Sunday, November 25, 2007


By Gary J. Gabehart

Depending on your thought processes, you can view Redbones as Redbones or Melungeons as Melungeons -- no matter what you call them, they were still a group of mysterious people in any ones book. It did not matter then, and it does not matter now whether the words were derogatory or not. It was a label that stuck!

Reclusive, clannish, standoffish, not friendly, minded their own business and just did not associate with other societies yet took offense to anyone sticking their noses into their business. Sounds like the neighborhood I lived in opposing the nearby hoods of similar folks yet those who were just a little bit apart.

With the Redbones, it was those folks down the road who lived in the Piney Woods next to the swamps. For the Melungeon's, it was the folks up there on the ridge, or over the ridge, who we know nothing about. In either case, society was left wondering what was happening and rumors likely flew hot and heavy.

It was a clash of developing cultures aside under-developing cultures as perceived by usually the White guy in control. Of course, it did take a good many years of "whose mo better." This attitude likely began before Jamestown and was ingrained in every White generation there after. The White guy had guns, big boats with sails, gadgets and some technology, why shouldn't he have all the control? He likely had the best land, more wealth and the grand house.

None of this is new, it's always been the folks on the other side of the tracks, the ones living in the shanties surrounded by dead and dying grass who took the cultural beating -- the have not's against those who had the most.

So why wouldn't these concepts apply to the Redbone or the Melungeon cultures, isolates or groups. It did not matter what you called them, they were still those people.

The question now is just who were those people? And that is for the folks who study and do the genealogy work in the trenches to discover. Where did they come from, what was their ethnicity's, what was in the apparent mix if anything -- what were their roots?

In the course of those investigations come the question of who (the people) were the real Redbones or the Melungeons? They have to be sorted from the half- Redbone or the half-Melungeon from marriage or association, and sorted again from the wannabe Redbone/ Melungeon who just wants a place to fit in.

Same things happen with the wannabe Indians. They pick a fashionable tribe, give themselves an Indian sounding name like "little wren" or some such "little" something and run around with a feather in their hair while mixing Indian cultures, regalia and hang out at Pow Wows -- usually picking up women. But that's how it goes!

So aside from doing real research on who was a real Redbone or a real Melungeon, you have to deal with the kooks and nut cases who want to be. And then there are the Trolls who create counter sites to dispel valid research, but those folks, you have to ask the question why? There is never an answer to why -- they never have a good reason.

The work done by the RHF and the MHA are leaps and bounds ahead of the lazy bunch who would constantly dispute these findings by whining about the definition of a Redbone or Melungeon and where they came from. Ask to see "their research" relevant to what they are talking about, and don't accept quotes from other people whose research is suspect.

Redbones and Melungeons were mixed race people. They were mixed race Indians. They were likely mixed race Europeans and other mixed races -- as a whole, you'll never put a pedigree on all of them.


Gary J. Gabehart, Mishiho (Mish-eh-ho)

1 comment:

Cyndie said...

So very true Gabe. It is only through the research and documentation that the puzzle pieces will fall together. Like so many Redbone, Melungeon or Lumbee ancestors, mine did not want to tell me the answers to my questions, still fearing some kind of retaliation from society. Luckily, subsequent living generations in my family now feel pride in their mixed heritage and proudly place their names on the lists and donate their DNA for projects. As my Uncle David Goins said, "I hope we've come fer enough to put all that behind us and jest be proud of who we are."

Cyndie Goins Hoelscher