Colonel George Robertson

Retyped from Beers "History of Greene County" by Annette Campbell



Colonel George Robertson was born in Windham, Greene county, New York, March 15th 1805, the eldest in a family of eight children.  His grandfather, George Robertson, was born in Glascow, Scotland, in 1757, immigrated to America in 1774, and in 1775 entered the Revolutionary Army.
 
He married Lydia Garrett, an English lady, at Troy, New York, where he settled and owned what is now a large part of the city. He had three children, James, Mary and Samuel. His wife died and was buried in Troy. He moved from Troy and settled in Windham, near the last part of the last century, where he married for his second wife Esther Judson, who died without issue. He died in 1824.
 
Colonel James Robertson, eldest son of George Robertson, and father of the subject of this sketch, was born in Troy, July 21st 1779, came to Windham with his father. He married, April 5th 1804, Elizabeth, daughter of Elihu Rogers, a descendant of John Rogers, the Christian martyr.  She was born in Branford, Connecticut, January 7th 1782, but at the time of her marriage she was a resident of Windham.
 
After his marriage he lived for a short time upon what was known as the Austin farm, in Windham village, in the house now owned and occupied by Truman Johnson.  He then bought a farm of 130 acres, one-half mile east of Windham village, built a small house upon it (still standing),  which he afterward moved back, and built in its place a hotel, which he carried on for many years, most of the time as a temperance hotel.  His death occurred January 28th 1849, at the age of 69 years. His wife survived him many years. She died April 23rd 1871, aged 90 years.
 
Besides the above farm, known as the Colonel Robertson farm, he also owned and carried on a farm of 200 acres in Windham, known as the State Lot; also one of 200 acres, three miles east of the Colonel Robertson farm, now owned by Thomas Brenaugh. He was a thoroughgoing successful farmer. He was an elder, and a liberal supporter of the Presbyterian church. In addition to his own family of eight children, who reached adult years, he brought up and educated a number of children of other families, who were treated, in every respect, the same as his own.  Upon reaching their majority, the boys received a Bible, a new suit of clothes, and $100 in money.  In politics he was a whig, and took an active interest in local political matters. His children were:  George, Samuel, Lydia, Philira, Garrett, an infant son unnamed, James Jr., Eliza Ann, Emily Esther, and Elbert.
 
Dr. Samuel Robertson, the second son, was born November 15th 1806, and married, December 1835, Elizabeth Hamlin.  He was a graduate of Union College, also of the Berkshire Medical College.  He practiced his profession a number of years in North East, Dutchess county.  He afterward became connected with the furnace and iron business, in which he was very successful. He died in Canastota, September 27th 1883, aged 76. He left a wife and one child.  The latter is wife of John Fowler, an attorney living in Syracuse.
 
Lydia, widow of Ahira Barney, is living in Windham village with her son, Elbert R. Barney. She has, besides the latter, two other children living, Sarah R., and Harriet Eliza.
 
Philira is the widow of D. H. Pitcher, now living at Saratoga Springs. She has three children living, Sarah, Helen and James R.  Sarah is the wife of Elijah Parker, a merchant in New York City; Helen is the wife of B. W. Woodward, attorney at law at Watkins Glen, N.Y.; and James R. is a secretary of the United States Mutual Accident Company, New York city.
 
Garrett and the next child died in Infancy.
 
Eliza Ann married Dr. Leander Sutherland. Only one son is living, George Sutherland, a banker in Campbelltown, N.Y.  Mrs. Sutherland died March 17th 1870, age 51.
 
James, a farmer and tanner, is living at Constantia, Oswego county.  He married Margaret Camp, deceased. Two children are living, Romaine and Sarah.
 
Emily Esther married Dr. J.B. VanDyck, of Coxsackie, Greene county, and has one child, Libbie.
 
Elbert married Jeannette Camp. He was formerly a merchant in Windham, then engaged in the tannery business in Constantia, and is now (1884) living in Auburn, N.Y.  He has two children, Elbertine and Georgiana.
 
