Thursday, January 13, 2011
Charles J. Robinson, May 13, 1838 - March 6, 1877
[Picture by Kari Petersen, 2010]
The truth about history is that most of it is written about the big names and the heroes. I suppose because my family were farmers and carpenters, I have always been fascinated by those people whose lives were more mundane. I want to try to read between the lines to flesh them out of the ether.
But in my research, I'm finding that even those whose lives were less well-known have left gems (or maybe more appropriate to say nuggets) in the sand for us to find. Charles J. Robinson was one of those men. Of course, he didn't leave the gem so much as his family or friends, but one exists in the form of his obituary. Indeed, it is tempting to just cut and past the whole of it, as it speaks to not only his history, but also his character.
Mr. Robinson was born June 22, 1838 in Clarendon, New York. I don't know much about his early life, except that he was able to receive a college education.1 After he graduated, he moved to Wisconsin. He was there in Columbus, WI when the census was taken in 1860. He was working as a teacher and living with a family, possibly one of his students' families.2
When the war broke out, Charles enlisted in Company G of the 1st Wisconsin Infantry. He served as 2nd Lieutenant, until he was discharged about 9 months later due to illness.3
In 1865, he came out to California to escort "greenbacks" to the mint in San Francisco, and once here established himself as an educator, and ended up turning down the opportunity to be a professor back east to stay in the west.4 It is unclear whether he was infected with tuberculosis by this time. I don't know how long it takes for the infection to progress, but if he was infected, a move to California would have been considered a beneficial one as the "fresh air cure" was the only way to improve your chances to survive.
Regardless, he lived a successful and productive life in the Bay Area. He moved to Oakland in about 1872 and worked for Burnham, Standeford & Co., a planing and milling company which later also would contract to construct cable cars in San Francisco.5 After having to leave this industry due to failing health, he was appointed the Oakland City Clerk and Treasurer which post he held until his death. 6
Mr. Robinson was obviously well-respected among his friends and colleagues. He was considered learned and passionate about education. He was described as compassionate, but uncompromising about his ethics and morals. And he was a strongly religious man and kept that part of his life very private.7
When he died on March 6, 1877 of Tuberculosis,8 he left his wife, Madge,9 and 2 young daughters.10 It is likely that Madge moved or remarried before the next census as I lose track of her in the records, and I do not know the names of their children. I really hope that someday, someone may search for him and find this bio because there is so much to know about him and he seems like just a good man to have as an ancestor.
1 Charles J. Robinson Obituary, Oakland Daily Evening Tribune, Wednesday, March 7, 1877, pg. 3.
2 Year: 1860; Census Place: Columbus, Columbia, Wisconsin; Roll: M653_1401; Page: 184; Image: 189; Family History Library Film: 805401. Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.
3 Historical Data Systems, comp.. U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009.
4 Oakland Daily Evening Tribune, Wednesday, March 7, 1877.
5 Henry G. Langley, editor, A Directory of the City of Oakland and the Town of Brooklyn, for the Year Ending June 30th, 1873 (Oakland: Henry G. Langley, 1872), pg. 211.
6 Oakland Daily Evening Tribune, Wednesday, March 7, 1877.
7 Oakland Daily Evening Tribune, Wednesday, March 7, 1877.
8 Mountain View Cemetery Record Book 1, pg. 56.
9 Historical Data Systems, comp.. U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009.
10 Oakland Daily Evening Tribune, Wednesday, March 7, 1877.