In 1995, John A. Brayton, a professional genealogist from Memphis, Tennessee, published a lineage for  General James Robertson [note: external link] , one of the founders of Nashville, with documentation sufficient to conclude that  John Robertson,  General Robertson's father, was the second son of  Israel Roberson of Prince George (now Dinwiddie) County, Virginia, and Granville (now Warren) County, North Carolina. He also presented evidence that my ancestor,  Colonel Charles Robertson, a Revolutionary soldier, statesman, and trustee for the Watauga Settlements in present-day East Tennesse, was  Israel Roberson's sixth son.
In 1997, I began to check Mr. Brayton's source citations against published extracts and images of the documents, and, after locating additional evidence that confirmed most of his conclusions about my ancestor, I concurred with him in the December 1998 edition of Tennessee Ancestors from the East Tennessee Historical Society [note: external link] in Knoxville.
 John and  Charles Robertson's connection to Israel Roberson was firmly established by their birth and christening records and by their father's December 4, 1758 will. In the case of 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 Israel Roberson's son,  Charles, as  Colonel Charles Robertson of Watauga was established to a reasonable certainty through four additional documents that impart substantial and conclusive evidence of the synonymity.
The identification of  Israel Roberson's son,  John, as  General Robertson's father was nonetheless conclusive since the research was reasonably exhaustive and since the qualified evidence agreed in form and substance. The primary documents themselves established the relationships, and any discrepancies with the hearsay evidence were resolved through ordinary means. The fact that the documents that prove the connections have remained in official custody since their creation, some 250 years ago, can only add to their evidentiary value
Nevertheless, in 2000 the late Sarah Foster Kelley [note: external link], who had written and self-published extensively on the  James Robertson line over the previous 30 years, adapted and reintroduced a lineage for  General Robertson that had first appeared in 1928 in a commercial-venture genealogy entitled Robertson Family Records. Two years after its initial appearance Horace J. Donnelly, Solicitor for the Post Office Department in Washington, D. C., and George C. Baker, Superintendent of Mails in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, issued a fraud order against the publisher, J. Montgomery Seaver [note: external link], in which they charged that he and his organization, The American Historical-Genealogical Society of Philadelphia, 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, Colonel William Curry Harlee, the author of Kinfolks: A Genealogical and Biographical Record, wrote of the Seaver lineage that he had
...seen a letter from a person in Edinburgh, Scotland, who stated that for a consideration, ten pounds, he would "allude" to connections of royalty and nobility [in the line].... [The researcher] "alluded" to the Royal Stuarts, the Barons of Strowan, [and] the "House of Lude," [claiming] that ...[2A] John, son of [1A] Rev. James and Ann (McKenzie) Robertson, married Eliza Ann Randolph of Belfast, Ireland, and had son [3A] John Randolph Robertson who married Mary Gower and that this [3A] John Randolph and Mary (Gower) Robertson were the parents of  Gen. James Robertson...and others [including 126 Colonel Charles Robertson of Watauga]....
He refuted the false ascendancy with  General Robertson's family Bible and with information gleaned from Hew Scott's Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae: The Succession of Ministers in the Church of Scotland from the Reformation (Edinburgh, Scotland: Oliver & Boyd, 1915-28), volume three, page 107. The Bible established that  James Robertson was born June 28, 1742, and Colonel Harlee wrote,
[1A. Reverend] James Robertson, a native of Athol, [was] born about 1701, licensed by the Presbytery of Dunkheld 5th November 1734 and ordained 8th May 1743 died in March 1776. He married in 1752 Ann McKenzie who died 26th February 1791 and had two sons, James and [2A.] John. ...It is quite certain that...  James Robertson was born 28 June 1742; it is palpably impossible that... [1A. Reverend] James Robertson, born about 1701... and Ann McKenzie..., [whom] he married in 1752, could have had a great-grandson [1221 General Robertson] born in 1742.
