Dr. John H. Robinson
John Hamilton Robinson was
regarded by some historians as an enigma, a mystery man, notorious, adventurer, filibuster, schemer, idealist, diplomat, explorer, hunter, surveyor, spy, cartographer, factor (trader), author, general and a doctor. He was all of these in his rather short
life. It would certainly be true to say
he was an interesting man. Bold enough
to set out to walk alone in a snowy winter from around Pueblo, Colorado to the Spanish
territorial city of Santa Fe, New Mexico; to join a
revolution in another country and rise quickly in its ranks. He was passionate enough for a cause to give
it his all. He married well and had
three daughters and a son. As a
purported nephew of Alexander Hamilton, he had an in with the Federalists of
the period. He was connected to James
Madison, James Monroe and General of the Army, James Wilkinson as well as to
Mexican authorities like Nemesio Salcedo
revolutionists such as Teran and Toledo. He met Augustus Magee and Gutierrz-Lara
on the frontier in the midst of their invasion to make Texas a Republic. He was with Zebulon Pike on his famous
expedition. He was well known among the
Osage Indians, but he is not well known by students of American History.
This brief essay is offered to bring together the few known facts
about Dr. Robinson and place them in chronological order with some narrative
about the events so that some of the mystery and enigma about this man can be
lifted and some knowledge of this man be made known. Much of what we know of Dr. Robinson comes
from the memoirs of Lt. Zebulon Pike, so he is quoted often in this piece. The painting above is said to be of Dr.
Robinson, but I have been unable to verify it as a fact.
John Hamilton Robinson was
born in Augusta County Virginia,
the son of David Robinson and Miriam Hamilton, January 24, 1782. He studied to be a doctor
and having attained the necessary skills and training for that he agreed to
assist the United States Army as a doctor.
He arrived in St.
Louis in mid-1805, shortly after the
transfer to the United States
of the lands of the Louisiana Purchase,
to report for duty at cantonment Belle Fontaine. An appointment apparently
secured by General Wilkinson. He served as a surgeon at the post. He was not on
the US Secretary of War Dearborns appointment list to the cantonment Belle
Fontaine as requested by Gen. Wilkinson, but records show Wilkinson placed him
there and he served there from 7/28/05
to 6/30/06. Doctor
Robinson was not a member of the U. S. Army, but a civilian hired to provide
his medical services to the fort.
Cantonment Belle Fontaine
He married the
sister-in-law of St. Louis first
physician, Dr. Antoine Saugrain- Sophie Marie Michau in December of 1805.
She was born in Paris,
France. General Wilkinson said of Dr. Robinson He
gives great satisfaction both to officers and men... at the cantonment. At the end of June, 1806, he was 24 years old
when he was a late addition by General Wilkinson to the second Zebulon Pike Expedition as a
Zebulon Pikes expeditions were in
addition to the Lewis And Clarkes expedition, to
learn more about the large purchase (Louisiana) the United States had made from France. Zebulon Pike's task in the first expedition,
undertaken in 1805, was to find the source of the Mississippi River.
Zebulon Pike wrote in his memoirs -
In the execution of this voyage I had no gentleman to aid me, and I literally performed the duties (as far as my limited abilities permitted) of astronomer, surveyor, commanding officer, clerk, spy, guide, and hunter; frequently preceding the party for miles in order to reconnoiter, and returning in the evening, hungry and fatigued, to sit down in the open air, by firelight, to copy the notes and plot the courses of the day.
Pike's use of the word 'spy' in this quote, lends support to those who questioned the stated goals of the second expedition.
The second Pike expedition was ostensibly
designed to accomplish several goals. Pike was to provide an escort for some
Osage Indians who had been held as hostages by the Pottawatamies,
and take them back to their home villages. Then negotiate a peace settlement
between the Kansas and Pawnee tribes, and attempt to make contact
with the Comanche people on the high plains.
Pike was also to explore the headwaters
of the Arkansas River, then to proceed south, locate the source of the Red River, and descend it to the Mississippi. History has shown that his real mission was to
find out what the Spanish were doing along the poorly defined southwestern
border of the Louisiana
Purchase. While in that
area, it would be necessary, wrote Wilkinson, to "move with great
circumspection, to keep clear of any hunting or reconnoitering parties from
that province and to prevent alarm or offense."
expedition was launched by General James Wilkinson without the authorization of
President Jefferson or the War Department, although it was approved
retroactively. Tensions with Spain were high on
the frontier in 1806, and many Americans expected a war. Wilkinson, still
Governor of Upper Louisiana during this period, had been ordered to engage in
intelligence operations against Spain, using army
officers disguised as traders if necessary. Wilkinson was also a double agent
and engaged in supplying information to the Spanish. There was more.
General James Wilkinson >
It appears that Wilkinson, in
collaboration with Aaron Burr, was planning a coup in the West. It has never
been determined whether this was a traitorous movement designed to separate the
western territories from the Union, or a devious plot to conquer Spanish territory,
specifically Texas, without officially involving the United States Government.
At any rate, Pike's expedition to the Spanish borderlands would serve the
needs, both official and unofficial, of James Wilkinson. Wilkinson and Burr had
little idea of the territory to the west of the river, and had just one chart
of southeastern Texas prepared by Philip Nolan a few years earlier.
Burr also had a copy of a map stolen from the great explorer Alexander von
Humboldt. Either for the Burr plot or for the defense of the United States, it was obvious that more information was needed,
such as; Where were Spanish forts located, how hard
was traveling in the wilderness, and how many enemy troops were garrisoned at
Spain had always jealously guarded the approaches to Texas and New Mexico from all outsiders. Beyond this border lay the
all important silver mines of Zacatecas, a source of great wealth for Spain. Frances cession of Louisiana to Spain in 1762 had provided an even more extensive
buffer zone, but now Louisiana had been ceded back to France and then sold to the United States, a land of Yankee merchants with a population bursting beyond the Alleghenies
to the West. The Spanish felt that the Americans were like a growing cancer on
the eastern border of New
Spain. Spanish officials
knew that they had to be stopped at all costs.
Nemesio Salcedo, Commandant-General
of the Internal Provinces of New
Spain, understood it to
be his duty to halt this westward expansion of the United States by any means necessary. It was Salcedo who blocked the Jefferson-inspired 1804 expedition
of William Dunbar, and the 1806 expedition of Thomas Freeman, both were sent
out along the Red River. It was Salcedo who
attempted an interception of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and Salcedo who sent Spanish
envoys to the Pawnee to influence them against the United States. He had positive results using the same tactic to
rid himself of the French expedition of 1801 - 02. Salcedo mistrusted Wilkinson, and apparently, despite the
fact that Wilkinson was a double agent working for the Spanish, put little
stock in anything Wilkinson had to say.
That Wilkinson was a janus, double dealing man with his own agenda is
shown by the fact he tipped the Spanish off to the fact that Pike was going to
be traveling in their territory. Perhaps, Wilkinson thought, whether or not
Pike was captured, he would return with valuable information for the Burr
conspirators. Perhaps it was the plan all along that Pike should be captured,
in other words, as an agent provacatour Pike was
trying to be captured to obtain a "free ticket" into Spanish
territory. It has been considered that by 1806, Wilkinson no longer believed
that Burrs conspiracy could succeed, and so he abandoned Burr by sending out
Pike. Pikes men would be captured and remain hostages as a token of
Wilkinsons good faith. Dr. John H. Robinson, a physician, scientist,
"gentleman volunteer", went along as an emissary from Wilkinson to
the Spanish. This would have ensured them of the peaceful intentions of the U.S.
