Jacob Robbins, and his wife Mary, are important to our family history as they are the progenitors of all of the Robbins’s that eventually settled in Decatur County, Indiana.
I have not spent a lot of time in recent years researching the Robbins family before their arrival in Virginia and Kentucky from North Carolina in the 1780s, 90s, and early 1800s. Early North Carolina records are fairly sparse, at least as far as our Robbins family goes and drawing conclusions can be difficult.
While DNA evidence shows our connection to Daniel Robins of New Jersey, the intervening generations are unclear. Rather than going out on a limb without the supporting documentation to even build a circumstantial case for our descent from Daniel, I have long since turned my attentions to what I could document. And our earliest “documented” ancestors are Jacob and Mary Robbins. This post will examine what we know about the couple and summarize existing records (or at least those found by me to date).
We know from these records that Jacob’s wife was named Mary. We do not know for certain her surname. The most frequently found surname listed in online family trees for Mary is “Wells” or “Welles.” I have found no documentation confirming that but perhaps other family researchers have (and, sorry, dozens of online family trees simply listing “Welles” as her maiden name do not count). Their oldest child, William, was born, by all accounts, in 1761 in what is now Randolph Co., North Carolina (Randolph County wasn’t established until 1779 and at this time it was still part of Rowan). Assuming that Jacob and Mary married soon before and in North Carolina, no marriage record has been found for the couple.
The records that I have identified for Jacob and Mary fall within a 17-year range: 1787 to 1804. This is a brief period for which there are a limited number of Jacob Robbins who could be confused with this ancestor. After 1804 it becomes more difficult to differentiate between Jacobs, as younger ones have come of legal age and may start to be found in official records. We’re lucky if a record lists the Jacobs as Sr. and Jr., which helps us differentiate between them.
If my outline of the early family line is correct, we have our progenitor Jacob, we have his son Jacob II (born about 1767, reaching the age of 21 in 1788, and married in 1790), and we have Jacob II’s son Jacob (born 1809). The only other Jacob during this time period was a grandson Jacob (1786-1873) son of William, who came of legal age in 1807. Legal age was 21 years for males in early Virginia and Kentucky. Therefore, only father and son could be confused during this time period.
Here’s an outline of the Jacobs, showing that only Jacob II could possibly be confused with our progenitor prior to 1807.
The records we have consist of land records, marriage bonds, and tax lists. This is a chronological order of the documents I have found so far, with commentary:
16 July 1787 Botetourt Co., VA
Jacob Robbins received a land grant for 108 acres adjoining lands of Nicholas Allee on the waters of Little River Nicholas Allee was the father of Keziah who married Daniel Robbins, a son of Nathaniel and Ann Robbins, with Nathaniel being a brother of Jacob. Botetourt, Montgomery, and Franklin counties are all located in southwestern Virginia. (see map below for geographic orientation)
15 Nov. 1790 Franklin Co., VA
Jacob and Mary Robbins gave consent for son Jacob Robbins to marry Rachel Robbins, daughter of Nathaniel and Ann Robbins. Jacob Robbins II and Rachel Robbins were first cousins.
1790 Montgomery Co., VA
Jacob Robbins is listed as owner of taxable property “in the district of John Robinson, Commissioner, formerly the upper district of Botetourt County and now the lower of Montgomery County.”
24 Sept. 1791 Franklin Co., VA
Jacob and Mary Robbins gave permission for their daughter Mary Robbins to marry Valentine Chastain; witnessed by William and Absalom Robbins. While not stated in the marriage bond, witnesses William and Absalom Robbins, both over the age of 21, are brothers of Mary.
25 May 1795 Montgomery Co., VA
Jacob Robbins received a land grant for 500 acres on Little River adjoining a survey made for Hercules Ogle Hercules Ogle was the father of Mary Ogle, wife of Absalom Robbins, Jacob’s second oldest son.
