Thomas Collins, 1768/69-1849

I HAVE DECIDED to scale this back a bit and focus on creating biographies for some of the people involved in this search. Much of my own investigation concerns the Collins and Russell families of Gates County, North Carolina, and Nansemond County, Virginia, through the 1801 marriage of Thomas Collins and Anna Russell my direct ancestors.

Thomas Collins (1768/1769-August 1849)

Thomas Collins was born sometime between September 1768 and August 1769. I base this fact on the US Federal Census Mortality Schedule for 1850, which states that he died in August 1849 at the age of 80 of consumption and that he was a laborer. It also gives his birthplace as Nansemond County, which is debatable as we shall see. His 1769 year of birth is reinforced by the 1840 US Federal Census for Nansemond County, where he is listed as a free white male between 70 and 79 years of age. He is listed in the same household with a free white female aged 60 to 69 (his wife Anna Russell Collins), a female aged 30 to 39, and a male aged 10 to 14.

In 1830, he is listed as aged 60 to 69, again reinforcing the 1769 birthdate. But his wife Anna Russell is also listed as 60 to 69. This leads me to believe that she was born in 1770. Thomas Collins is absent from the 1820 census for Nansemond County, Virginia, although he appears in tax lists that year with 190 acres adjoining James E. Smith.

The 1810, 1800, and 1790 censuses for Nansemond County have not survived unfortunately. However, Thomas Collins does appear in tax lists for Nansemond County beginning in 1804, when he was first listed with 50 acres. During his lifetime, he would eventually build his land holdings to 204 acres by 1822. It is unclear from whom he received this acreage, as deeds from Nansemond County have not survived.  It may have been from his neighbor Jesse Wiggins.

The land was right on the border, near Drum Hill, North Carolina, in what is considered Cypress Chapel District. Thomas Collins served in the first regiment of militia from Gates County in the War of 1812.

Prior to the move to Nansemond County in 1804, Thomas Collins was apparently living in Gates County. He witnessed the deed of 10 acres from John Lang to Sarah Butler in 1803. Tracing this property, which Lang acquired from the Saunders family, we are able to pinpoint this location as somewhere just northeast of modern-day Eure, North Carolina, at a place called Deep Cypress. Thomas Collins originally lived in what was Hall Township.

He is listed in the 1800 census as the head of a household of eight free white persons. Both he and his wife Anna Russell are listed as being between 26 and 44 years of age, or born between 1756 and 1774, which is in line with the other records. Moreover, they have six females under the age of 16. This is quite interesting, as Thomas Collins and Anna Russell were married on May 9, 1801. One person from this family, Temperance Collins, who later married a cousin named William Collins, died in Nansemond County in 1868 and listed her parents as “Thomas and Annie Collins.” This leads me to believe that Temperance was one of those six females listed in this household in the 1800 census and that for whatever reason, Thomas Collins and Anna Russell cohabited for a decade prior to marriage.

Thomas Collins does not appear in the 1790 US Federal Census for Gates County. He is not in the tax lists for that year either. This may be because he had not yet reached the age of 21. If he was living in Gates County in 1790, it is unclear in what household. He could be a son of William Collins or Lamuel Collins, both listed as having three males in their households age 16 and up.

There are no Collinses listed in the 1786 North Carolina State Census for Gates County, although another Thomas Collins is listed in the tax lists for that year though not the following year, along with William Collins and Lamuel Collins. This elder Thomas Collins may be the same as the Thomas Collins listed in the 1783 tax list of Willis Parker for Nansemond County as the head of a household of four, and may be the father of the younger Thomas Collins in question.

As such, Thomas Collins may have been the son of Lamuel, William, or Thomas Collins. As none of these men owned land, it is impossible to link him definitively to any one of them.

Thomas Collins (1768/69-1849) first appears in the 1792 tax list of Jesse Benton, and again in the same list for the following year. Oddly, he does not appear on any lists between 1794 and when he resurfaced in 1804 in Nansemond County. He may have been living elsewhere at that time, or he may not have been enumerated for whatever reason.

While it is clear that he lived much of his life in Nansemond County, Thomas Collins’ son, Graham Russell Collins (1802-1880), listed his birthplace as North Carolina in the 1870 US Federal Census for Nansemond County, Virginia. This shows that Thomas Collins was living in North Carolina prior to 1804 and was most likely born in Gates County, perhaps in the vicinity of Eure.

One can only speculate about the deeper ancestry of Thomas Collins. Neither he, Lamuel, or William Collins appear in the 1768/1770 tax receipt book for Hertford County, though the part of Gates County in which they were living appears to have been part of Hertford at that time. None of these men appear in the Chowan County tax lists at this time, or the Bertie County lists, although some names are shared with the Bertie County families.

There is a 1771 apprenticeship record for Lemuel Collins to Caleb Manning in Portsmouth, Virginia, that lists his father as Thomas Collins. That same year, another Lemuel Collins was listed in Princess Anne County with 100 acres and two slaves. Neither of these men fit our ancestors’ profiles completely — If Lemuel was apprenticed in 1771, he would have been underage in 1771, and could not have owned 100 acres or two slaves. Moreover, the Collins family in Gates County owned no acreage at this time and had no slaves. While the names strongly hint at a link between the Princess Anne and Gates County families, it might have been a generation earlier.

On 17 July 1761, there is a record of Jonathan Dison promising to pay Mr. Lamuel Collins £12 in Princess Anne County. It is witnessed by Adam Keeling, Jr., and Gershom Nimmo, the surveyor general of Norfolk County. Interestingly, the progenitor of the Native American Collins family in Hertford County was named William Keeling Collins, and was born in Portsmouth Virginia, in about 1810.

The unique names “Lemuel Collins” and “Graham Collins” are also found among the mulatto population of Hyde County in the 19th century in the vicinity of the old Mattamuskeet Indian Reservation. Though Thomas Collins was listed as white during his life on all records, various family members, such as his nephew Elvy Russell Collins, were listed as mulatto or black on records. This suggests that this family was not of total European ancestry, and may have descended from the Coastal Algonquian population. This would explain how the same names are found at all three Coastal Algonquian sites — Chowan, Nansemond, and Mattamuskeet over a period of more than a hundred years.


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