Collins was born in August 1847 in Virginia, probably into slavery. Information about him is scarce, and the scattered documents that mention him often contain inconsistencies or suggest that those who recorded the information may not have known much about him. It is possible, but by no means certain, that he was a Norfolk native who married Rebecca Fuller in that city on July 11, 1866. A marriage license identifies the groom on that occasion as John H. Collins, a twenty-one-year-old student and son of Margaret Collins. What is certain is that in the summer of 1870 Johnson Collins, Rebecca Collins, and their sons, ages three and one, were living near his brother, a tanner, in Brunswick County. He and his wife later had two other children who died in infancy or childhood. Collins worked as a laborer, but so far as land and tax records show, he never owned any real estate. He may occasionally have used only his surname. The census enumerator in 1870 listed him as Collin Collins and his younger son, who was thereafter usually called Johnson Collins Jr., as Collin Collins Jr.
In November 1879 Collins narrowly won a three-way race for a seat representing Brunswick County in the House of Delegates. He defeated two white men, the Republican incumbent who favored paying off the antebellum state debt in full and a Readjuster who wanted to reduce the amount of the debt to be paid and to refinance the balance at a lower interest rate. Two voters cast ballots for Collin Johnson, suggesting continued confusion about his name or that he was not well known in some parts of the county.
In June 1880, when Collins gave information about his family to the census taker, who recorded his name correctly this time, he identified himself as a literate laborer and added, perhaps with pride, that he was a member of the state legislature, a fact the enumerator carefully recorded. Collins did not seek reelection in 1881 but received six votes anyway. Sometime during the next half-dozen years he and his family moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked as a watchman for about two decades. Collins died of heart disease in Washington on November 3, 1906, and was buried in the city's Columbian Harmony Cemetery. In 1960 all of the graves were removed to National Harmony Memorial Park in Prince George's County, Maryland.
August 1847 - Johnson Collins is born in Virginia, probably into slavery.
July 11, 1866 - John H. Collins and Rebecca Fuller marry in Norfolk. The groom may be Johnson Collins, who will go on to represent Brunswick County in the 1879–1880 session of the General Assembly.
Summer 1870 - Johnson Collins, Rebecca Collins, and their sons reside in Brunswick County.
December 3, 1879–March 9, 1880 - Johnson Collins serves in the General Assembly.
November 3, 1906 - Johnson Collins dies of heart disease in Washington, D.C.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Tarter, B., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Johnson Collins (1847–1906). (2014, August 20). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Collins_Johnson_1847-1906.
- MLA Citation:
Tarter, Brent and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Johnson Collins (1847–1906)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 20 Aug. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: February 5, 2014 | Last modified: August 20, 2014