Thomas Collins, a Nansemond Indian?

1761, Western Branch, Norfolk, Virginia. Thomas Collins is a neighbor of John and William Bass and William Tucker.

NATIVE AMERICAN GENEALOGY can be a pretty cutthroat business. That’s why that question mark is up there. Here though I collect some of my rather extensive — in terms of hours spent — research, and try to array it into a timeline.

This timeline starts in the year 1732 in Norfolk, Virginia. Why is this the year one for my research? Because this is the first year for which tithe lists exist for Norfolk. In 1732, in the Western Branch District, we first encounter a William Collins in the household of John Stafford. Four years later, there is a Joshua Collins in the same household.

The presence of these specific names at Western Branch at this early date is interesting. In the 1790s, a Joshua Collins was taxable in neighboring Princess Anne County, in the same list as Simon Shoecraft, Richard Nickens, and Kinner Collins. Kinner Collins is the ancestor the Collinses named in the 1907 Nansemond “census.”   This family was related and linked to the Newtons, Harmons, Turners, and Shoecrafts.

William Collins was also the name of a Norfolk man, born circa 1810, who married Jane Bizzell/Bissell and removed to Hertford County, North Carolina. He is the father of the John Bembry Collins who listed himself as Indian in the 1900 US Federal Census. Members of the Bissell family were also recorded as Indian in Norfolk.

In 1733, there is a record of a Thomas Collins at Western Branch. He is not in the 1734-1736 lists. Then there is a gap in the records until 1750.

In 1751, there is the first mention of a Thomas Collins, Sr., and Jr., at Western Branch. They were recorded there until 1757, when John Collins is listed in the household of Thomas Collins, Sr. In 1765, there is no Thomas Collins, Sr., listed. There is only Thomas Collins. This family remained in Western Branch until 1772. Then there is a gap of nine years. It’s worth mentioning that this overlaps with the American Revolution, during which time Norfolk was occupied (and looted) by British and American troops.

It isn’t until 1783 that Thomas Collins resurfaces in the 1783 tax list of Willis Parker in Nansemond County. He is the head of a household of four. He was there for perhaps a year or two, because Thomas Collins then appears in the Gates County lists of James Arline in 1785 and 1786. The Arline district was close to Bennetts Creek.

Meantime, Lemuel Collins, another Norfolk and Princess Anne personal name, is also in Gates County. There is also a 1771 apprenticeship record in Portsmouth for Lemuel Collins, signed by his father Thomas Collins. A man named Lemuel Collins was taxable in Princess Anne County the same year.

Lemuel Collins is in Gates from 1786 through 1799. It is unclear what his relationship is to Thomas Collins. To make things more interesting, the name William Collins appears on the 1783 tax list in Nansemond. In 1787, there is a William Collins, Sr., and Jr., in the Gates County tax list, and from 1788 on, only a William Collins. These men are probably related. So sometime between the early 1770s and mid-1780s, some of the Collinses moved from Western Branch in Norfolk to the Deep Cypress area in Gates County.

My ancestor, Thomas Collins, first appears in the Gates County tax lists in 1792. He is in the same tax list of his presumed father, Thomas Collins, who moved from Western Branch to Scratch Hall. He appears there again in 1793 but then again disappears. He is in the 1800 US Federal Census for Gates County, and a marriage is recorded for him in Gates County in 1801 with Anna Russell. It isn’t until 1804 though that he is is listed back in Nansemond County with 50 acres. He is not in the 1820 census, though he was in the tax list for that year. The first year he appears in the census again is 1830.

In Gates County and Nansemond County, Thomas Collins was listed as white. However, as I have shown, other members of this same Norfolk Collins family who claimed Indian descent were recorded as white once they left the Norfolk area. Thomas Collins however continued to associate with other people of indigenous descent. He served as a witness in 1803 to a deed involving Sarah Butler, a free person of color, whose descendants married into the Chowanoke community. And he witnessed an 1803 will in Norfolk for Joseph Ellis that included Stephen Price, from a documented Nansemond Indian family.


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