appalachia

The Blue Fugates

If you’re a Southerner, I am sure that you have at least been made fun of once in your life for being inbred.  If you’re from one of the other directions, then I’d be willing to bet that it has been you who have made this ‘hilarious’ joke a time or two.

While most of us are not barefoot and pregnant with our uncle cousin’s baby, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.  My mother, a proud Kentuckian and scientist, would always joke that inbreeding isn’t a problem; unless you’ve got bad genes…

One fascinating case of genetics are the Blue Fugates of eastern Kentucky.  Benji Stacy, pictured below, was born in 1975 “blue as Lake Louise.”  The doctors were in a panic and Benji was rushed to the University of Kentucky Medical Center for a transfusion, when his relatives remembered that his great-grandmother Luna had the same blue skin.

Blue-Fugates-Kentucky-Family

Martin Fugate settled with his family in the 1820’s on the remote banks of Troublesome Creek, near Hazard, KY. At the time, there were very few families established there and intermarriage was common. Fugate’s wife, Elizabeth, was the carrier of the recessive methemoglobinemia gene. The Fugates intermarried with Fugate cousins with the last names of Combs, Smith, Richie and Stacy; producing more and more blue children carrying the gene.

As the world developed and people began to “marry” people other than their cousins, there were less and less blue Fugate descendants.  Benji was the last known blue person born in 1975.

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Serenading with Firearms

Happy Epiphany! If you’re like most people in the South, you may have no idea what this means.  January 6th is a day celebrated around the world as the day God manifested as Jesus Christ, and is, what came as quite a shock to me, the 12th day of Christmas in the song.

While Epiphany most often takes the backseat to Christmas in North America, it is still celebrated and preferred by some of the old timers in parts of Appalachia, referring to it as “Old Christmas.”

I drank too much wine on New Christmas Eve to tell about the serenading tradition, so I figured Epiphany is as good a day as any since Old Christmas is the most revered as a holy day, and the end to the whole Christmas season.

Would you believe me if I told you that deep in the hollers in Appalachia children roam the streets with guns and fireworks in costumes and the occasional blackface to terrorize their neighbors on Christmas Eve- as tradition??

Well, that’s exactly what happened for years, known as serenading and is a practice that is fading fast.  Like a Mischief Night gone awry, when the kids set off serenading, the neighbors know exactly what to expect. A Foxfire Christmas details many stories about this tradition, one such described by Tammi English and Holli Hickox where children would show up together around midnight on Christmas Eve and all at once shoot off shotguns and fireworks, ring cowbells, and make as much noise as possible to scare their neighbors.  Often, “the neighbors would invite them in and give treats to everyone such as oranges, apples or even small toys (21-22).” It was also common for the kids to play tricks on their neighbors such as painting their horses faces black with shoe polish (30) or taking apart a neighbor’s wagon and reassembling it on the roof (24).

This tradition at its height is as much lore now as the ghost of Christmas past, and the customs of the old country only live on through fruitcake and the faint glow of candles in the window.

The World’s Most Famous Melungeon?

EAP

The Emancipation Proclamation that freed slaves went into effect in 1865 in America, but it was already well-known in the South that there had been a groups of free “people of color” for a few hundred years. Under the holdover British doctrine defining who is/isn’t a slave, the partus sequitur venrem, it was common practice that children were given the social status of their mother at birth.  Meaning, if the father was black or Indian but the mother was white, the child was considered ‘white’ socially.

As you can imagine, there were many groups of people with mixed origin, but none more fabled and romanticized than the dark skinned, blue eyed Melungeons of the Appalachian region.  Legends were that they were survivors from the lost colony of Roanoke, or one of the lost Tribes of Israel. They were also speculated to be of Cherokee, gypsy, Turkish, Spanish, Phoenecian, etc. decent. The legend also is that Elvis Presley descended from the melungeons.

The following is taken from “The Melungeons: The Resurrection of A Proud People; An Untold Story of Ethnic Cleansing in America,”by Dr. N. Brent Kennedy (p. 140)

Yes, Elvis Presley had North Carolina roots; his mother’s family left western North Carolina in the early 1800s, taking with them their legend of a Cherokee and Jewish heritage. His maternal great-great-great grandmother was supposedly “a full blooded Cherokee” from Tennessee named Morning Dove White. However, White is a far more common Lumbee, Melungeon, and Powhatan than Cherokee surname, and Morning Dove is an uncommon Cherokee given name. Also, the man she married, William Mansell, had been something of a renowned Indian fighter, making his choice of a “full-bloodied Cherokee” questionable. Mansell’s family was also native South Carolinian since the 1700s, placing them more in Lumbee than Cherokee territory. In any event, William Mansell and Morning Dove White settled in Alabama around 1820, and had several children, including John Mansell, Elvis’s great-great grandfather. John later abandoned his family to run off with a younger woman named Mandy Bennett (another Lumbee surname).

In 1870, John’s son White Mansell married a woman named Martha Tackett from Tennessee. Martha also possessed a common Melungeon surname and, even more appropriately, claimed to be Jewish. Elaine Dundy’s excellent biography of Elvis provides fascinating genealogical background and unintentionally paints a rather convincing Melungeon heritage for the “King of Rock and Roll.

There is really almost too much to say about the myth of the melungeons; however, in 1969 Eloy Gallegos conducted a study where 177 DNA samples were taken from people in the Newman’s ridge area of East Tennessee (The Melungeons: The Pioneers of the Interior Southeastern United States, 1526-1997). He discovered that the closest matches came from Libya, Cyrpus, Malta, Spain, Italy and Portugal, with very little occurrence of Cherokee DNA (p. 80).

In 2012, melungeon DNA was collected again to settle the origin dispute once and for all. In an article published in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy, scientists proved that melungeons are the offspring of sub-Saharan African men and white women of northern or central European origin.

No gypsy or Indian magic, no lost tribes or civilizations; just people with DNA pretty common to everyone else in the Tennessee/North Carolina/Virginia area.