The Robertson Genealogy Exchange

(Part Three)

By Tom Robertson
New Albany, MS 38652

(Continued from V. 49, p. 155)


The primary and secondary evidence presented in the foregoing sections of this article is linear, sequential, and internally consistent, and it is for the most part consistent with hearsay information produced by two of (6.) Gen. Robertson's children in the mid-1800s -- the exceptions being a Scots-Irish origin in (4.) John and (5.) Charles Robertson's generation, independent verification that (3.) John Robertson married Mary Gower, and independent verification that (6.) Gen. James Robertson was born in Brunswick Co., Va.

The hearsay evidence consists of two biographical screeds and several letters that Dr. Felix Robertson and Lavinia Robertson Craighead wrote for and to Dr. Lyman Draper from 1844 to 1859.[171] In the earlier of the screeds, committed to paper sometime before 2-3 March 1844, Felix Robertson wrote,

[4.] John Robertson emigrated at an early age from the northeast of Ireland near Belfast, where his father had settled having emigrated from Scotland to Virginia & settled in Brunswick County. Here he married Mary Gower, the daughter of Abel Gower of the House of Gower [line drawn through the last five words] from England.

[6.] James Robertson, his eldest child, was born in Brunswick Cty. He removed to Wake County on Roanoak river in North Carolina while James was still young and 1 ived there several years; removed to Neuse river and then died.[172]

In the second screed, transcribed in 1851 or 1852, sent to Dr. Draper on 11 March 1854, Lavinia Robertson Craighead added,

[4.] John and [5.] Charles Robertson landed in Philadelphia from Ireland. [4.) John went from there to Virginia and married in a family lately from England, a Miss Mary Gower. His first son [6.] James was born in June 1742. He then moved to North Carolina near Raleigh; not long afterward moved higher up on the Neuse River. There he died and left a large family, a wife & seven or eight children.[173]

(6.) General Robertson's children had no firsthand knowledge of the events they described in the extracts quoted above. (4.) John Robertson's will establishes that he died before April 1761 and (6.) Gen. Robertson's Bible record establishes that Felix Robertson was born on 11 Jan. 1781 and that Lavinia Craighead was born on 23 Feb. 1790,[174] so they had no chance to discuss anything with their grandfather. In a letter mailed on 12 April 1854, Felix Robertson wrote that his mother was the source of his information,[175] and in an addendum he wrote that his sister's information was "... dictated from her recollections of conversations with her mother..."[176] He said elsewhere that his mother was "... Charlotte Reves, daughter of Mary Jordan & George Reves, who had been born and raised in Brunswick County, Virginia."[177] According to (6.) Gen. Robertson's family Bible record, Charlotte [Reeves?] Robertson was born 2 Jan. 1751. While it is true that (4.) John Robertson once owned property in Brunswick County, he sold that tract of land on 22 Jan. 1754, when Charlotte [Reeves?] was only three years old, and she was only ten years old when (4.) John Robertson died many miles distant in Johnston Co., N.C. Thus, there was little opportunity or motive for her to discuss family origins with a total stranger. Even if one assumes, as Sarah Foster Kelley does, that the hearsay evidence was "... handed down by ... [3A.] John Randolph Robertson..."[178] the responsibility for verifying the individual assertions of fact through independent means is still present since the information filtered through the perceptions and sensibilities of an unknown number of individuals across several generations.[179]

As mentioned in the first section of this article, the direct evidence from the primary documents and the research Mrs. Kelley comnmissioned through the Ulster Historical Foundation and the Pennsylvania Historical Society more than adequately test and disprove Felix and Lavinia Robertson's assertions of a Scots-Irish origin in (4.) John and (5.) Charles Robertson's generation.

Felix Robertson and his sister contradict each other in several places, and some of the testimony conflicts with known facts. Robertson writes that his grandfather "... removed to Wake County on Roanoak river in North Carolina while [6.] James was still young and lived there several years; removed to Neuse river and then died,[180] but Roanoke River never flowed through or bordered Wake or any of its parent counties, and Wake County was not even formed until ten years after (4.) John Robertson's death. Lavinia Robertson Craighead does not mention Roanoke River or Wake County, but she says that, after her father's birth in June 1742, her grandfather "... moved to North Carolina near Raleigh; not long afterward moved higher up on the Neuse River. There he died and left a large family, a wife & seven or eight children."[181] If (4.) John Robertson lived on Roanoke River when he first moved to North Carolina, as Felix Robertson claimed, he did not live near Raleigh as his sister claimed since Raleigh is about 60 miles south of Roanoke River. If he lived on Roanoke River several years, as Dr. Robertson claimed, he did not move "... higher up on the Neuse River..." as Mrs. Craighead claimed, since the Neuse River lies south of Roanoke River. If he lived on Roanoke River several years, as Felix Robertson claimed, he did not, shortly after his removal to North Carolina, relocate to the Neuse River, as Mrs. Craighead claimed. These discrepancies may be viewed as normal variations in perception and judgment, but, once again, they are quite enough to question the testimony's competence.

