably a Melungeon. The people were thought to be of mixed American and Red Indian blood. Yet modern research is proving that these people were descendents of Muslims who may even have preceded the arrival of Columbus himself. It seems America’s greatest President may have had Muslim blood flowing through his veins!
In 1990 Dr. James Guthrie, conducted gene frequency research on 177 Melungeon blood samples. He found no significant differences between the Melungeon people, and the people of Morocco, Algeria and Libya and the Calician mountains of Spain and Portugal, Iraq, Cyprus, Malta, the Canary Islands, certain South American Indians and last but not least, the Turks!
The term “Melungeon”itself has been found to derives from the Turkish melun can (from Arabic “mal`un jinn” ملعون جنّ) which means “damned soul”.In Spain and surrounding regions in the days of the Inquisition the Muslims were also known as Mudajjan. As we shall soon see, this turns out to be a most significant relationship.
The Spanish Inquisition forced many Muslims to flee spain. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim exiles escaped to their ancestral homelands of Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia. The well-known Barbary Coast Pirates of North Africa sprang from this group, and gained renown as along with their Turkish compatriots, they sought revenge against the Spanish and Portuguese in ferocious Mediterranean Sea battles. Thus other Muslims-Berber – made their way to the Canary Islands. Interestingly enough wherever these exiled Berbers went, they identified themselves as ‘Portuguese.”
In a previous article Does America Have Muslim Roots? I have already shown how Muslim sailors had discovered and mapped the new world even before Columbus. It now appears that as a result of the inquisition many escaping Muslim sailors as well as “Conversos”of Muslim and Jewish descent also found their way to the new world – either on their own or as sailors on Spanish and Portuguese ships. Once there the later formed part of the laboring classes on the Spanish or Portuguese settlements.
The first European settlement in the New World was Santa Elena, South Carolina –established by the Spaniards in 1566. Many of the Santa Elena colonists were Berber Muslims and Sephardic Jews, recruited by the Portuguese Captain Joao Pardo from the heavily Berber Galician Mountains of northern Portugal. The colony thrived for more than twenty years until it was overrun by the English in 1587.
Since the English won the battle, Santa Elena was conveniently left out of American history books. But what happened to the survivors of Santa Elena? It appears that after the fall of the settlement many of its inhabitants-including its converted Jews and Muslims-escaped into the mountains of North Carolina. There they survived, intermarrying to some degree with Native Americans and with the earlier Muslims already there. Eventually a second group arrived and merged with them the same year.
This happened when in 1586, after Sir Francis Drake-an English pirate, raided Spanish and Portuguese settlements on the coast of Brazil. Amongst his prisoners were 300 Moorish and Turkish galley slaves, and a smaller number of West African Muslims. When he stopped at Roanoke Island, he found the English colony of Ralph B Lane he had enough of the New World and wanted to go home. To make room for them he took only 100 Turks back to England. Research indicates that Drake left the remainder on the island, assuring that he or someone would be back for them. Yet when Sir Walter visited the island two weeks later he found no trace of them. Where did they go?
Fearing for their safety from the pursuing Spanish or Portuguese they made their way the short distance to the mainland, probably utilizing the small boats left behind by the English. They then steadily moved inland, along the way intermarrying with Native Americans, mostly Powhatan, Pamunkey, Nansemond and Hatters. Within the next decade or so they encountered the remnant of the Santa Elena colony, many of whom shared their Muslim heritage. And there thousands of miles away from their homelands, these two surviving groups became one people. Christians, Jews and Muslims- literally the people of the book- living and worshipping the God of Abraham together. We find many proofs of this in American accounts:
•In 1654, English explorers learnt of a colony of bearded people wearing European clothing, living in cabins smelting silver and dropping to their knees to pray many times daily, wherever they might be. A people who did not speak English, but claimed to be “Portyghee” .They lived amongst the Powhatans and related tribes of eastern Virginia and North Carolina who were described as dark like Indians, but called “Portugals” A similar people in South Carolina called “Turks”.
•In the 1690’s, French explorers reported finding “Christianized Moors” in the Carolina mountains. When the first English arrived in the mid- 1700’s, large colonies were already well established in the Tennessee and Carolina Mountains. And, in broken Elizabethan English they called themselves “Portyghee,” or by the more mysterious term “Melungeon”. Tennessee Governor John Sevier records a 1784 encounter in what is now Western North Carolina with a dark-skinned, reddish-brown complexioned people supposed to be of Moorish descent who claim to be Portuguese.
•In east Tennessee in late 1700’so Jonathan Swift, an Englishman married to a Melungeon woman utilized Melungeon men in his own silver mining operations. His dark-skinned companions were known as “Mecca Indians.”
Over the years, land grabbers pushed the Melungeons higher and higher into the mountains. The Melungeons, pushed off their lands, denied their rights, often murdered, always mistreated, became an embittered and nearly defeated people. Their claims of Portuguese and Melungeon heritage were increasingly ridiculed. Even the word Melungeon became a most disparaging term. In fact, to be legally classified as a Melungeon meant in the words of one journalist, to be “nobody at all”.
Over the ensuing decades- in a vain effort to fit in with their Anglo neighbors, they lost their heritage, their culture, their names and their original religion but not their genetic structure. Melungeon: meaning “one whose life or soul has been cursed”; were indeed appropriate words for a people far away from their loved ones. Yet the descendants of the Melungeon people are now everywhere in America , specially those who have ancestors from the SE US, with any of the following surnames: Adams, Adkins, Bell, Bennett, Berry, Bowling, Chavis, Coleman, Collins, Gibson, Goins, Hall, Jackson, Lopes, Moore, Mullins, Nash, Robinson, Sexton and Williams.
Americans with such roots -though most of them today are Christian – are a living legacy of Islam’s first wave of immigration to the New World.