Thomas Robbins.

Diary, 1796-1854; printed for his nephew. Owned by the Connecticut Historical Society (Volume 1) online

. (page 1 of 132)
Online LibraryThomas RobbinsDiary, 1796-1854; printed for his nephew. Owned by the Connecticut Historical Society (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 132)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Columbia SInttJcrsfttp





-7 <^>9-/^.0-'*-t.-«.^



Thomas Robbins, D. D.

1 7 g6 — 1854.


Owned by the Connecticut Historical Society.






Beacon Press ; Thomas Todd, Printer.

V. I




The author of this diary, Rev. Thomas Robbins, D. D., was born in the town of
Norfolli, Connecticut, August ii, 1777. He was the son of the Rev. Ammi Ruhamah
and Elizabeth (Le Baron) Robbins. His father was the first minister of the town of
Norfoll<, holding office from October, 1761, to his death in October, 1813, fifty-two years.
The earliest American ancestor in this paternal line was Richard Robbins, of Cambridge,
who came from England to this country as early as 1639, settling first at Charlestown,
but soon removing to Cambridge, Massachusetts. From him the order of descent was
through Nathaniel, born in Cambridge, 1649; Nathaniel, born in Cambridge, 1678; Phile-
mon, born in Cambridge, 1709, a graduate of Harvard College, 1729, and the life-long
pastor at Branford, Connecticut, 1732-1781 ; Ammi Ruhamah, born in Branford, 1740, a
graduate of Yale College, 1760, whose ministerial record is given above.

On the maternal side Dr. Robbins traced his line directly back to the honored Gov-
ernor William Bradford, of Plymouth. This line, downward, ran through William Brad-
ford, Jr., son of the Governor by his second wife, Alice Southworth, nle Carpenter;
then through David, son of William and Mary Holmes, nie Atwood. A daughter of
David and Mary was Lydia Bradford, born December 23, 17 19. By her marriage, the
name Le Baron was brought into this maternal line, and the story connected with this
name is curious and romantic.

In the year 1694, a French Privateer, hovering around our shores to capture vessels
loaded with grain, was wrecked near the upper end of Buzzard's Bay, and the men on
board were rescued and taken off as prisoners of war. This was in the reign of William
in. The Treaty of Ryswick brought peace in 1697. The surgeon on board this French
Privateer was Francis Le Baron. In the transfer of these prisoners from the head of
Buzzard's Bay to Boston, a halt was made at Plymouth. On the day of their arrival,
it so happened that a woman of Plymouth had met with an accident, causing a com-
pound fracture of one of her limbs. The local physicians decided that the limb must
/be amputated. But Dr. Le Baron asked permission to examine the fracture, and decided
I that he could save the limb, which he did. This led to a petition on the part of
the Selectmen of Plymouth to the public authorities, asking that Dr. Le Baron might
be released, to become a physician and surgeon at Plymouth. The request was granted.
He went there in 1694, married in 1695 Mary Wilder, a native of Hingham, Massachu-
setts, and became the father of three sons, James, Lazarus, and Francis.

This Lazarus Le Baron, in the year 1743, married, for his second wife, Lydia
Bradford, named above, daughter of David. She was then twenty-four years old, but had
already lived a brief married life as the wife of Elkanah Cushman. As the wife of
Dr. Lazarus Le Baron, she was the mother of seven children, the second of whom was
Elizabeth, the wife of the Norfolk minister, and the mother of Dr. Thomas Robbins,
the author of this diary.

7 4'80n


Young Robbins was fitted for college in his own home, where many other boys
pursued their preparatory studies. The pastor's house at Norfolk was a kind of acad-
emy for Northwestern Connecticut in those early years. The hours of study with young
Robbins were diversified with labors on the farm, for the country minister of that day
was also a farmer. Though destined for a scholar, he was, nevertheless, in his early
life, made practically familiar with almost all kinds of farm work.

At the age of fifteen, in the year 1792, he was fitted for college, and was entered
at Yale. He was there when President Stiles died, in May, 1795, and when President
Dwight was inaugurated in September of the same year. While young Robbins had
been a member of Yale, Williams College had been organized in Western Massachusetts,
and his father, the Norfolk minister, had been made one of the early trustees. In
1795 Williams graduated her first class. In the autumn of 1795 young Robbins's father,
wishing to show a practical interest in the infant college at Williamstown, of which he
had been made one of the guardians, desired his son to remove from Yale to Williams,
and pursue his senior studies there. He did so, and the whole matter was so fi.xed, by
previous arrangement, that after his graduation at Williams College, September 7, 1796, he
went the following week to New Haven, and was graduated with his Yale classmates,
September 14, 1796. His name stands as an alumnus on the General Catalogues of both
colleges for the year 1796.

