“Loyalist Trails” 2008-28: July 25, 2008

In this issue:
God Bless You Please, Mrs. Robinson, by Stephen Davidson
Stephen Davidson Article in The Beaver magazine
Conference 2008 in Saint John, New Brunswick
Submissions for the Fall Issue of the Loyalist Gazette
Loyalists Quarterly – July Edition new Available


Note from the Editor

Since the UELAC conference and a week’s vacation following, things have been very hectic. We are about to leave today for two more weeks. There are over 130 Loyalist messages in my in-basket; my apologies for those items which should have been included in this message, and to those to whom I have yet to respond. As I will not have email, I will not be able to respond until after mid-August. Next issue of Loyalist Trails will not be until about August 17. Enjoy your summer!


God Bless You Please, Mrs. Robinson, by Stephen Davidson

Who says that loyalist history is dull and stodgy? Certainly not those who lived through it.

Leila Whitley was born in Roxbridge County, Virginia in 1750. By 1771 she was the wife of 23-year-old Joseph Robinson and the mother of Rebecca. Leila’s husband was a young man of classical education and respectable talents, educated in Virginia for ministry in the Presbyterian Church. He had a plantation on the Broad River in South Carolina and served the colony as its deputy surveyor and as a justice of the peace. The Robinsons enjoyed the life of the well to do, and had a number of enslaved Africans in their household.

In 1775 Leila’s husband was appointed a major in the local militia. In November of that year, he commanded over 2,000 loyalists who successfully surrounded a rebel force that held the fort at Ninety-Six and obtained their surrender.

Winning a battle did not make Robinson a hero to everyone. The patriots of South Carolina subsequently offered a reward to anyone who would kill Robinson. Rather than returning home to Leila and his four year-old daughter, he went into hiding among the Cherokee Nation.

Judging by the birth year of Joseph Robinson’s second daughter, Joseph must have returned to see Leila at their plantation in South Carolina sometime in 1776. Little Matilda was born in 1777.

The patriots’ desire to exact revenge on Robinson soon put Leila and her two small daughters in danger. A large number of rebels went to the loyalist’s plantation and burned down its buildings. Among many other possessions, the Robinsons lost a valuable library that included 60 law books. Thanks to the efforts of their African slaves, Leila and her two small daughters were rescued from their burning home.

Later, patriots captured Mrs. Robinson. They planned to hold her until her husband agreed to remain neutral for the remainder of the revolution. As Leila was eventually set free, it seems that she did not offer to co-operate with the rebels in any manner. Unable to secure either a ransom for Mrs. Robinson or a promise of neutrality, the patriots took a slave and her child from among the Robinson’s human property. At least two –if not three– other enslaved Africans remained with Leila Robinson and her daughters.

Instead of returning to her husband’s land, Leila took her two children on an 800-mile journey to her father’s home in Virginia. In order to escape detection by rebel patrols, the determined Mrs. Robinson usually travelled at night, “enduring indescribable sufferings”. Leila did not see her husband again until 1778.

This reunion only came about through Leila’s determination to take her daughters hundreds of miles south on horseback through the forest to Florida. Her only companion on the long journey was her slave, Sancho.

After the British evacuated Charleston, the reunited Robinson family fled to East Florida, staying there for a year. However, when this territory was given to the French, Joseph and Leila decided to take their daughters to the West Indies. They were shipwrecked off the coast of Florida and lost what few possessions they still had. As Leila and the children were being taken ashore from their ship, sharks upset their longboat. It was Sancho, their slave, who rescued them from certain death.

The Robinsons eventually settled in Jamaica, but they found the climate to be unhealthy, and within a year’s time moved to New Brunswick. They made their new home on the Kennebecasis River just above the city of Saint John. They stayed there for three years during which time Elizabeth Robinson was born.

There were so many loyalist refugees from Connecticut who had settled along the Kennebecasis River that it became known as the Yankee Shore. Perhaps the Robinsons did not feel at home among so many northern loyalists, for within a year of Elizabeth’s birth, Joseph Robinson accepted an invitation to settle in Charlottetown. The offer had been extended by Colonel Edmund Fanning, the former commanding officer of the King’s American Regiment in South Carolina, an old friend — and now the lieutenant-governor of the Island of St. John.

The Robinsons sailed to the Island of St. John (later renamed Prince Edward Island) on a schooner in October 1789. Besides Sancho, they brought two other slaves along with them. “Black Jack” and Amelia Byers may have been purchased when the Robinsons were in the West Indies. However, since slaves were bought and sold within New Brunswick, they may have been bought when the Robinsons began to build their new home along the Kennebecasis River.

