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In Search of “Grandfather” Collins: Kilkenny to New Orleans
Charles C. Collins, also known as “Charlie,” (1845-1906) was of Irish ancestry, his grandfather having immigrated from Ireland to Louisiana before the War of 1812.
Jody Johnson Buck on horseback pdf Jody Johnson Buck, great-great-granddaughter of Charlie, has identified the county of Kilkenny, Ireland, as the birthplace of her Collins ancestors. (Kilkenny is located seventy-five miles southwest of Dublin.)
Polly Collins Johnson with horses I hope Jody can dig up more details on her great-great-great-great grandfather. Maybe her mother, Polly Collins Johnson, has an idea. Should we contact a genealogist in Kilkenny to research the Collins family using any available Irish church records?
I haven’t had much luck finding “Grandfather,” especially since ship passenger lists weren’t required for arrivals to the U. S. from foreign ports prior to 1820. We don’t know the year or even the decade that he sailed from Dublin to North America, almost certainly the port of New Orleans. Was he impoverished or well-off? Was he single or married when he made the journey? How old was this Irishman when he traveled across the Atlantic, who lived to be 107 years old?
There’s a good chance that Irish Grandfather was Catholic, as was most the Irish population, but many Irish Protestants managed farms owned by English landowners, where Catholic Irish lived as tenant farmers, sometimes in brutal starvation conditions.
Another clue that points towards Charlie Collins being Catholic is the fact that one of his two sons, Charles Edward Collins (1869-1944) sent his daughters, Georgia and Pauline, to Catholic schools. Pauline was a lifelong devout Catholic.
Irish Emigrants Leaving Home – the Priest’s Blessing I’d sure like to know the reasons Grandfather felt compelled to make the long, dangerous voyage. I don’t have the answer, but I can make an educated guess. Ireland was an English colony for centuries. When England’s King Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church of England, the English Reformation began the process of transforming the Catholic country controlled by England, to a land of Protestants. Under the penal laws the Irish Catholics couldn’t vote, hold office, educate their children in Catholicism, or will their land to their eldest son. As author Carl Wittke summed up, “The causes of immigration in the eighteenth century are the familiar ones of religious persecution, economic oppression, and civil liability imposed by an alien government upon a conquered, unhappy people.”
If Grandfather left the Emerald Isle as late as 1798, he might have been fleeing for his life. In that year, armed rebellion broke out across Ireland, including in and around Dublin. After the English put down the uprising, “hundreds of Irish patriots were hunted down, tortured, and executed.”
If you ask people why the Irish immigrated to America, you’ll often get a two-word answer: potato famine. However, Grandfather Collins immigrated to Louisiana long before the collapse of Ireland’s staple crop in the mid-1840s. He must have arrived no later than the Spanish colonial period (1763-1800) because his son, Charles, born in Louisiana about 1799, fought in the War of 1812 that ended in early 1815, under General Andrew Jackson.
“Irish immigrants and their descendants formed one of the largest European ethnic groups in Louisiana, and particularly in New Orleans, which served as a major port of entry for émigrés to the United States. Only a small number of Irish residents lived in the Crescent City in the late eighteenth century; however, by 1850 one in five residents was from Ireland, and New Orleans emerged as the city with the largest Irish population in the South.”
J. L. Bouquet Under My Wings, Everything Prospers, Louisiana Purchase, 1803 New Orleans was an attractive city for Irish-Catholic immigrants because prior to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, it had been under the control of the French and Spanish, both Catholic countries who had fought wars against the British. Along with Catholic traditions, the population held anti-British sentiments. This allowed the early wave of Irish immigrants, who were often artisans or businessmen, to “become well integrated into the economy and social life of the city.” The high cost of the journey “suggests that these early arrivals were primarily members of the middle class rather than the very poor, as is erroneously suggested.”
Prior to Grandfather Collins leaving Ireland, he might have been a successful farmer. One source on immigration explains that “between 1815 and 1830, the more substantial farmers constituted the bulk of the Irish immigration to America; after that date, the flood gates were open to all.”
The Irish Remedy–Emigration to America “The Great Famine,” also known as “The Great Hunger,” changed the mind-set of Irish immigrants from hopeful to desperate. The combination of poverty, starvation, and disease forced an exodus from the Emerald Isle. Shiploads of sickly immigrants led to a 20-25% death rate from disease and malnutrition during the Atlantic crossings in 1847. No wonder the sailing vessels were called “coffin ships.”
The desperate, unskilled Irish who immigrated to the U. S. often avoided the South because of poor treatment and low wages. Because of Black slave labor, there were fewer available jobs. One exception to this generalization is the building of the New Basin Canal in New Orleans, completed in 1838. Due to the danger of yellow fever and other diseases, slaveowners refused to risk hiring out their enslaved African workforce (in that era in New Orleans, adult, Black, enslaved men, were valued at about $500 each). Instead, poorly paid Irish men worked and died by the thousands. “A popular saying of the 1800’s expressed the importance of Irish laborers on canal excavation projects. ‘To dig a canal, at least four things are necessary, a shovel, a pick, a wheelbarrow, and an Irishman.’”