In Williams College, on the first of January, 1796, young Robbins began the diary
now embraced in these two bulky volumes. It ran (with some small breaks by reason
of sickness) from that date to 1S54, a period of fifty-eight years. It is a diary, in the
strict sense of the word, with its daily entries as regular as the daily rising and
setting of the sun.

Soon after his graduation, at the age of nineteen, he was engaged for several months
in teaching in Sheffield, Massachusetts, at the same time pursuing theological studies
with Rev. Ephraim Judson, pastor at Sheffield. For a year or two after closing his col-
lege course, he spent a considerable portion of his time at his father's house pursuing
various studies, and assisting his father in teaching. In the summer and autumn of 1797
he studied theology with Dr. Stephen West, of Stockbridgc, Massachusetts. In the winter
of 1797-1798 he taught in Torringford, Connecticut, and pursued theological studies with
Rev. Samuel J. Mills. During the year 1798 he studied again with Dr. West, of Stock-
bridge. He was licensed to preach by the Litchfield North Association, September 2\
1798. During the winter of 179S-1799 he was preaching as a supply at Marlborough)
Connecticut, closing his service there in April, 1799. During the summer and autumn of!
1799 he made a long horseback journey through the new towns of Vermont, preaching as
he went. At the close of that year he was called to Danbury, Connecticut, to teach the
academy, having previously supplied the jjulpit a few Sabbaths at Brookfield, Connecticut.
At Danbury, teaching and supplying pulpits in the neighborhood, he remained till iSoi.
Then he went on another long missionary journey tlirough the new settlements in New
York, not returning till August, 1802. Kor another year he supplied pulpits in Con-
necticut and Massachusetts, and received some earnest calls for settlement, but he was
not ready to accept any of them. In May, 1803, he was ordained to go forth in the
service of the Connecticut Missionary Society to the new settlements on the Western
Reserve, Ohio. From this service he returned in 1806, seriously broken in health, so that


it was a year or two before he was able to resume regular ministerial labors in any

In the summer of iSo8 he commenced preaching in the south parish of East Windsor,
Connecticut (now South Windsor), whose first minister was Timothy Edwards, father of
Jonathan Edwards. Dr. Robbins preached here continuously from this time, though he
was not formally installed until May 3, 1809. His whole ministry in East Windsor was
not far from nineteen years, beginning in June, 1808, and ending in September, 1827.

Here it was that he first really began the great enterprise of his life, viz. : that of
collecting a library which was destined to become one of the large private libraries of
his generation. This enterprise, as a whole, and in its various details, is the subject of
innumerable references through the course of the diary, from the time when the process
of collecting books began. If one would see what can be accomplished in this way
by an unmarried country minister, without inherited property, and with only the ordinary
salary of New England country clergymen in the early years of the present century, let
him go to the rooms of the Connecticut Historical Society, at the Wadsworth Athe-
nseum, Hartford, and the result will be fully spread out before him.

As already stated, Dr. Robbins closed his ministry in East Windsor in September,
1827. For one or two years he again supplied churches miscellaneously, but was never
for anv length of time without employment. In the latter part of 1S29 he preached
at Stratford, Connecticut, where he accepted a call to settle, and was installed in Feb-
ruary, 1830. This did not prove a permanent settlement. He was dismissed in Septem-
ber, 1831, his whole ministry here, including supply of pulpit before installation, being
less than two years. After leaving Stratford, without any long delay, he was led to
Mattapoisett, in the town of Rochester, Massachusetts, to assist his revered uncle, Rev.
Lemuel Le Baron, who had already been pastor there nearly sixty years, when Dr.
Robbins was called to be his helper. After preaching here several months, he was
regularly installed October 16, 1S32, and continued until 1S44, his whole ministry in this
parish covering nearly thirteen years. Meanwhile his uncle died November 26, 1S36, in
his ninetieth year, and in the si.\ty-fifth of his ministry, and Dr. Robbins was left sole

In the year 1844, Dr. Robbins having reached his sixty-seventh year, and having
been engaged in teaching and preaching not far from forty-six years, an arrangement was
effected, chiefly through the agency of Hon. Henry Barnard, of Hartford, by which
(leaving out all minor details) Dr. Robbins's library was to become the property of the
Connecticut Historical Society, and he himself was to become the Society's Librarian,
on a stipulated salary, through the remaining years of his active life. This position he
gracefully and honorably filled for ten years. In 1854 the infirmities of age came
upon him, and he was obliged to close his diary and retire from all public duties. He
lingered on until September 13, 1856, when he passed away peacefully at the house of
his niece, Mrs. Elizabeth (Robbins) Allen, in the town of Colebrook, Connecticut.

