Barnabas Collins was born in the 18th century, one of the children of the wealthy Collins family in the fictional town of Collinsport, Maine. In the year 1795, the then-mortal Barnabas Collins intended to marry a beautiful heiress from Martinique named Josette du Pres (Kathryn Leigh Scott), despite having a brief affair with Josette's maidservant Angelique (Lara Parker). Angelique, a witch well acquainted with voodoo and the black arts, cast a spell on Josette in an attempt to make her fall in love with Barnabas's uncle, Jeremiah Collins (Anthony George), after Barnabas decided to end the affair. After learning that Jeremiah and Josette have suddenly married, Barnabas challenges Jeremiah to a duel. Jeremiah loses the duel, dying shortly after being shot. Upon Barnabas's discovery that Angelique was responsible for the marriage of Josette and Jeremiah and other strange happenings at Collinwood, he shoots her. With what she believes to be her dying words, she takes revenge on Barnabas by summoning a vampire bat from hell to attack him. Barnabas falls extremely ill and dies. Shortly thereafter, however, Barnabas rises as a vampire. Barnabas then attempts to transform Josette into a vampire. She is willing, if not quite fully cognizant of what this would entail, at first, until the Angelique, who has become far more powerful after her death, reveals to her a vision of what she would become. Fleeing from Barnabas, Josette leaps to her death off the cliffs of Widow's Hill. Barnabas, unable to bear what he has become, asks his father, Joshua Collins, to slay him. However, he is unable to murder his son, and so he orders Barnabass devoted servant, Ben Stokes (Thayer David), to perform the task. Ben is also unable to kill the vampire and instead chains him in a coffin in the secret room of the family mausoleum.
In the "present" of 1967, Willie Loomis (John Karlen,while foraging for the Collins Family's "lost jewels", stumbles upon the chained coffin in which Barnabas sleeps. Believing the coffin to contain the lost riches of Collinwood, Willie accidentally releases the vampire. Barnabas attacks Willie and turns him into his unwilling servant. Barnabas introduces himself to the modern Collins family as a cousin from England - a hard working businessman never seen during the day. Thirsty for new blood, Barnabas makes victims of several of Collinsport's residents. He eventually meets Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott), who resembles his lost-love Josette du Pres. He kidnaps her and attempts to make her his vampire bride. However, Maggie manages to escape, but not unscathed. The traumatic emotional distress of being kidnapped, and by a member of the undead, no-less, cause Maggie to regress to the mentality of a child and to forget all that has happened to her. She is sent to Windcliff Sanitarium, where Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall) tries to make her remember what happened to her in an attempt to identify her kidnapper. Dr. Hoffman soon finds out that the answers lie somewhere in Collinsport, specifically at Collinwood. She discovers who and what Barnabas Collins is and what he has done. However, she falls in love with him and attempts to cure him. She becomes one of Barnabas's confidants and helps him many times, even risking time travel to aid her afflicted friend. Another doctor cures Barnabas of his affliction. The newly rehumanized Barnabas undertakes several trips through time in order to save friends (like Collins' governess Victoria Winter) and family (such as Quentin Collins). Along the way, he meets up with reincarnations of Josette: much of the romance centers around his attempts to find her again.