Discover more from Yesterday Genealogy Newsletter!
The Tragic Life of “Sister” in the Backwoods
A true story by Jeannette Holland Austin
Sister Collins was the granddaughter of Capt. John E. Collins of Acworth, Georgia. She had an unusual tragedy occur in the backwoods of Paulding County.
But first, a glimpse into the life of her grandfather. Capt. Collins was born in Frederick County, Maryland, and his family was removed to York County, South Carolina, before the Revolutionary War.
He enlisted in the war early on against his father's wishes. His first engagement occurred in October of 1776. The boy participated in a skirmish with the Indians along the Seneca River in South Carolina. Afterward, Collins had a mixed career of service and a variety of ranks, seemingly enlisting in 3-month sequences.
On March 3, 1779, Collins fought alongside the mixed patriot forces from North Carolina and Georgia and some Continental regulars, in a battle, near the confluence of Brier Creek and the Savannah River. The militia and Continental regulars were defeated and suffered significant losses.
After that disastrous battle, in September of the same year, Collins enlisted in the North Carolina Militia commanded by Colonel Charles McDowell, serving as an Orderly Sergeant under Capt. John Lowman and Colonel Hampton. The young soldier’s rank fluctuated from that of a Private, Sergeant, and Sergeant-Major under the same officers.
The siege of Charleston was a significant engagement and major British victory in the American Revolutionary War, fought between March 29 and May 12, 1780. Collins was taken prisoner during the fiery battle, but the British, having more prisoners than they could handle on their prison ships, paroled him to return home.
After being home for about two months, he was seized by some of the Tories and taken to the camp of British Colonel Ferguson. The British charged him with violating his parole. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang. But he escaped and joined the Americans fighting the battle of Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina.
He was at Colonel Banastre Tarleton's defeat at Cowpens and Colonel Ferguson's defeat at King’s Mountain.
Later, while serving in Lincoln County, North Carolina, he was again captured by the British and sentenced to hang. He escaped again. His determination led him to his next rank as Adjutant Lieutenant in the Virginia Troops and Captain in the South Carolina Militia.
After the war ended, he returned to his old neighborhood, but soon after that, he removed to Georgia, where he was married to Phebe Sailors in 1786. In 1832 he drew in the Cherokee County Land Lottery and won Lots №223 and 224 in the 20th District of Cobb County (Acworth), where he made his home.
The grandfather, Capt. Collins lived to the ripe old age of 91 years!
His granddaughters, Willie and Ida Collins, attended Acworth Women’s College. Willie (called “Sister”) was born in 1884 and died in 1914.
Sister was married to Tom Holland. They resided in McPherson, a community of railroad workers living in section houses. They were working on an extension of the railroad. The road to McPherson and Tom’s mercantile store was a dirt path through the woods.
Eventually, a new house was built for the Hollands and their three little sons adjacent to the railroad tracks. Sister would climb aboard the train and ride to Terminal Station in Atlanta, where she shopped and bought clothing for the children. (I wonder if Sister knew that Tom’s grandfather built the first house in Atlanta and moved to Paulding County for better farmland?)
When the family moved into their newly constructed house, they were excited. But that fateful evening, as she slept in bed, Sister was bitten by a rat! She became deathly ill with flu-like symptoms, dizziness, stomach problems, and shortness of breath, known as “rat fever.” The thirty-year-old woman wept and cried, saying she did not wish to die! But the fever snatched her life away quickly, as a snake in the grass!
But Tom Holland could not cope with the loss. He suffered from so much grief and despair afterward that the three little boys were sent to live with Aunt Ida.
Every day he opened his store to the residents to purchase food and other items. But his misery soon drove him to drink liquor. Soon his addiction was a way of life. Tom never remarried and remained alone in the house for some 33 years.
One wintry day in February of 1939, some neighbors came to call. Tom was at home, suffering from the effects of influenza. They wanted him to open the store. He said that he was “too ill to walk.” But they fetched a wheelbarrow and, lifting him onto it, wheeled him to the store. The neighbors got their groceries, but Tom died the next day!
More stories by Jeannette Holland Austin are available on video. To subscribe (free), go to —
Scroll down the page to “Stories From your Ancestors.” Add your email address. This is new, and videos are published every Friday and sent out via email. I hope you enjoyed the story!!