Colonel George Robertson received his education in the common school at Windham, and one year in Huntington, L.I.  He commenced teaching school when 18 years of age, and taught four winters, two in Ashland and two in Jewett. When not attending or teaching school, he worked on his father's farm.
 
October 24th 1827, he married Maria, daughter of the Hon. Jairus and Dosha (Bissell) Strong.  Mr. Robertson was the fifth in a family of ten children, all of whom lived to adult age; all but one were married, and with one exception raised families.  She was a twin daughter, Minerva, who married Hon. Albert Tuttle, being her twin sister.  Her father was a prominent man in Greene county, and a member of the Legislature in 1818. Mrs. Robertson was born in Ashland, May 7th 1808.
 
In 1828 Colonel Robertson built a hotel on the farm then owned by his father, situated three and a half miles east of Windham village.  This hotel he kept about 20 years, and for the last 10 or 12 years as a temperance hotel, probably the first temperance house in the county.
 
To show the changes wrought by railroads upon country hotels, the following item related to the writer by the colonel, is a marked illustration. One night he kept on his place 600 head of cattle and 13 drovers.  The same night he caught a bear in a trap and served bear steak for breakfast. He also relates that he has counted 100 loaded butter teams passing his place in a single day.
 
During the period of his hotel keeping, and in years thereafter, the colonel engaged extensively in lumbering, tanning, merchandising and farming.  He has been concerned in seven sawmills, the sole owner of four situated in Windham, with an interest in three others.  He first became interested in the tanning business in company with Colonel Zadock Pratt, under the firm name of Pratt & Robertson, at Windham.  This partnership was entered into September 6th 1844, and continued 10 years.  In 1848 the firm bought the Big Hollow Tannery in Windham.  On the 3rd of October 1853, Colonel Robertson bought his partners interest in both these tanneries, and ran them several years, or until the bark ran out.  In 1849, in company with his son, L.A . Robertson, he built a tannery in Middle Valley, on Middle Creek, Wayne county Pennsylvania, which was run under the firm name of L.A. Robertson & Company five years, when the colonel made over his interest to his son

In 1855, in company with his brothers, James and Elbert, under the firm name of Robertson & Borthers, he built and carried on a tannery in Constantia, Oswego county, and retained his interest therein until 1879, when it was sold to his son, L. A. Robertson. In 1856, in company with D. H. Pitcher, Dr. Samuel Robertson, and Dr. Sutherland, firm Robertson, Pitcher & Company, he built a tannery in Forestport, New York, and retained his interest therein for about 16 years.  He also owned an interest, with his brothers, in the Parish Tannery, Oswego county.  In connection with these tanneries, several general merchandising stores were run by the firms. The colonel was also interested in an extensive leather store in New York city for six years, under the firm name of Robertson, Butman & Company.
 
In his farming operations, Colonel Robertson dealt largely in stock, cattle, sheep, and wool. To the original 200 acres, he added 600 acres adjoining, making the home farm 800 acres.  His dealings in real estate, in connection with his lumbering and tanning interests, were very extensive. He set out upon his farm, bordering the streets which ran through it, three miles of maple trees, 900 in all. Most of these have grown to be noble specimens of their kind, and all who shall, in years to come, enjoy their grateful shade, as they ride over this portion of the Windham thoroughfare, will have occasion to remember with gratitude the foresight of the man who planted them.
 
In politics, Colonel Robertson has been identified with the whig, anti-slavery, and republican parties, though too much engrossed with his extensive business affairs to either desire or seek public position.  He has served his town one term as supervisor, and was elected a member of the Assembly in 1853, and a delegate to the State Convention at Syracuse in 1856. He has been a member of the Presbyterian church for more than 50 years, an elder over 40 years, an attendant of its Sabbath school over 60 years, and a number of years its superintendent. He was a delegate to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church at Cleveland in 1857, when a portion of the Southern church withdrew: also at Philadelphia, in 1863, the year of the Emancipation Proclamation, and was one of the 40 members who carried to President Lincoln the resolution of the Assembly approving the same.  The great encouragement afforded the president by this action of the Assembly, and of other religious bodies, is a matter of history.
 
