Reviews of The Forgotten Portuguese

 

Manuel,

Thank you for publishing your work. I have been reading it for a few hours on the weekend. Over the years I have discovered our Portuguese roots on my maternal side.

The people in mountainous areas of Latin America speak a combination of Ladino and Portuguese. I see similarly that this is implied in the melunjos that lived in like settings. This is excellent to discover!

I'm enjoying this book very much.

Ignatius

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Caro anuel Mira,

The Portuguese Making of America

Muito honrado com o seu e-mail, informo-o que recebi o livro de que é autor e que tem muitissimo interesse! Até já o mostrei a alguns amigos meus que se mostraram espantados pelo desconhecimento que tinham relativamente à presença dos portugueses na América.-

Quanto a mim, o seu livro passou a ser uma referência. Bem haja e escreva mais.Um abraço,-

Eduardo J. Loureiro, Legal Counsel in Macao, S.A.R. - China-

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Manuel Mira. The Forgotten Portuguese: The Melungeons and Other Groups: The Portuguese Making of America. Franklin, NC:
The  Portuguese-American Historical Research Foundation, Inc. (P.A.H.R.F.)1998.

There is a group of people in the high mountain hollers and rugged ridges of Appalachia and in small communities in the American South, whose existence calls into question common assumptions about race, ethnicity, and American history. The Melungeons, a group typically noted for a "Mediterranean" appearance and "mysterious origins," have been a topic of local lore (and a good bit of racism) for over a century. But in an age of widespread preoccupation with "Unsolved Mysteries," searches for family roots, and public desire for the quaint authenticity of rural lifestyles, the Melungeons have become a national topic of considerable conversation among genealogists, amateur historians, and a growing number of people now claiming (at least distant) Melungeon heritage. To a large extent, though, there has been very little careful research on this group, and much of the recent talk about the Melungeons has only recapitulated even intensified simplistic notions of human variation.

In an attempt to make sense of Melungeon history and to posit possible Portuguese connections, Manuel Mira has written The Forgotten Portuguese: The Melungeons and Other Groups: The Portuguese Making of America. This book brings together a great diversity of historical resources and oral accounts of Iberian exploration and settlement since the 1500's of what would become the United States. It does this while trying to connect that history to speculations about the origins of the Melungeons, thus suggesting that the Melungeons are Portuguese descendants. The central premise that Portuguese travelers settled, had children (with each other and Native Americans), and formed communities that would come to be known as the Melungeons is a matter of speculation. However, the book assembles a useful set of resources for future study of the topic.

This book provides detailed timelines and numerous citations that will be helpful for future researchers and genealogists. There are abundant newspaper clippings, photographs, lists of common Melungeon names, maps, and historical accounts of Portuguese and other European travels in the Southeast over the past 400 years. Also, included in the book is detailed documentation of the numerous theories of Melungeon origins, which invite the reader to contemplate each for him or herself and follow up on the appropriate sources, which are either included or cited in the book. Mira's historical work shows that there is evidence in the historical record for the many Melungeon theories that have been advanced. There is a theory of a prehistoric "white race" of people maintaining its "racial purity" amidst the darker Native Americans over the centuries. There is a story that suggests the Melungeons are descendants of the Welsh who traveled west with Madoc. And there are theories about other origins such as: the lost tribe of Israel, Phoenician merchants, and descendants of Muslim explorers from Africa or the Middle East. There is also speculation of a Melungeon connection to the ill fated (so we think) Roanoke settlement on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Then there are the numerous permutations of Iberian origination stories, which bring us out of the realm of science fiction and have some historical grounding.

While Mira intentionally leaves many unanswered questions, he attempts to show the plausibility of Iberian connections to the Melungeons. He reminds the reader that throughout the 1500's Spanish explorers had a substantial fort in what is now Parris Island, South Carolina and lesser forts well into North Carolina and Tennessee, including a site near Morganton in the foothills of what is now North Carolina. Parties led by Hernando de Soto and Juan de Pardo were certainly in the vicinity of territory currently occupied by Melungeons. And we know that many of the people in Spanish led expeditions were Portuguese especially the skilled navigators. And, that doesn't acknowledge all of the fabled shipwrecks, pirates, undocumented settlement, and voyages whose records were lost or destroyed during Napoleonic occupation of Portugal and Spain. Indeed there are many unanswered questions relating to both Iberian occupation of the American South and Melungeon heritage, and Mr. Mira brings these questions into visibility.

The book also raises important questions about Melungeon ethnic identity. In a region where people are commonly divided into three groups Black, White, and Native American, the Melungeons blur perceived racial boundaries and demonstrate the inadequacy of the popular categories of human variation. Mira shows that at different moments in history Melungeons were categorized as "free people of color" or "mulatto." During the Jim Crow era, Melungeons non-white status officially prohibited them from the privileges of those considered "white." Melungeons generally were not allowed to attend white schools and often chose not to attend the schools for African Americans. However, it seems that whenever Melungeons non-white status was challenged (to marry a person who was considered white, for example), Jim Crow courts granted the Melungeons at least a provisional white status. Even though Melungeon identity has changed over the past two centuries, Melungeons have been cruelly stereotyped, and generally mistreated. They have often been treated as an exotic group of dangerous "others" or the mythical bogeymen of local lore. The Forgotten Portuguese also illustrates that much of the contemporary interest in the Melungeons has an air of reverence. But there are still problematic aspects of exoticism, which call for more critical interrogation.

 

 

 

 

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