The Robertson Genealogy Exchange

Notes on Draper 6XX96 & 6XX97
by Tom Robertson

According to Miss Annie A. Nunns, former assistant curator of the Draper manuscripts at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, this "...biographical sketch of [1221] General James Robertson is in the handwriting of [his son, 12216] Dr. Felix Robertson. It is undated, but evidently written during or before 1844. This source sketch, with some verbal changes, is found in Draper's Notes, Draper Ms. 31S34-54, with Dr. Lyman C. Draper's statement at the end, 'Copied from manuscript of Dr. Robertson's 5th and 6th March 1844, Nashville, Tenn.' Included at the end [of 31S34-54] are a few memoranda regarding the Robertson family which are found in another form at the end of 6XX49."[1]

Although the screed is still claimed by some to be the best evidence for [1221] General Robertson's ancestry, direct evidence found in primary documents now establishes the identities of his father, [122] John Robertson,[2] and his grandfather, [12] Israel Roberson,[3] as well as [122] John Robertson's May 8, 1723, birth in Bristol Parish, Prince George (now Dinwiddie) County, Virginia.[4] That [122] John Robertson married a woman named Mary is established by several documents produced during his lifetime and by the probate of his will[5]. Whether his wife's surname was Gower and whether their son, [1221] James, was born in Brunswick County, Virginia, has not yet been independently established.

However, the documents do establish that [122] John Robertson once lived near Roanoke River,[6] although not in Wake County since Roanoke River never flowed through or bordered Wake or any of its parent counties and since the county was formed ten years after his death[7], He did remove to the Neuse River where he died before April 1761,[8] and the Neuse River property later lay in Wake County[9]

The reliability of the information [12216] Dr. Robertson imparted in the first three paragraphs of the document is thus mixed, at best, and future historians may wish to test the remaining sections before assuming that the information they convey is entirely accurate.


  1. Annie A. Nunns at William Curry Harlee, Kinfolks: A Genealogical and Biographical Record, 3 volumes (New Orleans, Louisiana: Searcy & Pfaff, 1937), 3: 2493.
  2. [1221] 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, microfilm number 32532, Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FHL), Salt lake City, Utah. Johnston County, North Carolina, Minutes of the Court of Pleas & Quarter Sessions, 1759-1766, 123; at microfilm number C.056.30001, North Carolina State Archives (NCSA), Raleigh, North Carolina. Johnston County, North Carolina, Minutes of the Court of Pleas & Quarter Sessions, 1767-1777.
  3. Entry for [122] John 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, FHL microfilm 30625. An accurate secondary transcription of the document appears at Churchill Gibson Chamberlayne, Vestry Book and Parish Register, Bristol Parish, Virginia, 1720-1789 (Greenville, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1994) and at John Bennett Boddie, Births, 1720-1792, from the Bristol Parish Register of Henrico, Prince George, and Dinwiddie (Mountain View, California: J.B. Boddie, no date). [12] Israel Roberson, Will, Granville County, North Carolina, Unrecorded Will 53, North Carolina County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions (Granville County), Loose Wills, 1749-1771, FHL microfilm 306193 / Item 2; transcription at John A. Brayton, The Ancestry of General James Robertson, "Father of Tenneessee": Addendum to The Complete Ancestry of Tennessee Williams (Winston-Salem, North Carolina: J.A. Brayton, 1995), 22-23.
  4. Entry for [122] John Robinson, Bristol Parish Register, 1720-1794; at FHL microfilm 30625.
  5. [122] Roberson et ux to Harwell, Brunswick County, Virginia, Deed Book 5, 513-515; at Brunswick County (Virginia) County Clerk, Deed Books, 1732-1869, Deed Books, Volume 4, 1746-1750, 1761, and Deed Books, Volume 5, 1751-1755, FHL microfilm 30642 / Items 1-2. [122] Roberson to Berry, Granville County, North Carolina, Deed Book B, 436-437; at North Carolina Superior Court (Granville County) and North Carolina County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Record of Deeds, 1746-1923, Deeds, Volume B, 1748-1756, FHL microfilm 306119. [122] John Robertson, Will, Johnston County, North Carolina, Loose Wills; copy of original at North Carolina County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions (Johnston County), Wills, 1760-1830, Wills, Loc-You, FHL microfilm 19193; transcription at Brayton 25-26.
  6. [12] Roberson to [122] Roberson, Granville County, North Carolina, Deed Book A, 221-222; at North Carolina Superior Court (Granville County) and North Carolina County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Record of Deeds, 1746-1923, Deeds, Volume A, 1746-1751, FHL microfilm 306118. [122] John Robinson Deed for 300 acres, Granville County, North Carolina, Deed Book B, 352-354; at North Carolina Superior Court (Granville County) and North Carolina County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Record of Deeds, 1746-1923, Deeds, Volume B, 1748-1756, FHL microfilm 306119.
  7. George B. Everton, Sr. and Gunnar Rasmuson, The Handy Book for Genealogists, fourth edition (Logan, Utah: Everton Publishers, 1962), 130.
  8. Nathlo. Kimbrough to [122] John Roberson, Johnston County, North Carolina, Deed Book A, 180-181; at North Carolina County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions (Johnston County), Deeds and Land Grants, 1759-1936, Deeds and Grants, Volumes A1, B1, 1 (transcript), D1, 1759-1771, FHL microfilm 1759045. [122] John Robertson, Will, Johnston County, North Carolina, Loose Wills; at FHL microfilm 19193.
  9. [1224] Roberson, Elijah & Bridgers, Thomas Bond, Wake County, North Carolina, Deed Book A, 34. Minutes of the Court of Pleas & Quarter Sessions of Wake County, North Carolina, Book 1, 122-123.

