Characteristics common to the early settlers of Union County were a spirit of independence, unprecedented loyalty, common decency and hard work. These traits were passed to subsequent generations and taught by precept and example. To survive in the land they were carving from the wilderness required exercise of these traits and more. We see them in the life and times of Thompson Collins, Jr.
Thompson, Jr. was born in Buncombe County, NC in November, 1818. He was seven when his parents migrated to Habersham County, Georgia about 1825 and was a young teenager when they settled in the Choestoe Valley of Union County in the 1830’s.
He married Sarah (known as Sallie) Ingram in 1839. She was a daughter of Little and Mary “Polly” Cagle Ingram who migrated from the Pendleton District of South Carolina to the area around Lula, Georgia, Hall County. Later, after Mary’s death, Little Ingram moved to Union County. (The story of this family and their place in Union history will come in subsequent articles.) Thompson and Sarah’s marriage joined two noted early settler families.
Thompson and Sarah Ingram Collins had no children. If they did, they died in infancy. There is no census record of children born to them. We do not know the death dates of this couple, as they were interred at the Old Choestoe Cemetery with field stone grave markers. Birth and death dates have long been obliterated if, indeed, they were ever on the stones.
Thompson Collins, Jr. served for several years as a Justice of the Peace for the Choestoe District. This local magistrate in the nineteenth century had the legal authority to perform marriages, to administer oaths, to hear and settle minor cases of infractions of the law, and to refer more serious cases for trial in a larger court.
A perusal of a very valuable historical resource, “Union County Marriage Records, 1833 -1897” compiled from original court house records by Viola Holden Jones, gives valuable insights into this “marrying” justice of the peace, Thompson Collins, Jr. (although Jr. was not attached to his name then).
The first marriage on record performed by Justice of the Peace Thompson Collins was on November 2, 1854 when he joined Harriet Cannon and Francis M. Tanner. Tanner was a son of Revolutionary War soldier Michael Tanner whose grave is in the Old Choestoe Cemetery.
On February 28, 1875, Thompson Collins officiated at the marriage ceremony of my grandparents, Bluford Elisha Dyer (1855-1926) to Sarah Evaline Souther (1857-1959). In reading the marriage records, it is interesting to note how many of the second and third generation Union citizens were joined in marriage by Thompson Collins. In the record, running concurrently with entries with Thompson Collins spelled out, were marriages performed by T. Collins. It is now a matter of speculation as to whether these designations were for the same person.
Thompson, Jr. and Sarah Ingram Collins settled on some of the acreage owned first by his father, Thompson Collins, Sr. whose domain stretched over 22,000 acres. The bottom land along the Notla River in Choestoe District was prime farming land on which Thompson, Jr. grew abundant crops of corn and sorghum cane. On the hillsides he planted apple trees that grew into a very productive orchard. Neighbors and kin were invited to partake of the orchard’s bounty and gather apples for drying on scaffolds in the sun for winter’s use. Also to preserve the apples to have fresh for Christmas, the best and tastiest from the crop were wrapped in paper and stored in barrels. These provided fresh fruit treats in the dead of winter. Thompson also gathered loads of apples to haul by mule and wagon to Gainesville over the Logan Turnpike through Tesnatee Gap. These apples were bartered for supplies not grown on the Collins farm.
Thompson and Sarah built their house on a hillside overlooking the Notla River. The location was on present-day Collins Road. Going north from the former Marion Dyer residence, it was on the right on the hill about half way between the Dyer house and the present house owned by Wilonell Collins Dyer. We can imagine that Sarah Collins fastidiously kept the house with pride, as many people made their way to the Collins home to be married or to have the justice of the peace hear grievances.
About 1920, my father, Jewel Marion Dyer (1890-1974) purchased land from his brother, Albert Dyer (1877-1962) who moved to White and then to Habersham County.
This was the land owned formerly by Thompson Collins, Jr. It is interesting to see the double relationship here to my parents, Jewel Marion Dyer and Azie Collins Dyer.
Sarah “Sally” Ingram Collins was my father’s great aunt, a sister to his grandmother, Louisa Ingram Dyer who married James Marion Dyer, parents of Bluford Elisha Dyer.
Thompson Collins, Jr. was my mother’s great uncle, brother to her grandfather, Francis (known as Frank) Collins, who was, in turn, a son of the first Thompson Collins and Celia Self Collins. These relationships show how closely interrelated were the people of Choestoe District, Union County, Georgia.
When I was growing up on the old Thompson Collins, Jr. farm, then owned by my father, we still enjoyed a fall harvest of apples from the trees planted by Thompson Collins, Jr. As did the couple who started the orchard, we, too, dried the apples for winter use and packed the best in barrels for Christmas treats. I was fortunate to own a little over six acres of the old Thompson Collins estate. Recently, I passed the land on to my own children. They know the history of the land, and how generations have viewed it as the land of promise, as sacred to generations as the biblical land “flowing with milk and honey.” Thompson Collins and his son, Thompson, Jr. helped to make it so—long ago.
c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published December 2, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.