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By Christopher Robbins


Nicholas Robbins Family

Editor's Introduction:  In this Summer 2015 edition of The Nicholas Robbins Family Newsletter, we are pleased to publish an instructive and entertaining article about the churches Nicholas Robins and his family attended in Dover, England from about 1619 to 1632.


Our cousin Christopher Robbins and his wife recently visited Dover and photographed the churches of St. James the Apostle and St. Mary the Virgin where Nicholas worshipped before coming to New England.  Chris has adeptly brought his travel experiences together with his findings about Nicholas Robins that were published in fall 2013 on this website and by the New England Historic and Genealogical Society.  


Chris has made a significant contribution to our family knowledge by doing the hard genealogical research. Send him your congratulations and enjoy his latest article!  

Additionally, I wish to convey that I had the privilege of attending the Robbins Family Reunion that took place in  

in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in July.


I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all the Yarmouth Robbins Reunion family members and attending such well-planned and interesting events.  It was a pleasure to see the first cousins catch-up with each other at the picnic and dinner, and gratifying to be a part of the celebration.  


The reunion included a tour of the Chebogue Cemetery conducted by "Squire Crawley" and "Abigail Robbins" aka Wilfred and Judi.  They did a spectacular job of recounting Robbins stories of old from the 18th century to the present. Links to a few video clips of their stories are listed below. 




The Fall 2013 Newsletter broke the story of the marriage of Nicholas Robins to Ann Rosse in Dover, Kent, England, as well as the christenings and burials of their children at two Dover churches.  The churches were Saint James the Apostle (circled in red on the map, below) and Saint Mary the Virgin (circled in yellow).  Both churches dated from Norman times, so were already 500 years old when Nicholas and Ann and family attended.

Questions or comments about this newsletter are most welcome and may be addressed to Julie Callahan at  

In May 2015 my wife and I were able to visit Dover.  This article is a bit of history of the two churches, along with what we found out about them in 2015, almost 400 years after Nicholas Robins and family left for the New World.

Saint James the Apostle

As the map shows, Saint James is situated at the foot of the hill on which Dover Castle sits.  In present day Dover a walking trail up to the Castle – mostly steps! -  starts beside Saint James.  No need for a gym for a workout when in Dover!.

An image of Saint James (below), from the 1700s, is a view of the back of the church from further up the Castle hill.  It is the closest to what the church would have looked like in Nicholas’ time, with squarish Norman architecture.

Most of the recorded events in the life of Nicholas’ family happened at Saint James:

Nicholas Robins and Ann Ross(e), married 8 Sept 1619

John (first), christened 4 June 1620

John (first), burial 26 May 1621

Unnamed, unchristened son, burial 4 February1622

Katherine, christened 25 December 1622

Marie (first), christened 10 October 1624

John (second), burial 4 October 1626

Marie (first), burial 12 October 1626

What would the Robins family have seen as they entered Saint James for services?  In this image, left, created in the mid-1800s - before changes were made to make the church suit Victorian tastes – they would see, first, the West door. Very handy to the left is a public house serving the finest beer.  It is thought that this building was once a church building, but that it has been a pub for centuries. In Nicholas’ time there was a tension between the churches and the inns that wanted to open in the mornings on Sundays.  Here they are, cheek by jowel, but no evidence that the next door pub was one of the Sunday hours offenders back in the day.

As the Robins proceeded through the West door, they would have seen something like the picture on the right, also created in the mid-1800s, but before Victorian meddling with the architecture.


At the far end is the sanctuary with a soaring window above, letting in light from the East.


Below Saint James as it appears today!

And to the right is the interior view, in the same direction as the mid-1800s view:  Gone are the soaring ceiling and eastern window.


What happened?  During World War II long range artillery on the French coast were able to shell Dover at will.  The guns were too well fortified to be taken out by air raids or Allied artillery.  They tried!  It was almost 4 months after D-Day before Allied infantry were finally able to get control of the coastal guns.


Too late for Saint James.  It was struck by a shell on April 5, 1943, though it had been closed as a church when the shelling began in 1940.  In 1948 it was decided to leave it as ‘Dover's Tidy Ruin’ to commemorate the people of Dover who, like the church, suffered much during the war. The weakened bell tower collapsed in 1951, after standing almost 900 years.


Today the ruin is the overnight resting place for a

Dover Churches Attended by Nicholas Robins and Family

homeless man, who seems to favor the elevated sanctuary area for eating and sleeping.  He obligingly moves out of the way for people taking photos.

The pub, next door, was undamaged.  Now called The Black Horse, it serves local ales and huge platters of English fare at reasonable prices 

. . .  well, reasonable for England!  The pub is a ‘must’ place to visit for people who have successfully swum across the English Channel, which seems to be an industry something like Mount Everest.


Because of the passage of time and bombardments in both World Wars, very little of Tudor Dover remains, but for the churches.

Saint Mary the Virgin

Recalling the church circled in yellow on the map at the start of this article, Saint Mary the Virgin has a more central location.  In fact, it was the ‘Market Cross’ church in Medieval and Tudor Dover, and is today located on Market Street, part of Dover’s High Street – the street somewhat down at heels, no doubt the result of competition from shopping malls on the edge of town.


Unlike Saint James, Saint Mary the Virgin has survived intact, except for architectural ‘improvements’ by the Victorians. The square bell tower remains as it was built, in Norman times – the clock a more recent addition.


