:: An Untold Story of Ethnic cleansing in America ::
by Brent Kennedy
Perhaps Nancy Hanks, the mother of
Abraham Lincoln, was Melungeon. It somehow seems fitting that one of
America's greatest Presidents should be of mixed race and probably Muslim
heritage. But who are the Melungeons?
Historical records document that from
1492 through the early 1600's an estimated 500,000 Jews and Muslims were
exiled from Spain and Portugal through a religious witch-hunt known as
-- the Spanish Inquisition. Hundreds of
thousands of Muslim exiles escaped to their ancestral homelands of
Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia. In fact, the well-known Barbary Coast
Pirates (that is, Berber Coast Pirates) of North
Africa sprang from this group. They, along with their Turkish compatriots,
were renowned for their seagoing exploits as they sought revenge against
the Spanish and Portuguese in ferocious Mediterranean sea battles.
Of course, they didn't always win:
those pirates unfortunate enough to lose at sea often ended up as galley
slaves beneath the creaking decks of Spanish and Portuguese ships bound
for the New World. Ironically, slaves of the Christians once again.
in particular---Moriscos they were called made
their way to the Canary Islands, India, France and other countries. And
interestingly enough wherever these exiled Berbers went, they identified
themselves as 'Portuguese," even if they had originated in Spain. In fact,
the term "Portuguese," became almost synonymous for both the Muslims and
the Jews who had been exiled during the Inquisition.
Finally, as the Inquisitions grew in
Power and severity, even Christianized Moors and Jews were forced in
exile. these "Conversos"-----the name
given to both Muslim and Jewish coverts----were
not trusted by either the Church or the government, and probably with good
reason, since most had converted Catholicism only to avoid the death
The Spanish Inquisition, horrible as it
was accomplished something of great historical value for Islam. Even
though Western historians have generally ignored the evidence, there is
little doubt that Muslims played an early----and
perhaps the earliest----role in the permanent
settlement of this Nation. And there is little doubt that the
Inquisition-with all it agonies-drove Spanish and Portuguese Muslims
toward the New World.
While American school children learn of
Columbus's role in the discovery of the New World, they aren't told the
entire story. For example, Columbus employed both Moorish and Spanish
sailors, and himself may have been Jewish. On his fourth voyage in 1502 he
records two important discoveries:
First, on the Caribbean island of
Guadeloupe, he discovered an iron pot and an old ship's mast preserved in
an Indian hut. He and his crew determined these artifacts had come from
the Canary Islands. The Canaries, a Portuguese possession, had been a
favorite dumping ground for Conversos of Muslim Berber origin.
Second, on July 31, 1502, came an even
more extraordinary discovery. Off the island of Jamaica, Columbus
encountered strange people on a strange ship that western historians have
generally considered to be Mayan Indians.
This ship was forty feet long with a
diameter of eight feet, and had a shaded pavilion in the center. From a
distance, Columbus thought it to be uncannily like the Moorish galleys he
and so often seen the the Mediterranean. There were approximately forty
men and women on this galley and unlike the Jamaican Indians, these people
wore clothing: sleeveless shirts and with showy colors and designs like
those Columbus had seen, in his own , in Muslim Granada.
These so-called Mayan Indians carried a
cargo of tools, copper implements, and forges for working copper. But
perhaps Columbus's striking observation was that the women aboard this
galley "covered their faces like the women of Granada." Were these truly
Mayan Indians? Or simply one more case of biased historians refusing to
accept the fact that Muslims could have reached the New World before
Columbus? Columbus certainly considered the possibility.
In 1527, the first land crossing of the
United States by a non-Native American most likely was achieved by Azemmouri, a
Moroccan Berber---a Muslim. Originally a member
of an expedition of 300 Spaniards, only Azemmouri and three of his
comrades survived this eleven year, 5,000 mile trek from Florida to the West
Coast and back to Texas. He was the first explorer to enter a Pueblo
Indian Village, and the story of his daring exploits make for fascinating
reading. Curiously, Azemmouri is never mentioned in the American history
The establishment of Jamestown,
Virginia in 1607 was indeed an important event in American history. But it
was by no means the first European settlement in the New World. The
Spanish established the Santa Elena, South Carolina, colony in 1566, forty
yrs before Jamestown. The colony thrived for more than twenty yrs until it
was overrun by the English in 1587. But since the English won the battle
for this Nation, Santa Elena was conveniently left out of American history
What happened to the survivors of Santa
Elena, and who were they? Their identity is important to understanding the
hidden role played by Islam in the shaping of the American nation. Many of
the Santa Elena colonists were converted Muslims and Jews or Conversos. In
Spain the Muslims were known as Mudajjan a word probably related to the
term Melungeon. Ethnically, 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 in 1567----less than one year before the Inquisition kicked
into high gear against the Muslims.
