The

Nicholas Robbins Family

CAPTAIN GEORGE KING ROBBINS

A MEMOIR 

 

By Wenonah Finch Sharpe

 

 

My paternal great-grandfather, George King Robbins (1828-1912), was born in Wareham Township, Massachusetts, to Zenas Robbins and Sylvia Caswell Robbins. They married 20 May, 1827, at Rochester, MA. On the marriage record, Zenas was recorded as “of Middleboro, MA.” This couple had three children: George King, born 1828, Hannah C. (Caswell?), 1830, and Sylvia, born 1838. George’s second name was for his paternal grandmother, Mary King, of East Bridgewater, MA, daughter of Jabez King and Mary Washborn, of Bridgewater, MA.

 

I did not learn where the name “George” came from; I fail see it anywhere in the lineages of these families. His father “Zenas” disappears from the records before 1845, when Sylvia, apparently a widow, married Elijah Braley of Rochester, in 1845.

 

In 1842, George, 14, signed on as a Light Hand on the ship “Charles Thompson,” a merchantman out of New Bedford (Seaman’s Protection Certificate,1842).

Editor's Introduction:  Greetings Cousins! I am extremely pleased to present two fascinating articles in our Fall 2012 edition of the Nicholas Robbins Family Newsletter. Wenonah Sharpe has written a wonderful memoir piece about Captain George King Robbins, her paternal great-grandfather. I'm sure you will enjoy this chronicle of Captain Robbins' life from his early days aboard ship, his courtship and marriage, his work as a sea Captain, to his eventual settlement in Washington State. Wenonah has also provided us with further information about Captain Robbins that will soon be incorporated into a biography in the Supplement section of our site. 

 

 I would be most remiss if I did not also briefly mention Wenonah's distinguished career as an author. She and her husband co-authored several books about park mananagement and the very well regarded  Introduction to Forest and Renewable Resources. To quote one review, this textbook "is an outstanding overview of natural resource management and conservation policies and practices. Few textbooks have served a field of study as emphatically." Wenonah has made tremendous contribution to education and preservation of our natural resources. We congratulate our cousin.

 

The second article, by Lawrence Robbins, our Editor Emeritus, is a engaging article about Lemuel Robbins, a very early settler of Townshend, Vermont. Settling this area was not an easy undertaking in the latter half of the 18th century. The French and Indian War, territorial disputes between the New Hampshire and New York Colonies, and the America Revolution all impacted the region's settlement. Lawrence's article supplies previously unpublished details regarding Lemuel Robbins' role in the founding of Townshend and is a great addition to our Robbins history. Don't miss it.

 

                                                             Julie Callahan

This certificate described him as 5’1”, complexion dark, hair brown, eyes grey. George was short in stature even as an adult, although he probably grew to 5” 7” or so.

 

As he was able to apprentice to a ship’s captain, he must have attended the local schools to prepare himself to someday rise to the rank of Captain and perhaps Master Mariner. At sea, he would learn first to be a competent seaman, bearing a hand with all tasks of which he was capable, as well as studying the art of navigation, and the skills of ship handling and command, as he matured in age and experience. He sailed out New Bedford on his first voyage, and probably several other times as well during his career. I don’t know just when he became a Captain with a ship at his command; probably before his marriage in 1860.

 

His grandson, Sidney Finch, said Captain George had sailed out of East Machais for the lumber company there early in his career, as well as from other east coast ports. (The East Machais lumber company eventually moved its operations to the west coast, out of San Francisco, and became known in Washington Territory as” Pope and Talbot” at Port Gamble and Port Ludlow).

 

By the late 1850s, George had met and married Harriet Augusta Gordon, of Farmington, Maine. We know this from the Finch Family bible pages George had inscribed, but despite a diligent search, no record has been found of their marriage. It is possible the officiating minister neglected to register it.

