The Curious Case of Mr. Collins

Here at Locust Grove, we have an extensive research library for the use of our staff, volunteers, and docents, so everyone can continue to learn about the Croghan and Clark families, the history of the city of Louisville and the state of Kentucky, and everything about life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. We are always growing our knowledge to better serve our visitors and answer questions, whether someone asks what herbs were planted in the kitchen garden to the best way to cure meats in the smokehouse. Our docents, to a man (and woman!) are incredibly skilled and knowledgeable individuals, and our corps of Costumed Interpreters volunteer copious amounts of time and endless resources to bring our family and their friends and neighbors to life.  Because we are always engaged in research, we often discover new and surprising things about Locust Grove.

Heather H., a docent, master photographer, and the queen of historical pastimes, works with our Costumed Interpreters as a plainclothes handler, and conducts a great deal of primary source research to enhance our interpreters’ knowledge of their characters’ lives. Heather has “a great fondness for historic obituaries” and states that she has “been working on locating obits and death notices for everyone that is portrayed by the costumed interpreter cast. I came across Mr. Collins when I was working on the notices for the Croghans.”

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Mr. Collins Who? Surely you must mean Mr. Clark or Mr. Croghan.” Mr. Collins is certainly not a name we hear around Locust Grove unless there’s a meeting of the Louisville Chapter of the Jane Austen Society in session.


Hugh Thomson, c. 1894

This Mr. Collins, however, had not walked right out of the pages of Pride and Prejudice and onto the porch at Locust Grove. Heather had discovered the obituary below of a Mr. John Collins, who has a curious relationship to Locust Grove.

John Collins obit

Published in the National Advocate (New York, New York) and also ran in the Long Island Star, the Connecticut Courant, the New York Daily Advertiser, and the Democratic Press. 

“At the residence of Maj. William Croghan, Locust Grove, on the 9th of January, mr. JOHN COLLINS, aged 102, a native of New Jersey.

The deceased had lived in the family of Major Croghan for the last 27 years, and has uniformly enjoyed remarkable good health; he affirmed before his death that he never, in the course of his life, been blooded or taken a single potion of physic. What was remarkable in the deceased, was, that he considered everything his own, and would frequently threaten to dispossess merchants in Louisville of their goods unless they kept their accounts uniform and correct, but in other respects was perfectly sane.”

WHOA. This Mr. Collins sounds like quite a character, and he has quickly become a favorite of the denizens of Locust Grove. Other death notices and obituaries only note his age, place of residence, and the date of his death, but we are nonetheless fascinated by his existence. Docent and historian Lynn R. remarks, “It’s just the most perfect story. Heather deserves extra cookies for finding him.” (I agree!)

No research has been discovered to support the idea that Mr. Collins was a blood relative of the Croghans, but it seems that he was a long-time part member of the household. According to Heather, our manuscript collection includes only one mention of a Mr. Collins in a letter written by William Croghan, Sr. in 1796:

“There are no surveys in either offices in Reynolds name, from the Situation of those Warrants & entries you should have got them Cheap from Mr. Reynolds. In my last letter to you I informed you that you omited one of your Warrants No 3580 for 2666 ⅔ are in the power you sent Mr. Collins to convey to me or any person I might direct, this warrant is the principal one, the (__) under being but five Warrants of 100 Acres each. If you intend letting me have it please to send a power to convey it by the bearer Mr. John. Gwathmey whom I expect will shortly return to this Country. I received the 100 acres by Mr. Sheppard for which shall credit your acct. I am dear sir. Your most humble Servt. W. Croghan”


William! Tell us more about your buddy!

The 1810 census includes three white males over the age of 45 living at Locust Grove. These men are most likely William Croghan, George Rogers Clark, and John Collins. Lynn Renau believes that Mr. Collins may have witnessed some of William Croghan’s legal transactions and did some recording keeping as well, as not all of the family accounts are in William Croghan’s hand. Lynn and Heather’s working theory is that some of these accounts could have been the work of John Collins, who may have been a clerk for the Croghans. We have no records of John Collins’ burial, and there is no record that John Collins’ grave was removed to Cave Hill Cemetery with the rest of the Croghans, so it is likely that he remains here at Locust Grove in the original family cemetery.


Where are you, Mr. Collins?

Heather notes that “I have no doubt there’s documentation floating around out there to help us fill in his story. It’s just a matter of finding the time to look for them. I do find it interesting that this man lived with the family for years and appears to have been a long time business partner of William Croghan’s, yet he is only mentioned in that one family letter […] I can’t wait to learn more about him when I have the time.”

As soon as we know more about Mr. Collins, we’ll be sure to update you all! Until then, we’re looking for volunteers to profile on this blog! Our volunteers are incredible, and they deserve the spotlight! If you’d like to be profiled, fill out the form located here. Thank you for all that you do!

We also want to hear from everyone who has ever visited Locust Grove, toured the house and grounds, followed us on social media, attended one of our programs and events, or even thought about Locust Grove! You can help us out by taking our quick survey here. Your thoughts really are  important to us as we look to the future of Locust Grove!

And don’t forget–the Spring Used Book Sale is March 4-6! Thousands of books are ready to make new homes on your shelves. We can’t wait to see you!



With sincere good wishes,



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