War of 1812
The War of 1812, for the most part, has long been forgotten. However, historians consider it the Second War for Independence.
The U. S. declared war to protect its sovereignty and its maritime rights. The British were plundering its commerce by sea, forcing American sailors into service (impressment) for the Royal Navy, and arming American Indians so they could fight against American settlers on the Western frontier.
As mentioned earlier, we don’t know the exact reasons that Grandfather Collins left Ireland, but it was most likely to escape the burdensome control by the British. When Grandfather immigrated, it wasn’t to the United States, it was to the Spanish-controlled colony of Louisiana that would eventually be sold to the United States by Napoleon Bonaparte of France.
When British troops arrived in late 1814 with plans to conquer New Orleans, Louisiana had already gained its statehood two years earlier. The British expected an easy victory in New Orleans, which guarded the Mississippi River. It would give them strategic and economic control of large portions of the interior United States. I can only imagine the thoughts of the New Orleans residents, especially the French, Spanish, Irish, and Blacks when they learned of the invasion. They may well have shouted, “The British are coming! The British are coming!”
When General Andrew Jackson, nicknamed “Old Hickory” by his men, arrived in New Orleans to prepare for the imminent British invasion, he took immediate action by ordering martial law. Recognizing his infantry would be dangerously out-numbered, and being a pragmatist, he assembled a conglomeration of groups that formed a make-shift army. Participants included frontier militiamen—from Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana (representing the highest percentage of fighters from the rag-tag army)—free Blacks, New Orleans businessmen, Creoles, Choctaw tribesmen, and even pirates who had an abundant supply of gunpowder and were excellent artillerymen.
Charles Collins, son of “Grandfather” Collins, was about fifteen years old when he fought under General Jackson to prevent the British from advancing on New Orleans. At his age, it’s extremely doubtful that he would have been in the regular Army, which means it’s more likely he was in the militia.
“In 1812 all adult males between 16 and 60 years of age were subject to military conscription into state militias.” Again, due to his age, Collins was much more likely to have been a member of the volunteer militia. Men in the volunteer militias enlisted for short terms of service and were usually not well equipped or trained.
Like other militiamen, Collins would have been expected to provide his own weapon, field gear, and uniform.
Ideally, Collins would have arrived at New Orleans—possibly from his birthplace and home near Baton Rouge—prepared to survive the natural elements—especially the frigid winter weather—and the enemy. A musket, shoulder bag (holding extra flints, bullet mold, cup, spoon, and two blankets), shot pouch, powder horn, canteen, sheath knife, and a hatchet for close quarter fighting, would have been standard gear.
Due to the expense, the specifications for militia uniforms were flexible. I wonder if Charles’ mother made his shirt, trousers, and hunting shirt, consisting of a cotton or coarse linen. And, it’s intriguing to consider what parting advice his father might have given him during the father-son goodbye.
I speculate about how actively Collins participated on January 8, 1815, at the fighting on Chalmette Plantation, five miles southwest of New Orleans. Was he standing on the crowded parapet, waiting, holding his fire until the British became visible through the morning mist? The substantial defensive positions built by General Jackson’s troops—and Black slaves—on the bank of the Rodriquez Canal (referred to as “Line Jackson” by the general’s troops), made all the difference in surviving multiple British attacks, including ongoing artillery fire.
The Battle of New Orleans by Edward Percy Moran If Collins was a part of the engagement that day, after the last ball was fired, he would have observed a crowded field of fallen British redcoats between the east side of the Mississippi River and the cypress swamps to the west. It resembled a sea of blood.
There’s little wonder that the Collins family would have taken pride in young Charles Collins participating in the defeat of the British at Chalmette Plantation. General Jackson’s troops were outnumbered by a ratio of 2:1, and they were fighting many experienced, professional soldiers. Yet, this decisive battle was an incredibly one-sided victory; some historians have described it a slaughter. Britain suffered over 2,000 casualties; Jackson lost about 70 men.
“The final battles against the British around New Orleans united the soldiers of Jackson’s patchwork force . . . Hatred of the Crown, aggravated by British support for the hostile tribes along the frontier, finally provided a strong unifying force for an army now accustomed to victory. At New Orleans the militiamen and others actually wanted to engage the British army, aggressively sought the battle, and on the climatic day actually cheered the British attack.
As a result of this victory, the charismatic Jackson became a hero and was later elected to the presidency. Eventually, Charles Collins moved from his family’s plantation near Baton Rouge to Montgomery County, Alabama, and later to the Kansas Territory. In 1861, his patriotic son, too young to enlist without his parents’ permission, would run off to fight in the American Civil War.
This YouTube post uses the musical recording “The Battle of New Orleans” released by Johnny Horton in 1959. It was written by Jimmy Driftwood (real name, James Corbitt Morris). As a school teacher, he originally started writing songs as a way of helping his students learn about history.
Until next time, happy writing and reading.