In the discredited pedigree's latest incarnation [note: external link], Mrs. Kelley claimed that [2A] John Robertson and Eliza Randolph, who she called [2A] Captain John Robertson of Guay and Ann Elizabeth Randolph, "...were probably married around 1716, and they became the parents of two known sons: [3A] John Randolph Robertson, born circa 1718, and [4A] Charles Robertson, born circa 1720 (these dates are estimated), in the Presbyterian settlement northeast of Belfast near Larne." She cited Draper letters 6XX96, 6XX49, and 31S34-54 as proof of the connections, but the cited sources do not even mention [2A] John Robertson of Guay and Ann Elizabeth Randolph (or [2A] John Robertson and Eliza Randolph). She also cited the cemetery records of St. John's Parish in Dublin, Ireland which she paraphrased on pages 79-80:
...John Randolph (Randoll) was buried at St. John's Church on October 23, 1690, and a John Robertson, son of James, was interred there on December 30, 1691. Are these two men the fathers of [2A] John and Ann Elizabeth (Randolph) Robertson? Was this John Robertson, son of James, buried in St. John's Church cemetery the near relative of [2A] John Robertson of Guay, who had a James Robertson in his family, as indicated, and went to the shelter of his MacDonald cousins in Antrim County, North[ern] Ireland?
Since the cited sources do not validate the key connection in the pedigree, one wonders upon which authority she rests when she claims that overseas research she commissioned through the Scots Ancestry Research Bureau and the Ulster Historical Foundation [note: external link] has validated the so-called "...American traditions handed down within the Robertson family...[that] James Robertson descended from Irish princes and Scottish kings...and was a lineal descendant of the House of Lude...[which dates] back to 1358." She continues, "[2A] Captain John Robertson of Guay fought with the Jacobites... in 1715, and [he] was arrested and placed in Newgate Prison. ...He escaped..., [and] fled to North[ern] Ireland...[while] his Perthshire lands were confiscated by the crown. ...He lived as a political exile for the rest of his life...."
[Editor's note: In a recently-discovered unpublished article, Tom addresses specifically the claims made by Sarah Foster Kelley in her last book, Scotch-Irish Origins of General James Robertson. That article is posted here.]
Jim Thompson, a descendant of the Robertsons of Riemore, Perthshire, Scotland writes in an e-mail dated July 16, 2003,
[2A] John Robertson of Guay, of course, was very much a historical person. He did indeed serve in the rising of 1715, though I do not know for certain he held the rank of captain. His estate was forfeited, but I am totally unaware of his departing into exile, unless he followed his chief, Alexander Robertson of Struan to France. ...He died at Guay in 1749, and a copy of his testament dative was filed the following year at Dunkeld. The will mentions his eldest son John, then deceased (he served in 1745-6 and died before his father, leaving a son, John, and a daughter Elizabeth). John, younger of Guay, had married his wife, Janet Cameron, in 1711, and the elder John was married to his wife, Isobel Rattray, by 1689.
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 on August 2, 1750 and May 5, 1748, respectively, and an eik, or codicil, to the will of John Robertson the elder confirmed on August 1, 1750. The testament dative for John Robertson the Younger of Guay establishes that he entered into a marriage contract with Janet Cameron on July 14, 1711, that the couple had children named John and Elspeth (or Elizabeth) Robertson, and that Janet Cameron was his spouse on May 5, 1748 when the Commissary of Dunkeld confirmed his will. Thus, he was not the  John Robertson who was said to have married Mary Gower. The testament dative for John Robertson the elder of Guay names, 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  General James Robertson's grandfather.
"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  General James Robertson. A pedigree that was a fraud in 1937 is still a fraud today.
There is, however, primary and direct evidence that  General James Robertson was the son of the  John Robertson who died in Johnston (now Wake) County, North Carolina before April 1761, and there is primary and direct evidence that  John Robertson was the son of  Israel and Sarah Roberson of Bristol Parish, Prince George County, Virginia.
As genealogists, we have an obligation to our readers to place the best evidence for the descent before them in a manner that is consistent with the tenets of academic and genealogical scholarship. While this requirement naturally implies a selection process, it also means that one may not ignore or misrepresent valid evidence that runs counter to one's beliefs. As Helen F. M. Leary, CG., CGL, FASG put it, "It is axiomatic in historical research that one cannot simply choose which of two conflicting records to believe, one must accept whichever of them is most-probably reliable."
