Sections in this issue:
1) Origin of the Melungeons, Part One;
2) Dear Cousins.
All Gowen Manuscript Pages and Newsletters: https://goyengoinggowengoyneandgone.com/gowen-research-foundation-pages-and-info/
Gowen Research Foundation
Volume 3 No. 1
This is the first manuscript in a series exclusively for the Gowen Research Foundation. It may not be reprinted or sold without the permission of the author. October 8, 2000
Biography: Tim Hashaw is an investigative reporter living in Houston, Texas. He has filed stories for CBS, ABC, and NBC and he has worked as a journalist in radio, television and print. Tim Hashaw received numerous national awards for excellence in journalism from: the Radio and Television News Directors’ Association (RTNDA), the Associated Press, United Press International, the National Headliners Club and others. Tim is a seventh generation Texan and a descendant of James Goyne, born May 30, 1755 in Mecklinburg County, Virginia.
1) Origin of the Melungeons, Part One:
by Tim Hashaw
Many ideas have been advanced to explain the possible origin of the North American people known as the ‘Melungeons’. Recent discoveries have narrowed that list of theories. Melungeons were settled early in Virginia, the Carolinas, eastern Tennessee and Kentucky. They have a mixed heritage of European, African, and Native American ancestry.
New light in the past few years reveals that the earliest Africans arriving
in the English American colonies of the 17th century, came from a district of
Angola, Africa called Melange. This research shows that the vast majority of
hundreds of Africans shipped to Norh America between the years 1619-1660 were
in fact Melange Angolans. And it may be that just as the place-name of
“Angola” was brought by early Africans to various American communities, and
just as they identified themselves as “Portuguese”, so too the word “Melange”
survives in the present form of “Melungeon” as a memory of their original
Several clues taken together may yield the secrets of the Melungeons of North
American. It is commonly known that the 17th century colonial
African-Americans were not regarded as slaves, but as indentured servants who
earned their freedom, owned land, and sometimes married Europeans. Their
descendants were documented in the same counties we also find ancestors of
the Melungeons. The brief window of opportunity offered by this early period
of co-equal black and white indentured servitude from 1619-1660 was opened
just long enough to give birth to this new people of mingled European,
African and Native blood; a people whose ancestors constituted many of what
the U.S. government later called “free coloureds”.
The Melange Angolans are the first African Americans whose descendants can be
traced up to the present day. However, Africans ventured into the New World
long before the 17th century. Rock inscriptions in West Texas reveal the
passing of Libyan adventurers in the ancient past. It is logical that
Africans arrived in the Americas ahead of the Europeans since it is off the
coast of Africa that the Southern Passage begins in the crossing of the
Atlantic Ocean westward to the New World. The route of Christopher Columbus
began in the Canary Islands from northwest Africa.
The impact these pre-Columbian African travellers may have had in the new
continent is debated. But after that date Africans were introduced quickly
into the Americas as slaves of the Spanish. In the 16th century, a great
number of blacks were captured or purchased by Spain and Portugal from the
Congo. But just about the time that England first began settling Virginia,
the Portuguese were preparing to launch an all-out military invasion and
colonization of Angola which bordered the Congo to the south. From 1618 to
1621 Portugal carried out its most important operation to enslave Angola in a
massive military campaign against the Kimbundu-speaking subjects of the
Kingdom of Ndongo in the highlands and tributaries of the Melange Plateau of
western African. During that exact time period Melange Africans from Angola
would begin arriving in Virginia and their descendants would be numbered one
day among the Virginia-area people known as Melungeons.
Melange is a mountainous district of central Angola. Today it could serve as
a poster child for the movement to ban landmines in the wake of continous
fighting between government forces and rebel armies. But 400 years ago, the
Melange Plateau was the flourishing homeland of the tribes making up the
Kingdom of Ndongo. In this district, still known today as Melange, is the
modern city of Melanje, less than ten miles from the ancient royal Ndongo
city of Kabasa. The king who ruled Ndongo at its greatest was Mbandi Ngola
Kiluanji. The name “Angola” comes from “ngola” which means “ruler”.