 

How did George meet and woo a woman from an inland Maine town? It is my conjecture that since he had Caswell relatives in the Harrison-Minot-Gardiner area of Maine, his mother, Sylvia Caswell Robbins told him of his relatives in this area, and he traveled to meet them while his ship took on a load of lumber along the Kennebec or at East Machais.

 

But then there’s the problem regarding Harriet Gordon, who was born and lived near Farmington, ME, even further inland, with her parents.  However, my cousin Luther Gordon Whittier (a family historian) told me that Harriet’s mother had close cousins in the Gardiner area, and that she and her daughter Harriet, loved to visit with 

Captain George King Robbins

 

them. These two were known to start out in a buggy from Farmington, early in the morning and after traveling all day, reach Gardiner before dark. They would apparently stay a few days before traveling back. These audacious trips to Gardiner with her mother may have led to a more adventurous life for Harriet than she had ever bargained for, or ever really felt at ease with.

 

I found from the Maine Census that there was a Caswell couple, living in the Harrison-Gardiner area. So is probable that George visited his cousins there, and he and Harriet met through mutual friends. Let us also consider that when they married, George must have been 32 and Harriet 26, so match-making may have been in the air. Further support for my theory lies in the fact that George and Harriet’s first child was named Ida G. (Gordon?) born October 22, 1861. She died March 20th, 1862. Ida Marie, their second daughter, according to George’s record in the Finch family Bible page, was born November 13, 1864. She lived until 1950, and had a large family and many grandchildren. There were no further children of Ida and George. My point is that although the name “Ida” does not appear anywhere in the records of George’s or Harriet’s lineages, the Caswell couple living in the Harrison area, (close to Gardiner) had a young daughter Ida. It seems probable this was their Ida’s namesake.

 

At first Harriet (now Mrs. George Robbins) and baby Ida Marie stayed with her parents in Farmington while George was at sea. Eventually he came to get her and Ida, and took them out to San Francisco by train (a newly available opportunity for cross-country travel). From census records it looks like George settled them in an apartment and went off to sea. But Harriet, no doubt lonely, presently took the train home to Farmington. On his next voyage to Maine, George went to Farmington, packed up Harriet and Ida and their furniture and took them with him on his ship around the Horn, to San Francisco again. Ida was about 10 years old by then. Here Harriet stayed put, dressmaking and hopefully awaiting the arrival of her family from Farmington.

 

This situation was apparently discussed in Luther’s family, as Harriet and Luther’s mother were “own” cousins and kept up a close correspondence. Although Luther was not born until the 1890s, he seemed somewhat indignant about “Robbins” insistence on taking Harriet out west. “Moving West” was not seen as a grand adventure or an opportunity by Luther, but rather as a somewhat weak response to the healthy rigors of life in Maine. Eventually Harriet’s brothers, and then the rest of the family came west, but shortly after that, Captain Robbins moved his wife and daughter to Seattle.

 

Captain Robbins was sailing out of west coast ports only by this time. He sailed to the Sandwich Islands for Spreckles Sugar, to fishing stations in Alaska and British Columbia, to California for Pope and Talbot in lumber bottoms, and to Salvador in Central America in the guano trade. The guano trade was an undignified occupation for the old sailing ships. As they were slow and hard to sign crews for, those men who would sign on were often difficult to manage. In 1878 Robbins decided to come ashore to work for Pope & Talbot, at their proposed new mill site, at nearby Port Ludlow. He was offered better wages for his carpentry skills (building bunkhouses) than he could make as the Captain of a sailing ship. Perhaps he felt he was getting too old to handle the hard-bitten crews now serving on these slower, lower-paying ships.

The Stern-Wheel Steamer "State of Washington"

docked at Hoodsport, Washington

So he uprooted Harriet again, just as her whole family had decided to move out west, and bought her and Ida to Seattle, Washington Territory in 1878. George was home on the weekends only as he worked constructing cabins for Pope and Talbot’s mill sites. In 1879 he decided to buy heavily-timbered land on nearby Hood Canal, Washington. Once again they moved, to a cabin in the woods, and Captain Robbins began building a fine New England style home on the waterfront of their property. This was for Ida, now married at 16 to Vincent Finch, a logger from New York, who had alerted Captain Robbins to the fine timber on the Canal, now available through the Homestead Act.

