The Winton Road


THERE ARE MULTIPLE recurring anecdotes about Tuscarora moving into Gates County and up into Nansemond County, Virginia, sometime in the 18th century.  In 1979-1980, a local history project in Gates County even pulled the following information from some old-timers:

Mr. Taylor said that there was another tribe of Indians in this part of Gates County, but he could not remember the name of the tribe. He said that they lived from the Winton Road up into Virginia.

Fort Island received its’ name from the Indian Forts that were set up here before and during the Civil War. Mr. Roy Eure said that he thought the name of the tribe was the Tuscarora Indians who also settled on the other side of the Chowan River. He said that several tee-pees or wig-wams that the Indians lived in were located on the land in front of his house.

In looking at the map, we can see that the “Winton Road” is actually modern-day Route 13, and that Fort Island is just off of 13 to the southeast. Winton can be seen on the other bank of the river to the west, while there is a landmark called “Tuscarora Beach” across from Fort Island, but the origins of this name may be more recent.

This is interesting to me, as my Native Collins family was originally found at Fort Island, then later moved up Route 13 into Virginia, where they finally acquired land around Drum Hill in the Cypress Chapel District in the early 1800s. DNA results suggest they originated at Indian Woods in Bertie County though I am still exploring that.

I’ve been asked if it is possible to flesh out a list of potential Tuscarora who moved into Gates County, if these anecdotes, or legends, are accurate. I should say that the first name that suggested to me that there might have been Tuscarora in Gates County was Thomas Cornelius, who married Sukey Hall in 1804. Interestingly, this name was not found in early censuses or tax lists, but that is not surprising. Many lists exclude my ancestors as well, even though various records provide evidence of their presence.

In looking at the tax lists I have on file (1784-1799), at landless persons, at those who seemed to come out of nowhere, without having a colonial paper trail or presence on Chowan County militia returns, I drew up the following list of potential Tuscarora.

George Allen; Thomas Blunt; James Boon; Sarah Butler; Thomas Collins; William Collins; Thomas Cornelius; Aaron Ellis; Ann Gibson; Jesse Hiatt; Thomas Hiatt; Willis Hughes; Winbourne Jenkins; Simmons Jones; John Miller; Jemima Mitchell; Thomas Smith; William Taylor; Jacob Wilkins

Some of these people were enumerated at one time or another as free people of color. This is true of Jemima (Mimey) Mitchell, who is counted as FPC in the 1790 census. She is later found in Nansemond County records as an indigent person. Why is that important? Because its shows movement from Gates County into Nansemond County by a person with what could be considered a “Tuscarora surname.” A James Mitchell signed deeds on behalf of the Tuscarora in Bertie County in the 1760s. Several of the other names here fit that profile, though not all were counted as free colored.

Allen, Blunt, Cornelius, Gibson, Miller, Mitchell, Smith, and Taylor all appear on Tuscarora deeds. Jenkins, Jones, Hughes, Wilkins, Vann, Ellis, and others have been claimed by various descendants and researchers. Hiatt/Highatt may coincide with the Howett of the Indian Woods deeds. Interestingly, these families married into local ones with some hypothetical Chowanoke links, such as the Russells, Beasleys, and Halls.

It is my opinion that not all Tuscarora were counted as free people of color when they dispersed from Indian Woods when the Reservation wound down in the 1760s and 1770s. It is possible that some were admixed with Europeans, others with Africans, many with both, and that those were darker in appearance were counted as free colored, while those who were lighter probably came into the “poor white” class.

Without land to sell or a legal identity as Tuscarora, these people no longer would be considered as such in any record. And since they were coming from outside of Gates County, following a period of political turmoil in which many mixed-race Bertie families became legally white persons, their status as a race other than white would not have been as contentious. For me, the true symbol of their Indian identity was the fact that many of these people appeared in few, if any records, and owned no land. This separates them from the Europeans and also free colored persons, who left behind a plethora of land deeds, marriage records, court appearances, receipts, etc.

Sarah Butler, for instance, was in Gates County in 1800 and 1810, but appeared in neither census. The same could be said for James Collins, a relative, who lived a full life from 1770 to 1825, but never appeared in a single federal document or local militia list. His existence is gleaned from a single marriage record, the death record of his son, and Nansemond County property lists.

As such, it is almost impossible to trace these families out to “confirm” their Indian identity. I have seen Corneliuses listed as white, others as black, perhaps from the same family. What I would really need to further my research is anyone descended from these families or others in the area to come forward with any family tradition of having Tuscarora heritage. Then we might be able to further unravel this mystery.


