THE COLLINS FAMILY of Hertford County, North Carolina, is of great interest, not only to me, but to anyone interested in North Carolina Native Americans. The reason for this is simple: in the 1900 US Federal Census, John Bembry Collins listed himself and his family as Indian.
The family of John Bembry Collins is currently considered to be Meherrin Indian, and descendants of this family can perhaps enroll in the tribe. It is difficult though to truly trace the origins of this family, given conflicting information about the birthplace of John Bembry Collins’ father, William Collins.
William Collins is listed in the 1850 US Federal Census in the Northern District of Hertford County. His age is 40, so we estimate a birth year of 1810. His birthplace is given as North Carolina. His wife is Jane, aged 30, and he has five children: Thomas, Elizabeth, John, Simon, and Harrison. His profession is painter, and his neighbors are the mulatto Jones, Artis, and Hurst families. White neighbors are Lang, Everitt, Scott, Sumner, and Parker.
There is another colored Collins family in the Southern District of Hertford County. This is the family of Robert Collins (born 1817), his wife Elizabeth and his children Frusa and Moses, plus another household member, 25-year-old Sally Turner. Neighbors include Archer, Holomon, Overton, Butler, Robins, Reynolds, Lassiter, Smith, Horton, Godwin, Flood, Melton, Mitchell, Askew, Willoughby, and Manley.
As much as I have tried, I can find neither family in the 1840 Censuses. To make things more confusing, based on other documents, William Collins was actually born in Norfolk, Virginia. On the 1910 Census, John Bembry Collins states that his father was born in Virginia. According to the Norfolk County Register of Free Negroes and Mulattoes, this might be in the case. The register, available here, lists: “Wm Collins, 21, 5 ft 6, a light mulatto, Born free, 19 Sept. 1831.” If he was 21 in 1831, then he would have been born in 1810, just as the William Collins in Hertford was.
Additionally, William Collins’ wife was named Jane Bizzell. The same register lists one “Nathan Bissell, 23 yrs, 5 ft 4, Indian complexion, Indian descent, 22 April 1851.” While this man is actually younger than Jane, it is likely that the Collinses and Bissell/Bizzells of Hertford County are the same as those in Norfolk.
The principle question is if these were families from Winton, Meherrin, who moved to Norfolk as laborers, or if they were Nansemond Indians who moved to Hertford together with the Archers, Weavers, Nickenses, Whitehursts, Godwins, and others?
Another record here is interesting: “Douglass Collins, 23 yrs, 5 ft 11-3/4, Indian complexion, Indian descent, 16 Sept. 1850.” This shows that the Collinses were an Indian family.