Introduction: 330 Years (Plus) of Collinses in America

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Some family histories are little more than genealogies in the old sense, just a list of ancestors or descendants, names and dates. This work will include, as appendices, traditional charts showing ancestry and descent. Other family histories try to do more. This one, I must confess, tries to do almost everything. I have tried to recover, as far as it is possible for a modern historian to do, all the detail we can learn of our direct ancestors, and much about their kin and the neighborhood in which they lived. I have tried to plot the land, describe it, discuss where we can (usually from estate sales) the possessions and daily life of our ancestors. I have named their slaves, told who bought their stills when they died, even sometimes found out who they voted for. This is intended as a family history in the most detailed form possible. But it is neither concise nor easy to scan. And for descendants who may not yet know much about the family history, it may be too big a picture to see all at once right off the bat. Also, it "starts slowly", since the earliest period is naturally the most difficult to trace, and requires much more justification for each fact asserted. As a result, the early chapters are harder going than the later ones.

So it seems appropriate, here at the beginning, to offer a broad overview of the Collinses in America. Each of the other ancestral lines (Alexander, Chestnut, Cowden, Martin, Vinson and so on) will be dealt with in detail in future installments, but it is probably best to begin each with such an overview. The next few pages describe in broad brush strokes our Collins history. The hundreds of pages which will eventually follow fill in the details. There are no footnotes in this overview: the documentation is in the rest of the work.

Whatever else, our Collinses were pioneers. They were in America very early -- by 1664/65 at least, and probably a generation or so earlier than that -- and today their descendants must number in the hundreds of thousands if not the millions, though of course most are not named Collins, for half their children were always daughters whose descendants bore other names. Over time the "non" Collins descendants far outnumber those named Collins, but they all share the same ancestry. They pushed ahead of the frontier at times (in southeast Virginia in the 1660s, for example), a generation or so behind it at most others (into North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, and Missouri).

The family seems to have long considered itself Scotch-Irish, that is, descended from those Ulster Scots who were "planted" in northern Ireland from lowland Scotland, and later came in vast numbers to the American frontier. Yet the earliest Collinses came to America long before most other Ulster Scots, though that in itself does not invalidate the tradition. They settled in an area where many Irishmen, Catholic and Protestant alike, settled very early, and may have been Irish or Ulster Scot though they came over long before their kinsmen. More will be said on this in the history which follows, and the origin of the name Collins will be discussed.

There were Collinses in America almost as early as there were English-speaking Europeans in America. The "second supply" voyage to Jamestown in 1608, the year after the first English colony in America was founded, included a Henry Collins. But with one set of immigrant Collinses, there is a real clue suggesting a possible link.

Two men, both named William Collins, were on the ship Plaine Joan which sailed from London for Virginia on 15 May 1635. One was aged 20, the other 34. One of these has been claimed by one line of Virginia Collinses as their ancestor, and he may be, though their records do not match the ages on the passenger list. The 84 men on this ship -- all were adult males -- seem likely to have been coming to Virginia for indentured service, though this is not stated; many of them are claimed as "headrights" later by planters on the southern side of the James River, particularly in what became Isle of Wight, Nansemond, and Norfolk counties. Two names which appear on the Plaine Joan list, William Collins and Robert Ward, also appear as headrights claimed five years later by John Geary, and he was granted land for this claim in the same general vicinity where our Collinses appear later. Our Collinses regularly used the name William in the earliest known generations, before William III became King of England, so it is possible that we descend from one of these two William Collinses on the Plaine Joane, more likely the one just mentioned.

Further evidence of that connection is still being sought (what exists is presented in what follows), but in any event it is quite clear that we are related to the James Collins who, on March 11, 1664 (most likely March of 1665 by modern reckoning, due to the "Old Style" in which the year began March 25), was granted land by the British Crown in Nansemond County, Virginia. He was either a direct ancestor (which is likely) or at least a brother of one. This history will demonstrate that this land was in the same area between Kingsale Swamp and Beaverdam Creek, and perhaps identical with, later land owned by our known ancestors. Land in that area was sold, in 1778, by my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather James Collins. Although I cannot yet prove relationships with these Collinses of the 1660s and 1670s, they lived on the land ours later did, and all were either direct ancestors or many-times-great-uncles. They were all kin. So "we" were here by 1665, and probably earlier.

