The Robertson Genealogy Exchange

On April 12, 1852, John Pendleton Kennedy wrote of his first encounter with [1246] Horse-Shoe Robertson:

In less than an hour the broad light of the hearth...fell upon a goodly figure. There was first a sound of hoofs coming through the dark — a halt at the door — a full, round, clear voice heard on the porch — and then the entrance...of a woodland hero. That fine rich voice again, in salutation.... With near seventy years on his poll, time seems to have broken its billows over [him]...only as the ocean breaks over a rock. There he stood — tall, broad, [and] brawny.... The sharp light gilded his massive frame and weather-beaten face with a pictorial effect that would have rejoiced an artist. His homely dress, his free stride, as he advanced to the fire; his face radiant with kindness; the natural gracefulness of his motion; all afforded a ready index to his character. Horse Shoe, it was evident, was a man to confide in.

...He came to the fireside...and took a chair.... We had supper, and, after that, formed a little party around the hearth. Colonel T. took occasion to tell me something about [him]...; and the Colonel's eldest son...intimated I might draw out the old soldier to relate some stories of the war.... "Ask him," said the young man, "how he got away from Charleston after the surrender; and then get him to tell you how he took the five Scotchmen prisoners.

...Horse Shoe was very obliging, and as I expressed a great interest in his adventures, he yielded himself to my leading, and I got out of him a rich stock of adventure, of which his life was full. ...A more truthful man than he, I am convinced, did not survive the war to tell his story. Truth was the predominant expression of his face and gesture — the truth that belongs to natural and unconscious bravery, united with a frank and modest spirit. He seemed to set no especial value upon his own exploits, but to relate them as items of personal history, with as little comment or emphasis as if they concerned any one more than himself.

It was long after midnight before our party broke up; and when I got to my bed it was to dream of Horse Shoe and his adventures. I made a record of what he told me, whilst the memory of it was still fresh, and often afterwards reverted to it, when accident or intentional research brought into my view events connected with the times to which his story had reference.

...[My novel] was first published in 1835. Horse-Shoe Robinson was then a very old man. He had removed into Alabama, and lived, I am told, upon the banks of the Tuskaloosa. I commissioned a friend to send him a copy of the book. The report brought me was that the old man had listened very attentively to the reading of it, and took great interest in it.

"What do you say to all this!" was the question addressed to him, after the reading was finished. His reply is a voucher, which I desire to preserve: "It is all true and right — in its right place — excepting about them women, which I disremember. That mought be true, too; but my memory is treacherous — I disremember."[1]

Kennedy's fictional account of [1246] James "Horse Shoe" Robertson's Revolutionary exploits and adventures, Horse Shoe Robinson: A Tale of the Tory Ascendency, was so popular in its day that no less a literary figure than Edgar Allan Poe reviewed it for The Southern Literary Messenger, and, in 1858, Clifton Tayleure recast the central characters in a melodrama that reinforced the sociological and political beliefs of antebellum America.[2]

As genealogists, our primary interest in the novel lies in Kennedy's description of the real-life Horse Shoe Robertson. A news item from Flag of the Nation, published in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, January 17, 1838, and quoted in Thomas M. Owen's Revolutionary Soldiers in Alabama, adds details of his life after the novel's publication:

Horseshoe Robinson — Who has not read Kennedy's delightful novel of this name, and who that has read would not give an half day's ride to see the venerable living Hero of this Tale of "Tory Ascendency," the immortal Horseshoe himself-the extermination of "Jim Curry" and Hugh Habershaw?? The venerable patriot bearing the familiar sobriquet, and whose name Mr. Kennedy has made as familiar in the mouths of American youths as household words, was visited by us in company with several friends one day last week. We found the old Gentleman on his Plantation about 12 miles from this city, as comfortably situated with respect to this world's goods as any one could desire to have him. It was gratifying to us to see him in his old age after having served through the whole war of Independence thus seated under his own vine and fig tree, with his children around him and with the partner of his early toils and trials still continued to him enjoying in peace and safety the rich rewards of that arduous struggle, in the most gloomy and desponding hour of which he was found as ready, as earnest, as zealous, for the cause of liberty as when victory perched upon her standard, and the stars of the "Tory ascendancy" was for a while dimmed by defeat — and in which he continued with unshaken Faith and constancy until it sank below the Horizon never again to rise. The old gentleman gave us a partial history of his Revolutionary adventures, containing many interesting facts respecting the domination of the Tory party in the South during the times of the Revolution, which Mr. Kennedy has not recorded in his Book. But it will chiefly interest our readers, or to that portion of them at least to whom the history of the old hero's achievements as recorded by Mr. Kennedy is familiar, to be assured that the principal incidents therein portrayed are strictly true.

That of his escape from Charleston after the capture of that city, his being entrusted with a letter to Butler, the scene at Wat Adair's, the capture of Butler at Grindal's Ford, his subsequent escape and recapture, the death of John Ramsey, and the detection of the party by reason of the salute fired over his grave, his capturing of the four men under the common of the younger St. Jermyn, his attack up Ines' camp, and the death of Hugh Habershaw by his own hand and finally the death of Jim Curry, are all narrated pretty much as they occurred, in the old veteran's own language: "There is a heap of truth in it, though the writer has mightily furnished it up." That the names of Butler, Mildred Lindsay, Mary Musgrove, John Ramsay, Hugh Habershaw, Jim Curry and in fact almost every other used in the Book, with the exception of his own, are real and not fictitious. His own name, he informed us, is James; and that he did not go by the familiar appellation by which he is now so widely known until after the war, when he acquired it from the form of his Plantation in the Horseshoe Bend of the Fair Forest creek, which was bestowed upon him by the Legislature of South Carolina in consequence of the services he had rendered during the war — this estate, we understood him to say, he still owned.

He was born, he says in 1759 in Virginia, and entered the army in his seventeenth year. Before the close of war, he says, he commanded a troop of horse, so that his military title is that of Captain. Horseshoe, although in infirm health, bears evident marks of having been a man of great personal strength and activity. He is now afflicted with a troublesome cough, which in the natural course of events must in a few nears wear out his aged frame. Yet, notwithstanding his infirmities and general debility, his eye still sparkles with the fire of youth as he recounts the stirring and thrilling incidents of the war, and that sly, quiet humor so well described by Kennedy may still be seen playing around his mouth as one calls to his recollections any of the pranks he was wont to play upon any of the "tory vagrants," as he very properly styles them. The old Gentleman received us with warm cordiality and hospitality; and after partaking of the Bounties of his board and spending a night under his hospitable roof we took leave of him, sincerely wishing him many years of the peaceful enjoyment of that liberty which he fought so long and so bravely to achieve. It will not be uninteresting, we hope, to remark that the old hero still considers himself a soldier, though the nature of his warfare is changed; he is now a zealous promoter of the Redeemer's cause as he once was in securing the independence of his country....<[3]

Several of [124] David Robertson's descendants are building a circumstantial case for [1246] James "Horse Shoe" Robertson's descent from [12] Israel Roberson of Granville (now Warren) County, North Carolina. The progress of their research may be seen in the following posts to Robertson-L:

Last updated: Wednesday, March 17, 2010

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