Dating Old Robbins Photos

It’s not always easy to determine the date when an old family photograph was taken.  We look at the type of photograph it was (daguerreotype, tintype, carte de visite, cabinet cards, etc.), the dress of the subjects, and other clues to provide a date.  Sometimes the only information we have to go on is an individual’s lifespan.  One such photo is that of Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins, Oregon emigrants of 1852.  While Nancy lived until 1880, we know that Nathaniel Robbins died in December of 1863 so the only photograph we have of them is before that date.

Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins (by or before 1863)

Most of the Robbins family did not avoid photographers’ studios and the new technology that allowed a person’s likeness to be captured for posterity was thankfully taken advantage of by our ancestors.  Unless we know otherwise (and occasionally we will hear of a family member who refused to have their photo taken) I firmly believe that the majority of our family that lived after about 1860 had their photograph taken, whether we still have those photos today or whether we recognize those photos that lay unidentified in our photograph collections.

I received the photograph below from the late Patrick Masterson of Port Orford, Oregon.  Patrick was a descendant of Jacob and Sarah Robbins, emigrants of 1852, and a local historian with long-time connections to his small Oregon coast community.  Patrick claimed that this photograph was of Jacob Robbins’ father, another Jacob Robbins.  This Jacob would have been the brother of William Robbins, the Revolutionary War veteran, Absalom Robbins, who died at an advanced age in 1859, James Robbins of Jennings County, Indiana, and other siblings.  Jacob (of the photo) was born in 1767 but we do not know when he died.  He appeared as an 83-year-old in the 1850 Decatur County, Indiana, census.  Due to the advanced age of the subject, it could very well be that this photo truly is of Jacob Robbins in his old age.  Or is it of someone else in the family?

said to be Jacob Robbins (1767-after 1850)

Nathaniel and Nancy Robbins’ daughter Nancy, was married to Joseph Barstow in 1856 and this appears to be their wedding photograph.  As their wedding was only one month after Nancy’s eldest brother William Franklin Robbins was tragically killed while out bear hunting, the descendant of Nancy who gave me this photograph believed the sad look on Nancy’s face, during an otherwise happy event, was due to grief at her brother’s recent death.  If so, the photograph dates from 1856.

Joseph and Nancy (Robbins) Barstow (1856)

Another photograph in the Jacob Robbins line is that of Harvey and Levi Robbins, teenage brothers who crossed the plains in 1852, sons of Jacob and Sarah Robbins.  I believe this photo shows the brothers prior to their marriages.  If so, the photograph was taken by or before 1858, when Harvey married his wife Perlina (Levi married the following year).

Levi and Harvey Robbins (c1858)

In some cases, like that of Nathaniel, we know the latest date by which a photograph was taken, while in others we try to calculate, whether from age or dress or other criteria, when the image was created.  It’s not always perfect, but usually we can arrive at a general date for the photo.  These aren’t the only old photographs I have in my collection, just a few examples.  Who do you have in yours?

“Respected by All Who Knew Him:” Nathaniel Spencer Robbins

Nathaniel Spencer Robbins, called “Uncle Nat” in my family (he was my great-grandmothers oldest brother), was born in Decatur County in 1837 and was fifteen-years-old when his family crossed the plains on the Oregon Trail.  His father William Franklin Robbins took a Donation Land Claim approximately where today’s Interstate 5 and Interstate 205 intersect, southeast of Tualatin, and not many miles west of Oregon City.  According to his obituary he lived there his entire life.  My mother remembered as a child and teenager hearing about “Uncle Nat” as though he just lived down the road.  However, by that point he’d been dead for 40-plus years.

Soon after arriving in Oregon in the late, rainy autumn of 1852, most of the family was ill.  Nat’s family was living on the west side of the Willamette River in Linn City.  When his little brother Gilman became sick and died, teenage Nat, one of the few healthy family members, was sent off to Oregon City to find his uncles Dow and Norval to come dig a grave.  Soon, however, Nat was ill along with his uncle Dow and grandfather Nathaniel and his father reported that “Nat was the lowest I ever seen anyone to recover.”  Later his sister Nancy Adeline wrote “…for two weeks he couldn’t speak above a whisper.  Just laid on a bed on the floor.  But at last he got well.”

