Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Did I Just Find My 4th Great Grandfather? Too Soon to Tell

1824 Burgherbrief of Joseph Robson, Planter
I have written before about my 3rd great grandmother, Hester Franklin, in a previous post (Hester Franklin - A Freed Slave in 1832). My 3rd great grandfather was Joseph Robson, estate manager at Estate Fountain and previously employed at Estate Hermitage.  According to St Croix census documents, Joseph was born about 1797 in England, but little more is known.  However, I recently found a link to a person who may be Joseph's father and, if so, can connect me to not only a few earlier generations but also to living cousins.

Joseph Robson appeared in censuses from 1841 until his death in 1859, usually in a household with Hester and sometimes with their children. As was common at the time, Joseph and Hester were unmarried, Hester was listed as a “housekeeper” and their school age children lived in a house in Christiansted while they attended school. Joseph received a burgherbrief as a planter on 16 Dec 1824, but I haven’t found any record of him before that date.

Looking for Joseph in England has proven quite difficult, as I have no other birth information besides his country of birth and age from the census.  His baptism date is listed as either 1797 or 1798 in the English church.  No record of his baptism in the Anglican church in St Croix has been found, but that is expected if he was born in England.  I have found some Joseph Robsons born in Northumberland, but they appear in later censuses, when my Joseph was in St Croix.  So, none seem to be right.
Robson is a very unusual name for the islands.  A search of the censuses show that prior to 1860, every Robson in the St Croix census is a known descendent of Joseph.  No parents, no siblings, no cousins.  No other Robson appears. 

I have not found a single baptism or marriage or burial of a Robson on St Croix in church records until Joseph’s children arrived around 1830.  Even then, I have found only a few.  At least one, Adelaide, was Moravian, and those records are not readily available (although I have gotten confirmation that Adelaide’s baptism was recorded in the Moravian church).  Nevertheless, I couldn’t find any record of anyone else named Robson on St Croix prior to the 1824 burgherbrief.  This strongly suggested that the first Robson on St Croix was Joseph, presumably arriving from England as a young man.

Until I found this:
1806-Burgherbrief-Cal Robson - Copy
1803 Burgherbrief of Cal. Robson, Seafarer
This is the Burgherbrief of a man identified as Cal. Robson in St Croix in 1803.  The brief says he was a “seafarer” and that the brief was new, that is, he didn’t hold a Danish burgherbrief from St Croix or anywhere else.  Since at least some residency was often required for a burgherbrief, it is reasonable that he must have arrived on the island somewhat earlier (this isn’t an invariable rule, just a guide).
Aug 25, 1801 St Croix Arrival of Robson
Beginning in 1803 and lasting until at least 1824, Anglican church records in Christiansted show that a woman listed as Mrs. Elizabeth Robson was a witness to at least 6 baptisms of children from prominent island families, particularly Longs, Johnsons, and Brothersons. Further, a review of the St Croix passenger lists from the CGL show an entry, simply listed as “Robson”, arriving at St Croix from England in August of 1801.

In an effort to see what I can find, I queried the England & Wales Christening Records 1530-1906 at Ancestry.com, searching for Cal* Robson born before 1777 and came up with a single hit.  Caleb Robson, born in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in Northumberland, England and baptized in 1772.  No one else came close.   So, I Googled him and found James Clennell’s family tree website from 2004 that lists Caleb and his wife Elizabeth Chebert.  It also lists several generations of the Robson family around this period.

I contacted Jon Clennell, the creator of the site, and exchanged information.  Jon, who is the 3rd great grand nephew of Caleb Robson and lives in South Yorkshire England, has an old family tree that his great aunt made in the 1930s that shows Caleb and Elizabeth in the West Indies. Unfortunately, there is no documentation to support this statement apart from the entry in the tree.  This was where his website information came from.

imageWhether this says that they married in the West Indies or moved to the West Indies can’t be ascertained form the tree. It’s also possible that it means that Elizabeth was from the West Indies.  Since the Chabert family was well known in St Croix at that time, it is quite possible that she was from there.  It’s also possible that all of these are true.

I can’t be sure they are related to Joseph, in fact, I have no evidence at all that they were, but I think it’s an awful great coincidence that I found a Cal. Robson in 1803 in St Croix, I found a Mrs. Elizabeth Robson from 1803-1824 in St Croix and that the only Cal. Robson in the Christening lists married an Elizabeth and is somehow associated with the West Indies.  Further, the Chabert family is a St Croix family often associated with the Brotherson family.  And there are no other Robsons recorded in the islands.

So, while I am far from proof, I can construct a working hypothesis.  Assuming that Caleb and Elizabeth are in fact Joseph’s parents, I can hypothesize a partial history to be consistent with the known facts.
Caleb, a Unitarian, the son of a shipwright in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne entered the merchant service on a ship to the West Indies as a young man.  His travels took him to St Croix at some point where he met and married Elizabeth Chabert, an Anglican (marriage record lost or at least not yet found).  Let’s say this happened around 1790-1795 (wild guess).  Suppose she traveled back to England with Caleb and gave birth to their son Joseph around 1797 in England.   Perhaps he was baptized Anglican like his mother rather than Unitarian like his father. Caleb was still travelling in 1799, appearing in South Carolina (he was issued a naturalization from South Carolina in that year.)  It isn’t clear if he ever established residence there and whether he had a family.
In 1801, when Joseph was about 4 years old, Caleb brought Elizabeth and Joseph to her home in St Croix where he set up residence, obtaining a burgherbrief as a seafarer in 1803.  While Caleb flitted about the sea, Elizabeth relied on her strong family friendships with well-known planter families like the Johnsons and Brothersons. Elizabeth, also known as Mrs. Robson, attended many baptisms of her friends’ children, raising Joseph on St Croix.
Elizabeth and Caleb may have died prior to the first census in 1841 so they were not enumerated.  While they may have moved away, I have not found them in any other censuses so they didn’t likely move to the US or England.  Joseph may have had no siblings, or at least none who survived so there is no record of them on St Croix.  Joseph’s first child was born in 1827, but no baptismal record has been found so I can’t tell if his parents were witnesses. I would expect his mother to be in attendance. By 1841 the only Robsons left on St Croix were Joseph and his children.
Of course, most of this is still conjecture, but it is a history that is consistent with the known facts and is at least plausible.  Since I now have a hypothesis I can start looking for my evidence to either support or reject it.  So far St Croix church records have not panned out.  My focus now is a close examination of the 2,200 pages of St Croix passenger records to see if I can find more occurrences of Robson travels.

Another source may be in the Anglican church records of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne for 1797-8.  According to the census, Joseph was baptized in the Church of England in those years.  While he isn’t in the Ancestry database, he may be in the churchbook.  The FHL has microfilms of some of these churches, so I’ll have to order them.

So the problem isn’t solved, but if I can make the connection between Joseph and Caleb, not only will I have another couple of generations of that line, but I will also get to count another cousin.  The web curator John Clennell. As I told Jon in an email, we would be 6th cousins once removed.  Since I have no close cousins in my St Croix family, I consider that close.  Most people consider 6th cousins as total strangers.  I take what I can get.

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