Pikes correspondence reveals that he
almost certainly knew nothing of the Wilkinson/Burr intrigues, but was aware
that his service as a spy for his country was important. Pike seems to have had
a naive faith in Wilkinson and did not suspect any of the generals more
The following is from Pikes memoirs in
reaction to the later allegations against General Wilkinson
There have not been wanting persons of various ranks who
have endeavored to infuse the idea into the minds of the public
that the last voyage was undertaken through some sinister
designs of General Wilkinson ; and although this report has
been amply refuted by two letters from the Secretary of
War, published with this work, yet I cannot forbear, in this
public manner, declaring the insinuation to be a groundless
calumny, arising from the envenomed breasts of persons
who, through enmity to the general, would, in attempting
his ruin, hurl destruction on all those who, either through
their ofificial stations or habits of friendship, ever had any
conection with that gentleman.
A letter written by Wilkinson on July 22, 1806, however, leaves little doubt that Pike was
supposed to scout as close as possible to Santa Fe, allowing for the possibility that he might be captured
by Spanish authorities. If discovered, he would use the cover story that he had
become lost while en route to Natchitoches, Louisiana.
Zebulon Pike had this to say about his second expedition -
"On my return from the Mississippi voyage, preparations were making for a second, which was to be conducted by
another gentleman of the army; but General Wilkinson solicited as a favor that which he had a right to command,
viz., that I would agree to take charge of the expedition. The late dangers and hardships I had undergone, together
with the idea of again leaving my family in a strange country, distant from their connections, made me hesitate ;
but the ambition of a soldier, and the spirit of enterprise which was inherent in my breast, induced me to agree to
his proposition. The great objects in view by this expedition, as I conceived in addition to my instructions, were to
attach the Indians to our government, and to acquire such geographical knowledge of the southwestern boundary of
Louisiana as to enable our government to enter into a definitive arrangement for a line of demarkation between
that territory and North Mexico.
In this expedition I had the assistance of Lieutenant James [B.] Wilkinson, and also of Dr. John H. Robinson, a
young gentleman of science and enterprise, who volunteered his services. I also was fitted out with a complete set of
astronomical and mathematical instruments, which enabled me to ascertain the geographical situation of various places
to a degree of exactitude that would have been extremely gratifying to all lovers of science, had I not been so unfortunate as to lose the greater part of my papers by the seizure of the Spanish government.
Pike set out on July 15, 1806, again from the cantonement at Belle Fontaine, where his family remained during most of his
trip. His party was composed of an assortment of 17 enlisted men from his Mississippi River exploration; two new volunteer soldiers, his
second-in-command, Lt. James Biddle Wilkinson, son of the general, volunteer
physician, Dr. John H. Robinson, and Baronet Vasquez, an interpreter from St. Louis. Pike called his soldiers a "Dam'd set of Rascels," but
they retained the confidence of their commander.
Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike >
Unlike Meriwether Lewis meticulous plans
for his expedition, Pikes men were woefully unprepared for the ordeal which
awaited them. They were dressed in summer uniforms because Pike believed that
they would encounter no cold weather. They did not have enough horses, very
little scientific equipment, and only the copy of the von Humboldt map to guide
The group of 23 men made their way west
along the Missouri River, returning a group of 51 Osage people to their
villages on the border of modern Kansas. The group stayed with the Osage for a short
period, and Pike recorded ethnographic information about them. A runner brought
Pike a letter from Wilkinson, which included a letter from his wife Clarissa
which informed Pike that his little son was very ill (he died a month later).
Putting this information in the back of his mind, Pike led his men out across
the plains of Kansas, which he described as a "hunter's
paradise," thick with game.
Pike, guided by several Osage warriors,
next entered a Pawnee village on the Republican River
near the border of the modern states of Kansas and Nebraska. Noticing the Spanish flag which flew above the
Pawnee village, Pike talked the Indians into hauling it down. He replaced it
with the Stars and Stripes, despite the fact that a troop of Spanish cavalry 300
strong had recently visited their earth lodges. The Spanish had been
specifically looking for the Pike party. It is interesting that the
recently-promoted Capt. Pike reported this fact with a note of pride, stating
that the Spanish expedition was, "the most important ever carried on by
the province of New Spain" and it was commanded by the respected Don Francisco Malgares. Unlike Lewis and Clark, who might have worried
about their mission of exploration being compromised, Pike welcomed the news
that his party was being hunted by a large force of Spanish soldiers. As they
left the Pawnee village, Pikes men followed the hoofprints
of the Spanish cavalry down what later became known as the Santa Fe Trail.
Editor's note: General Wilkinson alerted the Spanish
authorities to the Lewis And Clark Expedition as well,
encouraging them to intercept them. In one of the dispatches to
his Spanish contact, General Wilkinson wrote that a fast express should be sent
to the governor of New Mexico, Joaquin Real Alencaster and the Captain General of Chihuahua, Manuel
Salcedo advising them to send out a military force to intercept the expedition,
which had a military rather than the a mere "scientific exploration"
fielded two expeditions to intercept Lewis and Clark and "force them to
retire or take them prisoner," but failed to find the Americans.
The Pike expedition continued almost due south
to the area of Great
Bend, Kansas, where they reached the Arkansas River. Upon reaching the Arkansas, Lt. Wilkinson left the party, traveling eastward
with five privates and the last of the Osage guides to explore the lower
reaches of the river in canoes. Wilkinson returned successfully to St. Louis by paddling down the Arkansas River to its junction with the Mississippi, then going north. He achieved this goal despite
three desertions and a lengthier trip than he expected. In all, it took him 73
days to reach St.
Pike and Dr. Robinson and the 14 others
started west up the Arkansas
River on October 28,
following the trail of a troop of Spanish cavalry. On November 11, Pike made a
bold decision to press on; despite the fact that his party did not have the
clothing, equipment or supplies for a winter expedition. Pike's decision makes
little sense for an experienced explorer. Other explorers might have turned
back and begun a second expedition the following spring, or have built a
shelter from the winter from which they could have started anew come Spring.
There is no doubt that he was a hardy,
driven man, but he certainly did not always consider the abilities and health
of his men when taking them, so woefully unprepared into a winter campaign.
Another danger upon which Pike had not reckoned was Indians. While making their
way across the Great Plains, a hunting party of Pawnee who outnumbered his
men two to one suddenly came upon the little group of Americans, surrounded
them, and began to parley with them. Pike's relief that the Pawnee had no
hostile intentions soon turned to dismay as the Indians, unhappy that they were
not receiving enough presents, began to forcibly take supplies and equipment
from his men. Finally, Pike made a bold stand, signaling the leader of the
party that he would shoot down the next Indian who attempted to take anything.
The Pawnee withdrew after a tense scene, which might have resulted in the
deaths of the entire party.
