People, Place, and Time

Telling my family's stories

The Robinsons of Jo Daviess County

‘Robinson’ appears to be one of the 16 most common names in Ireland. That’s about all you need to know to know how hard it is to do genealogy on this family.

John Robinson and Elizabeth Johnston were born sometime around 1780 in County Donegal, Ireland. I don’t know the exact town for sure, but for a variety of reasons, I suspect it was Pettigo – a town on the border of County Fermanagh.

First, this is the town that almost all the other Irish inhabitants of the Hanover area (previously called ‘Irish Hollow’) came from, including the Virtues. So many people came to Jo Daviess from this area that Galena, Illinois is built in many ways to resemble Pettigo, right down to street names and organization on the river.

Second, there’s some documentation (which I maddeningly cannot locate right now) that names Pettigo as the origin for the Robinsons. I believe it was naturalization documents, but it could be history, too.

Thirdly, there are Robinsons and Johnstons galore in Pettigo, and even a few Goldings. This isn’t anything on its own, but it is suggestive.

Regardless, John Robinson and Elizabeth Johnston married sometime around 1797 in their home area. They had a number of children, including Archibald, Jane, Ellenor, Catherine, William, and Archibald. Then, Elizabeth died, sometime around 1808. John then remarried and had another set of children with an un-named woman (probably named Mary), including Eve, Jonathan, Mary, George, Sarah, Ann, and David (?).

By 1830, Donegal was in very bad straights for a variety of reasons. There was increasing tension between protestants and catholics in the area, related to the tithe tax, the rise of catholic national sentiment, and an increasing desire by protestant leadership to provoke a major conflict. At the same time, there was a particularly bad famine in Donegal. I don’t know exactly why the Robinsons left, but they did. 

Archibald and his two sisters, Jane and Catherine, emigrated together in 1826, and William Johnson emigrated separately in 1825. They all went to Philadelphia, which was a center of Irish immigration at the time. The men worked there as weavers, which makes me think they were weavers in Ireland – a fact confirmed for William Johnson Robinson by a biographical note written about him in the 1870s. 

Around 1835, William Johnson picked up and moved to the frontier town of Galena, Illinois. He worked as a smelter, which isn’t surprising, since Galena was a center for mining at the time. I believe he was the first of the Robinsons to make it out to Jo Daviess.

In 1839, William married a woman named Sarah Ann Oliver and then moved to Apple River, southeast of Galena. He bought government land there in the late 1830s. He was one of the first inhabitants to come to the area after it had been ‘cleared of indians and many wild animals’ (as the local history books like to describe it) during the Blackhawk War. They lost 4 of their 6 children before the age of 3, and the other two, Eliza Jennie and John Richard, do not appear to have any children. So William has no living descendants, as far as I know.

After WIlliam was established in the area, the rest of the family started to head that way, as well. Archibald, Jane and Catherine came out, with Jane dying shortly after arriving, in 1839. Catherine married a man named James Robinson in Galena in 1836, and had, as far as I know, no children. 

Their sister Ellenor had married a man named Daniel Golden in Ireland, and had had six children there, including Elizabeth (who never married), Mary Jane, Henry, Margaret, Thomas, and John. They came over separately from the rest of the Robinsons, arriving in New York August 26, 1848 on the ship ‘St. Patrick.’ He was listed as a Joiner by occupation, which means that he made cabinetry and other pieces of woodwork (see the description of Kenelm Winslow below for more on this occupation).

The biographical sketches written of the Goldens are wrong in this respect – they create an elaborate story about multiple immigrations from multiple places, teams of horses, etc. – none of which matches the documentation. The dates they list are off by 7 years from the documentation.

Ellenor and her husband Daniel rented land from Wiliam and farmed, but Daniel Golden died shortly after coming over from Ireland – before the 1850 census. I don’t know where he was buried – perhaps somewhere out on the Johnson land in Apple River.

Meanwhile, the patriarch of the family had remarried, as I said, and had several more children. This entire group also came to Jo Daviess and also lived on or near William Robinson’s land. (Little wonder that William was one of the early officials of the area, considering his connections to so many of the inhabitants.) John somewhere between 1840 and 1850, I believe, because he is listed on the 1840 census for Apple River, but gone by 1850. He would have been about 80 years old. I have no idea what happened to his second wife, but she is said to have come over as well and died in Jo Daviess. Neither of them have a marked burial.

This second group of children were much more active and prolific than the first group. While Archibald, Jane, William, Catherine and Ann had no grandchildren (only Ellenor did), the other group had numerous. Mary Robinson married Robert Dawson and had 11 children, most of whom lived to adulthood. Her brother George had 12 children, many of whom were also again prolific, and they went on to own and operate the Robinson hotel in Hanover for many years. Sarah married Samuel White, had four children, and moved to Montana.

My own descent comes through the non-prolific side. Ellenor and Daniel Golden had Henry Golden, who married Margaret Black. They had Ellen Golden, named after his mother, who had Cora Moorehead, who had Elmer Ritenour, and so on.

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About Hattifattener

Age: 37 Lives: All over the place. Education: PhD, linguistics, UBC.

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This entry was posted on December 3, 2010 by in Uncategorized.
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