Mrs. Kelley believed that the information about the Scots-Irish birth and immigration passed directly from (3A.) John Robertson through (6.) James and Charlotte Robertson,[182] but Felix Robertson had every opportunity to name his (4.) Grandfather, or his (6.) Father, as the source of any or all of his and his sister's information since Dr. Draper asked him a direct question about its origin in his letter dated 20 June 1853.[183] Felix Robertson seems not to have even been aware that his (4.) Grandfather had a brother named (5.) Charles until his sister produced the sketch he submitted on 11 March 1854.[184] By that time, he was 73 years old, and the tentative nature of his identification of his granduncle, (5.) Charles, is self-evident in the vague language he employed: "[5.] Charles, my gandfather's brother, I expect remained in or near Philadelphia, but our family I think had no knowledge of him after they departed. I am pretty certain that Black Charles [5. Col. Charles Robertson] was not his son."[185] He continued,

As I passed through Baltimore in 1808 I called at a merchant's store to see him on business. I had never seen him, but when I stepped in he met me with great apparent pleasure, saluting me by my name. I felt astonished of course & informed him he must be mistaken in the person altho he had rightly named me. It was some time before he was fully convinced that I was not a customer of his who lived in Fredericktrown some distance west from Baltimore. 1 have but little doubt this gentleman was a descendant of my grand uncle [5.] Charles.[186]

Felix Robertson's apocryphal story is open to many interpretations, including confusion, as Mr. Brayton wrote,[187] or perhaps a simple desire to bring closure to Dr. Draper's questions. Whether Fredericktown and Baltimore qualify as being near Philadelphia is again a matter of perception and judgment, but there are those -- including this author -- who have searched Pennsylvania records without locating the (5.) Charles Robertson of the Draper letters or his descendants. Felix Robertson's lack of information on the relationships within the extended family clearly troubled him, and, of 12 April 1854, he wrote,

[5.] Black Charles Robertson was my father's cousin. He died in East Tennessee at a good old age, but where I am unable to say. A son of his some ten or twelve years ago was here in our legislature representing Lincoln or Bedford County. He died within a year or two past. He told me at the time he was here that he had a brother living in West Tennessee. I am nearly certain that [5.] Black Charles was not a son of my grand-uncle [5.] Charles.[188]

The problem was that he simply did not know, nor could he be expected to know, the proper relationships between these men. Dr. Draper first inquired about the subject some 55 years after (5.) Charles Robertson had died and nearly 40 years after (6.) James Robertson's death.[189] By that time, Charlotte Robertson had also passed away,[190] and, judging from what Felix Robertson wrote in his several attempts to address the issue, there was simply no one left to answer the question with any degree of authority. John Tinturff Sevier, (5.) Col. Charles Robertson's great-great-grandson, addressed this flaw in Dr. Draper's methodology when he wrote on 15 May 1854, "I should feel proud if I Could give you such information as would do then Justice for it never has been done by any Historian yet & I fear it is too late now to be done as it should be."[191]

It is a fortunate occurrence for historians and genealogists that written primary records that detail the correct degrees of kinship between these individuals still exist in the church, state, and local archives of Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, and they demonstrate that the identification of (5.) Col. Robertson as (6.) Gen. Robertson's cousin is almost certainly a confusion of terms. Assuming that Charlotte Reeves Robertson was the source of the information, as her son said, she apparently used the word as it was defined in the eighteenth century lexicon. According to Donald Lines Jacobus, M.A., FASG, at that time,

The term "cousin" ... was applied loosely to almost any type of relationship outside the immediate family circle. It was most frequently used to denote a nephew or niece, but it could also be applied to a first cousin or more distant cousin, or to the marital spouse of any of these relatives, and sometimes to other indirect connections who were not even related by blood. The first guess should be that a nephew or niece was meant...[192]


In this instance, there is no need to guess. The primary documents establish that (4.) John and (5.) Charles Robertson were brothers, as Felix Robertson wrote, but the same documents that prove this fact also prove that they were not born in Ireland, as he and his sister believed, but in Bristol Parish, Prince George Co., Va., to (3.) Israel and Sarah [Williams?] Roberson. The documents establish that Israel Roberson's son, (5.) Charles, was Col. Charles Robertson of Watauga. They also establish that (6.) James Robertson was (4.) John Robertson's son. Thus, one may extrapolate with reasonable certainty from this evidence that (6.) Gen. James Robertson was (3.) Israel Roberson's grandson and (5.) Col. Charles Robertson's nephew.

The irony is that Felix and Lavinia Robertson may uitimately be correct in their naming of a Scots-Irish origin. Professor Holtzclaw, Lolita Bissell, and Mr. Brayton built a circumstantial case for (1.) Nicholas Robertson's descent from, Christopher Robinson of Henrico (now Dinwiddie) Co., Va., and no one has yet determined his country of origin.[193] The late Angus "Scotty" Robinson has proposed a descent for (1.) Nicholas Robertson from Malcolm II, King of Scotland, through William Robertson, fourth Laird of Muirton, and his son, Thomas, Baille of Edinburgh.[194] Only time will tell which -- if either -- of these lineages is correct, but any conclusion about their reliability, or lack of it, must flow from the available evidence.

