The Robertson Genealogy Exchange
THE ROBERTSONS OF TENNESSEE REVISITED
By Tom Robertson
New Albany, MS 38652
In December 1998, I concurred with John A. Brayton that (6.) General James Robertson, one of the founders of Nashville, Tenn., was the son of a (4.) John Robertson who died in Johnston (now Wake) Co., N.C., before April 1761 and that (4.) John Robertson was the second son of (3.) Israel Robertson who first lived in Prince George (now Dinwiddie) Co., Va., and who died in Granville (now Warren) Co., N.C., before 12 Aug. 1760. Mr. Brayton, an award-winning genealogist from Memphis, Tenn., had also presented evidence that my ancestor, (5.) Col. Charles Robertson, one of the founders of the Watauga Settlements in present-day East Tennessee, was (3.) Israel Robertson's sixth son. After finding additional evidence that supported most of his conclusions, I wrote in "The Robertsons of Tennessee: Myth and Reality," published in Tennessee Ancestors of The East Tennessee Historical Society, that the connections stated above were correct.
The evidence was and is conclusive. There is direct, primary evidence in the birth and christening records of Bristol Parish, Prince George Co., Va., and in (3.) Israel Robertson's 4 Dec. 1758 will that (4.) John and (5.) Charles Robertson were his sons. In the case of (5.) Charles Robertson, I located a previously unknown deed that states the relationship between father and son in unequivocal terms. There is further evidence of the relationship in two additional wills. The identification of (3.) Israel Robertson's son, (5.) Charles, as (5.) Col. Charles Robertson of Watauga was established to a reasonable certainty through four additional documents that impart substantial and conclusive evidence of the synonymity.
The connections between (6.) Gen. James Robertson and (4.) John and (3.) Israel Roberson are nonetheless conclusive since the research has been reasonably exhaustive and since the primary and direct evidence -- the best evidence in the case -- agrees in form and substance. The primary documents themselves establish the relationships, and any discrepancies with the hearsay evidence were resolved through ordinary means. The fact that the documents that establish the connections have remained in official custody since their creation, some 250 years ago, can only add to their evidentiary value.
Although much sound and fury has been directed at this lineage over the past six years, its critics have produced no evidence that seriously challenges its validity. In Aug. 1999 William E. Timmons published a self-styled critique of my work in which he asserted "The problem is not with the data, but with the author's misapplication of the information to build a hypothetical case which the facts and basic common sense do not support." On the contrary, the problem lies with Mr. Timmons' attempts to supplant the direct evidence from primary documents with discredited hearsay information. He writes,
This anachronistic belief in the efficacy of the hearsay information reached its most extreme expression in Sarah Foster Kelley's Scotch-Irish Origins of General James Robertson, published in 2000. Mrs. Kelley writes,
The lineage is a fiction. It is a reiteration of a fraudulent ascendancy for (6.) Gen. Robertson that was first published in 1928 in J. Montgomery Seaver's Robertson Family Records. Mr. Seaver believed -- or said he believed -- that "...all evidence which has come to the attention of the compiler indicates that all Robertsons, with the exception of a few who have recently adopted the name, are descendants from common ancestors, and, therefore, related." The ancestors he named were Malcolm 11, King of Scotland, the Earls of Atholl, Duncan de Atholia, and other members of the Scots nobility. Seaver made similar claims and published books about many different families, and, acting on complaints from subscribers, in 1930 Horace J. Donnelly, Solicitor for the Post Office Department in Washington, D.C., and George C. Baker, Superintendent of Mails in Philadelphia, Pa., issued a cease and desist order against him and his organization charging that they were involved in "...a scheme for obtaining money through the mails by means of false and fraudulent promises ... [by] selling books purporting to give the records of various families back to the time of William the Conqueror.
In 1937 Col. William Curry Harllee, the author and compiler of Kinfolks: A Genealogical and Biographical Record charged specific fraud in the (6.) James Robertson line. He wrote that he had
He added, "No evidence, or reference to any evidence to support that lineage, furnished by a pretended 'genealogist' to a trusting client have [sic] been found," and he wrote of an 1898 article in which the fictional (3A.) John Randolph Robertson first appeared,
He refuted the remainder of the ascendancy with (6.) General Robertson's family Bible records and with a quote from Hew Scott's Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae: The Succession of Ministers in the Church of Scotland from the Reformation (7 v.; Edinburgh, Scotland, 1915-28), v. 3, p. 157. He wrote,
On Mrs. Kelley's commission, the Scots Ancestry Research Society located a 10 Oct. 1745 petition from Christian Taus of Ballnabegganach, Perthshire, to "...One High and Mighty Prince William, Duke of Atholl ...," in which a bond from a (2A.) John Robertson of Guay was mentioned. This bare mention was all that was needed to assume that the Seaver ascendancy's fictional (2A.) John Robertson who was said to have married Eliza Randolph was (2A.) John Robertson of Guay.
