Morgan Griffith: The Melungeon People

morgan griffithVirginia recently celebrated a milestone anniversary. Four hundred years ago on July 30, the body that became the Virginia House of Delegates first met at Jamestown.

In the case of Jamestown, we can look back and trace a clear line from origins to the present day. The 1619 Jamestown assembly grew into the House of Burgesses of our colonial era and subsequently the House of Delegates that still meets in Richmond.

Not all aspects of our history are so clearly developed. One example of this occurred to me while talking with my new District Director, John Bebber.

John is of Melungeon background, with his family hailing from Pound in Wise County. Melungeons are often associated with the Appalachian region of the United States, for example being tied to Scott, Lee, and Wise Counties here in the Commonwealth. Some common, but by no means universal, characteristics are Mediterranean-like skin tones, an Anatolian knot on the back of the head, and shovel teeth, and they hold certain family names such as Mullins or Collins.

What is the origin of the Melungeon people? Unlike our House of Delegates, we do not have a definitive story, and so tales abound. They could be descendants of the Lost Colony of Roanoke on the Outer Banks or, reaching much further back than Sir Walter Raleigh’s doomed colony, Phoenicians escaping Carthage.

As someone of Welsh background and chairman of the Congressional Friends of Wales Caucus, I should note yet another theory linking them to the legendary Welsh Prince Madoc who supposedly sailed to the New World in the 12th century.

Still more theories see their characteristics, similar to Mediterranean natives, coming from Spanish or Portuguese explorers and sailors from colonial times.

Whatever their background, they were not exempt from the shameful racial discrimination that has too often tinged our history. In Virginia, this meant that they were subject to the noxious Racial Integrity Act passed in 1924.

Today, fortunately, Melungeon ancestry is the subject of fascination and exploration, with reunions and organizations such as the Melungeon Heritage Association ( promoting discussion and interest. The availability of DNA testing has led research in Melungeon background down this pathway, although different samples have yielded different results.

In any event, the story of the Melungeons is a captivating part of our Appalachian story. The remaining questions about the history and the prevalence of people with Melungeon heritage in our area make it a unique thread in our cultural tapestry.

As John says, “I am extremely proud of my Melungeon ancestry. Melungeon culture and heritage is Appalachian culture and heritage at its finest. It is unique, fascinating, and strong in the face of adversity. I hope that more people will want to research the possibility of their own Melungeon ancestry after reading this.”

Congressional App Challenge

It’s time again for the Congressional App Challenge, an opportunity for high school students to display their talents, engage their creativity, and encourage their participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education fields.  The App Challenge will highlight the value of computer science and STEM education, help to shine a light on the growing importance of these skills, and encourage student engagement in these fields.

As part of this challenge, a participating high school student or a group of up to four students may create and submit their app for mobile, tablet, or computer devices on a platform of their choice.

Students are encouraged to register online by September 10, 2019 before submitting their app by November 1, 2019. The competition is open to all students who meet the eligibility requirements, regardless of coding experience.

Last year’s Ninth District winners were Lebanon High School students Roger Mullins, William Osborne, and Nathanael Ray, with their app VoteIT. I look forward to the ideas this year’s competitors will develop.

Faculty or students may contact Tammie Bebout of my staff at 276-525-1405 or by email at with any questions related to the competition.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office.  You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.

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