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ROBERTSON, DANIEL, army and militia officer, landowner and improver, and office holder; b. c. 1733 in Dunkeld, Scotland; d. 5 April 1810 in Montreal, Lower Canada.

Daniel Robertson must have secured some medical training in Scotland before he was appointed to the 42nd Foot as a surgeon’s mate in April 1754. His regiment was transferred to North America in June 1756 and stationed at Albany, N.Y.; Robertson was given an ensigncy in July. In 1760 he participated in the capture of Montreal. That, or the following, year he married Marie-Louise Réaume, the 19-year-old widow of Joseph Fournerie de Vézon; through his marriage Robertson gained entry into one of the substantial Canadian families of the colony. The fortunes of war soon took Robertson away from his bride. His regiment participated in the capture of Martinique, where on 29 April 1762 he purchased a lieutenancy. Following the capture of Havana, Cuba, the 42nd was sent back to North America, and in 1763 Robertson participated in Colonel Henry Bouquet’s efforts in western Pennsylvania to quell Pontiac*’s uprising. With the reduction of the British army after the Treaty of Paris, Robertson returned to Montreal.

Between 1763 and 1773 the Robertsons had six children, two of whom died in infancy; on 17 Oct. 1773 Marie-Louise herself died. Meanwhile, by 1767 Robertson, in association with Benjamin Price*, seems to have acquired land around Lake Champlain. He was a member of the grand jury at Montreal in 1768, and was honoured in April with a public notice of thanks by the other members for “your just and spirited Behaviour as a Magistrate and your indefatigable Care to bring Offenders to Justice.” In 1773 and 1774 he signed petitions in favour of a house of assembly. At the beginning of the American revolution Robertson was appointed a major in the Montreal militia, and on 14 June 1775 captain-lieutenant of the 1st battalion of the Royal Highland Emigrants. He enlisted about a company of his fellow Scots and was ordered to Fort St Johns (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu) to help defend it against the invading Americans [see Richard Montgomery*]. With the besieged fort’s surrender on 3 November, Robertson was taken to Connecticut, a dejected prisoner. He was exchanged, and he returned to his regiment early in 1777.

In September 1779 Robertson was appointed commandant of the small post at Oswegatchie (Ogdensburg, N.Y.). There he supervised Indian raids on Americans along the Mohawk frontier; in June 1782 he personally led an attack that destroyed two mills and five houses in a settlement on the Mohawk River. As a result of this success he obtained a commission for his son as an ensign under his command. Moreover, General Haldimand secretly appointed Robertson to take over the troubled post at Michilimackinac (Mackinac Island, Mich.), where a fellow Scot, Lieutenant Governor Patrick Sinclair, was having serious financial problems. Robertson left for Michilimackinac on 13 August, accompanied by his son and a three-man investigating committee; he assumed command on 18 September.

Although Robertson was permitted by his orders to continue construction of the partially completed fort, he had detailed instructions to curtail expenses in the Indian Department; however, he found it nearly as difficult as had Sinclair to restrain expenditures. Throughout his stay at Michilimackinac, Indian affairs would have a high priority. In late April 1783 he sent George McBeath and Charles Mouet de Langlade to inform the Indians around Prairie du Chien (Wis.) that peace with the American colonies was at hand and to encourage the Indians to cease inter-tribal hostilities. A month later word of the peace arrived. Robertson was in a difficult position: he had to stop Britain’s Indian allies from fighting among themselves and discourage them from coming to Michilimackinac, where he would have to feed and supply them. In September he was obliged to send Jean-Baptiste Cadot and Madjeckewiss to Chequamegon Bay (Wis.) to arrange a cessation of hostilities between the Ojibwas and the Foxes and Sioux; the emissaries were unsuccessful.

