Saturday, July 2, 2011

Collins Virginia Roots

Collins Virginia Roots and the Search for the Immigrant
All material copyright 2000, Michael Collins Dunn
Previous Chapter
Although I believe (as will be seen below) that there is a growing likelihood that we descend from one of the two William Collinses who sailed to Virginia in the ship Plaine Joan in 1635, at this time the earliest date at which we can certainly identify an ancestor on the Collins line is 1664/65, when one James Collins received a royal patent for 400 acres of land in the Upper Parish of Nansemond County. A copy of that document, which may be the first which names an ancestor, appears below, on Page 23. His links to us will be proven at great length at that time: though the exact relationship is uncertain the land he lived on remained in our family for a century and passed to our known ancestors. He is most likely either the great-great-grandfather or great-grandfather of the James Collins "I" who moved to North Carolina and whose son James "II" served in the Revolution. He could, however, be a brother of that James' ancestor. He was certainly kin. The next chapter, which really begins our Collins family history as such, begins with him.
However, there is sufficient evidence of Collinses -- several separate families of them -- from which he might have sprung that it is worth discussing the earlier history of people named Collins in southeastern Virginia in its early decades of European colonization. It may be that none of those families was the origin of James of 1664/65 -- he might have been just off the boat -- but there are some tantalizing clues which suggest otherwise. As much of this evidence was quite recently discovered in my research, it is quite possible that more will be forthcoming.
The Virginia Roots
In case some readers were not aware that the Collinses of North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri and beyond originated in Virginia, it should be noted that this is well established and will be traced at each step in the pages which follow. Before the American Revolution James Collins the elder had moved to North Carolina, where his son James lived most of a long life and from which his children fanned out across the South, many of them via Georgia and Kentucky to Tennessee. James the younger's son Henry was one of those who moved to Tennessee, and his son John Collins and three sisters moved to the Missouri Ozarks. But the Collins' American roots, though long ago abandoned, were in Virginia.
We have long had some clues about where to look. James Collins the Revolutionary soldier tells us clearly in his Revolutionary War pension application (quoted in detail in his profile) that he was born on October 10, 1758 in Isle of Wight County, Virginia; that before the Revolution he had moved to Bute County, North Carolina (the part which later became Franklin County), and that he lived for about a year after the (Revolutionary) War in Nansemond County, Virginia. (See the accompanying map for locations.)
The full story, so far as we can reconstruct it, of the connections between Isle of Wight and Nansemond Counties in Virginia and Franklin County in North Carolina will be discussed, in detail, in the chapters which follow. For now we may merely mention that our Collins line -- people we can definitely link, through land records and other kinds of evidence, with our known ancestors -- lived along, and across, the line dividing Isle of Wight and Nansemond Counties, apparently on either side of a body of water called the Kingsale Swamp, which flows into the Blackwater River at the present town of Franklin, Virginia. This area will be described in detail in the next chapter. Because the Nansemond records were destroyed not once, like many southern courthouse records, but three times, and the Isle of Wight records, while surviving, are not comprehensive, reconstruction of the early Collinses has been difficult. But from 1664/65 onward, we can describe their history in at least general terms, as we do beginning in the next chapter. But where did the Collins of 1664/65 come from?
Earliest Collinses in Virginia
Collins is a very common name in Virginia from early times, and certainly there were more than one Collins family present in many areas of the colony. The family historian of one Collins family has written that of some 50 men named Collins who immigrated to the early American colonies, no fewer than 31 separate ones came to Virginia.(1) A number of these have links to the Isle of Wight and Nansemond County areas with which we are concerned.
First of all, a little background is in order. Isle of Wight is one of Virginia's original eight "shires", being formed in 1634 (as Warrascoyack, named Isle of Wight in 1637) from the area controlled by the James City Corporation, one of the townships created before the formation of Virginia shires or counties. It is part of the tidewater hinterland of the original Jamestown colony, and lies across and slightly downriver from Jamestown. Nansemond County, originally called Upper New Norfolk County, is adjacent to the east.