 

My father, Sidney, “Sid” Finch remembered several incidents from this period. He, and his older brother, Emery, (who was as strong-willed as his grandpa Robbins) were bundled up and sent down to George’s care as he was building. They found a hatchet and were chopping at a stump. Sid thought it was his turn but Emery wouldn’t give him the hatchet. So Sid put his hand on the stump to stop Emery, but he was not deterred. They ran to Grandpa George with the problem of Sid’s wounded hand. Captain Robbins emptied out a pocket, cut it off with his knife, then tore it into strips and bandaged Sid’s hand up tight to stop the bleeding until they could row him to a doctor a couple of miles across the Canal.

 

Sid also said Captain Robbins had his brass telescope by the building site and would occasionally use it to look up and down the Canal for boats. Later, after a small settlement arose at the mouth of the creek, Captain Robbins built the bridge across Finch Creek, and also the Hoodsport Dock, including a store and small house at the landward end. Here he sold sundries, and batched with an old sailor he had befriended, and they had a good time building boats together. Harriet went back to her family, who had settled in Berkeley, California, as soon as Ida was settled in with her first baby. She died in Berkeley, early the next year.

 

Captain Robbins married again and outlived that wife too. He died in 1913, at Shelton Washington, and is buried there.

 

Source of Information: Wenonah Finch Sharpe family records.

Captain George King Robbins

 

LEMUEL ROBBINS of PLYMPTON 

and SUTTON, MASSACHUSETTS, WINDHAM, CONNECTICUT and TOWNSHEND, VERMONT 

 

 By Lawrence G. Robbins

 

 

Lemuel Robbins, the ninth-born child of Jeduthan and Hannah (Pratt) Robbins and a great-grandson of Nicholas Robbins, was born on April 20, 1715 at the family homestead in Swan Hold, then part of Plympton in the Colony of Massachusetts. Nowadays that neighborhood falls within the boundaries of North Carver, Massachusetts. Lemuel was six when his father died and he was raised by his mother and older siblings, particularly his eldest brother, Jeduthan (Jr), who became family head and proprietor of the Robbins homestead following their father’s death. 

 

Lemuel worked on the family homestead in his youth and later used his share of his father’s estate to establish his own farm in Plympton. In 1737 he married Esther Dunham and by 1742 at least two of their children, Lemuel (Jr) and Sarah, had been born. Later records indicate that sometime after the baptism of Sarah in October, 1742, Lemuel had resettled with his family near Sutton in Worcester County, Massachusetts. He was the first of the Nicholas Robbins descendants to move out of Plymouth County. 

 

The exact location of Lemuel’s property in Worcester County has not been determined but we know it was in the vicinity of Sutton because by the early 1750s he was listed among a group of Sutton proprietors seeking a grant to lands in New Hampshire from the Governor of that Colony, Benning Wentworth. The focus of their interest was Townshend, an unsettled township-sized area near the center of present-day Windham County, Vermont. The Sutton proprietors were ultimately successful and on June 20, 1753, they were awarded a charter. Lemuel Robbins was one of the original sixty-nine grantees named in the Townshend charter. 

 

Two major obstacles prevented the immediate settlement of the Townshend grant. The first concerned the legitimacy of the charter. From the time Wentworth awarded his first grant in 1749, the Colony of New York disputed the right of the New Hampshire Governor to make such grants in areas to the west of the Connecticut River, claiming all lands between Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River to be within the boundaries of New York. The second involved the safety of the settlers. Between 1754 and 1760 the French and Indian War made it hazardous to settle in many of the granted areas. As a result, the New Hampshire Grants were curtailed from early 1754 until the French surrender in 1760. Thereafter, settlers began moving into the chartered town sites to lay claim to their grants, Townshend among them. Protests and threats by the New York Colony had very little effect. By the end of his rule in 1766, New Hampshire Colonial Governor Benning Wentworth had awarded 135 grants and in so doing had established the framework for settlement of what was to later become the State of Vermont. 