17 Sept. 1795 Franklin Co., VA
Jacob and Mary Robbins gave consent for daughter “Masey” Robbins to marry Rene Chastain; witnessed by William Robbins. “Masey” or “Massey”) was a nickname for Martha Robbins. Again, while not stated directly in the marriage bond, witness William Robbins was a brother of Masey. Valentine and Rene Chastain were brothers.
9 March 1797 Montgomery Co., VA
Jacob Robbins, as assignee of Zachariah Stanley, received a land grant for 225 acres adjoining his own land “on top of the mountain” including some of the waters of Piney Branch Waters of Little River and some of the waters of Pig River. This is the final land record found for Jacob Robbins. Unfortunately no sales of land by Jacob Robbins in Franklin or Montgomery counties have been found so far.
16 June 1800 Shelby Co., KY
Jacob Robbins is listed in the county tax list, with white male over 21 (Jacob), and one horse/mare. Jacob Robbins is not found in tax lists for Shelby County, Kentucky, prior to 1800, giving us a rough estimate of 1799 for his emigration to Kentucky. (See map below for geographic orientation)
7 May 1801 Shelby Co., KY
Jacob Robbins is listed in the county tax list, with one white male over 21 (Jacob), and two horses/mares.
30 March 1802 Shelby Co., KY
Jacob Robbins is listed in the county tax list, with one white male over 21 (Jacob), and three horses/mares.
23 April 1803 Shelby Co., KY
Jacob Robbins is listed in the county tax list, with one white male over 21 (Jacob), and one horse/mare.
9 May 1804 Shelby Co., KY
Jacob Robbins is listed in the county tax list, with one white male over 21 (Jacob), and one horse/mare.
25 October 1804 Shelby Co., KY
Jacob and Mary Robbins gave consent for daughter Margaret Robbins to marry Thomas Robbins; witnessed by Absalom and James Robbins. This is the final record for which we are sure it is the eldest Jacob Robbins that is being mentioned.
The marriage records are very useful in establishing relationships that might otherwise have to be guessed. They tell us specifically that Jacob and Mary were the parents of Jacob II, Mary, Martha, and Margaret. We do not have a marriage record for oldest son William, and the marriage records for sons Absalom and James do not have parental consent attached. It was common in this family for older brothers to be witnesses and/or bondsmen, once of age, so these records provide good circumstantial evidence that William, Absalom, and James are sons of Jacob and Mary Robbins.
I have not identified any earlier nor any later records specifically for this Jacob Robbins, though it’s possible one of the Jacobs in later records is this individual. I believe it is likely that our earliest Jacob died in Kentucky, sometime not long after 1804. There is no evidence he ever left Kentucky for Indiana with his children and grandchildren, and certainly no evidence he arrived in Decatur County after its establishment in 1822. Unfortunately, because many women were invisible in the records of this time, we can’t say whether his wife Mary survived to move on to Indiana with other family members.
Perhaps others have found traces of Jacob Robbins the eldest?
At the 1922 Robbins reunion, celebrating 100 years of the Robbins family being in Decatur County, Indiana, a man named William Franklin (W. F.) Robbins read a history he wrote about the family. This history was also published in the newspaper along with the story about the reunion.
When I first started researching my family history in the late 1970s, my parents and I visited Greensburg, Indiana, where we met up with Melvin and Rosalie Robbins. Rosalie had a done a lot of family history and she gave me my first copy of W.F. Robbins’s history. I say, first copy, because over the following years, each time I made contact with another Robbins family researcher, they usually sent me, uninvited, another copy of the W.F. Robbins history, until I had quite a collection!
The typed copies all mentioned that they were transcribed from the history as printed in the Greensburg newspaper, but no one seemed to have a copy of the actual article. It was only in the 1990s, with the assistance of interlibrary loan of microfilm, that I was finally able to find the article in the newspaper and make a fresh transcription.
