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PAPER READ AT THE ANNUAL MEETING
GEORGE W. HARMAN.
The Robinson family has ever been conspicuous and influential in the affairs of Bennington. Its progenitor, Samuel Robinson, resided in Hardwick, Mass., and was a captain of a company in Col. Ruggles' regiment of provincials, and served as such on the northern frontier in 1755. Returning to his home in Massachusetts from one of the campaigns or expeditions of the provincial forces during the French war, and mistaking his route, he passed by accident up the principal branch of the Hoosic river, the Wallumshaik, and he became so impressed by the attractiveness of the country, though a wilderness, that he resolved to obtain others to join him in settling upon it. His resolution was carried into effect, and he became a settler in Bennington in 1761. He held many positions of trust in the settlement, among others that of agent of the settlers upon the New Hampshire grants to present their petition to the King for relief against the government of New York. He left for England late in the year 1766, and died in London of the small pox, October 27, 1767, having made successful progress in his mission. He left six sons and three daughters, all born in Hardwick, all of whom became heads of families and have numerous descendants.
The subject of this sketch, Jonathan Robinson, was the youngest child, save one, of Capt. Samuel Robinson, and was born at Hardwick, Mass., August 11, 1756, and in 1761 came to Bennington as one of his father's family. He married May, daughter of John Fassett. She was born in 1754 and died July 15, 1822. Their children were Jonathan E., Mary, Henry and Isaac T. He united with the First Congregational church in the Wood and Barton revival, 1784, at the age of twenty-eight. On the 7th of January, 1784, he was constituted one of a committee of three for the purpose of receiving money raised by subscription for the support of a minister of the gospel and of settling with the minister, and he also signed the subscription paper. He was elected clerk of the church January 28, 1785, and continued such until his death. He was fond of doctrinal discussion and study and of hearing leading ministers preach, and used, when they were temporarily in Bennington, to invite them to his house. He was much interested in the prophecies, and engaged in a correspondence with the Rev. Joshua Spaulding on the subject, and on the second coming of Christ.
He was admitted to the bar in June, 1793.
He represented the town thirteen years prior to 1802, and was an influential member of the legislature.
· He was elected chief judge of the supreme court in 1801, and continued to hold that office by successive elections until October, 1807. Such of the decisions of the supreme court, while he was its chief judge, as are reported, appear in Tyler's reports. Most of the opinions are per curiam, but some of them were delivered by the chief judge. As a jurist he was considered to possess fair abilities, but in those times of intense and bitter political and partisan feeling and strife, many complaints were made as to his judicial integrity, the propriety of which it is impossible, at this distance of time, to determine.
In 1807 he was chosen United States senator to fill the vacancy occasioned by the resignation of Israel Smith, and was also senator for the succeeding term of six years, which expired March 4, 1815.
In October, 1815, he became judge of probate, and held the office four years.
In 1818 he again represented the town in the general assembly.
He was, a man of pleasant and insinuating address, and by his talent and political shrewdness occupied a leading position in the republican or democratic party of the state for many years. While in the senate he was understood to have the ear and confidence of President Madison, and to have a controling influence in the distribution of the army and other patronage of the administration within this state, which, in consequence of the war with Great Britain, was then very great.
He was strictly temperate in regard to the use of ardent spirits in those days when all drank, and he took some pains to induce others, less abstemious than himself, to abandon the intemperate use of them. Upon one occasion he persuaded an elder brother, addicted to their excessive use, to attend church by representing that the sermon was to be one of unusual interest. The text was read and the minister commenced a discourse upon the subject of intemperance. The brother, perceiving the trick, rose, folded his arms and faced the minister. Towards the close of the sermon the minister changed the subject, and the brother sat down, at the same time uttering to his "brother Jonathan” a pungent repartee.
He was a man of medium height and slender proportions, and he always wore the "small clothes.”
Several anecdotes illustrating his domestic life and his affections, have been preserved.
A family had come into the eastern part of the town. The young people of this family were awkward and unused to company. Judge Robinson made a party at his house, went over himself and invited them, and made them promise to
come; they came, and he spent the evening chiefly in entertaining them and in every endeavor to make them feel at home.
While a senator in congress he came home on one occasion, and on Sunday morning, as the family were preparing for church, his daughter Mary came into the room handsomely dressed in silk; he noticed the dress at once and made enquiries about it; his daughter answered that her mother had purchased it of a pedler, calling his attention to its excellent quality, and seeking his approval of it as a good bargain. "I do not care about that,” said he, "go, take it off and put on your calico dress, or you shall not go to meeting with me; when your mates have silk dresses to wear then you may wear one.”
He had great influence over the boys in the street, and was very kind to them. When they came into the street to play he would let them stay until eight o'clock in the evening, and then would say, "come, boys, now you must go home;" and they complied. On the 16th of August, Bennington's holiday, they went to him with entire confidence for money with which to buy powder; and so on the 4th of July.
He was very kind hearted. Theophilus Harrington, at the time assistant judge, said to him, "Be you the judge, Hyde the sheriff, and Spencer the state's attorney, and there will be nobody hung."
He was fond of athletic sports. On one of the occasions of the return from college of Jonathan E., his son, some difference of opinion arose between them upon some subject that had been introduced into their conversation at the table. Jonathan E. said, "I know it is so, and I ought to know; I am fresh from the schools." His father replied, "well, if you are fresh from the schools, I can throw you in wrestling." "I think not, father,” was the quick answer. "Let us see,” said his father. They arose from the table; they grasped each other, first at arms' length ; but the younger was the more agile, and was victorious. The judge was thrown effectually. He admitted his son's superiority in wrestling. "I shall not try with you again ;” and so the discussion ended with entire good feeling.