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John Robinson Jr.

Member From: 1728 - 1766

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  • Birth Date: February 3, 1705 Birth Place:Middlesex County
  • Death Date: May 11, 1766
  • Gender: Male Race: Caucasian
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  • Education: College of WIlliam and Mary
  • Military Service:
  • Occupation/Profession: lawyer
  • Additional Info:
    Sir John Randolph died in March 1737. He was succeeded as Speaker by John Robinson.

    1766-1768 Assembly- John Robinson died in May 11, 1766 and was succeeded by Richard Tunstall.
  • Bio: JOHN ROBINSON, JR., was Speaker of the House of Burgesses at seven assemblies, between 1737 and 1765. He had represented King and Queen County in the assembly of 1728-1734, and was reelected to the assembly of 17 36-1740, at which he was elected Speaker following the death of Sir John Randolph in 1737. Speaker Robinson represented King and Queen County at the assemblies of 1742-1747, 1748-1749, 1752-1755, 1756-1758, 1758-1761, and 1761-1765, over which he presided. A complete account of Robinson's legislative career would amount to a full political history of mid-eighteenth­century Virginia.
    Speaker Robinson was born on 3 February 1705 in Middlesex County. His father, John Robinson, Sr. (1683-1749), a prominent figure in the colony, had been sworn to the Council on 1 May 1721 and was the ranking member of the Council when he died on 24 August 1749. Speaker Robinson was educated at the College of William and Mary before 1720, practiced law, and in the 1720s established his home at Pleasant Hill on the Mattaponi River. In 1728 twenty-three-year-old Robinson entered the House of Burgesses for King and Queen County. Gawin Corbin contested the election, but the House ruled that Corbin's petition was "groundless, frivolous, malicious and scandalous." By 1729 Robinson was a justice of the peace and clerk of the King and Queen County Court. In October 1730 he became a vestryman of Stratton Major Parish, and he remained active on both the county court and the vestry until his death.
    Robinson was active in his first assembly and in 1734 was named one of four burgesses to confer with the Council about pending legislation. In 1736 Robinson was reelected to the assembly and nominated for Speaker. He declined the nomination and requested a unanimous vote for Sir John Randolph. After Randolph died in 1737, John Robinson won the Speaker's chair by defeating Henry Fitzhugh, of Stafford County (who had been nominated by Robinson's rival Gawin Corbin), and Edwin Conway, of Lancaster County. Nominated by Charles Carter, of King George County, Fitzhugh again opposed Robinson for the chair in 1742; in 1748 Charles Carter and Philip Ludwell III, of Jamestown, were his rival candidates for Speaker, but after 1748 Robinson was unanimously reelected on four occasions.
    Sir John Randolph's brother Richard filled the office of treasurer from 18 March 1737 until November 1738, when the assembly named Speaker Robinson as treasurer. Seven times from 1738 to 1761, at the beginning of each new assembly, Robinson was reappointed treasurer, always with the proviso that his tenure ran until the end of the first session of the next assembly and the condition that he continue as Speaker of the House. The treasurer's salary was raised from 4 to 5 percent in 1748, but he also handled special wartime taxes at a 2 percent commission.
    Robinson's management of the treasurer's accounts is notorious. When he died it was learned that more than £100,000 was in arrears, much having been lent to friends, some of them poor credit risks, and perhaps £10,000 invested in John Chiswell's lead mines. Robinson's loans were illegal­although there is evidence that their effect on the Virginia economy was salutary-because the paper currency that he returned to circulation was to have been burned on receipt. The full impact of the Robinson scandal on Virginia politics, however, came after his death.
    During his day Robinson's reputation was based on his position as Speaker. "His reputation was great for sound political knowledge and an acquaintance with parliamentary forms,'' wrote Edmund Randolph.
    When he presided, the decorum of the house outshone that of the British House of Commons, even with [Arthur] Onslow [1691-1768] at their head. When he propounded a question, his comprehension and perspicuity brought it equally to the most humble and most polished understanding. To committees he nominated the members best qualified. He stated to the house the contents of every bill and showed himself to be a perfect master of the subject. When he pronounced the rules of order, he convinced the reluctant. When on the floor of a committee of the whole house, he opened the debate, he submitted resolutions and enforced them with simplicity and might. In the limited sphere of colonial politics, he was a column.