Jim Thompson, a descendant of the Robertsons of Riemore, Perthshire, Scotland, writes in an e-mail dated 16 July 2003,
Mr. Thompson has generously shared with this author the testaments dative for John Robertson the elder and younger of Guay, which were confirmed by the Commissary Court of Dunkeld, Perthshire, on 2 Aug. 1750 and 5 May 1748, respectively, and an eik, or codicil, to the will of John Robertson the elder confirmed on 1 Aug. 1750. The testament dative for John Robertson the younger of Guay establishes that he entered into a marriage contract with Janet Cameron on 14 July 1711, that the couple had children named John and Elspeth (or Elizabeth) Robertson, and that Janet Cameron was his spouse on 5 May 1748 when the Commissary confirmed his will. Thus, he was not the [4.] John Robertson who was said to have married Mary Gower and who died in Johnston Co., N.C., before April 1761. The testament dative for his father, John Robertson, sometimes wadsetter of Guay, named among other legatees Janet Cameron, the widow and executrix of his deceased eldest son, John Robertson the younger of Guay, and the couple's children, John and Elspeth Robertson. The eik names the same people and relationships. The information the three new documents impart is linear, sequential, and internally consistent, and it establishes to a reasonable certainty that (2A.) John Robertson the elder of Guay was not the father of (3A.) John "Randolph" Robertson, as Mrs. Kelley alleged, nor was he (6.) Gen. James Robertson's grandfather.
It may well be argued that when the research Mrs. Kelley's surrogates conducted is viewed with the Bristol Parish birth records and (3.) Israel Roberson's will, the evidence adequately tests and disproves Felix and Lavinia Robertson's assertion that their grandfather, (4.) John Robertson, and his brother, (5.) Charles, originated near Belfast, Northern Ireland. Although Mrs. Kelley clearly believed that the overseas research in some mysterious and inexplicable way validated the claim, she accurately reported the focus, scope, and negative result of searches conducted in Ireland. The research appeared to be fairly thorough, and it was conducted by noted historian Dr. Jean Agnew of the Ulster Historical Foundation and Queen's University in Belfast. Dr. Agnew discovered no evidence that (2A.) John Robertson emigrated to Ireland, no evidence that (2A.) John Robertson and Eliza Randolph were ever married, no evidence that they had sons named (3A.) John Randolph and (4A.) Charles, no evidence that any of these people ever lived or existed in Ireland. Dr. Agnew's negative result was further validated by the Pennsylvania Historical Society which searched the Philadelphia port entry records on Mrs. Kelley's commission, and, in her own words, "... no documentation could be located for the brothers (3A.) John and (4A.) Charles Robertson.
"Facts," John Adams once said, "are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." The fact is that after more than a hundred years of collective research there is no reliable evidence that (2A.) John Robertson and Eliza Randolph ever existed or that they had sons named (3A.) John "Randolph" and (4A.) Charles Robertson or that they were in any way related to (6.) Gen. James Robertson; and common sense says that a pedigree that was a fraud in 1937 is still a fraud today.
There is, then, no need to speak in hypothetical terms, to introduce pluralities where there are none, or to pretend that the subject is more difficult than it really is when there is no reliable evidence of any alternative lineage and when the primary documents themselves state and imply the relationships in question. Mr. Brayton's and my result may be replicated by anyone with a reasonable degree of expertise in historical research, and the relationships may be demonstrated through a three-step process that fully meets the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) as expressed by the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Those steps are:
NUMBERING SYSTEM AND THE HISTORICAL LINEAGE
NICHOLAS ROBERTSON, born 1665/67; died after 12 May 1718; married [1st] about 1691? Sarah? Marks?; married [2nd] after 1701 Jane Tillman.
