Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Monday, March 15, 2010


Ask many of those bearing the Collins surname who still live in Union County and they will know that Thompson and Celia Self Collins were among the first settlers in the Choestoe District of Union County. Many, even with surnames other than Collins, can trace their roots back to this hardy pioneer couple.

Those who claim Thompson Collins as an ancestor could wish for more documented information about his origins. Searches have not authenticated who exactly were Thompson Collins’ parents. Since the name Francis was passed down through several generations, it seems reasonable to assume that Francis Collins who died in Buncombe County, North Carolina in 1806 might have been Thompson’s father who had migrated there from Virginia. Another assumption, unauthenticated, holds Nancy Collins (maiden name unknown) to be Thompson Collins’ mother.

The family name of Collins was a distinguished English surname found in authentic records in England more than a thousand years ago. However, Collins is considered to be Irish in origin, derived from O’Coilean and meaning “victory of the people.’ Lords of manors and landowners by the O’Coilean name lived in the North Desmond section of Ireland until wars drove them southward in the thirteenth century.

Another possible origin of the Collins surname is the Welsh Collen, signifying hazel---those with hazel-colored eyes or those who lived near hazelnut groves. Another origin of Collins may be from the Gaelic word Cuilein meaning darling, and referred to one held dear (as a pet puppy).

Collins immigrants were among early settlers in America. One of the earliest was Henry Collins and his wife, Ann, three children and five servants who sailed from England on the ship “Abigail” in 1635. That family settled in Lynn, Massachusetts. Henry Collins soon became a landed gentleman, owning 800 acres. Their son, Joseph, married Duty Knowles in 1671 from whose line many of the northern states Collins descendants came.

In the southern colonies, the first Collins immigrant was John Collins who sailed from Kent, England in 1655 and settled in Lawns Creek Parish, Surrey County, Virginia. He married Elizabeth Caulfield, a daughter of Captain Robert Caulfield. John, Sr. died in Virginia in 1693. Their son John became the progenitor of the Virginia and southern Collins descendants. Although a direct line from them to Thompson Collins, born about 1785 in North Carolina, has not yet been traced, the John, Sr. of England and Virginia is reasonably the progenitor of the Union County Collinses.

Two Collins gentlemen from Virginia, George and Joseph, served in the American Revolution. A rash of trials in Virginia by the Tories (Loyalists) brought charges against any who were patriots. Thomas Collins was convicted of treason against the crown in 1775. Following his trial, in which he was defended by Lawyer William Boulware, he moved his family out of Virginia and into the remote mountainous area of North Carolina where he would be free of the Royalist accusers. The Thomas Collins family moved from Polecat Creek in Caroline County, Virginia. He had sons named John, Francis, James and Thomas, Jr. Since early census takers sometimes missed the trails that led to remote cabins in hidden coves in the mountains of North Carolina, there is no census record of this Thomas Collins, Sr. family in 1780. By the 1790 census, ninety-six Collins families were reported as living in North Carolina.

The Collins family crests I’ve seen show two mottos. One is Favente Deo et Seduliatate,” which, translated, means “By favor of God and assiduity.” The word assiduity is a character-defining word meaning strong diligence, unremitting attention, persistence. That motto seems to define the Collins clan in general throughout history. The other crest motto reads “”Vincit Pericula Virtus” and, translated, means “Virtue Conquers Danger.” Either motto is idealistic and descriptive of character.

We have not found either the exact birth date or the marriage date of Thompson Collins (b. about 1785). He and Celia Self, daughter of Job Self, married about 1810 in North Carolina. She was born to a neighbor of the Collins family about 1787. Her father was Francis Self. She had known siblings Sarah, Jesse and Job.

The first legal documents relating to Thompson Collins are filed in the court house at Asheville, NC and relate to land transactions as follows:

(1) April 3, 1809, from Elliott Jackery to Thompson Collins, 40 acres of land on the French Broad River.
(2) December 21, 1810, from McLain Ephraim to Thompson Collins, 100 acres of land on a small branch of the Mills River for $160.00.
(3) November 24, 1813, on McDowell’s Creek, west side of the French Broad River, purchased 50 acres. Thompson Collins owned 50 acres of land where he now lives, completed transaction December 12, 1812, registered April 13, 1830. This deed shows that a land grant was made to Thompson Collins by the State of North Carolina for fifty shillings for every hundred acres of land.

We learn that Thompson Collins loved the land and added to his acreage as opportunity arose. Perhaps it was the lure of more land, the call of adventure, or the fact that a general exodus of citizens from Buncombe County, North Carolina moved to Habersham County, Georgia in 1824 or 1825 that he moved his family there.

[Next: More on the family of Thompson and Celia Self Collins.]

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published November 18, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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