It is dangerous to pre-suppose you know someone simply by a picture. This picture is exactly such a picture. 24 hours ago I had very different feelings than I do now about this picture. 24 hours ago I saw a woman with deep set eyes, sunken shoulders, and a stern expression. I saw hair deeply thinned as if she had led a poor and deeply encumbered existence. I knew she was from Tennessee and had died in Cherokee, Kansas. But, that is all we knew.
We blogged yesterday about the the Davis Tragedies At The Two Kerr’s Creek Massacres and Muddy Creek Massacre.
What you learn from that blog is that our maternal side of the family, stemming from Lucinda Cunningham’s Grandpa, where all butchered by Indians at two different Kerr’s Creek Indian Massacres. It is in these raids where Lucinda lost her grandfather and two of her grandfathers brothers and sister along with all their children.
The events were horrific.
Now when I look at this picture of Lucinda I see a different woman. I first ask, has this woman too been scalped and survived like her cousin Margaret who was scalped at 8 and survived and then taken captive in the second Kerr’s Creek raid by the same Indians? Lucinda was not alive yet during the first set of massacres, but when I look at her picture and see her hair I am now asking an entirely different set of questions. Why is her hair like that? I feel a tad ignorant realizing that I couldn’t fathom even asking the question, “was she scalped?”….24 hours ago. This is why we love learning about history so much, even if we may disagree with some of it. It teaches us, informs us, opens our eyes to things we before could have never imagined.
As I look at this woman now, I am motivated to know her story, not shun her aesthetics. I now know her husband, John R., our 2nd great grandfather, died somewhat young, at the age of 48, in Bourbon County, Kansas. I now know, Lucinda and John had 14 children (give or take few due to poor record keeping). It doesn’t appear that she ever remarried. What was that like for this what appears to be hardened woman? How would I fair in such a situation? Poorly.
We do know now after digging into the life of our ancestors that John R. and Lucinda’s son Henry Monroe Davis, older brother to our great grandfather, Robert Housten Davis., had grandchildren who were Cherokee.
Above in this picture of our ancestors Henry Monroe Davis is in the front center. He is our 2nd great uncle. All the way to the left in the front row is his son James Madison Davis, our first cousin (2x). His wife behind him in the second row, first woman, is Sally Anne Collins, Cherokee Indian. Their kids are around them. Collins is a primary “Melungeon” name. Collins originated from Old Virginia then moved into Tennessee.
What was it like marrying into and having Melungeon offspring in a society that probably looked down upon such things? Of course in contemporary times we find these genetic and relational diversities pretty cool. But, what about back then?…..again, I look at the picture of Lucinda and wonder, what was your life really like? What stories of old were told at your dinner table eves as a child? What did you know of the “Lost Race” of Appalachia for which your grandchildren are a part?
So many questions for this amazing woman, whose deep set eyes, drooped shoulders, stern down turned lips and thinned hair, all speak to a life hard lived. How hard? I can’t even imagine. We are so very blessed to have such strength and endurance to withstand hardships in our family tree.
Below is more information on Melungeons for those who are curious.
According to documented family research old Thomas Collins Sr. born before 1710 was the father and or grandfather of the historical Tennessee Melungeon Collins. At least one of Thomas Collins parents (unknown) was probably full blood Saponi Indian.
Collins family history handed down from father to son was; “The Collins were living in Virginia as Indians before they migrated to North Carolina, and they stole the name Collins from white settlers” ( Will Allen Dromgoole’s 1890 interview with Calloway Collins, (Melungeons And Other Pioneer Families.) Other Collins men who were associated with Thomas Collins Sr. in New Kent, later Louisa County, Va. were probably his brothers. They were Samuel Collins, John Collins and William Collins.
The Melungeons are a group of racially mixed people who can be found in Southeastern Kentucky, Southwestern Virginia, and Northeastern Tennessee, in a region called the Cumberland Gap. A number of myths surround the origins and history of the Melungeons, and it can be difficult to find verifiable information about them. The group has been a topic of widespread interest and discussion since the mid-1800s, and in the late 20th century, many genealogists became interested in tracing the genetic and cultural history of the Melungeons.
Different people have different explanations for who exactly the Melungeons are and where they came from. As a general rule, it is agreed that members of the group are of mixed ancestry, probably combining European, Native American, and African genes. The dark complexion, hair, and eyes of many Melungeons suggests that they may have a high proportion of Hispanic or Middle Eastern ancestors. Genetic testing has strongly supported the idea that Melungeons have a great deal of Southern European and Native American blood.
These ethnically diverse individuals are sometimes called the “lost” or “mysterious” people of Appalachia, since their origins are a bit mysterious, thanks to general confusion and popular mythology. Genealogists believe that the Melungeons were the natural result of ethnic intermarriages in the early colonies, and that they may have moved into Appalachia to avoid discrimination, a common problem for ethnically mixed individuals in the Americas. As a result of their self-imposed isolation, the Melungeons developed into a somewhat distinct and unique group, which some people refer to as a “tri-racial isolate,” in a reference to their mixed ancestry. Their appearance is quite distinctive, causing Melungeons to stand out from their neighbors.