Some Notes on Collateral Lines: Vinson, Martin, Cowden
Michael C. Dunn
Please note that there are no citations in what follows. It's an attempt to update you on where I am. I will provide a fuller, footnoted version in time.

As most of you know, I've been working for years on all my ancestral lines. Since you also know how thorough I'm trying to be on the Collinses, you may be wondering when if every I'm going to tell you anything about the collateral lines. Furthermore, I've shared my GEDCOM with those of you using computers, usually with the warning that some of the early generations are speculative. I hope you heed the warning: sometimes I enter a probable identification in my computer to keep my data straight, before I have solid historical documentation to prove it. The early Vinsons are a case in point. I have a hypothetical, but beyond Temperance Vinson's grandfather it is just that: whether a certain person was the father, uncle or brother of another is sometimes hard to prove from the early documents.

I can't take the time to put everything together here, but I wanted to give you something of an overview and update on some of these lines. Once again, please take heed as to where I'm confident and where I'm not. Notes on the Chestnut and Alexander collateral lines are forthcoming.


Temperance Vinson, of course, married James Collins the Revolutionary War soldier. In my biography of him, I dealt with the assertion by Don Jeter that Temperance was the daughter of James Vincent or Vinson who died in 1809. However, there is documentary proof her father was someone else, and besides, James Vinson's wife survived him and was about the same age as Tempey, and he appears to have been a brother. (For details, see the Collins chapters I've already produced.)

Temperance's father was unquestionably David Vinson, who died in 1810. He left a wife named Frances or Fannie, and six daughters. Or at any rate, six female heirs who split his land equally, and their deeds (all of them sold their land to Tempy's husband James or, in one case, to his son David) list some of them as daughters. Since the land was divided equally, clearly all were daughters, and Temperance was one of them. Four of the other five daughters eventually old their land to none other than James Collins, while one sold hers to David Collins. There's no question that David was Tempey's father. The deeds, estate settlements etc. prove it.

Her mother is another question, which relates also to identifying David's father. There were two David Vinsons in the Sandy Creek area of Franklin County, NC at the time, sometimes called "old" David and "young" David or "senior" and "junior", (also one was called "David the Constable", and he was the elder), but they were not father and son: I believe they were nephew and uncle. There is no real doubt that Tempey's father David was "young" David. Years earlier, a deed from William Vinson to his son David Vinson, apparently the "young" David, is signed also by David's wife Hannah.

The logical implication if the identifications are correct is that Hannah died and David remarried, to Frances, and Hannah would likely be the mother of the earlier daughters, including Tempey, who were already around by the time of the older deed. Trouble is, one of the legal documents after David's death and later sale of his land calls his widow "Hannah" while all others call her Frances or Fannie. Either 1) somebody confused the two wives a few years after both were gone, 2) Hannah might have been nickneamed Fannie, and a clerk assumed the real name was Frances when it wasn't 3) David left two widows, which for propriety's sake I won't assume.

Anyway, to cut this short: Tempey's father was definitely David. Her mother is less certain. David's father was most likely (almost but not quite certainly) William Vinson.

Now, there is plenty of evidence for Vinsons in Franklin County. The older David Vinson was a brother of this William. So probably were Thomas, Jesse, and other Vinsons of that generation living in Franklin County.

The problem is who William and David, etc.'s parents were. There is undeniable deed evidence linking William, David, and I think Thomas to Northampton County, NC. There we find a man, Thomas Vinson or Vincent, who left a will in 1763 naming several sons and daughters inlcluding men named William, David, and Thomas. Our William and David definitely came from Northampton County. Were they these same men?

The problem is that there were other William and David Vinsons, or the same, owning land still in Northampton. Did they own land both places? Or were the Franklin County ones and those of Northampton cousins, or uncles, or something to each other?

A problem, and this goes back all the way to the beginnings, is that these Vinsons or Vincents (rather like the Collinses) used the same family names in every generation. You'd name your kids William, David, Thomas and Peter, and they'd name their sons the same, and pretty soon there are four or five William Vinsons in the county.

I have not yet sorted this out with confidence. I belive it highly like that our Vinsons are descended from the Thomas Vinson or Vincent of Northampton County who wrote his will in 1763. He may be Temperance's great-grandfather, but it's also possible there's another generation in there somewhere. had a wife Isabel who was probably his only wife as she shows up from the 1720s to the 1760s. He was already serving as "Constable above Meherrin Creek" in 1716 and must have been at least 21 by then, so we can presume a birth date in the 1690s or earlier.

