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Guineas (Chestnut Ridge People)

The Guineas, or Chestnut Ridge People as many are now called (based on a region in Barbour County where many live), are a group of apparently mixed racial origin located primarily in Barbour, Taylor, and Harrison counties, especially near Philippi and Grafton. Their numbers have been estimated at about 1,000 to 1,500, although the exact figure is hard to know for a group whose identity is partly imposed by others. The word ‘‘Guinea,’’ widely used as a disparaging nickname for Italians and people of Mideastern descent, was used historically to describe this group but has often been resented by them. It is now generally considered to be a derogatory term.

They are similar to other mixed race groups of Appalachia, including the Melungeons of the mountains of Tennessee and Virginia, with whom they share some surnames. Many consider themselves to be of American Indian origins. Most researchers, though, consider all these groups to represent a complex mix of African, Indian, and European (especially Iberian and Mediterranean) ancestry. Some argue that the intermingling took place very early in America’s history, theorizing that such groups moved westward from the Atlantic Coast, their ethnic identity already established. Eventually they settled in the mountain backcountry. However, research published in 1973 traced the origin of some of these West Virginia families to specific biracial and triracial unions that took place in the 18th and 19th centuries in other counties of present West Virginia.

Over the years, they have been subjected to various forms of discrimination. Historian Alexandra Finley has written about the term “Guinea,” “Though originally meant as a means of insult and exclusion, ‘Guinea’ has evolved into a way among researchers to refer comprehensively to the early Chestnut Ridge community. When considering the last century, ‘Chestnut Ridge People’ can be used accurately. Beyond that, however, the term can be misleading” because the term “Guinea” historically referred to a much broader group than the Barbour County Chestnut Ridge People.


  1. Finley, Alexandra. "Founding Chestnut Ridge: The Origins of Central West Virginia’s Multiracial Community." 1 Founding Chestnut Ridge: The Origins of Central West Virginia’s Multiracial Community A Senior Honors Thesis Presented in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for graduation with research distinction in History in the undergraduate colleges of The, The Ohio State University, March 2010.

  2. Gaskins, Avery F. An Introduction to the Guineas: West Virginia's Melungeons. Appalachian Journal, (Autumn 1973).

  3. Ward, Barry J. Going Yander: The West Virginia Guineas' View of Ohio. Goldenseal, (Apr.-June 1976).