Early Settlers of
Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements
Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life
By: Ethelene Dyer Jones
Collins - "The Poor Man's Friend"
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
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
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.
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
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
Then one day a travel-worn, more
mature Thomp Collins returned to his home.
He had walked the entire distance from
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
(1) James Monroe “Roe” Collins (Jan. 16, 1871-June 30, 1954) married
Nancy Elmira Twiggs (Feb. 17,
1953). She was a daughter of the Rev.
John Wesley and Sarah Elizabeth Hughes Twiggs.
“Roe” and “
Lydia E. Jackson (1875-1956) on
Susan Mason Smith (1889-1966). Joe
studied law and graduated from the University of Virginia Law School. He passed the
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
Jones; published December 9, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville,
Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Jones is a retired educator,
freelance writer, poet, and historian. She may be reached at
phone 478-453-8751; or mail 1708 Cedarwood Road, Milledgeville, GA
Updated September 8, 2008