For the first century, our Collinses lived in a swampy, tidewater area of southeast Virginia, then tobacco country but today known mostly for peanuts and hams. It was as unlike the later places our Collinses lived as those later places were each like the other. The Collins lands in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Missouri were all rolling foothill country, Piedmont as they would say in Virginia or North Carolina, but the Virginia land was swampy coastal tidewater. These early Collinses lived along the Kingsale Swamp, near what are now Franklin, Carrsville, and Holland, Virginia. In fact, Holland, Virginia takes its name from a family which was probably intermarried with the Collinses, for not only did the Collins land border the Hollands, but "Holland" became a Collins family name for several generations.

The James Collins who was in Kingsale in 1664/65 was soon joined (by 1678) by a William Collins, either a son or a brother, who also owned land demonstrably owned by our provable ancestors a century later. Another James Collins is in evidence before 1700, who may be the same who was there in 1704 and who is probably the James Collins mentioned, in a 1744 document, as having died and left his land to his son William. This William is certainly the same man I can prove to be my own sixth-great-grandfather.

This William Collins died by 1768, and left a will mentioning his wife Sarah (who may have been the mother of the children), and sons James and Jesse, two daughters and a Jethro Collins who may have been a brother or a son. These questions are examined in the history, but James Collins named in the will was our own ancestor.

This James Collins must have been born by 1740 or earlier: we know our next ancestor, his son (probably his eldest), was born in 1758. The earlier James, who I will call "James I" in this history though he was not our first "James Collins", moved to North Carolina before the Revolutionary War, sold his land in Kingsale Swamp in 1778 (though he already had been in North Carolina), may have moved back briefly in 1782-1783, but lived most of the rest of his life in the area of northeastern Franklin County, North Carolina, between Sandy Creek and Red Bud Creek. Many other families in the Sandy Creek area seem to have originated in the Kingsale Swamp area and one or two of them can be shown to have moved before James Collins: clearly there was the movement either of a community group or, more likely, an extended family of intermarried kin. From at least 1778 until his death in 1815 his wife's name was Esther; she was probably but not certainly the mother of his children, including our ancestor, born in 1758 well before Esther's first being named in the records.

James Collins "I" had several children with large landholdings, but himself never owned more than about 150 to 160 acres and one or two slaves. His sons owned much more. James I wrote his will in 1815, but its recording, probate, and other data plus the sale of his property suggests he died only in late 1818 or early 1819, though some descendants list 1815 as his death date due to the will.

His eldest son, James Collins "II" (1758-1838) could never sign his own name, but left a considerable picture of himself nonetheless. He fought in the Revolution, lived for 80 years, and became a major landowner in northeastern Franklin County, North Carolina. Perhaps more important to the genealogist, he had at least 17 children: one son by an unknown first wife, and no fewer than 16 by his second wife, Temperance Vinson, whois our ancestor. She came from another prominent family of Virginia origins, and outlived her husband by a decade. The Vinsons are being traced separately.

Of those 17 children of James Collins "II", at least 14 lived until adulthood, and at least 13 had children of their own. Of those 13 with children, one had at least 12, another at least 11, a couple 9, a couple 8, and so on: these were prolific people. James II must have 100,000 descendants by now. My computer database lists nearly 2000 descendants known to me by name, and I have never tried to trace all the descendants. Of course the vast majority of those descendants are not named Collins.

James' Revolutionary war service is known in detail, and we can define his land, even trace some relationships among his slaves, and say much more about him. When he died he had two stills, and one sold for almost as much as his oxen. Yet he never wrote a word in his own right, for he always signed with a mark.