Now, more recently, I have been given a copy of the physical newspaper that contains the history, by Robbins cousin Sherrill Beck.
In transcribing and reading the history I did notice that W. F. got some things wrong, but in general the story of a large family moving into a county, with some folks staying for decades, with others moving on to new locations, was accurate. Considering that the man was compiling a family history without the Internet and online collections of genealogical material, genealogy libraries, or easy access to near or distant record collections, he wrote a good introduction to our family’s history.
So, who was William Franklin Robbins? He was born in 1850 in Decatur County to Jonathan and Margaret (Spilman) Robbins and was reared near the small community of Westport. Jonathan was the son of George, the third child of Absalom and Mary (Ogle) Robbins. Margaret Spilman was the sister of Sarah Spilman, wife of Jacob Robbins, who emigrated to Oregon in 1852. The close, first-cousin, relationship between W.F. and his cousins in Oregon is reflected in his knowledge of his Pacific Northwest kin and their knowledge of Decatur County happenings.
W.F. Robbins was raised among the many, many Robbins family members that lived in Decatur County at that time. He, himself, was one of nine siblings, while his father Jonathan was one of eleven, and each in turn had large families. He was married to Julia Elizabeth Miller in 1873 and the couple had seven children of their own, five of whom lived to adulthood: Mary Cordelia (Robbins) Morgan, Elizabeth Leota (Robbins) Davis, Emma Flora (Robbins) Williams, Henry Cleveland “Cleve” Robbins, and Courtland Carlysle “Todd” Robbins.
W. F. was educated at Hartsville College, in neighboring Bartholomew County, just about ten miles to the northwest. (The school was in Hartsville from 1850 to 1897, when the college building was destroyed by fire in January of 1898).
He taught school in Sandcreek Township in the 1870s and in 1886 was elected trustee of that township and served for eight years. Besides a lifetime of farming he also worked as an attorney in Westport, and after moving into Greensburg about 1912, he served as the Decatur County prosecuting attorney from 1913 to 1915. Politically he was a Democrat and a supporter of temperance, helping to “banish the saloon.” A wealthy landowner, according to a local newspaper he was referred to as “Squire” Bill. At the time of his death he and his wife Julia resided at 410 North Broadway in Greensburg.
His death made the front pages of the Greensburg newspapers, The Evening Times and the Greensburg Daily News.
Seven months after the 1922 reunion, and just four weeks after he and Julia’s 50th wedding anniversary, William Franklin Robbins was killed when his automobiile was struck at the Mulberry Street crossing in Westport by a B. & O. passenger train detouring over the Big Four tracks. The newspapers reported that the car was carried about 50 feet down the tracks. He had been visiting one of his sons outside Westport before coming into town to conduct some business.
One of the newspapers stated: “It is believed that Mr. Robbins, being familiar with the regular train schedules on the track which he was crossing, did not take the extra precaution to look up and down the track as he approached it.”
The train…..”hit the Overland car which he was driving and smashed it to pieces. The body of Mr. Robbins was carried about fifty feet and he lived but a few minutes. The body was taken to the Hamilton undertaking parlors” [now known as the Bass & Gasper Funeral Home in Westport].
“Because of telephone trouble the word did not reach Mrs. Robbins in this city for more than an hour after the accident. A Times reporter who called carried the first word to her of a report that her husband had been injured. She stated that she had already become uneasy because of having no message from him after his arrival in Westport as she had expected and had made an unsuccessful attempt to use the telephone. It was left to a daughter to convey to her the death message.”
Not only was the news slow to reach his wife, but due to the fact there were multiple William Robbins’ in Decatur County there was confusion about who exactly had been in an accident. The newspaper reported: “When the news first reached Greensburg it was reported it was William H. Robbins of southeast of Greensburg. Later it was reported that it was Will S. Robbins of Horace.”
