The Robbins-Hanks-Lincoln Connections

Stories have been told for years about the relationship of the Robbins family to Abraham Lincoln.  I grew up hearing these stories.  As an adult, researching the connections between our family and our most-famous President, I came to realize that while I wasn’t related to Lincoln, others in the family were. In other words, some Robbins descendants are cousins of Lincoln, while others, like myself, share cousins in common with Lincoln.

Most of the stories, and all the documented connections between Lincoln and the Robbins family are through his mother’s family, the Hanks.  I’ve seen no mention of a direct Robbins-Lincoln connection.

This post will look at some of the connections that are documented and mention some that aren’t, and point out some of the family lines that descend from these connections.

The clearest and easiest connection to document is that of two of Lincoln’s first cousins, James Hanks and Jemima Hanks, siblings, who married Robbins family members.  James Hanks was married to Charity Robbins, and Jemima Hanks was married to Absalom Robbins, both of whom were children of Absalom and Mary (Ogle) Robbins.  Both of the Hanks were the children of William Hanks and his second wife Elizabeth Loyd, and William was the brother of Nancy Hanks, Lincoln’s mother.

Robbins-Hanks-Lincoln relationship chart

James Hanks was married to Charity Robbins on 12 June 1830 in Decatur County, Indiana.  They had five children:  William, Absalom, Elizabeth, Mahala, and Jemima.  Tragedy struck this family early on when James Hanks and his eight-year-old son Absalom were killed while out coon hunting when a tree fell on them.  This happened just west of Gaynorsville, Indiana, on April 13, 1841.  With the death of James Hanks, Dr. Nathaniel Robbins (whose wife Nancy was the elder sister of Charity) was the court appointed guardian of the remaining children.  He retained this duty until he left for Missouri in the fall of 1851.  Nathaniel was involved in disputes with the estate of James Hanks over land, and this was one of the reasons he returned to Indiana in the spring of 1852.  He had unfinished business relating to the Hanks estate to conclude.

The families of James and Charity tended to stay in Decatur County.  Among the surnames of their descendants are Skinner, Purvis, Van Treese, Morgan, Wasson, Patrick, Fultz, Ricketts, Jessup, Stout, and Whipple, among others.

Meanwhile, Jemima Hanks was married to Absalom Robbins on December 26, 1831, in Decatur County.  Absalom and Jemima Robbins remained in Decatur Co., Indiana, a few years before moving to Breckinridge County, Kentucky.  They had possibly twelve children, and their descendants surnames include Stillwell, Armes, Ryan, Basham, and Macey.  Absalom and Jemima are thought to have been buried in the Old Robbins Schoolhouse Cemetery in Breckinridge County, Kentucky, a cemetery that exists only as bare rural lot out in the countryside.  Reportedly William Hanks and his wife Elizabeth are also buried there.

Another well-known connection with the Hanks family, but with less documentation, was that of a Nancy Hanks who married Jacob Robbins about 1801, and whose son was the Jacob Robbins who moved to Oregon in 1852.  No marriage record or bond has been found for the marriage of Jacob and Nancy and if you’ve ever seen the scraps of paper which are the early Kentucky marriage bonds that wouldn’t surprise you, but Nancy’s name has been consistently passed down in the reminiscences of her family, starting with those of her grandson Harvey Robbins.

It is not known who the parents of this Nancy Hanks were.  Harvey Robbins’ stories name her parents as being William and Elizabeth (Hall) Hanks.  But William and Elizabeth were married on September 12, 1793, and if Nancy married Jacob in 1801, she couldn’t have been more than eight years old.  At this point in the Hanks-Robbins research, we can’t say with certainty whom the parents of Nancy Hanks were.

Another problem with that timeline is that Jacob Robbins was married to a cousin Rachel Robbins in 1790 and they reportedly had one child, John Henry or “Hance”, Robbins.  Rachel is said to have died by or around 1800, then Jacob married Nancy Hanks, and had William (“Rock Creek Billy”) Robbins, Jacob Robbins Jr., and Aaron Robbins, the latter a name only found in family notes.  What if the date of marriage to Nancy is incorrect?  What if William was also a son of Rachel?  Ah, the joys of research on the Kentucky and Indiana frontiers!

