Chestnut Ridge people

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Chestnut Ridge people
Total population
About 1,500
Regions with significant populations
 United States
Related ethnic groups
Melungeon, Mulatto

The Chestnut Ridge people (CRP) are a mixed-race (or tri-racial isolate) community residing just northeast of Philippi, Barbour County in north-central West Virginia, USA. They are often called "Mayles" (from the most common surname — Mayle or Male) or "Guineas" (a pejorative term).[1] Some CRP have identified as Melungeon and attended the Melungeon Unions or joined the Melungeon Heritage Association.[2] Many CRP identify themselves as Native American, or as an Indian-white mixed group.[3]


The local West Virginia historian Hu Maxwell was bemused by the origin of these people when he studied Barbour County history in the late 1890s:

There is a clan of partly-colored people in Barbour County often called "Guineas", under the erroneous presumption that they are Guinea negroes. They vary in color from white to black, often have blue eyes and straight hair, and they are generally industrious. Their number in Barbour is estimated at one thousand. They have been a puzzle to the investigator; for their origin is not generally known. They are among the earliest settlers of Barbour. Prof. W.W. Male of Grafton, West Virginia, belongs to this clan, and after a thorough investigation, says "They originated from an Englishman named Male who came to America at the outbreak of the Revolution. From that one man have sprung about 700 of the same name, not to speak of the half-breeds." Thus it would seem that the family was only half-black at the beginning, and by the inter-mixtures since, many are now almost white.[4]

The local pejorative term "guinea" was still being used more than a century after these words were written. By the 1860s, many individuals of these mixed-race families had married into the white community and their descendants identified as white, serving in West Virginia regiments during the Civil War. Records in the Barbour County Courthouse indicate that several of them petitioned the courts (successfully) to be declared legally white at this time.[5]

The people of "The Ridge" have traditionally been subject to severe racial discrimination, amounting to ostracism, by the surrounding majority white community. As recently as the late 1950s, a few Philippi businesses still posted notices proclaiming "White Trade Only" directed at the CRP. Although the local public schools were not segregated at this time, truancy laws — which were strictly enforced for white children — were typically neglected with regard to "Ridge people".


If related individuals in the surrounding counties of Harrison and Taylor are included, the CRP probably now number about 1,500, almost all of whom bear one of fewer than a dozen surnames. A 1977 survey of obituaries in The Barbour Democrat showed that 135 of 163 "Ridge people" (83%) were married to people having the last names Mayle, Norris, Croston, Prichard, Collins, Adams, or Kennedy. In 1984, of the 67 Mayles who had listed telephones, all but three lived on "The Ridge."[6]

Dissenting views[edit]

An extensive family history entitled The Males of Barbour County, West Virginia[7] was privately published in 1980 by B.V. Mayhle. He documented the origins of the Male, Mahle, Mayle, Mayhle name in the USA. His research found only one incident of interracial union. In an interview[citation needed], B.V. Mayhle pointed out that the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania press had carried repeated sensational magazine articles in the early 1900s about the area, highlighting its poverty and mixed-race communities. He suggests this was the origin of stories about the group. (Note: The account above predates such articles.) The photographs of Male descendants that are included in his book, many from this same time period, do not show obvious physical characteristics associated with African phenotypes. (But, numerous photographs of the Chestnut Ridge People during this time period show they had complexions noticeably darker than neighbors). Mayhle gave a detailed account of three brothers, direct descendants of Wilmore/William Male (the original Male immigrant), who served in regular white units in the US Civil war. Two served in the 7th W.V infantry and one in the 1st W.V. cavalry, all white units.



  1. ^ Price, Edward T., "A Geographical Analysis of White-Negro-Indian Racial Mixtures in the Eastern United States", Association of American Geographers Annals, Vol. 43 (June 1953) pp. 138-55.
  2. ^ "The Guineas of West Virginia: A Transcript of A Presentation at First Union", July 25, 1997, Wise Virginia by Joanne Johnson Smith & Florence Kennedy Barnett
  3. ^ McElwain, Thomas (1981), Our Kind of People: Identity, Community, and Religion on Chestnut Ridge, A Study of Native Americans in Appalachia, (Stockholm Studies in Comparative Religion, No. 20).
  4. ^ Maxwell, Hu (1899). The History of Barbour County, From its Earliest Exploration and Settlement to the Present Time, The Acme Publishing Company, Morgantown, W.Va. (Reprinted, McClain Printing Company, Parsons, W.Va., 1968). pp. 310–311. 
  5. ^ Petitions of George W. Male and James Male, January Session, 1861; Petitions of Hiram Male, Stephen Newman, Richard Male, Stephen A. Male, Levi Collins, Franklin Male, George W. Collins, Elisha Male, Hezekiah Male and William Male, November Session, 1866; Barbour County County Circuit Court Records. Cited in: Shaffer, John W. (2003), Clash of Loyalties: A Border County in the Civil War, Morgantown, West Virginia: West Virginia University Press, pp 220-221, n. 81.
  6. ^ "My Melungeon Depot", Pittsburgh Post Gazette. 31 December 1984. 
  7. ^ Mayhle, Bernard Victor (1980; 2nd ed., 1981, 3rd ed., 1983), The Males of Barbour County, West Virginia, Seattle, Washington, 167 pages. (West Virginia University, in Morgantown, West Virginia, has a copy of this privately printed item.)

Other sources[edit]

  • Gilbert, Jr., William Harlen (1946), "Mixed Bloods of the Upper Monongahela Valley, West Virginia"; Journal of the Washington Academy of the Sciences, Vol. 36, no. 1 (Jan. 15, 1946), pp 1–13.
  • Gilbert, Jr., William Harlen (1946), "Memorandum Concerning the Characteristics of the Larger Mixed-Blood Racial Islands of the Eastern United States"; Social Forces; 21/4 (May 1946), pp 438–477.
  • "Barbour County Home Of 'Guinea' Colony," Beckley Post Herald, 27 May 1965.
  • "We The People Of Chestnut Ridge", Goldenseal, Fall 1999.

See also[edit]