Downtown Hinton, Georgia
The Collins invasion
The few residents of old Cherokee and Gilmer Counties, Georgia, probably didn’t know what to think when they saw the caravan arrive in the fall of 1844. The covering of one of the wagons was striped, with broad red bands dyed with pokeberry juice separated by white canvas. Pokeberry bushes were planted in pots at the front and the rear of the wagon, and attached to it was a long hickory pole. In all, there were over 50 men, women and children in the group, all but one the members of one family, the Collins, and they were completing a long journey from Lincoln County, North Carolina.
The pokeberry stripes and the hickory pole were symbolic. They announced to all that the group were Democrats, and revered “Old Hickory,” former president Andrew Jackson, whose protégé and successor Martin Van Buren had completed his task of cruelly and forcibly removing the Cherokee from the area only six years before. The symbols also announced their support of the Democratic candidate James K. Polk in the presidential election that fall. Polk defeated his Whig opponent Henry Clay by 2.9 million votes, 50% to 48%, losing their native North Carolina but carrying their new home, Georgia. Polk won without any help from the Collins, however. They were not allowed to vote in Gilmer County, and a descendant claims it was because Whigs controlled Gilmer County.
It was not the last time the Collins would be involved in a public conflict. (See “The Scared Corn-Ryo Murders”)
The Collins family probably traveled south out of Lincoln County to Greenville, South Carolina, on the Great Road, or Great Indian Warpath that ran from Philadelphia down through the Shenandoah Valley through Yadkin County, North Carolina, into the Spartanburg District, South Carolina. There the Great Road connected to the Lower Cherokee Trader’s Path, which led into Georgia. The Collins would have then followed the Old Federal Road that used to connect what is today Forsyth County, Georgia, with Ross’s Landing (Chattanooga), Tennessee.
The Old Federal Road began about a mile north of present-day Flowery Branch in Forsyth County, Georgia, at a place on the Chattahoochee River known as Federal Crossing, and passed through what are today Cherokee, Gilmer, Gordon, Murray, Whitfield, and Catoosa Counties in Georgia before reaching Ross’s Landing on the Tennessee River. Travel was not easy. The Old Federal Road had been built starting in 1805 by a large number of individuals, including Cherokees, and the quality and maintenance of it varied widely. In its path were four rivers and numerous creeks, and when the road builders encountered a ridge, they built the road straight up one side and down the other.
When the Collins entered what was then a portion of Gilmer County, they had just forded the Etowah River a few days before at Hightower in Forsyth County, and immediately they encountered a steep hill. From the top of it, they could see for the first time the breadth and scope of what lay ahead. They were in the ridge and valley province now, and from their vantage point they could see Sharp Mountain, Sharp Top Mountain, Grassy Knob (Mt. Oglethorpe), and Burnt Mountain, with elevations ranging from 2,332 feet to 3,287 feet. In this region, the major ridges all run from southwest to northeast, so they crossed the path of the Old Federal Road again and again. No doubt the Collins learned that ahead of them they faced higher and steeper ridges, narrower valleys, and two mountain rivers, the Coosawattee and the Conasauga, not to mention another winter on the road.
After they passed through a gap where the town of Jasper would later be built, the Collins came into a fertile plateau crisscrossed with a large creek, the Talking Rock and its tributaries. At the settlement of Talking Rock (present-day Blaine), they paused at a crossroads. Ahead on the Federal Road lay steeper and higher ridges, dangerous rivers and another winter of travel, but to the southwest along the Cassville-Ellijay Road, the wooded ridges and gorges cut by Talking Rock Creek and its tributaries such as the Scarecorn and Little Scarecorn were mixed with meadows of good farm land and rolling hills.The choice was easy enough to make, and it is on this plateau, which would become part of Pickens County in 1853, that they settled.
In the group were seven brothers and a sister, all but two of the 10 children of William Collins, who was born before the nation in 1775 in Lincoln County. He is said to have died in 1845, but it may be that his death actually occurred earlier and precipitated the migration. But, this group was not the only members of the immediate or the extended family to settle in Georgia, however.
