Any fan of American bluegrass would be familiar with names like Jimmy Martin and Doyle Lawson. What you might not know is that they come from a little one stoplight town in Hancock County, Sneedville.
Sneedville is home to the Vardy Community School, the only institution providing primary education to Melungeon children living in the remote mountainous areas along the Tennessee-Virginia border during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
After visiting the Vardy Community mission school you might wanna stop next door to see Mahala Mullins Cabin. I sure did. And when I did, I heard some amazing stories from Mahala Mullins’ great-great niece.
As the story goes, “Aunt Haley” was a big moonshiner. I don’t say big because of the amount of moonshine she made. Mahala was a big ole gal, weighing around 500 pounds! Her log cabin was situated right on the state line between Virginia and Tennessee. So whenever the “revenue men” would come to shut her down, she’d just pick up her stills and drag ‘em over to the other side of the house!
Later on when she got too old to move back and forth she’d just sit there grinning at the lawmen and their warrants for arrest. She knew they’d never be able to transport her down the mountain. One deputy reported her to be “catchable but not fetchable.” When Mahala finally passed away she was so big, they had to build the coffin around her bed and carry her out of a hole in the wall that was meant for a chimney!
So next time your coming through Hancock County, stop by the Vardy Community and hear a tale or two about the mystery and heritage of the Melungeons of Newman’s Ridge!