Charles Robinson, the first governor of the State of Kansas, was born at Hardwick, Mass., July 21, 1818. He was descended from sturdy New England stock, the son of Jonathan and Huldah (Woodward) Robinson. His father was a direct descendant of the John Robinson of Plymouth Rock fame, and was a farmer and a zealous anti-slavery man. His mother came of an old New England family not prominent in the record, but not less to be honored. The parents were of decided religious views, and desired to give their ten children as good an education as was possible in New England at that time. In the private schools near his parental farm home, Charles Robinson first attended school, and at the age of seventeen he was sent to Hadley Academy, a year later to Amherst Academy, thence to Amherst College. At the age of seventeen he was thrown upon his own resources owing to the large family of his not well-to-do parents, and while pursuing his studies he taught three terms of winter schools and otherwise employed his time when not in the school room toward earning funds wherewith to defray the expenses of his education. After remaining a year and a half at Amherst College, during which his eyes failed him, he applied to the celebrated Dr. Twitchell of Keene, N. H., for medical aid. Dr. Twitchell invited him to study medicine under his preceptorship, and yielding to the invitation he took up the study of medicine under Dr. Twitchell, with whom he remained six months, after which he attended medical lectures at Pittsfield, Mass. Still later he pursued his studies under Dr. Gridley at Amherst, and still later attended medical lectures at Woodstock, Vt., finally returning to Dr. Gridley, under whom he completed his medical education. Dr. Robinson began the practice of medicine in 1843 at Belchertown, Mass., where he gained a large practice, which proved to be a great strain on his not overrugged constitution. He therefore removed in 1845 to Springfield, Mass., where he opened a hospital practice. In the summer of 1843, soon after he located at Belchertown, Dr. Robinson married Miss Sarah Adams of Brookfield, Mass. She died at Springfield on Jan. 17, 1846, leaving no children. Broken in spirit and health Dr. Robinson left Springfield and located at Fitchburg, Mass., where he practiced medicine until failing health prompted him to become the physician of a company, which was formed in Boston for an overland trip to California. With this company he started out from Boston to the Golden Gate on March 19, 1849, arriving at Sacramento Aug. 12 of that year. Many were the thrilling adventures of the trip, but when Dr. Robinson reached Sacramento he had changed from a slender man of 145 pounds to a robust person of 170, with every trace of his pulmonary trouble gone. He soon abandoned mining and took up his residence in Sacramento, where he practiced medicine, became a restaurant-keeper, editor and leader of a squatter rebellion. He espoused the cause of the settlers and squatters even to the narrow risk of losing his life in the squatter riots of 1850, but to the extent of gaining a popularity that resulted in his election in 1851 to the legislature of California. After serving with distinction in the legislature Dr. Robinson took a steamer for Boston by way of the isthmus, reaching his New England home Sept. 9, 1851. At Fitchburg he reëngaged in the practice of medicine, and also edited a newspaper, but the variety of positions that he held in California seemed to indicate that in the future he would have a wider sphere of usefulness than that of practicing medicine in a country town. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska bill threw the Territory of Kansas open to settlement, and the North and South vied with each other in sending emigrants into the new territory for occupation under the law of "squatter sovereignty." The Emigrant Aid company was formed at Boston for the purpose of colonizing Kansas with persons who opposed slavery. It was through identification with the Emigrant Aid Company as its agent that Dr. Robinson began his career in Kansas. As agent for this company he started for Kansas on June 28, 1854, and in that same year the colonists sent out by the company became the founders of Lawrence. As agent of this company Dr. Robinson acted, as in other matters, according to his earnest convictions. He opposed slavery; believed in the settlement of Kansas and the conquest of the slave-power by building up homes of freemen on a free soil, and once committed to this proposition he brought his varied experience and his excessive energy to the support of the work. As progress was made in the settlement of Kansas, troubles deepened and clouds appeared on the horizon, and it was not long before the hardy pioneers were called upon to test their strength in adherence to the purpose for which they came to Kansas. Apparently the odds were against them, for the free-state men were under the shadow of the populous State of Missouri, whose inhabitants were determined to make Kansas a slave state and to drive the abolitionists and free-state men from the country. The attempt at territorial organization that was now made defined the situation and precipitated the struggle. Dr. Robinson was a valuable leader of the free-state men, and when they had framed the Topeka constitution, looking to the admission of Kansas as a state, and when it was thought best to organize and complete a state government to be ready to go into full operation should statehood be granted under the Topeka constitution, Dr. Robinson was elected governor on Jan. 15, 1856, but under this constitution Kansas failed of admission into the Union. It was under the Wyandotte constitution that Kansas came into the Union on Jan. 29, 1861, and Dr. Robinson's election as the first governor of the state having taken place over a year previousDec. 6, 1859. The free-state party had ended in the formal organization of the Republican party, which was to be the standard-bearer of freedom in Kansas, and it was as the candidate of the Republican party that Dr. Robinson was elected first state governor, and in volume II appears an account of his administration. It is worthy of note, however, here to state that perhaps no other governor of Kansas ever encountered so many difficulties as did Governor Robinson. He met all with a calm and courageous spirit; started the machinery of the state government; gave the new state an impulse toward right government; in defense of the Union mustered and equipped thirteen regiments and several battalions, and when his term of office expired he cheerfully surrendered the office to Governor Carney, who succeeded him on Jan. 12, 1863. Compared with his previous experiences in California, Massachusetts and Kansas, the life of Governor Robinson, after the close of his term as governor of Kansas, was a quiet one, yet it was a life of activity as the world goes, for he served two terms in the state senateelected in 1874 and 1876; was regent of the University of Kansas, superintendent of Haskell Institute, and president of the State Historical Society, and was engaged in agriculture.
