Peter's Top Matches
About Peter Robinson
Responsible for the emigration and settlement of over 2500 Irish emigrants in Canada under the Peter Robinson emigration scheme arranged by the English rulers
- Founder of Petersborough,Ontario.
- Veteran of the War of 1812.
- Representative of the provincial parliament, member of the Legislative Council, and Commissioner of Crown Lands for Upper Canada.
Peter Robinson was the son of Christopher Robinson, a United Empire Loyalist from a prominent Virginia family. Christopher served in the British forces under John Graves Simcoe during the American Revolution, and following the surrender, traveled with his regiment to New Brunswick where Peter was born in 1785. Peter was the eldest of three brothers. His other two brothers were John, born in Quebec in 1791, and William, born in Kingston in 1797.
The year after William was born, Christopher settled his young family in York. Although the Robinsons held a prominent place in York society, money was always tight and when Christopher died that same year, 13-year-old Peter became head of a family in dire financial straits. In 1802, Esther Sayre, Christopher Robinson’s widow, married Elisha Beman, a prosperous York tavern-keeper and the executor of her husband’s estate. The family -– minus John, who went to Kingston to be educated in one of Bishop Strachan’s schools and would later become involved in Tory politics and the Family Compact –– moved to Newmarket where Peter joined his stepfather and step-siblings in the fur trade.
Peter Robinson’s familiarity with land and water routes through the backwoods of Upper Canada served him well during the War of 1812. He raised a rifle company formed largely of experienced woodsmen and, as Captain Robinson, served with Major-General Isaac Brock at the surrender of Detroit by the Americans. He helped maintain the line of communications with York during the blockade of Michilimackinac, and was present when York surrendered to the Americans in April 1813. Following the war, Peter returned to Newmarket and, with brother William, formed the “Robinson Brothers” fur-trading company. He purchased land on Yonge Street that would later become the site of Holland Landing, invested in mills, an inn, a schooner on Lake Simcoe, a distillery and Newmarket-area farms. His election to the Legislative Assembly in 1817 took him back to York where he served as a staunch government supporter. In 1822 Peter made his first trip to London, England with his brother John Beverley Robinson, then Attorney General for Upper Canada. John introduced Peter to Robert Wilmot-Horton, Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. Wilmot-Horton had devised an emigration scheme to resettle impoverished Irish farmers in Upper Canada and was looking for an expert in the backwoods to act as supervisor. He found his expert in Peter Robinson. The emigration scheme introduced in 1823, to transport settlers to the Ottawa Valley, was met with initial fear and resistance.
When Robinson returned to Ireland in 1824, would-be emigrants needed letters of recommendation even to get on a list. Peter Robinson selected 2024 emigrants out of 50,000 applicants.They embarked on nine ships from Cobh Harbour at Cork in May of 1825 and were settled on lands near Peterborough before winter, increasing the area’s population four-fold. Robinson liked his job and his mainly Roman Catholic settlers. He moved them forward to the Newcastle district with energy, resourcefulness and genuine kindness. Many of the immigrants contracted fever and ague, as did Robinson, but he stayed with them until March 1826, personally inspecting of all the lots and reporting on all the improvements that had been made. In 1827, the small settlement at “Scott’s Mills” was renamed “Peterborough” with a nod to Peter Robinson.
Robinson continued to take an interest in immigration to Upper Canada. He was appointed Commissioner of Crown Lands and Surveyor-General of Woods and Forests and held a seat in the Executive and Legislative Councils of Upper Canada. He resigned in 1836 as a protest against Sir Francis Bond Head and joined Robert Baldwin and others in urging reform. Peter Robinson died in York on July 8, 1838. He was 53.
Family records say that Peter died unmarried, but only marriages solemnized within the Anglican Church would have been recognized at the time. In his will, two children, Isabella and Frederick, were his main concern. Isabella married Charles Sibbald and is buried in St. George’s Anglican churchyard in Sibbald Point near Lake Simcoe.