E. Kamron's painting of Pike and Dr. Robinson observing Pike's Peak >
Proceeding nearly due west, following the
Arkansas River, Pike and his men reached the site of modern-day Pueblo,
Colorado on November 23. Fascinated with a blue peak in the Rocky Mountains to the west, Pike set out to
explore it with two soldiers and Dr. Robinson, leaving the bulk of the men at a
base camp. Pike spent several
days trying to reach the famous Colorado peak which would later bear his name. He made it
to the top of a mountain within a few miles of what he called the "Grand Peak". Many historians have claimed that this was most likely the
9,000 foot Cheyenne Peak. Recent research by John Patrick Murphy of Colorado Springs, seems to indicate 11,409 foot Mount Rosa as the most likely contender. Pike realized that the "Grand
Peak" was "as high again as
what we had ascended (Pikes Peak is 14,110 feet above sea level), and it would have taken a whole day's march
to arrive at its base, when I believe no human being could have ascended to its
pinical." Up to his waist in snow at the top
of the mountain, dressed in inadequate summer clothing in 28 degree Fahrenheit
weather, Pike decided to return to the base camp. Zebulon Pike never set foot
on Pike's Peak, which he did not name. A map created in 1818 by
Dr. Robinson was the first time the mountain was labelled Pikes Peak on a map.
Pike next turned his men toward an
investigation of the Arkansas
River. The river split
in the mountains, and, Pike noted, since the "geography of the country had turned out to be so different from
our expectation that we were some what at a loss which course to pursue, unless
we attempted to cross the sno cap'd
mountains..." Food was running out and the men were desperately cold.
Pike once more decided to follow the trail of the Spanish cavalry and head up
the north fork of the Arkansas, which is called Four-Mile Creek. This branch soon dwindled, as did
the Spanish trail, so Pike turned overland due northward across present day
South Park in Colorado, discovering a river on December 12 which he correctly
determined was the south fork of the South Platte.
Crossing over a mountain pass, he came to
another river which he thought was the Red. In reality, the expedition was back
on the Arkansas, 70 miles upstream from where they had left it
two weeks earlier. Snow began to fall and drifts to deepen, and Pike was
disappointed that he could not reach the source of the river. The men spent
Christmas eating buffalo meat near the modern-day city of Poncha Springs, Colorado. They had no blankets. They had all worn out
their socks and used their blankets to improvise socks. Having no cover in the
freezing weather, they crowded round huge bonfires at night. During the day
they worked their way down the river, the ice solid enough to support their
horses, the huge vertical walls of the Royal Gorge towering above them on both sides. When they
returned to their camp of a few weeks earlier, Pike was frustrated to find that
they had traveled in a big circle. In order to get off the Arkansas River and reach the Red River, the mountains would have to be crossed on foot.
The interpreter Baronet Vasquez and Private
Patrick Smith were detailed to stay with the horses in a small, crude and
hastily-constructed wooden stockade, while Pike set out with the others to find
the Red River on January 17, 1807, through a howling blizzard in Wet Mountain Valley. Nine of the 14 men soon suffered from
frostbitten feet, including Pike's best hunters. Pressing on, wading through
sometimes waist-deep snow, Pike left three men behind who, exhausted, could not
continue. The remaining men were so cold that even the best hunters, even Pike himself, could not steady his shaking hands enough to shoot
buffalo for food. Pike finally got one when it ran within point-blank range of
his position. Leaving the meat for the sick men, Pike set out with the ten
remaining men who could still walk.
Crossing the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the soldiers began to complain. One in
particular, John Brown, griped that it was "more
than human nature could bear, to march three days without sustenance through
snow three feet deep, to carry burdens only fit for horses." A short
time later, Pike was able to kill a buffalo to alleviate the hunger of the
party. As the men became satiated with the meat, Pike took the opportunity to
upbraid Brown, telling him that if he or anyone else ever dared to voice such
an opinion again, they would be executed by firing squad.
Pike found the area of present-day Great
Sand Dunes National Monument in Colorado and the headwaters of the Rio Grande, which he mistakenly thought was the Red River. On February 1, 1807, a small square stockade of cottonwood logs, 36
feet long on each side with a small 8 foot by 8 foot bastion, was built on the
Rio Conejos, near modern Alamosa, Colorado.
(built to his description by modern park personnel)
When the fort was completed, Dr. Robinson asked Captain Pike for
permission to leave so he could contact the Spanish officials in Santa Fe, as he had
authority to collect a debt there for William Morrison, a merchant in Kaskaskia, Illinois. In 1804, Morrison sent a man by the name of Babtiste Lalande, a Creole of the
country of Missouri and of La
Plate, into the West, directing him if possible to push into Santa Fé. Arriving outside Santa Fe, Lalande sent in Indians who had with them some of his goods
to tease interest in the rest of Morrisons goods. The Spaniards came out to
meet him with horses and carried him and the goods into the province. Things
suddenly went well for Lalande, he sold the goods high,
had land offered him, and the women were kind, he concluded to expatriate himself, and convert the property of Morrison to his own
Pike wrote in his memoirs
conceiving that it was possible I might meet some Spanish factors on the Red
river, intrusted me with the claim, in order if they
were acquainted with Lalande, I might negotiate the
affair with some of them. When on the frontiers, the idea suggested itself to
us of making this claim a pretext for Robinson to visit Santa Fé. We therefore gave it the proper appearance, and he
marched for that place. Our views were to gain a knowledge of the country, the
prospect of trade, force, &c., whilst at the same time our treaties with
Spain guaranteed to him, as a citizen of the United States, the right of
seeking the recovery of all just debts, dues, or demands, before the legal and
authorized tribunals of the country, as a franchised inhabitant of the same, as
specified in the 22d article of the treaty.
Pike, then, was well aware of the
proposed venture and gave his permission, and Robinson hiked overland to reach
his objective. Pike fearing he might not
ever see Dr. Robinson again wrote down what he thought of the man -
it was uncertain whether this gentleman would ever join me again, I at that
time committed the following testimonial of respect for his good qualities to
paper, which I do not at this time feel any disposition to efface.
"He has had the benefit of a liberal
education, without having spent his time as too many of our gentlemen do in
colleges, in skimming on the surfaces of sciences, without ever endeavoring to
make themselves masters of the solid foundations. Robinson studied and
reasoned; with these qualifications he possessed a liberality of mind too great
even to reject an hypothesis because it was not
agreeable to the dogmas of the schools; or adopt it because it had all the eclat of novelty.
"His soul could conceive great actions, and his hand was ready to achieve
them, in short, it may truly be said that nothing was above his genius, nor
anything so minute that be considered it entirely unworthy of consideration. As
a gentleman and companion in dangers, difficulties and hardships, I, in
particular and the expedition generally owe much to his exertions
With the help of two Indians, Dr.
Robinson had found along the trail (or they found him), he made it to Santa Fe. In Santa Fe he appeared before the Governor of New
Mexico. He told the Governor he had been
with a group of hunters when he decide to come to Santa Fe and attempt to
locate Lalande and seek restitution for the
debt. The Spanish Governor of New Mexico, Joaquin Real Alencaster,
in a report tells how Dr. Robinson was brought to him -
"On the 15th of February last two Indians of the Ute tribe arrived and brought into my presence an Anglo-American, a young man of genteel appearance [joben de presencia fina, as Dr. Robinson appeared to be], whose state-
ment I heard, and even invited him to dine with me, in order to satisfy myself he was what I supposed him to be as to intelligence and good breeding.
Though Robinson had told Governor Alencaster
that he had left a party of hunters before being
found by the Indians, Governor Alencaster
, aware of
the Pike Expedition, reported the incident to his superiors and sent out
patrols in the hope of apprehending some of the doctor's companions.
