The Robertson Genealogy Exchange
In the past, differentiation between  Charles Robertson, the younger brother of  General James Robertson, and his uncle,  Colonel Charles Robertson of Watauga, has been difficult for Robertson family historians because of a lack of evidence from which one could draw enough logical inferences to make a positive identification possible. Prior to 1986, the only evidence of descent for either of these men was hearsay documents that  Dr. Felix Robertson and [1221A] Lavinia Robertson Craighead, two of  General Robertson's children, submitted to Dr. Lyman Draper, in the mid-1800s.  Robertson and [1221A] Craighead believed that General Robertson's father,  John, their grandfather, was a recent emigrant from Ireland who entered the Colonies through the port of Philadelphia, Pennsylvaina, with his brother  Charles.  Robertson and [1221A] Craighead further claimed that  John Robertson moved immediately to Brunswick County, Virginia, where he married Mary Gower, the daughter of a family recently arrived from England. Their grandfather's first son and their father,  James, was said to have been born in Brunswick County and [1221A] Lavinia Craighead claimed that when their father was a young boy, the family moved to a place "low down" in North Carolina, and some years later they removed to a homestead on the south side of the Neuse River in Wake County where  John Robertson died several years prior to  James' marriage to Charlotte Reeves. General Robertson's children did not mention their uncle  Charles in the Draper material, and they said that  Colonel Charles Robertson, who they called "Black Charles Robertson," was their father's cousin but that he was not the son of the Charles Robertson who had emigrated to America with their grandfather.
These tales stood for many years as the best evidence of descent for  General Robertson and his extended family although they were full of contradictions and errors. Through them and other stories that were carefully merged with elements of a fraudulent pedigree that was first published in 1928 in J. Montgomery Seaver's Robertson Family Records, a myth of origin began to evolve that soon overshadowed any real research on the lines. This fraudulent pedigree reached its highest expression in 1973 with the publication of Sarah Foster Kelley's Children of Nashville: Lineages from James Robertson. Mrs. Kelley maintained that  John Robertson,  General Robertson's father, was the son of John Robertson, an exile from Perthshire, Scotland who married Ann Elizabeth Randolph of Belfast, Ireland around 1710. Some time prior to 1740,  John Robertson, who by this time had acquired the middle name "Randolph," relationships to Patrick Henry and the Virginia Randolphs, and rights to the arms of Struan, emigrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with his brother,  Charles. As proof of these assertions, Mrs. Kelly cited the Robertson-Craighead material and memoranda written by her grand-aunt, Lavinia Swain, the granddaughter of [1221A] Lavinia Robertson Craighead.
This is the same lineage that Colonel William Curry Harlee, the best of the older generation of Robertson historians, repudiated in Kinfolks: A Genealogical and Biographical Record.
In 1986, Mrs. Lolita Bissell began to discover court documents in Johnston County, North Carolina, one of Wake's parent counties, that she believed pertained to  General Robertson, his parents, and siblings, and, in 1995, these documents were proven by John Anderson Brayton to be the estate settlement for General Robertson's father,  John. The Minutes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions of Johnston County augment and expand the Draper material and the primary and secondary documents that had been established in the past to pertain to  General Robertson and his siblings.  John Robertson's will establishes that his wife was named Mary, and the Court Minutes prove that the couple had children named  Charles,  Elijah,  Eliza,  Mark,  Ann (who later married David Johnston), and  Sterling.  General Robertson's association with the couple is established through a Granville County, North Carolina deed through which  James Robertson of Granville County and his mother, Mary, of Johnston County sold property on Sixpound Creek that his parents had acquired in 1754. At the time of his death in 1761,  John Robertson lived on the south side of the Neuse River, as  Felix Robertson and [1221A] Lavinia Craighead maintained, in Johnston (now Wake) County, North Carolina. A Wake County bond that I discovered last year establishes that  Elijah and  Elizabeth Roberson, "being children of John  Roberson Dec'd.," conveyed their interests in the Neuse River property to Dempsey Powell in March 1773. This document was witnessed by their elder brother,  Charles. Another bond, discovered by William E. Timmons in 1998, establishes that  James,  John, and  Charles Robertson and David Johnston,  Ann Robertson's husband, sold their interests in the Neuse River property to Dempsey Powell on December 6, 1779. The bond was presented in court by Michael Rogers, former guardian to  Elijah,  Mark, and  Sterling Robertson. James,  John, and  Charles Robertson and David Johnston were probably not present in Court at the time the bond was submitted as  Felix Robertson has written that his father and several others were en route to Nashville at this time.
