The Drifters: A Christian Historical Novel The Melungeon Shantyboat People

The Drifters: A Christian Historical Novel The Melungeon Shantyboat People

This is a story that took me 18 years to research and write. It is a derivitive of a l986 documentary release, Displaced Cherokee: Come Home, Come Home, which took 1st in the l986 OK State Fair and was endorsed by the OK Dept. of Libraries.  This is an account of my great great grandmother who was the object of my lifelong researching efforts (58 years worth) Cathrine Ann Jones has contracted to write Script for a Movie of this but no studio has been accessed yet. She wrote Touched by an Angel series. I am trying to get the information out about this hidden American culture (boat people who happened to be a mixture of Melungeon and Cherokee)- Tonya Holmes Shook


The Drifters: A Christian Historical Novel About The Melungeon Shantyboat People

  Aulena Scearce Gibson, columnist for the Lawton Constitution’s “Tree Tracers”,  “a wonderful novel- comparable to Alex Haley’s, Roots.”


From the Historical Novel Review,  .
Bethany Skaggs
North American Editor, Adult Titles
Historical Novels Review Online
Tonya Holmes Shook, Marquette Books, 2005, $19.95, pb, 311pp, 092299319X
This novel takes place in America, beginning around the 1830s and ending after the Civil War.  The characters, Melungeon shanty boat people, are a biracial mix of Cherokee and Caucasian bloodlines.  Their story is told through the viewpoint of the main character, Harriet Holmes.  Created by the author around known portions of the author’s family history, the novel is a fictionalized biography of Harriet’s life.  Photographs of Holmes family members, including Harriet, appear throughout. The book opens with Harriet pregnant, fifteen-years-old, and newly married to shanty boat dweller Canady Holmes.  Through Harriet’s experiences, the reader learns of societal wrongs suffered by the clannish Melungeon people, who must hide from Indian removal.  The Holmes family barely scratches out a living as they travel along the rivers of Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee.  The tension created by this family’s struggle for survival and the hardships they endure during and after the Civil War carries the story.
The author does not spare her characters from brutalities in this riveting tale.  Indeed, if a flaw in this tale could be found, it may be that the reader must suspend belief to accept that so much tragedy could happen to one family and that the mother of that family could come through it all with self and sensibilities intact.  Readers will be curious to learn how brushes with Christians along the way help Harriet to have hope for the future of her family.
This novel will elicit every emotion from a reader, as it is a love story as well as an account of suffering.  The author’s fine storytelling, coupled with believable and endearing characters, presents an unforgettable tale.  This fast-paced, dramatic narrative will draw those interested in Native American history, and will also most certainly provide enjoyable reading for a wider audience.
Judith Carroll



            Before the settlement of Jamestown there lived a people in America who built houses and had a complex social order, but history books have little record of them. They trace their ancestry to Portugal, Spain, North Africa, Turkey and Greece and to Native Americans, with whom they intermingled.  According to old Mediterranean Library records, their countrymen were taken as slaves of the Vikings seeking to colonize the new world. But they eventually were abandoned, left to survive as best they could in a foreign land. As the generations passed, these people acquired certain physical and cultural characteristics that distinguished them from European ancestors. They were called Melungeons.

                Dr. N. Brent Kennedy, author of The Melungeons, The Resurrection of a Proud People: An Untold Story of Ethnic Cleansing in America, has researched the genetic and cultural peculiarities known to this people. Like African American slaves and Native American peoples, the Melungeons were treated unfairly by the European settlers, who forced them off their land. They were tagged as “free people of color” and at one time were prohibited from owning land, attending school, and marrying outside of their “own kind” except in Kentucky.

                The ill treatment of the Melungeon people helped create a distinctive and clannish folk that had low self-esteem and peculiar ways. A mixture of Mediterranean and Indian blood, they were a developing race who clung to their own tried and proven traditions, who trusted no one outside of family and married among themselves.

                This novel tells the story of one Melungeon family. It is based on word of mouth stories from descendants of Harriett Riddle Holmes, my great-great grandmother who began her married life on a houseboat during the same year as the Trail of Tears. She survived through dire times of the Civil War, experienced heartaches relating to her sons William and Jasper, and relocated to Texas after the war where some of her sons participated in cattle drives.

                This story begins in the southeastern Cumberland area of Kentucky in l837. Harriett Holmes was a real person, but one with no history, or none that is readily traced, a phenomenon common to the lineage of the Melungeon people. Many tried to assimilate into the dominant society, but the rejection caused them to be more clannish than ever. Harriett had few friends outside of the kinship clan. This social isolation contributed to a development of a unique culture, one that the reader will vicariously explore in this book.

                 This book is basically a fictionalized biography. Her name, children’s names, and story line are factual, but the glue cementing accounts together comes from my imagination. I hope the reader finds this book enjoyable and educational.

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Tonya is available for media interviews and program/book signings.  She can be reached at


For Immediate Release:


Local Author Published In Heavenly Patchwork


February 6, 2006 Tonya Holmes Shook of Hastings, Oklahoma, wrote an original short
story that has been published in the Heavenly Patchwork—Quilt Stories Stitched with Love, a recent award-winning hard-back gift book retailing for $12.95 containing seventy-one true stories. Heavenly Patchwork is available on,, and Hobby Lobby stores nationwide.
Tonya Holmes Shook’s story titled Grandmother’s Quilts Fought Goblins was selected from hundreds of others to be included in Heavenly Patchwork because of its special ability to touch the hearts of people everywhere. Heavenly Patchwork quickly gained popularity, selling 6000 copies in the first seven months and garnered numerous prestigious awards for the contributors and author Judy Howard.


Heavenly Patchwork will inspire and entertain as it transports you into the lives and hearts of pioneer and contemporary women. Rejoice or cry with those who homesteaded a hostile and barren landscape, struggled to survive and nurture their families through the Great Depression and Dust Bowl Days or currently cope with our fast-paced society.


These vignettes will renew your hope, inspire your faith as these everyday heroines stitch true tales of courage against insurmountable obstacles into heart-warming patchwork.  Heavenly Patchwork tells the larger story of God’s faithfulness to sustain, heal, comfort and strengthen women through hardships. All book profits go to charity quilting.