People, Place, and Time

Telling my family's stories

William Johnson Robinson (1804-1868)


William Johnson Robinson was born in County Donegal, Ireland on October 31, 1804. I don’t know the exact location in Donegal of his birth (or any of the Robinson’s), but I suspect it was Pettigo in Templecairne. He was the son of John Robinson and Elizabeth Johnson. Elizabeth died when he was very young – sometime around 1808, and his father re-married a woman whose name I haven’t nailed own. Likely named Mary, but I’m not sure.

William, like the rest of his brothers, was a weaver by trade. He practiced his trade in Donegal until about 1825, when he left for North America. There was an enormous amount of instability in NW Ireland at the time, including famine and civil unrest, and a lot of people seemed to have picked up and left around then. As far as I can tell, William was the first to leave Ireland. He showed up in Philadelphia, which was a center for early Irish immigration. His brother Archibald and his sisters Jane and Catherine came over in 1826, also to Philadelphia.

Around 1835, this group of 4 moved out west to the frontier – Northwestern Illinois. This was a mere 3 years after the Blackhawk war was concluded, in which the US military largely slaughtered, massacred and otherwise ‘subdued’ the Sauk who had been living in the area. Thanks to that bloodshed, the area was now open to settlement, and William Robinson was one of the first to purchase land there from the US Government. 


The area that he settled in was called “Wapello” up to that point. This is a word from the Algonquian language family – likely Miami-Illinois, judging by the ‘l’ in it. It looks like it has the root for ‘white/bright’ in it (wâp-), but I don’t recognize the suffix. Could be White Clay, Dawn, etc. So many Irish settled in this area that it got the name Irish Hollow for awhile. Later, towns grew up – including Hanover, Elizabeth, and Rice.


About Hattifattener

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

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This entry was posted on June 11, 2011 by in Uncategorized.
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