An Ancestral Mother for Mother’s Day

The earliest Robbins “mother” for which I have a photograph is my great-great-great-grandmother Nancy Robbins.  Like a lot of photography subjects at the time she doesn’t look particularly happy, but then she had a hard life, yet a long one.  She suffered numerous tragedies but persevered and is the ancestor of hundreds of people.

Nancy Robbins (1793-1880)

Nancy Robbins was born in 1793 to Absalom and Mary (Ogle) Robbins.  She was raised in Virginia and Kentucky and married her first cousin Nathaniel Robbins in 1813, thereby keeping her maiden surname.

Nancy’s parents, Absalom and Mary Robbins, give permission for her to marry; brothers George and Micajah are witnesses.

The first tragedy Nancy suffered was the loss of the couple’s first child, Harriet, in 1815.  After the birth of their second child, Nancy and Nathaniel left Kentucky for Bond Co., Illinois, where they lived briefly.  While there, their third child, Absalom, died in 1819 from the effects of a burn.  Moving back east to Decatur County, Indiana, the couple had ten more children, all of whom lived to adulthood.

With Oregon fever at a height, Nathaniel and Nancy made the difficult choice to cross the continent to Oregon.  Did Nancy have a voice in the decision? or did Nathaniel just announce they were leaving?  The family set out in the fall of 1851 to winter over in Missouri, before setting out on the Oregon Trail in the spring of 1852.

They left Missouri in mid-April, and they hadn’t traveled far, in what is today southern Nebraska, when the emigrants were struck with cholera.  A fast-moving disease, those stricken could be gone before they knew it.  That’s what happened with three of Nancy’s children.  Two daughters, Amanda Minerva and Bethiah Emmeline, died on May 31st, having been stricken early in the day, daughter Mahala followed the next day.   Two days after that, son-in-law Absalom Barnes, who had left his own family back in Indiana, and was married to Bethiah Emmeline, followed his wife into the grave.  Nancy and Nathaniel would now raise their orphaned Barnes grandsons.  The travelers had to keep moving and the three daughters were buried in one grave, Absalom was buried further along the trail, and the Robbins family moved on.

Family stories recount that many of the emigrants were ill, including Nathaniel, for whom the wagon train would stop until he felt better, but there is never any mention of Nancy Robbins being ill.  You can imagine her cooking, cleaning, nursing, and mourning, out in the elements month after month, along a hot and dusty or wet and muddy road.

When the wagon train arrived in eastern Oregon, Nancy lost her granddaughter Sarah Jane Robbins, aged about five or six.  And after the family arrived in Oregon City, their destination, grandson Gilman Robbins, not yet eleven years old, died and was buried in a location now unknown.

The family settled in the western part of Clackamas County and filed their donation land claims.  The couple and their children began building their lives in their new home and Nancy was the matriarch of an expanding family.  We don’t know a lot about Nancy’s personal life beyond her role as a mother.  We do know from the census that she could not read or write, not uncommon for an upbringing on the Kentucky frontier.  We also know that she made wine!  She won second prize for her current wine at the 1863 Oregon State Fair in Salem.

Tragedy continued to stalk the family however.  Oldest son William Franklin Robbins was out bear hunting in 1856, when he reached down for his rifle and it went off, killing him instantly.  Youngest daughter Angeline, who was said to be in poor health, died in 1862, at age twenty.  Then, in December of 1863, Nathaniel Robbins, Nancy’s husband of half a century, drowned in the rain-swollen Tualatin River.  Nancy endured those events, and there was more to come.

In 1872, the youngest surviving daughter, Nancy, named for her mother, died shortly after her last child was delivered.  The following year, bachelor son John Dow Robbins, was found murdered on his land claim.  His murderer was never found.  In 1877, son-in-law William Sharp died after falling from his barn’s roof.

Nancy, the tough old pioneer that she was, finally succumbed at the age of 87, to what the 1880 Mortality Schedule seems to describe as “acute pleurisy.”  By my count, she was survived by four children (five children-in-law) and 41 grandchildren.  I did not try to count her great-grandchildren.  One of her last surviving grandchildren was Nancy Lucinda Barstow, named for her mother and grandmother, who was 12-years-old when her grandmother died and who, herself, lived until 1961.  These two Nancy’s lives covered 168 years of American history, from the presidencies of George Washington to John F. Kennedy.  What would Nancy senior have thought of that?

(Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-Nancy (Robbins) Robbins)

John V. Travis: (Briefly) A Civil War Soldier

I don’t order Civil War pension records very often, as they are rather expensive.  Once in a while though I splurge on a case file in hope that the record will provide new information, if not in specific genealogical data such as names and dates, but in social and economic history of the family involved.  The most recent pension record I’ve received is that of John V. Travis.  His mother, Docia (Robbins) Travis, applied for a pension after his brief service in the Union army.  This pension file doesn’t include any new genealogical bombshells but does have some interesting facts not otherwise passed down in a family’s records.  Here is a summary of the information contained, with some additions from other sources.

