The Roanoke Colony was an enterprise financed and organized by Sir Walter Raleigh in the late 16th century to establish a permanent English settlement in the Virginia Colony. In 1585, during his West Indian Voyage, Sir Francis Drake began attacking Spanish colonies in the Atlantic so that he could supply Raleigh's colony with additional supplies and people -- the slaves he had captured. But, 10 days after Drake's ship arrived, there arose a hurricane and the 500 slaves had to be freed to save the ships. It is believed the captured slaves mixed with members from the colony at Roanoke and all were eventually absorbed into the surrounding native american tribes. By the time the census came around, all of the people were gone. The ordeal became known as the lost colony.
In the mid 1700's, several families lived together, migrating from area to area in the backwoods deep in the heart of appalachia, incuding the Newman Ridge and Blackwater areas in Virginia and East Tennessee, then later moving to Orange County, North Carolina and onto to the Clinch River area near a portion of Hawkins County that is now in Hancock County, Tennessee. They were known as Melungeons, or Molatas, a mysterious group of people who had swarthy complexions, straight black hair, black or gray eyes. They were considered neither white, black, nor Indian, but free people of color; people of a mixed race. Melungeons believed themselves to be of Cherokee and Portuguese extraction. Most also believe they descended from the lost colony.
During the American Revolution, the term Tory was used to describe loyalists...colonists who sided with Great Britian against the revolutionaries. In 1781, Captain William Thomas Riddle, a reckless North Carolina Tory leader, and a Melungeon, captured two soldiers commanded by Colnel Benjamin Cleveland of the Wilkes County Militia. The prisoners were given the choice of taking the oath of allegiance to Great Britan and joining the Tory band or being shot as traitors to the Crown. They took the oath but quickly made their way to militia leaders and gave them Riddle's location. Riddle was captured, court martialed and hung.
The Melungeons called their leaders "King" instead of "Chief." Micajah Bunch was the King of the Blackwater Melungeonites. Born in 1733 near where the Saponi tribe lived, King Micajah was part Melungeon and part Cherokee. He is believed to be the first melungeon to be in the Newman Ridge area. Captain Riddle's wife, Happy, had been seen riding with the tory gang and she had been spotted slipping into town to watch her husbands execution. Fearing for her life, King Micajah and the other Melungeons fled to the Clinch River area in Tennessee. Eventually, Happy died and when she did, the others decided to move on. Destination: Stockton Valley.
The year was 1798. King Micajah and the others were among the first settlers to arrive at Stockton Valley. Thomas Stockton had been the first to arrive in 1797, followed by the George Smith family and then the family of William Wood. The Wood family contained several sons who had fought proudly for america's freedom. Some believe that William Riddle started out fighting for the same cause but had become estranged and switched sides. Either way, Stockton Valley may not have been the best place for King Micajah to be, considering he was alleged to have been a part of William Riddle's Tory gang. Micajah Bunch is listed on the Cumberland County tax rolls for 1798, but not 1804, meaning he probably died between 1799 and 1804. There are no other records concerning his whereabouts, or demise, anywhere after 1798. What is weird is that, along with Micajah Bunch, most of the other Melungeon families names are also missing from the 1805 tax list. Perhaps they took King Micajah back to Virginia to be buried, perhaps to Tennessee. Perhaps he is buried here, but it is doubtful.
In August of 1991, 15-year-old Michael Joseph Bullard died as the result of an accident at a swimming pool in Smyrna, Tennessee. He was the great-great-grandson of Micajah Bunch, last known King of the Melungeon people. Michael was the last of the tribunal bloodline.
One Melungeon man, Valentine Collins, was received under the watchcare of Clear Fork Baptist Church in August 1806. For almost a year, the Church continuously deals with Collins over where his Church membership is prior to coming to Stockton Valley. For some reason, the issue isn't resolved until the September 1807 business meeting when the Church declares non-fellowship with him. Clerk William Wood later wrote that Collins was a transient member, meaning he was only passing through At that September business meeting, there is an issue regarding allowing one church member to keep a horse as payment for making a coffin for 'Bro. Bunch.' It appears the coffin was for King Micajah's brother, William, who is the only Bunch listed in Clear Fork's records between 1802 and 1807. But, William Bunch apparently was not a member, or at least his name does not appear on the roll. Several Melungeon family names appear in Church records the first year; specifically Roberts, Robbins and Roberson. Records show that William and Happy Riddle's sons, James and Joseph Riddle, settled in Cumberland County in 1805. However, neither were members of Clear Fork Baptist Church.