In 1618 Portugal opened her assault on the Melange peoples living between the
Lukala and Kwanza rivers just a year before Melange Angolans would appear in
Jamestown, Virginia. Portuguese governor Luis Mendes de Vasconcelos had
arrived at the Angola port of Luanda in 1617. He was eager to lead the
military campaign into the interior country. What source of profit did the
Portuguese seek? During just three short years Vasconcelos would capture and
export 50,000 Melange Angolans. Professor John Thorton says in an article
for William and Mary Quarterly, that from 1618 to 1621 this capture of 50,000
slaves was “far more than were exported before or would be again for some
decades.” From among those 50,000 Melange- Angolans would come the first
African American ancestors of the Melungeons of North America.
Before the arrival of Vasconcelos, the Portuguese had once tried to conquer
Angola only to be soundly defeated by the Ndongo at the Battle of the Lukala
River in 1589. Now, 29 years later, Portugal would again thrust at the
independant Ndongo, but this time with the assistance of a mercenary tribe of
Africans called, ‘the Imbangala’. These Imbangala warriors were dreaded
cannibals who practiced witchcraft; a “quasi-religious cult devoted to
bloodlust, selfishness and greed” according to Thornton. They were cruel,
burying alive any infant born in their camps, so that they may always be
ready to move. They maintained their numbers exclusively by kidnapping and
training the children of their victims to be warriors. Thornton says of
their tactics: “The Imbangala generally made a large encampment in the
country they intended to pillage, after arriving near harvest time. They
forced the local authorities either to fight them outright, or to withdraw
into fortified locations, leaving the fields for the Imbangala to harvest.
Once their enemies were weakened by fighting or lack of food, they could make
the final assault on their lands and capture them. The presence of
Portuguese slave traders, who also provided firearms, made raiding people as
profitable or even more profitable as raiding food and livestock had been
before.” To insure that there would be no second Portuguese defeat, Mendes
de Vasconcelos enlisted three companies of the Imbangala to join his own
infantry and cavalry for the new campaign against the Ndongo of Melange
At that time the Ndongo people were ripe for outside attack. The
brothers-in-law of the king, Mbandi Ngola Kiluanji, had exploited their
standing to commit many crimes, leaving several nobles incensed against them.
A rebel soba, (a district chief) named Kavalo Ka Kabasa lured the king into
a trap on the Lukala River in 1617 and overthrew him.
Kiluanji’s son and heir, Ngola Mbandi, had not yet gained the full support of
his divided sobas when Vasconcellos launched his attack in 1618. The
Portuguese with the Imbangala first hit and defeated the armies of a soba
named Kaita Ka Balanga across the Kwanza River. With the loss of Balanga’s
forces, the royal palace in Kabasa was completely vulnerable and the
Portuguese-Imbangala companies seized it along with hundreds of captives for
the slave market.
After the winter season of 1618-1619, the military campaign resumed in the
spring of 1619 as the Portuguese with their savage allies killed 95 sobas and
defeated the forces under them. The untried prince, Ngola Mbandi, fled
Kabasa abandoning his family and his many wives to be carried away with a
great multitude of Ndongo in chains, royalty and subjects alike. In time,
the center of the Ndongo kingdom would relocate in Melange and fight back
under the dynamic leadership of the famous Queen Njinga (1624-1663). But
from 1619 onward, the Portuguese, then the Dutch, then the Portuguese again,
would continue to prey upon the Ndongo of the Melange highlands through out
the 17th century. Thousands upon thousands of the Melange Angolans were
shipped westward across the ocean to Spanish plantations and mines in the New
World in this period. Some of the Spanish merchant slavers would be captured
by English and Dutch privateers and their slave cargo would be rerouted to
North America. The English would buy others from the Sugar Islands. But
note the chain of events and the circumstances occurring at precisely the
1. At the fall of the Ndongo capital of Kabasa in Melange Angola, the
Virginia colony of North America was but 12 years old. The starving
colonists had finally found their economic miracle in a new strain of tobacco
and they needed a large labor force to plant and harvest this lucrative crop.
Smoking had become the rage in Europe around 1616 and the Virginians were
growing the stuff in the streets, so frantic were they to profit. In late
August of 1619, only months after the fall of the African capital and the
capture of thousands of its inhabitants, the first arrival of “20 and odd
Negroes” was recorded in Jamestown, Virginia by John Rolfe, husband of
Pocahontas. They came to America one year before the Pilgrims landed at
Plymouth Rock. These Melange Angolans and 200 others two months earlier had
been placed aboard the Spanish slave-merchant, the “San Juan Bautista” in the
port of Luanda, Angola for delivery to the mines of Vera Cruz, Mexico. The
ship had almost reached its destination when it was attacked in the West
Indies by two English privateers. One privateer, Captain John Jope of
Cornwall, in his man-o-war, the ‘White Lion”, took his share of the prize of
slaves to Jamestown where he traded the 22 Africans to the American colonists
of Virginia for corn in August 1619. There is little doubt that these
Angolans were Portuguese captives from the Melange Ndongo war.