Nathaniel Spencer Robbins

Some information about Nat’s three wives, such as all of their birth and death dates is not known.  He was first married to Sarah Evans about 1873.  She died in 1880 at approximately thirty years of age.  Together they had three children:  Clara, Hampton (“Hamp”), and Stella.  After Sarah’s death he married Martha Jane Rodgers in 1882.  No additional information is available about her except that she was the mother of Nat’s youngest son William Berry Robbins.  Thirdly, Nat married Anna Marie (Mary) Kunst, who survived him.

The 1870 agricultural schedule of the U.S. census provides a little detail of Nat’s farm in Washington County.  In the year leading up to the census enumeration he had 14 improved acres, 306 acres of woodland, two horses, three milk cows and four other cattle, and eight swine.  He produced 63 bushels of spring wheat, 108 bushels of oats, 83 bushels of barley, 50 pounds of tobacco (not the most common crop in Oregon!), 40 bushels of Irish potatoes, 7 tons of hay, and 200 lbs of butter.  That is a lot of produce for 14 improved acres of land.

N. S. Robbins signature (1892)

According to his obituary Nat Robbins, who passed away in 1895, died of “la grippe” followed by typhoid fever, just short of his 58th birthday.  What is “la grippe?”  That’s another term for influenza.  Medical experts of the 1890s sometimes reported that it was hard to differentiate between the two diseases, and whether one really followed the other. Whatever the real diagnosis, his death saddened his family and the community.  The Portland Oregonian reported Nat “was an upright man and respected by all who knew him.”

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins-William Franklin Robbins-Nathaniel Spencer Robbins)

Law Runs in the Family

There were a number of ties between the Robbins and Anderson families.  Both families lived in Shelby and Henry counties, Kentucky, and both seem to have come to Decatur County, Indiana, at the same time.  There were at least four Robbins-Anderson marriages.  Among the children of William and Bethiah Robbins, their son William married Eleanor Anderson, son John married Ruth Anderson, and daughter Charlotte married Abram Anderson.  Another marriage, an Absalom Robbins to Elizabeth Anderson, likely was a second marriage for Absalom the brother of William, after Absalom’s first wife died.  Other Anderson children married members of the Vest, Pruitt, Parsley, Bowler, and White families, some of whom are buried in the historic Mount Pleasant Cemetery south of Greensburg.

This post will discuss the family of Abram and Charlotte (“Lottie”) (Robbins) Anderson.  The couple were married in 1827 in Decatur County, Indiana, one of the earliest marriages of the Robbins family in that county since the family moved there in the early 1820s.

The couple had four children, possibly more, but only four names have come down to us.  The oldest child, Sarah Elizabeth Anderson, was only three years when she died and was buried in the Mount Pleasant cemetery.  The next child, Susannah Anderson, may have died young or may have lived to marry someone named “Songer” – the family record hint at a marriage, but no documentation exists.  A son, William James Anderson, was born in 1833, married twice, and died possibly around 1859 or 60, at less than 30 years of age.  With his second wife Maria Catherine Myers he had a son John Abram Lastly Anderson who we lose track of after the 1880 census in which the 21-year old is listed as a farm laborer in the household of his mother and step-father.

The youngest child of Abram and Charlotte was Nancy Bethiah Anderson born in 1838.  Her middle name comes from her grandmother Bethiah (Vickrey) Robbins, who was living with the family in 1850.  Nancy Bethiah Anderson’s family is where we find descendants today of Abram and Charlotte.

Charlotte Anderson died in 1874 and two years later, at the age of 71, Abram married Olivia Morgan.  When Abram died in 1891 at the age of 87 he was the very last of his generation of children and children-in-laws of William and Bethiah Robbins.  For years the Andersons had farmed in Decatur County, living south of Greensburg, and both found their final rest in the Mount Pleasant cemetery near so many of their family members, both Andersons and Robbins.