While this site deals in part with the controversy surrounding  James Robertson's ancestry, it would be incorrect to assume that controversy is its main focus. There are many individuals in the lineage, and the Robertson Genealogy Exchange was established as a means to share information about them with family members and the public at large. It's a great family, and I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all who have shared information and evidence or offered encouragement over the past five years. By working together, we may yet answer some of the remaining questions about the descent.
I hope you enjoy your visit to the Robertson Genealogy Exchange, and I ask that you bear with us while the site is undergoing renovation. There is a lot of information to share, and it will be some time before all of it is online. Actual images of many of the documents are being made available for the first time. Wherever you see this icon
- Mr. Brayton's monographs have appeared in The Virginia Genealogist, Tennessee Ancestors, The Arkansas Family Historian, and Nexus. In 2000, he won the North Carolina Genealogical Society's Award for Excellence in Publishing [note: external link] for his book By a Line of Marked Trees.
- The numbers in brackets that precede the names of individuals mentioned in this article refer to the numbering system employed on the sitemap. The numbers for unrelated and / or fictional people are followed by the letter "A," and they refer to the article entitled "Numbering System and the Fraudulent Ascendancy."
- John A. Brayton, The Ancestry of General James Robertson, "Father of Tennessee," Addendum to The Complete Ancestry of Tennessee Williams (Winston-Salem, NC: J. A. Brayton, 1995), 18-28. The book may be purchased from: Genealogical Services, 1503 Union Ave., Suite 220, Memphis, TN 38104
- Brayton, 18-23, 28-38.
- Entries for John and Charles Robinson, Bristol Parish Register, 1720-1794, at Bristol Parish (Dinwiddie and Prince George Counties, Virginia; Episcopal), Parish Register, 1720-1794, and Vestry Book, 1720-1789, microfilm number 30625, Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FHL), Salt lake City, Utah. Israel Roberson, Will, Granville County, North Carolina, Unrecorded Will 53, at North Carolina County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions (Granville County), Loose Wills, 1749-1771, FHL microfilm 306193 / Item 2.
- Roberson from Roberson, Lunenburg County, Virginia, Deed Book 7, 128-129, at Lunenburg County (Virginia) County Clerk, Deeds, 1746-1869, Deeds, Volumes 7-9, FHL microfilm 32391. The deed states, "I Isreal Roberson Senr. of Granvil County in North Carolina... for Divers Causes and Considertion... 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 Contaning Two hundred acres Lying in Lunenburg County...."
- George Roberson, Will, Granville County, North Carolina, Unrecorded Will Number 52, at North Carolina County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions (Granville County), Loose Wills, 1749-1771, FHL microfilm 306193 / Item 2. David Robertson, Will, Tryon County, North Carolina Loose Wills; copy of original at North Carolina County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions (Tryon County), Wills, 1765-1779, FHL microfilm 18678 / Item 1.
- King from Roberson, Lunenburg County, Virginia, Deed Book 7, 130-131. Charles Robertson, Sen., Will, Washington County, Tennessee, Will Book 1, 44; at Tennessee County Court (Washington County), Probate Records, 1778-1950, Will Books, Volumes 1-2, 1779-1889, FHL microfilm 825521. Frederick Hargett and Scott Gray Conveyance for 10 tracts of land by George Robertson & others, Maury County, Tennessee, Deed Book A, 195-197; at Maury County (Tennesse) Register of Deeds, Deed Books, 1808-1881, Deed Books, Volumes A-B, 1808-1822, FHL microfilm 549236. Julius Caesar Nichols Robertson, "A Biographical Sketch of the Life of J. C. N. Robertson," The Masonic Jewel (Memphis, Tennessee: January 15, 1875), Volume 3, Number 1, 4.
- Board for Certification of Genealogists, "The Genealogical Proof Standard," online <http://www.bcgcertification.org/resources/standard.html> [note: external link], downloaded April 18, 2002. According to the BCG, "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."