Draper Ms. 6XX96
[12216] Dr. Felix Robertson

John Robertson emigrated at an early age from the northeast of Ireland near Belfast, where his father had settled having emigrated from Scotland — to Virginia & settled in Brunswick County. Here he married Mary Gower, the daughter of Abel Gower of the House of Gower from England.

James Robertson, his eldest child, was born in Brunswick Cty. He removed to Wake County on Roanoak river in North Carolina while James was still young and lived there several years; removed to Neuse river and then died.

James, at the age of twenty-six years, married Charlotte Reves, daughter of Mary Jordan & George Reves, who had been born and raised in Brunswick County, Virginia. In October '70 he removed to Wataga in east Tennessee, just then settling. Here he lived until '77 when he removed further down Holston to the mouth of Big Creek, then a frontier.

In the spring of '79 he came to Nashville accompanied by several others, and went on to Illinois which he explored, returning through Kentucky, & reached home in July or August.

In October he set out with his stock in company with his brothers Mark & John Robertson, his son Jonathan ten years old and a negroe man of his own family, & several other persons. They came through the wilderness by the way of Kentucky & arrived at Nashville during the winter, & drove his horses & cattle on the ice over Cumberland River at the mouth of the Big Branch toward the last of February.

On the 20th Feby. his wife & other children set out by water in company with other emigrants and after a dangerous and fatigueing voyage arrived at Nashville 10th April by descending the Tennessee and ascending the Ohio and Cumberland. On the Tennessee at Nickajack the Indians made an attack on the boats, took one of them in which Stewart's family was with the smallpox, killing and wounding nine in the other boats. They were fired on several times, in which attacks some were killed and others wounded, but did not attempt again to board the boats.

The settlers during the first year suffered much for want of provisions, having no bread, but few vegetables of any kind, and no meat but wild animals.

In '80-81 most of the inhabitants despairing of being able to accomplish the enterprise of settling the country determined to remove to Kentucky as a place of comparative safety, the settlements in that district having obtained a strength which enabled them to contend with better prospects of success with the savages. This was a crisis which called forth all the energies of Robertson. He plied them with all his powers of persuasion and argument; he finally succeeded in prevailing on a part of them to remain and continue their efforts for at least another season. Over half or more removed to Kentucky — say nearly 150 souls.

In the fall of '85 he went with a company of surveyors to the Mississippi to locate & survey a large amount of military claims which he and others had the management of. This enterprise was rendered dangerous as this district was claimed by the Chickasaws with whom we were at peace, and who if they had met with them then would have treated them as enemies. This occupied about two months.

In October '84 he removed to his land on Richland Creek five miles west of Nashville, where he continued to reside during the balance of his life. This was for many years a frontier position and greatly exposed to attacks from the savages. His people were repeatedly attacked, & the fort fired on. Here his third son, Peyton Henderson Robertson, was killed and beheaded by them, 12 years old '87.

In one of the attacks on his station he received a gunshot wound in one of his feet. While he and his oldest son Jonathan Friar Robertson were riding through the woods near his farm they were fired on by six or eight Indians. He received two balls through his left arm fracturing the bone badly at the wrist joint. Another passed through the flesh of the right arm ranging from the wrist almost to the elbow. His son received a ball in his thigh which passed through and into the horse which was rendered so intractable by it that he was forced to dismount him — first ascertaining by raising in the stirrups that his thigh was not fractured. The Indians who were rushing on them when they saw him dismount, bolted and took trees, but one taking a tree too small to shield him young Robertson took deliberate aim and as he wished just brushed the sapling & shot him through the body, which wounded him so badly they retreated leaving at a short distance the wounded Indian's gun. It was ascertained that he died on his way to the nation. Robertson then pursued his father whose horse had attempted to run and succeeded to go some five or six rods before he could stop him. He had a led horse which he rode.