" I did not believe him, and suspecting the truth of his statement as to the nature of his escort, I sent out a small regular detachment and some provincial troops to reconnoiter ..", who not only fell in with a first ieutenant with six soldiers in an excellent fort built on the Conejos not far from its junction with the Del Norte, two days' journey from the capital of this province, towards the same direction [acia el mismo rumbo], but overcoming the obstacles of deep snows, succeeded in finding the sergeant [Meek] and corporal [meaning Private Miller] belonging to the detachment, making a total of thirteen soldiers, two of them [Dougherty and Sparks] with frozen feet, and having lost nearly all their fingers.
On February 26, 1807, a troop of 50 Spanish cavalrymen, supported by
50 mounted militiamen, rode up to Pike's stockade. Five of the Americans were
still out on relief parties. The Spanish officers were surprised to learn that
there was no gate to the little fort, and in order to attend a parley that had
been arranged, they had to crawl on their bellies on a log placed over a
water-filled moat and then through a small hole sunk under one wall. During the
meeting Pike stuck to his cover story, feigning surprise when questioned by the
Spaniards about being in Spanish territory and exclaiming, "What! Is this
not the Red River?" The Spanish officers informed Pike and his
five remaining soldiers that he was in Spanish territory. "I immediately
ordered my flag to be taken down and rolled up," Pike wrote. Pikes men
had only the equipment they carried on their backs. Their summer uniforms had
been long ago discarded, and they wore whatever clothing and skins they had
been able to fashion for themselves. Their hair was long and unruly, and they
were bearded, looking more like classic mountain men than a military
expedition. Even Captain Pike had only his blue army trousers and his sword
remaining to mark him as an officer of the United States.
The explorer Zebulon Pike was lost and
unable to fulfill his stated mission of exploration because of the condition of
his men. His Spanish captors were probably, in reality, his rescuers. On the
other hand, the spy Zebulon Pike had placed himself at the disposal of the
Spanish so that he might enter their forbidden territories. It would seem that
it was on the Rio Conejos that Pike's mission really began.
< Remington's painting of Pike entering Santa Fe
The Spanish patrol rounded up Pike's
frostbitten stragglers, escorting them separately to Santa Fe. When Pike reached Santa Fe, his papers were confiscated by the Spanish
authorities, and they were not rediscovered until the early 20 th century by the distinguished
American historian Herbert E. Bolton. Pikes papers are in the National
Archives in Washington, D.C.
Remarkably, neither Pike or his men were mistreated by
Sparks, the Governor learned that General James Wilkinson had told his
lieutenant that if the party failed to return by Christmas, he would assume it
had been captured and would send 3,000 or 4,000 men to New Mexico on a rescue mission.
Governor Alencaster, alarmed at the prospect of invasion, at
once took steps to challenge
informed his superiors in Chihuahua, writing, "I mean to prevent the entry into this province of New
Mexico of any
substantial party of Anglo-American troops."
As a first
step, he dispatched eastward a scouting unit of eight soldiers, 30 citizens'
militia and Pueblo Indians, all under command of Lt. Nicolás
men carried orders to establish an outpost on the lower Conchas River, astride a main trail
from the east. Then they were instructed to go on scouting missions to search
for signs of an invading American army.
A second part of Governor Real Alencaster's plan of
defense involved calling up 200 militiamen from Albuquerque and placing them
under the command of Juan de Dios Peña, a retired officer of the Santa Fe presidial company.
The governor ordered Peña to station his larger force days
west of Almansa's new outpost and await
developments. Should Americans appear, Lt. Almansa
and his men would retreat, join Peña, and the combined units were to give
battle and "confidently hope to
promised rescue army never appeared.
Governor Real Alencaster entertained doubts
that Pike's man John Sparks was telling the truth, but decided to err on the
side of caution. He was taking no
chances when it came to "ambitious Americans," as he referred to
them. So as a precaution he had sent out Almansa and
Peña. He informed both officers that he
was also issuing a decree alerting all New Mexicans of the danger and telling
them to be prepared to resist invasion. In such an event, he would personally
take the field and lead them.
had this to say about meeting Pike for the first time and how he handled him
and his men
" On the 2d of March last, the above-mentioned
lieutenant, whose name is Munfo-Meri-Paike (Pike),
came in with six men of his detachment, and on the 18th the remainder of his men. Without any
resistance they acquiesced in the notification made them, that being in my
territory it was absolutely necessary that they should appear before me.
" They did so, with their arms, and I assured them
that in no respect should they be treated as prisoners, saving only that,
in accordance with the orders of the general commanding, it was necessary that
they should appear before him and fully explain the objects of their mission.
showed me his instructions from General Wilkinson, his journal, and a rough sketch of a chart of all the rivers
and countries he had explored.
" Placing all which papers in a
trunk, of which I requested him to retain the key, I delivered the same to the officer [Capitan
Antonio D'Almansa commanding his escort and not to be
opened save in presence of the aforesaid general commanding.
Meanwhile, Captain Zebulon Pike was fulfilling
the dictates of his mission. He observed the pueblos and missions along the
route of their march, and met with priests at each. Pike was an excellent
observer, and was able to make mental notes of the placement of forts, the size
of their garrisons, the locations of communities, and to prepare biographical
sketches of their officers. Pike and his men were led further south to Chihuahua (in modern-day Mexico), and once more Pike had long meetings with
priests along the way, gathering information. No effort was made to deny Pike
access to priests, officials, or anyone else he wished to talk to. On the march
south, each community held barbecues and dances for the men, and according to
Pike, the Spanish people possessed "heaven-like qualities of hospitality
Along the way he caught up with another
American, one who had been treated well by his hosts. We go again to Pikes memoirs for him to
describe the event
On our arrival
at the next village, a dependency of Father Ambrosio's,
we were invited into the house of the commandant. When I entered, I saw a man
sitting by the fire, reading a book, with blooming cheeks, fine complexion, and
a genius speaking eye. He arose from his seat; it was Robinson!
Not that Robinson who had left my camp on the head waters of the Rio del Norte,
pale, emaciated, with uncombed locks and beard of eight months' growth, but
with fire, unsubdued enterprise and fortitude; the
change was indeed surprising.
I started back, and exclaimed, Robinson ! yes, but I
do not know you, I replied;
but I know you, he exclaimed, and I would not be unknown to you here, in this
land of tyranny and oppression, to avoid all the pains they dare to inflict.
Yet, my friend,
I grieve to see you here, and thus, for I presume you are a prisoner?
I replied, No ! I wear my sword you see, and all my
men have their arms, and the moment they dare to ill-treat us, we will surprise
their guards in the night, carry off some horses, and make our way to Apaches,
and then set them at defiance.
At this moment, Captain D'Almansa [Pike's escort]
entered, and I introduced Robinson to him, as my companion de voyage and
friend. Having before seen him at Santa Fe, he did not appear much surprised, and received him
with a significant smile, as much as to say I knew this.
Dr. Robinson had been treated very well
and it was beginning to affect him, in that he responded to the warmth of the
people and the dichotomy with the Spanish officials who, while civil and polite
were also officious, aloof and suspicious.
Their route took them through Albuquerque, El Paso, and then south 260 miles to Chihuahua. Along the way Pike and Robinson were able to
observe Apache Indians, and actually began openly to take written notes.
