Watch Out: There’s a Melungeon in the Wood Pile
I originally thought my 2% Jewish DNA had to originate from my father, as many Italians can trace their genetic origins to the Middle East. However, I have a second cousin on my mother’s side who has a DNA pattern similar to mine along with some derived from the Berbers of North Africa and Spain. Further investigation revealed that my 5th Great Grandfather, William Cooper, who descended from a Sephardic Jewish London shop-keeper was roaming around Southeast Colonial America in the 1700s.
Cooper was an Indian Trader, acted as a Spanish speaking scout for Daniel Boone and married a half breed Choctaw or Cherokee woman. Her father was Issac Labon; a dispossessed Sephardic Jew who also emigrated from London. This means that my 7th great grandmother and both of my 8th great grandparents were full blooded Native Americans.
The best explanation for this phenomenon is rooted in the three great diasporas created by the Spanish Inquisition; which lasted for over three centuries after about 1440. Spanish and Portuguese Sephardic Jews, as well as Muslim Berbers living in these countries were given three choices: Convert to Catholicism, not to convert and forcibly leave the country without money, precious metal or belongings, or stay and face immediate execution, often by public burning at the stake; the infamous auto-da-fe.
The Berbers may have been descendants of the Carthaginians, who settled North Africa and then went to Spain in the Islamic conquest of the southern part of this country where they probably intermarried local Sephardic Jews. In the Spanish Catholic re-conquest of Muslim southern Spain, all these groups were persecuted, murdered and dispossessed; causing over a million souls to flee to Europe or elsewhere. Some, including William Cooper’s ancestors became French Huguenots; who were then subsequently persecuted in that country and fled to England.
The Coopers variously described their origins as Black Irish, Black Scots, Portuguese, Spanish, and French Huguenot. In this case although other mixed race early Americans may have descended from shipwrecked slaves; the references to “black” has more to do with dark olive skin color than continental African racial origin. In fact, it was commonplace for East Coast American Indians to intermarry the dark skinned outcasts from Europe, who had found their way to the New World as early as the 1500s and circulated easily among the natives. Then over the years, Indian and Jewish/Berber features tended to fade as more of these people or their offspring inter-married European Caucasians.
Eventually becoming labelled Melungeons, these pariah groups settled large enclaves in the Appalachian area; began Original or First Baptist Churches that retained certain semblances to ceremonial Jewish culture and also had a significant presence in beginning the Masonic Temples; that also eschewed conventional New Testament ideology.Masons do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah; defaulting rather to the teachings of John the Baptist. Original Baptists have no steeples or crosses on their churches, no icons or crucifixes in the interior, sing Cantor led acapella line-hymns, subscribe to full immersion Baptism, avoid using Christian Saint’s names for their children, and circumcise their males.
In one tragic case of 18th century genetic misinterpretation in Appalachia, a man married a woman who was a light skinned Melungeon. Not knowing that her father was very dark; when the baby arrived dark skinned too; he killed both wife and child; thinking that the child was not his own.
Interestingly; Daniel Boone, Elvis Presley, and Abraham Lincoln are all considered to be members of this “Last Lost Tribe.”
Ironically enough, although my mother was a cognitive bigot, she did frequently tell us that family folklore stated we were French Huguenot and part Cherokee. We thought she was crazy; but now realize the power of verbally transmitted heritage. Coincidentally, both my second cousin and my brother have very dark skin. My brother never burns in the sun and my mother always referred to him as being “her little Indian;” a little Indian that my father occasionally wanted to kill too, but not because he thought the child was a bastard.
But we all passed for White; Anglo-Saxon…. and Protestant, too; leaving the Native American/Berber/Jewish heritage hidden somewhere buried close to the bottom of the family wood pile. Also, having survived the 15th century Spanish Holocaust; as being part Sephardic, we can rightfully say to the Ashkenazi; that we reserve certain bragging rights on being at the head of the line for various attempts at European Jewish genocide.
Some data from: Melungeons: The Last Lost Tribe in America by Elizabeth Caldwell Hirschman and Donald Panther-Yates: Cooper Family Tree: http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/p/a/n/Donald-N-Pantheryates/BOOK-0001/0007-0001.html