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Nicholas Robbins Family






Christopher Robbins



Adapted from the New England Historic Genealogical Society, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, volume 167, October 2013, pages 245-250. For more information about the New England Historic Genealogical Society, please visit


The author gives sincere thanks to Lawrence G. (“Larry”) Robbins for his kind advice throughout this research, and to Mr. Jon Iveson, Dover Museum, Kent, who so proficiently guided the author to the very useful unpublished thesis “Economy and Society in Dover,



OUR COMMON ANCESTOR, NICHOLAS ROBBINS came to Massachusetts most likely in 1635.  In his encyclopedic survey of the descendants of Nicholas Robbins, published in 2006 [1], Lawrence G. Robbins presented evidence that Nicholas Robbins and his family came to America aboard the ship Blessing in the summer of 1635.  In The Great Migration, vol. VI, published in 2009, [2] the entry for Nicholas Robbins concurs with this.  Both are based on Hotten’s Lists. [3] Again, according to Lawrence G. Robbins, based on land and probate records of the late 1630s to early 1650s, “While he [Nicholas Robbins] spent the first three years after his arrival in Cambridge in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, he is most often associated with Duxbury in the Plymouth Colony, where he settled in 1638 and lived for the remainder of his life.” [4]  And, again, The Great Migration, vol. VI confirms this settlement path. [5]

The family story of Nicholas Robbins, corroborated by his deed purchasing land from a Thomas Burges in Duxbury in 1638, is that he was a “shooemaker.” [15]  As well, in the inventory for Nicholas’s will, “shoomakers working geare” is itemized.


After finding these church records, I asked the Dover Museum in Kent [16] whether there would be any documents from the early 1600s that would tell the trade of a Nicholas Robbins of Dover.  The Museum responded promptly with an excerpt from an unpublished Ph.D. thesis by Dr. Mary Dixon, “Economy and Society in Dover 1509–1640.”


This thesis referred to Nicholas Robins, a shoemaker, who was presented to a church court: [17]


In 1623 . . . Nicholas Robins, a shoemaker, was presented for having censured and abused

Mr. Reading [minister] of St. Mary’s, saying that he [Mr. Reading] had ‘preached a point of doctrine

which was not agreeable with the word of God . . . also that he preached very uncharitably, in that he

said that those who would not behave themselves reverently as in kneeling and praying when they

came into the church were refractory.’  This speech was confirmed by William Eldred who, when asked

whom Nicholas Robins supposed Mr. Reading had described as refractory, said he supposeth himself

and their faction,’ which presumably means that a number of other people   shared Nicholas Robins’

disquiet, although perhaps not his determination in telling John Reading that he would never be able

to prove his point of  doctrine ‘for it was contrary to Mr. Perkins [18] and the fathers.’ . . . Robins 



The thesis goes on to say:


In 1635 Nicholas Robins took the Oath of Supremacy and Allegiance to His Majesty.  The reason for

this is not given, but a day or two earlier John Weekes had taken the same oath because he intended

to go to New England.  It is possible that Robins followed the same path.


An image of the original Dover record of the taking of the Oath of Supremacy and Allegiance was acquired by a genealogist in Kent on my behalf from the Kent History and Library Centre in Maidstone, Kent.  It reads:


Uppon Tuesday ye xvith [sixteenth] day of ye June of a. Dom. 1635 before Mr. Luke Pepper mayor

[of over],  Mr Nicholas Eatton, Mr Stephen Monyns, Mr Thomas Tyddyman [Tiddeman],

Mr Thomas Woode, Mr Thomas Garette there Nicholas Robins of Dover Shoemaker then tooke

the oathes of Supremacye and Allegiance to the Kinge ma[jes]tie that nowe ys. [19]


The date of 16 June 1635 was of course a few weeks before the sailing of the Blessing with Nicholas Robbins and family. The ship’s passenger list is prefaced with the words “the parties having brought Cert. from the Minister & Justice of their conformitie . . . tooke ye oaths of Alleg. & Supremacie.” [20]


The thesis by Dr. Mary Dixon contains much more material suggesting that, at least from the mid-1500s, the Robins/Robbins family were traditionally mariners in the town and port of Dover.  This trade included a range of skills:  fishing; ferrying goods and passengers to and from larger ships; piloting ships into port, but also across the English Channel and to other English harbors; and even owning vessels capable of carrying passengers and goods along the coast of England and to Europe. [21]


It may be that the same Nicholas Robins identified in this article also was a mariner.  In a petition by the mayor and jurats of Dover to the Lieutenant of Dover Castle dated 9 October 1626, [22] a Nicholas Robins was included in a list of pilots available for employment.


Some unsuccessful attempts have been made to find records for earlier generations, examining church records and wills for East Kent in the 1560–1620 period.  Both Dover churches record life events for Robyns/Robins/Robbins and Ros/Rose/Ross/Rosse going back to the 1560s, but nothing that can be linked with any assurance to Nicholas or Ann.


As we move back toward and into the 1500s there are many more gaps in the church records and, even in pages still extant, there are missing pieces from some pages.  Nevertheless, the records of Kent are quite rich and may yet yield a deeper story of our family, going back at least to the 1500s.