As illustrating the push and enterprise which have always been a prominent characteristic of Colonel Robertson in all his business operations, the following facts in history are offered:
 
When his saw mill in Windham was burned, the timber for a new mill was gotten out on Monday, framed on Tuesday, raised on Wednesday, enclosed on Thursday, machinery put in on Friday, finished and set to work on Saturday at 10 o'clock PM----thus building and putting a saw mill in operation in a little more than five days. This feat, however, was quite surpassed after the burning of the Windham Tannery. It was burned on Friday, June 10th, 1853. On Saturday the irons were picked up. With the timber for the frame growing in the woods Monday morning, a building three and one half stories in height, 40 X 210 feet, with a lintel 21 X 120 feet, was built and in operation on the Saturday following, in a space of six days; thus preventing damages to the stock on hand, to the amount of at least one third the cost of rebuilding.  A fact worthy of mention, as well as affording a good example, is that in the 50 years of extended business, it has all been carried on and settled without a contested lawsuit on any of his own transactions. The title of colonel came by an election to the position of one of the State militia regiments.
 
In the spring of 1855, having purchased a house and lot in the village of Windham, he moved from the farm and has since resided in the village.
 
His wife died April 17th 1877, aged 68, at their home in Windham. It can well be said of her, she was a truly Christian woman, a devoted wife and mother, and respected by all who knew her.
The colonel married for his second wife, November 6th 1878, Esther Dorcas, widow of George Everlyn Merwin, and a daughter of Deacon Elijah and Mary (Robertson) Strong.  Mrs. Robertson was born October 10th 1815, in Ashland. The following incident of her life constitutes one of the historic events of the place of her birth. When five years of age she wandered off up the Catskill Mountains after her brother, who had gone for the cattle, and was not observed by him until too far distant from her home to return with her then. Putting her in a safe place, and bidding her wait his return, he went on in pursuit of his estrays, and found them in the end, but not his little sister, when he returned to the spot where he had left her.  She had become wearied of waiting, and started for home in the wrong direction. The whole neighborhood was aroused at once to search for the wandering child. The mountain side was the haunt of wolves, and guns were fired and torches kept blazing all night to scare them away.  The next day she was found with her clothing nearly torn off from her by the brambles through which she had passed, and told her parents that when night came she lay down by a mossy rock and called for each one of the family and then the dog, and cried herself to sleep. Prayers were offered at her home by hearts bursting with gratitude to God for his sheltering care of their little darling in the lone woods through the dark night.
 
Her father, Deacon Elijah Strong, was a brother of Jarius Strong, father of the colonel's first wife, and her mother was sister to the colonel's father.  She is a descendant in the seventh generation from John Strong, who was born in Taunton, England, in 1605, immigrated to America in 1630, and settled in Dorchester, Mass.  Deacon Elijah Strong was born May 12th 1776, and married Mary Robertson. He was a farmer, hotel keeper, and a deacon in the Presbyterian church at Ashland (then Windham), where he died, October 3rd 1826. He was a man noted for his piety. His wife died at Elyria, Ohio, March 31st 1850.  Mrs. Robertson's first husband, George Everlyn Merwin, was born in Durham, Greene county, January 22nd 1806, and married at Elyria, Ohio April 22nd 1837. He was a merchant there until 1859, when he removed to California, where he died, October 27th 1869. After his death his widow returned to New York State, and until her marriage to Colonel Robertson, she lived with her brother Dr. S.S. Strong at Saratoga. She was the youngest of the family.  She had six brothers and two sisters, all but one of whom lived to adult age, were married, and all but two raised families. He brother, Rev. Sylvester Sandford Strong, M.D., is the founder and proprietor of the celebrated Saratoga Springs Remedial Institute.
 
By his first wife, Colonel Robertson had three children: Loring A., born November 12th 1828, for a number of years in company with his father in the tanning business, and at present time (1884) extensively engaged in the tanning business, and leather trade in New York city; James Henry, born March 5th 1833, died July 29th 1858; and Minerva S., born September 20th 1835, living at home.

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