Thursday, December 23, 2004

Honoring a Worthy Grandfather at Christmas Highlights in the life of Francis Jasper "Bud" Collins

Christmas is a time for family, a time to delight in children and grandchildren, a time to honor parents and grandparents.

I have many wonderful memories of my grandfather, Francis Jasper “Bud” Collins (January 30, 1855-December 17, 1941), although I was only a child when he passed away. Among my pleasant recollections of childhood are those times spent at my grandfather’s house where I always enjoyed going to his country store when someone came and rang the bell for service. Grandpa was always generous with the luscious chocolate drops, orange slices and various stick candies he dispensed in his store. He may have inadvertently made me the “chocoholic” I am with his gift of a chocolate drop each time we went into the store.

The day of his death is indelibly printed in my memory. Already another traumatic event, which we’d heard about on radio, had happened ten days prior to his death. That was the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the U. S. declaration of war against that enemy and our country’s entry into World War II. My brother and my cousins were volunteering rather than waiting for the inevitable draft.

Then on the late afternoon of December 17, I looked out our kitchen window as I heard a car approaching on the road below our house. I recognized my cousin Clyde Collins’ car. I knew instinctively that he came as bearer of the news of Grandpa Collins’ death. I was right. That was the sad message he brought to my mother, Azie Collins Dyer. Here, so close to Christmas, when we were practicing Christmas programs both for Choestoe Elementary School and Choestoe Baptist Church, we had to bury our Grandpa Bud, a legend in his time. It was a very sad Christmas that year.

It was not until later that I learned something of the stature and importance of citizen F. J. Collins. He served as Union County’s representative to the Georgia legislature in 1911-1912, in 1915-1917, and in 1917-1918. It has been said that he never wore a “store-bought” suit, but preferred the homemade wool serge suits made completely from the wool gathered from his own sheep, spun, dyed, woven into cloth, and tailored into a suit, first by his wife Georgianne Hunter Collins, and then by his daughters who learned the craft of weaving. Today, one of his wool serge suits is in the archives of the Atlanta Museum, the same suit he wore to the legislature when he represented Union County.

I wish I had listened more to the stories of his days in politics. He must have gotten to Atlanta by riding a horse or mule across Logan Turnpike to Gainesville, boarding the animal there, and catching the train on to Atlanta. I remember the leather satchel which my Aunt Avery and Aunt Ethel told me was his “suitcase” as he went to the legislature.

Francis Jasper Collins was primarily a farmer. He lived on a 400 acre spread, part of the land on which his grandfather, Thompson Colllins, Sr. settled. Bud Collins owned the first threshing machine in the Choestoe community and pulled it from farm to farm with a team of oxen to thresh his neighbors’ grain. Later he got a power-driven engine for the thresher. He was also a merchant, a cattle trader, and a miller. He made sorghum syrup in the fall, sometimes making in excess of 5,000 gallons. His house was the first on Choestoe wired for electricity from the Delco plant he installed.

My first trip to Gainesville, GA when I was a child of six was in Grandfather’s truck, with Garney Fortenberry as driver. I perched on my father’s lap in the cab of the truck with Grandpa between us. While Grandpa traded chickens and eggs bartered at his store for goods to take back to the store for Christmas stock, my dad took me to my first movie. It was a grand day, a highlight in a child’s memory. It was a long day’s trip over Neal Gap to Gainesville and return in the same day by truck.

Bud Collins was said to be mathematically inclined, figuring out intricate arithmetical problems in his head. Always with a keen business acumen, he was able to acquire a good deal of money for his day. He often loaned money to his neighbors and others, never taking a note for the loan. He contended that a person’s word was his bond; otherwise, a piece of paper would not guarantee repayment of the loans. Following his death, since there was no record of loans, many, no doubt, went unpaid. But others, who were honest, paid what was owed to the estate.

Francis Japer Collins and Georgianne Hunter (April 5, 1855-October 3, 1924) were married on January 30, 1873. They lived first in a log cabin Bud built. As their family increased, so did the house, which is still standing today. They had thirteen children as follows:

(1) Ida Collins married Perry Hood.
(2) Andrew (Andy) Collins married Sarah Alice Davis.
(3) Olza A. Collins married Mary Nix.
(4) Eda S. Colllins died at age four.
(5) India Collins never married.
(6) Esley L. Collins, never married.
(7) Lillie Collins married Herschel A. Dyer.
(8) Sarah Collins (Dec. 21-1891-Jan. 10, 1893)
(9) Francis (Frank) Collins died at age nineteen.
(10)Azie Collins married Jewel Marion Dyer.
(11)William Harve Collins married Northa Maybelle Dyer.
(12)Avery Collins never married.
(13)Ethel Georgianne Collins married John Mervil Clement.

Bud Collins’ nephew, Joe G. Collins, lawyer in Gainesville, wrote his uncle a letter on December 5, 1941, twelve days before the elder Collins’ death. In it he paid this tribute to his uncle: “Your character for honesty and making your word your bond and your life of square dealing and fair treatment of everybody has helped others in knowing of it and in coming in contact with you, as it has me.”

At Christmastime we remember a good legacy, and pleasant contacts with a dear grandparent. It is as though hands and hearts from the past reach over time to touch us and make us who we are today.

May yours be a blessed Christmas.

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published December 23, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Nancy Collins Souther, Daughter of Thompson Collins, Sr.

Writing about early settler Thompson Collins and his family is like taking up an enthralling story that you can’t put down until you’ve read it all. And even then, you want to fill in gaps, go farther with the story.