When Santa Elena fell, its
inhabitants-including its converted Jews and Muslims-escaped into the
mountains of North Carolina. And there they survived, intermarrying to
some degree with Native Americans, eventually merging with a second group
arriving on American shores in, ironically, 1587----the same year Santa Elena
North African Berbers and Turks
captured in the Mediterranean by the Spanish and Portuguese were regularly
used as galley slaves in ships crossing the Atlantic. Once in the New
World, these Muslim captives were assigned to slave labor on sugar
plantations and in the mining operations of among other places, Cuba and
In 1586, English pirate, Sir Francis
Drake, commanding thirty English ships, made a daring raid against his
Spanish and Portuguese enemies on coast of Brazil. During this raid, Drake
liberated some 400 Portuguese and Spanish held prisoners, including an
estimated 300 Moorish and Turkish galley slaves Muslims captured in
Mediterranean sea battles as well as several dozen South American Indians,
a smaller number of West African Muslims, and a few Portuguese soldiers.
Drake had planned to arm and release Turks an Africans on Cuba, to serve
as a stronghold against Spanish but heavy storms force him to continue up
the coast of North Carolina.
Roanoke Island he was besieged by stranded
English settlers pleading for a ride home to England. The English colony
of Ralph B. Lane had enough of the New World and wanted to go home. To
fulfill their wish, Drake had to make room for them on his already crowded
ships. According to English records, only 100 Turks were taken back to
England where they were ransomed to the "Turkish
Dominions," There's no further mention of the remaining 200 Moors, Turks,
West Africans, Portuguese Soldiers or the South American Indians by Drake,
and records show that Sir Walter Raleigh who visited the Island two weeks
later found no trace of them. Where did they go?
Research indicates that Drake left them
behind, assuring that he or someone would be back for them. But that was
no guarantee of safety from the pursuing Spanish of Portuguese. On Roanoke
Island they were little more than sitting ducks. There is little doubt
they made their way the short distance to the mainland, probably
utilizing the small boats left behind by the English, and then traveled
steadily inland. Along the way too intermarried with Native Americans,
mostly Powhatan, Pamunkey, Nansemond and Hatters.
Within the next decade or so they
encountered the remnants 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.
In 1654, the English explorers learned
from southeastern Indians 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 "Portyghee"
In the mid 1600's, there were people
living among 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 themselves "Turks" The early
17th Century Powhatan Indians description of Heaven is nearly word for
word the description found in the Holy Qur'an.
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 of so called "Melungeons"
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"
Even if historians never took seriously the
Melungeon claim to be Portuguese or Moorish, the medical and genetic
work cannot be so easily dismissed.
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's,
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."
years, as growing numbers of Anglo settlers swept upon them and around
them, Melungeons were pushed higher and higher into the mountains. And
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 "nobody at all".
The Melungeons, pushed off their lands,
denied their rights, often murdered, always mistreated, became an
embittered and nearly defeated people. Over the ensuing decades---in a vain effort to fit in with their Anglo
neighbors, they lost their heritage, their culture, their names and
original religion but not their genetic structure.
Perhaps the most stunning evidence is
the gene frequency research conducted in 1990 by Dr. James Guthrie, who
performed a reanalysis of 177 Melungeon blood samples taken in 1969, in
east Tennessee and SW Virginia. Dr. Guthrie compared the frequency of
certain genes within the Melungion sample to the known genetic make-up of
nearly 200 other world population groups. His findings indicated no
significant differences between the Melungeon people of east Tennessee and
SW Virginia, and the people of North Africa and especially Morocco,
Algeria and Libya and the Galician mountains of Spain and Portugal, Iraq,
Cyprus, Malta, the Canary Islands and extreme southern Italy, and most
interesting certain South American Indians and last but not least, the
Can it be pure coincidence that these
gene frequency comparisons match up so perfectly with those populations
theorized to be the source of the Melungeons? Can this sort of coincidence
truly exist? There as also a number of medical conditions associated with
the Melungeon people, e.g. sarcoidosis, a debilitating and sometimes fatal
disease which is primarily a disease of Arabic, North African and
Portuguese people with links to the Canary Islands, In this country it's
most common among Caucasian-Americans of Melungeon decent and African-Americans with southeastern
roots. Both groups undoubtedly share the same Mediterranean and Middle
Eastern gene pool. There is strong evidence that Christopher Columbus
himself suffered from sarcoidosis. And there are other genetically related
illnesses as well. Familial Mediterranean Fever, thallasemia and Machado
Joseph Disease (also know as Azorean Disease)---are
all strong indicators that Melungeons are indeed of mixed Mediterranean,
Middle Eastern North African and African descent.
