Thomas Robinson, 1730–1817


merchant; distiller


London, Newport, Rhode Island

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Thomas Robinson was born in 1730, the eighth child of William Robinson of South Kingstown (1693-1751) who twice served as Deputy Governor of Rhode Island (1745-1746; 1747-1748),(1) and third child by William's second wife Abigail Gardiner Hazard (c. 1697-1773).(2) His paternal grandfather Rowland Robinson (1654-1716 ) converted to Quakerism as a young man, immigrated to New England in 1675 and married Mary Allen (d. 1706) in 1676. He owned a large plantation on Point Judith, then in the town of Kingstown.(3) His maternal grandfather was William Gardiner.

In 1752, Thomas married Sarah Richardson (c. 1733-1817), daughter of Thomas Richardson and Mary Wanton Richardson who resided at 87 Thames Street in Newport.(4) Together, they had eight children; William T. (1754-1835), Thomas (b. 1756, died young), Mary (1757-1829), Abigail (b. 1760), Thomas (1761-1851), Rowland (b. 1763, lost at sea), Joseph Jacobs (b. 1763), Amy (b. 1768).(5)

In 1760, Thomas Robinson purchased the house at what is now 64 Washington Street in Newport, then called lots number 61 and 62 in Easton's Point. The house was first built sometime before 1736 when Benjamin Chapman of South Kingstown purchased the property from Walter Chapman. The house that Thomas Robinson purchased was at that point called "The Old Tavern." Thomas renovated the house soon after purchase to include a new wing to the North and a fashionable gambrel roof. Thomas commissioned furniture of Thomas Goddard, who resided nearby in Easton's Point alongside a number of prominent Quaker cabinetmakers. In addition to the Thomas Goddard furniture, Sarah brought with her a number of pieces of furniture that had come from England in 1658 with Edward Wanton, an ancestor in her maternal line.(6)

During the Revolutionary War, a close friendship developed between Thomas Robinson and the Vicomte de Noailles who was quartered in the Robinson house. According to surviving Robinson family correspondences, Madame de Noailles gave a Sevre tea set to the Robinson family in thanks for their kindness to her husband during the Revolution.(7)

After Thomas Robinson's death in 1817, the house was willed to his wife Sarah, who died soon after in the same year and his two unmarried adult children Abigail and Joseph Jacob. Abigail and Joseph Jacob both died in 1835, leaving the house to Esther Minturn, the daughter of their brother William T. Robinson (1/8 share), as well as Esther Morton Smith (3/4 share) and Robert Morton (1/8 share), son and daughter of their sister Mary. It has remained by descent in the Smith family to the present day.(8)

Benjamin W. Colman

1. Office of the Secretary of State of Rhode Island, "Rhode Island Deputy/Lieutenant Governors, 1640-Present"

2. The Robinsons and Their Kin Folk. (New York: The Robinson Family Genealogical and Historical Society, 1906). 29-32

3. Frances Robinson Turrell,, "Roland Robinson: The Man and His Century," pp. 9-25 in The Robinsons and Their Kin Folk. 11-22

4. Antoinette F.Downing and Vincent J. Scully, Jr. The Architectural Heritage of Newport, Rhode Island 1640-1915. 2nd ed. (New York: American Legacy Press, 1962). 452

5. The Robinsons and Their Kin Folk. p. 32-35

6. Downing and Scully p. 452

7. Downing and Scully p. 99

8. Susan E. Slade, "Thomas Robinson House," manuscript prepared for the Historic American Building Survey, Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, National Park Service. 1972. 1-3. Digitally reproduced at