COLLINS, JOHN, governor and commander-in-chief of the fort and harbour of St John’s, Newfoundland; fl. 1706–20.
The merchant John Collins first appears in September 1706 when he was appointed a captain and his son an ensign of militia in St John’s by Commodore Underdown. After Captain Lloyd and the garrison of St John’s were captured by the French in the winter of 1708–9, Collins as commander of the militia tried unsuccessfully to retake the fort, but he was captured and taken as a prisoner to Placentia (Plaisance), where he was held for several months. According to Collins, St John’s was “lost by [Lloyd’s] neglect.” Collins was released after signing a declaration in May 1709 before Costebelle [Pastour] that the French had done nothing contrary to the articles of war and that he and other St John’s merchants such as William Keen* would fulfil the financial conditions of the surrender imposed by the French commander Saint-Ovide [Monbeton*].
Collins and Allen Southmayd were able to send the Board of Trade and Plantations a description of the fortification at Placentia: there was a force of 50 men in the castle, which could hold at most 150 men, and the harbour contained 43 sail, including 1 man-of-war and 6 to 8 armed ships. Probably as an acknowledgement of his leadership in 1708, the commodore of the naval escort in 1709, Captain Joseph Taylour, appointed Collins governor and commander-in-chief of the fort and harbour of St John’s and of the coast between Ferryland and Carbonear Island. Collins’ authority empowered him to appoint captains and other officers as necessary. Almost immediately Collins petitioned Colonel Nicholson, commander of the expedition against Port-Royal (Annapolis Royal, N.S.), to furnish supplies to support the 470 persons in the garrison through the winter. He also wrote his brother, the Rev. Edward Collins, minister at Wimbledon, Surrey, recounting the “miserable, hard winter” they had had, and asking his brother to present his case to the board. He submitted the usual petitions for repayment of his expenses in regaining the fort, which Commodore Crowe commended in 1711. He also petitioned to be kept on as governor, and his case was supported by the Duke of Leeds. In 1712 the next commodore, Sir Nicholas Trevanion, confirmed him as governor of Fort William, and he continued to be referred to as governor at least until 1720.
It is difficult to determine the duties of the “governor” after the war with France ended in 1713 with the treaty of Utrecht. Nicholson and then Philipps* were nominally governors of Placentia and Nova Scotia, and as there was no civil government until 1729, the commodores continued to adjudicate disputes when they visited the island in the summer and to complain about the lawlessness of the long rowdy winters. In 1716 the Board of Trade recommended that two judges be elected by the inhabitants before the departure of the fleet. As for Collins’ suitability for the post of governor or magistrate, Commodore Passenger thought that “no man liveing in . . . Newfoundland is fit to govern,” whereas Commodore Scott thought Keen and Collins “fitly qualify’d for the preserving of order.”
It would appear that Collins’ prosperity increased as did that of the fishery, after the serious decline of 1711 to 1714. In 1720 Commodore Percy noted that despite previous orders Collins and seven other merchants had refused to relinquish the stages of fishing admirals that they had “engrossed.” John Collins was probably dead before 1723, when the principal inhabitants of St John’s drew up a Lockian petition for civil government [see Jago].
PRO, C.O. 194/4; Acts of P.C., col. ser., 1680–1720; B.T.Journal, 1704–1708/9, 1708/9–1714/15; CSP, Col., 1706–8, 1708–9, 1710–11, 1711–12, 1712–14, 1717–18, 1719–20, 1720–21; C.T.Papers, 1714–19. Rogers, Newfoundland.