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I’ve been at this a long time now, almost five years (or more). This is a collection of portraits of people from the Collins family of Gates County and Hertford County, North Carolina, and Nansemond County, Virginia. The first, third, and fourth are close relatives. The second is a girl from Quitsna, in Bertie County, which used to be a Tuscarora town.

In doing my research, I have relied on documents, but also looked at DNA. I have looked not for specific ancestors among matches that cannot be explained by a recent common ancestor, but clusters of families. I found that I match family clusters from the Indian Woods area of Bertie County — specifically the Bazemore, Butler, Bunch, Castellow, Cobb, Jenkins, and associated families. I also noticed in looking at marriages among relatives in Gates County, some Bertie-linked families such as the Wilfords and Johnstons recur. Since the Quitsna area is the only place I can find names matching my ancestors in the pre-Revolutionary period, other than a 1771 Portsmouth blacksmith apprenticeship, I tend to think that my family was living at Quitsna in the 1760s and 1770s and that the legend about Scratch Hall being populated by “Roanoke Old Settlers,” who had a degree of Indian ancestry, be it Tuscarora or Chowanoke or something else, is true.

I have also found images of Butlers from the Winton-Scratch Hall area that are obviously of Native American descent. The first deed I have where Thomas Collins (1769-1849) appears, is one where he witnesses the transfer of 10 acres to Sarah Butler, the ancestor of the top two women. Below is an image of my great grandfather Tom Pittman, a descendant of Thomas Collins, and Pleasant Butler, a descendant of Sarah Butler from the 1803 deed.

In doing this, I really came to better appreciate how North Carolina’s racial codes tore apart local Native American identity. It is obvious to me that the Butlers and Collinses shared this ancestry at Quitsna. However, since it seems the Butlers had some African ancestry, they became ‘free colored,’ while the Collinses, having taken European partners, became ‘white.’ In fact, these families were most likely an amalgamation of all three.

While modern descendants now argue over who was Meherrin, or who was Chowanoke, or who was Waccamaw, or who was Saponi, or who was Tuscarora, we neglect, or ignore, the fact that this heritage is obscured by centuries of racial categorization that denied the existence of Indian ancestry, pushed people on the margins of Indian communities into white or black identities, and left them there. So that Tom Pittman’s grandfather, Hugh Collins, wound up fighting for the Confederacy, even while his uncle Elvy Russell Collins was called ‘black’ when he died in 1870, having lived his entire life as a ‘white’ man.

The human connection transcends racial categories, transcends laws, transcends time. When you have European and African indentured servants taking up land adjacent Indian communities that no one else wanted, the result was families like the Collinses and Butlers of Quitsna. Or the Bazemores, or the Bunches. Or any of the other mixed families. Today you could call them ‘Tuscarora,’ because they probably were in part, or call them ‘Chowanoke,’ because they probably were in part, considering that some of them removed to traditional Chowanoke territory. But it sort of misses the point of what their lives were really like, or how these families chose to embrace or ignore that aspect of their ancestry. Only today, my grandmother could take a DNA test that would tell her she has 2 or 3 percent ‘Siberian’ or ‘Amerindian’ ancestry. But from where? And how?

From Quitsna, apparently. A very long time ago.


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False Cape


False Cape State Park – the original home of the Collins family?

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.


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Beasley Branch

I ARRIVED AT AN UNDERSTANDING in my previous posts that the main Gates County Russell line that I needed to focus my research on was that of George Russell (c.1735-c.1791), because it was his 25 acres that was passed to his son or relative James Russell (c.1762-c.1817), and that this same James Russell was an undisputed neighbor to my ancestor Thomas Collins, and very likely his brother-in-law. The location of this land seems to be somewhere in the vicinity of modern-day Eure, Hall Township, North Carolina, not too far from a stream and local landmark called “Beasley Branch.”

I am unsure of the provenance of the name “Beasley Branch,” but the Beasleys were a landowning and slave owning family from Edenton, and are listed on records there in the 18th century. It is perhaps from this family that the “Charles Beasley” who signed the Chowan Indian land conveyances in the 1730s obtained his name.  However, there are few, if no, people who can trace descent from this individual.

There are some Beasleys who do surface in the early 19th century Gates County records who are not identified as Indian (or White or Black, for that matter). They do belong to the category of what could be called ‘ shadow people’: individuals to appear in land deeds or occasional tax lists but do not appear on federal censuses, for instance. It seems odd that in such a sparsely populated place, census takers would routinely not be able to account for some families that apparently had always been there, but this seems to be the case.