John V. Travis was the son of Absalom Travis and Docia F. Robbins, and Docia was a daughter of Marmaduke and Elizabeth (Parsley) Robbins.  Docia was born in 1821 and married Absalom Travis in 1839 in Decatur County, Indiana.  John Travis was the couple’s third child, born about 1845 though unfortunately the pension file did not provide an exact birthdate.  Absalom Travis died 12 October 1853, leaving Docia a widow caring for six children ranging in age from 1 to 13.

According to the pension file, John enrolled as a private in company D of the 123rd Regiment of Indiana Infantry Volunteers, on Sunday, December 20th, 1863, to serve for three years or the duration of the war.  It was probably not a happy day for his mother and it would only get worse quickly.  John became ill and died on 23 January 1864, after only one month of military service.  He was approximately 19 years of age.

There is an affidavit by his doctors E. B. Swain and M. G. Falconbury, in which they,

“…say that they attended on John V Travis late a Private in Co. “D” of the 123rd Regt Ind Vols in or during his last illness and that Said John V Travis died on the 23rd day of January 1864 near Greensburgh Indiana by reason of a disease called Cerebro Spinal Meningitis and that said disease was contracted or originated three days prior to the date of his death.”

John’s commanding officer, Capt. Angus McCoy also reported that John

“…was attended in his last illness by Civil Surgeons and Physicians And that there was no Regimental Surgeon yet appointed or on duty with Said Regiment at the time of the last illness and death of John V. Travis.”

On August 8, 1865, Docia filed a “Declaration for Mother’s Army Pension.”  In that document she appoints Edwin White as her attorney, presents two witnesses to her signing the declaration with her mark “x”, Green B. Roszell and Calvin H. Paramore (the latter being married to her cousin Mary Ellen Robbins).  They also state “…that said Docia F. Travis is poor, and has no income save what is contributed by friends, or earned by her own labor; and they believe her unable to earn her subsistence, by reason of her age and also having a child (daughter) to support.”  The daughter is not named but was likely Nancy Ann Travis, then in her late teens.  This statement also seems to support the idea that her youngest child, William Travis, who appeared in the 1860 census as a 7-year-old, was deceased.

Another affidavit was filed by her nephews George Harvey and William Riley Robbins, sons of her brother Jacob.  They provided a little more information about her situation:

…that Said John V Travis did in his lifetime for a period of three or four years contributed money and other necessary articles Such as provisions to the regular support of his mother Docia F. Travis, and that Said John V Travis did not give her money and other articles as presents but that he worked for the Said G H Robbins at different times and that he the Said G H Robbins paid a part of his wages by the request of Said John V Travis to Said Docia F Travis, the same being for her regular support and that Said Docia Travis was wholly dependant upon her Said Son (John V Travis) for Support.  And that Absalom Travis the husband of Docia Travis died about the year 1855.  That he the Said Absalom Travis left to his Said widow Docia F Travis property, Real & Personal, worth the Sum of two hundred & fifty Dollars, all of which she has used to support herself and family and that she has no property of any value at this time with the exception of a cow and a little household furniture all not worth more than one hundred Dollars…

Docia Travis was approved for a pension, to receive $8 per month, commencing on 23 January 1864, the date of John’s death.  Presumably she received retroactive payments from the date of death to the approval of the pension.

By about the same time she was being approved for the pension, Docia moved to Clay County, Illinois.  She continued to collect her eight dollars each month until in 1872 she remarried, to William Nichelson.  William seems to have died sometime in the late 1880’s and Docia re-applied for a pension based on John’s service, as she was once again without support.  Her “Declaration for Dependent Mother’s Pension” was filed on 8 August 1890 with the support of her new attorney Thomas W. Kepley.  As support several of her friends filed an affidavit stating “…that she has no property other than common necessary wearing apparel and bedding.  That all the means of support she has is from her own labor which consists of doing a little light house work for others and nursing the sick which occupations she is not now able to perform only to a limited extent on account of Old age and failing health. That her annual income from all sources is not more than about Ten Dollars.”

She must have been relieved to once again be awarded a pension, this time receiving the increased amount of $12 per month, commencing in September of 1890.

As frequently happened with these pensions, the recipient was asked to provide additional or clarifying information, sometimes as the result of a routine audit.  In Docia’s case apparently there was some concern about the spelling of her second husband’s name, causing her to file an affidavit at the local courthouse that “…states as follows that she has no education whatsoever and cannot tell what is the Correct way of spelling her late husbands name.  She does not know whether it is spelled Nichelson or Nicholson, that the difference in spelling that name in her papers has been made by different officers who have done business for her. That she believes that the correct way is as it is spelled in her Original papers, Nichelson.”

We do not know when Docia died.  Family records suggest around 1903.  However a notation in the pension file indicates she was last paid in October of 1900 and had been “dropped because of failure to claim 3 yrs 3 mos.”  Was she deceased by this time? or too infirm to collect her pension?  The record is not clear.

There were no spectacular new finds in this pension file, but we did learn something about John Travis’ death, the physicians that attended him, the economic status of his widowed mother, and her education level.  That information is not usually available in any other genealogical record available to us from this time period.  I’ll write up summaries of other pension records and include the information in future posts.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Marmaduke Robbins-Docia (Robbins) Travis-John V. Travis)