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)

Which William Was It?

You don’t have to research the Robbins family very long before you notice some first-names were used over and over again.  Even familiarity with the outline of the family doesn’t prevent confusion in trying to determine if it one Jacob Robbins or another which appears in a record.

William “Spectacle Billy” Robbins

Some of the names are common ones:  Jacob, William, Absalom, John, and Nathaniel, Nancy, Mary (or Polly), Elizabeth and Catherine.  Some names are less common, but still got repeated frequently:  Marmaduke, Micajah, Harrison, Norval, Bethiah, Theodoshia, and Mahala.

Early family historian William F. Robbins wrote about the naming patterns in the family and how nicknames were given to tell people apart from one another:


“Owing to the custom of giving one of the sons the name of the father, there came to be much confusion of names and many nicknames were used to distinguish them.  William the elder was “Old Billy,” and his son was known as “Spectacle Billy.”  Then there was “Rock Creek Billy,” Uncle Nat’s William, and Wilcord.  Of the Johns there were “Old Johnnie,” “Rockcreek Bill’s John,”   “Big Toe Jake’s John,” “John Henry,” “George’s Johnnie,” “Absolem’s John,” and Charity’s John Alex Purvis.  Of Jakes there were “Big Toe Jake,” “Oregon Jake,” “Old Billy’s Jacob,” “Buddy Jake,” and “William Anderson’s Jake.”  These names were not given in derision but to designate the person meant.  This confusion of names still persists as witness:  Will H., Will S., Will M., George William, Will F., William Riley, and William. Three men were known as Hence.  Dry Jake and “Aunt” Jim came from Scott County about 1849, and unless they are sons of the Uncle Jim referred to, there is no place in the family circle to which they can be assigned.  The name Hence is no doubt a corruption of Henry.  Dry Jake is said to have been so named because of want of moisture in his system, he neither spit nor sweat.  Aunt Jim earned his title by marrying a woman many years his senior who had already acquired the title of “Aunt.”

Some of these in the history we can clearly identify, others not so much.  For today, let’s take a look at some of the William Robbins’s.  “Old Billy” was William Robbins (1761-1834) while his son William (sometimes listed with a middle initial “B”) was “Spectacle Billy” (1797-1868), who apparently wore spectacles.  “Rock Creek Billy” (1801-1864) was the son of Jacob Robbins II, thus a nephew to “Old Billy” and a first cousin of “Spectacle Billy.”  “Uncle Nat’s William” was William Franklin Robbins (1816-1856) who moved to Oregon in 1852.  “Wilcord” has not been identified, at least by me (perhaps a reader of this blog knows who that is?).

We know of at least four “William Riley” Robbins’s and possibly more:  one was the son of “Rock Creek Billy” and his wife Elizabeth (Ferguson), one was the son of Jacob F. and Catherine (Myers) Robbins, another was the son of William Lewis and Mary Ann (Ferguson) Robbins, and John and Mary (Deweese) Robbins of neighboring Jennings County also had a William Riley Robbins.

Job Robbins and wife were the father of a William R. Robbins, as was John and Matilda (Barnes) Robbins, John Henry and Catherine (Ferguson) Robbins, and Jacob and Nancy Robbins of Scott County.  What do you bet each were really William Riley Robbins?

All of these William Robbins were related.  Today we struggle to sort them out and wonder if they knew each other.  Of course they did.  They had close relationships: father and son, uncle and nephew, first cousins, and second cousins, who all lived closely together.  The various nicknames helped identify them.

As I compile these family stories I’ll try to indicate which William or Jacob or Absalom I’m talking about!

The Early Generations – A Tentative Outline

The Early Generations – A Tentative Outline

There are still mysteries in the early generations of the Robbins family.  Owing to the sameness of names in the family as well as the paucity of records, we can only come up with a tentative outline of the family of Jacob and Mary Robbins.  Some names, dates, and relationships are well established, others are the result of conjecture.  We have more resources now than family historians had before the 1990s.  I started genealogical research in the late 1970s using a typewriter and the U.S. postal service.

Today we have personal computers and the Internet, giving us quick access to records and the ease to search many records quickly and efficiently.  History problems that I didn’t think would ever be solved have been cleared up but other still remain.
This outline is subject to change with further research.  Some controversies, such as the question of whether Bethiah Vickery was married to two separate men named William Robbins, with children from each marriage, is not addressed in this outline.  Future blog posts may cover those issues.  Corrections and additional information is welcomed, but it must be accompanied by documentation.

First Generation

Jacob Robbins (dates unknown) married Mary [–?–]

Second Generation: Children of Jacob and Mary Robbins

William Robbins (1761-1834) – married Bethiah Vickrey
Absalom Robbins (1765-1859) – married Mary Ogle
Jacob Robbins Jr. (1767-?) – married Rachel Robbins, Nancy Hanks, and possibly others
James Robbins (c1771-?) – married Hannah Jarrett
Mary Robbins (c1774-1844) – married Valentine Chastain*
Martha “Massey” Robbins (1779-1863) – married Rene Chastain*
Margaret Robbins (c1784-?) – married Thomas Robbins Sr.

*The Chastain family is well researched by a national family association.  I have not followed their research for some years and the children of Mary and Martha are not listed here.