One of these shadow people is James Beasley, who died in 1815, and who was apparently from this same corner of Gates County. His estate sale lists some interesting names:

  • Collins, James
  • Crafford, John
  • Cross, David
  • Cross, Elisha
  • Cross, William
  • Cross, Willis
  • Dunford, John
  • Goomer, William
  • Hare, Henry
  • Jones, Henry
  • Jones, Thomas
  • Jones, Simmons
  • Lang, Joshua
  • March, William
  • Morgan, Benjamin
  • Odom, William
  • Parker, Jesse
  • Parker, Miles
  • Russell, James
  • Saunders, John
  • Saunders, Lawrence
  • Sears, William
  • Speight, John
  • Speight, William
  • Sumner, Josiah
  • Watson, Elisha
  • Waters, Stephen

That’s a long list of individuals, yet some of the relationships can already be worked out by looking at marriage records. Simmons Jones, for instance, married Barsha Beasley in 1813. James Beasley’s wife was Rebecca Sumner. Moses Jones married Nancy Beasley in 1792. And Benjamin Saunders married Rachel Beasley in 1801. That makes the Beasley, Jones, Sumner, and Saunders families in laws.

Another Beasley marriage, here not referenced was between Jacob Robbins and Beley Beasley in 1809. Jacob Robbins later remarried to Julia Cross in 1817. This shows that the Beasleys were also likely related to the Robbinses and the Crosses. (Interesting for my research, as my ancestor Edwin Cross was quite likely from this branch of the family). Jacob Robbins was the son of James Robbins, the Chowan Indian headman, and head of a household of 5 “other free” in 1810. This apparently included Beley Beasley.

The name Elisha Watson is also interesting here. Mary Beasley was renting a house from David Watson in 1795 in Gates County. She may have been the Polly Beasley listed as the head of a household of 5 other free in Washington County in 1810. This again shows the link between Algonquian families in Gates County and the traditional Machapunga area.

So, as we can see, a high proportion of the participants in the estate sale were from families that married into the Beasley family. Some of the other names here, like Lang and Sears, were clearly neighbors in this area, and perhaps were also relatives. This makes the participation of James Russell and James Collins all the more interesting, as both men by that time (1815) clearly resided in the Cypress Chapel District of Nansemond County, about 25 miles northeast of this particular area. Why would James Russell and James Collins travel to Hall Township to participate in an estate sale for James Beasley when they can be found on no other estate records, other than George Russell’s, that I have looked at?

It’s highly speculative, but it’s possible that James Beasley was their cousin. If George Russell’s wife had been a Beasley, then James Beasley would have been James Russell’s first cousin. And since James Collins married Katherine Russell, James Russell’s younger sister, he would participate in the estate sale of his wife’s first cousin. Since I have shown that members of this family were at times listed as a color other than white, and since the Beasley name in this area is clearly associated with the Chowan Indians, and not with the landowning, slave owning family of Edenton, one could piece it all together as such. That George Russell’s wife was a Chowan Indian of the Beasley family, and that that her son and son-in-law, James Russell and James Collins, participated in the estate sale of their cousin, James Beasley.

I have shown that Charles Russell, the younger brother of James, was listed with a free person of color in his household in the 1800 US Federal Census. This could be their mother, who would have been this hypothetical Beasley woman. Her name might have been Ann, as “Ann Russell” later deeded George Russell’s 25 acres to Charles Russell in 1813. Perhaps she was the daughter, or granddaughter, of the Charles Beasley listed in the Chowan Indian deeds of the 1730s.

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Chowan Indian Town, 1830


Some potential Chowanoke characters from the 1830 US Federal Census of Gates County, North Carolina, with explanations. All of the following individuals are listed as heads of free colored households, with the exception of the Goodmans, who have mixed households. The 1830 census is unique in that it is the first that is not alphabetized by name.