    Speaker Robinson was among the leading land speculators in Virginia. In 1745 he began with a share in a 100,000-acre venture on the Greenbrier River and was a leader of the Greenbrier Company. In 1749 his cluster of speculators responded to the formation of the Ohio Company by forming the Loyal Land Company on a claim to 800,000 acres of western land. In 1760 he patented land on the New River adjoining a tract owned by John Chiswell, whose daughter he had married and in whose lead mining ventures he had invested heavily, and he, was an original member of a company formed in 1763 to drain the Dismal Swamp.
    Robinson presided over the House of Burgesses for nearly three decades. Late in Robinson's last session, Patrick Henry, then of Hanover County, proposed his resolutions against the Stamp Act, which he supported in a famous speech made in committee of the whole with Attorney General Peyton Randolph presiding. When Henry compared George III to Julius Caesar and Charles I, Robinson rose and said, ''the last that stood up had spoken treason and [he] was sorry to see that not one of the members of the House was loyal enough to stop him before he had gone so far.'' Henry apologized for speaking ''with too much heat.'' The five resolutions against the Stamp Act were passed in committee, and as the burgesses left the House, young Thomas Jefferson overheard Peyton Randolph exclaim, "I would have given one hundred guineas for a single vote." Randolph, as chairman of the committee of the whole, would then have been able to case the deciding vote against Henry. Robinson, Randolph, and George Wythe were "the most strenuous opposers of this rash heat,'' Lieutenant Governor Francis Fauquier reported to the Board of Trade. The next day, according to the House journal, Randolph reported from the committee of the whole, and the House adopted the first four resolutions. The House failed to adopt the fifth resolution, which claimed for the assembly ''only and sole exclusive Right and Power to lay Taxes.'' Fauquier dissolved the assembly on l June 1765.
    Speaker Robinson died on 11 May 1766. Purdie and Dixon's Virginia Gazette recalled that in his three decades as Speaker he had earned "not the second, but the first place in that house; which post he filled with sufficient ability, and equal dignity.'' He was buried, at a site overlooking the Mattaponi River, behind his home at Pleasant Hill. During the month after Robinson's death, as the colony's leading politicians jockeyed for position, rumors circulated about the state of the treasury. On 27 June 1766 the Robinson scandal was spread for all to read on the first two pages of the Virginia Gazette. The Speakership went to Robinson's friend Peyton Randolph, but the treasury was made a separate office and given to Rohen Carter Nicholas. Edmund Pendleton began the process of settling Robinson's estate, work that continued long after the American Revolution, and the Robinson scandal remained an element in Virginia politics for years. One of Robinson's critics posed as a prophet and wrote that Robinson's friends "shall call Peculation Benevolence, and they shall say that it is a very great Virtue, and of infinite Service to the Public." Regardless of one's verdict about Speaker Robinson's handling of the treasury, however, under Robinson's tutelage the House of Burgesses developed as the most powerful branch of the Virginia government. In mid-eighteenth-century Virginia politics Robinson was, as Landon Carter put it, ''the Byg man.''
  • Other Notable Service and/or Elected Offices: Speaker of the House - 1737 - 1765
    Justice of the Peace - King and Queen County
    Clerk of King and Queen County Court
Session District District Number Party Leadership Committees
1728-1734 King and Queen Courts of Justice
Privileges and Elections
1736-1740 King and Queen Speaker of the House Propositions and Grievances (Chair)
Privileges and Elections
1742-1747 King and Queen Speaker of the House
1748-1749 King and Queen Speaker of the House
1752-1755 King and Queen Speaker of the House
1756-1758 King and Queen Speaker of the House
1758-1761 King and Queen Speaker of the House
1761-1765 King and Queen Speaker of the House
1766-1768 King and Queen

*The information within this interactive and searchable application has been researched extensively by the House Clerk’s Office. As with any historical records of this age and breadth, there may be discrepancies and/or inconsistencies within records obtained from a variety of credible sources. Any feedback is encouraged at history@house.virginia.gov.

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