Soon after the end of the French and Indian War in New England, the Townshend grantees resumed their meetings in Sutton. At their meeting on March 10, 1761, a land survey was authorized to be followed by a division of the Townshend lands into lots suitable for settlement. By the summer of 1761, the first contingent of proprietors had arrived to lay claim to their lots and to begin clearing and building. Until 1766 the staking of boundaries and improvement work was done on a seasonal basis with settlers returning to Massachusetts during the harsh winter months. Thereafter, suitable shelters had been erected and roadways installed to allow for year round inhabitation by families. By 1771 enough of the grantees had moved from Sutton to their land in Townshend that from that time forward, the business meetings of the proprietors were conducted in Townshend. A census of Townshend that year lists 25 family heads by name and a head count of 33 males under 16, 41 males over 16 and 52 females of various ages. 

 

Lemuel Robbins did not make his way to Townshend with the first wave of settlers. Sometime after August, 1757, when daughter Abigail was baptized in Sutton and before January, 1761, the family moved to Windham County, Connecticut, where youngest son William was born. Lemuel and his family remained in Connecticut for at least a decade, perhaps longer. Local records note the marriages of son Lemuel (Jr) at Windham Township in 1769 and son Ephraim in 1771, also at Windham. A family history notes wife Esther’s death in 1770, probably at Windham. Lemuel’s second marriage to Sarah Rude in December, 1771, is recorded in Lisbon, Connecticut church records. In April, 1773, son John was also married at Lisbon. My research failed to uncover any deeds for Lemuel during the period of his residency in Connecticut. It is assumed that he continued in farming and that he was successful. At least one of his sons, Ephraim, had sufficient education to enable him to become a Baptist church leader and a spokesman for his denomination in Connecticut. It is also assumed that Lemuel was in communication with his fellow Townshend grantees during his time in Connecticut so that his proprietary rights would remain in full force and effect despite his absence. 

 

The first evidence that Lemuel had arrived in Townshend and taken up residence on his grant would appear to be a July 12, 1775 resolution signed by Lemuel Robbins and his fellow Townshend proprietors, pledging their support to the Continental Congress at the outset of the American Revolution. It is assumed that Lemuel was accompanied in his move to Townshend by his wife, Sarah, and youngest son, William. The Townshend Proprietor’s Records indicate that Lemuel’s division was located in the eastern part of the township, that it was adjacent to a highway and that it included forty-two acres. It will be supposed that Lemuel’s parcel included both meadowlands and woodlands and that he spent some time clearing the site and erecting a cabin before he moved his household up from Connecticut. The move from Windham, Connecticut to Townshend would have been approximately 150 miles along the paths and roads of the day, probably a wagon ride of two to three weeks’ duration. Whether Lemuel trailed livestock with him or started anew is anybody’s guess. 

The New York Colony had continued to press her claims for jurisdiction over all the territory within the so-called “New Hampshire Grants” after the retirement of Benning Wentworth in 1766. Those claims included threats of seizure by force if the grantees failed to surrender their titles and then buy back their lands from New York. Various governmental entities in the New York Colony, including the Supreme Court, made rulings favoring New York in this dispute, declaring Wentworth’s grants invalid. Ultimately push came to shove and the grantees began to organize armed resistance. Prominent among the resistance leaders were Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys. In January, 1775, various representatives from around the New Hampshire Grants area gathered in Manchester to discuss independence from New York and the creation of a government and laws to regulate their affairs. With the outbreak of the American Revolution in Massachusetts a few months later, the wheels were set in motion to end British governance over both New York and New Hampshire as well as the disputed area between them. The capture of Fort Ticonderoga from the British in May, 1775 by Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys was another step in the independence movement. Following a failed attempt by the New Hampshire Grantees to gain recognition as an independent state from the Continental Congress, the Grantees met again in July, 1777, and declared themselves as the independent Vermont Republic, complete with their own constitution, assembly and court system. While remaining bound in a common cause with the other thirteen former colonies throughout the Revolutionary War, it was not until 1791 that Vermont voters ratified the U. S. Constitution and were admitted into the Union as the fourteenth State. 