Nancy Bethiah (Anderson) Shane

The youngest daughter, Nancy Bethiah Anderson, was married to Christopher Shane in 1860.  When I first started working on this family’s genealogy, I had about as much information on the couple as I did on the possible marriage of sister Susannah and at first thought this would be one of those families that just sort of fade out of the records. but between, the Washington State Digital Archives, and a descendants’ wonderful website (the photos here are courtesy of Michael Shackleford) it really didn’t take long to discover much more concrete information about the couple and their descendants.  It helped that Chris Shane was prominent: he served as mayor of Greensburg, Indiana.

Chris Shane

Chris Shane, though a native Hoosier, worked for four years as a clerk in the pension bureau in Washington, D.C.  According to a county history he began practicing law in Decatur County in 1865 with William Moore, however in the 1860 census he is already listed as an attorney.  In 1867 Shane was elected mayor of Greensburg, which position he held for six years.  He later served as both city and county attorney.

Before she died at the early age of 39, Nancy (Anderson) Shane had five children: Elizabeth, Charlotte, Charles, Warren, and Martha.  They suddenly disappeared from Decatur County records but with a little searching I discovered that in the early 1890s Chris Shane and his children moved across the country to Tacoma, Washington.  There Chris apparently engaged in the insurance business for a brief period but he died in 1896, only a few years after arriving in the Pacific Northwest.

Of the children, Elizabeth Shane never married but worked as a teacher her whole life.  Charlotte was married to John Shackleford, while her sister Martha was married to John’s brother Lewis Shackleford.  Both Shackleford men were attorneys and later served as judges and assistant U.S. Attorneys and other high offices in Washington State.

Charles Shane worked as a clerk in the Shackleford’s law office and was later listed in the census as an attorney himself, though he seems to have ended up on the opposite side of the law.  According to several newspaper articles Charles embezzled money from the city of Tacoma (he was then municipal court clerk).  What the resolution of his legal troubles was is not known and he disappears from census and other records. Perhaps he’s still on the run? It’s doubtful that his upstanding brothers-in-law, as well as the rest of his family, approved of his behavior.  Finally, brother Warren Shane married, but had no children, and died as a widower in Chicago in 1942.

The Shacklefords, both couples, had children, but only Martha and Lewis’ son John married and has descendants today.  Charlotte and John Shackleford had three daughters, none of whom married, but each of whom had notable careers.  Charlotte was a teacher and Martha earned three degrees, including a Ph.D., and was a professor of biology and chair of the science department at Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts.

Middle daughter Elizabeth Shackleford, however, followed a family tradition and went into the law.  She was the only woman admitted to the Washington State Bar in 1922, worked as an attorney in Tacoma for many years, and was appointed a Pierce County Justice Court judge in 1954, the title changing to District Court Judge, and serving until 1967.  She then continued to practice law until she retired at the age of 85 in 1981!

Judge Elizabeth Shackleford, great-granddaughter of Charlotte (Robbins) Anderson

At the time of her death the Tacoma Morning News Tribune wrote:

In those days [1927], there were only five female lawyers in the area, and clients were scarce.  So she took a job with the federal tax collection agency, which later became the Internal Revenue Service, while struggling to build her practice.  During the 1950s and 1960s, Shackleford was the only female attorney practicing in the area and one of the few to take on black clients.  She is credited with helping an association of black women and a group of black businessmen to establish clubhouses in Tacoma and providing free legal assistance to blacks.  She was active with the local League of Women Voters.  For her efforts, she was honored by black, Indian, and religious groups in a special ceremony in 1981.

[Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Charlotte (Robbins) Anderson and descendants]

Frank Heater: Police Chief

Among our cousins was a highly respected police chief in the eastern Oregon city of The Dalles.  The subject of numerous newspaper articles about his exploits, including that of his marshal’s start stopping a bullet, Frank Heater is a family member we should know and honor.

