Don C. Marler
The Blue people are an obscure group in the Appalachian area who are less well known than the Melungeons and Redbones. Many people who used silver for skin treatment before the discovery of penicillin, turned blue, but this is account represents a condition unrelated to the use of silver.
Reviewing the “online” material on the Blue People was easier than anticipated. Several, but not all, articles were reviewed and can be categorized into 4 different groups.
1. Worldwide accounts.
2. North American accounts–primarily the U.S.
3. Scientific accounts
4. Mythological/New Age accounts
In lieu of a lengthy account of the findings allow me to summarize them as I interpret the findings and give some references you can look up and read—reaching your own conclusions.
Summary of findings.
1. There is no “race” of Blue People.
2. The condition of blue color does exist.
3. This condition (Methemoglobinemia) is caused by an ineffective allele of the gene for NADH Diaphorase, an enzyme that repairs hemoglobin and that has been damaged by oxidation. DNA sequence variation may prevent repair, so the hemoglobin accumulates, causing the blue skin color. (See Curing the Blues in Ireland.)
4. Blue skin color can also be caused by use of silver as a treatment for certain skin diseases. Silver is now disapproved by the FDA for use as medicine, but is still produced and used as a dietary supplement.
5. Around 1960 a physician in Alaska, Dr. E.M. Scott, (See the Blue People of Troublesome Creek, by Cathy Trost), treated some Indians and Eskimos for the blue condition. He guessed that the condition was caused by a recessive gene or enzyme deficiency. He speculated that if it were an inherited condition it would show most in isolated communities where inbreeding was more prevalent. About the same time a Kentucky physician, Dr. Madison Cawein, found some Blue People in Kentucky. He postulated that injections of methylene blue would cause the blue skin color to disappear. He was right. Don’t fail to read the account by Cathy Trost and others related to the Kentucky group—especially the genealogical studies.
6. Some family names associated with the Ky. Group are: Fugate, Stacy, Ritchie, Smith, Combs, Godsey.
7. Another group of people sometimes associated with the Blue People are Blue Gum Negroes. This term has been used as a highly derogatory term until today. Generally among southern Caucasians, the term refers to a group of very dark Negroes who were or are field hands—a lower class of Negro. Their gums and lips are blue in color. Interestingly, some southern Negroes are more prejudiced toward “Blue Gums” than are Caucasians. Their prejudice is borne of the superstitious belief that their bite or spittle is poisonous.
8. The Mythology/New Age stuff is for recreation.
Selected References. Use the internet for additional sources.
See those references in the text above also.