Christopher Robbins, a descendant of Nicholas Robbins, was born and raised in Nova Scotia, to which Nicholas Robbins’ great-great grandson, Deacon James Robbins, migrated from Plympton, Massachusetts, as a New England Planter in 1762.

Editor's Introduction:   It is with great pride and excitement that we bring to you an article by cousin Christopher Robbins concerning new evidence for the origins of Nicholas Robbins.  The article first appeared in the  New England Historical & Genealogical Register. For one to have an article published in the Register is quite an honor.   To quote the NEHGS,  


     “Published quarterly since 1847, the New England Historical and Genealogical Register is the flagship journal of American genealogy and the oldest in the field, focusing on authoritative compiled genealogies with an emphasis on New England.  Typical articles also solve genealogical problems, identify immigrant origins, or present treatments of multiple generations.”  


As you can see, the Register has a long history of presenting scholarly articles to the genealogical community.  Congratulations, Chris.  Well done.


                                                             Julie Callahan

Although his whereabouts in the New World can be documented, it appears that knowledge of Nicholas Robbins’s origins, presumably in England, was lost sometime in the 250 years between his arrival in Massachusetts in the 1630s and the late nineteenth century when family historians began collecting and publishing his family’s story.


Family historians therefore had no hints as to where to look in England for church or civic records.  Some family historians were able to find English records with a partial match.  But, until recent times, there was no way to survey hundreds, if not more, of parish register books for marriages or christenings.


Lawrence G. Robbins reviewed the several stories about Nicholas Robbins’s purported origins [6] on the opening page of his book, but concluded that his origins had not, as of 2006, been documented.  The Great Migration, vol. VI, concluded that the origins of Nicholas Robbins were unknown.


The touchstone for matching the family of Nicholas Robbins with any records back in England is his will, exhibited in Plymouth in the Plymouth Colony on 4 March 1650/1. [7]  In it he names his wife Ann, his son John, and his daughters Katheren, Mary, and Hannah.


Another point of comparison is the passenger list from the ship Blessing out of London, dated 17 June 1635.  As transcribed in Hotten’s Lists, [8] the passengers included Nico. Robertson, age 30; Elizabeth Robinson, age 32; Kat. Robinson, age 12; Mary Robinson, age 7; Jo. Robinson, age 5; and Sara Robinson, age 1½.  In my recent researches, the original handwritten ship’s list was retrieved, courtesy of The National Archives [9], and all items referring to this family in Hotten’s transcription matched the original.


Despite mismatches in spellings of the surname and the hard-to-reconcile wife’s name of Elizabeth rather than Ann, these individuals have been accepted to represent Nicholas Robbins and his family. [10]  The order of the Robbins children would seem to be Katheren, Mary, John, Sara, according to the ages in the passenger list. This order is reflected in Nicholas’s will, at least for the daughters.


How to find this family in England?  New hope for solving old problems lies in online databases of church records that have been transcribed and made searchable from many hundreds of parish registers. [11]


In the summer of 2012, I found a promising entry on for the marriage of a Nicholas Robins to an Ann Ross(e) at St. James the Apostle in Dover, Kent.  Searches for christenings for which Nicholas Robins in Kent was the father quickly revealed other records at St. James the Apostle and at St. Mary the Virgin, also in Dover.


The following entries were extracted from the records of those two parishes, marked PR for parish registers and BT for bishop’s transcripts. [12]



Nicholas Robins and Ann Ross(e), 8 September 1619, St. James the Apostle, Dover (PR and BT).



John Robins (first), son of Nicholas Robins, christened 4 June 1620, St. James the Apostle, Dover (BT).


John Robins (first), son of Nicholas Robins, burial 26 May 1621, St. James the Apostle, Dover (PR).

(Unnamed, unchristened) Robins, son of Nicholas Robins, burial 4 February 1622, St. James the Apostle, Dover (PR).


Katherine Robbins, daughter of Nicholas Robbins, christened 25 December 1622, St. James the Apostle, Dover (PR and BT).


Marie Robins (first), daughter of Nicholas Robins, christened 10 October 1624, St. James the Apostle, Dover (PR and BT).


John Robins (second), son of Nicholas Robins, christened 30 July 1626, St. Mary the Virgin, Dover (PR and BT).


John Robins (second), son of Nicholas Robins, burial 4 October 1626, St. James the Apostle, Dover (PR and BT).[13]


Marie Robins (first), daughter of Nicholas Robins, burial 12 October 1626, St. James the Apostle, Dover (PR and BT).[14]


Marie Robins (second), daughter of Nicholas Robins, christened 10 August 1628, St. Mary the Virgin, Dover (PR and BT).


Anna Robins, daughter of Nicholas Robins, christened 23 September 1632, St. Mary the Virgin, Dover (PR and BT).



Two sons named John were christened and then buried between 1620 and 1626, as well as an unnamed and unchristened male child buried in 1622.  Although the parish registers and bishop’s transcripts for both Dover churches, St. James and St. Mary, were examined line-by-line, no evidence of the christening of a third son named John has been found.