 Charles Robertson,  General Robertson's brother, first appears in the Minutes of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions of Johnston County on November 28, 1769 as " Chs. Robertson, orphan of  John Robertson, decd," but he does not appear in the minutes of August 28, 1770 with his brothers  Mark and  Sterling. One may extrapolate from the omission that he had reached his majority in the intervening time and, thus, that he was born in the months between December 1749 and August 1750. At the time of  Charles Robertson's birth, his father held property in Brunswick County, Virginia and Granville (now Warren) County, North Carolina. Because the Brunswick County property was leased to William Broadnax from June 29, 1745, to March 23, 1751, it is improbable that  Charles Robertson was born in Brunswick County. John Robertson was not enumerated on the 1749 tithable, or tax, list for Lunenburg County, and the omission of his name from this list is consistent with information contained in a Granville (now Warren) County deed dated December 6, 1749, through which  Israel Roberson of Granville County conveyed to " John Roberson of the aforesd. County...a Certain Plantation...on the West side of little Creek ...whereon...John Roberson now lives...." Thus, it is probable, that  Charles Robertson was born in Granville (now Warren) County, North Carolina.
On December 1, 1758, Israel Roberson gave his son,  Matthew, 320 acres of land on Little Creek, a tract roughly equivalent to that he gave or sold  John Roberson on December 6, 1749, "for a certain sum to my hand paid." The records of Bristol Parish, Prince George County, Virginia establish that  Israel Roberson's second son was named  John and that he was born on May 8, 1723, and christened in the Church of England on August 21 of the same year.  Israel Roberson's sixth son,  Charles, was born on July 24, 1733, and was christened in Bristol Parish on September 28. This sixth son has proved to be synonymous with  Colonel Charles Robertson of the Watauga Settlements, and there is every indication that  John Robertson of Johnston County,  General Robertson's father, is the second son of  Israel Roberson of Granville County. Although this conclusion differs from the Robertson-Craighead contention that  John and  Charles Robertson were born in Ireland, the documentation establishes that  John and  Charles Robertson were brothers as  Felix Robertson and [1221A] Lavinia Craighead have stated, and  Felix Robertson's contention that  Colonel Robertson was  General Robertson's cousin is eminently more plausible when one understands that in former times "the term 'cousin'...was applied loosely to almost any relationship outside the immediate family circle. It was most frequently used to denote a nephew or niece...." Thus, the term itself argues for the relationship as I have described it.
 Charles Robertson,  General Robertson's brother, next appears in the documentary evidence in Wake County, in March 1773, as a witness to the sale of  Elijah and  Elizabeth Robertson's interests in  John Robertson's property on the Neuse River, and two years later he was a signatory, as  Charles Robertson, Jun., to the so-called 1775 Petition of the Inhabitants of Washington District through which the people of the Watauga Settlements sought annexation to the Province of North Carolina. He was not, however, the  Charles Robertson mentioned within the document as a delegate to the Provincial Congress of North Carolina. This conclusion is based upon the fact that none of the five men mentioned within the document as Congressional delegates were signatories to the document itself and upon the fact that the man who was known as  Colonel Charles Robertson negotiated with the chief warriors and first representative of the Cherokee Nation as Trustee for the Settlements and thus was eminently more qualified than  Charles Robertson, Jun., to plead the settlers' case before the Provincial Congress.
Annexation to North Carolina was not immediately forthcoming, and the Watauga Land Office began to issue patents in its own name and in the name of the elder  Charles Robertson, Trustee for the Settlements and uncle to  General Robertson and his siblings.  James Robertson received three land grants in the Settlements on November 18, 1775. The first of these grants was for 230 acres of land on the north side of the Watauga River; the second for 250 acres of land on Stony Creek; and the third, adjacent to the first, for 434 acres of land on the north side of the river.  Robertson had entered his intention to patent this land on April 3, 1775, fourteen days after the Watauga Purchase was completed. His brother  Elijah received his grant, which he too entered on April 3, 1775, for 507 acres of land on Sinking Creek of the Watauga River, on December 13 of the same year. Their younger brother,  Mark, entered his claim for 372 acres of land on the east side of Buffalo Creek on December 2, 1775, but for some unknown reason this property was granted to Jesse Benton on March 18, 1777, and  Mark Robertson did not attempt to patent further land in the Settlements.
 Charles Robertson,  General Robertson's brother, does not seem to have owned property in the Watauga Settlements. He was not a signatory to the 1776 Petition of the Inhabitants of Washington District although his brothers  James,  John,  Elijah, and  Mark, signed the document, nor was he a signatory to the 1777 Petition of the North of Holston Men with his four brothers.
