BEFORE I PROCEED, I want to address a few things. The first concerns Martha Collins, the wife of John Collins. Martha Collins first appears in this deed, dated Dec. 28, 1725.
Chowan Co, NC – John Collins & Wife Martha sold land to John Orris 200 acres . test: Andrew Hambleton, James Your, Martha Collins apptd Major John Alston her Atty to ack deed
She appeared in documents as late as 1742, at which time John Collins, Sr., proved his rights, naming: Martha Collins (his wife), as well as sons John, Michael, Dempsey, David, Jesse, Absalom, and Joseph.
Some have suggested that Martha Collins was from the Dempsey family, on the basis that they had a son named Dempsey. If this would be the case, then John Collins’s children would most likely have been of mixed race, as the Dempsey family in Bertie County was described in various records as “mulatto.” However, there is no other evidence to support this. I have suggested she may have been an Odom, given the land deeds from the Odoms to John Collins, and the fact that Martha Odom and John Collins witness a deed together in 1718. This too is speculative. There is just no more data on Martha.
It’s possible though that he was married before 1718. By the time John Collins proved his rights in 1742, his son William Collins was old enough to prove his own rights separately, naming Margaret Rhodes Collins, his wife, and a son John.
John Collins, Junior, meantime, was old enough to witness a deed in November 1742.
That means that William Collins and John Collins were most likely born around 1720. The fact that this list of children largely lines up with his will, written on December 27, 1749, means that he most likely did not have any more legitimate children after 1742.
In his will, which was probated in March 1752 (a December 1751 deed makes reference to John Collins, Sr., being deceased), John Collins divided up his estate among his children. His wife Martha had apparently died some time between 1742 and 1751, as Mary Collins, his new wife, and son Michael Collins, probated the will of Collins, Sr.
The full text of the will is available here. In it, John Collins, Sr., grants the following:
- William Collins – a 200-acre tract of land on the Cashie River, purchased from Jonathan Standley. John Collins, Sr., also bequeathed to his grandson John Collins, son of William, a brass kettle.
- John Collins – a Bible
- David Collins – a Bible
- Joseph Collins – a 150-acre plantation on the north side of Guy Hall Swamp. (Note: Guy Hall Swamp later became known as White Pot Swamp. It is situated just south of Askewville).
- Michael Collins – a 300-acre property on “Red Bud.” This is also near Askewville.
- Dempsey Collins – a 150-acre plantation on Guy Hall Swamp.
- Jesse Collins – the 300-acre plantation he currently lives on.
- Absalom Collins – a 240-acre parcel also on Guy Hall Swamp, where he lived. Absalom was still a minor when the will was written in 1749, meaning that he was probably born sometime in the 1730s.
- The will also mentions another grandson, John Keen. It might be assumed that there was a second daughter who married to a Keen.
At the end of the will, John Collins, Sr., lists six of his sons: William, Joseph, Michael, Dempsey, Jesse, and Absalom, in that order. Noticeably absent are John and David. It has been speculated that the reason John Collins and David Collins were given only Bibles, and did not inherit property, was because they had gone to act as missionaries or teachers among the nearest Indian Nation, which would have been the Tuscarora. This is a family legend related by relatives in Georgia. This could be one reason they received only Bibles. It is also possible that they had already received parts of their father’s estate. Recall, John Collins, Jr., witnessed a deed in Bertie in 1742.
In 1749, therefore, he could not have been a minor.
Five years elapsed between the time that the will of John Collins, Sr., was probated and the 1757 tax list in Bertie County. On that list, three of his sons are still listed: William Collins, Joseph Collins, and Michael Collins. Jesse, Dempsey, David, John, and Absalom Collins are not listed. However, Jesse Collins does appear in a 1760 tax list as does Sarah Collins. Sarah Collins’s relationship to this family, or to John Collins, Sr., is unclear.
Between John Collins’s death in 1751 and the advent of the US Federal Census in 1790, we therefore enter a dark period. While certain relationships can be pieced together through appearances in wills, deeds, and tax lists, it becomes difficult to connect modern family lines with the family of John Collins.