On one of his returns to North Carolina in '70, having some business in Georgia he determined to take it in his route back home, and struck through the mountains without a trace of a human foot to direct his course, for the heads of the Yadkin. The weather set in rainy — it was in August — and in spite of all his precautions so wet his powder that it was unfit for use. He wandered fourteen days in the wilderness without ever seeing the sun, among rocks and laurel thickets, which at last became so impenetrable that he was compelled to dismount his horse. As long as his strength would permit him he would gain some summit and climb a tree to be enabled by his position to observe the ranges of the mountains, then descend and again pursue as direct a course as the precipices & thickets would permit. This he would repeat often every day. He at length fell upon the expedient of cuting the bushes with his knife to mark his course, and then he found that he frequently crossed his former track. Again & again he would prostrate himself on the ground determined never again to make an exertion to rise from it, but the idea of being lost where no trace of his death would be found, & his death being laid to the charge of the Indians, he would slowly rise and again grope his way as in midnight darkness.

In this dreary pilgrimage he was often for the moment amused with the most ferocious contests between the male bears of the forest, which sometimes occurred almost at his feet, yet he seemed doomed to starvation in the midst of plenty for the want of his ammunition and gun.

At length he fell in with two hunters of the mountains, who with much difficulty he prevailed on to give up the use of one of their horses for him to ride to the first house. He said from the moment he saw them it appeared to him that if his life had been the stake he could not have walked another mile.

Great self command was requisite to prevent killing himself when the means of appeasing his hunger was placed in his power.

During his mission when in council with some of the chiefs, a company of intoxicated warriors beset & entered the house to destroy him, and he was only saved by those within hiding him so as to elude their search. When they retired he secretly left the house and made his escape.

In August '81 he set out for North Carolina by the way of Kentucky where he went to send a supply of salt to Nashville to endeavor to obtain military assistance from the Legislature which he understood would be in session during the fall. The Legislature did not meet, but it was believed it would meet in the following February. He returned as far as Holston and returned in February and was again disappointed in the meeting of the Legislature. He then set out for home which he reached in April. The Indians had killed but two or three of the settlers during his absence.

On the 3rd of May [Marginal note: On 2d Apr.] it was discovered that Indians were in the neighborhood of the fort. two being seen by a negroe man, & the horses and cattle showing the alarm usual from their presence. One of the inhabitants going out a little after light on the next morning was fired at by one or two Indians at the distance of two hundred yards or more. They expected the whites to immediately issue forth in pursuit of them, which was the advise of some of the men, but Robertson more wary and better acquainted with the Indian character opposed this course, giving it as his opinion that from the conduct of the Indians in thus carelessly firing at such a distance and showing themselves without any necessity for it that it was their intention to draw the men from the fort, they being in sufficient forces to defeat them.

This cautious and prudent advice was construed — or feigned to be so — by some of the men the effect of fear, not prudence, and but a short time elapsed before some of his friends informed him that such opinions were whispered about but spoken of openly by Capt. James Luper. He at once saw that if his personal courage was ever doubted that it would frustrate the possibility of his sustaining his settlement in the country, and that defeat could be but little worse. He went at once to Luper and told him what he had heard, enforced by argument the correctness of his view, concluding by requesting every man to prepare for immediate action, that he still entertained his first opinion but others were entitled to theirs & he was ready & willing to put the matter to test.

Twenty immediately mounted their horses & issued forth, and as the last man's head disappeared in descending the deep ravine 200 yards from the fort. the report of guns readied the ears of the anxious women who were watching their march. The Indians were in ambush in the ravine. The men lit and fought their way to the fort. Two were killed and four died of their wounds. Two wounded & recovered.

In December '80 he understood that a considerable number of immigrants were at the falls of Ohio who had intended to come to this country, but having heard that the settlement was entirely broken up had given up the idea of coming. He immediately set out and went to the falls but on reaching there found there was no foundation for the report he had heard. He returned alone after an absence of seven weeks.

The second night after he got home the Indians attacked the fort in considerable force, there being nine white men in it. About midnight he rose in consequence of the barking of the dogs, and opened his door which opened into the fort, he discovered that they had gotten the gate open and saw two Indians in the gate, the moon shining very bright. He closed the door and gave the alarm. Two fired at his door and the balls passing through it struck into the opposite wall a few inches above his children lying in bed. They succeeded in beating the Indians off with the loss of Mr. Lucas and a negroe man of Robertson's. They saw by the blood next morning that they had killed or wounded some of the Indians.

While he lived at Wataga in December '72 while on a hunting expedition his house took fire & burned down losing everything by the flames except the clothing they had on.

