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

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ballad of Tom Collins

The search for family roots hits a person like a fever. There is no let-up in the symptoms until a quest is completed and lines of descent are firmly established. For years I have searched for the authentic name of the father of Thompson Collins (ca.1785-ca.1854), who, with his wife Celia Self Collins (ca.1787-1880) were the first Collins settlers in Union County, Georgia back when it was formed in 1832.

Thompson Collins was my maternal great, great grandfather. He owned a broad expanse of land in Choestoe District and acreage in adjoining counties as well. He was an independent sort of person, self sufficient and enterprising. Why has it been so hard to establish the Collins lineage before him, to pinpoint who his father was, and others from whom he descended? The search has been complicated because the trail leads to many with the name Thomas Collins.

Sometimes clues surface in genealogical searches. I was encouraged when I read noted author John A. Parris, Jr., who for years was a columnist for the Asheville Citizen Times (North Carolina) and the author of a long-running column entitled "Roaming the Mountains." Several of his columns became a book by the same title. Mr. Parris died in 1999. My alma mater, Western Carolina University at Cullowhee, now honors Mr. Parris and his wife, artist Dorothy Luxton Parris, with the Parris Appalachian Cultural Studies at the University.

John A. Parris, Jr., in his "roaming" the Smokies, found imbedded in the folklore of the region the inimitable "Ballad of Tom Collins." This folk song, as is typical of ballads, sought to record the story of an unusual character of times long past whose refuge was the mountainous region of the Carolinas.

The ancestors of Tom Collins left Scotland after the Battle of Culloden which occurred April 16, 1746. That is another story for another time. But this battle marked a turning point for the independent highlanders. They were crushed in the battle, and had to promise never to bear arms against the British throne.

Prior to the Battle of Culloden, some of the Collins highlanders had migrated to America. The lure to new lands beyond the seas was popular, and it remained for the ancestors of the noted Tom Collins to gain passage and launch upon an adventure to the new land. One William Collins had already settled in 1691 and made claim to 620 acres on Poulcatte Creek in Caroline County, Virginia. Various Collins gentlemen are in the records with property ownership, jury duty, and even two who served in the American Revolution, George Collins and Joseph Collins.

Then enters a Tom Collins. He was convicted in 1775 for "sedition of speech," defended by lawyer William Boulware. Tired of the Royalist accusations, Tom decided to remove himself and his family from Virginia and go deep into the mountains of North Carolina. There he established a homestead and claimed land, far from the Royalist government and its demands. In this family of Collins settlers were James, Thomas (Sr.), Thomas, Jr., John and Francis.

The Collinses were among the first settlers in the wilderness of North Carolina. Here, among the rising cathedrals of majestic mountains, they could practice their independence without interference. The stories about Tom Collins hold that he was such an expert shot he could knock out a squirrel's eye at fifty paces, fell two birds from a covey with one shot, and reload his trusty gun before the birds hit the ground.

When the Tories began to invade the pristine region that was then Collins territory, the legend goes that Tom Collins, hiding in rhododendron thickets, could snipe off these enemies to his freedom with a single shot.

But one Saturday night, according to the ballad, Tom took a bullet in his own lungs from one of his Tory enemies. He struggled to a neighbor's house, took corn liquor for his pain, lay down on the bed and died. His beloved fiancée, Mary, was sewing her trousseau in the next room. That wedding between Tom and Mary, was never to be.

The plaintive ballad records the pathos suffered by Mary:

Tom Collins came home one Saturday night,
Laid down on his bed and died.
And his true love in the very next room
Sat sewing those silks so fine.
Oh, Mary, Oh Mary, get up from there,
And dry your weeping eyes.
There are other young men a-hangin' around,
A-watching you weep and cry.
Tom Collins, the martyr to the cause of independence, had no immediate descendants. But he had brothers. And my belief is that his fiancée, Mary, wed one of them, maybe Francis, for this name is prevalent even to this day in our Collins family. And the name Thomas was carried on in Thompson, our first definitely known-ancestor.

The fever to find answers is still present. Maybe, someday, in unexpected linkages, I'll find just who was the father of Thompson Collins.

This note to my readers: My beloved husband, the Rev. Grover D. Jones, is now at this address, having entered as a patient on February 22: Chaplinwood Nursing Home, 325 Allenwood Memorial Drive, Room 208 Cedar Hall, Milledgeville, GA 31061. He enjoys receiving cards.

c 2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Mar. 1, 2007 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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