On May 19, 1775, the elder " Charles and Susanna Robison...of the Wataugah Settlement," sold Thomas Houghton 560 acres of land adjacent to his own line and that of his father, Joshua Houghton, on the Watauga and Doe Rivers, and on June 25, 1775,  Charles Robertson declared his intention to patent 213 acres of land on the east fork of Sinking Creek of the Watauga River adjacent Jonathan Tipton. The patent was granted on November 19, 1775, and it was upon this land, at  Colonel Robertson's home, that the first court of Washington County, North Carolina was convened on February 23, 1778.
On February 25, the Court appointed several tax assessors and collectors, and on August 26 they authorized the tax collectors to receive from each taxable male sixteen shillings and eight pence for every hundred pounds worth of property by general assessment, two shillings and sixpence for building the courthouse, prison, and stocks, four pence for building a courthouse for the Superior Court in Salisbury, and one penny for the contingent charges of the county. According to the tax list that resulted from this assessment,  Charles Robertson, Esq., or  Colonel Charles Robertson, was assessed at £2,382/18s/14d, and he paid £24/8s/4d tax. The taxable property of  Charles Robertson, Jr., his nephew, was worth £194, and the younger  Robertson paid £4/11s/3d tax. It is interesting to note that the names of  James,  John,  Elijah, and  Mark Robertson do not appear on this list.
It was probably during  Charles Robertson, Jr.'s sojourn in the Watauga Settlements that he met and married his wife, Susannah Cunningham, the daughter of Christopher Cunningham of Washington County. Although Mr. Brayton has written that Susannah Cunnigham married the elder  Charles Robertson, there is strong circumstantial evidence that she was actually married to  General Robertson's brother. Sarah Foster Kelley wrote, in West Nashville: Its People and Environs, of a secondary document in which James C. Richardson and brothers, grandsons of  Charles Robertson,  General Robertson's brother, were said to have been "the sons of Booker Richardson and Susannah Robertson who descended from James Richardson and Nancy French on the father's side and  Charles Robertson and Susannah Cunnyham on the mother's side."
The August 31, 1798 will of  Charles Robertson, Sen., of Washington County, Tennessee, names his wife as Susuannah and his heirs as  Charles Robertson, Jun. (who is not to be confused with  Charles Robertson,  General Robertson's brother),  William Robertson,  Rosamond Beane,  Keseah Sevier, and  Sarah Cox.  Colonel Robertson also stipulated in his will that after his wife's death his property was to be equally divided among his sons, and, on August 28, 1806,  George,  Julius,  William, and  Charles Robertson, the heirs of  Charles Robertson, deceased, conveyed their moiety in ten thousand acres of land in Maury County, Tennessee to Frederick Hargett and Scott Gray. The name of an eighth child,  Susan, is established by the autobiographical statement of the Honorable Felix Walker, her husband. Thus, in probable birth order, the children of  Colonel Charles and Susanna Robertson of Washington County, Tennessee, are named  Julius,  Keziah,  William,  Charles,  Susan,  Sarah,  George, and  Rosamond. In his June 2, 1772, will, William Nichols of Bute (now Warren) County, North Carolina, who is believed to have been Susanna Nichols' father, named his children as William, Julius, George, Keziah, Sarah, Susannah, Mary, and Margaret, and it would appear that the children of  Colonel Charles Robertson and Susanna Nichols, with the exception of  Charles and  Rosamond, were named for their mother and her siblings.
 Colonel Robertson's will and the Maury County deed of sale exclude James C. Richardson and his brothers as grandchildren of  Colonel Charles Robertson and Susanna Nichols, and in his Davidson County, Tennessee will of July 7, 1805,  Charles Robertson,  General Robertson's brother, named his wife as Susannah and his children as  James,  Christopher,  Elizabeth Evans,  Polly,  Elijah,  Rhoda,  Susannah Robertson and  Mark Claiborne. Another child is proven by a 1799 deed through which  Charles Robertson gave his daughter,  Ann "Nancy" Pierce, and her husband, George, one hundred acres of land in Davidson County.  Susannah Robertson married Booker Richardson in Davidson County on August 27, 1818, and the statement of James C. Richardson and brothers is consistent with the foregoing information. It is probable that  Christopher Robertson, the son of  Charles Robertson and Susannah Cunningham, was named for his maternal grandfather, Christopher Cunningham, who named Susannah Robertson as his daughter in his will of November 10, 1782.
