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
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.