Print | Back to e-WV The West Virginia Encyclopedia


The Guineas 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 as 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 derogatory nickname for Italians and people of Mideastern descent, is sometimes resented by members of the West Virginia group. Many West Virginia Guineas historically have considered themselves to be of American Indian origins.

The Guineas 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. Most researchers consider these groups to represent a complex mix of African, Indian, and Caucasian (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 West Virginia Guinea families to specific biracial and triracial unions that took place in the 18th and 19th centuries in other counties of present West Virginia.


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

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