We have given this rapid outline of the author's life, for the convenience of those
studying or consulting the diary.

It would be in vain for us to attempt to point out all the uses for which such a
work as Dr. Robbins has here left may be employed. If the meteorologist wishes to
follow the record of winter cold and summer heat through a long course of years,


he will not often find so large and valuable a compilation of facts as that contained
in these volumes.

If the student of history wishes for practical illustrations showing how intense and
narrow were the political prejudices of men in the early years of the present century,
how bitterly the Federalists hated the Democrats, and how bitterly they were hated
in turn by the Democrats, he may find all the evidence he wishes in these pages. Dr.
Robbins was a Federalist of the most positive type, as were the ministers of the standing
order generally throughout New England, but especially in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
He was as conservative also in theology as in politics.

If the historical student wishes to gather information about the local customs and
habits, civil and religious, prevailing seventj'-fivc years ago over those large ranges of
country covered by this narrative, he will find few books more valuable than this.

We might dwell upon other uses, but each one will determine for himself whether
the diary will answer the questions arising in his own mind.

The reader will find the pages of these volumes largely furnished with notes. He
will discover also, in many instances, that these notes are briefly and in substance
repeated. This was done knowingly and intentionally, to save the reader the trouble
of turning over many pages, perhaps, to find something which has dropped from his
memory, and which a line or two will recall.

The diary appears in these volumes almost verbatim et literatim as Dr. Robbins
left it. Occasionally a line that might possibly give offence, through its indirect relation-
ships to some person or persons now living, has been erased. It was not needful,
however, to remove many lines for this reason. The record is remarkably free from
offensive personalities. Certain modes of expression which are now generally outlawed,
are left to stand, because they reflect the period in which they were written.

Dr. Robbins never married, yet the diary shows that, in his early manhood, the
subject of matrimony was much in his thoughts. But, from the time that the project of
making a great library was first formed and fixed, he doubtless concluded that with
wife and children on his hands, he could not hope to gather this large and choice
collection of his dreams, and so he made the journey of his life alone. He had, how-
ever, easy and friendly access to many cultivated households among his kindred and
acquaintances, and was eminently a social and companionable man.

Through all the early and middle years of his professional life he was a very busy
man. Besides his regular parish cares and responsibilities, he was called upon, to a
very large extent, for public sermons and addresses, and many outside tru.sts. He was,
moreover, a kind of pioneer in a class of studies and labors pertaining to early New
England history and genealogy. He was one of the founders of the Connecticut His-
torical Society, was an active member of the American Antiquarian Society of Worces-
ter, as also of the New England Historic Genealogical Society of Boston. He wrote
and published his little volume entitled Historical View of the First Planters of Nt-j)
England^ and he superintended the first American edition of Cotton Mather's Magnalia.
When the Massachusetts Board of Education was first formed in 1837, with Hon. Horace
Mann for Secretary, Dr. Robbins, being then pastor at Mattapoisctt, was made a member
of the Board, and traveled considerably with Mr. Mann, making addresses on Education
before large gatherings of the people. It was while at Mattapoisett, in 1838, that he
received the degree of D.D. from Harvard College.


Dr. Robbins's method of keeping his diary was that commonly adopted by those in
old times, who went into the business thoroughly and systematically, viz. : by the use
of interleaved almanacs, prepared year by year as they were wanted. These were care-
fully kept, and when his library was passed over to the Connecticut Historical Society,
in 1844, they, so far as completed (with ten more to be added), became the property
of the Society. After Dr. Robbins's death, they were bound in twelve neat and mod-
erate-sized volumes, each covering five years, except the last, which included between
three and four years.

Dr. Robbins's handwriting was compact, but clear, and after a very little e.xperience
it was easy to decipher these closely-written pages. Almost the whole of the work was
copied from the original by a young lady, Miss Emily E. Hawley, with a type-writer.
It was the work of several months, but was more quickly and easily done in this way
than with the pen. It needs but a glance at these bulky volumes to convince any
one that the simple work of copying must have been a long one.

