The Monacans are a group of people of mixed ancestry recognized as a Native American tribe by the state of Virginia in the United States. They are located primarily in Amherst County, Virginia near Lynchburg, Virginia. As of 2005 there are approximately 1,400 members of the tribe. There are satellite groups in West Virginia, Maryland, and Ohio.
There is no conclusive evidence linking members of the contemporary tribe with the historic tribe.
In 1924, the Virginia Racial Integrity Act required racial designations on legal documents such as birth, marriage and death certificates, and required classification as "colored" of people with any known African ancestry. The state designated some Monacan ancestors as "colored" and others as "white." Based on the state's miscegenation laws, such individuals were forbidden to marry across "racial" lines. When ancestors of current Monacan families entered the U.S. military, they resisted accepting the classification of "colored." Mongrel Virginians, a book written to justify the Racial Integrity Act, described the Monacan group as degenerate. The author called the group the WIN tribe, for White-Indian-Negro.
In 1912 Walter Ashby Plecker became Virginia's first registrar of the Bureau of Vital Statistics. In the early 1940s, seized with the desire to enforce "the one-drop rule", he had the racial designations of many Monacan ancestors altered without their knowledge. He was convinced that descendants of "old issue" Negroes, free before the Civil War, were trying to pass as Indian or white to evade segregation. In a letter sent to county offices across the state, he directed them to reclassify all individuals listed in his letter. He used his own authority to claim certain families as "old Issue" who needed to be classified as "colored" rather than Indian or white based on his ideas as to whether they had any African ancestry. Plecker headed that office for 34 years. He is a notorious figure in the history of the tribe.
The Monacans were described in more objective fashion by William Harlen Gilbert, Jr., in 1946 in " Memorandum Concerning the Characteristics of the Larger Mixed-Blood Racial Islands of the Eastern United States" and by Edward T. Price in 1953 in " A Geographical Analysis of White-Negro-Indian Racial Mixtures in the Eastern United States ", under the former name for the group, Issues, referring to African Americans free before the Civil War. Both authors considered the Issues (sometimes called "old Issues") to be triracial, which is how they were commonly perceived in the local community.
The Episcopal Church ran a primary school for Monacan ancestors at their community center at Bear Mountain near Amherst, Virginia. There was no high school education available. In 1963, Amherst County proposed a $30,000 bond to build a school for the mission community. The proposal was voted down, and 23 students applied for transfer to public schools. The state approved their applications and the old mission schoolhouse closed.
Historians believe that most early Monacans fled encroaching white colonial settlement, with a few remaining behind. There is no conclusive evidence connecting the historical Monacan tribe with the people who today claim to be their descendants. Some late 20th c. researchers believe that the Monacans may be better characterized as one of a number of tri-racial isolate groups of multicultural ancestry, formed mostly from descendants of African Americans free during the colonial period in Virginia. With their European neighbors, free people of color followed migration paths to where land was more affordable on the frontier in Virginia and North Carolina. These areas also gave them more freedom from racial strictures than in the plantation communities. Most of such free people of color had their origins as children of white women and African or African American men in the decades before the lines of slavery were hardened. Some had ancestors who were slaves freed as early as the mid-1600s.
In 1988, the Monacan Tribe incorporated as a nonprofit organization, and in 1989, the tribe was officially recognized by the State of Virginia. Other tribes recognized by the state include the Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Mattaponi, Nansemond, Pamunkey, Rappahannock, and Upper Mattaponi tribes. The Monacan Tribe has not been recognized as an Indian tribe by the federal government.