The Robinson Family
At the heart of Rokeby Museum is the family that cherished this place as its home.
Quaker Thomas Robinson left Newport, Rhode Island, to stake his claim in Vermont — a brand new state with a bright future — in 1792. His children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren lived and thrived on the land he purchased in Ferrisburgh for the next 170 years. The Robinsons remained productive and respected members of their community until 1961, when the site became a museum. Over the years, they welcomed a large and diverse extended family of relatives, friends and Friends, fugitive slaves, domestic servants, farm workers, and tourists into their home. We introduce you here to the most immediate family only.
1. Thomas Richardson (1761–1851) & Jemima Fish Robinson (1761–1846)
Thomas and Jemima Robinson were raised in prosperous, well-established Quaker families in Newport and Portsmouth, Rhode Island. They moved their young family to the wilds of Vermont in 1792 and soon purchased the property that would be home to their descendants until 1961. Thomas established saw, grist, and fulling mills on the Lewis Creek a few miles away and in 1810 purchased some of the first Merino sheep to be imported from Spain, setting Rokeby on the path to distinction as one of the largest sheep farms in the region.
2. Rowland Thomas (1796–1879) & Rachel Gilpin Robinson (1799–1862)
Rowland Thomas Robinson was born at Rokeby in 1796. He received the “guarded education” many Quakers sought for their children at the time and met Rachel Gilpin while studying at Nine Partners, a boarding school in Duchess County, New York. The two married in 1820 and returned to Rokeby. Rowland tended the Merino sheep farm and mills established by his father, but found his true calling elsewhere. Radical abolitionists and religious perfectionists, Rowland and Rachel were among the earliest and most outspoken opponents of slavery in Vermont and the U.S. He worked actively in antislavery societies from the local to the national, she kept their home free of slave-made goods, and together they sheltered dozens of fugitives from slavery.
3. George Gilpin Robinson (1825–1894)
George Robinson, the second of Rowland and Rachel Robinson’s children, was born at Rokeby in 1825. Educated mostly at home, George tried various lines of work before settling down to manage the family farm. His father arranged for him to apprentice with a printer; he also worked for his brother-in-law in a short-lived business in Savannah, Georgia, and taught school briefly in Saratoga, New York. Although he was a very popular young man — playing in a band with friends and attending dances — George never married. He lived his entire life at Rokeby and converted the farm from wool to dairy with his brother Rowland Evans Robinson.
4. Ann Robinson Minturn (1827–1917)
Rowland and Rachel Robinson named their only daughter after their dear friend and “sister” Ann King. Schooled mostly at home with her brothers, Ann was more sympathetic to her parent’s beliefs than her brothers were. She married Lloyd Minturn, a considerably older distant cousin in 1848. Ann and Lloyd had a son and two daughters, and she and the children were often back at Rokeby for short stints when Lloyd picked up stakes and started over in some new line of work in a new place. Widowed in 1873, Ann ran an apple farm in Shoreham until her death.
5. Rowland Evans (1833–1900) & Ann Stevens Robinson (1841–1920)
The youngest of four children, Rowland Evans Robinson began to draw at a young age. Educated largely at home, he traveled to New York City in his early twenties to train as an engraver and illustrator. He returned to the City in search of work repeatedly over the years, but ultimately remained on the family farm, which he ran with his brother George. Rowland married Ann Stevens, the daughter of Montpelier Quakers, in 1870. Educated at the Glenwood Ladies Seminary in Brattleboro, Vermont, Ann was also a talented artist. The two shared a love of art, nature, and literature. Together, they raised three children. Failing eyesight in late middle age forced Robinson to give up his art, and with Ann’s help and encouragement, he focused entirely on writing. His tales of life in Danvis, the Vermont hill town he invented, earned him the honor of most-beloved author in the Green Mountain state, writing of “delightful, complex, and real people.” An experienced naturalist and devoted conservationist, Robinson celebrated Vermont’s natural beauty first in pictures then in words. Rokeby celebrated Rowland Evans Robinson’s early artwork with the 2015 exhibit — The Farm: Drawings of Rowland Evans Robinson, 1850–1880.
6. Rachael Robinson Elmer (1878–1919)
The most distinguished artist in the family, Rachael studied at the Art Students League in New York City. Although heavily influenced by her father, she surpassed him in both talent and training. She married and settled in New York, where she had a successful career as a book illustrator. Her best-known work, however, consisted of two sets of fine art postcards of New York scenes. The first set of twelve cards, in 1914, showcased her talent as an Impressionist painter. She produced the second set — linoleum block prints — entirely on her own in 1916. Their style — later known as art deco — put them well ahead of their time, and they caused quite a stir. These eighteen cards changed the world of American postcards. It’s hard not to wonder what else Rachael might have changed, but, sadly, we’ll never know. She contracted the Spanish flu and died in 1919 at the age of 40. Rokeby celebrated Rachael’s first postcard series with the 2014 exhibit — Rachael’s New York Postcards at 100.
7. Rowland Thomas (1882–1951) & Elizabeth Donoway Robinson (1882–1961)
The only son in this generation, Rowlie, as he was called, inherited the farm, which he ran with his wife Elizabeth. The daughter of Irish immigrants, Elizabeth Donoway taught school before her marriage. Tenders of the family heritage as well as the family home, Rowlie and Elizabeth took in tourist boarders in the 1920s and 1930s to supplement their income. This was a time of decline at Rokeby, with the wealth, the farm, and the family itself slipping away. Rowland and Elizabeth had no children, and when she died in 1961, she left the entire property and all its contents to be operated as a museum.
8. Mary Robinson Perkins (1884–1931)
Mary, or Molly as she was known, was born in 1884. She attended local schools, the Goddard Seminary in Barre, Vermont, and the University of Vermont. Mary seemed to fuse her family’s love of nature with their artistic talent. She studied both botany and art at the University and worked as a botanical artist for several years before her marriage to Llewellyn Perkins, a math professor at Middlebury College. They raised two children.
Farming & Feasting with the Robinsons
Published in association with the 2015 exhibit, The Farm: Drawings of Rowland Evans Robinson, 1850–1880, and covering the same decades (1850–1880), Farming and Feasting with the Robinsons serves as an exhibition catalog and short exploration of Robinson family foodways. In four essays tied to the seasons, author Jesse Natha checks in with the Robinsons to see what’s on their minds, on their plates, and on their chore lists. The book is richly illustrated with Robinson’s drawings and features a Robinson family recipe for each season.
In 2016, Farming & Feasting won First Place in Books by New England Museum Association (NEMA), and an Honorable Mention in Books by the American Alliance of Museums. Farming and Feasting is for sale in the Museum gift shop. Contact us here if you’d like to order a copy.