Elvy Russell Collins, 1805/06-1870

THE SECOND CHARACTER I am going to dig into here is Elvy Russell Collins. He was the ‘double first cousin’ of my ancestor Graham Russell Collins, meaning that his father and Graham’s father were brothers, and his mother and Graham’s mother were sisters. He might as well be my direct ancestor.

Elvy Russell Collins is fairly easy to track using various records. He died on January 10, 1870, at the age of 64, meaning that in all likelihood he was born in 1805. The cause of death was asthma. In the US Federal Census Mortality Schedule for 1870 his birthplace is listed as Virginia, and his race is listed as “black.”


This racial designation had troubled some relatives, who at first insisted that this was a different Elvy Collins, who just happened to be born the same year, in the same place, with the same profession (farmer), and die at the same exact time as a ‘white’ Elvy Collins who also died on January 10, 1870, and whose Virginia death certificate lists his race as ‘white’ and his parents as James and Catherine Collins and his wife as “Rhyney Collins.”

The fact that his parents names are given is very helpful, as there is a marriage recorded in April 1801 for James Collins and Katherine Russell. The bondsman was Robert Napier, this aforementioned character with the distant family links to New Kent County. This marriage record, along with Elvy Collins’ death certificate, is one of the few that demonstrate James Collins’ existence. Though he lived from roughly 1775 to 1825, he never appeared in any census, either in Gates County or in Nansemond County.

Looking elsewhere, the strongest leads might be in Accomack County, where a James Collins is listed in 1790, or King and Queen, where a James Collins is listed in 1800. The name “James Collins” pops up in later generations in Bertie County, too.

He did appear in the Nansemond County tax lists from 1804 on with 8 acres. There was another family member, William Collins, who owned 50 acres in Nansemond County from 1797 to 1810. In 1811, this land passed to David Collins, and James Collins’ land abutted David Collins’ land. Their neighbors were John Hamilton and Jesse Wiggins. Thomas Collins (1768/1769-1849) meantime owned about 75 acres that adjoined the lands of James Russell, Sr., and Jesse Wiggins, Jr.

These are interesting names, as some, like John Hamilton, trace back to the Scratch Hall/Sarum area in Gates County.

James Collins did appear at the estate sale of James Beasley in Gates County in 1815. This may be the only estate record that mentions him. Given the location of the names like Saunders and Lang, it appears that this was in the Deep Cypress area, north of Eure.

By 1820, James Collins owned 40 acres, but in 1825, 14 of these were put to Thomas Collins. In 1826, there is a check mark beside his name, typically an indicator that he had died, or left. Apparently by 1838, when “Elvy R. Collins” first appears in the same lists, the family property had dwindled to 14 acres.

Elvy R. Collins first appears in the 1840 census as the head of a household of four free white persons. Both he and his wife are aged 30 to 39, meaning they were born between 1801 and 1810. He has a son, aged 10 to 14, and there is one female aged 60 to 69. This may be his mother, Catherine Russell Collins, meaning that she was born between 1771 and 1780. It is unclear who this elder son is.

The 1850 census shows a household with Elvy R. Collins, born 1806, “Marna A. Collins,” born 1811, Elliott E. Collins, born 1839, and Catherine Collins, born 1848. There is also his aunt, Anna Collins, my ancestor, aged 80, born about 1770. Unless she was also living with him in 1840, this would mean that his mother, Catherine, had died between 1840 and 1850. In 1860, Anna Collins is gone, Elvy is listed as 53, or born in 1807, Marina is 48, or born in 1812, Elliot is 20, or born in 1840, and “Clara” (Catherine) is 11, or born in 1849.

By 1870, Elvy is gone, and Marina, aged 61, and “Ann C” — the same Catherine, or Clara — is aged 22. By 1880, Marina is gone as well. In my notes, I have her maiden name as Johnson, but I can’t find the document to support that at this time. There was another “Marina Johnson” who was born in Bertie County in about 1807. This is another one of these hints that tie the Nansemond-Gates border community to those living on the edge of Indian Woods. Apparently Elvy and Marina Collins were married, or cohabiting, by the late 1820s, given the birth of their eldest son by about 1830.

There is no marriage record for Elvy R. Collins and Marina.

The name “Elvy” is rather unique as a man’s name. He was apparently named after his relative Elvy Russell (1793-1858), another local “white” farmer who was described as “black” when he died. I’ll write about Elvy Russell in my next post.

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