  • James Bell  – (James Bell also used the name James Bell Robbins, and was descended from the same James Robbins who signed the final Chowan Indian land conveyances in 1790)
  • George Bennett – (George Bennett was descended from the same Bennetts who appear on the Chowan Indian land conveyances in the 18th century)
  • Mason Butler – (Mason Butler was related to Martha Butler, head of a household of 8 other free in 1820, and descended from Sarah Butler. Both names, Martha Butler and Sarah Butler, were found previously in Bertie County among the local Tuscarora population. Some current Butler descendants claim Indian ancestry)
  • Mary Goodman – (The Goodmans are an interesting case. I cannot find a record that identifies them as Indian, yet they consistently had free people of color in their households and lived near the Chowan Indian population).
  • Whitmell Goodman – (Two of Whitmell Goodman’s children were listed as mulatto in the 1850 census.)
  • James Gordon – (A free colored Henry Gordon was listed living beside Samuel Robbins, Rachel Bennett, and Sarah Smith in the 1800 US Federal Census for Currituck County)
  • Jethro Martin – (Jethro Martin married Nancy Robbins in 1806)
  • Bryant Mitchell – (James and Billy Mitchell are both listed on the Tuscarora Indian Woods deeds in Bertie County. A Mimey (Jemima) Mitchell is listed in the 1790 US Federal Census for Gates County, and later in Nansemond County, Virginia. This could be evidence of Tuscarora living at Chowan Indian town).
  • William Morris – (The Morrises living near Chowan Indian town are typically listed as white. In the 1830 census, though, William Morris is the head of a household of four free colored persons. Morris is a surname that also appeared among the Mattamuskeet Indians in Hyde County.)
  • Riddick Pierce – (Pierce appears to be another name found in Coastal Algonquian populations. Israel Pierce was widely considered to be a Machapunga Indian. Like the Morris family, these Pierces were designated as white in future records).
  • Jesse Reed – (The Reed family, like the Rooks family, married into the Robbins family. It’s possible these two families were also Chowanoke Indian, at least in part. Sealy Robbins married James Reed in 1808, for instance.)
  • Micajah Reed – (See entry for Jesse Reed.)
  • Noah Robbins – (See entry for James Bell.)
  • Nancy Robbins – (See entry for James Bell.)
  • David Rooks  – (See entry for Jesse Reed.)
  • Huldy Smith – (Huldy Smith lived alongside the Robbinses and Bennetts in Gates County, and their descendants intermarried. She may have descended from the same Algonquian Smith family that was found beside the same families in Currituck)
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Elvy Russell (1793-1857)

ELVY RUSSELL is not my ancestor. However, he was a relative, and through his genealogy, we can get a better understanding of the Russell family of Gates County, North Carolina, and Nansemond County, Virginia.

I decided to discuss Elvy Russell because, like Elvy Russell Collins, his nephew, Elvy Russell was born a white man but somehow died a colored man. In the Virginia Deaths and Burial Index, Elvy Russell’s race is listed as colored at death on Dec. 2, 1857. He died in Nansemond County, and was living in the same border area near Drum Hill, North Carolina, as the Collins family. His age at death was 64, and his parents were listed as James and Ann Russell. His wife’s name was Julia.

Tracing him back, he appears in the 1850 census as the head of a household of 9 free white persons. He is 58, making his birth year about 1792, while his wife Julia is 57. Children listed are Albert (26), Frances (20), John (16), Fletcher (14), Cornelia (12), Sarah (10), and William (8). These are not his only children. In the 1840 census, he is head of a household of 11. In the 1830 census, he is again head of a household of 11, as well as two slaves. In the 1820 census, he is the head of a household of 5 free whites and 1 slave.

Elvy Russell’s parents were apparently the James Russell and Polly Smith who married in Dec. 1, 1792, in Gates County, North Carolina, James Brady bondsman. James Russell’s acres were inherited by Elvy Russell in 1818, therefore we assume his father James died in 1817 or 1818. Tracing the early Russells is a bit complicated given the reappearance of the names James and Charles. Now I will attempt to try to work it all out for once and for all..

There is one record for an Edward Russell in Chowan County by 1717. It is unclear what became of him, or if he had children. The next important records are the 1743 and 1745 land deeds to Charles Russell in what is now Hall Township, Gates County, North Carolina.

The first deed, in 1743, was from John Langson, and the second is from William Fryer. Both deeds place the initial Russell land in the area of Sarum. However, there is one 1752 reference in the Nansemond Vestry Book for a Charles Russell living in the Drum Hill area, which is where this family eventually wound up. Perhaps they owned land in both places.

Charles Russell was apparently the progenitor of the local Russell family and, rather curiously, he does not appear in any of the mid-1750s militia lists in Chowan County. The last time this Charles Russell appears is in a 1769 deed in what became Hall Township that references a son, also named Charles Russell. This Charles Russell, Jr., later moved to Johnston County, North Carolina. Apparently, he later moved to Surry County, North Carolina, and lived at least until 1830, when he was listed as being between 80 and 89 years old, making his birth year about 1745. This would mean that the elder Charles Russell may have been born in about 1720.

