Tuesday, July 1, 2008


By Gary J. Gabehart,

The following were talking points at the MHA 12th Union Meeting in Harogate, Tennessee.

JUNE 27TH & 28TH, 2008

Title: Drakes, Goins and Others. The reality of then and now -- Mulatto, Free People of Color, Redbones and Melungeons. Words for we really don't know!

1893 letter of Albert Rigmaiden to Furman reviewed.

Presented By Gary J. Gabehart[1]

If you are tracking your family history and swearing by census reports and observations of enumerators, scribe’s and poorly paid government workers who may have had a bias, you may find yourself in the wrong racial or ethnic hallway. Not everything in print is the truth.

In recent history, last twenty years or so, it has become fashionable to be of North American Indian Blood, African Blood and of late, even Turkish Blood.

Who’s who when it comes to racial makeup is on everyone’s mind. For ones ancestors to have been Redbone, Free Black, Melungeon, Mulatto, Free Person of Color, African or Colored Person can be a plus for some and of negative connotations for others.

The terms mentioned are generally meant to be “of mixed blood,” with of course; the exception of African, yet being African has its problems. Would you be West African, East African or South African or other African? See, without DNA testing, it is difficult.

The question I ask is, if “Free People of Color” were really African or mixed African, why were they not called mixed African?

If Redbone was another term for African Blood, why were they not called Black bone? Melungeon seems the same, why were they called Melungeon and not mixed African? Of course, the term Melungeon may have come from the French word Melange or the now archaic word Malengin [2], but I would not agree to argue the point.

The fact of the matter is (call it an opinion if you must) Redbones, Melungeons, and Free People of color were not tri-racial peoples (European, African and Indian) as a whole. If anything, they were Multi-ethnic people, and some were and some were not. In other words, not all held African Blood or Indian Blood, but I expect all carried European or Middle Eastern genes.

In Louisiana, where the Redbone issue is confronted, census records indicate three basic colors - White, African (slaves) and people of color or “free people of Color.[3] Indians, as in other areas of the country, at the that time were not classified, but often were included in the FPC class.

I maintain that “people of color,” in general, contained other than Freed Slaves, Creoles and actually contained “other” classifications. Some of these folks were not White, not Black or never slaved, and it became “we just cannot tell, so we will put them in the “other” coffee can of racial classification or colorization,” which happened to be FPC.

Most of the Louisiana Redbone families were listed at one time or the other as Free People of Color (FPC), and obviously, you could be viewed as Redbone by marriage or association bringing this to a Social, Economic Level, as well as, a colorization issue.

Same thing happened to Free People of Color. FPC sought out people of their own color upon arriving in town. They certainly were not going to be accepted by the White people in power and of status – that’s what I mean about Social, Economic Levels. FPC sought out like people and perhaps became clannish. Redbones sought out like peoples and ended up forming enclaves of what was called clannish peoples.

You get my point so I’m going to move on to my 5th and 4th great grandfathers, John Aaron Drake, Sr., and John Aaron Drake, Jr. First, to give you some background on this family, John Aaron Drake, Sr., was born about 1750 in Elizabeth Virginia and died about 1813 in St. Martinsville, Louisiana. Drake, Sr. was married to an Indian lady by the name of Elizabeth Charity Smith Chrieves. She was born about 1752 in Elizabeth, Virginia and died 10 Apr 1815. It is believed they had three children including John Aaron Drake, Jr.

Here is where it becomes interesting. Drake, Jr., along with his siblings, were known as “Free Mulatto’s” while their father was known as a White man. Now back in Virginia, a clarification of the laws and the definition of a Mulatto had been passed in October of 1705.[4] This statue said the following: “And for clearing all manner of doubts which hereafter may happen to arise upon the construction of this act, or any other act, who shall be accounted a mulatto, Be it enacted and declared, and it is hereby enacted and declared, That the child of an Indian and the child, grandchild, or great grandchild, of a negro shall be deemed, accounted, held and taken to be a mulatto." The term Mulatto, with respect to an Indian child, pretty much remained the same until it was modified again in 1866.[5]

On 18 May of 1800, John Aaron Drake, Jr. B. abt 1776, d. abt. 1828, marries Rosalie Abshire b. 15 Jan 1762 d, abt.1871, at Attakapas Post, Louisiana. Since John Jr. is known to be a free Mulatto, the church has to do an investigation to prove he is the child of an Indian and a White Man. This was necessary to marry within the Church.

