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Fayette County, Iowa
Past and Present of Fayette County Iowa, 1910
Author: G. Blessin
B. F. Bowen & Company, Indianapolis, Indiana
Vol. I, Biographical Sketches
In the death of the honored subject of this sketch, which occurred at Fayette, Iowa, on May 22, 1904, there passed away another member of that group of distinctively representative pioneers, who were the leaders in inaugurating and building up the agricultural and commercial interests of Fayette county, Iowa. His name is familiar, not only to the residents of the immediate section of the development of which he contributed so conspicuously, but to all who have been informed in regard to the history of this particular section of the Hawkeye state. He was identified with the growth of Fayette county for over a half century and contributed to its progress and prosperity to an extent equaled by few of his contemporaries. He early had the sagacity and prescience to discern the eminence which the future had in store for this great and growing section of the commonwealth, and, acting in accordance with the dictates of faith and judgment, he reaped, in the fullness of time, the generous benefits which are the just recompense of indomitable industry, spotless integrity and progressive enterprise.
The antecedents of the subject are traced back to English origin, the family having come to America late in the seventeenth or early in the eighteenth century. The subject's great-grandfather, Drury Robertson, was a native of Virginia but removed to North Carolina, where his death occurred. His son, William Robertson, who was born in Virginia on February 2, 1754, was a patriot soldier during the war of the Revolution and in that struggle he suffered the loss of an arm. After the war he took up the pursuit of agriculture, in which he was prospered. In religion he was a Methodist. On December 25, 1774, he married Rebecca House, and among their children was John H. Robertson, who was born January 10, 1784. He married Anna Burton in 1804 and in 1812 they moved to Bath county, Kentucky. In 1835 they located in Benton county, Indiana, where his death occurred on October 9, 1878, at the advanced age of ninety-four years. He and his wife were devoted members of the Methodist church. John H. and Anna (Burton) Robertson were the parents of James E. Robertson. the immediate subject of this sketch.
James E. Robertson was born April 19, 1821. at Sharpsburg, Bath county, Kentucky, one of a large family of children. He spent his boyhood days in the parental home and secured his elementary education in the schools of that day, which were primitive in both method and equipment. When he was fourteen years of age the family moved to Indiana where on attaining manhood's years he became a tiller of the soil. Two of the most important events of his life occurred in Indiana, namely, his marriage and his religious conversion, both having an inestimable effect on his future career. He was energetic and a good manager and he was prospered in his farming, but, believing that the West offered unlimited opportunities for the man who was willing to hustle, he, with his wife and family, and other relatives, in 1849, came to Fayette county, Iowa, arriving here on the 13th of September. Their first home here was established in a little two-room log cabin, on the west bank of Spring creek, about two miles south of where Fayette now stands. As some one has aptly said, "This was historic ground, as that house was the very earliest permanent home of civilization in Fayette county." There the winter of 1849-50 was spent, but in the following spring the family settled permanently on the homestead which they have occupied continuously since, a period embracing six decades. Mr. Robertson entered at once on the task and task it was of establishing the new home, getting the land in shape for cultivation and making his family comfortable, and as the years passed he was able to realize the fruition of his hopes. He was intelligent and progressive in his methods and gave diligent attention to every detail of his work, and the general appearance of his place gave evidence of the good taste, energetic habits and sound judgment of the owner. Here he continued to reside until his death, which occurred when he was aged eighty-three years, One month and three days.
In addition to his agricultural interests, Mr. Robertson engaged in the mercantile business in Fayette during, the early sixties and he was numbered among the leading merchants of that place. He owned considerable valuable real estate and two additions to the town of Fayette now bear his name.
In religion, Mr. Robertson was an ardent and devoted member of the Methodist Episcopal church and his life, though devoid of display or ostentation, was singularly pure and characterized by an earnestness and zeal which told of his faith better than words could have done. The family altar was ever maintained in his home and the true Christian spirit was always there in evidence. He had a prominent part in the founding of Methodism in Fayette county, his name appearing as a member of the first quarterly conference of the Otter Creek mission circuit. Mr. Robertson was a class-leader and his home was for some time the regular preaching place for that point of the circuit. During the long period of fifty-four years Mr. Robertson was retained as class-leader and the church was honored in his leadership. His position among the early Methodists was recognized, and it is a matter of record that the first Methodist sermon delivered in this county was in his home on January 9, 1850, and at this meeting, Mr. Robertson, his wife, mother-in-law and two sisters-in-law formed the first class which was organized in this valley.
When the Upper Iowa University was founded, Mr. Robertson took a deep interest in its welfare and gave several thousand dollars to the institution, besides doing much in other ways to advance its interests. He was a member of the board of trustees of the university from 1855, the time of its building, until about 1895, when, feeling the weight of years, he withdrew from the board and relinquished his labor to younger hands, though he never withdrew his interest in the institution. During a considerable part of this time Mr. Robertson served efficiently as treasurer of the board of trustees, and he also served as treasurer of the board of trustees of his church. He was a faithful attendant on the church services and gave generously of his means to its support.
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