The dispatch that brought word of peace also revealed that Mackinac Island was to be included within the United States. Concerned that he might have to evacuate the fort, in 1784 Robertson, accompanied by McBeath, carefully inspected the north shore of Lake Superior and selected as a possible location for a new post a site at what is now Thessalon, Ont. After setting forth to Haldimand the advantages of this site, Robertson asked the governor to engage Daniel Sutherland*, Robertson’s son-in-law and a merchant at Montreal, to supply certain construction needs. Robertson evidently intended to use Sutherland’s business connections and his own position of authority to bolster his precarious financial situation. Even though he had sold his Montreal house on Rue Notre-Dame in December 1782, he had been obliged in September 1783 to borrow £1,000 from David Mitchell*, physician at Michilimackinac, offering a mortgage on an estate called Balmaguard in Scotland. His request for an appointment as Indian agent at Michilimackinac was apparently rejected, as was another, in association with Sutherland, James Grant*, Joseph Frobisher, and Simon McTavish, for a grant of all the land between Lake Ontario and Lake Huron, through which Robertson felt an all-British route to the west would have to pass.

The British government decided not to abandon Mackinac Island, and Robertson settled in. Between 1785 and 1787 he used his authority as commandant to make a number of land grants to his young daughters, Charlotte and Elizabeth; one of the grants also included among the beneficiaries Grant, McTavish, and Margaret McBeath. Local legend affirms that Robertson built a small summer-house on a rock outcrop at the southeast corner of the island. A variety of lurid tales have become attached to the site, which is still known as Robinson’s Folly, a corruption of Robertson’s name. In the summer of 1787 Robertson was relieved of his post. Before he left he freed his black slaves, Jean and Marie-Jeanne Bonga; they became prominent tavern keepers on the island, and their sons important fur traders. The merchants at Michilimackinac regretted Robertson’s departure and, in October 1787, 42 of them commended him in the Quebec Gazette.

Robertson returned to Montreal. He had been placed on half pay in 1784, and on 18 Nov. 1790 he received the rank of major in the army. Late in February 1793 he secured an appointment as captain in the 60th Foot, and on 1 March 1794 he advanced to lieutenant-colonel in the army. Finally, on 1 Jan. 1798 he became a colonel in the army.

Between 1787 and 1806 Robertson amassed over 5,000 acres in a tract of land in Chatham Township on the east bank of the Ottawa River, securing grants for himself and his four children as well as purchasing the grants of some disbanded soldiers of the 84th Foot. He worked to attract settlers and to develop his properties. In 1797 he surveyed 285 lots, and by 1804 he had settled on his lands 43 families comprising 170 people. To promote the establishment of a church in the area, in 1806 he gave 96 acres of land to the Anglican missionary Richard Bradford.

In the mean time Robertson had achieved a comfortable position in Montreal society. He maintained his ties with the fur-trade merchants through the prestigious Beaver Club, of which he had been elected an honorary member in 1793. He was appointed a justice of the peace in 1799 and a school commissioner in 1805. By 1808 he was colonel of the Argenteuil battalion of militia. He saw to it that his children married well: Margaret had married Daniel Sutherland in 1781; Charlotte married Dr John Farries in 1792; the following year John married Catherine, daughter of the landowner Major-General Gabriel Christie*; and in 1794 Elizabeth married Louis-Hippolyte, son of Joseph-Hippolyte Hertel* de Saint-François, a former army officer and interpreter. This last was an unhappy union, and after Hertel disappeared Elizabeth incurred her father’s ire by “living in adultery”; some time before February 1806 she married Theodore Davis, a surveyor at Saint-André-d’Argenteuil.

Robertson’s financial situation, however, was once again precarious. Sheriff Edward William Gray began a series of seizures of property: in January 1802 a wood house, barn, stables, and 3,500 acres of land belonging to Robertson in Chatham Township; in October 1804 a farm on the Rivière Serpentine at Coteau-Saint-Pierre; and in July 1806 5,000 acres in Chatham with several houses and buildings on them. Evidently not all these properties went to auction in the event, for in 1810 Bradford purchased at least 3,000 acres in Chatham from Robertson’s estate.

By December 1809 Robertson’s health obliged him to live with Margaret and Sutherland. On 8 December he made a will leaving most of his fortune to two granddaughters, Louisa and Maria Sutherland; to Elizabeth he left “one Spanish mill’d Dollar only, on account of her undutiful behaviour and imprudent conduct.” He died on 5 April 1810, and was buried three days later with military honours from the Scotch Presbyterian Church, later known as St Gabriel Street Church, at Montreal.

