Remembering Ex-Slave and Veteran James Robinson this Independence Day

By | July 4, 2012

Rep. John Conyers, Jr.


- Today, I joined historian Dale Rich at an Independence Day Memorial at the Historic Elmwood Cemetery for the late James Robinson, ex-slave, Revolutionary War Soldier, War of 1812 Veteran, Author and resident of the city of Detroit. Robinson died at the age of 115.

The United States is a beacon of freedom, democracy, and hope throughout the globe.

236 years after the founding of our nation, it is important that we remember those who helped build this great nation. America did not become great by accident.

America is great because of veterans like James Robinson who never stopped believing in the power of the American Dream. As a slave, Robinson fought in two wars for our nation fighting for the freedom of all while being denied his own.

As our nation continues to face challenges, we remember Robinson and remind ourselves that Americans have the ability to overcome struggles.

Today, as we spend time with friends and family, let us stop to appreciate the freedom we have in the greatest nation on earth and remember those who helped us win this freedom.

Have a happy 4th of July!

James Robinson’s Obituary
(from the Burton Historical Collection)

Father Robinson

A Very Aged Colored Man Gone From Earth-History of his Life and Services to his Country

On Tuesday last we briefly announced the fact that James Robinson, a colored man aged 115 years, died at his residence in what is known as Shannon alley at the rear of 135 Fort street, east, on the preceding Sunday. This old man was very well known to many of our citizens, and they attended his funeral on Tuesday, as also did hundreds of colored people. Appropriate funeral services were held in the Colored M.E. Church on Lafayette street, east and a discourse was there delivered by Rev. Mr. Langston, pastor of the church. From his remarks made on the occasion, we gather the following facts from the eventual history of the deceased.

Father Robinson, as he was familiarly called, was born March 21, 1753, on the eastern shore of Maryland, a slave, and served Col. DeShields as a body servant or armor bearer, during The Revolutionary war. At the close of the struggle of the American Colonies for Independence, he returned to his native state. As a reward for meritorious conduct, Col. DeShields determined to give Robinson his freedom, and accordingly made provision for the same in his will. After the decease of his master, however, notwithstanding the positive declarations of his will, the sons of Col DeShields conveyed Robinson to Louisiana and sold him into slavery.

When Gen. Jackson the hero of New Orleans, called upon the brave colored man of Louisiana to fight the battles of Country in 1812, Robinson was one of the number who marched at the county’s call, and fought so bravely to save the country a second time from English domination. He once more hoped to enjoy freedom, but at the close of the war it was his only privilege to return to the cotton plantation and now under the lash of the inhumane overseer. During the conflict at New Orleans, Robinson constantly exposed, with his brave comrades, to the enemy’s fire and received many wounds which left scars upon his body.

Sometime after the battle above referred to, God in his Providence raised up white men in the North who sympathized with the brave old slave, and they secured his freedom and sent him to Cincinnati, Ohio, where for the first time in his life he breathed the pure air of freedom and enjoyed some of the fruits of that God-given right. Thus ended the life of Robinson as a slave.

The deceased was at the Battle of Brandywine, and at Yorktown when Cornwallis surrendered to Washington. He had an interview with Gen. Lafayette, when that man was in this country in 1825, and was presented by him, during the revolutionary war, with a medal which he held in high esteem, but which he was unfortunate enough to lose in the battle of New Orleans. During his lifetime he frequently spoke to his friends of his medal, and regretted very much its lose.

At the advanced age of 70 he enlisted as a soldier in the army of Christ, and continued in that service until he was honorably discharged and found an everlasting abiding place in the great asylum above. Soon after his conversion he joined the Wesleyan Methodist church and was subsequently licensed to preach. After being thus licensed he spent most of his time in traveling and declaring the truths of the gospel to his fellow man. He maintained his accustomed heartiness, to all outward appearances up to about three years ago, when he began to gradually decline in health, and was confined to his bed the greater part of two year. He was a great sufferer, yet he was never heard to murmur or complain.

He is survived by his wife who is about 58 years of age and two sons. He was sustained in his mast hours by strong religious consolations and died a true Christian.