 Felix Robertson wrote that his father and several others first scouted the Cumberland River region in the spring of 1779. The group returned home through Illinois and Kentucky, reaching Watauga by July or August of the same year.  Robertson continues,
According to Sarah Foster Kelley, family tradition holds that  Charles Robertson, his wife, and children were members of the Donelson Flotilla of 1780 and that they traveled in the company of Charlotte Reeves Robertson and her family until they reached the Cumberland Bluffs where they disembarked for Sulfur Fork of Caleb's Creek on Red River. The land records for the Military District of North Carolina establish that  Charles "Robinson" was granted preemptive claim number 331 for 640 acres of land on the north side of the Great Harpeth River in 1783. This type of claim was defined by statute, the requisite being that the person who patented the land had to have settled upon it before June 1, 1780, and Mrs. Kelley's claim that  Charles Robertson and his family were participants in the Donelson flotilla is consistent with the requirements of qualification for a preemptive claim. However, it may also be that  Charles Robertson was one of the "several other persons" mentioned by  Felix Robertson as having accompanied  James Robertson to Nashville on the October 1779 overland journey and that only his wife and children accompanied Charlotte Reeves Robertson on the Donelson flotilla.
In April 1786, Robert Espy of Davidson County sued  Charles Robertson for nonpayment of a debt of £100, and the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions of Davidson County ordered the Sheriff to attach  Robertson's preemption. Alexander Gunn, on the defendant's behalf, testified that he owed nothing on the bond, but a jury of  Robertson's peers, in July 1786, found for the plaintiff on Andrew Ewing's testimony that the note was the act of the defendant.
In January 1787,  Robertson gave Power of Attorney to Jonathan Drake, and in the suit of Benjamin Drake vs.  Charles Robertson the defendant's attorney, acting as  Robertson's security, pled that he owed nothing on the claim. The Court found for the plaintiff, and Benjamin Drake was granted an attachment on any future property that might come into  Robertson's possession.
On June 11, 1787,  Mark Robertson was killed by Indians, and through his will, which was written on August 12, 1784, and proved to the Court on July 2, 1787, he bequeathed his brother,  Charles, 640 acres of a military claim that lay about a mile and a quarter above the mouth of Will's Creek and which was entered in  James Robertson's name. Judge David Huff of the Davidson County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, ruling on the case of Frederick Stump vs.  Charles Robertson, found for the plaintiff and ordered half of these 640 acres, which lay on the ridge between White's Creek and Sycamore Creek in Davidson County, exposed to public sale by the Sheriff in October 1788. The Court also ordered that the remaining 320 acres of land be sold to satisfy the judgment that had been rendered, in January 1787, in favor of Robert Espy.
 Robertson then purchased Private John Gouge's military claim number 711 for 640 acres of land on the headwaters of Caleb's Creek in Tennessee County, but this rather desperate attempt to gain a foothold on the land was doomed to failure. On April 8, 1789, the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions of Davidson County with  Elijah Robertson, David Hay, and Robert Weakley, Esquires, as sitting Magistrates, ordered that this tract of land situated "three miles southeast of Abner Caleb's Improvement [of] July 9, 1784, be sold by the Sheriff to satisfy Thompson."
 Elijah Robertson apparently knew that this verdict would be rendered, and he felt compassion for his elder brother and his family. On January 10, 1789, he quietly deeded  Charles Robertson's children  Ann,  James,  Elizabeth,  Christopher,  Elijah, and  Mary 640 acres of his own land. The placing of this land in the children's names effectively prohibited  Charles Robertson's creditors from attaching the property and gave his family a place to live while he restructured his financial situation. That he was eventually able to satisfy all his creditors and return to Davidson County in 1796 is a testament to his honesty.
 Charles Robertson died in Davidson County, Tennessee in the winter of 1805-1806, and his will was probated in January 1806. Although Mrs. Kelley has written that he was a colonel during his lifetime, there is no evidence that he is synonymous with  Colonel Charles Robertson, Trustee of the Watauga Settlements, and I have found no evidence to date that he ever held a military commission although his preemptive claim suggests that he completed some service to the state. The events of his life are significantly different from those of  Colonel Charles Robertson's life, and the documents that permit a differentiation between these two men are available to even the most inexperienced researcher through local libraries, the County Court Clerks of the several counties I have mentioned, the North Carolina and Tennessee State Archives, and through many other agencies including the Family History Libraries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Last updated: Thursday, March 20, 2003
Copyright © 2000 Tom Robertson. This original article appeared in The Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy & History 19, 3-8. from the Middle Tennessee Genealogical Society [note: off-site link] in Nashville. Revision Copyright © 2003 Tom Robertson. All rights reserved including those of electronic transmission and reproduction of the material in any format.