On his back he carried a net "to catch fools." Being attacked by Sir Artegal and his iron man, he turned himself first into a fox, then to a bush, then to a bird, then to a hedgehog, then to a snake; but Talus was a match for all his deceits, and killed him. (Spenser: Faërie Queene, v. 9.)
(E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898. found at www.bartleby.com)
From Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene. The following was in the story, notice how when he speaks in general terms he uses Malengine, but the specific person is Malengin (Italics mine):
LIII. And all attonce discovered her desire
With sighes, and sobs, and plaints, and piteous griefe,
The outward sparkes of her inburning fire;
Which spent in vaine, at last she told her briefe,
That but if she did lend her short reliefe
And doe her comfort, she mote algates dye:
But the chaste damzell, that had never priefe
Of such malengine and fine forgerye,
Did easely beleeve her strong extremitye.
V. Thereto both his owne wylie wit, (she sayd)
And eke the fastnesse of his dwelling place,
Both unassaylable, gave him great ayde:
For he so crafty was to forge and face,
So light of hand, and nymble of his pace,
So smooth of tongue, and subtile in his tale,
That could deceive one looking in his face:
Therefore by name Malengin they him call,
Well knowen by his feates, and famous overall.
The 1813 Stoney Creek Baptist Church records:
September the 26, 1813
Church sat in love. Brother Kilgore, Moderator. Then came forward Sister
Kitchen and complained to the church against Susanna Stallard for saying she
harbored them Melungins (Melungeons). Sister Sook said she was hurt with
her for believing her child and not believing her, and she won't talk to her to
get satisfaction, and both is "pigedish", one against the other. Sister
Sook lays it down and the church forgives her. Then came forward Cox and relates
to the church that he went to the Association and took the letter and they
received the letter in fellowship. Dismissed.
Interesting way they spelled that last part GINS. MELUNGINS-----MALENGINS (that is VERY close.)
So you say: OK, but what does all this mean regarding Melungeons?
What it means is that we have a very viable theory for the origin of the word Melungeon. We don’t need to go back hundreds of years, or search out words used in other non-English speaking countries. We have here a word that was in use in the English language, and appeared in documents, and classic works of literature. Plus, to my thinking—we have precedent.
It is well known the people of Appalachia, and Melungeons in particular used words that were becoming archaic, and not much in use beyond Appalachia. Two old words I often heard while growing up were SOT meaning a drunkard, or no good. BLACKGUARD meaning a no good, bad person. SOT shows up in 5 or 6 of Shakespeare's plays, BLACKGUARD shows up several times in Cooper's Leatherstocking books, and other classic works of literature. So when I saw that the classic Faerie Queene used this strange MALENGIN word, I was immediately interested. It may have come into use through other works, but since Faerie Queene has had such a long publishing history, and has been around for centuries, I am inclined to think that someone familiar with this long poem may have started the ball rolling.
Someone brought to my attention their concern that this new theory of where the word Melungeon could have come from throws Melungeons in an "un-flattering" light. I guess I see things differently. Melungeons were not generally ever historically held in a flattering light. They were quite often held in contempt because of their skin color, and tendency to be secretive and hold fellowship with one another.
This name Malengin is extremely similar to the first appearance in the church records where the word appeared in 1813 as: MELUNGINS. look at MALENGINS. It is no stretch to consider that these words are quite similar, and more than that—they were used in the same way: contemptuously.
I guess I am not offended if you want to label my ancestors as cunning, wily, full of guile. They were to some extent, as people of color in an ever increasingly prejudice south they had to be.
When I think of Spenser's Malengin, it strikes me that he was yet another trickster arch-type like Loki in the Norse stories, Brother Rabbit of the Cherokees, and famous Coyote of the western tribes. So I am not offended by a term that, though meant as an insult, spoke of the ability of a people to survive.
Spenser's Faerie Queene has a long history of being published, right through the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries to the present. I am told that it was "required reading" in the US east, and as a poem would have been familiar to the poetic Appalachian people, particularly those from Scotland.