This Thomas Vinson or Vincent, in turn, is clearly linked with a group of Vinsons or Vincents who lived in Surry County, Virginia, just over the Virginia/North Carolina line, who used the same sets of names, and who may sometimes have owned land on both sides of the line. They in turn go back to an old line of southeast Virginia. Right now my candidate for Thomas' father is one Peter Vinson who died about 1728 and had a wife Sarah Jones, but I am far from confident of that identification. On the other hand, Peter was definitely related to Thomas. Father, uncle, whatever.

Like the Collinses, the Vinsons seem to have lived on both sides of the North Carolina/Virignia line and to come from old southeast Virginia stock; in the 1690s there was a Peter Vinson, tailor, in Surry County. I can't be sure if he is an ancestor or not, but there were Vinsons in the area as early as the Collinses. It also seems to be an old tidewater line going back into the 1680s or beyond. But the exact lineage isn't clear, and -- given the frustrating tendency to repeat names in every generation of every line -- may never be.


I have noted in both the biography of Henry Collins and elsewhere that there is little real doubt that the father of Henry's first wife Frances Martin Collins, and of Willis Collins' wife Phebe Martin Collins, was William Martin, a Revolutionary War soldier born in Virginia about 1760, who died in Marshall County, Tennessee on 25 April 1842. William lived near the Collinses in Georgia, along the Oglethorpe/Greene County line, moved shortly after they did to Marshall County, Tennessee, and when he applied for his Revolutionary War pension, Henry and Willis Collins were his witnesses. I do not have an actual document proving that he was the father of Frances and Phebe, but I think you'll agree the preponderance of evidence is considerable.

He tells us in his Revolutionary Pension application that he was born about 1760 in Albemarle County, VA, and lived after the war in Nelson County, VA, before moving to Georgia and later to Marshall County, TN. Nelson County was formed from Albemarle about the time of the Revolution, and there were a number of Martin families living in the Rockfish Valley of then-Nelson, today Amherst County. The name William Martin appears among these families frequently and there were several men of that name. This is foothill country southwest of Charlottesville, VA, a very pretty part of the state (it's also the area where the TV show The Waltons was theoretically set, since its creator came from there).

I cannot, yet, identify how our William Martin fits in with these other Martins. He served in the Continental Army from the battles of Trenton and Princeton on through the Monmouth Campaign, later returned to Virginia, joined the militia, and was at Yorktown when it all ended. He has actually the most Revolutionary experience of any of our revolutionary ancestors.

The problem with tracing his ancestry is that he has such a common name: there are lots of William Martins, even in the one river valley where I think he lived. Someday I hope to learn more.

COWDEN: Some New Info and Some Warnings

The main new discovery recently on the Cowden line (ancestors of Mary "Polly" Cowden Cook Collins, wife of John Collins) is the date of death of her father,  on or prior to 1 February 1843, in the Marshall County, Tennessee estate records. (Marshall County Administrator's Book, Volume B, Estate Settlements, 27-28.) (There is some ambiguity about whether the date given is the actual date of death or the date of the estate inventory, but clearly he died shortly before this date.)  His death date has been something of a problem, as a lot of people in the Cowden line seem to have jumped to conclusions in the past. John B. Cowden in his book Southern Cowdens said that this John Cowden died "about 1834". That this is the right man is shown by the relatives in the estate sale and by the fact that he and his wife were shown in the 1840 census as in the 60-70 range; he was born about 1772.

In fact, since it could be years before my Cowden history is ready to distribute, I had better issue some warnings for those of you pursuing your own research. There is a DAR Application, #558270, by Mary Emma Rosson, a Cowden descendant, which contains some very, very exact and very, very wrong dates. I have tried through the DAR to find out what sort of documentation she claimed to have; the works she cites on her application do not have the dates she listed. Her own descendants say they are just quoting their great aunt (or whatever)'s application. The DAR in Washington says that any documents in the original petition (1971 I think) have been returned to the local chapter in Texas. Mrs. Rosson is long departed, and cannot be asked about her sources.

For example, for John Cowden just mentioned, she gives a death date of July 10, 1818, in Marshall County, Tennessee. There was no Marshall County then; our ancestor, his daughter Polly, wasn't born until 1819, and besides, I've just noted above that he turns up in the later censuses and died in 1843. 1818 is about the time he sold his North Carolina land, though he was still there during part of that year, and I don't know how she came up with this death date.