James spent most of his 80 years in the same general area of North Carolina, though at one time or another he owned land in several nearby areas. Though he had moved with his father from Virginia as a young boy, he never moved again. Few of his descendants could say the same.

A number of the sons moved to Georgia, living in the area of Elbert and Oglethorpe Counties, while others moved to Tennessee and Kentucky. By the late 1820s, however, several of the sons of James Collins II had reassembled in what later became Marshall County, Tennessee. A number of other families from Franklin County, North Carolina, also moved to the area, so once again there was a group of extended families moving together. My direct ancestor, Henry Collins, had been one of the younger ones of the Georgia group; during his stay in Georgia he married Frances Martin, younger sister of the wife of his older brother Willis, Phebe Martin. Phebe and Frances were daughters of another old Revolutionary veteran, William Martin, who had served in the Continental Line and witnessed a long list of battles, including the surrender at Yorktown. About 1826 Henry and Frances moved to Tennessee.

He settled briefly near his brothers in the area west of Lewisburg, Tennessee, but soon set out for Arkansas. That experiment in moving to the Ozarks -- he was living in northwest Arkansas in 1830 and one of his children was born there -- did not last. Before 1833 he was back in Tennessee, settling this time a few miles from his other brothers on a creek southeast of Lewisburg, now known as "Collins' Creek". Henry had a total of nine children by Frances Martin Collins, and after her death in 1841, he remarried, having one son by his second wife.

Henry's eldest child was John Collins, born in Georgia in 1819. While still underage, about 1837, he married Elizabeth Willis (his father had to give consent), but she died young, leaving no children. John Collins married again, to Mary "Polly" Cowden Cook, daughter of John and Elizabeth Cowden. Polly had previously married Saunderson Cook and had one son by him. She married John Collins in 1846. They were to have nine children.

In 1851, John and Polly set out for Texas, and he kept a journal of his trip. He seems to have settled somewhere in the Waco area for a short time (long enough for one daughter, Susan Jane Collins, to be born there) before moving to the Missouri Ozarks, apparently unhappy with Texas. In 1853 he settled on land in Taney, now Christian, County, Missouri, the land where the old Collins cemetery is found today. The present house on the site was built during the Civil War. Over a few years after John Collins arrived in Missouri his sisters, Magdalene Collins Glenn, Sydney Collins White, and Edna Catherine Collins Waddle, with their husbands, all came from Tennessee and settled nearby in the Christian County area.

John Collins served two years as sheriff of Christian County during the Civil War, in which he was pro-Union. Most of his children were too young to serve; his eldest son, Henry Clay ("Clay") Collins, did enlist in the last days of the war, but served in the cavalry in Kansas instead because Lee had surrendered before his unit was fully activated.

John Collins and Polly made one trip back to Tennessee by train, to visit relatives; Polly was blind for the last several years of their life. Their fifth child (third son), John Day Collins, the first of their children to be born in Missouri, went to Tennessee and studied medicine in Nashville, where his half brother, Dr. Cook, was a prominent physician.

After taking his medical degree, Dr. John Day Collins returned to the Ozark, Missouri area, and in 1884 began practice in Highlandville, Missouri. He married Cordelia Josephine Alexander in 1873, she being the daughter of George W. Alexander, who died in the Confederate Army, and Rebecca Chestnut, daughter of William Chestnut, an early county court judge of Christian County. Dr. Collins and Cordelia had eight children; the third, Effie Lorena Collins, was my grandmother. Dr. Collins died suddenly in 1901.

Effie became a schoolteacher and did not marry until 1908, when she married Louis Dunn; they had two sons, John and Howard; Howard was my father.

Dr. Collins' other children, and the children of his brothers and sisters, were numerous, as were the descendants of John Collins' three sisters who also settled in Missouri. Thus Collins descendants are widespread in the Missouri Ozarks, as they are in Marshall County, Tennessee, as well.

This brief summary, of course, does not begin to tell the story of the Collinses in detail. That is the purpose of the rest of this work.

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