In pursueing some Indians from the settlements on Holston they came upon the trail of a company of eight or ten Indians. He with ten or twelve men pursued their trail and after night continued the pursuit by occasionally making a light to be sure they were on the trail untill some hours after dark, they came in sight of their lights. He then undertook to go round and so station his men so as to completely surround them. But after placing them he found there was a gap left unprotected through which they might escape & in going to one of the sentinels to remove a little further, the sentinel without hailing him fired full in his face at the distance of at best a few paces, but missed him. He feared then that this would put the Indians on the watch, and make it unsafe to attempt a further change in their position. Himself with four or five others then crept up as nigh the camp as they could without being discovered, and as soon as it was light fired on them. They killed and wounded several, the Indians fled and passed through the very opening that had been unfilled by the sentinels and thus escaped without much further injury.

It was ascertained in [word omitted] that a settlement of Creeks, principally at the mouth of Coldwater Creek on the south bank of Tennessee near Tuscumbia, from their near position had for some time annoyed the settlers. Robertson raised a company of men, crossed Tennessee at the lower part of the shoals 7 or 8 miles above the town, and attacked it without having been discovered. They killed most of the men, either in the houses or attempting to escape, and returned without having a man killed. The breaking up of this settlement gave great relief to the settlers.

About the 11 Decr. '93 his second son, James R. R., & nephew John Greves were both killed by a party of Creeks on the Cany Fork of Cumberland, where they had gone on a hunting & trapping party. They were alone.

In the fall of '80 his brother John with three other white men & three negroes went up to Stony River nine miles above Nashville in a boat to gather & bring down some corn that had been raised there during the summer — but the Indians becoming so troublesome the plan was abandoned. This boat was waylaid by a party of Indians and when they entered it were fired on by them and the four white men were killed and one of the blacks & the other two made prisoners & taken off.

His brother Mark was killed in June '87 b a party of Indians who had laid wait on the path as he was returning home from his brother's.

In June 1812 he received the appointment of U. S. Agent to the Chickasaws & resided at the Agency until his death on the 1st Sept. 1814. His situation there during the war was rendered very hazardous from the large parties of hostile Indians who passed to and from the northern and southern tribes, the Chickasaws frequently intimating to him that they might not be able to insure his safety against an attack from them. He, however, never abandoned his post. He died on the 1st Sept. 1814 after ten days of painful disease ending in mortification of the face & throat from a carbuncle on his nose. He suffered with the greatest patience and died perfectly composed, his wife the only relation present. In the spring of 1825 his bones were removed to Nashville and interred in the public burying ground.

Draper Manuscript 6XX97

He went a volunteer in Genl. Lewis' expedition against the Northern Indians in the fall of 74 and fired the first gun. On the morning of 10th Octr. a mile in advance of the army, which brought on the celebrated battle of the Point [Point Pleasant, Ohio], which lasted from sunrise until dark.

This circumstance probably saved Lewis' army from a disastrous defeat as they were lying in supposed secrecy not knowing that there was an Indian in fifty miles of them.

Robertson & Valentine Sevier had the previous evening obtained permission to go out next morning to kill a deer. They started before it was fairly light and had advanced about a mile when they came upon the camp of the Indians.

They saw one advancing toward them with a bucket or kettle in his hand, who came to a branch within about fifty yards of where they stood behind a tree, and as he stooped to fill his vessel with water Robertson fired on him, and they both ran for the army.

The bustle and sound of the feet of the Indians at this encampment convinced them that they were in great power. They ran immediately to Lewis and informed him of what had oc-curred & the army was instantly put in preparation for a battle, which commenced in a very few minutes.

He had eleven children, seven sons & four daughters. Brought five to West Tennessee, three sons and two daughters. The two youngest sons were killed by the Indians & Jonathan Friar, his eldest, died in this neighborhood of fever a month after his father's death, leaving eight children.

His six children born in West [now Middle] Tennessee are all living. Doctor Felix & Peyton Henderson Robertson reside in Nashville; John McNairy Robertson eight miles west of it & Wm. B. Robertson Esqr. in Louisiana near Plaquemine. His eldest daughter married John Bosley Senr. who resides on the Genls. farm on Traveler's Rest on Richland Creek, five miles west. His second died a few monthg after arriving at Nashville; the third married Colo. R. C. Napier & the youngest, Mr. John L. Craighead.

I know of no public honor done his memory. Some years since Gov. Carroll recommended to the Legislature in his message that they should in some suitable manner honor his memory, but I believe the Legislature did not act on it.

No one of his descendants have ever held an appointment of profit or honor under the State of Tennessee or Genl. Government.


Source: William Curry Harlee, Kinfolks: A Genealogical and Biographical Record, 3 vols. (New Orleans: Searcy & Pfaff, 1935-37), 3: 2492-2498 & 2516-2517.

Last updated: Wednesday, April 2, 2003

All original material Copyright © 2003 Tom Robertson. All rights reserved including those of electronic transmission and reproduction of the material in any format.

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