The Dalles (Oregon) in 1884

Frank Heater was born in 1875 to Lorenzo Peter (“Pete”) and Judith Amanda (Robbins) Heater.  His mother was born shortly after the family arrived in Oregon, and after marrying Pete Heater the couple moved to eastern Oregon, settling in The Dalles along the Columbia River.

As a boy, Frank herded the neighborhood cows to grass, then back home again in the evening.  He earned 50¢ a month from each cow owner.  He worked as a cowpuncher, a sheepherder, and a “buckeroo.”  By 1910, he as operating a saloon with Frank Brown at 106 First in The Dalles.  They had sawdust floors to catch the blood and falling bodies from the fights that broke out.

Chief of Police Frank Heater

On July 1, 1918, Frank Heater joined The Dalles city police force.  The following year, after the city marshal had been killed by bank robbers, Frank assumed the position, usually referred to as “chief of police”, and held it until his retirement in 1946.  He was highly regarded in The Dalles.

One of the more spectacular episodes of The Dalles history that Frank Heater participated in was the Chinese Tong War of 1921.  The fight began when one group of Chinese heard that gunmen from Portland were coming to kidnap the leaders of their tong.

About 11 p.m., October 20, 1921, two railroad policemen stopped to interrogate one of the Chinese lookouts, who mistook the white men for the hired gunmen expected from Portland.

Reinforcements quickly came to the guard’s aid, and the railroad police, now joined by city officers, retreated along 1st street, between Court and Union, under a fusillade of fire.  About this time Heater, who had been routed out of bed, arrived on the scene.

As Heater hurried along Court street toward the railroad tracks, a Chinese with gun in hand ran out of the alley, then ducked back in, firing at Heater as the marshal gave chase, shooting the latter in the chest.  Another Oriental opened fire behind Heater and shot the officer in the left leg.  A third shadowy figure moved and Heater shot him in the hip.

By this time all hell had broken loose and slugs from Lugers, revolvers and shotguns were peppering the fronts of the old McCoy garage, Williams’ second hand store at 206 Court Street and the old Baldwin saloon.  A general alarm had been sounded on the fire bell and a large crowd of heavily armed white men appeared on the scene, but were later dispersed.

Not until cooler heads among the tong men realized the mistake being made did the firing cease.  By that time Heater, a Chinese man and Robert Saunders, then a high school senior, had all been shot and rushed to the local hospital.

It turned out that Frank Heater had been shot twice, once in the leg and once in the chest.  The bullet to the chest was stopped by his marshal’s star.

A bullet did not literally ‘lodge over his heart.’  Fired from a gun at close range the pellet struck the center of his metal star and would have gone through but for the fact its nose mushroomed and the metal of the star crumpled up around it.  The point of the bullet went through the chest wall, just entering the cavity.  Another inch now and this story wouldn’t be written today.

‘I knew I had been shot,’ Heater reminisced recently at police headquarters.  ‘From the way the bullet walloped me I thought it was pretty bad and that I was done for.  I don’t know when I was shot in the leg.  I never felt that at all until later.  There was too much excitement and shooting going on to notice it when it happened.

Heater’s granddaughter, in a biography for the Oregon State Archives, states that the damaged marshal’s star was given to The Dalles Police Department in 1966 by her mother, Charlotte (Heater) Proudfoot.

Another newspaper story, this one from 1933, reported “A bullet wound in his right hand, Fred Jackson, transient, was taken to The Dalles hospital this morning after attempting to flee from Police Chief Frank Heater on a downtown street.  Heater shot Jackson when the latter failed to heed the officers warning to stop, after the itinerant had been discovered in possession of stolen property.”

The following year when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt motored by car (by her own hand) through The Dalles, Chief Heater offered her an escort through the city, which Mrs. Roosevelt refused.