Third Generation: Child of each sibling

Children of William Robbins

Abel Robbins (1779-1865) married Mary Watkins
Charity Robbins (1781-?) married Buell Wooden
Benjamin Robbins (1783-?)
Marmaduke Robbins (1786-1838) married Elizabeth Parsley
Jacob Robbins (1786-1873) married Polly Parsley
Elizabeth Robbins (1788-1872) married Jesse Watkins
Mary (“Polly”) Robbins (1791-1851) married John Kirkpatrick
Nathaniel Robbins (1793-1863) married Nancy Robbins
John Robbins 1795-1881) married Margaret Warble and Ruth Anderson
William Robbins (1797-1868) married Eleanor Anderson
Charlotte Robbins (1799-1874) married Abraham Anderson
Theodoshia (“Dosha”) Robbins (1804-1881) married John Herren

Children of Absalom Robbins

Micajah Robbins Sr. (1788-1865) married Elizabeth Vickery
Elizabeth Robbins (1790-c1886) married Philip Stark
George Robbins (1792-1887) married Nancy Pruitt
Nancy Robbins (1797-1880) married Nathaniel Robbins
John Robbins (c1799-1857) married Edith Sanders
Mahala Robbins (1802-1866) married David May
Absalom Robbins Jr. (1810-?) married Jemima Hanks
Charity Robbins (c1811-1892) married James Hanks and John Purvis

Children of Jacob Robbins Jr.

John Henry (“Hance”) Robbins (c1797-?) married Catherine Ferguson
William Robbins (1801-1864) married Mary Moffett and Elizabeth (Ferguson) Robbins
Aaron Robbins
Jacob Robbins III (1809-1896)

Children of James Robbins:

Ransom Robbins (1793-1868?) married Rebecca Green, Polly Wooden, Elizabeth Guin
Jacob Robbins (1796-1874) married Mary (“Polly”) Robbins
Mary (“Polly”) Robbins (1798-1886) married James Green
John Robbins (1805-1888) married Mary Margaret Deweese
Matilda Robbins (1807-1888) married Thomas Robbins
James Robbins (1811-1885) married Mary (“Polly”) Burton
Andrew Martin Robbins (1814-1882) married Mary (“Polly”) Hale

Children of Margaret (Robbins) Robbins

Thomas Robbins Jr. (c1805-1858) married Matilda Robbins
William R. Robbins (c1807-1880) married Polly Turner and Hannah C. Chastain
Mary (“Polly”) Robbins (?-?)
(This last family is probably the least well documented family line at this time).

A Tale of Two Reunions



The red brick Liberty Church stood tall on the flat farmland near Greensburg, Indiana.  On a hot Sunday in June, 1922, one thousand people gathered to celebrate the first Robbins family reunion in the county, a special event, it being the centennial of the family being in Decatur County.  In 1822 the first Robbins family members settled in Decatur County.  James Gilman Robbins, the oldest in attendance at the reunion, celebrating his 94th birthday the day before, was born a few years after the first settlers arrived.

Among the reunion attendees was 88-year-old Harvey Robbins, who had left Decatur County as a 17-year-old in 1851, on the start of a year-long trek to Oregon.  This was his first visit back to his birthplace to visit family.  Now an elderly white-bearded man supported by a cane, Harvey was still an adventurer at heart and a noted raconteur, telling stories of crossing the plains, fighting Indians, and mining and freighting in the inland Northwest.

An elderly family historian, William Franklin Robbins, a double-cousin of Harvey, through his father’s (Robbins) and mother’s (Spilman) family lines, and not that different in appearance though fifteen years younger, read out a long history he had written of the Robbins family and their presence in Indiana.  He pointed out some of the surviving grandchildren of the original settlers, including the visiting Harvey.  He also told a humorous story to demonstrate the large number of family members in the county:

“A man traveling from Greensburg to Vernon on horseback about this time found a Robbins family at every house along the way.  So when he arrived at a blacksmith shop at the foot of the hill beyond Gaynorsville he addressed the smith as Mr. Robbins.  The owner of the shop, surprised, said, “You are mistaken, my name is Lucky.”  And the traveler rejoined with “You surely are Lucky not be a Robbins.”  It is said that the Mr. Lucky had married a Robbins.”


Seven weeks later, and 1900 miles west, on another hot Sunday, there was a Robbins reunion of the western branch of the family.  A smaller but no less enthusiastic group gathered in the western woods at Molalla, Oregon. The elderly Harvey, possibly still in Indiana, or perhaps recovering from his long journey, was unable to attend.

His niece Ipha Robbins, another early family historian, wrote to a cousin who was unable to attend about the Oregon reunion, as well the sharing of the centennial story from Indiana:  “We had some pages of the Robbins history of a hundred years from Indiana with the group present at their anniversary in June last…They had 1000 present and 62 families of us represented.  It is a wonderful picture and a revelation to me.  I thought we were some bunch of the Jacob R. strain but Indiana far outnumbers us!”  There was a realization that there were still many family members outside Oregon, but even Ipha had no idea of the true extent of the family in 1922.

Time and Distance

These were two of many reunions, held across the nation and over decades to gather family together for remembrance and re-acquaintance.  Some were mentioned in newspaper articles and family reminiscences, but the reunions of 1922 were special, in memorializing the family’s residence in one place for a century.

In those hundred years a lot had happened to the Robbins family.  People were born, married, had children, and passed from the scene.  Successful farms and businesses were established in Decatur and surrounding counties, family members served in America’s wars and took part in political and religious life.  And, many family members left “home” and set out for parts near and far.  Some moved to other points in Indiana, some returned to Kentucky, where the family had been before Indiana, while others went west to Illinois, and Missouri, and Iowa.  Others joined the pre-Civil War rush to Kansas, and some made the long trek to the Pacific Northwest and California.  And some traveled further still, to foreign countries.

They all had their stories and this blog will share as many as possible.  Most will focus on those hundred years, 1822 to 1922, but some will stray earlier and some later, and they will cover great distances.  Stay tuned and keep reading!