ROBINSON, CHRISTOPHER, army officer, lawyer, and office-holder; b. 1763 in Virginia, probably the son of Peter Robinson and Sarah Lister; m. 1784 to Esther Sayre, and they had six children, including Peter*, John Beverley*, and William Benjamin*; d. 2 Nov. 1798 at York (Toronto).
Born into a family prominent in the public life of Virginia, Christopher Robinson was raised in the household of John Robinson, apparently his uncle. He was educated at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, but he may have left the college in 1780 or 1781 to go to New York to aid the loyalist cause. On 26 June 1781 he was commissioned ensign in the Queen’s Rangers under the command of John Graves Simcoe*. He served with the regiment until the surrender at Yorktown, Virginia, on 19 Oct. 1781, after which the Queen’s Rangers were moved north to Nova Scotia, most of the men settling in what is now the parish of Queensbury in New Brunswick. Since the regiment had been placed on the regular establishment of the British army in 1782, Robinson was able to retire on half pay.
Lack of opportunity in New Brunswick probably prompted Robinson to move in 1788 to Quebec where he and his family settled first at L’Assomption, and later at Berthier-en-Haut (Berthierville). Robinson may have begun articling to become a lawyer at this time. He seems to have remained in contact with Simcoe, who was appointed lieutenant governor of Upper Canada in 1791. Simcoe took care to find employment for disbanded officers of the Queen’s Rangers, and in 1792, shortly after his arrival in Upper Canada, he appointed Robinson surveyor general of woods and forests there. The Robinsons moved to Kingston that year.
Robinson’s work as surveyor general meant constant travel about the province examining reserve lands, arranging rent collection for leased reserve land, licensing the cutting of timber, and identifying potential naval timber. In 1794 he was licensed to practise law in Upper Canada and two years later he was elected member of the House of Assembly for Ontario and Addington. No record of the proceedings of the assembly survives for his period of service, except for the 1798 session. Robinson played an active role that year and sponsored a bill, which never became law, “to enable persons migrating into this province to bring their negro slaves into the same.” In 1797 he had been involved in the establishment of the Law Society of Upper Canada and he became a bencher of the society.
Money problems haunted Robinson all his life. Whether because of his style of life or because of his continuing ill health, his income was never sufficient. He acquired a great deal of land, but it was not a liquid asset. At the time of his death in 1798 he was in debt to William Willcocks*, whom he had been unable to repay because of expenses incurred in moving to York earlier that year.
Of better family and education than most of the loyalists who came to Canada, Christopher Robinson was nevertheless able to obtain official preferment only because of his link with Simcoe. He seems always to have been disappointed that the more comfortable life to which he felt his birth, education, and loyalty entitled him did not materialize. One of the few Robinsons from Virginia who supported the loyalist cause, he was cut off from most of the family.
Robinson died suddenly on 2 Nov. 1798 after returning to York from a long trip on horseback. The cause of his death is uncertain, but his son John Beverley remembered it as an acute attack of gout aggravated by cold and exposure.
PAO, Robinson (Sir John Beverley) papers, “Memoranda,” pp.43–46. University of Toronto Library, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, ms coll. 163, Robinson family papers. Correspondence of Lieut. Governor Simcoe (Cruikshank). PAO Report, 1929–31 Julia Jarvis, Three centuries of Robinsons: the story of a family ([Toronto], 1967). C. W. Robinson, Life of Sir John Beverley Robinson, bart., C.B., D.C.L., chief-justice of Upper Canada (Toronto, 1904).