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

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Monday, March 15, 2010

Thompson Smith Collins - "The Poor Man's Friend"

Mountain families (as well as others) have the tradition of passing down a family given name through the generations. In my research on the Thompson and Celia Self Collins family, I have noted that the name of this first Collins settler in Union County has been a favorite to pass on. Several male descendants to the present generation have the honor of bearing the name of this worthy ancestor.

This week we view the life and times of one in the third generation, Thompson Smith Collins. He was a grandson of the original settler and a son of Francis (Frank) and Rutha Nix Collins. Thompson Smith Collins was born July 5, 1850. His parents lived on a portion of the elder Thompson’s 22,000 acres in a house near the vicinity of where William Clyde Collins, Sr. and Jr. now have residences on Collins Road, Choestoe.

Thompson Smith Collins was called “Thomp” to distinguish him from his uncle Thompson Collins (b. 1818) who was known as “Thompie,” long-time Justice of the Peace.

On October 21, 1869, Thompson Smith Collins (July 5, 1850-March 16, 1917) married Susan (Susie) Jane Cook (October 5, 1849-August 5, 1935). She was a daughter of Jonathan and Rebecca Jackson Cook. Susie’s last name was incorrectly entered as Crouch in the “Union County Marriages” record.

Thomp Collins’ main occupation was farming. He was also a part time blacksmith, cobbler and carpenter. He often did smithy work for neighbors in the community fashioning or honing small tools for farm use. From leather he had tanned, he mended or made shoes at his cobbler’s bench. Many houses and other buildings in the community were products of his building skills, a talent he passed on to his youngest son.

Both Charles Hill in his delightful “Blood Mountain Covenant” (Ivy House Books, 2003) and the Honorable Zell Miller in his autobiography, “The Mountains Within Me” (Cherokee Publishers, 1985) refer to an incident in the life of Thomp Collins that attests to his unrelenting loyalty to friends, even at great cost to himself. Thomp Collins lived by strict principles, practicing them in his daily life.

Sometime in the year 1875 two men came to Thompson Collins’ house. They asked him to use his mules to pull their loaded wagon to the top of Tesnatee Gap. Evidently their own mules could manage the wagon on the descent southward into Cleveland, Georgia on the Logan Turnpike, but the weight was too much for their mules on the ascent from Choestoe up Tesnatee.

The three men and the loaded wagon soon began the journey. About half way up the mountain, the entourage was overtaken by Federal Revenue agents. Quickly the two men disappeared into the forest, escaping. The wagon loaded with a fresh run of mountain moonshine was an easy target for the agents. The agents offered to free Thomp Collins if he would reveal the names of the two who escaped.

Thomp resolutely refused to reveal the men’s names. He himself took the charge of running contraband liquor. He was sent to Federal Prison in New York where he served two years. During his confinement, his family did not know of his whereabouts or whether he was alive or dead.

Then one day a travel-worn, more mature Thomp Collins returned to his home. He had walked the entire distance from New York. He told his wife Susie that due to the hardships he had endured on his return journey, they would never turn anyone away from their door who needed food, lodging, clothing or aid of any sort. Throughout the remainder of his life, Thomp Collins lived by this principle.

Thomp and Susie Collins had seven children but only four of them grew to adulthood. It is interesting to note, as the children wed, how the marriages joined families of other early settlers in Choestoe Valley.

(1) James Monroe “Roe” Collins (Jan. 16, 1871-June 30, 1954) married Nancy Elmira Twiggs (Feb. 17, 1874-Dec. 26, 1953). She was a daughter of the Rev. John Wesley and Sarah Elizabeth Hughes Twiggs. “Roe” and “Nan” married Jan. 2, 1896. He had been to Colorado where he was getting established as a farmer. They made their home in Eaton, Colorado where “Roe” helped to organize First Baptist Church and served as a deacon and treasurer. He also was instrumental in getting waterworks for irrigation of crops. In 1920 he ran on the Democratic ticket as governor of Colorado, but lost because he would not bow to the radical intrigues of some of the political bosses. It was said of “Roe” that he was too honest to become governor. “Roe” and “Nan” had six children.
(2) William Virgil Collins (1874-1944) married Lydia E. Jackson (1875-1956) on September 11, 1892. She was a daughter of William Miles and Nancy Souther Jackson. Lydia’s mother Nancy was a daughter of Jesse and Malinda Nix Souther. Virgil and Lydia lived in Ault, Colorado, near Virgil’s brother “Roe” in Eaton. Virgil became a successful farmer. They reared 11 children.
(3) Joseph Gordon Collins (1876-1958) married Susan Mason Smith (1889-1966). Joe studied law and graduated from the University of Virginia Law School. He passed the Georgia Bar and began practicing in Gainesville, Hall County, GA in 1903. He was Solicitor General of the Northeast Circuit of nine counties for a four-year term. He assisted with writing practices and procedures for appearing before the Supreme Court. He and Susan had no children.

Children (4) (5) and (6) of Thomp and Susie Collins died young. They were Avory Cordelia Collins (1880-1886); Charles Luther Collins (1882-1900); and Mary Rebecca Collins (b/d 1886).

(7) Francis Thurman Collins known as Bob (1890-1969) married first, Mary Viola Collins (1893-1937) on January 3, 1913, daughter of James Johnson and Margaret A. Nix Collins; and second, Pearl Fortenberry (1906-?) on February 2, 1939, daughter of LaFayette and Laura Fortenberry. Bob was a farmer and a carpenter. He built a house beside his mother and father and looked after his mother in her declining years. Bob and Viola had six children, all of whom had outstanding careers: Cecil, Hazel, James Thompson, Robert Neal, Mary Catherine and Betty Jane.

No one held Thompson Smith Collins’ stint in Federal Prison against him. Upon his return to Choestoe, his life could have been that described by the poet. He “lived in his house by the side of the road/and became a friend to man.”

At the mill one day, a man with a hungry family came by. Thomp Collins gave the man his last turn of meal and went out to buy a bushel of corn to have ground for his own family. One day a neighbor came to borrow Thomp’s mule. He asked the man to let him plow the row to the end before unhitching the mule for his neighbor’s use.

On his tombstone in Old Choestoe Cemetery is this epitaph: “The poor man’s friend.” At this Advent Season—and every day---would it not be well for us to remember the example of Thompson Smith Collins’ life and “be a friend to man,” helping those in need?

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published December 9, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved

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