NICHOLAS ROBERTSON and Sarah? Marks? had children:
3. ISRAEL ROBERTSON, born 1698/1700; died before 12 Aug. 1760 Granville (now Warren) Co., N.C.; married about 1719, Prince George (now Dinwiddie) Co., Va., Sarah [Williams?].
Israel and Sarah [Williams?] Roberson had children:
4. JOHN ROBERTSON, born 8 May 1723, Bristol Parish, Prince George (now Dinwiddie) Co., Va.; married before 28 June 1742, Mary [Gower?]; died before April 1761, Johnston (now Wake) Co., N.C.
John and Mary [Gower?] Robertson had children:
NUMBERING SYSTEM AND THE FRAUDULENT LINEAGE
Mrs. Charles Fairfax Henley, 1898
3A. John Randolph Robertson, a descendant of "... the first chief of the clan, Duncan Robertson, who saved the life of James I, of Scotland ..., the Lords Crichton and Stuart ..., [and the] Houses of Mackenzie and Randolph ..."; b. circa 1712, Scotland; m. "... 1739, Mary, daughter of Captain Gower (who was killed by Indians)"; "... first resided in Brunswick County, Virginia..."; moved to Wake Co., N.C., 1754, to educate his children at Wake Academy."
J. Montgomery Seaver, 1928
1 A. James Robertson: m. Ann MacKenzie, of Scotland; [and purportedly had son]
Burke's Peerage, c 1939
IA. James Robertson, son of John Robertson, m. Ann Mackenzie, and was [the purported] father of
Frederick Adams Virkus, 1942
1B. John Robertson, of Scot., the beginning of the Robertson clan; King James Il conferred the Coat of Arms on him for saving him from a would be assassin;
Sarah Foster Kelley, 1973
2A. John Robertson, "...an exile from Perthshire, Scotland... [m.] around 1710, ... Ann Elizabeth Randolph of Belfast, Ireland..." [and purportedly had sons]
Sarah Foster Kelley, 2000
2A. John Robertson, "... of Guay [Perthshire, Scotland,] ... was arrested and placed in Newgate Prison, although he escaped. While he fled to North Ireland, his Perthshire lands were confiscated by the crown . ... He lived [there] as a political exile the rest of his life, but married ... Ann Elizabeth Randolph, ... the daughter of John Randolph, ... around 1716." [They purportedly had sons]
1. The numbers that precede the names of individuals mentioned in this article refer to the outline sections entitled "Numbering System and the Historical Lineage" and "Numbering System and the Mythological Lineage" which appear at the end of this installment. The numbers for unrelated or fictional people are followed by the letter "A."
7. Lunenburg Co., Va., Deed Bk. 7, pp. 128-29. The deed states "I Isreal Roberson Senr. of Granvil County in North Carolina ... for Divers Causes and Consideration ... but More Especialy for the Love Good Will and affection which I have and do bare to my son Charles Roberson have Given ... unto him the said Charles Roberson ... one Tract or parcel of Land Containing Two hundred acres Lying in Lunenburg County... "
9. King from Roberson, Lunenburg Co., Va., Deed Bk. 7, pp. 130-3I ; Charles Robertson, Sen., will, Washington Co., Tenn., Will Bk. 1, p. 44, FHL microfilm 825521; Frederick Hargett and Scott Gray conveyance for 10 tracts of land by George Robertson and others, Maury Co., Tenn., Deed Bk. A, pp. 196-97, FHL microfilm 649236; Julius Caesar Nichols Robertson, "A Biographical Sketch of the Life of J. C. N. Robertson," The Masonic Jewel (Memphis, Tenn., 15 Jan. 1875), v. 3, no. 1, 4.
13. Ibid., pp. 187, 191. He writes, "Records in this category ... are considered trustworthy because public officers acting under oath, bonded, are duty bound to retain proper custody of the records, maintain them, and protect them. They cannot vouch for the truth of the contents of the documents ..., but there is a presumption (which may be rebutted) that generally people who file or record documents concerning their business do not falsify or forge them."