This term Malengine was in the Magna Carta, and in Webster's Dictionary 1828, by then it was already falling out of use. But since the first appearance of Melungins was in 1813, and since Appalachia had a habit of keeping alive old words that were out of use in other places—this just ads to the likelihood of the theory.
This is not an exotic theory, nor is it terribly mysterious. I personally like the "Melun Jinn" Mediterranean theory better, but we have a word here that was in Classic Works of Literature, in Dictionaries, and had the same meaning as was used against the early Melungeons. Consider the first time Dromgoole heard the word described by a Senator:
"tricky as a Melungeon".
In her book on Melungeons Jean Patterson Bible said:
"Wherever the name came from, up until recent years, Melungeons were
justified in resenting it as it was always used as an expression of contempt
or a disparaging implication,..."
It is just another theory, but there are a few of us who have taken a hard look at it, and are growing in our belief that this could have been the origin of the word Melungeon. See the paragraphs following for an historic example of Melungeons who acted as a Malengin.
It is a widely held belief that the Arthurian imprint is found throughout the Appalachians in early America. Jack Tales and other like stories were brought to America by our European ancestors who came to the area in the late 1700s.
Other than stories from the Bible, the legends of King Arthur have been told and retold in many ways throughout the centuries, more than any other. One can only imagine the settlers at old Fort Blackmore sitting around a campfire telling stories that were told to them by their parents and grandparents.
The word Malengin [or mal engine] is a favorite word used by Sir Thomas Malory in his tales of King Arthur meaning "mischievous intent." Anyone who has read or heard the stories of Vardy Collins and Buck Gibson should be able to easily see why they would be dubbed "Malengins" by their neighbors.
This is the story as told by Will Allen Dromgoole in the article THE
MELUNGEON TREE AND THEIR FOUR BRANCHES written in 1890;
"They claimed to have come from Virginia and many years after emigrating,
themselves told the story of their past. These two, Vardy Collins and Buck
Gibson, were the head and source of the Melungeons in Tennessee. With the
cunning of their Cherokee ancestors, they planned and executed a scheme by
which they were enabled to "set up for themselves" in the almost unbroken
Territory of North Carolina. Old Buck, as he was called, was disguised by a
wash of some dark description, and taken to Virginia by Vardy where he was
sold as a slave.
He was a magnificent specimen of physical strength, and brought a fine
price, a wagon and mules, a lot of goods, and three hundred dollars in money
being paid to old Vardy for his "likely nigger". Once out of Richmond, Vardy
turned his mules shoes and stuck out for the wilderness of North Carolina,
as previously planned. Buck lost little time ridding himself of his negro
disguise, swore he was not the man bought of Collins , and followed in the
wake of his fellow thief to the Territory. The proceeds of the sale were div
ided and each chose his habitation; old Vardy choosing Newman's Ridge, where
he was soon joined by others of his race, and so the Melungeons became a
part of the inhabitants of Tennessee."
She goes on to say the MULLINS were the first to introduce white blood into
these "Melungeons," the GOINS the first to introduce the African, and the
DENHAM introduced the Portuguese.
Many researchers believe Vardy Collins and Buck Gibson were the original Melungeons of Newman's Ridge, and perhaps the first people actually called Melungeons. There are also many first hand accounts that describes them as "Indians," with long straight hair, coppery skin, etc., yet there is no evidence there was a tribe known as Melungeons.
The word itself has not been found prior to the church records in Scott County, Virginia in 1813, this is a question that begs to be answered, why? The very logical conclusion is there were no Melungeons prior to Vardy Collins and Buck Gibson locating in the area.
If all of this sounds a bit far fetched one only has to remember Maynard G. Krebs and how the "beatnik" was born. In 1960 anyone who wore rumpled clothes, sandals, a long beard and hated work became a beatnik. A whole generation was born with the airing of one show, and had television been around in 1800 might there not have been an entire nation of Malengins
rather than just a ridge? How many of the new generation even know what a beatnik is yet their grandfather was probably one.
This theory pretty much makes just about everyone who ever wrote anything about Melungeons fairly correct. They could be anyone from any ancestry, born in any country or from any tribe with any name. The fact is they were tricksters, bent on mischievious intent, using the cunning of their ancestors to make a buck.