Richard D'Cantillon Collins (1801–1841)
Captain Richard D’Cantillon Collins is an often overlooked but nevertheless important figure in early Arkansas history. He was cashier of the central branch of the Real Estate Bank of Arkansas in Little Rock (Pulaski County) from 1837 until he was replaced by former commissioner of Indian Affairs, Carey Allen Harris, in 1838. At the same time he was cashier, Collins also served as chief disbursement agent as well as Arkansas’s last superintendent of Indian Removal and Subsistence west of the Mississippi River, heading the Little Rock Office of Removal and Subsistence from 1837 to 1839. By then, Collins had become president of the Real Estate Bank in Little Rock, with Harris as his cashier. Collins had originally come to Arkansas under orders to survey, take bids for, and help build several roads that became important transportation routes across the state.
Richard D. Collins, a New York native, was born on December 13, 1801. He entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1818. Collins was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant, assigned to the Fourth Infantry, U.S. Army, after his graduation in 1823. During his time at Fort Brooke in 1828, in Tampa Bay, Florida, he married Josephine M. Bell of Pensacola. Collins attained the rank of captain on November 2, 1836.
Collins first came to Arkansas to oversee the building of roads, one of which ran from Washington (Hempstead County) to Jackson (Lawrence County). He worked under the territorial governor, John Pope, who had to borrow $4,500 on one occasion to pay for the new roads. During his time as a resident of Little Rock, Collins came to be associated with several prominent members of “The Family,” a group of politicians who dominated Arkansas politics until the Civil War. His acquaintances included Ambrose H. Sevier, Sevier’s cousin Governor James Sevier Conway, and Chester Ashley, who was one of the Arkansas State Bank’s first directors. Collins marched alongside Captain Jacob Brown in Governor Conway’s inaugural parade in 1836.
When Arkansas became a state on June 15, 1836, it had no banks. The Arkansas State Bank and its sister institution the Real Estate Bank of Arkansas were created that same year by the first Arkansas General Assembly to fill the void. Collins was made cashier of the Real Estate Bank in November 1837. In the summer of 1838, he used his position at the Real Estate Bank to join a group of speculators to establish a town on the north bank of the Arkansas River. The town was to be named “D’Cantillon,” after Collins’s middle name. The venture did not succeed in making D’Cantillon a separate town, but a large subsection of what is now the Argenta District of North Little Rock (Pulaski County) bearing the name D’Cantillon can be seen on Little Rock maps well into the 1880s. Collins also invested in the town of Heber Springs (Cleburne County), but it did not lead to much financial success. In October 1838, Collins filed his financial report to the U.S. Treasury late; he then stopped sending reports altogether. An article published in the Portland Weekly Advertiser reported that Collins had received over half a million dollars from the U.S. Treasury, but at least $200,000 was missing. Collins continued to receive money as cashier of the Real Estate Bank, even though he could not account for the missing funds.
On February 8, 1837, Collins replaced Captain Jacob Brown as chief disbursement agent for Indian Removal west of the Mississippi River. This meant that he was in charge of the money given by the federal government for the subsistence and transportation of Native American tribes through Arkansas. By 1839, the bulk of Indian Removal was over. Collins’s troubles in the Office of Indian Removal and Subsistence came soon after he accused Captain Jacob Brown of being responsible for the spoilage of Indian rations at Fort Gibson and Fort Coffee in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). The truth was that Commissioner of Indian Affairs Carey Allen Harris had given Collins, Brown, and William Armstrong authority over those rations, which by then were largely spoiled. The Native Americans had been diverted to Fort Coffee to consume the rations despite the fact that the rations were spoiled. Collins’s duties at the office were subsequently turned over to Armstrong at the Choctaw Agency in Indian Territory.
In July 1840, Collins was replaced as president of the Real Estate Bank by his friend and the founder of the Arkansas Gazette, William E. Woodruff. However, Woodruff left his post at the bank before his term was up. The 1840 U.S. Census shows that, at that time, Collins had fifteen people living in his home, nine of whom were slaves. Not long after the census was taken, Collins sold his material possessions, including those nine slaves, to Mary LeBaron of Florida Territory, who was his mother-in-law.
In 1842, the War Department sent Major Ethan Allan Hitchcock to investigate fraud related to the removal and subsistence of Indians through Arkansas. Hitchcock met with Collins’s former clerk, Luther Chase, in March 1842. According to Chase’s testimony, Family politician Chester Ashley was “the author of Collins’ ruin,” because, on a number of occasions, Ashley had borrowed from Collins as much as $20,000 of federal funds. The money was never repaid. Chase added that Collins “gave himself up to liquor” before his death on July 1, 1841. That year, Woodruff of the Arkansas Gazette wrote that Collins was “a constant and true friend, a kind and generous neighbor.” The Arkansas Times and Advocate said that Collins was “kind and benevolent in every impulse” and “never wounded the feelings or even the self-love of any man by a word.” Collins was buried at the Old Peabody School site before being reinterred at Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock.
For additional information:
“Another Case of Corruption in the History of Mr. Van Buren’s Administration.” Portland Weekly Advertiser (Portland, Maine), May 3, 1842, p. 4.
Berry, Cody Lynn. “Double Agents: A Story about Early Arkansas Banking and Indian Removal.” Pulaski County Historical Review 68 (Spring 2020): 19–28.
“Died.” Arkansas Times and Advocate, July 12, 1841.
Crawford, Sybil F., and Mary Fletcher Wilson. Mount Holly Cemetery Little Rock, Arkansas Burial Index, 1843–1993. Little Rock: August House, 1993.
Hitchcock, Ethan Allen. A Traveler in Indian Territory: The Journal of Ethan Allen Hitchcock, Late Major-General in the United States Army. Cedar Rapids, IA: The Torch Press, 1930.
Kent, Carolyn Yancey. “Richard D’Cantillon Collins.” Carolyn Kent Collection. Sequoyah National Research Center. University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Paige, Amanda L., Fuller L. Bumpers, and Daniel F. Littlefield Jr. Chickasaw Removal. Ada, OK: Chickasaw Press, 2010.
Woodruff, William E. “Died.” Arkansas Gazette, July 7, 1841, p. 3.
Worley, Ted R. “The Arkansas State Bank: Ante-Bellum Period.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 23 (Spring 1964): 65–73.
Cody Lynn Berry
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
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