The Rosson application also gives his wife, Elizabeth Norris Cowden, as having died on August 10, 1825. No, she is still alive in later records too. In fact, she was still alive when he died in 1843, and seems to have died between then and the 1850 census, when she is not found with any of the Cowden children's households.

Rosson also gave an exact, rather than approximate, birth date for John Cowden, of April 6, 1772. He was born about that year, but no known family record contains an exact date.

For these reasons, we should also ignore the statements in the Rosson application that John Cowden the elder, father of the John we have been talking about, known to have been born about 1735, was born on January 6 of that year, and that his wife Jane or Jean Brown was born in Lancaster County, PA March 10, 1735 and died in that county on November 10, 1785. This is odd, since we now know that John Cowden I died in 1777, apparently in North Carolina, and that Jane was back in North Carolina in 1778, so why should she have returned to Pennsylvania?. (For that matter, we only have Rosson's word that she was BORN in Pennsylvania.) Because when Rosson wrote all many people knew was that John Cowden I wrote his will in Pennsylvania. I'm sorry to say that the only conclusion I can come to is that she made these dates up somehow. In any event, if you run across them, be very careful before you enter them in your charts. In fact, I've got lots of documentation on John Cowden which I'll share, but none of it backs up the Rosson dates. I'd warn EVERYONE from using ANYTHING from the Rosson DAR application without triangulating it against another source.

In addition, many of you have material derived through me from John B. Cowden's book Southern Cowdens. It is generally well done and much better than what I have just been discussing. But there are some errors. Among them:

1) John Cowden I's Revolutionary service. John Cowden I served on the Committee of Safety of Rowan County, North Carolina, and was on it when it adopted the Rowan Resolves at the beginning of the Revolution. He also is shown several times in North Carolnia records as providing supplies to the Continental Army. All this shows the man was a partriot and because of these services any descendant could join the DAR or similar organizations. However, in his book, Rev. John B. Cowden decided that John Cowden was the same man who later served in the Army in Pennsylvania. It is true that John Cowden of North Carolina wrote his will in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania on May 29, 1777. Rev. Cowden decided he then went on to join the Army there. But, John Cowden's will was probated back in North Carolina on November 5, 1777, so clearly he died between May and November. The man Rev. Cowden decided was he was still serving in 1780-1781, and seems to have come not from Lancaster but from Chester County. Unfortunately, Rev. Cowden cited pages in the Pennsylvania Archives but did not tell his readers what those pages said. They say Chester County. So our John Cowden I was a Revolutionary veteran, to be sure, just not that one.

2) Rev. Cowden describes, in Southern Cowdens, visiting the "old Cowden place" in what is now Iredell (original Rowan) Co. NC, and says that the original kitchen was still in use when he visited (his book was published 1933). Well, I've been there twice, couldn't find the house he described, but can say for certain it was at least six or seven miles south of the land which John Cowden I and his sons owned, according to Rowan and Iredell records and even a plat map of which I have a copy, and which shows both the father's land and that of the sons. Furthermore, their land included a "Cowden's Ford", and though the Cowdens left by 1818 there is still a Cowden's Ford road in Iredell County. I don't think Rev. Cowden had the right house. I'm sure he hadn't seen the land descriptions (in fact, it's also clear from material noted earlier that he hadn't seen the probate records either. I think he looked only at the wills on record, not at the court minutes which dealt with probating them.)

3) I believe in some cases Rev. Cowden's lists of children may be incomplete, but am not yet confident of this except for John Cowden II, where he omits the daughter (Martha or "Patsy") who married Joseph Simmons and moved to Texas.

4) Every Cowden descendant from Mathew (or Matthew) Cowden of Paxtang has tried to identify his ancestors. I think it was Rev. Cowden who traced him to a Thomas MacCowden of Northern Ireland. Some Pennsylvania Cowdens say Mathew's father was William Cowden. Both Rev. Cowden and the late Prof. Hubertis Cummings of Pennsylvania claimed to have found the "only" Cowden family who lived in Ulster. Unfortunately they found different families, in different counties. After years of looking at this, I think the safest conclusion is that Mathew Cowden of Paxtang was definitely from Ulster, maybe the son of a William Cowden (no firm documentation), and any ancestry beyond that is guesswork. If you show earlier generations on your tree, you may want to consider changing them.