Spanish felt the Americans were probably spies, they decided not to create a
diplomatic incident by imprisoning or executing Pike, the Doctor and his
men. John H. Robinson was especially
treated well. Doctors were a rarity on
the frontier, and Robinson found himself grudgingly welcome wherever he went.
Pike's journal entry -
Apr. 1st. In the morning Malgares dispatched a courier with a letter to the
Commandant-general Salcedo, to inform him of our
approach, and also one to his father-in-law.
[Lt. Don Facundo Malgares
was a well-educated European and from a family of means, generous and honorable
according to Pike. He had distinguished himself against the Indian nations with
whom the Spanish were at war. He was the leader of an
expedition from Santa Fe
in late 1806 along the Red River then
northeast to the Arkansas
to make contacts with the Indian tribes. One element of Pike's official mission
up the river was a symbolic counter to this excursion into newly acquired US
territory. It was Lt. Malgares trail that Pike followed in Colorado
and it was Lt. Malgares who had visited the Pawnee
village where Pike had the Spanish flag replaced with the flag of the United
Apr. 2d. When we arrived at Chihuahua, we pursued our course through the town to
the house of the general. On our arrival
at the general's, we were halted in the hall of the guard until word was sent
to the general of our arrival, when Malgares was
first introduced. He remained some time, during which a Frenchman came up and
endeavored to enter into conversation with us, but was soon frowned into
silence, as we conceived he was only some authorized spy. Malgares
at last came out and asked me to walk in. I found the general sitting at his
desk; he was a middle-sized man, apparently about 55 years of age, with a stern
countenance; but he received me graciously and beckoned to a seat.
He then observed, "You have given us and yourself a great deal of
Captain Pike. On my part
entirely unsought, and on that of the Spanish government voluntary.
General Salcedo. Where are your papers?
Captain Pike. Under charge of
Malgares was then ordered to have my small trunk
brought in, which being done, a Lieutenant Walker came in, who is a native of
New Orleans, his father an Englishman, his mother a French woman, and who spoke
both those languages equally well, also the Spanish. He was a lieutenant of
dragoons in the Spanish service, and master of the military school at Chihuahua. This same young gentleman was employed by
Mr. Andrew Ellicotts a deputy surveyor on the Florida line between the United States and Spain, in the years 1797 and '98. General Salcedo then desired him to assist me in taking out my
papers, and requested me to explain the nature of each; such as he conceived
were relevant to the expedition he caused to be laid on one side, and those
which were not of a public nature on the other; the whole either passing
through the hands of the general or of Walker, except a few letters from my
lady. On my taking these up, and saying they were letters from a lady, the
general gave a proof that, if the ancient Spanish bravery had degenerated in the
nation generally, their gallantry still existed, by bowing; and I put them in
my pocket. He then informed me that he would examine the papers, but that in
the meanwhile he wished me to make out and present to him a short sketch of my
voyage, which might probably be satisfactory. This I would have positively
refused, had I had an idea that it was his determination to keep the papers,
which I could at that time conceive, from the urbanity and satisfaction which
he appeared to exhibit on the event of our interview. He then told me that I
would take up my quarters with Walker, in order, as he said, to be better
accommodated by having a person with me who spoke the English language; but the
object, as I suspected, was for him to be a spy on our actions and on those who
Robinson all this time had been
standing in the guardroom, boiling with indignation at being so long detained
there, subject to the observations of the soldiery and gaping curiosity of the
vulgar. He was now introduced, by some mistake of one of the aides-de-camp. He
appeared and made a slight bow to the general, who demanded of Malgares who he [Robinson] was. He replied, "A doctor who
accompanied the expedition." "Let him retire," said the governor; and he went out.
The general then invited me to return
and dine with him, and we went to the quarters of Walker, where we received
several different invitations to take quarters at houses where we might be
better accommodated; but, understanding that the general had designated our
quarters, we were silent. We returned to dine at the palace, where we met Malgares, who, besides ourselves, was the only guest. He
had at the table the treasurer, Truxillio, and a
priest called Father Rocus.
Apr. 3d. Employed in
giving a sketch of our voyage for the general and commandant of those
provinces. Introduced to Don Bernardo Villamil;
Don Alberto Mayner, lieutenant-colonel, and
father-in-law to Malgares; and Don Manuel Zuloaga, a member of the secretary's office, to whom I am
under obligations of gratitude, and shall remember with esteem. Visited his house in the evening.
Apr. 4th. Visited the hospital, where
were two officers, who were fine-looking men, and I was informed had been the
gayest young men of the province. They were moldering away by disease, and there
was not a physician in his Majesty's hospitals who was able to cure them; but
after repeated attempts, all had given them up to perish. This shows the
deplorable state of medical science in the provinces. I endeavored to get
Robinson to undertake the cure of these poor fellows, but the jealousy and envy
of the Spanish doctors made it impracticable.
Sunday, Apr. 5th. Visited by
Lieutenant Malgares, with a very polite message from
his Excellency, delivered in the most impressive terms, with offers of assistance,
money, etc., for which I returned my respectful thanks to the general.
Accompanied Malgares to the public walk, where we
found the secretary, Captain Villamil, Zuloaga, and other officers of distinction. We here
likewise met the wife of my friend Malgares, to whom
he introduced us. She was, like all the other ladies of New Spain, a little en bon point, but possessed the national beauty of eye in a
superior degree. There was a large collection of ladies, amongst whom were two
of the most celebrated in the capital---Senora Maria Con. Caberairi,
and Senora Margeurite Vallois,
the only two ladies who had spirit sufficient, and their husbands generosity
enough, to allow them to think themselves rational beings, to be treated on an
equality, to receive the visits of their friends, and give way to the
hospitality of their dispositions without restraint. They were consequently the
envy of other ladies, and the subject of scandal to prudes; their houses were
the rendezvous of all the fashionable male society; and every man who was
conspicuous for science, arts, or arms, was sure to meet a welcome. We, as
unfortunate strangers, were consequently not forgotten. I returned with Malgares to the house of his father-in-law, Lieutenant
Colonel Mayner, who was originally from Cadiz, a man of good information.
Apr. 7th. Dined at
Don Antonio Caberairi's, in company with Villamil, Zuloaga, Walker, etc. Sent in the sketch of my
voyage to the general. Spent the evening at Colonel Mayner's with Malgares.
Apr. 8th. Visited the treasurer, who
showed me the double-barreled gun given by Governor Claiborne, and another
formerly the property of Nolan.
as residential host to Lieutenant and Dr. Robinson was also the interpreter
and transcriber/translator of their confiscated documents. During this time,
Captain Pike and Dr. Robinson learned much from Walker. Walker's foremost responsibility for
the Spanish had been the production of maps, based on evidence in the archives
of the commandancy general as well as his own fieldwork, to document Spain's
historic territorial claims in the northern reaches of New Spain, which were
then threatened by counter-claims from the United States. However, from June to
October 1806 he was seconded to the Nacogdoches area at the request of Spanish
officers calling upon his knowledge of the Americans to help avert the threat
of war on the Texas-Louisiana frontier. Walker's cartographic work was shared
with both Pike and Robinson. Walker in
later years was imprisoned for supporting the Mexican Revolution.
[Walker] had living with him an old negro, the only one I saw on that side of St. Antonio, who was the property of some person who resided near Natchez, and who had been taken with Nolan.