Two of his sons — John Collins, Jr., and David — it has already been noted, disappeared from the historical record with their receipt of Bibles. Some people believe that this David Collins was a Saponi Indian, and the progenitor of the families that later moved to Tennessee. However, note that this David Collins was alive in 1742 (and therefore could not have been born in 1750, as some allege), and that he was in Bertie County in 1752. The name Collins, meantime, had already been mentioned among the Saponi in the early 1740s in Orange County, Virginia, 200 miles away. The Bertie County Collins family, the family of this John Collins, is not a strong contender for being of Saponi heritage.
If anything, the most provable Native American link is to the Nansemond Indians.
This is through John Collins’s son, Joseph Collins, who was perhaps the best documented. He was also associated with some interesting families. Most estimate his birth year to be in the 1720s, perhaps 1725. It’s clear that his first wife was Rachel Bunch, the daughter of Joseph’s neighbor on Guy Hall Swamp, Henry Bunch. Henry Bunch was born in 1690 and left a will in Bertie County in 1775. He was described as a “free mulatto” in the 1763 Bertie County tax list. In his 1775 will, he referred to his daughter Rachel Collins, wife of Joseph Collins. Joseph Collins, as well as his son, Josiah Collins, witnessed Bunch’s will.
Henry Bunch’s other daughters were named as Thomazine Bass and Mary Bass, as well as Susanna Summerlin and Ann Crumie. He also acknowledged a grandson Cader Bass, son of Mary Bunch Bass and her husband Isaac Bass. As such, Joseph Collins married into the mulatto Bunch family, and through them became related by law to the Nansemond Indian Bass family. Later generations of this family continued to marry into the Bunches, as well as the Bazemores, another Bertie family listed as mulatto in colonial documents. Just not to gloss over that, Joseph and Rachel Bunch Collins’s son Henry Collins married Penelope Bazemore. Other associated families were the Keens, Summerlins, and Howards. There is a very good summary of this line here. While I have not researched it independently, when I have looked into in person, I have found it largely checks out.
Following Rachel Bunch Collins’s death, Joseph Collins, son of John Collins, Sr., married again to an Elizabeth Bennett, and they had one son named Bennett Collins. He died without heirs in 1813. The administrator on his will is named as John Robbins.
This is interesting, as there are no Bennetts in the 1790, 1800, or 1810 US Federal Census for Bertie County. There is, however, a John Robbins. While this John Robbins is listed as white in the census, and owned a large number of slaves (21 in 1810), we can’t discount the argument that both the Bennetts and Robbinses living in Bertie were assimilated Chowanoke, just as the Basses were assimilated Nansemond.
The Robbins and Bennett families are described as Chowanoke Indian into the 1820s.
Note that in 1810, Esther Bennett is listed in Chowan County as the head of a household of four free colored persons and eight slaves. There were mixed Bennett and Robbins households in Gates, Hertford, Chowan, and Bertie counties, and as faraway as Currituck and Camden counties, who were described as white, free colored, and, sometimes, black in records. This is why I don’t take John Robbins’s designation as “white” at face value. This also shows the extent of the Chowanoke Robbins and Bennett families in the region. They were not solely concentrated at Indian Town in Gates County.
In John Robbins’s 1846 will in Bertie County, he left two parcels to his sons Josiah and George Robbins “in the Indian Woods which formerly belonged to Abraham Smith.” Witnessing the will were Thomas Smallwood and Joseph King, who both signed with a mark. It’s possible that Elizabeth Bennett, Joseph Collins’s second wife, was a Chowanoke or Tuscarora Indian. A “Billy Bennett” is listed as a Tuscarora headman in a 1766 deed. John Bennett is listed in this 1760 list of Bertie County settlers along with names that appeared on the reservation deeds as Tuscarora, such as Allen, Cain, Rogers, and Smith.
While I do not believe I descend from Joseph Collins, many of my Collins DNA matches do. This suggests that the John, William, Thomas, James, and David Collins who began appearing in Gates County records in the 1770s and 1780s, were also from this family.
In the next section, I will discuss what became of John Collins’s other surviving heirs.