ABSALOM COLLINS was perhaps the youngest son of John Collins, planter of Bertie County, whom I have discussed in my previously three posts. Due to the preponderance of people with this surname, it’s hard to conclusively trace this family in the colonial period. However, the name Absalom is distinct enough to offer some opportunities.
As I showed, Absalom was considered to be underage, ie. not 21 according to English law, when John Collins wrote his will in 1749. He was alive in 1742, when his father claimed his rights in Bertie County. Therefore, Absalom Collins was most likely born anywhere between 1728 and 1742. He begins appearing in deeds by the late 1750s. Recall a debt case involving him in 1757. It’s therefore possible that he did not reach his majority until that time. This gives us a narrower window of perhaps 1730-1735 for his year of birth.
Although Bertie County marriage records extend back into the 1740s, not all of them have survived. There is no marriage record for Absalom Collins in Bertie. According to that debt case, involving the estate of Joseph Thomas, as administered by Ann Thomas and Arthur Williams, Absalom Collins disappeared to a place called Flat Swamp in Tyrrell County around that time. Based on old deeds, this appears to be on the west bank of the Scuppernong River, near Creswell and Pea Ridge. It’s still a sparsely settled area, and one wonders a) what Absalom’s connection to the place was and b) what he was doing there. According to the same case, it was decided in Absalom’s favor in 1763. Perhaps that’s when he returned.
Absalom Collins took part in the estate sales of Edward Bryant in 1777. This is not the last we hear of him in Bertie County though. That same year he provided security for Phereby Wilford of Bertie County in the estate of her husband James Wilford, together with David Curry and John Castellaw.
The association of Absalom Collins with John Castellaw, David Curry, Phereby and James Wilford, as well as Joseph and Ann Thomas and Arthur Williams is very interesting, especially considering that the last we hear of Absalom Collins, he has moved to Chowan County, where he is listed in a tax list in the year 1780. The previous year, in 1779, a John Collins married Sarah Hinton in Chowan County, with George Russell witness.
Might this John Collins have been the son of Absalom Collins of Bertie County?
Meantime, the first deed that mentions my ancestor Thomas Collins occurs in 1803, where he witnessed the transfer of 10 acres to Sarah Butler, a free person of color, by James Lang in the Deep Cypress area, just north of present-day Eure in Gates County. Some, like Paul Heinegg, have speculated that this Sarah Butler and her daughter, Martha Butler, are related to the Butlers who lived in Bertie County in the 18th century.
Specifically, a Martha Butler was the common law wife of John Castellaw, who, together with Absalom Collins, provided security for Phereby Wilford in 1777 in Bertie County. Arthur Williams, meantime, had a common law wife named Elizabeth Butler, also considered to be a free person of color, and a daughter named Sarah Butler who married a Josiah Reddit in 1767. While this is unlikely the same Sarah who obtained 10 acres in Gates County in 1803, and whom bequeathed it to Martha Butler upon her death in 1816, the names line up perfectly, as do the associations with the Collins, Castellaw, and Williams families.
Moreover, the descendants of these mixed unions were considered to be white in colonial records.
It’s possible that the wife of Absalom Collins was also a Butler or a Castellaw, which would explain my DNA matches with those families. Both were considered to be either Indian, or Scottish-Indian families. It’s possible that my ancestor Thomas Collins (c.1768/1769-1849), was a younger son of Absalom Collins and his Butler or Castellaw wife.
One aspect though that does not support this hypothesis is the presence of a Thomas Collins on the Gates County tax lists in 1786 and 1787, followed by his disappearance and subsequent reappearance in the early 1790s, which would be expected if he reached his majority at that time.
I had thought that there was a Thomas Collins, Sr., based on the appearance of a Thomas and William Collins in the Nansemond County militia list in 1783. This leaves us two choices. Either my ancestor Thomas Collins was much older, perhaps born in 1762, rather than 1769, or there actually was a Thomas Collins, Sr., who fathered my ancestor. If that is the case, then there is no record trail for that family prior to the Revolution. This could be deeper evidence of leaving an Indian settlement — Chowan Indian Town or Indian Woods.
However, given the later associations with the Russells, Williamses, Butlers, etc., I tend to believe there is a link between the Bertie and Gates County families. Note that Sarah Collins married John Goomer in 1786 in Gates County, Abigail Russell married Thomas Goomer in 1800, and Sally Wilford married William Goomer in 1801 in the same county. As such, there is strong evidence of a familial link between these Bertie County families and the ones that later appeared in Gates County. This also matches anecdotes about mixed race people from Bertie County moving into Gates County in the 18th century.
One thing I learned from this experience of writing about Absalom Collins, was the existence of a link to the mixed race Williams family in Bertie County. My ancestor Thomas Collins married Anna Russell in 1801, and their son Graham Collins (1802-1880) married Nancy Arline (1800-1880) who was the daughter of Jesse Arline and Mildred Williams (c.1777-c.1819). She was the daughter of Jonathan Williams of Gates County. I have not fully traced that family beyond the mid-18th century, but it’s likely they connect to Arthur Williams of Bertie County, who fathered mixed race children with his common law wife Elizabeth Butler. Therefore, we can see the emergence of a whole group of intermarrying Anglo-Indian families in the Roanoke-Chowan area in the 1700s.