 

Following the Revolution, Lemuel was recognized for “patriotic service” in conjunction with his support of the war in Vermont. Revolutionary War records also indicate that son William served in the waning days of the war as a member of a local militia unit assigned to law enforcement in Southern Vermont. 

 

A Townshend history supplies a list of all the proprietors who had participated in the divisions as of October, 1782, by which time the list of proprietors had grown from sixty-nine to ninety-eight and included both Lemuel and his son William. The original Proprietor’s Records Book, now preserved in the Townshend Clerk’s Office, contains the following entries, which shed some light on two of the divisions made to the Robbins:

 

From page 136: 

“Townshend, May 3d 1782 

This day laid out to Lemuel Robens forty-two acres of undivided land in the easterly part of Townshend beginning at the Southwest corner of said piece of land joining upon the highway and Northeasterly of Samuel Parkhurst land and running east 10 dgs South one hundred and fifty rods, stake & stones at corner, then North twenty dgs East forty two rods, stake & stones at corner, then West 10 dgs North one hundred and fifty rods, stake & stones at corner upon the highway, then South 20 dgs West forty two rods to the first bounds mentioned with an allowance of two acres or so for highways through the Same, the foregoing done by a Committee and Surveyor appointed for such purpose as by the Proprietor’s book may appear. Thomas Wood, Timothy Holbrook, Joshua Barnard, Committee and Surveyor. Recorded July 22nd 1783” 

 

From page 137: 

“Townshend, July 10th 1783

This day laid out for William Robins thirty nine acres And 124 Rods in the Second Division of the Common undivided land in Townshend beginning in the Northeast corner of Baily Rawson’s farm so called, then running East 10 dgs South sixty seven rods to Amos Gray’s land, then turning and running South 20 dgs ninety-five rods to Ervin’s lot so called, then West 10 dgs North by Woods, then North 20 dgs East 95 Rods to the first bounds with appropriate allowance for highways out of the Same, the foregoing done by a Committee appointed for that purpose as by the Proprietor’s Records may appear. Thomas Wood, Amzi Doolittle, Timothy Holbrook, Committee, Survey by Josiah Fish, Surveyor. Recorded the 26th of July AD 1783” 

 

According to a family history of Lemuel Robbins and his descendants, he died accidentally in 1786 when hit by a falling tree. In addition to wife Sarah, who is presumed to have been still living, and his son William, by then a Townshend proprietor in his own right, Lemuel was survived by his sons Lemuel (Jr) of Litchfield County, Connecticut, John of Bennington, Vermont, Ephraim of Suffield, Connecticut and daughter Abigail (Robbins) Cook of Windham County, Connecticut. Prominent descendants include actress, writer and suffragist Elizabeth Robins, social activist and political reformer Raymond Robins, theologian and educator Henry E. Robins, physician and Idaho Governor Charles A. Robins and actress and First Lady, Nancy Reagan.

Sources of Information: 

 

Phelps, James H., History and Inhabitants of Townshend, Vermont, Brattleboro, VT: George E. 

Selleck, 1877.

 

Robbins, Lawrence G., The Nicholas Robbins Family: A Genealogical History of the Family Through the Eighth Generation, Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press, 2006.

 

Townshend Town Clerk, Proprietors Records, compiled and archived by the Townshend Town Clerk, Townshend, VT.

 

Van de Water, Frederic F., The Reluctant Republic: Vermont, 1724-1791, New York: John Day, 1941.

 

Wikipedia, "The New Hampshire Grants," compiled and published on-line by Wikipedia.org, updated version of July 20, 2012.