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Manassas Bull Run Battlefield

"Gentleman Jim" Robinson
Little is known of the early life of James Robinson. Born in 1799, Prince William County, Virginia records list James as mulatto, being of mixed racial parentage. Family oral history suggests that James' father was possibly Landon Carter, Jr., owner of the Pittsylvania plantation. If true, James would have been Judith Carter Henry's half-brother, In 1824, as required by law, all free blacks had to register with the county court. James presented a legal certificate to the County Clerk verifying that he was born "free," since his mother was granted her freedom from slavery prior to his birth. James may have adopted the surname of "Robinson" from the Carter's family tutor.
It was common for free blacks to serve a period of indentured servitude in order to learn a marketable trade. Based on his testimony to the post-war Southern Claims Commission, James stated that he was "bound out" until age 21 and worked for Thomas Hampton at a Brentsville tavern. In 1831, Hampton wrote a letter of recommendation for Robinson, which referred to him as a "waiter" at the tavern.
In 1840, James purchased 170 acres of land on Henry Hill from John Lee. Within eight years, property records show that James sold off 20 acres and had built a modest, one-and-half-story log dwelling. John Lee died in 1847 and his will stipulated that several of his slaves would be freed upon his death. A codicil in the will promised freedom to James's wife "Sucky" or Susan and daughter Henry one year after Lee's death. Since Susan was a slave when their children were born, by law their offspring were also slaves. James endeavored to purchase his children from slavery even before Lee's death. In 1846, he purchased his son, Tasco, from John Lee and also received permission for his daughter Jemima and her children, Pendleton and Dinah, to live with him, although it was not clear whether the will provided for their freedom. Robinson also had two other sons, Alfred and James, Jr. Before the war began, both sons were sold off by their owners to work on plantations in Louisiana. Alfred eventually found his way home after the war, but the fate of James, Jr. remains unknown.
By the 1850 census, James Robinson was listed as a head of household, with 100 improved acres of crops, assorted outbuildings and a surplus of property in wool, potatoes, butter, and hay. The census recorded nine people living on the Robinson farm: James; Susan; two daughters (Jemima and Henry); two sons (Tasco and Bladen); two grandchildren (Dinah and Pendleton); and an elderly 75-year-old black woman named Anah. James Robinson was the third wealthiest, free black man living in Prince William County prior to the war.
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Manassas Bull Run Battlefield

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