David A. Armour

ANQ-M, CN1-185, 18 Dec. 1809. BL, Add. mss 21758: 244–56; 21762: 245; 21780 (mfm. at PAC). Mackinac County Courthouse (St Ignace, Mich.), Reg. of the post of Michilimackinac, 1, 11–12, 31–32, 42, 52–67. McCord Museum, Beaver Club minute-book, 1809–11. PAC, RG 1, L3L: 64480–82, 64486, 64488, 81258–59. PCA, St Gabriel Street Church (Montreal), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials, 8 April 1810 (mfm. at ANQ-M). C. H. Gabriel and Garrett Newkirk, Songs of Mackinac Island: 1, My Mackinac; 2, Robertsons folly (Chicago, 1896). Mich. Pioneer Coll., 10 (1886): 465, 552–53, 638–40, 645, 671–72; 11 (1887): 332–35, 341–42, 350, 356–62, 368–70, 373–80, 383–85, 387–96, 405–7, 413–16, 419–21, 433–35, 442, 449–50, 452–54, 510–11, 568; 12 (1887): 309; 13 (1888): 73–74; 20 (1892): 13, 81, 84, 110, 121, 143, 150–51, 156, 190, 212–13, 217–19, 227, 232–33, 240, 243–45, 253, 264, 268–69, 274–75, 289. H. R. Schoolcraft, Personal memoirs of a residence of thirty years with the Indian tribes on the American frontiers, with brief notices of passing events, facts and opinions, A.D. 1812 to A.D. 1842 (Philadelphia, 1851), 478–79. Statistical account of Upper Canada, compiled with a view to a grand system of emigration, comp. R. [F.] Gourlay (2v., London, 1822; repr. East Ardsley, Eng., and New York, 1966), 1: 604. Wis., State Hist. Soc., Coll., 11 (1888): 164–66, 171–74; 12 (1892): 61–70, 94–96; 17 (1906): 436–38; 19 (1910): 83. Montreal Gazette, 9 April 1810. Quebec Gazette, 27 April 1769; 13 Sept. 1781; 9 Jan. 1783; 11 Oct. 1787; 16 July 1789; 4 Feb. 1802; 8 Nov. 1804; 31 July, 21 Aug. 1806; 15 Nov. 1810. Quebec almanac, 1809: 58. D. A. Armour and K. R. Widder, At the crossroads: Michilimackinac during the American revolution (Mackinac Island, Mich., 1978), 182, 185, 188–91. John Disturnell, Island of Mackinac, giving a description of all the objects of interest and places of resort in the straits of Mackinac and its vicinity . . . also, an account of the early settlement of the country . . . (Philadelphia, 1875), 16–17. B. L. Dunnigan, Kings men at Mackinac: the British garrisons, 1780–1796 (Lansing, Mich., 1973). Stanley, Canada invaded, 31, 35, 61, 155. J. A. Van Fleet, Old and new Mackinac; with copious extracts from Marquette, Hennepin, La Houtan, Cadillac, Alexander Henry, and others . . . (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1870), 137. M. C. Williams, Early Mackinac; an historical and descriptive sketch (4th ed., St Louis, Mo., 1903), 146–50. E. O. Wood, Historic Mackinac; the historical, picturesque and legendary features of the Mackinac country . . . (2v., New York, 1918), 1: 584–85; 2: 87–108, 602. J.-J. Lefebvre, “Louise Réaume-Fournerie-Robertson (1742–1773) et son petit-fils le colonel Daniel de Hertel (1797–1866),” RHAF, 12 (1958–59): 323–34.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

David A. Armour, “ROBERTSON, DANIEL,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 25, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/robertson_daniel_5E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/robertson_daniel_5E.html
Author of Article: David A. Armour
Title of Article: ROBERTSON, DANIEL
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1983
Year of revision: 1983
Access Date: October 25, 2014