Although there is no evidence of a direct connection, it is worth mentioning that the name Collins is found in the Jamestown colony and its hinterland from very early times indeed.
The first permanent English colony in North America, Jamestown, as every schoolboy knew when people were taught such things, was founded in May of 1607. At the beginning of October, 1608 -- a year and a half after the first landing and 12 years before those latecomers, the Pilgrims, got to Massachusetts -- the "second supply" convoy arrived with supplies for the Jamestown colonists and a new group of settlers. One of those aboard the second supply was named Henry Collings.(2) Collings was often an alternative spelling of Collins (at least as late as 1800 in our own family), and the name Henry was later popular with our Collinses, but this does not mean he was related. It does mean that Collinses reached America very early indeed. There were certainly no more than a couple of hundred people of British origin in North America when this Henry Collings landed, and he landed just across the James River from where our ancestors would be found some 60 years later. That proves nothing at all, for Collins is a common name, though the name "Henry" might be suggestive. (A Henry Collins also turns up as an investor in the Virginia Company of London, which settled Jamestown, and it is probably the same man.) The name was very popular in the 17th Century, for Tudor dynastic reasons, but much less so in the 18th and 19th centuries, when we keep finding it in the Collins family. But it proves nothing, and there is no evidence of its use in our own family before about the time of the Revolution.
But others were soon to arrive, probably not related to Henry "Collings", and with a somewhat greater chance of being related to us. In the very piece of land from which our ancestors derive, later to be called Isle of Wight County, we find Peter and Thomas Collins; Peter at least came to the area that became Isle of Wight (Warrascoyack) on the Addam in 1621. Peter Collins may have been "bound" -- in indenture -- to one Edward Bennett, who operated under contracts with The London Company, from 1621 to 1625. (Indenture was a means by which many poorer Englishmen gained a way to emigrate to the New World, by "binding" themselves to a certain number of years service; upon completion of that service they remained as freemen in the new colony.) Bennett founded the Warrascoyack plantation and brought over a large number of people to settle it. But Bennett was trying to create a Puritan settlement in generally Anglican/cavalier Virginia, and it is not clear to me whether his colonists were actually bound servants or voluntary colonists. Peter and Thomas Collins survived the massacre at Warrascoyack in 1622. (On Good Friday, March 22, 1622, Indians attacked all along the James River colonies, devastating the still fragile settlements.) Both men appear on a list of servants of Edward Bennet or Bennett in the Muster of Inhabitants of Warrascoyack on February 7, 1624.(3)
There is no evidence other than geographical coincidence to suggest that Peter or Thomas Collins were our ancestors, though again the names recur in the family (but were of course common English names of the 17th and 18th century). They do show that the name was planted, not just in Virginia, but specifically in the Isle of Wight County area very early. They also suggest at least two different immigrations: Henry in 1608 (though he may not have remained in America) and Peter and Thomas on the Addam in 1621.
The Two William Collinses on the Plaine Joan
With the next Collinses to turn up in the Isle of Wight county area, however, we start to have some clues suggesting a connection. In fact, some of the coincidences, if they are coincidences, are tantalizing. One of these men seems to be the same William Collins who was brought over, perhaps for indentured service, by a man who, for bringing him over, received a land grant in the same area where our Collinses show up a generation later. He could be our immigrant ancestor. For this reason, I want to look closely at the two men, both named William Collins, who came to America on the same voyage of the same ship in 1635. It is even possible that every Collins later found in Isle of Wight County, Virginia, could descend from these two men, because there are two distinct Collins families each of which used the name "William" in the early generations.
The Plaine Joan sailed for Virginia on May 15, 1635, apparently from London, captained by Richard Buckam, Master. Aboard were 84 men, all over 14 years of age. Two of them were named William Collins, and their ages were given as 20 and 34 years. This would make one of them born about 1601 and the other in about 1615.(4)
I believe that the two Collinses on the Plaine Joan deserve considerable attention. Since what follows is mostly suggestive, clues pointing towards a link which cannot be proven, some readers may want to jump ahead to read about Collinses we know are related to us, beginning in the next chapter on Page 23. But what follows is, I believe, tantalizing and worthy of further pursuit.
