Friday, November 11, 2011



James "Jim" Alexander Dobbins, oldest son of Robert B. and Catherine Alexander Dobbins, asked for and received a letter of Dismission in 1856 from his home church in Fulton, Illinois (Bennington Presbyterian Church in Ipava) and headed off somewhere with his family, according to church minutes left by his pastor father. He and his family left no family bible and no one at a Dobbins family reunion in 1911 left any notes about him. He died long before Death Certificates had come into use. Documenting his life has been hard, frustrating, and mostly unrewarding.

He had a wife, Elizabeth, and four children - Robert Gaston, Paulina Jane, Elizabeth Caroline and James Sellers. I can tell you interesting stories about all of his children, but not about him. The picture was given to me by Percy Dobbins, my dad's cousin, and it had been handed down to him from his father. At the time I received it, no one in the family even knew what his name was or anything at all about him. Even if I haven't found out much about his life, at least I now have a name for him.

Jim was the first child of Robert and Catherine, born in Ohio in 1805. His father was a circuit-riding Presbyterian minister whose territory encompassed Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. While he was out ministering, it was up to his wife and children, (predominately Jim, being the oldest) to run the family farm in Clermont county, which provided for their needs and also provided money to sustain his father's ministry.

In 1826 the Clermont County marriage books show the following:

In 1835 Rev. Robert Dobbins bought acreage in Fulton County, Illinois, and he and his now-mostly married children moved there. Rev. Dobbins retired from the circuit riding but he established a local Presbyterian church, composed mostly of his own family members, and in 1837 the church records show that Jim's youngest son, James Sellers Dobbins, was baptised by his own grandfather, the Rev. R. B. Dobbins.
Those same records indicate that at two different times Jim asked for and received a request to remove the family from the church in good standing. The first time was in this same year (1837) and they were gone for four years before returning. In 1851 Jim's oldest son died. In 1856 Jim asked for and received a letter of dismission again; this was after the old Rev. died, and I'd guess Jim now felt free of the burden required of the oldest child. He took his family, just as his own father had, and traveled west, settling in the tiny town of Prairie City in Kansas, just a tinch southwest of Lawrence. No sooner did he get established there than his wife died, his oldest daughter died in childbirth, his second daughter married and headed east with her husband, and his youngest son associated himself, by his own admission, with old John Brown.

It is at this point that James Alexander Dobbins pretty much disappears off my screen. Many of the Douglas County records are missing because of all the problems that area had during the early settlement of Kansas, but it was in one recorded deed in the Douglas County Deed book that I was able to find him again. In 1871 he sold property he owned in Lawrence to the leaders of the Presbyterian Church and the deed showed he was in Maineville, Warren County, Ohio; the deed also showed he had a wife named Eliza Dobbins. A subsequent check of the marriage record showed that he had, in 1861, married the widow Eliza Gant.

Jim died in 1873. I know absolutely nothing of those final years. I have always had the feeling that this fellow, my great-great grandfather, did not have such a happy life. Too many deaths. Too many burdens. And I have always hoped that he found happiness with Eliza; nothing would make me happier than finding an obituary that said so -- but he is as remote at the end of his life as he was during it.

The one thing I have always treasured is a hand-written family chart that was sent to me many years ago by a distant relative I found back in Illinois. It is dated 1922 and is the only record I have that places James Alexander Dobbins in with the rest of the Robert B. Dobbins kids. It's not the kind of proof I would like, but I do believe it to be factual. This fancy chart was drawn then from a simple chart that had been generated at the 1911 reunion; on the older one, James Dobbins was called "Jim." So I've always felt confident that I could put my finger on the name "James" and say "He's mine!" And because of the picture, know what he looked like.

1 comment:

  1. James Alexander Dobbins and Thomas Dobbins were not children of Catherine Alexander, but by Robert B. Dobbins's first wife, Ann. She was a niece of Robert Flemming (Fleming) of Philadelphia.

    see the article starting bottom of page 405 here for Robert Flemming, and mentions nephews Dobbins on the next page.