15. Ibid., p. 85. Because of his belief in the reliability of the hearsay information, Mr. Timmons assumes an unfounded plurality by claiming that the (4.) John Robertson who bought land on Sixpound Creek in Granville (now Warren) Co., N.C., on 3 Sept. 1754 was soneone other than (3.) Israel Roberson's son. (4.) John Robertson also owned land on Little Creek in Granville County on that date, but the Granville County tax lists show no pluralities during his lifetime. Had there actually been two John Robertsons there in 1754, both men would have been named on Capt. Richard Coleman's Granville County muster list produced on 8 Oct. 1754, since Governor Dobbs had called together all able-bodied men above the age of 16 for possible service against the French and Indians. On page 87 ofhis article, Mr. Timmons assumes a relationship by marriage between his plural John Robinson and Richard Huckaby, the man who sold (4.) John Robertson the Sixpound Creek land, and he writes, "Both John Robinson and Richard Huckaby were in Captain Richard Coleman's Granville County militia district in 1754." I agree with his conclusion, and I would add that (4.) Private "John Robinson" appears on the list with (3.) Ensign "Israel Robinson," and three other of Israel Roberson's sons, Sergeant "Matthew Robinson," Private "Israel Robinson, Jr.," and Private "Nicholas Robinson." All the younger "Robinson" men named on the list are also named as sons of (3.) Israel and Sarah Robinson in the Bristol Parish birth records and they are named as sons and heirs of (3.) Israel Roberson in his 4 Dec. 1758 Granville County will.
27. Eik to the Testament Dative of John Robertson of G[u]ay, National Archives of Scotland reference CC7/6/5. P. 179; Testament Dative of John Robertson of G[u]ay, National Archives of Scotland reference CC7/6/5, pp. 180-82; Testament Dative of John Robertson the Younger of G[u]ay, National Archives of Scotland reference CC7/6/5, p. 50.
35. Board for Certification of Genealogists, "The Genealogical Proof Standard," online at <http://www.bcgcertification.org/resources/standard.html>, downloaded 18 April 2002. According to the Board, "The GPS consists of five elements: a reasonably exhaustive search; complete and accurate source citations; analysis of the collected information; resolution of conflicting evidence; and a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion."
36. Benjamin C. Holtzclaw, "Kendrick of Gloucester Co., Va., and North Carolina," in John Bennett Boddie, Historical Southern Families, v. 1 (Redwood City, Calif., 1957), pp. 37-38. Although the evidence for the first generation of the lineage and the relationship between (2) John Roberson, (3) Israel Roberson, and Edward Robertson is only circumstantial, I have included it here for continuity's sake.
38. Ibid., p. 39; Edward Robertson to David Crawley, Halifax Co., N.C., Deed Bk. 6, p. 201, in Margaret M. Hoffman, Abstracts of Deeds, Edgecombe Precinct, Edgecombe County, North Carolina, 1732-1758, as Found in Halifax County, North Carolina Public Registry Deed Books 1-6 (Weldon, N.C., 1976), p. 232.
45. James and Mary Roberson to Christopher Mothershead, Granville Co., N.C., Deed Bk. G, pp. 210-1l; Robertson to Mabry, Mecklenburg Co., Va., Deed Bk. 1, pp. 523-24; Johnston Co., N.C., Minutes of the Court of Pleas & Quarter Sessions 1767-77, pp. 97, 123, 173; Wake Co., N.C., Deed Bk. A, p. 34; James Robertson, John Robertson, Charles Robertson and David Johnston to Dempsey Powell, Wake Co., N.C., Minutes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions Bk. 1, pp. 122-23; Harllee, op. cit., v. 3, p. 2539 ("Family Records in Bible"), 2536 ("Cemetery Inscriptions"), 2494, 2498 (Draper Ms. 6XX96).
50. Johnston Co., N.C., Minutes of the Court of Pleas & Quarter Sessions 1759-66, p. 173; Cockrill Bible records, in Jeannette Tillotson Acklen, ed., Tennessee Records: Bible Records and Marriage Bonds (Nashville, 1933), p. 210.
57. Kelley, Scotch-Irish Origins of General James Robertson, "Introduction" and p. 51. Mrs. Kelley's citation -- on p. 58 -- of Draper 6Y-X%, 6XX49 and 31 S34-54 is quite misleading since the cited sources impart none of this information, nor do the St. Johns Parish, Dublin, Ireland, burial records which she also cited.
(To be continued)
This is the first installment of an article written by Tom Robertson and edited by John Frederick Dorman, FASG. It was published in his magazine The Virginia Genealogist, volume 49, number one, pages 3-15, in January-March 2005.
Last updated: Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Copyright © 2005 by Tom Robertson. All rights reserved including those of electronic transmission and reproduction of the material in any format.