William Franklin Robbins, the very accomplished early historian of the Robbins family, is buried in the Mapleton Cemetery in rural Decatur County. The gravestone he shares with his wife Julia has their photograph embedded in the center.
[Jacob Robbins-Absalom Robbins-George Robbins-Jonathan Robbins-William Franklin Robbins]
I have created a page on this blog dedicated to the 2022 Bicentennial Robbins Reunion. You can find the link at the top of the page in the center, just below the 1922 reunion photo.
I will post all the information you will need about the reunion, such as times, events, etc. on that page, as changes occur.
We also have a Facebook “event” page set up. If you wish to be connected through Facebook you can always friend me, even temporarily, and I’ll invite you to the reunion event. Once invited, you, in turn, can invite others!
On June 11, 1922, the Robbins family celebrated 100 years in Decatur County, Indiana. So many people showed up that the event made the front page of the local newspaper, The Evening Times. The headline read: “1,000 People at Reunion: Sixty-Two Families Were Represented at the Robbins Annual Assemblage Yesterday.”
The actual 100-year-old newspaper was given to me by Sherrill Beck, a descendant of Jacob Robbins (1809-1896), a leader of the 1852 Robbins wagon train to Oregon. The Robbins family in Oregon kept in contact with their Decatur County relatives for many decades. In fact, Harvey Robbins, brother of Sherrill’s ancestor Levi, reportedly went back to Indiana to attend the this reunion.
The article states:
One thousand persons, it was estimated, participated in the annual reunion of the Robbins families of Decatur county held Sunday at the Liberty Baptist church and at which the one hundredth anniversary of the pioneer Robbins settlement in Decatur county was celebrated………the descendants of the pioneers who attended the reunion yesterday were representatives of practically every field of human endeavor. At the reunion 62 Robbins families were represented.
The newspaper went on to state:
One of the big features of the all day meeting was the dinner which was served at noon in the grove adjoining the church. With the exception of one table at which the elder members of the Robbins descendants were served, the dinner was served in cafeteria style. Two hay wagon loads of food were served during the noon hour. Twenty gallons of ice cream in cones was consumed during the day.
The program which was given in two sessions, morning and afternoon was excellent and included a number of exceptionally fine features. “A History of the Early Robbins Pioneers,” read by Squire William F. Robbins [a descendant of Absalom Robbins], was of special historical value and will be printed The Times tomorrow. Roy C. Kanouse, who claims he is one of the Robbins descendants by marriage [he was the husband of Elizabeth “Nell” Pleak, a descendant of William Robbins], was in charge of the program which was given as follows.
While this was a special, centennial reunion, the Robbins family had been having reunions for years and were so well organized they had officers. The newspaper reported the following were elected:
W. S. Robbins was elected president of the organization of the descendants for the coming year. Other officers elected were: Frank R. Robbins, vice-president; Earl Robbins, secretary; Mrs. J. B. Kitchin, assistant secretary; committee on time and place for holding next reunion, C. F. Wright, Frank Kitchen, and John E. Robbins of Horace; corresponding committee, J. B. Kitchin, W. F. Robbins, John E. Robbins, of Greensburg; tables and eats committee, Robert McCoy, George Robbins, L. W. Gillespie, Londa Wright, Arthur Lemmon, John Gilchrist; committee on entertainment, Roy C. Kanouse, Hal Kitchin, Harry Robbins; finance committee Walter B. Pleak and W. H. Robbins; advising and assisting committee, F. B. Kitchin, Charles M. Woodfill, John E. Robbins of Horace; committee on parking, Ira Rigby, Calvin Thornburg, William Sefton Robbins, Bernard Kitchin, and Greely Robbins.
In the summer of 2022 we may not have 62 separate families represented, nor 1,000 attendees, but those of us who attend can be assured of an unforgettable bicentennial reunion.
I might add that William F. Robbins’ History was a great resource for me getting started in Robbins genealogy. My next post will discuss the life of William and his sad death only six months later.