The remaining life events of Nicholas’ family in Dover happened at Saint Mary the Virgin:

John (second), christened 30 July 1626

Marie (second), christened 10 August 1628

Possibly John (third), christening unrecorded, ca. 1630

Anna, christened 23 September 1632


The Robins family did return to Saint James in 1626 for two sad events:  the burial of John (second) as an infant of just 2 months on October 4; and the burial of Marie (first), only 2 years old, on October 12.  Perhaps there was a family plot at Saint James.  The loss of two children within a very short time suggests some sort of epidemic.  In fact there was.  In 1625-26 there was a bout of bubonic plague, supposedly brought to port cities like Dover by ships returning from the European continent.

Saint Mary was significant in another way.  As reported in the Fall 2013 article, Nicholas was hauled up before a church court in 1623 for having abused John Reading, minister of Saint Mary’s, saying that Mr. Reading had “preached a point of doctrine which was not agreeable with the word of God”.  Nicholas was compelled to apologize.  Nevertheless, 3 years later he seems to be attending services at Saint Mary - Mr. Reading still minister.


When we visited Saint Mary this year, we noticed a baptismal font. We were assured by one of the guides that at least the upper part was, like the church building, of Norman origin.  The font  had a bit of a rough time in the Oliver Cromwell era, which came a decade after Nicholas Robins left for the New World.  The story in the Visitor Guide for Saint Mary goes like this. “The font is probably Norman and is made from Purbeck marble [from Dorset, England].  For some time, it was lost.  Most likely it was removed during the Puritan Commonwealth.  During this period, an inventory of 1644 mentions ‘one pewter bason’  which was undoubtedly used instead of the font.   When the church was restored in 1843, the vicar found the old font, split in two pieces and buried deep in the wall.  It was repaired and placed on a new pedestal as you see it today . . . “


If so, it is highly likely that this font was in use in the late 1620s – early 1630s when three of the four children who came to America with Nicholas and Ann were christened:  Marie (second); Anna; and possibly the forebear of all who carry Nicholas’ surname in America, John (third), were christened at this very font.

In Memoriam
Joseph Colwell Robbins 

Robbins, Joseph Colwell Of Cambridge, MA, died peacefully at home on Tuesday, November 11th, 2014, Veteran's Day. He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Lee T. Robbins, their two sons, Loring G. Robbins, his wife, Gena, and their daughter, Sophia, and John M. Robbins, his wife, Shaye, and their daughter, Zady. Joe was pre-deceased by his two sisters, Mary Deland deBeaumont, and Cornelia Bradley. He was a much loved uncle to 5 nieces & nephews, 11 grand nieces and nephews, and 15 great grand nieces and nephews.


An avid outdoorsman, Joe loved to spend time with his family in Jackson, NH where he was one of the first lifetime pass holders at Wildcat Mt., and skied well into his 80s. Hikes with family in the White Mountains, tennis at The Longwood Cricket Club or The Country Club, squash and rowing along the Charles River as a long-time member of The Union Boat Club of Boston were an important part of living his full and healthy life.


It was at Deerfield Academy, class of 1939 that Joe cultivated a love for history, and enjoyed playing varsity hockey at the school's outdoor rink. Recognized for dedication to his studies, Joe's history teacher steered him in the direction of law. He went on to Yale University where his class of 1943 graduated early in order to serve in the military during WWII.


As First Lieutenant, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, Joe fought in the Pacific where he was on active duty for just shy of 2 years. He was awarded a Purple Heart for a wound suffered in the invasion of Saipan, Marianas Islands. After discharge he returned to his home in Pittsfield, MA. Joe attended Harvard Law School, class of 1949. He became a partner at Sullivan and Worcester Law Firm in Boston, where he helped establish the Trust & Estates practice for the firm. He was well regarded by his colleagues, and mentor to many over his 50 plus years with the firm.


As a member of the Glee Club at Yale, and in his later years as a member of the Apollo Club of Boston, Joe found great joy in singing. Whether at home behind the piano, on family trips, or during family gatherings and holidays, Joe would always be ready to launch off on a hymn, glee club favorite or show tune. In keeping with his love of history, genealogy and dedicated service to our country, Joe was a member of The Society of Colonial Wars and The Society of the Cincinnati (NH). Joe's love of his family and importance in their lives is most evident in the memories and descriptions that his family members have of him.


Joe was the family patriarch, moral compass, and a kind, caring gentleman who always had time to listen and guide with integrity, respect and honor. He will be greatly missed. A celebration of Joe's life will be held Monday, Dec. 8th at 11am at the Story Chapel, Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Good Shepherd Community Hospice, 90 Wells Avenue, Newton, MA 02459.

Published in The Boston Globe from Nov. 15 to Nov. 16, 2014.  Re-published here with permission from L.T. Robbins.

Finally, I offer belated condolences to the family of Joseph Colwell Robbins.  Joseph exchanged e-mails with Lawrence G. Robbins concerning articles in The Nicholas Robbins Family Newsletters and content concerning Joseph's family contained in the Robbins Family "Green Book" --further demonstrating his love of family and genealogy.  We are sorry for your loss and will keep your family in our thoughts and prayers.  


A reprint of Joseph's obituary from The Boston Globe may be found farther below in this newsletter.


By Christopher Robbins

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