- Entries for John and Charles Robinson, Bristol Parish Register, 1720-1794. Israel Roberson, Will, Granville County, North Carolina, Unrecorded Will 53. Robertson to Mabry, Mecklenburg County, Virginia, Deed Book 1, 523-524; at Virginia County Court (Mecklenburg County), Deed Records, 1765-1905, Deed Books, v. 1-2, 1765-1771, FHL microfilm 32532.
- Noel D. Stevenson, J.D., FASG, Genealogical Evidence: A Guide to the Standard of Proof Relating to Pedigrees, Ancestry, Heirship, and Family History (Laguna Hills, CA: Aegean Park Press, 1979), 182-186 & 191.
- Stevenson, 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 hem."
- J. Montgomery Seaver, Robertson Family Records (Philadelphia, PA: American Historical-Genealogical Society, 1928), 61. Sarah Foster Kelley, Scotch-Irish Origins of General James Robertson (College Grove, TN: E. S. Kelley, Jr., 2000), Foreword.
- Lonnie Chase, "The Chase Family Resource Center," online <http://webnests.com/Chase/chronicles/genealogyfraud.htm>, originally downloaded August 25, 2003, from http://chase.genealogysur names.com/chrnsite/sect3.html#S3-16.
- William Curry Harlee, Kinfolks: A Genealogical and Biographical Record, 3 volumes (New Orleans, LA: Searcy & Pfaff, 1935-37), 3: 2474.
- Harlee, 3: 2474.
- "Family Records in Bible" at Harlee 3: 2539.
- Harlee, 3: 2474.
- Kelley, 51.
- Kelley, 58.
- Dr. Felix Robertson, "Draper Ms. 6XX96" and "Draper Ms. 6XX49" at Harlee, 3: 2493-2498 & 2498-2502 respectively. Colonel Harlee quotes Miss Annie A. Nunns, Assistant Superintendant of the Draper manuscripts in 1937 regarding Draper 6XX96, "This source sketch, with some verbal changes is [also] found in Draper's Notes, Draper Ms. 31S34-54...," so the latter manuscript is simply Dr. Draper's paraphrase of Felix Robertson's 6XX96.
- Kelley, 9-80.
- Kelley, Foreword.
- Kelley, Foreword.
- Jim Thompson, "Robertson of Guay," e-mail message from <jthompson@msmgmt. com> to author, July 16, 2003.
- Eik to the Testament Dative of John Robertson of G[u]ay, National Archives of Scotland Reference CC7/6/5, page 179. The Testament Dative of John Robertson of G[u]ay, National Archives of Scotland Reference CC7/6/5, pages 180-182. The Testament Dative of John Robertson the Younger of G[u]ay National Archives of Scotland Reference CC7/6/5, page> 50.
- Testament Dative of John Robertson the Younger of G[u]ay.
- Testament Dative of John Robertson of G[u]ay.
- Eik to the Testament Dative of John Robertson of G[u]ay.
- John Adams, "Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials," online at Quotations Page, <http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/John_Adams/>, downloaded August 2, 2003.
- Robertson to Mabry, Mecklenburg County, Virginia, Deed Book 1, 523-524; at Virginia County Court (Mecklenburg County), Deed Records, 1765-1905, Deed Books, v. 1-2, 1765-1771, FHL microfilm 32532.
- Entries for John and Charles Robinson, Bristol Parish Register, 1720-1794. Israel Roberson, Will, Granville County, North Carolina, Unrecorded Will 3.
- Gary Mills and Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG, "Editors' Corner: So, What Does It Matter?" in Evidence: A Special Issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly 87.
- Helen F. M. Leary, CG, CGL, FASG, "Resolving Conflicts in Direct Evidence: Identity and Vital Dates of Mary Kittrell," in Evidence: A Special Issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly 87, 202.
Last updated: Sunday, August 24, 2003
All original material Copyright © 2003 Tom Robertson. All rights reserved including those of electronic transmission and reproduction of the material in any format.