2. During this time, the English American colonists of Virginia were
relatively unfamiliar with the large slave plantation system used by the
Spanish colonists. Since the Magna Carta, the English had a system of
indentured servitude which freed the servant after a space of time, usually
seven years. Lifelong slavery was not yet, in the period of 1619-1650, a
common practice in the Virginia colony. From the time the first Melange
Angolans were delivered to Jamestown in 1619 until around the 1660s,
African-Americans enjoyed the same measure of freedom and rights given to
white English indentured servants. These African Americans of 17th century
Virginia were released after indenture, they bought land and they themselves
owned black and white, male and female servants. Many Melange Angolan males
married white European women during this period of the English American
colonies. The differences in races of the couples were often noted in
official documents. Their mixed race children would be recorded as “free
coloureds” in the later census. The only time the Africans held this kind of
freedom in early America was during the colonial period from the 1620s to the
1660s, the very period when the great majority of slaves being shipped west
from Africa were almost exclusively Portuguese captives from Melange Angola.
3. The third situation to note is that at the time she was first planting
colonies in North America, (1610-1660), England was not yet established as a
significant slave trading nation. The argument is hard to make that the
first Africans came to America anywhere else but from Melange Angola. The
American colonies were at this time dependant for African man-power from
sources such as English and Dutch pirates and privateers who preyed upon the
Portuguese and Spanish ships leaving Luanda, Angola to cross the Atlantic
Ocean with Melange slaves. The Virginians relied on men like John Powell,
captain of the pirate ship, the Hopewell. Another privateer was John Jope, a
Calvinist minister who captained the man-o-war, the ‘White Lion’ under Dutch
authority. Another was a Captain Guy who seized slaves from a ship off the
African coast and traded them to Jamestown colonists for tobacco in 1628.
These freelance English privateers were taking slaves from Spanish ships who
had earlier bought them from the Portuguese controlling Angola in 1621. At
that time the Portuguese had conquered no part of Angola other than the
The English American colonies also brought Africans in from the Sugar Islands
and for a time from the Dutch who, in the 1640s took Angola from the
Portuguese and for a decade redirected Melange captives into Dutch interests
like New Amsterdam (today’s New York). Dutch New Yorkers resold many of
these Africans to Virginia colonists. It is important to remember that from
1619 to 1660, the main source for captured Africans available to North
America, was the Melange area of Angola, Africa between the Lukala and Kwanza
rivers of the old kingdom of Ndongo. And the timing of the availability of
Melange Africans to Virginia coincided with the relatively short period when
liberal Virginia laws gave Africans equal rights with whites in the 17th
One of the first Africans to appear in the documents of the Virginia colony
was John Geaween or Gowan, sometimes incorrectly translated ‘Graweere’.
Geaween, a servant of colonist William Evans, had a son by Margaret Cornish,
an African servant of Robert Sheppard of Elizabeth Cittie in the Virginia
Colony. That son is believed by some genealogists to have been Mihill Goin,
sometimes named as ‘Gowen’. In 1641, John Geaween earned his freedom and
purchased his own land. He also received the freedom of his young son from
Sheppard in court.
Mihill Goin was raised by another Virginia colonist, Christopher Stafford,
who may have taught him to read and write. Mihill had a son, William, by an
African woman servant named Rosa. Rosa’s mistress was Ann Stafford
Barnhouse, sister of Captain Stafford. In the 1650s Ann is recorded as
acknowledging the freedom of Mihill and his son William, though not the
liberty of Rosa. Mihill Goin bought land and he apparently re-married a
white woman and had other children by her; children sometimes referred to in
Virginia papers as “mulattoes”. Interracial marriages of this kind were not
at all uncommon at that time in colonial Virginia history.
