Another Melungeon Account: 1898

From The Sun, New York, NY, Sunday, February 20, 1898, Section 2, p. 6:

THE PEDIGREE OF THE CROATANS.
Identified as Descendants of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Lost Roanoke Colony.
From the Philadelphia Record.

ST. LOUIS, Feb. 13. – Former United States Senator Hiram R. Revels of Mississippi has always been classed as a negro. He was a tall, well-built man, with the chocolate skin and curly hair of an African and the devout bearing of his profession – the ministerial. He served during the reconstruction period, never being known as a prominent, but always as a representative, colored man. Revels was not a negro. Dr. C. A. Peterson of St. Louis, who has made a study of the lost Roanoke (Va.) colony, says that Revels is a descndant of that mystery-shrouded band that Sir Walter Raleigh sent to Roanoke Island in 1587.

“The historian has usually contented himself with dropping his investigations when he reached the point where Gov. John White returned from England and found his colony had disappeared from Roanoke Island,” said Dr. Peterson, “and you will find in about every history you pick up the statement that the colonists were probably killed by the Indians. The Roanoke colony consisted of 115 unmarried men and twenty who had families. They were sent out by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1587, in charge of John White, who was an appointed Governor. Ananias Dare, his son-in-law, was Vice-Governor, and during 1587 his wife gave birth to a daughter, the first white child born in America, and she was called Virginia Dare.

“During the summer a tribe of Croatan Indians, who lived some fifty miles away on the east shore of what is now North Carolina – the whole country was then called Virginia – visited the colony on Roanoke Island, and proposed to the settlers that they remove to the home of the Indians, intermarry, and become members of their tribe. The 115 unmarried men were very willing to accept the proposition, and it was only with difficulty that Gov. White induced them to remain. When everything was completed White returned to England and got provisions and reinforcements. Before going he instructed the colonists to leave some testimony if for any reason they should conclude to move during his absence.

“The next year, 1588, was the year of the Spanish Armada, and White’s boat and every other seagoing vessel was impressed into service. So it was impossible for Gov. White to set sail for America again until 1589. When he arrived at Roanoke he found the stockade and the houses there, but everybody had gone. On one tree he found the word ‘Croatan’ carved, and on one stockade post merely the beginning – ‘Croat.’ He was about to proceed in search of the Croatans, when a Hatteras storm came up, and, after beating about for some time, the crew mutinied and insisted on going down to the Spanish Main and engaging in privateering. So they captured a couple of richly laden Spanish vessels and returned to England comparatively wealthy.

“The next year Gov. White took another crew and landed at Roanoke Island. This time he found the fresh track of a boat’s keel on the island, and found that a chest he had buried three years before had been dug up and the contents ransacked. Again he started down the coast, and again his crew mutinied and went pirating on the Spanish Main.

“In 1607 Capt. John Smith, who had been saved by Pocahontas, started an expedition from Jamestown to see if he couldn’t discover the whereabouts of the missing colonists. Instead of going by boat they started overland. They proceeded about 100 miles, got tired, went back, and this was the last effort to find them, and here history, as it is generally recorded, ceases.

“Now for the facts which the historians have generally so singularly overlooked. In 1710, when the Huguenots and cavaliers started to penetrate the interior of North Carolina, they found, some seventy-five miles from the coast, in what is now Robeson county, N. C., a colony of English-speaking people, many of whom had blue eyes and light hair. They inquired where they came from, and they replied, ‘From Croatan.’ ‘How does it come that you speak English?’ ‘Our fathers were English.’

“They wrote one letter back about their discovery, a letter which, by the way, is in the archives of the Board of Trade of London. It is evident that a number of the Huguenots remained in the colony and intermarried, as there are a great many names of undoubted French origin to be found among the Croatan names of the present day.

“These people have always been called Croatans. There are some 4,000 of them living in Robeson county, N. C., at the present time,. but they have scattered all over the South and West[.] I have found Croatan names among all the five civilized tribes living in the Indian Territory.

“The Croatans have distinct racial characteristics. They are as dark as Portuguese, and are different in appearance from either Indians, negroes, or Caucasians. In some instances there has evidently been a mixture with negro blood, and on this account when, in 1835, North Carolina and Tennessee disfranchised the negroes, they included the Croatans.

“When the war broke out the Croatans were between two fires. Those who did not enlist in the Southern army were liable to be impressed as negroes for work on fortifications, &c. From this custom came the cause of the depredations of the Lowry gang, which for years spread terror in North Carolina. Old man Lowry resisted impressment, declaring that there was nothing but English and Indian blood in his veins and that he was as much of an American freeman and had as good blood in him as the Harrisons, the Randolphs or any of the descendants of the proudest colonial families. For this stubborn stand he was shot dead.

“When his son, Henry Berry Lowry, reached manhood, he took his gun, organized a band of sympathizers and started out on a mission of extermination. Every man suspected of having had any connection with his father’s death was waylaid and killed. The gang was finally broken up, but not until it had collected bloody interest on old Lowry’s death.

“The most eminent of the Croatans was United States Senator Revels, who was elected from Mississippi during the reconstruction days. He was classed as a negro, but he was in reality a Croatan, one of those with a Huguenot name and ancestry.

“The family names of the Croatans are the same as those of the settlers on Roanoke Island. They were men from Devonshire, England, and, furthermore, even the broad Devonshire pronunciation is found in certain words as used by the Croatans, to-day.

“A hundred years ago a colony of Croatans settled in eastern Tennessee, on Newman’s Ridge, Hancock county. They can’t tell to-day where they came from, for tradition over fifty years old isn’t worth anything. These are the people called Melungeons. They are similar in racial characteristics to the Croatans, and Dr. Swan M. Burnett, a distinguished scholar and scientist, has traced, by family names, the connection between the Melungeons and the Croatans.

“The name Melungeons is accounted for in this wise. When the new settlers appeared among the mountaineers their unusual looks prompted inquiries as to what they were. The answer was ‘Melange’ – or a mixture – and the mountaineers dubbed them Melungeons.”

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