I HAVE LITTLE to go on when it comes to the mother of Thomas Collins (1769-1849), my ancestor. The sole hint is an 1803 deed, on which this same Thomas Collins witnessed the deed of 10 acres from John Lang to Sarah Butler. This same Sarah Butler evidently died around 1816, leaving the land to Martha Butler, head of a household of eight other free in 1820. In 1830, this same Gates County household is headed by Mason Butler (1802- Aft. 1850). His neighbors are Joshua Lang, Whitmell Goodman, and Nathaniel Eure.
Joshua Lang makes sense, considering his relative, John Lang, was the one who deeded the initial property. Whitmell Goodman may have been an Indian descendant. On the 1850 Census in Gates County, he, his wife, and two of his daughters are listed as white. One of them is listed, however, as mulatto. And as I have shown previously, the Eure family had some kind of long-standing, though unclear, relationship with the local Chowanoke population.
Mason Butler is an interesting character because he is found in the 1850 US Federal Census in Nansemond County, Virginia. This is further evidence of the drift of people from the Scratch Hall and Bennetts Creek areas of Gates County toward the border with Virginia, and, on occasion, over the border. I have tracked my Collins, Russell, and Arline lines all from the Hall and Bennetts Creek area to the border region. What made them relocate is not known to me.
The ancestry of Mason Butler is also unknown. Some say that this man descends from Martha Butler, the common-law wife of John Castellaw of Bertie County. It’s possible that the Sarah Butler who obtained the 10 acres via the 1803 deed descends from this marriage. It’s possible that Thomas Collins is also a relative. Perhaps his mother was a Butler and the Sarah Butler of the 1803 deed was a cousin, or an aunt. Or maybe she was his sister. Using AncestryDNA, I can see that I match at least two people who descend from Martha Butler and John Castellaw. One of them is as close as a fourth cousin. You can see this here.
There is also the anecdotal evidence that this was a Tuscarora family. K. Paul Johnson, in Pell Mellers: Race and Memory in a Carolina Pocosin, writes that they might be descended from white Butlers and local Indians. Another book, Ross Baptist Church, The First Seventy-Five Years, 1800-1875, is more confident.
Martha Butler was a Tuscarora Indian. According to local history, Indian tribal units had ceased to exist by 1750 (this does not include tribes on the Indian Woods Reservation that moved away in 1803). By the year of 1750, most of the Indians had moved away, leaving the few remnants that chose to remain in the area. Those that remained in the area organized into family units, and adopted English surnames for identification. The Butlers were among the most prominent of the Indian family units. The patriarch of this family was probably Tobias Butler, who died in 1791. The wife of Tobias was Keziah Butler. Martha Butler was one of the daughters of Tobias and Keziah. Many of the Butlers became members of Ross Church.