Having been acquainted with him in the Mississippi country, he solicited and obtained
permission for old Cesar to live with him. I found him very communicative and
extremely useful. The day I arrived, when we were left alone, he came in,
looked around at the walls of the room, and exclaimed, "What! all gone?" I demanded an explanation, and he informed me that the maps of the
different provinces, as taken by [Walker] and other surveyors, had been hung up
against the walls; but that the day we arrived they had all been taken down and
deposited in a closet which he designated.
gave various reasons for having left the United States and joined the Spanish service; one of
which was, his father having been ill-treated, as he conceived, by G. at Natchez. At Chihuahua he had charge of the military school, which
consisted of about 15 young men of the first families of the provinces; also of
the public water-works of the city, on a plan devised by the royal engineer of Mexico; of the building of a new church; of the
casting of small artillery, fabrication of arms, etc. Thus, though he had
tendered his resignation, they knew his value too well to part with him, and would
not accept of it, but still kept him in a subordinate station, in order that he
might be the more dependent and the more useful. Although he candidly confessed
his disgust at their service, manners, morals, and political establishments,
yet he never made a communication to us which he was bound in honor to conceal;
but on the contrary fulfilled the station of informer, which in that country is
considered no disgrace, with great punctuality and fidelity. In this city the
proverb was literally true, that "the walls have ears"; for scarcely anything could pass that his
Excellency did not know in a few hours. In the evening I was notified to be
ready to march the next day at three o'clock.
Apr. 28th. In the morning Malgares waited on us, and informed us he was to accompany
us some distance on the route. After bidding adieu to all our friends, we
marched at a quarter past three o'clock, and encamped at nine o'clock at a stony spring; passed near Chihuahua a small ridge of mountains, and then
encamped in a hollow. As we were riding along, Malgares
rode up to me and informed me that the general had given orders that I should
not be permitted to make any astronomical observations. To this I replied that
he well knew I never had attempted making any since I had been conducted into
the Spanish dominions.
in the meantime, made
an enemy of Captain General Nemesio Salcedo in part by a bizarre attempt to defect, in the
cause of exploring the northwest and founding a Spanish colony in Oregon. Below is a letter he wrote to
the Captain General -
Chihuagua (sic), April 23, 1807
To His Excellency Señor Don Nemesio
of the Internal Provinces of New Spain.
Sir. -- Having given notice to Your Excellency in an
earlier letter of my intention to be a subject of His Catholic Majesty, what
remains for the present is merely to explain, for the best decision and
approbation of Your Excellency, those means by which I can do the greatest
services to my Country and by which I can become a useful member of [its]
To which end I have chosen an enterprise, the most difficult that has been yet
seen, to wit: To explore that Country which lies between Your Excellency's
Provinces and the more Northern [regions].
A knowledge of that Country, most especially in this
Period, appears to be of extreme interest to the Court of Spain, because of the
claims which the English and the Americans (Congress of the United States) are sustaining, if it is possible to
It is impossible for me to enter into the details of my project at present, but
I assure Your Excellency that I am well acquainted with the plan and intention
of the United States and Great Britain about this matter, all of which will be
explained and set forth in my memorandum.
In a memorandum which I presented some time ago to the Congress of the United
States to colonize a part of that Country which is along the Western Ocean to
about 45 degrees of Northern latitude I received their approval and
But at present, because of my knowledge of the Geographical Situation of the
Country, and an even better knowledge of the rights of the Court of Spain, I
now find myself led to believe that the claims of the United States and Great
Britain will be, exactly and eventually, proved useless.
I do not wish that my friend Lieutenant Pike nor any American know of the cause
of my detention, for various reasons: 1st, So that the expedition may not be
known to any foreign Power; 2nd, So as to avoid the confiscation of my possessions
in the United States (which would be the case if it were known that I was
remaining here voluntarily).
Finally, I desire that Your Excellency inform me only that it is necessary that
I remain here for some months. This would remove the necessity for me to send
or present, under the care of my friend, a memorandum to the United States requesting my return.
I remain, with the highest feelings and esteem, Your Excellency's most obedient
and humble servant.
Juan H. Robinson
Robinson had a
new bride back in St. Louis, powerful political allies, and
a stable profession, so the request to defect is hard to understand. Robert
Ames Bennet was one writer who speculated about the
motives for Dr. Robinson's quixotic life. In his highly romantic novel, A Volunteer
With Pike, A True Narration of one Dr. John Robinson
and the Love for the Fair Senorita Vallois, he
speculates that Robinson was motivated primarily out of love for a señorita, whose father enlisted the doctor in the cause of
a Mexican Revolution.
shows that when in Chihuahua, he and Dr. Robinson did dine
with a Don Pedro Vallois, the name of the senorita's
< Illustration from the novel, A Volunteer With Pike, showing Dr. Robinson pointing past Pike and telling the others - "We will name it for him".
Perhaps Salcedo's curt refusal led to Robinson spending the rest of
his life supporting the revolution that was to eventually overturn the
"imbecile government" of Spain (Dr. Robinson's words).
papers were translated by the Spanish authorities, there was no doubt that his
expedition had ulterior motives. But Captain General Salcedo
could do little as he did not wish to antagonize the American government during
these tense times. He decided to have
Pike and his men escorted to the United States border at what is today Natchitoches, Louisiana and released.
not going well for Spain, its new King was weak and there
was dissension in the ranks as competing parties sought to fill the void of
power. Spain became embroiled in the
Napoleonic Wars and found itself at war with England.
The defeat of the combined French and Spanish fleet at Trafalgar in 1805
by Lord Nelson made the American Spanish colonies vulnerable to British attack. The United States was concerned that the Spanish
colonies on its borders, particularly Florida and Texas might be open to a British
seizure and were involved in intrigue to bring the
areas safely into their hands.
The shock of
the buffer that was Louisiana which separated the Spanish in
the Southwest from the United States being gone and the aggressive Americans suddenly on
their borders and sending out armed expeditions beyond their new territory was
a grave concern.
Such was the situation on the American Spanish borders of 1806 that the Aaron Burr
conspiracy was centered on an expected war between the United States and Spain.
The spirit of independence was in the air in the
colonies. There was a growing sense
in the colonies of being different from Spain: these differences were cultural
and often took the form of great pride in the region that any particular creole
belonged to. By the end of the eighteenth century, the visiting scientist
Alexander Von Humboldt noted that the locals preferred to be called Americans
and not Spaniards. Meanwhile, Spanish officials and newcomers consistently
treated creoles with disdain, further widening the social gap between them.
All of these
things, and no doubt others of which we are unaware, figured into the decision
to not treat the Pike Expedition as an invasion or trespass of Spanish territory
and thus escalate things further - better to accept Pikes being lost story and
leave the status quo changing event to someone else.
Zebulon Pike and Doctor Robinson were
escorted through more of Mexico as they were taken from Chihuahua to Nacogdoches and then Natchitoches.
At Natchitoches, Captain Pike made it one of his first
concerns to present the condition of Nolan's men in Mexico to his superiors and others. For more detail of his comments use this link
He also made mention of why he did not have
much to offer as did Lewis and Clark with respect to scientific observations:
With respect to the great acquisitions which might have been made to the sciences of botany and zoology, I can only
observe that neither my education nor taste led me to the pursuit; and if they had, my mind was too much engrossed
in making arrangements for our subsistence and safety to give time to scrutinize the productions of the countries over
which we traveled, with the eye of a Linnaeus or Buffon; yet Dr. Robinson did make some observations on those
subjects, which he has not yet communicated.
