If you have been reading this blog for a while, you can see how I have pinged back and forth, around and around, between different theories as to the origins of this branch of my family — the Collinses and Russells — and its arrival to the Scratch Hall area of Gates County, North Carolina. So far there are four main theories of arrival:
- Refugees from Tuscarora Indian Woods. Local historians talk about an influx of mixed-race, Tuscarora-descended people into the Hall area during the course of the 18th century. My DNA matches seem to bear this out, as I match families in and around Indian Woods — Bazemore, Castellow, etc. — that were not present in Gates County. Moreover, the people who match my grandmother on her Indian segments typically have ancestors from southern Bertie County. However, this may reflect the deep shared ancestry of the people in the Roanoke-Chowan area. This theory is supported by some documents, local history, and DNA.
- In marriages from Norfolk-Currituck-Hyde. The first three personal names connected to the Collinses in Gates County are Thomas, William, and Lemuel. There is a 1771 apprenticeship in Portsmouth for a Lemuel Collins to learn the trade of a blacksmith, whose father was a Thomas Collins. One also finds men named Lemuel Collins in Saint Bride’s Parish in Norfolk County in the 18th century. The personal name “Lemuel Collins” is also found in a number of other Indian hot spots — among the mixed-race people of Tennessee, at Mattamuskeet in Hyde County, and, especially, in and around Snow Hill, Maryland, near the site of the old Askiminokonson Indian Town, which some believe is the origin of the Indian-related Collins families. This was a gathering place for a number of Eastern Shore peoples, such as the Nanticoke, Pocomoke, and Assateague. This theory is supported by some 19th century marriages in my family into the Norfolk Weaver and Dozier families, for instance. It’s worth noting that three men named “Graham Collins” — the name of my ancestor — were alive in the 19th century. In addition to my ancestor, who married Nancy Arline, a descendant of the local Williams and Vann families, there was a ‘mulatto’ Graham Collins in Hyde County in 1860, and another ‘free colored’ Graham Collins who married Matilla Barrow — from another Mattamuskeet Indian family — in Pamlico County in 1881. Moreover Russell is a family name on the Mattamuskeet deeds in the 1740s and 1750s. In Gates County, the Collins family also married into the Pierce and Morris families, other names associated with the Mattamuskeet. What you could imagine is a preserved kinship group among the Chowan, Mattamuskeet, Nansemond, and Yeopim Indian peoples in the Outer and Inner Banks.
- Pamunkey in marriages. The given names of the Collins men in Gates County — Thomas, James, William, and Elijah — match quite nicely with the men recorded as free colored in New Kent, King William, and King & Queen counties Virginia in the 1780s, alongside the Bird, Langston, Sweat, Holmes, and other Indian families. These same names are found among the Collinses and Russells in the 1850s in Nansemond County, along with the Halls, Sawyers, and Reads, other families with a Chowanoke or Yeopim and Nansemond connection, but also the Copelands, Ellises, Boons, Wigginses, and Butlers, who seem to be more tied to the Tuscarora. Another interesting name is Austin. The Austins intermarried with the Collinses and Russells and were their neighbors. They can be decisively traced back to New Kent County, as evidenced by the appearance of “Claiborne Austin” in New Kent County in 1791, followed by his purchase of land in Scratch Hall late that year. Did the Collinses, like the Austins, move from New Kent into Gates County?
- Fringe Chowanoke. There is a fourth theory, and that is that the Collinses, despite not appearing in militia and tax lists in Gates County and its predecessor counties in the 18th century, had actually been living at Indian Town the whole time, and only emerged into the historical record once they left the Reservation. The Bennetts and Robbinses also weren’t listed in those records. This is further demonstrated by the fact that the Collinses, like the Pierces and Morrises, were living side by side with the Robbinses in the 1850 census of Gates County. The 1779 Chowan County marriage of John Collins to Sarah Hinton, of a family that had long resided next to the Chowanoke, shows that the family was there at least four years before its first appearances in the Gates County tax lists in the mid-1780s. That John Collins must have died soon after, because Sarah Collins was the mother of one of my ancestor James Arline’s bastard children (his other mistress was named Charity Russell). The fact that the Arlines owned land both around Bennetts Creek and at Mills Swamp on the border, and that James Arline’s granddaughter, Nancy Arline, married Thomas Collins from this Indian-descended family, hints at the idea that the Collinses, as well as some of the Russells, were actually laborers on the Arline plantations. Indeed, throughout his lifetime, my ancestor Thomas Collins (1769-1849) was listed as a laborer, even while the size of his properties grew from nothing to several hundred acres.
So let me know what theory you believe. As you can see, different theories can be supported by different information. One thing seems certain, and that’s that Collins was a family that married into various Algonquian kinship groups over the centuries. I would also speculate that the Collins who arose among the Saponi/Catawba in the 18th century probably also arrived there via an Algonquian kinship connection.