Dr. Robbins's sister Sarah, two years younger than himself, married, in 1S05, Joseph
Battel!, Esq., a prosperous Christian merchant of Norfolk, Connecticut. It is by children
of this marriage, Robbins Battell, Esq., and Anna Battell, of Norfolk, that this work
is now printed and sent forth, in the belief that it contains some valuable materials
for history and biography, gathered from the long period which the narrative covers.
Philip Battell, Esq., of Middlebury, Vermont, brother of the above, has also aided much
by his memories and suggestions, thoroughly acquainted as he is with the family history,

recent and ancestral.


IVesi Newton, February S2, 1886.




1. A member of Williams College, Senior year; was appointed to a
degree as a degree of merit.^

2. Reciting now, Paley's Moral Philosophy.

3. Attended meeting. Heard Mr. Swift ^ preach. Very warm weather.

4. My friend Turner'' very dangerously sick in college.

5. Attended the public concert of prayer.

6. The public paper brought an account of a promising happy session of

7. A violent storm of snow, perhaps eight inches.

8. A sudden death in the neighborhood. A man died with a species of
the lockjaw.

9. A full conference meeting. Very serious.

10. A funeral sermon was preached on the late death — well adapted.

11. Formed an agreeable acquaintance. Very cold at night. A violent
snow-storm. Mr. Judson' and wife arrived to see their sick son.

12. Weather quite warm, but good sleighing.

13. Received a letter from home. Spoke on the stage.

14. Finished Paley's Philosophy. A hard storm.

15. Moderate weather, preparing for exhibition. Lower classes offended
about the ball ' now coming.

16. Wrote a letter to Uncle Robbins."

' Thomas Robbins, on his father's side, college by young Robbins's father. He was

was descended from Richard Robbins('), of afterward settled in New Marlborough,

Cambridge, Mass. (1639), through Nathan- Mass., and died after a thirteen years' min-

iel(^), Nathaniel(^), Philemon(*), and Ammi istry, at the age of forty-one.
Ruhamahp). s fhis was the 4th Congress, the 1st hav-

^ Going to Williams College from Yale, ing been convened in 1789.
as he did, in his Senior year, his rank at the ^ Rev. Ephraim Judson, of Sheffield, whose

first had to be determined by general esti- only child of the same name was then in.

mate, rather than by computation of his marks Williams College, where he was graduated in

at recitation. the following year.

^ Rev. Seth Swift, a native of Kent, Ct., ' A college exhibition winding up with a

graduated at Yale in 1774, was the settled ball, does not indicate that our fathers, nearly

minister of Williamstown, Mass., from May a century ago, were so rigid as is sometimes

26, 1779, to Feb. 13, 1807, when he died. supposed.

* Nathaniel Turner, who was graduated at ° This was Chandler Robbins, D. D., of

Williams in 1798. He was a native of Nor- Plymouth, Mass. ; minister therefrom Jan. 30,

folk, Ct., and had probably been fitted for 1760, to June 30, 1799, aged sixty.



17. Attended meeting — heard of the death of Gov. Huntington.'

18. Wrote to Uncle L. Lebaron' [Le Baron]. Preparing for exhibition.

19. My father arrived in town.' Had a verj' fine exhibition. At evening
was at ball.

20. Set out for home. Very stormy.

21. My mamma found a new nephew, Mr. Goodwin, of Lenox.* An agree-
able visit.

22. Arrived home. All well. Very cold.

23. Preparing for the necessary business of my vacation as soon as

24. Heard my father preach. Mr. Huntington,' tutor at my father's.

25. Mr. H. and 1 tried to persuade Si Battle' to become a bookseller at

26. My father went with me to the merchant's and let me trade about £4.

27. Excellent sleighing. Snows a little every day. My brother N." came
last night.

28. Began my oration for Society exhibition. Wrote a letter to my old
classmate Bishop."

29. My father and I went to the woods and got a good load of wood.

' Samuel Huntington, Governor of Con-
necticut from 17S6 to his death. In 1779 ■i"'^
'80 lie was President of the Continental Con-
gress. He died at Norwich, Ct., January 5,
1796, and young Robbins heard of his death
on Sunday the 17th, so slowly did news travel
in those days.