There were other Russells in the area though. There is a 1770 record related to Margaret Russell, “a poor woman,” in Chowan County. There is also a 1787 will belonging to Priscilla Russell that was witnessed by Elizabeth Dilday and Rachel Lawrence. Add in a 1782 apprenticeship of John Russell, “orphan of William Russell,” and a 1787 bastardy bond involving Charity Russell, and you have a whole host of leads.

The only Russell who appears in the Gates County militia lists, however, is George Russell, who had 25 acres in first James Arline, and then Jesse Benton’s, district. Though old district maps do not exist, it is clear from deeds that the Benton and Arline land was on Bennetts Creek and therefore George Russell’s 25 acres were located in that area.

At the same time, in the Nansemond County lists, a James, Mary, and Judith Russell all appear, from 1782 onward, most likely living in an area called Beach Swamp or Mills swamp. This is exactly the area where Charles Russell was described as living in 1752. Perhaps some of his family inherited land there, while others inherited the land in the Hall area. And how does George Russell’s 25 acres on Bennetts Creek fit into this?

What is certain is that James Russell, of Nansemond County, Virginia, took over George Russell’s estate in 1791, and inherited his 25 acres on Bennetts Creek. James Russell’s age is difficult to ascertain, but he was at least 18 in 1781 when Amos Dilday served as a substitute for him in Captain Cole’s company in Hertford County. since Amos Dilday can be shown to have been born in about 1761, we can estimate a similar birth year for James.

He was the head of a household of six in Nansemond County in Willis Parker’s district in 1783. This suggests he was born in perhaps 1760 or even earlier, making George Russell, if he was his father, a generation older and born in the mid-to-late 1730s. It’s possible that George Russell was the younger brother of the Charles Russell (c. 1720 – c. 1770) who owned land at Sarum. Or maybe he was the older brother of Charles Russell, Jr., who moved to Johnston County.

Let’s create a little timeline.

  • 1717 — Edward Russell appears in Chowan County
  • 1743 — Charles Russell acquires land from John Langston near Sarum
  • 1745 — Charles Russell acquires additional land from William Fryer near Sarum
  • 1747 — Charles Russell’s land described in Chowan County court order as being located between Chowan River and Sarum
  • 1752 — Charles Russell listed in Nansemond County processioning
  • 1769 — Charles Russell, Sr., deeds land to Charles Russell, Jr., on “north side of Chowan River in Fort Island”
  • 1770 — Chowan County pays Christopher Johnson to bury Margaret Russell, a “poor woman”
  • 1779 — George Russell witnesses the marriage of John Collins and Sarah Hinton
  • 1782 — John Russell, ‘orphan of William Russell,’ apprenticed
  • 1782 onwards — James, Mary, and Judith Russell appear in Nansemond County tax lists
  • 1785 onwards — George Russell appears with 25 acres in James Arline’s district
  • 1787 — Will of Priscilla Russell, witnessed by Rachel Laurence and Elizabeth Dilday
  • 1788 — Charles Russell, Jr., of Johnston County, sells father’s 175 acres in Fort Island to Samuel Brown
  • 1791 — George Russell dies, James Russell named administrator of his estate, George Russell’s 25 acres pass to James Russell

Given all of this, one might suppose that Charles Russell, Sr., was married to Priscilla Russell, and when she died in 1787, her son Charles Russell, Jr., in Johnston County, was free to sell the 175 acres in Fort Island to Samuel Brown.

It’s also clear that those 25 acres in the Bennetts Creek area passed from George Russell, who died in 1791, to James Russell (1760 – 1817), and that this James Russell was the father of Elvy Russell who was listed as colored when he died in 1857.

One could speculate that George Russell’s wife was a Chowanoke woman from Chowan Indian Town. This might explain a) the reason why some relatives are listed as colored; b) the source of the 25 acres on Bennetts Creek; c) Why James Russell, who was living in Nansemond at the time, attended James Beasley’s estate sale in 1815. At the moment, I could speculate that George Russell’s wife was a Beasley, a Dilday (another family occasionally described as colored in the records), or a Smith.

My ancestor Anna Russell Collins was from this same family. George Russell appeared on the same tax lists as William and Thomas Collins in Gates County. And James Russell was later a neighbor to her husband Thomas Collins in Nansemond County.  If George Russell was her father, then it is possible her mother was this Beasley, Dilday, or Smith woman.

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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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