ONE DIFFICULTY in trying to find a tribal identity for the various Collins families that originated in Virginia is that by the time the first families identified as Native American surface in the records, circa 1740-1760, they are spread across a relatively broad area.
One family, which we can call the Saponi Collins, based on the claims of descendants, can be dated to Orange County, Virginia, in 1742 in the following, oft-cited record: “Alexander Machartoon, John Bowling, Manicassa, Capt. Tom, Isaac, Harry, Blind Tom, Foolish Jack, Charles Griffin, John Collins, Little Jack. Saponi Indians being brought before the court by precept under the hands and seals of Wm Russell & Edward Spencer, Gent. for terrifying one Lawrence Strother and on suspicion of stealing hoggs……..”
At almost the same time, the progenitors of the Pamunkey Collins family are already extant in King William County. Several of the families later identified as Pamunkey Indians trace back to Mary Collins, born about 1730, and Mason Collins and William Collins, both born in about 1760, respectively.
Meantime, the progenitors of what could be called the Nansemond Collins were living in Princess Anne County, Virginia, on the border with North Carolina. Kinner Collins, born in 1758, as well as his son, Cary Collins, can be shown to be the ancestors of the Collins family members who appear in the Smithsonian’s 1907 census of Nansemond Indians. This family was living, according to land records, near Indian Creek in a place called Saint Bride’s Parish on the border of Norfolk and Princess Anne counties, and not too far from the Camden/Currituck border, where we find familiar, related families like Hall, Nickens, Bass, etc.
Members of this same family later migrated to Hertford County, North Carolina, where they represented themselves as Indian in the 1900 US Federal Census. The Meherrin Collins and the Nansemond Collins are therefore the same.
My own family apparently overlaps with these families. Thomas Collins and Lemuel/Lamuel Collins, the two earliest documented family members I have identified, were living in Norfolk County in 1771. By 1783, they were in Nansemond County, and by 1785 they were living in Gates County, among the Chowanoke Indians.
It is also possible that the Mattamuskeet Collins, who descend from Cati Collins, an Indian woman mentioned in a 1765 Hyde County court case, is an off-shoot of this family group. The William Gibbs, who is listed as the owner of Cati Collins, comes from a family originally based out of Norfolk and Princess Anne counties. Perhaps she was enslaved by the Gibbs family in Princess Anne and transferred later to their properties in Hyde County.
It’s possible that this family was also related to the Accomack Collins. A number of Collins were listed on marriage records and land records related to the Gingaskin Indian Reservation in the first few decades of the 19th century.
One thing is apparent here: if all of these families share common ancestry, it dates back to the pre-1740 period and, very likely, to the late 17th century. One hypothesis that has been proposed by James Nickens, is that this family originated on the Eastern Shore, among the Accomack (Northampton County) Indians and then later spread to other Algonquian Indian communities, at Nansemond (Princess Anne/Norfolk), at Mattamuskeet (Hyde), at Pamunkey (King William), and even, perhaps, via the Pamunkey settlement, to the Saponi/Catawba Indians.
My own hypothesis though is that this family may have originated at a settlement called Wash Woods, long since abandoned, which was settled by survivors of an Irish shipwreck sometime in the 17th or 18th centuries. According to folklore, these people intermarried with the local Native Americans. But who were these people? This area was thought of as the border between the Yeopim and Chesepian peoples, who lived either on the Albermarle Sound, to the south, or the Chesapeake Bay to the north.
However, the Chesepian people were, according to historical accounts, wiped out by Powhatan before 1607. An interesting side note is that an island south of Knotts Island is called Monkey Island, and was formerly called Pamunkey Island, for the Pamunkey who inhabited the area. Could the Indians at Wash Woods, Knotts Island, and Indian Creek have actually been Pamunkey? Might that explain the movement of the Collins name up to King William County, and beyond to Orange County? And then later up to Accomack too?
There are some unique personal names, such as Simeon and Lemuel/Lamuel, that occur in these families. One can find individuals named Lemuel Collins at Snow Hill, Maryland (site of the old Pocomoke/Assateague Reservation), at the Chowanoke Reservation in Gates County, NC, and at the Mattamuskeet Reservation in Hyde County, NC. One can find Simeon Collins at the Pamunkey Indian Reservation and in Hancock County, Tennessee, at Melungeon Town (a possible branch off of the Saponi Collins western migration). In fact, the family of Crawford Collins (born 1808 in North Carolina, also from this Saponi migration) counted Lemuel Collins and Simeon Collins as sons in the 1850 and 1860 censuses in Wilson County, Tennessee.
It is possible that these names were used/assigned by early generations of this family, perhaps at False Cape.