Abraham Lincoln

Among the family surnames descending from this Hanks connection, from William, are Hartley, Bird, Murry, Barnes, Spencer, and Taylor, among others.  One of William’s daughters, Catherine, married her cousin Job Robbins, which adds another large line of, supposed, Hanks descendants.  Meanwhile the descendants of Jacob Robbins included the additional surnames of Gilliam, Loveridge, and Benson.

There are some other Robbins-Hanks connections suggested but not proven.  Micajah Robbins Sr. (another child of Absalom and Mary Robbins) was said to have been married to an Elizabeth Hanks.  However, the one marriage record found for Micajah clearly shows he married an Elizabeth Vickery.  Perhaps he was married again, this time to an Elizabeth Hanks?  His son, Micajah Robbins Jr., was married to an Elizabeth Swink.  Perhaps this name has been confused through the years with Hanks.

A daughter of Absalom and Jemima (Hanks) Robbins, Mary, has been suggested as marrying a Jacob Hanks, son of William and Elizabeth (Knatzear) Hanks, grandson of William and Margaret (Wilson) Hanks.  Jacob Hanks would have been a first cousin once removed to Abraham Lincoln.  This connection has also not been proven.

One silly suggestion that Nathaniel Robbins was married to Nancy Hanks, Abraham Lincoln’s mother, as I’ve seen in some people’s Ancestry’s trees does not warrant discussion.

The interest, and excitement, in a possible relationship to a famous person can sometime lead us astray and away from the serious research needed to prove or disprove such a family story.  Perhaps today, with a combination of paper research and genetic research with DNA we can finally sort out all these possible and fascinating relationships.

Greenberry and Sarah Robbins: A Reconstructed Life

Some of our family lived in a time and a place for which records are scarce.  This post discusses a couple who died young, left descendants but few records.  What can we learn about Greenberry and Sarah Robbins?

Greenberry S. Robbins, sometimes called just “Berry,” (and the only Greenberry I’ve ever found in the Robbins family) was born about 1824 in Decatur County, Indiana, the son of George and Nancy (Pruitt) Robbins.  (In some family records he’s listed incorrectly as the son of George’s father Absalom Robbins, but he seems much too young for that family group).  He was married to Sarah Burgin in Decatur County in 1844 by James Blankenship, a Baptist minister.

Greenberry Robbins’ land in Decatur County, Indiana

In 1848 Greenberry was awarded a federal land patent for 40 acres purchased as a cash sale in Decatur County, located just east of the Pinhook neighborhood, on the current W. County Road 800 S.  But land patents were usually issued long after families had begun living on the property and by that date the family was already in Missouri.

We know that the family was in Schuyler County, Missouri, by 1846, because their daughter Louisa was born there that year.  And in the 1850 Federal census Greenberry, Sarah, and their three children Nancy Catherine, Louisa, and George Henry Robbins, appear in that county.  One of Greenberry’s brothers, Levi Robbins, lived in Illinois at this time, but all the rest of his siblings, along with his parents, were back in Indiana.  Why the move to Missouri?  It does appear that Sarah’s family were in Schuyler County, as a Burgins appear in the census and a probate record as mentioned later.  There were also Robbins cousins over the border in Davis County, Iowa, to the north. It could have been a combination of Sarah’s family being there and close relatives nearby in Iowa.

Greenberry did not enjoy a long life.  He died about September of 1852 at the age of 28 in Schuyler County.  Life could be short then, with the most minor medical problems leading to death.  We know that Greenberry at that time because in October of 1852 John Burgin (possibly Sarah’s brother) was appointed administrator of the estate, with securities being John Kerr, Samuel Bradley, George Bradley, James Burgin, and Isaac Burgin.