William Collins daughter, Susannah Martin, and her husband Anderson stopped in Cherokee County, probably in the Salacoa District a few miles southwest of Blaine as the crow flies. Also, Jacob Archibald Collins, Jr., William’s brother, and his family arrived in 1847. He and two of his sons, David Hardin and Thomas, also settled along Salacoa Creek near Greely, Georgia. And Jacob’s son, Moses, went a little farther on up the Old Federal Road to settle in Murray County. In any case, William and Jacob, Jr.’s mother, Susannah Hardin Collins, was in Gilmer County by 1850, the year she died.
The families in the wagon train were:
– Isaac and Francis Logan Collins, and their children Susan, Elizabeth, Viana, James, and Thomas;
– William James and Mary Collins, and their children Martin, William Jasper, and Aaron;
– Thomas and Nancy Collins, and their children Perry G., Drucilla, Rhoda, George W., Wiley and Neler. Thomas and Nancy are my ggg-grandparents;
– Ransom and Rhoda Martin Collins, and their children Miller, Fielding Bell, Mary, Hannah, Sarah Ross, and Elizabeth;
– Davis and Martha A. Jackson Collins, and their children Julius, Miles, Margaret, and James;
– Wylie Harris and Nancy Martin Collins, and their children Elvy, Emaline, and Emmy J.;
– Anderson and Susannah Collins Martin, and their daughter Nancy;
– Jacob A. and Mary Collins, and their children Mary, James, and Joseph Bynum.
Times were undoubtedly hard for the Collins family because the area was a wilderness. The Cherokee indians had only been removed, forcibly and cruelly, in 1838 to march the "Trail of Tears," and the wilderness took its toll on the family. In addition to Susannah Hardin Collins, her son Wiley died in 1851 at the age of 39, and Thomas before 1860 when he was about 60.
The Collins did not arrive impoverished, however. By 1850, Davis owned $2,500 in real estate, Wylie owned $1,500, Ransom $400, William Martin $100, and Jacob Jr. $250. And indeed, the Collins thrived in their new home. By 1860 William James Collins was one of the richest men in Pickens County with real estate worth $6,500 and personal wealth of $1,500. These were substantial holdings in the pre-war era when land could be less than $1 an acre, corn was only 15 cents a bushel and meat 2-1/2 cents a pound.
The Collins family distinguished itself in other ways as well. Ransom Collins was a member of the first grand jury ever convened in Pickens County, 15 May 1854. Martin Collins was one of the first justices of the peace in Pickens County.
Aaron Collins was on the Second Petit Jury during the first session of court in Pickens County, convened 15 March 1854. In 1870, in the Cartersville census, he owns $3,000 in property and has $400 in personal wealth. His occupation is “Asst. Marshal,” a title that probably had to do with his being an officer of the court. He was also a census taker for the 1870 Bartow County census. He later became a county judge.
A Martin Collins, perhaps a descendant, was the treasurer of Bartow County from November 1910-November 1914.
Also, a Collins descendant, R. W. Knight of Cartersville, grandson of Derinda and Martin Collins, was appointed aide de camp by Georgia Governor Richard B. Russell in 1932.
And perhaps no family in the region risked more than the Collins did in the Civil War. Archibald G. B. Collins was a “fourth corporal” in Company A, 43rd Regiment, CSA, of Cherokee County, and was wounded, permanently disabled, and captured at Vicksburg, but after he was paroled he enlisted in a cavalry unit, probably the 11th Georgia Cavalry.
Miles Collins entered the war as 1st sergeant of Company D, 23th Georgia Volunteer Infantry, and ended the war as a lieutenant in command of the company, and Joseph Bynum Collins served in the unit as a corporal.
In all, there were seven Collins in Company D, including known family members Miller Collins, James V. Collins, and Berry M. Collins. William James Collins also served, probably in the 6th Regiment, Georgia Infantry, and Boswell Collins served as well, possibly in Company D.
And Martin Collins was a sergeant in Company I, Cherokee Legion, Georgia Volunteer Infantry, “Pickens Raid Repellers.” (For more on the service of the Collins, see Collins in the Civil War).
The Civil War produced one of the major mysteries in the Collins family, the exact identity of Boswell Collins, the principal player in an outbreak of violence in Pickens and Gordon Counties in 1865 that resulted in the deaths of seven people, including his own, and that of Berry and Fielding Bell Collins. For a detailed account of the events, see the “Scared Corn-Ryo Murders.”
In all, the Collins gained both notoriety and respect in their new Georgia homes, and their obituaries consistently indicate that they were held in high esteem.