Independent in spirit and thoroughly democratic in his ideas, Dr. Robinson finally rebelled against the restraint of a political regime. From 1872 on he had followed the liberal wing of the Republican party, but becoming gradually more and more estranged from the old party, he was induced, in 1886, to leave it and enter upon a political campaign as a candidate for Congress against E. H. Funston, but failed of election. In 1890 he was induced to run for governor, supported by the Democrats, Populists and Greenbackers, but again he failed of election. In 1892 he helped to organize the fusion of the Democrats and Populists, which ended in the election of the Populist Governor Lewelling.
Throughout life Governor Robinson was an ardent friend of education. From the beginning of the University of Kansas to the time of his death, with the exception of a short interval, he was a regent of the institution. In 1889, in recognition of his eminent services to the university and the cause of education, as well as on account of his acknowledged ability in many directions, the board of regents conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, an unusual act for the regents, as it was the first and last honorary degree of that kind ever issued. Governor Robinson was not a member of the board of regents when it was issued. Another worthy tribute to Governor Robinson in recognition of his services in behalf of education was paid by the legislature of Kansas in 1895, when it passed an act to appropriate $1,000 for a bust of ex-Governor Robinson to be placed in the university chapel, where it now stands. An important educational work in which ex-Governor Robinson was engaged was as the superintendent of Haskell Institute, one of the prominent Indian schools of the Federal government, located at Lawrence. But after several years of able conduction of this institute he was compelled to resign his trust on account of failing health.
After the burning of Dr. Robinson's house in May, 1856, which was situated on the hill south of North College in Lawrence, he built his country home, "Oakridge," about four miles north of Lawrence, and there he spent the remainder of his days, except as he was called to and fro in his busy life. Here he passed a quiet life, devoted largely to the management of his extensive farming interests and to the details of private business. He was an excellent farmer, both theoretical and practical, not only tilling his broad acres well, but also taking an active interest in improved methods of agriculture. He was well known in agricultural and horticultural circles, frequently addressing societies on topics relating to these two industries. In addition to many other things Governor Robinson was more or less frequently engaged in writing for newspapers and periodicals. While he contributed much of value concerning the historical, political and social affairs of the state and nation, his greatest work was "The Kansas Conflict," which book received much favorable comment. However much men may have differed from Governor Robinson in politics, polities, public policy, no one who will examine his career can help admiring him as a citizen and patriot. His whole life was an object lesson of freedom, liberty, earnest conviction, and of help to those who needed help, of strength to the strong and of support to the weak. He dealt justly with all men in private business relations, and in the home he was an excellent and exemplary husband.
On Oct. 30, 1851, he married Miss Sara T. D. Lawrence, the cultured and gifted daughter of Myron and Clarissa (Dwight) Lawrence, who proved to be a worthy companion to her distinguished husband, and who survived him. (Elsewhere is given a personal sketch of Mrs. Robinson.)
Governor Robinson died at "Oakridge," his country home, on Aug. 17, 1894, at the age of seventy-six years. He met death as bravely as if it were an ordinary event in life. He had often fearlessly faced it before, but now it came, bringing the welcome end of a well-spent life. No citizen of Kansas has passed away amid more ardent expressions of affectionate regret than Charles Robinson. The whole state knew him and felt its loss.Pages 17-20 from volume III, part 1 of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed December 2002 by Carolyn Ward. This volume is identified at the Kansas State Historical Society as microfilm LM195. It is a two-part volume 3.
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