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James W. Robinson (1790-1857)

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Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the Republic of Texas, 1836-1840

James W. Robinson, who participated in a number of dramatic historical events in early Texas, was probably born in Indiana in 1790. (One early source lists his birthplace as Ohio, and his parentage remains uncertain.) He was admitted to the bar in Indiana and was a law partner of William Henry Harrison, who had been governor of the Indiana territory and would later become the ninth president of the United States. Robinson was married in 1820 and fathered five children. Eight years into his marriage, he deserted his family and left for Arkansas. His wife subsequently divorced him, and he remarried and fathered another child.

Robinson arrived in Texas in 1833, settled in Nacogdoches, and received title to a league of land in San Jacinto County. If the promise of adventure had lured him to Texas, he soon found it. He became active in politics, serving as a delegate to the Consultation of 1835 that set up the provisional government on the eve of the Texas Revolution, and was elected lieutenant governor of the provisional government on November 7, 1835. When provisional governor Henry Smith was deposed in January 1836, Robinson was named his successor. Both men claimed the position, however, and the month of February was one of infighting and indecision. The provisional government itself only lasted until the naming of the ad interim government with the signing of the declaration of independence on March 2, 1836. Robinson served as a private in the cavalry from March to September of that year and fought in the battle of San Jacinto.

In December 1836 Robinson was elected judge of the Fourth Judicial District, which automatically made him an associate justice of the supreme court. He served until January 1840 when he resigned to set up a private legal practice in Austin.

Robinson would soon face two more tumultuous moments of Texas history. The first was the Council House Fight on March 19, 1840, in which some thirty Panateka Comanches who had come to San Antonio to make peace with the Texans were killed by Texas troops in a melee that broke out when the Comanches were taken hostage and tried to escape. Robinson was wounded in the fight.

In September 1842, Robinson was among Texas officials taken prisoner by the Mexican army during a San Antonio court session, marched to Perote Castle in the state of Veracruz, and held in the castle's dungeons for a number of months. Robinson reportedly negotiated his own release through personal correspondence with Santa Anna that may have also laid the foundation for a peace treaty between Texas and Mexico.

In 1850 Robinson left Texas with his family, settling in San Diego, California. There he served as a district attorney and as a school commissioner, and promoted the development of a railroad between El Paso and California. He died in San Diego on October 27, 1857.

Sources

Baker, DeWitt Clinton. A Texas Scrap Book Made up- of the History, Biography and Miscellany of Texas and Its People 275 (Austin, Texas: Steck Co., 1935).

Ericson, Joe E. Judges of the Republic of Texas (1836-1846) 242 (Dallas, Texas: Taylor Publishing Co., 1980).

Kemp, L. W. Robinson, James W., Handbook of Texas Online (last updated June 6, 2001). http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/RR/fro37.html

Extended bibliography

Baker, DeWitt Clinton. A Texas Scrap Book Made up- of the History, Biography and Miscellany of Texas and Its People 275 (Austin, Texas: Steck Co., 1935).

Biographical Encyclopedia of Texas 272 (New York, New York: Southern Publishing Co., 1880).

Boethel, Paul C. Colonel Amasa Turner, the Gentleman from Lavaca and Other Captains of San Jacinto (Austin, Texas: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1963).

DeShields, James T. They Sat in High Place 16, 23, 29 (San Antonio, Texas: The Naylor Co., 1940).

Dixon, Samuel Houston and Louis Wiltz Kemp. The Heroes of San Jacinto 329 (Houston, Texas: The Anson Jones Press, 1932).

Huson, Hobart. District Judges of Refugio County 44 (Refugio, Texas: Refugio Timely Remarks, 1941).

Thrall, Homer S. A Pictorial History of Texas 272 (St. Louis, Missouri: N. D. Thompson & Co., 1879).

Additional information available in Southwestern Historical Quarterly as follow:
Volume 4, page 332
Volume 5, page 279, 286, 337
Volume 12, page 199
Volume 13, page 160, 313
Volume 15, page 289
Volume 16, page 204, 207, 307, 314
Volume 17, page 67, 70
Volume 23, page 178, 189
Volume 31, page 203
Volume 36, page 254n, 264, 271
Volume 38, page 65, 252
Volume 40, page 314, 332
Volume 41, page 228, 236, 239, 240, 328, 329, 337
Volume 42, page 32, 36n, 38, 41, 42, 44, 47n, 50n
Volume 43, page 7, 21, 22
Volume 49, page 389
Volume 53, page 295
Volume 55, page 179
Volume 58, page 374, 533
Volume 59, page 256
Volume 60, page 17
Volume 63, page 293, 294n, 295
Volume 64, page 482, 485
Volume 67, page 135
Volume 69, page 152