In 1857 a land patent was issued to Greenberry Robbins for 40 acres of land, another cash sale, in Schuyler County.  Remember that it took some years for the person to improve the land and make the payment(s), so it’s not unusual that the land patent was issued in Greenberry’s name even though he was now five years dead.  Greenberry had also purchased 40 acres from neighbor John Kerr in the spring of 1852.  The fact that the land was purchased just months before his death would seem to indicate that Greenberry became ill quickly or suffered an accident that caused his death.  The appointment of an administrator for his estate came with the statement that Greenberry “died intestate as it is said having at the time of his death property in this State which may be lost or destroyed or diminished in value if speedy care be not taken of the same…”

Greenberry Robbins probate excerpt

Sadly, Sarah doesn’t seem to have had a long life either.  She appears with her children in the 1860 census.  After the 1850 census but before Greenberry’s death, one last child, John Milton Robbins, was born.  The obituaries for the two sons, George and John, both recount that their father died when they were very young and their mother died only a few years later.  The dates they provided indicated she was dead by 1860 but that’s disputed by her appearance in the census.

Another interesting record is available.  In 1856 Sarah Robbins was married to Noah Pilcher in Schuyler County.  It must be our Sarah, but what happened to the marriage?  By 1860 she’s back to being listed as Sarah Robbins in the census.

The agricultural schedule of the 1860 census provides a little bit of information about the Robbins farm in Missouri.  Sarah was listed as head of household, with 20 acres of improved land, 60 unimproved; the cash value of the farm was $300.  They had two horses, two “milch” cows, eight sheep, eight swine, and their livestock was valued at $150.  The farm had produced 200 bushels of Indian corn, 23 pounds of wool, 80 pounds of butter, and 13 gallons of molasses.

Where were Greenberry and Sarah buried?  It is not known.  Most of the family were later buried in the Bethel or Queen City cemeteries.  Since the couple died so young, its possible they were buried, unmarked, in what was called the Burgin-Vittetoe cemetery, a rural county cemetery with Sarah’s relatives, but that’s just one possibility.

Finally, we do not know who raised the children of Greenberry and Sarah Robbins.  However, I think Greenberry and Sarah would be pleased to know that Nancy, Louisa, George, and John, grew up, married, and have many descendants to this day.

(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-George Robbins-Greenberry Robbins)

A Very Rare Artifact

Coverlid – noun, archaic or dialect variant of coverlet

(Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition.
 Copyright © 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

“This coverlid was wove on a hand loom in Virginia before 1836 for the hope chest of Miss Melvina Meyers who later became Mrs William Robbins,was brought to Oregon by Mrs Robbins in 1852, later became the property of Mrs Nancy A Ball.  It is now owned by Mrs. A McConnell.”


Melvina (Myers) Robbins coverlet

This is a hand-written note made by Ada (Ball) McConnell (the subject of last weeks’ post), that accompanied the “coverlid” or coverlet down to the present day.  The original note, along with half of the coverlet, is now in the custody of the Tualatin Historical Society.  The other half of the coverlet is in the possession of cousin Barbara Stinger, for whom I thank for this story and the photos of the textile.

Let’s back up a bit.  Melvina Myers was a daughter of George and Margaret (Moore) Myers and born in Kentucky in 1818.  The Myers family moved to Decatur County, Indiana, where Melvina met and married William Franklin Robbins in 1836.  Her sister Catherine was married to William’s cousin Jacob F. Robbins.

The note accompanying the coverlet states it was “wove” in Virginia.  Melvina didn’t live in Virginia, so it could be that the writer did not know exactly where she was when she received the coverlet.  It’s probably more likely it was created in Kentucky or Indiana.  The hope chest, also called a dowry chest, was traditionally used by young unmarried women to collect items such as clothes and household linen in anticipation of married life.

Melvina (Myers) Robbins

After her marriage in 1836, Melvina and William had seven children born in Indiana, one born in Missouri when they wintered over before leaving for Oregon, and one after their arrival in Oregon (my great-mother).  After William’s death by accidental shooting in 1856, Melvina married again, to Robert Lavery, had one more child, and then after her death seems to have returned to the Robbins fold, being buried in the family’s cemetery under the name Melvina M. Robbins.

Cousin Barbara adds that the coverlet measures 35 inches wide by 75-1/2 inches long, and that there were two pieces sewed together.  What a treasure!

[This post was updated to reflect that the coverlet is in the possession of the Tualatin Historical Society, not the Oregon Historical Society.]

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins-William Franklin Robbins married Melvina Myers)