AFTER YEARS OF RESEARCH I can probably get to the root (with some speculation) about the various origins of Native American Collins families in Virginia, North Carolina, and elsewhere. To start, the surname Collins is considered to be a Native name among a variety of indigenous groups in this region, not limited to the Saponi, Pamunkey, Mattamuskeet/Machapunga, Meherrin, and Tuscarora.
The traditional route of the Saponi Collins family begins in Louisa, Orange, and Fluvanna counties in northern Virginia. These are the men referenced in this Orange County record from the 1740s: “Alexander Machartoon, John Bowling, Manincassa, Capt Tom, Isaac, Harry, blind tom, Foolish Jack, Charles Griffin, John Collins, Little Jack, Indians being bought before the court for stealing Hogs, Ordered that their Guns be taken away from them till they are ready to depart of this county, they having declared their intentions to depart this colony within a week.” This group of men supposedly moved south to Granville County, North Carolina, in the next decade, and from there, some moved westward. The descendants of these men claim to be of Saponi descent. Here are your Saponi Collinses.
If there is any overlap between this family and the Pamunkey Collins family, I do not know. We can say though that the Collins surname arose among the Pamunkey in the second-half of the 18th century. Helen Rountree reports in Pocahontas’s People, “The Collinses apparently come from a man named William Collins, who was taxed as a white man by King William County in 1794, yet became a member of the Lower College Baptist Church with wife Jane on the free colored roll. Jane may have been an Indian. Two generations later, in 1836, a Richard Collins, ‘descendant of the Indian Tribe,’ enrolled at the church.”
Mattamuskeet was the name of the Indian settlement in Hyde County, although the people settled there included the Machapunga, Core, Hatteras, and other Indians of the Inner Banks. The Mattamuskeet Collins family in this area descends at least in part from Cati Collins, who was named as an Indian in a 1765 Hyde County court case. I refer to Patrick Garrow’s Mattamuskeet Documents: “It called for William Gibbs to show cause why an Indian woman named Cati Collins should not be set free. It is not clear from the reference whether William Gibbs was holding Cati Collins as an apprentice or a slave. The outcome of the show cause order could not be determined due to a break in the County Court Minutes from 1765 to 1767. Cati Collins may have been a member of one of the groups that moved to the area from Roanoke and Hatteras Islands.”
The existence of a Collins family among the Meherrin of Hertford County is interesting. This family descends from a William Collins and Jane Bizzell Collins, who were listed as living in Winton in the 1850 census. The death records of their children, however, reveal that the father of the family, William, was actually born in Princess Anne County, Virginia. This ties in neatly to the family of William Shoecraft who a son named Kinner Shoecraft Collins, whose descendants were listed as a free people of color in Princess Anne County. Kinner Collins was born in about 1758 and could be the progenitor of the Meherrin Collins family. Considering the appearance of other Indian families from the coast such as Shoecraft and Nickens, in Hertford County, this argument makes some sense.
It is interesting to look at where in Princess Anne County this family was located. Tax records refer to properties in the Pungo District, on the border with North Carolina. The name Pungo is derived from the name of a local Indian group, also called the “Machipungo.”
The Collins family appeared near what would be the Indian Woods Reservation of the Tuscarora already in the 1740s. John Collins, who left a will in Bertie County in 1751, was a major landowner and planter in the region. His son, Joseph Collins, married Rachel Bunch, and their descendants were listed as free colored on some records. I have found references to Tuscarora Collins families from both Bertie County and Washington County, North Carolina. While modern-day Tuscarora do not claim this as a major surname, it is considered to be one by the Southern Band of Tuscarora. It is possible that the John Gray Collins (1806-1869) family of Indian Woods descended in some way from John Collins of Bertie, via the local Tuscarora community.
My own Collins family was living in the vicinity of the old Chowan Indian Reservation in Gates County, North Carolina. Records tie them to both the Bertie County area as well as to Hyde County. It is my opinion that the families at these five sites: Pungo District in Princess Anne County, Mattamuskeet in Hyde County, Indian Woods in Bertie County, Winton in Hertford County, and Fort Island/Bennetts Creek in Gates County, were somehow related. How they connect to the Pamunkey Collins and Saponi Collins families is unclear at this point in time. If they do at all then the connection must have occurred several generations prior in the 17th Century.