Rowland T. Robinson was born at Rokeby farm in Ferrisburg, Vermont, in 1796. He married Rachel Gilpin in 1820, and together they raised four children. Robinson became a businessman and sheep farmer owning over 1000 acres of land and up to 2000 Merino sheep. He was also a strict Quaker and his home was used as a Quaker meeting house. Throughout his life, Robinson was a leader in reform movements such as temperance, women’s rights, caring for the poor and homeless, and abolishing slavery.
Rowland T. Robinson was a leader in the anti-slavery movement. He helped to form the Vermont Anti-Slavery Society. In 1843 he hosted the “Great Convention,” which was one of 100 meetings held throughout New England. At these meetings abolitionists, such as former slave Frederick Douglas, lectured. In addition to these efforts, Robinson aided fugitive slaves.
During the 1840s, the Robinson’s farm was very busy. The family was quite small and they were constantly looking for hired hands to help on the farm. This need, combined with the fact that Robinson was a Quaker, a leader in the anti-slavery movement and lived in a rural area of Vermont, meant that other underground railroad activists could send fugitives to Rokeby where they could work in safety.
Over the years, Rowland and Rachel Robinson took former slaves into their home, gave them work on the farm, taught them to read and write, and gave them the space and time needed to begin a new life. We can find out exactly how Rowland T. Robinson and his family helped fugitive slaves by reading his letters. Letters can tell us about who helped fugitives, where the fugitives were coming from and where they were going, what help the fugitives needed, and what the fugitives did once they reached safety.