The Goin surname from 1630s Virginia, along with its numerous variations, is
one of the most common surnames in almost all tri-racial groups in North
America including the Melungeons. Since the vast majority of incoming
Africans in the 17th century were from Melange Angola, it is almost certain
that the Melange area was the native home of the first Goins in early 17th
century Virginia. It is in this area of Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and
the Carolinas that Melungeons, tri-racial and free coloureds, first appear
early in American history.
Could the name “Melange” have survived the harsh Middle Passage from Africa
to America? An African named Antonio was one of the first to arrive in
Virginia. He married, prospered and had children. Years later, his
grandson, John Johnson Jr. purchased a 44-acre tract in 1677 in Somerset.
The grandson of the African patriarch built a plantation and called it…
“Angola”, nearly 60 years after the arrival of the old Portuguese captive.
Memories and stories lingered.
Is it also possible that the name “Melange” managed to survive in the form of
“Melungeon”, especially since the 17th century African ancestors of the
Melungeons almost certainly originated in Melange Angola?
Some say “Melungeon” comes from a French word, “melange” meaning “mixture”.
But the French who had a number of African colonies, did not refer to blacks
or mixed races as “Melungeons”. They habitually used Spanish loan words like
“mulatto” and “mestizo” to describe mixed African and white blood. It is not
likely that this name was given to North American tri-racials by the French.
It may be that “Melungeon” is a name retained by the descendants of the first
blacks to Virginia in 1619 and also by hundreds who came later, to describe
their original African locality. It was not a name given them by their
masters, employers or neighbors. Thousands of Melange African-Americans also
correctly identified themselves as “Portuguese” after that nation which had
colonized Angola in the 17th century. They claimed that nationality in the
face of English skepticism. Could not they also have remember “Melange”?
Thorton writes, “It is probable that, in the decades that followed, those who
survived the first year in Virginia eventually encountered more Angolans from
their homeland or from the nearby Congo, brought especially to New York by
Dutch traders and resold to Virginia colonists…These new captives perhaps
gave a certain Angolan touch to the early Chesapeake.” The glut of
Portuguese slave traffic from Angola may also have thrown old Melange Ndongo
comrades together in early Virginia.
During the ensuing years, different roads were taken by descendants of Mihill
Goin of colonial Jamestown. Some of his sons married African women, others
married into Native American tribes, and still others married European women.
After 400 years, these branches may have little or no physical resemblance
to each other. But the three branches share roots in the highlands of
Melange Angola no matter the present color of their skin. Originally the
name “Melungeon” perhaps would not have been used exclusively to describe
only tri-racials. Early use would have included all American descendants of
African captives from the Melange Plateau of Angola in the 17th century.
Later the ties of shared roots were lost among the many other non-Angolan
tribes brought to America. It may have been guarded only by the isolated
mixed-race children of the early 17th century group of African Americans who
had escaped the institution of slavery for life.
The window of freedom in colonial America was opened only briefly to the
Melange Africans, but apparently opened long enough to give birth to the
people known today as the Melungeons.
The End of Part One.
2) Dear Cousins
Yes, I’m delighted to be back in circulation–quite a luxury after spending
the last two years trying to bring my first book to publication while
working on the research for the second. I should be a fixture for the
forseeable future. I am flattered that you would want me on GRF’s advisory
board but would be happy to oblige.
As far as my professional credentials go, I have degrees in U.S. history
from Harvard (B.A. 1990) and Duke (M.A. 1992, Ph.D. 1996). My first book,
Southern Workers and the Search for Community, was released this month from
University of Illinois Press (check out their website if you’re curious,
although it’s on a very different topic). My interest in the Goinses and
like families dates back to my teen years, when I worked (in my spare time)
as a professional genealogist in Halifax Co., Va.; I was responsible, among
other things, for the two published volumes of cemetery listings there.
While doing research on other families at the courthouse I came across the
Goins, Wilson, Epps, Stewart, and other “mulatto” families. I was
fascinated to discover–as we all were, at one time or another–the
existence of folks who were neither black nor white in a society like the
antebellum South. Who were they? How did they survive? What became of
their descendants? Certainly their very existence challenged the rigid
black/white racial views with which I had been raised in the 1970s and early
1980s. My interest simmered for years and almost became my dissertation,
but instead I opted to write first about my own family’s heritage in the
Carolina textile mills–a project that involved hundreds of oral interviews,
which, of course, can only be postponed so long with elderly informants.
