Thursday, December 15, 2016

On Saponi Collins Family: Robert K. Thomas Aug 1980

12, 1980
Dear Mrs.******
I am writing to you to thank you and your husband for your kindness to me when I was in Coeburn last month. I am now finished with my survey of the Indian groups in the southern Appalachian area and am back in Michigan. Since you seemed interested in the history of the Collins family in your area, I will pass along to you what I know of their

As far as I can determine, all the Collins of Northeastern Tennessee, Southeastern Virginia, and Eastern Kentucky are descendants of one household of Collins who resided in Orange County, N.C. in 1760: a family of Saponi Indians. I know that it must be “mind-boggling” to imagine that the thousands of Collinses in your area are all descended from just one household, but such is the case. Further, this is not so amazing as it sounds.

 It is common among pre-Revolutionary American families. For instance, all the Carters in the South are descended from three brothers who came to Virginia in the late

Let me start at the beginning , with the Saponi Indians.

 The Saponi were an advanced tribe who originally lived on the Roanoke River about where it crosses over into North Carolina from Virginia. In the late 1660’s, they moved
further west to the area of modern Clarksville, VA. Here they allied with the
neighboring Tutelo and Occanuki Indians. All of these tribes spoke similar
languages, a variety of language akin to modern Sioux of the Dakotas. In the
1670’s, they got into a war with Virginia whites, the so-called Bacon Rebellion,
and moved west to the Yadkin Valley around modern Winston Salem. In the early
1700’s, the Saponi started migrating east, returning to their original homeland.

In 1714 Governor Spotswood of Virginia established Ft. Christanna
near modern Lawrenceville,VA and convinced the Saponi, Occanuki, and Tutelo to
settle there. In about 1722, the Tutelo left and joined the Iroquois in New York and during the Revolution, fled to Canada where they now live on the Six
Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ontario. The Occanuki were absorbed by the
Saponi in this period. About 1728, the Saponi became involved in a war with
the Tuscarora and Nottowa Indians who lived further east. They fled from Ft.
Christanna, and went to live with the Catawba in South Carolina.

In the early 1740’s, the Saponi left the Catawba country and started north. By 1740, Collins and Bowling (Scien, Bolling, etc.) were common family names among the Saponi. One band of Saponi headed north to the Iroquois area and were adopted by the
Cayuga and Seneca. There are descendants of the Saponi now on the Caltaraugus’s
reservation near Buffalo; some of them named Collins. [We need to find these
Collins among the reserve.] Another band of Saponi stopped in North Carolina
and settled on the plantation of Colonel William Eaton, near what is now
Henderson, N.C. The Saponi had fought with Eaton in the wars with the Ohio
Valley tribes. Eaton’s plantation was on the frontier and the Saponi were,
no doubt, his protectors.

Around 1750, several tribes further east --- the Nansemond, Yeopin, and Poroskite --- lost their lands and began to fragment into individual family groups. These Indian families began to migrate to the frontier and settle near the Saponi. In 1760, Eaton died and the frontier had moved on. The Saponi lost their land base then and also began to fragment into individual families, and move west. In 1760’s, I can pick up the Collins in Orange County, on the frontier, west of Hendersonville, N.C.

1755 Edition of the Fry-Jefferson map shows the location of Occaneechi

By 1790, many of these Indian families, including the Collinses, had “bunched up” in the counties of extreme northeastern North Carolina. Then in the 1790’s, they spread all over
Northeastern Tennessee, Southwestern Virginia, and over into what is now Letcher and Knott Counties, Kentucky. Many of them , like the Bollings of Wise County, became prominent families in their areas.

Then, in the 1830’s, Virginia became one of the more consciously racist and deliberately elitist states in the Union. First,  most poor whites were disenfranchised by a property value requirement; most Virginians west of the Blue Ridge, as well as the poor further east, could not legally vote in Virginia. Further, a new legal category included citizen Indians, free blacks, and all non-whites. These “free colored” could not vote, bear arms, travel freely, etc. In southwest Virginia and neighboring parts of Tennessee, the more established Indian families “weathered the storm”.

The Bollings in Wise County, redefined their status as being descendants of
Pocahontas and John Rolfe, thus escaping the free colored category. Other
families who were less wealthy, darker, and concentrated in one area, got caught
in the free colored category; and, thus the Melungeons of southern Wise County
came into existence.

By 1840, the situation became intolerable for some Indians in Southwest Virginia, and they began to head for Kentucky, a less repressive social and legal atmosphere. In the 1840’s, three Collins families moved into Kentucky, into Letcher County. In the 1850’s, two Collins families moved to Johnson County, just south of Paintsville (Grandpap William Collins and brother). {Frankie’s note here: This is where my 2nd great grandparents Griffin and Rachael Collins went also, and were listed as Mulatto on Johnson County census records} These Collinses were very Indian looking and dark. They must have been almost full-blood Indians.

In Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, Indians were just another variety of “n----r” in the 1850’s, but Kentucky was much more liberal, at least in regards to Indians.
By World War I, the situation had changed. Being Indian had almost a romantic prestige about it, and many families like the Collinses in Kentucky, had become successful
mainstream citizens. It was at this point that the Melungeons began to be seen as possibly being part black, in order to explain their low rank and exclusion.

Of course, the Collinses did not stop in Johnson County. The lower Big Sandy drainage and Southern Ohio is full of Collinses who migrated to those areas from further south in Kentucky and Virginia after the Civil War. [Where are all these Collins?]

Freeling and Hannah Stephens Collins
Not all the Collinses headed west in 1760 after Colonel Eaton died. Some few went south to what is now Robeson County, North Carolina, and became part of the modern Lumbee Indians in that region. The history of the Collins family is both remarkable and fascinating. They are almost an “ethnic group” all by themselves. There are Seneca Cayuga Collinses in New York [Again we need to find these Collins families], White and Melungeon Collinses in east Tennessee and Southeast Virginia, part-Indian Collinses all down the Big Sandy and into Southern Ohio, Lumbee Indian Collinses in North Carolina --- all, at least distantly, related and all descended from two or three households of Saponi Indians in 1740.

 Someone should write a novel about your family; at least, you should rent a stadium and have a family reunion. What an “outfit”! I hope this brief sketch of the Collins family
history repays you for your kindness to me, some small measure.

Robert K.Thomas
1980, submitted by Keri Conley:
August 12, 1980

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