In recent articles we’ve explored the first Thompson Collins, holder of vast acreages, progenitor of many who were born and grew up in Choestoe District and went out from there to make their mark in the world. A son, Thompson Collins, Jr. was a long-time Justice of the Peace. A grandson, Thompson Smith Collins, was known as “the poor man’s friend.” In the first year of my writing “Through Mountain Mists,” I traced the remarkable career of Dr. Mauney Douglas Collins, for twenty-five years Georgia’s state school superintendent and a great grandson of the first Thompson Collins. Chief Justice of Georgia Supreme Court, William Henry Duckworth and his brother, J. Lon Duckworth, corporation lawyer, were descendants of Thompson Collins. The branches go on and on…

This article pays tribute to Nancy Collins (February 13, 1829 – July 22, 1888), eighth of the ten children born to Thompson and Celia Self Collins. Nancy and her sister just older than she, Celia (1827-?) who married James West, were born after their parents migrated from North Carolina to Habersham County, Georgia. Her sister Olive (1831-1853) who married Robert McCoy and died in childbirth, and her brother Ivan Kimsey Collins (1835-1898), who was deaf due to a childhood fever and married Martha Hunter, were also born in Georgia.

Nancy Collins married John Combs Hayes Souther (Oct. 22, 1827 – Jan. 4, 1891), born in North Carolina, the second of twelve children of John Souther (1803-1889) and Mary “Polly” Combs Souther (1807-1894). The Souther family had settled in 1836 on land in the locality of present-day New Liberty Baptist Church. In fact, settler John Souther gave the land for that church and cemetery. The marriage of John Combs Hayes Souther and Nancy Collins on February 6, 1852 brought together two prominent early-settler families.

John, better known as “Jack” Souther, took his bride Nancy to live in the log house he and his father had built for Jack about 1850 on land lot # 150. The house still stands today within sight of New Liberty Baptist Church. The old adage, “It takes a lot of living in a house to make it home” could well qualify that house, for three generations of the Jack and Nancy Souther family lived there over a period of more than a century and a half.

Nancy Collins married one week before her twenty-second birthday in 1852. She no doubt felt pride in the fact that her husband Jack had taught the first school in the Choestoe District. Later he would become ordinary of Union County. He was always an advocate of education and good government. On their farm in Choestoe he practiced good farming techniques for that era and was able to support the family. He made many trips over the Logan Turnpike to take produce to market in Gainesville. Having Thompson Collins as a father-in-law and his own father, John Souther, as advisors, John Combs Hayes Souther was in a good position to make his own contributions to his life and times.

When the Union County courthouse was built on the square in 1899, Jack Souther was an advocate for building it. Timber from his land went into a portion of its construction.

Since Nancy’s father, Thompson Collins, had slaves at the time of her marriage, I wonder if one of them was loaned to Nancy and Jack Souther as their children were born to help Nancy with their care and with her housework. There is no record to verify this assumption, but it could reasonably have happened.

The Civil War came when the couple was ten years into their marriage. Jack Souther was a conscientious objector. In order to evade the Confederate draft, he hid out in caves in nearby Bald Mountain. At night he came out of hiding and tilled the crops. It was not an easy time.

The children born to John Combs Hayes and Nancy Collins Souther were:

(1) Mary Elizabeth Souther (1853-1929) married Smith Loransey Brown (1850-1932)
(2) Celia Souther (1854) died when about sixteen years of age.
(3) William Albert Souther (1856-1945) married Elizabeth “Hon” Dyer (1859-1902)
(4) Sarah Evaline Souther (1857-1959) married Bluford Elisha “Bud” Dyer (1855-1926)
(5) John Padgett Souther (1858-1959) married Martha Clementine Brown (1861-1933)
(6) Joseph Newton Souther (1861-1922) married Elderada Swain (1867-1948)
(7) Ruthie Caroline Souther (1863-1928) married (1) William Sullivan and (2) James Logan Souther (1847-1914)
(8) Nancy Roseanna Souther (1865-1938) married William Hulsey (1862-1946)
(9) Martha Souther (1867-1937) married (1) Jasper Todd Hunter (1863-1897) and (2) James Hunter (1847-1912) [Jasper and James were brothers.]
(10) Catherine Souther (1869-1921) married William Bruce Moore (1868- 1905)

Of the nine children who lived to adulthood and married, the descendants of John Combs Hayes and Nancy Collins Souther became legion. Each family has its own story. In fact, geneology lines sometimes are surprising. Their child number four, Sarah Evaline Souther who married Bluford Elisha Dyer is my grandmother. Sarah and Bluford’s tenth child, Jewel Marion Dyer (1890-1974) married Azie Collins (1895-1945), daughter of Francis Jasper Collins. Nancy Collins Souther was my mother’s great aunt. She is my own great grandmother, as well as my great, great aunt.

When I tell my children and grandchildren about these family ties at Christmas and other family gatherings, they sometimes shake their heads in disbelief. Somewhat like the royal families of England and other countries, our forebears, too, made alliances by marriage that have affected subsequent generations.

Have a wonderful Christmas with your family and remember the true meaning of the season.

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published December 16, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 9, 2004

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

Thursday, December 2, 2004

A Look at Thompson Collins, Jr.

The two previous articles have traced early settler Thompson Collins, Sr. (ca 1785- ca 1858) and his wife, Celia Self Collins (ca 1787- Sept. 3, 1880). This article will take a look at the fifth of their ten children, Thompson Collins, Jr., known as Thompie.

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.