The Jack and Amelia Byers would later be recognized as the first black couple on Prince Edward Island. Their surname is one of the oldest and most prominent on PEI to this day.

Sancho, the slave who had saved Leila, Rebecca and Matilda from the sharks, became known as Sancho Campbell and married an Elizabeth Smallwood in 1808. The Campbells and the Byers lived in small cabins on the corner of Joseph Robinson’s farm at Little York.

Sancho lived to be well over a hundred years old, and delighted in telling the story of how he had saved his mistress and her children from the sharks. Leila Whitley Robinson died at the age of 72 on December 31, 1822, fifteen years after the death of her husband Joseph.

Leila and Joseph’s daughter Matilda married Ralph Brecken of Prince Edward Island. One of the Brecken’s daughters married Donald Macdonald. Their son, William Christopher Macdonald, lived in Montreal where he made generous gifts to McGill University. Macdonald College, an institute of higher learning, still bears his name. No doubt many of its students would be surprised to learn that the grandmother of the college’s namesake had fled rebel persecution in the American Revolution, had been rescued from shark attack by an enslaved African, and had been one of Prince Edward Island’s early loyalist settlers.

Who says loyalist history is dull and stodgy?

…Stephen Davidson {stephendavids AT gmail DOT com}

[Stephen will generally approve reprints of his articles in other publications, in return for including a bit about him and his books; please feel free to contact him. This applies to most content in Loyalist Trails. — editor]

Stephen Davidson Article in The Beaver magazine

Be sure to check your library or newstand for the August/September issue of The Beaver magazine. It will feature an article written by Stephen Davidson, a frequent contributor to Loyalist Trails. “A Manifest’s Destiny” tells the story of the passengers who sailed on the first ship to bring loyalist refugees to New Brunswick in May of 1783. Davidson presented his research for this article in his workshop at the annual ULEAC Dominion Conference in Saint John, New Brunswick this past July.

Conference 2008 in Saint John, New Brunswick

Past President Peter Johnson has written a brief report about the Conference held July 10-13 in Saint John. It was a most successful conference, well organized and thanks to those from New Brunswick Branch who organized it all. Click here (2 page PDF) to read it.

Submissions for the Fall Issue of the Loyalist Gazette

Just a reminder that the deadline for the Fall 2008 issue of The Loyalist Gazette is August 1, 2008.

The Loyalist Gazette actively seeks excellent quality articles pertaining to Loyalist themes. Submissions are to be sent to the editor electronically. Please keep in mind that we don’t have any staff to retype your submissions and that all illustrations must be sent as jpegs with at least 300 dpi resolution. Original photos can also be mailed to the editor. Articles should be approximately 3,000 to 5,000 words in length and Branch Reports should be approximately 300 words in length.

Eye Popping Publications reviews books, magazines and electronic media, all on a Loyalist theme. To have publications reviewed, please contact the Gazette Review Editor, Grietje McBride UE, at {gazette DOT editor AT nexicom DOT net}.

Advertising in the Gazette is a great way to reach an audience interested in history and genealogy. For rates and information, contact the Gazette Advertising Editor, Patricia Adair UE, at {gerry DOT pat AT sasktel DOT net}.

Our designer, Michael Johnson, is always looking for proof readers. If you’d like to volunteer for this interesting task, please contact him at {unexpected AT sympatico DOT ca} how do I email these people?.

Looking forward to hearing from you by August 1st.

…Robert Collins McBride UE, B.Sc., M.Ed., Editor of The Loyalist Gazette, Maple Grove Farms, R.R. # 1, Indian River, ON, K0L 2B0, (705) 295-4556

Loyalists Quarterly – July Edition new Available

The July 2008 issue of the Loyalists Quarterly, the only U.S. Journal devoted to loyalist studies, is now available.

This issue features include Purdy Loyalist Reunion, Ships in The great Exodus, New Sites Launched by the University of New Brunswick on Loyalists, Update To loyalist Directory, Material of Interest Regarding Fanjoy, Pennsylvania Loyalists, Treatment of Catholic Loyalists, Black Loyalist Heritage Society, Those Rude Rebels, A Short Bibliography on Loyalists, and much more.

The newsletter is printed four times a year; January, April, July, September. Membership fees are $19 (US) per year or Canadian membership at $23 (Canadian) for higher postage.

Click here for more details.

…Paul J. Bunnell, FACG, UE, 45 Crosby St., Milford, NH, 03055, 603-672-6616, {BunnellLoyalist AT aol DOT com}