IT’S EASY TO GET DISTRACTED doing genealogical research. Coincidences abound, and you can stitch together all kinds of theories based on the data at hand. I was recently reminded to stay focused and dig deep into my own ancestry, rather than looking for connections to others.
I have never been able to trace the family of my ancestor, Thomas Collins, before the American Revolution, with the exception of a 1771 apprenticeship for Lemuel Collins to Caleb Manning to learn the trade of blacksmith, which was witnessed by Thomas Collins. Both Lemuel and Thomas signed with marks. The apprenticeship was in Portsmouth, Virginia, and set to end when Lemuel achieved the age of 23.
Thomas Collins, William Collins, and Lamuel Collins all appear in the Gates County tax lists in the 1780s and 1790s. It seems possible that the Lamuel/Lemuel and Thomas Collins from the Portsmouth apprenticeship are the same men from Gates County.
The first deed to place Thomas Collins on a map, though, is from 1803, when he witnessed the deed of 10 acres to Sarah Butler by John Lang. This Sarah Butler, as I have shown, is the progenitor of the local free colored Butler family (the 10 acres pass to Martha Butler in 1817, who appears as the head of a household of other free persons in 1820).
But where was it? To figure that out we have to determine where John Lang’s property was. It’s clear from the deeds that it was near a topographical landmark called “Cypress Swamp.”
15 Nov 1798 — Lewis Sumner to Josiah Sumner … 12 pds … 1/3 of 150 acres beginning at cypress stump, corner tree of John Lang’s in Cypress Swamp and down swamp.
Lewis (+) Sumner, witnesses Henry (+) Saunders, Joseph (+) Saunders
A 1779 deed from Thomas Hare to Dempsey Sumner confirms that this area, also known as “Deep Cypress,” borders the Saunders land, and another references the area as being part of a 1730 land grant to Jacob Odom. This is interesting as John Collins and Jacob Odom were referenced as early landowners in the area in the 1720s and 1730s (John Collins later sold the property off and removed to Bertie County where he left a will in 1751). All of this area falls within Hall Township, and is near Fort Island, where the Russell family owned land. It is conclusive that my Collins and Russells ancestors trace back to Scratch Hall, with the Russells owning land at Fort Island since the 1740s, and the Collinses emerging into the records in the 1770s and 1780s in apprenticeship bonds, tax lists, and witnesses.
They still owned no land.
If the Collins were European-Native American mixed bloods, it would explain not only great grandfather’s appearance, my grandmother’s DNA result, and the fact that several of them are listed as colored in various records, but also why the paper trail for the Collins family is so thin, and how they seemingly appeared out of nowhere in Deep Cypress, like their neighbors and potential relatives the Butlers, and intermarried with other similar families like the Halls, Pierces, and Smiths.
It is possible — possible — that they were the mixed blood offspring of the John Collins who owned land in the area in the 1720s and 1730s, or at least appropriated his name from there. It is also possible — given that John Collins’ sons married into the Bunch and Bass families in Bertie County — that this old landowner was of mixed descent himself.