Whether (4.) John Robertson's descendants accept or reject these proofs is their choice, but, speaking as one who has devoted more than twenty years to the resolution of the conflicts surrounding the (5.) Charles Robertson lineage, I can only reiterate that the evidence stands on its own merits, and 1 would like to thank Mr. Brayton for his insight into the importance and meaning of the documents he discovered -- documents that enabled the first positive movement on the line in more than 150 years.


171. Harllee, op. cit., v. 3, pp. 2492-2519.

172. Dr. Felix Robertson, Draper Ms. 6XX96, in Harllee, op. cit, v. 3, p. 2493.

173. Lavinia Craighead, Draper Ms. 6XX50, in Harllee, op. cit., v. 3, p. 2502.

174. John Robertson will, Johnston Co., N.C., Loose wills; James Robertson, "Family Records in Bible," in Harllee, op. cit., v. 3, p. 2539.

175. Dr. Felix Robertson, Draper Ms. 6XX49, in Harllee, op. cit., v. 3, p. 2499.

176. Dr. Felix Robertson, addendum to Draper Ms. 6XX50, in Harllee, op. cit., v. 3, p. 2510.

177. Draper Ms. 6XX96.

178. Kelley, op. cit., "Introduction."

179. Stevenson, op. cit., pp. 190-91.

180. Dr. Felix Robertson, Draper Ms. 6XX96, in Harllee, op. cit., v. 3, p. 2493.

181. Lavinia Craighead, Draper MS. 6XX50, in Harllee, op. cit., v. 3, p. 2502.

182. Kelley, op. cit., "Foreword."

183. Draper Ms. 6XX48.

184. Lavinia Craighead, Draper Ms. 6XX50; Felix Fobertson, addendum to Draper Ms. 6XX50, in Harllee, op. cit., v. 3, pp. 2502-2513.

185. Dr. Felix Robertson, addendum to Draper Ms. 6XX50, in Harllee, op. cit., v. 3, p. 2510.

186. Ibid.

187. Brayton, op. cit., p. 4.

188. Dr. Felix Robertson, Draper Ms. 6XX49, in Harllee, op. cit., v. 3, p. 2500. Brig. Gen. J. C. N. Robertson, (5.) Col. Robertson's grandson, writes, "In 1835, I was elected Senator for the Counties of Hardeman, Fayette, and Shelby, and served in the arduous session of the legislature of 1835-36, and also in the called session of 1836" (Julius Caesar Nichols Robertson, "A Biographical Sketch ofthe Life ofJ. C. N. Robertson," The Masonic Jewel [Memphis, Tenn., 15 Jan. 1875], v. 3, nos. 1, 4).

189. Draper Ms. 6XX48. Dr. Draper's letter to Felix Robertson is dated 20 June 1853. Col. Robertson died before Aug. 1798 when his will was probated (Charles Robertson will, Washington Co., Tenn., Will Bk. 1, p. 44) and Gen. Robertson died 1 Sept. 1814 ("Cemetery Inscriptions," in Harllee, op. cit., v. 3, p. 2536).

190. "Cemetery Inscriptions," loc. cit. Charlotte Reeves Robertson died 11 June 1843.

191. John Tinturff Sevier, Draper Ms. 14DD 18.

192. Donald Lines Jacobus, "Interpreting Genealogical Records," in Noel C. Stevenson, ed., The Genealogical Reader (Salt Lake City, Utah, 1958). p. 89.

193. Lolita Hannah Bissell, Cliborn-Claiborne Records (Nashville, 1986), pp. 232-39; Holtzclaw, op. cit., pp. 38-39; Brayton, op. cit., pp. 7-16.

194. Angus P. Robinson <> (8522 W. 131st Pl., Cedar Lake, IN 46303). "Scottish Ancestors of Jeffrey Robertson???," listserve message to ROBERTSON-L <Robertson-L@>, 31 July 1998, online at <>, downloaded 20 May 2002. Interestingly enough, Col. Robertson's grandson writes in his autobiographical sketch, "In the foregoing sketch I omited to state that I was of Scotch descent. My Great Grandfather was a Scotchman and I have heard my Grandfather say he could trace his relationship back to William Robertson that imminent [sic] Scotch Historian" (Julius Caesar Nichols Robertson, in The Masonic Jewel, v. 3, p. 4). Angus Robinson writes that William Robertson, the Royal Historiographer, descends from the fourth Laird of Muirton and that he is a relative of Patrick Henry.

This is the third and final 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 three, pages 203-209, in July-September 2005.

Part One  Part Two

Last updated: Thursday, October 20, 2005

Copyright ©2005 by Tom Robertson. All rights reserved including those of electronic transmission and reproduction of the material in any format.

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