Dr. Robinson met with Jose Toledo a leading Mexican Republican and together they talked about an independent Republic of Mexico.
Not long after their return, both Captain, now Major, Pike and Doctor Robinson again found themselves in Missouri. Major Zebulon Pike was, in 1808, again at cantonment Belle Fontaine where he worked on the publication of his memoirs. Though he never reached the level of fame attained by Lewis and Clark, he enjoyed his time in the spotlight. His journal, in fact, made it to print before that of Lewis and Clark. Zebulon Pike went on in his military career being promoted to Colonel and then Brigadier General before he fell in the War of 1812 in the attack at York (now Toronto), Ontario. Had he lived, Pike might even have joined William Henry Harrison and Andrew Jackson as extremely successful veterans of the War of 1812.
In a letter to General Dearborne written in 1808, Pike asks - I beg leave to remind the Secy of War of the applications which have been made in favour of my friend Doctor Robinson and hope he may yet be brought in for a Company Vice some one who did not accept.
Dr. Robinson was assigned to be the
doctor as well as a trader at the new Fort Osage. Fort Osage was up river (the Missouri
River) from Belle
Fontaine and was built under the direction of General William Clark, joint
commander of the famous Lewis and Clark
expedition. The Fort was established in
1808 as a military outpost in the Louisiana Territory. The Forts purpose was to provide a military presence in the
territory in order to assure Spain, France and Great Britain that the United States meant to protect its territory by military
strength and to establish healthy relations with the Native American population
in the territory.
< Fort Osage reconstructed by Jackson County Missouri
Fort Osage was built on a strategic bluff overlooking the Missouri River near what is today Sibley, Mo. The height and location of the bluff provided a
clear view of the river for many miles and the river current around the bluff
caused the boats to slow down considerably in order to safely navigate. These
conditions provided a natural defense for the Fort.
But Dr. Robinson's heart and interest was
not with the Osage and trade, it was still in Mexico. Dr.
Robinson had been writing Secretary of State James Monroe regarding his
interest in Mexico. With the
help of Colonel Pike, he obtained an appointment from President Madison to be
an envoy to Mexico.
In the summer of 1812, Dr. Robinson was enroute
back to Chihuahua to meet with
Captain General Salcedo as a representative of the United States' Secretary of
State, James Monroe, when he passed through Nacogdoches. He ran into the Gutierrez - Magee invasion of
Texas. They learned that he had been sent by
Secretary Monroe to meet Commandant Salcedo in Chihuahua to discuss
problems on the eastern frontier and relay the sincerity of the US government
"to cooperate with Spain in proper
policing of the frontier." Robinson was released when he promised to not
reveal details of the rebel force. He
was asked by Magee to take a passport from the recently declared Republic of Texas. The conditions Magee asked of Robinson were
drawn up and both parties signed it, perhaps the first official agreement
entered into by the first Republic of Texas. Dr. Robinson moved on and he was welcomed in San Antonio by Governor of
Texas Manuel Salcedo (nephew to Nemesio
Salcedo) and Herrera, who were equally suspicious of
Robinson and fearful of his learning their position, but wishing to learn of
anything from his experience. After escorting Robinson on his way to the Rio Grande, Salcedo and Lt. Governor Muñoz de Echavarria
deployed along the Guadalupe River east of San Antonio to meet the
invading Republican Army.
Upon reaching Chihuahua, Captain-General Salcedo met Robinson with angry suspicion and sent him away, no doubt Salcedo remembered
his exchange with Dr. Robinson five years earlier.
Robinson wrote a long report to
Secretary of State James Monroe, with an impassioned plea for the U.S. to support the
cause of Mexican Independence, but the state department was more inclined to
side with Spain. Mr. Monroe
was not ready to commit the United States to a militant sort of coadjutorship in the
affairs of the republicans of Mexico.
After failing in his official
mission, Robinson met with several important Mexican revolutionary leaders,
became committed to independence, and officially endorsed it, both in
communications to Monroe, and in a published broadside
entitled Europe Enslaved Millions! America Freed Them!
Here is a
portion of the brochure -
my fellow citizen! can you longer remain an unfeeling
spectator of this grand and interesting spectacle, Arise! lead on a few of your
countrymen, such as are distinguished by talents and virtues, the eyes of your
country and all Europe are on you, and ere long you shall hear the plaudits of
an admiring and grateful world, hailing that immortal Band, and the entrance of
the Mexican Republic, into the sublime rank of civilized nations. -
For the full text of the brochure use this link >
Having been removed as a United States envoy of the State
Department because of his outspoken views at a time when the government was
trying to work with Spain, Dr. Robinson by the
year 1813 was quite ready to be a filibuster. He took up residence in Natchez which was always
populated with many people who wanted to end Spain's domination of Mexico. New Orleans was another hotbed for
filibuster and revolutionists.
filibusters in New Orleans at that time was French
General Jean-Joseph Humbert, who commanded the French
force against the British in the landing at Killala, Ireland in 1798. He claimed he
had recruited a force of Irish and French men ready for an invasion of Texas and was asking around
for American volunteers. The Spanish Consul in New Orleans, Diego Murphy believed
the general did have a force of about 600 men assembled in small groups waiting
in Louisiana. One plan was discovered by the Spaniards and
reported in their dispatches. Humbert's men were to
launch a land attack by way of Nacogdoches, while Pierre and Jean
Laffite's men would attack Matagorda or Tampico by sea. In
November of 1813, General Humbert left New Orleans for Natchitoches to talk to elements of
Magee's old army. General Humbert told the assembled
men he had 2,000 Irish and French recruits in various parts of Louisiana waiting for his signal
to assemble and start the invasion of Texas. The refugees of
Magee's army held Humbert in high regard for what he
tried to do for Ireland. They believed his
story and threw their support to him. Supporters and men with competing schemes
began to assemble in the usual places: Natchitoches, Natchez, New Orleans, and Nacogdoches.
Diego Murphy reported to Spain he was
watching events closely and that the whole expedition was all show with no
substance behind it. Men were gathering, but the Natchitoches group was
stalling. At Natchitoches, men from different groups attended a meeting in which Don José Toledo
attempted to show the French had an ulterior motive for supporting the idea.
Peter Samuel Davenport was at the meeting representing the Magee veterans, and
Dr. John H. Robinson and Judge John C. Carr was there from Natchez challenging Toledo's leadership.
This had the effect of splitting some of Humbert's
support. Men eager to get into Texas and not into
politics left on their own. Doctor John Hamilton Robinson organized the men
assembled from Natchez in January, 1814. Among the leaders of this group were: Judge John C.
Carr, Doctor Nathan Kennedy, Anthony Campbell, Morris Flaherty, and others. In
late March, Robinson crossed the Sabine with 50 men. Another small expedition
followed, and then a third with Toledo as its
most influential in getting organized groups for an invasion of Texas were Jose
Alvarez de Toledo, Julius Caesar Amazoni, Vincent
Gamble, Dr. John H. Robinson, Romain Very, Pierre Soemeson, Bernard Bourdin, and
watched all of them very closely. Rumor had it, Aaron
Burr and/or General Humbert were on their way to
unite the camps. All the groups camped. They waited...and waited. No leader
emerged from the groups and no famous name or money came forth to support them.
