Timelines and Paper Trails


From John Collett’s map of North Carolina, 1770

TRYING TO ASCERTAIN the tribal origins of various families seems to be the main objective of a lot of researchers. When it comes to researching the Collins family, this can be frustrating, as this name can be found around the Virginia colony already in the 17th century. There were already Indian Collins families at Accomack, on the Eastern Shore, at Pamunkey Neck, and among the Saponi of Louisa County by the mid-18th century. There were also Collinses at Mattamuskeet in Hyde County, North Carolina, and on the margins of Indian Woods in Bertie County by the 1760s. And there were of course Collinses living in the border area between Princess Anne County, Virginia, and Currituck County, North Carolina.

These families were probably all related in some way. One could speculate at an Eastern Shore origin, spreading to various coastal Algonquian communities and later to the Siouan Saponi and Iroquoian Tuscarora. I think though that one’s time is better served trying to determine the specific route of their own family.

At the moment, I tend to think my Collins family was part of a back migration of Algonquian families from the Tuscarora at Indian Woods to the Chowanoke Indian lands that occurred in the mid-18th century.

The four main male names that occur among the earliest Collinses in Gates County — Thomas, William, James, and David — are not found in Gates or Nansemond County, Virginia, records prior to the American Revolution. They are not in any Chowan County tax lists or deeds, or in the Nansemond Vestry Book or in the 1768 tax list of Hertford County.

In the era immediately preceding it, however, they are found near the Indian Woods Reservation in Bertie County. Another key name — Sarah Collins — also can be found in Bertie County at this time — circa 1740s to 1760s. Please see my post on Quitsna settlers. The appearance of Thomas Collins together with Sarah Butler on an 1803 deed in Gates County, lends more weight to this theory, as Sarah Butler, together with her daughter Martha Butler, also seem to be tied to the Indian Woods area in the mid-18th century, both of those names occurring in colonial documents at that time as free persons of color.

There are a few historical descriptions that might clear this up.

  • Minutes of the North Carolina Governor’s council dated April 3, 1733, Vol. 3, pages 537-538 of the Colonial and State Records of North Carolina.    The council authorized the “Suponees “to live with the “Tuskarooroes” and went on to say “ and that the Chowan Indians have leave to live with the Tuscarooroes Indians provide King Blount will receive them.”
  • 1775 Tuscarora moved to Chowan reservation on Bennett’s Creek on east side of Chowan River, formerly the reservation of Chowanokes.

Who were these Tuscarora who moved to the Chowan Reservation area in the mid-1770s though? Why would they move there? I believe it is because they were the original Chowanoke families who moved to Indian Woods in the 1730s. They moved back to their original quarters where they had relatives. So, one could argue that this branch of the Collins family likely had both Chowanoke and Tuscarora origins. Additionally, looking at later marriages within this family in Gates and Nansemond, to the Williford, Johnston, Morris, and Pierce families, to name a few, provides additional links to the old Indian Woods area.

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