 The United States Biographical Dictionary, “Charles Collins.” (New York & Chicago: American Biographical Publishing Company, 1879), p. 664. My extensive research and writing on Charles (middle initial possibly “C”) Collins is because he was the first sheriff of Reno County, Kansas, 1871-1874. In my writing I refer to his grandfather as “Grandfather” Collins because I haven’t learned his first name, yet.
 Jody Johnson Buck, email, January 2, 2022.
 National Archives, Passenger Arrival Records, www.archives.gov/research/immigration/passenger-arrival.html, accessed 2020.
 The United States Biographical Dictionary, p. 664.
 Samuel Finesurrey, Ph.D., “A People’s History of New York City, Immigrant New York City, Episode 3, Becoming Irish-American (1790-1880),” posted to YouTube March 29, 2020.
 Jody Johnson Buck, email, January 2, 2022.
 Timothy J. White, “The Impact of British Colonization on Irish Catholicism and National Identity: Repression, Reemergence and National Identity,” Étides irlandaises, 35-1, 2010, pp. 21-37.
 Laura Leddy Turner, “The Life of Poor Irish in the 1700s,” https://www.theclassroom.com/life-poor-irish-1700s-13171.html, updated June 27, 2018; Finesurrey.
 Carl Wittke, We Who Built America: The Saga of the Immigrant (Case Western Reserve University, Revised Edition, 1967), p. 44.
 Robert McNamara, “Irish Rebellions of the 1800s: The 19th Century in Ireland was Marked by Periodic Revolt Against British Rule,” www.thoughtco.com/irish-rebellions-of-the-1800s, updated July 3, 2019.
 The United States Biographical Dictionary, p. 664.
 Laura D. Kelley, “Irish in New Orleans,” www.64parishes.org/entry/irish-in-new-orleans, accessed 2022.
 Esther Fleming, “What Immigrants Came to New Orleans?” www.sidmartinbio.org/what-immigrants-came-to-new-orleans/, September11, 2019.
 New Orleans.com, “Irish Culture in New Orleans: New Orleans Has Always Had Irish Influence,” www.neworleans.com/things-to-do/multicultural/cultures/irish/, accessed 2022.
 Laura D. Kelley.
 Wittke, p. 130.
 Irish American Journey, www.irishamericajourney.com/2011/10/irish-ships-to-america.html, accessed 2022.
 Wittke, p. 137.
 Laura D. Kelley; Edward Branley, “NOLA History: The Irish in New Orleans,” GONOLA online post, March 4, 2013, https://gonola.com.
 History.com Editors, “War of 1812,” www.history.com/topics/war-of-1812/, Smithsonian American Art Museum, “Causes of the War of 1812,” https://americanexperience.si.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/causes-of-the-war-of-1812_.pdf, accessed 2022.
 John C. McManus, “Spirit of New Orleans,” History Net, www.historynet.com/spirit-of-new-orleans.htm, accessed 2022.
 Jennie Cohen, “History Stories: 10 Things You May Not Know About Paul Revere,” Inside History newsletter, original post April 16, 2013, updated September 30, 2021, www.history.com/news/11-things-you-may-not-know-about-paul-revere. Incorrectly, many American history books have claimed that Patriot Paul Revere shouted this warning in 1775 upon his arrival on horseback in Concord, Massachusetts. Since most of the colonial residents in Massachusetts still considered themselves British, Paul Revere more likely warned patriots that the regular army was coming out of Boston by saying, “The Regulars are coming out!”
 Louisiana State Museum online exhibits, “The Cabildo: Two Centuries of Louisiana History, The Battle of New Orleans,” accessed 2022.
 Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People, (New York, Oxford Press, 1965), p. 394.
 Louisiana State Museum online exhibits; The term Creole is highly debated. One view defines Creoles as people of French, Spanish, and/or African descent, but born in the Western Hemisphere.
 The United States Biographical Dictionary, p. 664. Marion John Bennett Pierson, Louisiana Soldiers in the War of 1812, (Louisiana Genealogical and Historical Society, 1963), p. 28. There are ten soldiers listed with the surname Collins, two of them without a first name. Of the eight remaining, two have a rank above private. Since the Collins we’re searching for was only about 15 years old, it’s doubtful he had rank. That leaves six privates with known first names: Fielding, Jacob, John, Luke W., Murlock, and William. If his first name was Charles, then he’s probably one of the two soldiers without a first name listed.
 Ed Gilbert, Illustrated by Adam Hook, Frontier Militiaman in the War of 1812: Southwestern Frontier, (Great Britain, Osprey Publishing, 2008), p. 11.
 Ibid, p. 26.
 Ibid, p. 29.
 Ibid, pp. 26-27.
 Norfolk Town Assembly, www.norfolktownassembly.org/post/the-war-of-1812-part-5-the-attack-on-new-orleans; American Battlefield Trust, www.battlefields.org/learn/war-1812/battles/new-orleans, accessed 2022.
 American Battlefield Trust.
 Louisiana State Museum Online Exhibits.
 Gilbert, p. 34