Even if historians never took seriously
the Melungeon claim to be Portuguese or Moorish, the medical and genetic
work cannot be so easily dismissed.
What can the long-standing mystery word
Melungeon possibly mean? It was used by Spanish and Portuguese Berbers to
describe themselves. But now there is yet another hint, further
substantiating a Muslim origin. there are two Turkish words: "melun" meaning cursed or damned and "can" meaning
"life" or "soul" used together these words----Pronounced
"Melungeon"---translate as "one whose life or
soul has been cursed." Which would seem quite appropriate for 200 Muslim
Turks an Ocean away from their loved ones and their country.
The descendants of the Melungeon people
are everywhere , especially those who have ancestors from the
Southeastern United States,
of any race with the following surnames: Adams, Adkins, Bell, Bennett,
Berry, Bowling, Chavis, Coleman, Collins, Gibson, Goins, Hall, Jackson,
Lopes, Moore, Mullins, Nash, Robinson, Sexton and Williams. As a result of
continuing research, several American celebrities have recently discovered
their Melungeon roots.
The Melungeon researchers are supported
by grants from the governments of Portugal, Morocco and especially Turkey.
The Turkish are providing Arabic-reading scholars to translate records
from the Ottoman Empire. Among the other competent scholars assisting in
this research are Dr. Ahmad al-Hassan, author of "An Illustrated
History of Islamic Science and Technology" published by Cambridge
University Press. Research grants have also come from the humanities
councils of South Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky and Georgia.
Many Melungeons are excited to learn
that, though they themselves are Christians, their ancestors were Muslims,
and what they accomplished. This realization puts into better focus the
prejudices that their people have suffered, not only the older members of
their families, but still living ones. A Melungeon lady suffering because
of the dark color of her skin, or a Melungeon male being attacked by two
men in Blacksburg, Virginia, in 1980 because they thought he was Iranian, or
another being detained as a suspected Palestinian at an Israeli border
crossing while visiting the Holy Land with his family. All these things
have impact, and point out the insanity of prejudice based on one's
physical characteristics. The Melungeons were Americans, and Christians as
well, and even thought they were Scots-Irish. But
it didn't matter, because the rest of World was caught up in its preset
The Melungeons experience shows that
even if kinship may not be seen on the surface, it's there.
The Melungeons victims of an early form
of ethnic cleansing---are the ancestors of a
significant number of present day Americans. Americans who may not know
they are descended from Muslims and Jews, Arabs, and Berbers, Africans and
Native Americans, Portuguese and Spanish. And when people maliciously
target any religious, racial or ethnic group that is different from what
they perceive themselves to be, they are truly hurting themselves. Racial
and religious prejudice is nothing more than self mutilation. Humankind
are all---not just figuratively---but literally---brothers
and sisters. Not just in God's eyes but in true family kinship as well.
The Melungeons, though most today are
Christian, are the living legacy of Islam's first wave of immigration to
the New World.
Brent Kennedy is the author
"The Melungeons: The Resurrection of a Proud People."
Above article first appeared
Islamic Horizons Magazine (November/December 1994) and republished here
Related / External
Buy the related / quoted book (s) now:
"New World A-Coming", Ayer Co Pub (June 1968)
William A. Caruthers,
"Kentuckian in New York", Irvington Pub (June 1968)
Richard Robert Madden,
"A twelve month's residence in the West Indies, during the transition from slavery to apprenticeship; with incidental notices of the state of society, prospects, and natural resources of Jamaica and other islands", Negro Universities Press
"From Black Muslims to Muslims: The Transition from Separatism to Islam, 1930-1980",
"The Life of Admiral Christopher Columbus", Rutgers Univ.Press, 1959,
Nigel Davies, "Voyagers to the New World", New York 1979
"Saga America", New York 1980
Barry Fell, "America B.C.", New York 1976
Cyrus Herzl Gordon,
"Before Columbus; Links Between the Old World and Ancient America", New York 1971
"Columbus Was Last/from 200,000 B.C. to 1492, a Heretical History of Who Was First", New York 1992
"The Columbus Papers,The Barcelona Letter of 1493, The Landfall
Controversy, and the Indian Guides", McMillan Co.,New York 1991
John B. Thacher,
"Christopher Columbus", New York 1950,P.380
Ivan Van Sertima,
"African Presence in Early America", New Brunswick, NJ 1987
Ivan Van Sertima,
"They Came Before Columbus", New York 1976
"Africa and the Discovery of America", Philadelphia, 1920,Vol.2 P.365-6
Harold T. Wilkins,
"Mysteries of Ancient South America", New York 1974
by courtesy & ©
Islamic Horizons Magazine
+ Brent Kennedy