Since this family seem to have been in the Dover area and recording life events at least for the period 1619 (marriage) to 1632 (christening of Anna), the christening of a young John who would be 5 years old as appears on the Blessing ship’s list of 1635 (see page 2) appears not to have been recorded.  In case this christening of a third son John was recorded in another parish, the FindMyPast database — which covers nearly every extant parish register in East Kent — was searched for the 1626–1636 period for a John, son of Nicholas Robins.  However, nothing was found.


This family celebrated a christening every two years from 1620 to 1632, with the only exception being 1630, the year that a 5-year-old John should have been christened.  Although circumstantial, the gap in the Dover church records fits very well with the structure of Nicholas Robins’ family.


There is a match for the name of the wife as well as of three of the children between the 1650/1 will of Nicholas Robbins and the Dover church records:




     1.  Lawrence G. Robbins, The Nicholas Robbins Family – A Genealogical History of the Family Through the Eighth Generation, (Baltimore: Gateway Press, 2006), 1.


     2.  Robert Charles Anderson, The Great Migration:  Immigrants to New England, 1634–1635, Volume VI R–S (Boston: NEHGS, 2009), 65.


     3.  John Camden Hotten, The Original Lists of Persons of Quality; Emigrants; Religious Exiles; Who Went from Great Britain to the American Plantations, 1600–1700 . . . (London: Chatto & Windus, 1874; repr. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1974), 93–94.


     4.  Robbins, Nicholas Robbins [note 1], 1.


     5.  Anderson, Great Migration: Volume VI R–S [note 2], 65.


     6.  Robbins, Nicholas Robbins [note 1], 1.


     7.  “Plymouth Colony Wills and Inventories [Nicholas Robbins’ Will and Inventory],” The Mayflower Descendant 10 (1908):22–24.


     8.  Hotten, Original Lists [note 3], 93–94.


     9.  The National Archives, E 157/20, Licenses to Pass Beyond the Seas, No. 20. 


   10.  The family of Nicholas Robbins is given as an example in Robert Charles Anderson, “Establishing Birth Order,” The Great Migration Newsletter 19:4 (Oct.-Dec. 2010):25–25, 32, at 25.


   11.  I also monitored FreeREG ( covering parish registers in England, Scotland and Wales. Although several men named Nicholas Robins/Robbins/Robinson could be found being baptized, married, or having children in various parts of England in the early 1600s, occasionally marrying an Ann or an Elizabeth, no good matches had been found on FreeREG as of July 2012, based on the known children of Nicholas.


   12.  St. James the Apostle, Dover: parish registers [FHL 1,836,102] and bishops’s transcripts [FHL 1,736,692]; St. Mary the Virgin, Dover: parish registers [FHL 1,836,141] and bishops’s transcripts [FHL 1,736,693].  Bishop’s transcripts were copies of parish registers sent annually from 1598 on to the bishop of the relevant diocese.  Sometimes both parish registers and bishop’s transcripts survive, sometimes only one survives, and sometimes neither survives.


   13.  The parish register notes that John is “of St. Marie,” i.e., the parish of St. Mary the Virgin in Dover.


   14.  The parish register notes that Marie is “of St. Marie,” i.e., the parish of St. Mary the Virgin in Dover.


   15.  Robbins, Nicholas Robbins [note 1], 6.




   17.  Mary Dixon, “Economy and Society in Dover, 1509–1640,” (Ph.D. thesis, University of Kent, 1992), 532–33. The church court record was drawn from Canterbury Cathedral Archives, Z.4.3, folio 44 et seq.


   18.  Probably William Perkins (1558–1602), influential English cleric and theologian (H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, ed., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 60 vols. [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004]


   19.  Dover Borough: Judicial Records, 1630–1659, Register of Depositions at Sessions of the Peace, fol. 62, Tuesday, 16 June 1635, at the Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone, Kent, Do/JSd1.


   20.  Hotten, Original Lists [note 3], 93.


   21.  Dixon, “Economy and Society in Dover” [note 17], 227–28.


   22.  Dixon, “Economy and Society in Dover” [note 17], Appendix A, reproduces the entire document from the British Library, Egerton Collection 2584: Letters etc. to Lord Zouch, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, folios 375–380v.


   Mr. Robbins also extends thanks to The British Library for kindly providing the image of Dover, Kent.

1650/1 Will, Duxbury, Mass. 

Ann (wife)





Dover St. James and St. Mary Records

 Ann (marries a Nicholas Robins)

John (Not recorded in church records)

Katherine, dtr. of Nicholas Robbins

Marie, dtr. of Nicholas Robins

Anna, dtr. of Nicholas Robins

Dover Christenings, Child Ages by 1635

Katherine, Chr. Dec 1622 >1635 age 12

Marie, Chr. Aug 1628 >1635 age 7

John (Unrecorded) 1630 > 1635 age 5

Anna, Chr. Sep 1632> 1635 age 2yr, 9mo

Blessing List, 1635, Child Ages

 Kat., age 12

  Mary, age 7

Jo., age 5

Sara, age 1½

For ages/christening order of the children, there are three exact matches and one close match with the Blessing ship’s list of 1635:

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