City of The Dalles Police Department (Chief Heater sitting, far right) in an undated newspaper clipping

In an undated news article entitled “Jest-a-Minute” by “K.W.” the author writes:

“And why don’t we tell people oftener how much we think of them, and how much they have meant in our lives?  I think today, I’ll throw a bouquet, in the direction of…

Frank Heater—The best gosh darned chief of police this community ever had, who maintained law and order when everyone else thought The Dalles had to be part of the accent on the WILD West, and who still bears bullet scars to prove that he was afraid of nothing.  Maybe he did always call me “Benny,” which never was my name.  I always felt my family was safe, in the old days, with him on the job.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins/Absalom Robbins-Nathaniel/Nancy Robbins-James Anderson Robbins-Judith Amanda (Robbins) Heater-Frank Heater)

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)

Ada Ball McConnell: Family Historian

One of the early family historians in Oregon branch of the Robbins family, was Ada Ball McConnell.  Ada kept a small notebook where she recorded family data, from the earliest information she knew about the family up births and deaths in the late 1950s.  I am currently the custodian of this family treasure.

Ada Orena Ball was born in 1873 at Fort Simcoe on the Yakima Indian Agency in Washington.  Her parents were Larkin and Nancy Adeline (Robbins) Ball; Nancy being the daughter of William Franklin and Melvina (Myers) Robbins, who brought her as a child from Decatur County, Indiana, to Oregon in 1852.

Ada Ball McConnell (1873-1971)

Ada’s father, Larkin was the sutler or miller at Fort Simcoe for about three years, before returning to Oregon.  Ada was brought up in Oregon, where she met and married her husband, Aaron McConnell.  Ada and Aaron never had children of their own though they help look after their many nieces and nephews.  The couple lived in Butteville on the Willamette River, where they farmed until Aaron’s death in 1942.

Ada lived a very long life, passing away in 1971 at the age of 98, but she had quit updating her family record several years earlier.  In the 1960s my mother asked about the “family tree” that Ada kept, wondering if it could be borrowed for copying, but Ada wouldn’t let it get away.  At the time, without the ability to scan documents or take something into a copy center for reproduction, her response was understandable.

                                                                                                          By the late 70s I had received what was basically a typed copy of the family record, though I didn’t recognize it at such.  That information was the foundation on which all of my family research was based.  Years later, one of Ada’s grandnieces passed along Ada’s “Robbins Family Record” to me to be its current caretaker.  There was very little new information in the book for me, but I was pleased to see all the inserted clippings of

obituaries that Ada had added over the years.  Many families have their longtime family historians and we are grateful to have had Ada.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins/Absalom Robbins-Nathaniel Robbins/Nancy Robbins-William Franklin Robbins-Nancy Adeline (Robbins) Ball-Ada Orena (Ball) McConnell)

Herbert Robbins: A Death in Wichita

I was recently “working” a family, trying to identify descendants of Jacob F. and Catherine (Myers) Robbins.  I’m related to both, being a Robbins and a Myers.  Another descendant of Jacob, Mary Kate Horner of Kokomo, Indiana, was a great help to me when I first started doing genealogy forty years ago.  She and Margaret Davis of Yakima, Washington, collaborated for many years on the Robbins family history.  At about the time they “retired” from active research, I was starting up and they gave me a copy of all of their research.  Included in this was what information they had on descendants of Jacob and Catherine.

The third child of that couple was Allen Robbins, and his family was one that Mary Kate and Margaret didn’t have a lot of information about.  With today’s Internet resources I was able to find a great deal in the past several weeks, including the fact that Allen and some of his family moved to Missouri from Decatur County, Indiana.  Some of the children remained in Indiana, some lived in Missouri, some lived in Kansas, and some who had moved away, moved back to Decatur County.  What was going on with this family?  Finding an obituary for Herbert Robbins, a son of Allen, added another dimension to the sad dynamics of this family group.

Allen Robbins was born in 1841 in Decatur County, Indiana.  A record exists of his marriage to Elizabeth Taylor in 1867.  We know from the 1900 and 1910 census, that Allen was married to an Alice, and the death record of daughter Kathryn provides her maiden name, LeVaugh, which matches with fragmentary family oral history.  Allen and Elizabeth had six children, Anna, Frank, Charles, Martha, Maude, and Herbert.  With Alice, Allen had three more children: Ernest, Ida, and Kathryn.