First, though, I must address a side issue: one of these men appears in quite a lot of genealogies of people descended from the Collinses of Caroline and Spotsylvania Counties, Virginia. They believe that the 20-year-old William Collins on the Plaine Joan was the same man who married Ann Wilds in Isle of Wight County, Virginia, in 1675, had children by her, and later, moved elsewhere in Virginia, and they identify him with a William Collins born (according to them) in 1612 in Maidstone, Kent, the son and grandson of men named John Collins. His father John Collins came years later and settled in Surry County, VA which is, admittedly, just west of Isle of Wight. The original William supposedly died in King and Queen County, Virginia, in 1705. His progeny moved to Caroline and Spostsylvania Counties, Virginia, and thence throughout the south.(5)
This would not fit with a Scotch-Irish origin (Kent is as far away from Ulster as you can get and still be in the British Isles), and also doesn't match our ancestry in other ways, so if one of these William Collinses is theirs, he isn't likely to be ours. On the other hand, it is impossible that the William Collins from whom this family descends is the same one who married Ann Wilds in 1675, which raises questions about the accuracy of the Collins genealogy just cited. For their William Collins is said to have died in 1705, and their connection with him requires him to have lived that long.(6) Ann Wilds, who was already the widow of Thomas Wilds when she married William Collins in 1675, subsequently married Alexander Murray in 1687, soon after the death of William Collins, who obviously had to have died before 1687 and is therefore not the man who died in 1705. Her will, at the age of 49 on February 10, 1700/1701 (Old Style: 1701 by our calendar) mentions her son John Collins, daughter Ann Collins, and daughters Martha and Mary Murray, the last two to live with their uncle Robert King, suggesting that perhaps her maiden name was King.(7) Thus the William who married Ann Wilds was not the progenitor of the Collinses described in the book cited, since he died long before their William Collins did, in King and Queen County in 1705. The Caroline County and Spotsylvania County Collinses cannot descend from the William who married Ann Wilds, though one will find many books which affirm that they do. There are other instances in which these Collins genealogists seem to have assumed that any Collins with the same first name was identical with theirs in the same era. And in fact there were Collinses in New Kent and King and Queen Counties quite early, and these may have had no connection with the Isle of Wight and Surry County Collinses, or with us.
But was the William Collins who married Ann Wilds in 1675 -- though not the ancestor of these Collinses -- one of the two who came on the Plaine Joan in 1635? I will argue in a moment that both of the men on the Plaine Joan may have been linked with the Isle of Wight area or places near it, but remember that the two men on the ship were born about 1601 and 1615. The one born in 1601 is surely too old to have had children by a woman he married at the age of 74. (Not impossible, but unlikely.) The other man might be the one who married Ann Wilds, for he would have been about 60 in 1675, had at least two children by her, and then died before 1687, when he would have been about 72. This connection is certainly possible.
One might also ask: could the other William Collins on the Plaine Joan, the one who didn't marry Ann Wilds, have been the ancestor of the Caroline and Spotsylvania County Collinses? Well, he was born about 1601, and their ancestor died in 1705 in King and Queen County. Surely had he lived to 104 in those days, someone would have remembered the fact.
The William who married Ann Wilds, as noted, may have been the younger of the two men on board the Plaine Joan: his descendants do seem to have lived in the Isle of Wight area, closer to the James River and to Surry County than our ancestors, and we know that he had a son John, and that there was a John Junior. These Collinses lived in Isle of Wight County, as did ours, but not in the area where we can show ours to have lived. They used some of the same names: the name William is frequent in our own line, as is John -- but of course these are common English names. From the reign of William and Mary (beginning in 1688) the name William was very popular in England, but these Williams, and the first appearance of the name in our line, predate that. I am still working on how some of these other Collinses in Isle of Wight County may relate to our line. We can say that they were still living in northwestern Isle of Wight County and Surry Counties at a time when our Collinses already lived in southeastern Isle of Wight, but there is no certainty that they are related. They may, however, descend from the other William Collins on the Plaine Joan, if he is the man who married Ann Wilds.

No comments:

Post a Comment