Now that I’ve completed that book, my other research can assume its full
My present project involves a rather large handful of families and
communities in the NC/VA border counties, including their diaspora in TN,
KY, OH, IN, IL, and elsewhere. I am interested in how mixed-race families
maneuvered in different times and places and under various circumstances as
American society (and American racism) moved forward. My hope is that
studying families like the Goinses can shed light not only on how racial
attitudes evolved in America, but also on other, forgotten, perhaps even
alternative “racial scripts.” In addition to Goinstown and the Patrick Co.
Goinses, I’m working on a congeries of families (25 or so) in Surry, Yadkin,
and Stokes Cos.; three separate mixed-race communities in Wake Co., NC; the
so-called “Person County Indian” group in Person Co., NC, and Halifax Co.,
VA; and a number of other “stray” families in southside Virginia and central
NC. My genealogical research is odd in that I’m trying to move forward in
time rather than backward–hence my need to contact as many descendants as I
can. What I’m looking for are “racial narratives”–accounts of family
origin, racial makeup, etc., such as abound in the 1907-08 Cherokee
applications. To me, such stories are in and of themselves fascinating,
whatever the “proof” of ancestry might be. And of course in many cases
we’ll never really know.
My years as a graduate student were not pleasant; upon completion of my
Ph.D. I opted out of professional academia entirely, making me an
“independent scholar.” Right now, however, I’m between paying jobs, so I
may take a teaching job–at least for a bit–in the coming year. We shall
see. In the meantime “independent scholar” I remain.
Thanks for resupplying me with the necessary log-in info. As soon as I have
a chance to fully peruse the areas of the Manuscript I’m most interested in,
I’ll start forwarding updates. I’m especially pleased with my work on the
Goinstown “outreach” community at Benville, Indiana.
I recently stumbled across the surname of one of my great-grandmothers,
Sally GAIN(e)S, who was living in Castleton, VT at the time of her marriage
to my Alexander McARTHUR, c. 1804.
Alex’s grandfather was from Scotland and the Scot/NA connection has been
well documented in several areas. I was just wondering if there’s any
possibility that this might be the case here as ‘GAINS’ is so very close to
‘GOINS’. I just haven’t run across any previous reference to any Goins
family being in VT. Nor have I been able to locate any info to date on the
GAINS family either.
Is anyone familiar with this possibility? I’d SURE appreciate ANY help
here! I’m hopeful that this might prove to be my NA connection…..
(typing with fingers crossed)
Be sure to include Renewal story in Oct.
==Dear Cousins ==
I am searching for GOWENS GOWANS GOINS roots. My maternal ggrandpa Robert Busby (of Cedartown, GA) married Mary Jane Gowens in Dec. 1888 (Cherokee co., AL marriage records). She had been maried before in Aug. 1885 to Franklin Stone (no indication if he died, left, or they divorced–though divorce was very uncommon then). Robert and Mary jane’s first son was Fred Busby, my mother’s father, born dec. 1889.
Mary Jane Gowens was born Aug. 6, 1866 in Rock Run, AL (east of Gadsden, AL west of Cedartown, GA)–died Nov 1918. Her father was James L. Gowens and her mother was Marcena ?–born in SC. I am led to believe that Gowens,etc. is a melungeon and/or Indian name and background. Does anyone know about these Gowens, busbys or for that matter, the Spear, Coursey, Marsh, Lynch lines?
Mary jane Gowens suffered from asthma and died as a result of being given wrong medicine for her asthma attcks.
NOTE: The above information produced by the Gowen Research Foundation (GRF), and parts of the “Gowen Manuscript” they worked on producing. It has tons of information – much of it is correct, but be careful, some of it is not correct – so check their sources and logic. I’ve copied some of their information in the past researching my own family, only to find out there were some clear mistakes. So be sure to check the information to verify if it is right before citing the source and believing the person who researched it before was 100% correct. Most of the information I found there seems to be correct, but some is not.
Their website is: Internet: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~gowenrf
There does not seem to be anyone “manning the ship” at the Gowen Research Foundation, or Gowen Manuscript site any longer, and there is no way to contact anyone about any errors. The pages themselves don’t have a mechanism to leave a note for others to see any “new information” that you may have that shows when you find info that shows something is wrong, or when something has been verified.
Feel free to leave messages about any new information found, or errors in these pages, or information that has been verified that those who wrote these pages may not have known about.