At least Charles, Martha (married to Thornton Nuzum), and Maude (married to Elmer Scripture), lived in Decatur County, Indiana.  The other children either lived elsewhere or their final whereabouts are unknown.  But we do know where Herbert Robbins ended up.

“Unrequited Love Caused His Suicide”, Topeka Daily Capital (Topeka, Kansas), Wed., 7 Aug. 1901, p. 1.

On Monday, August 5th, 1901, Herbert Robbins, checked into the Hamilton Hotel in Wichita, Kansas, under an assumed name.  Sometime around midnight, the porter heard a noise coming from Robbins room, and entered the room through the transom.  He found Robbins groaning in his bed after apparently ingesting laudanum or carbolic acid (reports varied).  A local physician was called and began to treat Robbins, but he died at about 1:30 am.  The local newspaper, the Wichita Daily Eagle, as well as other newspapers in Kansas and Indiana, reported the suicide of this young man, with the full story slow in coming.

According to the news reports, Herbert came from a very poor family, was “orphaned” at an early age, and was raised in the orphan’s home in Greensburg, Indiana.  He later went to live with a wealthy banker, William Kennedy, in nearby Hope, Indiana, who paid for Herbert to go to college in Franklin, Indiana.   Since his father was alive for several more decades, you must wonder if perhaps Herbert’s mother died at the time of his birth and possibly Allen farmed several of his children out as he was unable to care for them.  Herbert remained in Indiana until just a few months before his death.  Father Allen Robbins, stepmother Alice, and some of his siblings were living in Missouri by then.

Herbert left Indiana and appeared in Topeka, Kansas (did he visit his father Allen in Kansas City, Missouri en route?) where he attempted suicide while staying at the National Hotel.  Guests of the hotel complained about smelling gas and when investigated, it was discovered coming from Herbert’s room.  This occurred several times.  The proprietress took a motherly interest in the young man and found him room and board with a  Dr. Hamilton.  Soon after Herbert went to work for a local undertaker, Mr. Palmer, who was pleased with his work and believed that Herbert was going to go into that profession.  Then he vanished without a word to anyone until he was reported dead in Wichita.

He had made efforts to hide his identity, but a letter of recommendation from William Kennedy back in Indiana was found that led to his identification.  He did leave a note that his body should be held until the arrival of Elmer Scripture (his brother-in-law) from Westport, Indiana.  There is no evidence that Scripture arrived or that he was even able to make the trip.

Further news stories report that Herbert’s suicide was the result of “unrequited love.”  Apparently while in Topeka he wrote letters and sent telegrams to a young woman in Indiana.  A letter found there from a woman named “Edith” said she could not have anything more to do with him, and when he telegraphed her, asking if her refusal was final, she said it was.

Another story reported that his father in Kansas City called and was satisfied that the dead man was his son Herbert.  A follow up story discounts that the caller was the father, saying that he had no father.  However, Allen Robbins was living in Kansas City in 1900 and it’s not unreasonable to assume he did make the call, but for whatever reason he didn’t follow up.  Another aspect of this family’s dysfunction?  As mentioned above, it is not known what happened to Herbert’s body.  Was he returned to Indiana via Elmer Scripture? Was he buried at public expense in Wichita?

“Are Very Curious,” Wichita Daily Eagle (Wichita, Kansas), Sat., 10 Aug. 1901, p. 5.

One final and gruesome story was reported in the Wichita newspaper.  The people of that town turned out in great numbers to visit the undertakers to take a look at Herbert Robbins’ body.  When asked why, they said they’d “never seen a man who killed himself and want to see how he looks.  Then there are others who want to see him because they think that the poison must have turned his skin blue or red or black or some other color and are greatly surprised when they find the man’s skin about the same color as any dead person.”

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Marmaduke Robbins-Jacob F. Robbins-Allen Robbins-Herbert Robbins)

Jacob Green Robbins: A Late Emigrant to Oregon

In some earlier posts I shared some of the reminiscences of David Ransom Robbins, a grandson of Ransom Robbins, who was the subject of much of the family stories.  David’s parents were Jacob Green and Jane (Force) Robbins and they are the subject of this post.

