Josiah Collins II was born on November 10, 1763 at Ishington, London to Josiah Collins, Sr. and Ann Lewis. He lived his early years in London. His mother died in 1770, and in 1773, Josiah II moved to America with his father and younger sister. They arrived in Boston but moved to Providence, Rhode Island. The Collins family stayed in Rhode Island for a year and then moved to Halifax, North Carolina before finally settling in Edenton, North Carolina in 1777.
After the Revolutionary War, Josiah Collins, Sr. became a prominent merchant in Edenton and Josiah II assisted his father’s business. In 1783, Josiah Collins, Sr. became two-thirds owner of a ropewalk in Edenton after purchasing it from the Joseph Hewes estate. Originally built around 1777, the Edenton Ropewalk (at the time known as the Hewes Ropewalk and subsequently as the Collins Ropewalk) was one of the first rope manufacturers in North America.
Following his father’s purchase of the ropewalk, Josiah II managed the Edenton Ropewalk, a large rope-making operation on a 131-acre plot of land. It produced rope, hawsers, cables, and cordage to the naval industry and was a major supplier of rope to United States Navy during the War of 1812. Under Josiah II’s management, the ropewalk became one of the finest rope manufacturers in North America, and in 1795 the rope produced by the Edenton Ropewalk was said to be superior to any imported ropes. When Josiah Collins, Sr. died in 1819, Josiah Collins II became both the owner and manager of the Ropewalk.
In 1803, Josiah II married Ann Rebecca Daves, the daughter of Major John Daves of New Bern. The couple had eight children including: Ann Daves (1804-48), Mary Matilda (1806-37), Josiah III (1808-63), Henrietta Elizabeth (1810-68), Hugh Williamson (1812-54), John Daves (1815-47), Louisa McKinley (1817), and Elizabeth Alethea (1824). Josiah Collins III became the prominent owner of Somerset Plantation. Hugh Williamson Collins was named after Hugh Williamson, a prominent man from Edenton and a good friend of Josiah Collins, Sr.
Josiah Collins II was important in establishing the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. He was one of the six laymen and three clergymen who attended the meeting on April 23, 1817 at New Bern, North Carolina that established the diocese.
Following the death of Josiah Collins, Sr. in 1819, Josiah II inherited the land, buildings, and belongings of his father’s Lake Company, which was renamed Somerset Place in 1816 when the Collins family acquired sole ownership. However, as part of the provisions in his will, Josiah Collins, Sr. declared the land of Somerset Place to be divided among Josiah II’s seven children following the death of Josiah II; Josiah II’s eighth child was not yet born. His son, Josiah Collins III inherited Somerset Place while the other children inherited the undeveloped land.
Josiah Collins II owned and operated Somerset Place until his son Josiah III came of age. He was responsible for building the Colony House at Somerset, a small house used by Josiah II while he was there on business. Josiah II spent most of 1828 at Somerset Place preparing the plantation for his son’s takeover. Josiah III took over the operation of Somerset Place in 1830 after his marriage to Mary Riggs on August 9, 1829.
Josiah Collins II was able to keep the Edenton Ropewalk profitable. The business weathered numerous setbacks, including the War of 1812, the decline in Edenton’s trade economy, the effects of the Dismal Swamp Canal, and the emergence of steamboat technology. However, the ropewalk was unable to survive the death of its owner and operator. Josiah Collins II died on February 10, 1839 and the ropewalk was closed down shortly afterward. Josiah Collins III was more interested in running Somerset Place than operating a ropewalk. Josiah Collins II was buried at St. Paul’s churchyard in Edenton.
William S Powell, “Josiah Collins II” in Dictionary of North Carolina Biography Vol. 1 A-C, edited by William S. Powell (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, 1979), 405.
William S. Tarlton, Somerset Place and its Restoration, (The Division of State Parks, NC Department of Conservation and Development: 1954). Copy in the Josiah Collins Papers, North Carolina Department of Archives and History.
Last Will and Testament of Josiah Collins the Elder of the Town of Edenton, State of North Carolina, Tyrell County Book 4 page 261. Approved April 16, 1819. Seen at http://www.docstoc.com/docs/77505184/COLLINS-JOSIAH-State-of-North-Carolina-Tyrrell-County-Book-4-page-261-Proved-16-April-1819-Will-of-Josiah-Collins-The-last-Will-and-Testament-of-Josiah-Collins-the-Elder-of-the-town-of-Edent, Accessed, 19, 2013.
George Stevenson, “Ropewalks,” in Encyclopedia of North Carolina, edited by William S. Powell (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.) 987-988.
Josiah Collins Private Collection, North Carolina Department of Archives and History
Josiah Collins II Estate Records, North Carolina Department of Archives and History.