Now I had some family members who when they saw the word "Mulatto" decided that we “had Black Blood” in the family. Why did they think that? They had not realized that the word had morphed over the ages and had meant something else back in the 18th & 19th century. They were headed down the Black hallway in search of their roots.

Redbone? At best a Multi-ethnic group, not of a tri-racial isolate. Not everyone in this group – Redbones – were the same when it came to National Origin. There were some mixed Indian, Asian Indians, Sub-Saharan, Middle Eastern, English, Scots, French – you name it.

One prominent name among the Redbone was Goin[g]s, another Ashworth. Ever heard of the Ashworth Act in Texas?[6] Let me tell ya! When the Ashworth’s left Louisiana they were called “Free People of Color” or Redbones. When they arrived in Texas they were called “Free Blacks.” After fighting in the Texas revolution, they were told that all Free Blacks had to leave Texas. To make a long story short, friends in government had an Act passed that allowed the Ashworth’s and others to stay in Texas.

Now for the rest of the story. Very recently I received an email from an Ashworth family member who had encouraged a male Ashworth to have his DNA tested. This is the text from that email:

“Our DNA was strongly from Armenia and Romania – Minimal amount of African and maybe a little more Native – it’s as if I don’t know who I am anymore. Maybe my DNA results answer the question about the ‘dark’ Ashworth’s with the straight hair. But they are also the Ashworth’s who lost their land in Texas along with their Nelson relatives for being ‘free black.’”

Need I say more? DNA is unraveling everything that we have thought in the past. Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana, parents were immigrants from the State of Punjab, North India. According to the US Census, there are about 10,000 South Asians or Asian Indians living in Louisiana.

I am not going to get into the Melungeon issues as there are far more experts on Melungeons here today, and having focused mainly on my Indian heritage and my Redbone relations, I am not the Melungeon expert.

So I’m going to close by taking a look at the Albert Rigmaiden[7] letter to Furman written in 1892-93. By the way, Albert Rigmaiden is my 2nd cousin, 5 times removed.

[1] Formerly with American Airlines, Commercial Airline pilot - Sundance Airways, President of Sundance Airways, Charter Pilot and Flight instructor, Certifications AMSEL-CFI-II, 9,500 hours or so.

Former Field Coordinator, Grant funded Study “Au Su Salud,” (Eagle Pass & Del Rio, Texas) University of Texas Health Science Center, Department of Medicine, Division of Epidemiology, San Antonio, Texas.

Former Field Coordinator, Grant funded Study “Hispanic Women’s Health,”
University of Texas Health Science Center, Department of Medicine, Division of Epidemiology, San Antonio, Texas.

Former Field Coordinator, Texas legislature funded Study “Population living near Uranium mining areas,” Pana Maria, Hobson, Falls City and Kenedy, Texas, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Department of Community Health & Preventative Medicine, Division of Environmental Toxicology, Dr. Wm. Au.

Indian Activist, shut down streets in front of the Alamo out of respect of Alamo Graveyard; Former President San Antonio Council Native Americans; Former Board Member Save Texas Cemeteries; Current President Inter-Tribal Council American Indians; Board Member Redbone Heritage Foundation.

Writes for various Blogs. 2nd cousin of Albert Rigmaiden, Great Grandson of Jeremiah Goins and the John Aaron Drakes of Virginia and Louisiana. Certified Chickasaw Indian with relations in Choctaw, Cherokee (Chief John Ross), Kiowa Nations and an unknown tribe of the Powhatan Confederacy.

[2] The word Malengin as used by Edmund Spensor in his poem The Faerie Queenie to indicate an evil person or trickster.

[3] http://backintyme.com/essays/?p=9 Frank Sweet, Two Color Lines, Three Endogamous Groups

[4] Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large, vol. 3, pp. 229-235. October 1705-CHAP. IV.

[5] From 1705 until 1866 the only legal definition applying to mixed Native Americans (excepting those having one-fourth or more African ancestry) was that of 1705.

[6] Ashworth Act # 13, BY Gary J. Gabehart, http://redbone-red-bone.blogspot.com/

[7] Albert Rigmaiden, Treasurer of Calcasieu Parish


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