Born in Indiana in 1827, Jacob Green Robbins was the fourth child of Ransom and Rebecca (Green) Robbins.  He was raised in Jennings County and married Jane Force, a native New Yorker, there in 1851.  To this union were born twelve children.

Grand Review of Union Army (1865)

Jacob enlisted in the 82nd Regiment of Indiana Infantry Volunteers on 9 August 1862in Indiana and served through the duration of the Civil War.  The 82nd was involved in the battles of Perryville, Stone’s River, Chickamauga, Atlanta, and was with Sherman when he marched across Georgia and up through the Carolinas to Confederate General Johnston’s surrender.  This regiment, with Jacob, participated in the Grand Review of the Armies in Washington, D.C., where Jacob was discharged, honorably, on 9 June 1865.  Like many soldiers, Jacob suffered from illness, including diarrhea, piles, and cataracts in the eyes, brought on by exposure to the elements and unclean water and food.  His later application for a pension would describe these conditions.

Upon return from the war, Jacob, along with other members of the Robbins family, emigrated from Indiana to Minnesota.  A friend of his, whom he had grown up with and served in the same infantry company with, owned land in Minnesota but decided to remain in Indiana and offered the Minnesota place to Jacob.  Once the Robbins’ Indiana farm was sold, Jacob and Jane purchased the Minnesota land, and moved there to Scott County.

Jacob and Jane’s son David Ransom Robbins wrote about the family’s arrival in Minnesota:

Uncle Jim Robbins lived about four miles northwest of Waterville…we finally got to Uncle Jim’s.  They knew that we was on our way, but did not know when we would arrive.  Grandfather [Ransom Robbins] and Aunt Julia’s house was only a short distance from Uncle Jim’s, and they had gone to bed.  Uncle Jim called them and they came over.  My cousin Ransom was not married yet, and was at home.  He was a volunteer soldier in the Fourth Minnesota Regiment and served till the war ended.  You can imagine that it was quite late when we got to bed that night.

Initially the Robbins’s lived near Fish Lake.  David Ransom Robbins described building their house there.

After father got the house logs made, he took one of the mares and snaked them out of the woods to where he wanted to build the house, and sometime in the last or first part of April of 1866 he had a house raising, and the neighbors came and put up the body of the house, and about that time Uncle Nelson Force (Mother’s brother) came.  Then he, father, and Grandfather Robbins made rafters out of saplings by hewing them on one side, then put them up and nailed sheeting on them, which was one inch lumber.  And then they put the roof on which was three foot clapboards they had riven out of oak timber.  They also made all the joists out of small trees.  When they got the floors laid and doors and windows in, and as the weather was quite warm by that time, we moved into our new house before the cracks between the logs were chinked and plastered.

Jacob Green & Jane (Force) Robbins

After living at Fish Lake for about six years, Jacob bought a farm a little to the southwest in Lexington Township of Le Sueur County, and that’s where he and Jane remained until 1911.  In that year, at the ages of 83 and 74, Jacob and Jane moved to Oregon!  Both family and newspaper articles state that it was in search of a “milder” climate that caused the couple to make the move.  Certainly Cottage Grove, Oregon, is much, much milder than Cordova, Minnesota.

Cottage Grove Sentinel (24 October 1912)

The very next year, the Cottage Grove Sentinel spotlighted the elderly Robbins couple, one-year residents of their community, with a headline that stated “Mr. and Mrs. J. G. Robbins Sweethearts Still and Hale and Hearty at Advanced Ages of 85 and 76.”  A couple of their many children lived nearby and helped take care of the couple in their last years.  When they passed away, they did so within weeks of one another.  Jacob Green Robbins died in March of 1918, while Jane passed away two months later, in May of 1918.  Both Jacob and his wife Jane are buried in the Brumbaugh Cemetery outside Cottage Grove.

(Jacob Robbins-James Robbins-Ransom Robbins-Jacob Green Robbins)