^ Young Robbins's mother was Elizabeth(')
Le Baron, of Plymouth, Mass., daughter of
Dr. Lazarus Le Baron. Her grandfather was
Dr. Francis Le Baron, who, as surgeon on
board a French privateer, was wrecked in
Buzzard's Bay, and being thrown thus on a
strange shore, settled in Plymouth in 1696.
Her mother's maiden name was Lydia(*) Brad-
ford, daughter of David(*) Br.adford, grand-
daughter of William(=) Bradford, Jr., and great
granddaughter of Gov. William(') Bradford
of the Plymouth Colony. Thonias(') Rob-
bins's line of descent from the noble Pil-
grim governor is, therefore, clear and dis-
tinct. His Uncle L. Le Baron, to whom he
writes, is Rev. Lemuel Le Baron, a graduate
of Yale in 176S, the life-long Congregational
minister in one of the churches of Rochester,
Mass., now called Mattapoisett.

^ To reach Williamstown from Norfolk,
Ct., Rev. Mr. Robbins had to make a jour-
ney of about fifty miles among the Berkshire

* Lenox was on the way home, and this
new nephew that Mrs. Robbins found was a
son either of her half-sister Lydia, who mar-
ried Nathaniel Goodwin, or of another half-
sister, Hannah, who married Benjamin Good-
win. The Goodwins of Plymouth seem to
have come from Christopher Goodwin, of
Charlestown, Mass., who was resident there
as early as 1643.

5 Rev. Dan Huntington, was graduated at
Yale in 1794, and settled afterwards at Litch-
field and Middletown, Ct. Died at Hadley,
Mass., 1864, aged ninety. He was the father
of the Rev. Frederic Dan Huntington, D.D.,
Bishop of Central New York. Mr. Dan
Huntington tutor at Williams 1794-1796,
and at Yale 1796-1798.

<■ Josiah Buckingham Battell.

' Nathaniel Robbins, one of his older broth-
cr.s. He had two brothers older and three
younger than himself.

' This was Timothv Bishop, of New Haven,
a graduate of 1796, at Y.ale, who lived seventy-
seven years after his graduation, dying in 1873.
For several years before his death, he was
Yale's oldest living graduate, and since the
founding of Yale, though there have been
many long-lived students, no graduate, i)er-
haps, has exceeded him in the length of his
post-graduate life.


30. The coldest day we have had. My father went to exchange with Mr.
Mills.' Obliged to return.

31. My father preached a good part of the day about Vermont."


1. Capt. Lawrence summoned my father, according to law, to go to
Litchfield as an evidence. He would not.

2. Almost all the town met to count as evidence in the contest between
Lawrence and Phelps.'

3. Wrote a letter to my old classmates Hooker and Denison.*

4. At my father's wood-spell, worked hard all day.

5. With my sister S.' I went to Canaan to visit my brother A.'

6. Returned from C. in a moderate snow-storm.

7. My father preached that there was reason to weep over the calamitous
state of mankind.

8. Mr. Huntington called here on his return to college. I was gone from

9. My father went to Lee to a Council. Left me to take care of the

10. Mr. Dunbar, tutor,' went from here in the morning for college.

11. It rained all day. Snow went very fast. First thawing day we have
had for three weeks.

12. Had an account from Albany of a number of persons taken up and
confined for burglar}'.

13. My mamma and sister finished my bed to carry to college."

14. My father preached of the danger of being overrun with infidelity.

15. Set out for college in a sleigh. Bitter cold. Came as far as Pittsfield.

• Rev. Samuel Mills, of Torringford, Ct., received the degree of A. M. both from Yale

pastor there from June, 1769, to his death in and "Williams, and was tutor at Yale 1799-

May, 1833. He was the father of the well- iSoi.

known Samuel J. Mills, Jr. Torringford was ^ Sarah Robbins, then sixteen, afterwards

distant from Norfolk some twelve or fifteen Mrs. Joseph Battell.

miles. Mr. Mills's wife was Esther Robbins, ■'• Ammi Ruhamah Robbins, Jr., an elder

daughter of Samuel Robbins, of Canaan. She brother.

was descended from John Robbins, of Weth- ' Elijah Dunbar, graduated at Harvard Col-

ersfield, Ct., while the Norfolk minister was lege 1794. Tutor at Williams College 1794-

descended from Richard Robbins, of Cam- 1796, and Daniel Dunbar, graduated at Yale

bridge, M.iss. But Richard and John are College 1794, tutor also at Williams 1794-

believed to have come from the same family 1796. The one spoken of in the diary was

in England. probably Daniel, as the Norfolk parsonage

- The Connecticut churches looked after was more likely to be a kind of halting place

Online LibraryThomas RobbinsDiary, 1796-1854; printed for his nephew. Owned by the Connecticut Historical Society (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 132)