All those listed above as influential
except General Humbert and Colonel Henry Perry were
indicted in the United States district court
of Louisiana, in 1815, for
violation of the neutrality of the Union. This momentarily cooled the ardor of the
with the movement in the United States which was bogged down by politics and personalities, Dr. John H.
Robinson, in 1815, cast his lot with the revolutionists in Mexico. Robinson sailed
for Veracruz to help the
revolution. He writes for support to President Madison, and includes a copy of
the new Mexican constitution. He remains with the Republican Army for 18
months rising to the rank of general of a brigade in
their army as it was constituted from 1815 to 1819. Along with Gutierrez and Toledo, Dr. Robinson
was one of the first accredited representatives in the United States from the republicans of Mexico.
In 1816, Dr.
Robinson is in Tehuacan, Mexico meeting with revolutionary leader Don Manuel Mier
y Teran, when William Davis Robinson of Georgetown,
District of Columbia, arrives with a supply of muskets for General Xavier Mina's army. The two Robinsons meet and exchange
conversation relative to the revolution.
William Davis Robinson in noting the meeting wrote that Dr. Robinson has long been a very obnoxious individual to
Spain. William Davis Robinson leaves
with Teran to take part in an operation during which
he is captured. He was held a prisoner
in Mexico and then Spain for two years. The Spaniards at first thought he was Dr. Robinson, and
throughout his troubles William Davis Robinson suffered the more because he
shared Dr. Robinson's name.
in 1816, found the revolution in Mexico mired in similar politics and
personalities that made him leave the United States two years earlier. He retires from his commission as Brigadier
General in the Mexican Revolutionary Army and decides to return to the United States and again try his hand in
helping the revolution from there.
Settling into Natchez, Mississippi where he had placed his family
while he was in Mexico, Dr. Robinson organizes his
medical practice and begins to write letters.
In 1817 the Spanish envoy to the United States, Luis de Onis,
speaks out against Dr. Robinson which leads to an exchange of verbal battles in
the newspapers. Onis
is in the United States to negotiate a treaty with the United States that essentially gives the
United States Florida in return for yielding on all claims for Texas from the Sabine River south.
the treaty is going to happen, Dr. Robinson launches into his next big project.
He compiled a six-sheet wall map of western North America, "Map of
and the Missouri
including also the State of Mississippi,
Territory, East and West Florida,
& part of the Island
There is a note on
the map from Dr. Robinson -
The information on
which the Author feels himself justified in the publication of this Map is from
his own knowledge of the Country in his several voyages thither and also the
several Manuscript Maps which are now in his possession drawn by order of the
Captain General of the Internal Provinces and the Viceroy of Mexico.
Along the Pacific Coast there is a legend reading, in
this portion of the coast was laid down from the map made by Don Juan Pedro
Walker by order of the Captain General of the Internal Provinces 1810.
This is the first reference to Walker on
any printed map. Robinsons map was derived in part from the map of Walker, in
part from Lewis and Clark, in part from Pike, Humboldt and perhaps in part from
Lafor and possibly from Padre Font and Miera.
His map was
the first to label Pike's Peak as such. His map shows the competing Spanish and U.S. boundary claims across Louisiana Territory, and in a second edition, he
marked the line of the Adams-Onís Treaty, signed the
year of the map's publication.
Dr. Robinson's map was more than five feet in height and
width. Dr. Robinson desired in
this way to draw the attention of the United
States (and the attention of
Secretary Adams) to Texas especially.
and the MissouriTerritory,
including also the State of Mississippi,
Territory, East and West Florida,
& part of the Island
Cartographic historian Robert Martin called Dr. Robinsons map a
blue print for revolution. Dr. Robinson was heeding the early call of an
impulse that would later be called Manifest Destiny. Robinson's map was called
a document of revolutionary ardor, an expansionist document that challenged
Spanish colonial boundaries. The
map had many fascinating historical and geographic
observations. The map was not a commercial success, being too full of
geographic inaccuracies to prove useful on the ground, but many journalists did
take note of the 1.6 million acres the U.S. stood to lose to Spain, including the area of New Mexico east of the Rio Grande, including Taos, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque.
Detail of John H. Robinson, A Map of Mexico, Louisiana, and the Missouri Territory.
Dr. John H. Robinson's next battle was to be the biggest battle of his life and this battle was
one fought not for revolution or politics but for his and his family's very life. Natchez,
at that time was about to be the state capital as Mississippi
was passing from territorial status to statehood. The first legislature of the State was to meet
at Natchez, in October, 1817, according to the
constitution recently adopted. Because of a Yellow Fever epidemic, the governor
asked Dr. John H. Robinson along with two other local doctors to
determine if the disease had run its course.
He wanted their input so he could decide to leave the meeting as
scheduled in Natchez
or move it to nearby Washington,
Mississippi. The legislature did meet in Washington
in 1817 and again in both 1818 and 1819 and subsequently Washington became the capitol of
the new state. In 1818, Dr. Robinson
lost two of his daughters to Yellow Fever and in the Fall
of 1919, he too succumbed to the disease.
He was 37 years old.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: (still working
BIllon, Frederic Lewis, Annals of St. Louis in its
territorial days, second series, p. 191., St. Louis, 1888.
Cox, Isaac Joslin, Am. Hist.
Review, 1911, Vol. I, 208-215. The Controversy of West Florida [Albert Shaw Lecture]
Johns Hopkins Univ., 1918.
Coues, Dr. Elliot, The Expeditions of Zebulon
Montgomery Pike, Francis P. Harper, NY, 1895, Vol. II, p. 498.
William Davis Robinson, Memoirs of the Mexican Revolution,
Vol. 1, Preface.
Bancroft, Hubert Howe, History of Mexico,
Vol. IV, 634., The History Company, San Francisco, 1883
Niles Register, XII, 222.
Senate Reports, No. 89, 35th Cong., 1st Session, Vol. 1.
Pike National Historic Trail Association;
10060 Blue Sky Trail; Conifer CO 80433, January, 2008 Newsletter by Holly Nelson
John, Elizabeth A. H., "The
Riddle of Mapmaker Juan Pedro Walker," in Essays on the History of Noaxaca,
in October 1816rth American Discovery and Exploration, ed. Stanley H.
Palmer and Dennis Reinhartz (College Station: Texas A&M University Press,
Wheat, Carl I., Mapping the
Transmissippi West, 15401861 (San Francisco: Institute of Historical
Moore, Bob, Zebulon
Pike, Hard Luck Explorer, Zebulonpike.org/pike-hardluck-explorer.htm
Brainard, Rick, Zebulon Pike
Expedition @History 1700s.com
Morrison, A. J., Dr. John H. Robinson, Tylers Quarterly
Magazine, Vol 3.
Rios, Eduardo Enrique, El Historiador
Davis Robinson y su Aventura
en Neuva Espana ,
Antigua Libreria Robredo,
de J. Porrua e Hijos in
Mexico, 1939 Includes the Spanish translation of an unpublished manuscript in
the Archivo General de la Nacion,
Mexico, written by W. D. Robinson while a prisoner in the Convento
de Santo Domingo, Oaxaca, Mexico in October, 1816.
Robinson y su
adventura en Mexico,
Editorial Jus, Mexico
Castaneda, Carlos, Our Catholic Heritage
Return to Spanish Texas