Thomas Robbins (minister)

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Thomas Robbins
Thomas Robbins Connecticut.png
BornAugust 11, 1777
DiedSeptember 13, 1856
Known forFirst librarian of the Connecticut Historical Society

Rev. Thomas Robbins, D.D. (August 11, 1777 – September 13, 1856) was a Congregational minister, a bibliophile, and an antiquarian. [1] He became the first librarian of the Connecticut Historical Society. [2]

Congregationalism in the United States

Congregationalism in the United States consists of Protestant churches in the Reformed tradition that have a congregational form of church government and trace their origins mainly to Puritan settlers of colonial New England. Congregational churches in other parts of the world are often related to these in the United States due to American missionary activities.

Minister (Christianity) religious occupation in Christianity

In Christianity, a minister is a person authorized by a church, or other religious organization, to perform functions such as teaching of beliefs; leading services such as weddings, baptisms or funerals; or otherwise providing spiritual guidance to the community. The term is taken from Latin minister, which itself was derived from minus ("less").

Antiquarian Specialist or aficionado of antiquities or things of the past

An antiquarian or antiquary is an aficionado or student of antiquities or things of the past. More specifically, the term is used for those who study history with particular attention to ancient artifacts, archaeological and historic sites, or historic archives and manuscripts. The essence of antiquarianism is a focus on the empirical evidence of the past, and is perhaps best encapsulated in the motto adopted by the 18th-century antiquary Sir Richard Colt Hoare, "We speak from facts, not theory."


Early years

Robbins was born in Norfolk, Connecticut, the ninth child of the Rev. Ammi Ruhamah Robbins, and Elizabeth (Le Baron) Robbins. Ammi was the first minister of Norfolk. [3] He had 12 siblings. [4]

Norfolk, Connecticut Town in Connecticut, United States

Norfolk is a town in Litchfield County, Connecticut, United States. The population was 1,787 at the 2010 census. The urban center of the town is the Norfolk census-designated place, with a population of 553 at the 2010 census.

Robbins entered Yale University at the age of 15. In January 1796, he began a diary which he kept up through 1854. While in college, Robbins also began collecting books, a passion that would eventually define his life.

Yale University Private research university in New Haven, Connecticut, United States

Yale University is a private Ivy League research university in New Haven, Connecticut. Founded in 1701, it is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine Colonial Colleges chartered before the American Revolution.

He graduated from Yale in 1796, though he spent his senior year at Williams College, where his father was a trustee, and is listed as a 1796 alumnus of Williams as well. [5]

Williams College liberal arts college in Massachusetts

Williams College is a private liberal arts college in Williamstown, Massachusetts. It was established in 1793 with funds from the estate of Ephraim Williams, a colonist from the Province of Massachusetts Bay who was killed in the French and Indian War in 1755.


Teacher and minister

For the first six years after graduating from university, Robbins taught, preached, and studied theology. In 1798, he was licensed to preach by the Litchfield North Association. From 1799 to 1802, he was in charge of the Danbury, Connecticut's academy.

Theology is the systematic study of the nature of the divine and, more broadly, of religious belief. It is taught as an academic discipline, typically in universities and seminaries. It occupies itself with the unique content of analyzing the supernatural, but also deals with religious epistemology, asks and seeks to answer the question of revelation. Revelation pertains to the acceptance of God, gods, or deities, as not only transcendent or above the natural world, but also willing and able to interact with the natural world and, in particular, to reveal themselves to humankind. While theology has turned into a secular field, religious adherents still consider theology to be a discipline that helps them live and understand concepts such as life and love and that helps them lead lives of obedience to the deities they follow or worship.

Danbury, Connecticut City in Connecticut, United States

Danbury is a city in Fairfield County, Connecticut, United States, located approximately 50 miles (80 km) northeast of New York City making it part of the New York metropolitan area. Danbury's population at the 2010 census was 80,893.

In 1803, the Connecticut Missionary Society, the evangelistic arm of the Connecticut General Association of Congregational ministers, sent him to a new settlement on the Western Reserve, Ohio where he spent three years organizing churches before returning to New England in poor health. From 1808-1827, he preached in East Windsor, Connecticut. His brother, Rev. Francis L. Robbins, was the pastor in the next town of Enfield, Connecticut. [6] From there he went to preach in Stratford, Connecticut. [7] Robbins succeeded his uncle, Rev. Lemuel Le Baron, as Congregational minister in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, preaching his first sermon there September 25, 1831. [8]

Connecticut Western Reserve Area claimed by Connecticut until 1800.

The Connecticut Western Reserve was a portion of land claimed by the Colony of Connecticut and later by the state of Connecticut in what is now mostly the northeastern region of Ohio. The Reserve had been granted to the Colony under the terms of its charter by King Charles II.

East Windsor, Connecticut Town in Connecticut, United States

East Windsor is a town in Hartford County, Connecticut, United States. The population was 11,162 at the 2010 census. The town has five villages: Broad Brook, Melrose, Scantic, Warehouse Point and Windsorville.

Enfield, Connecticut Town in Connecticut, United States

Enfield is a town in Hartford County, Connecticut, United States. The population was 44,654 at the 2010 census. It is bordered by Longmeadow, Massachusetts and East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, to the north, Somers to the east, East Windsor and Ellington to the south, and the Connecticut River to the west.

In 1837, Robbins was appointed to the Massachusetts State Board of Education. The following year, he received the Doctor of Divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School. Robbins was a Trustee of Williams College from 1842-1853. [9] He was also elected to the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Institution of Science of Washington. [10]

He was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1815. [11]


"He commenced his collection while in college, by preserving his textbooks, and in 1809 made a formal beginning of a permanent library, by making a catalogue of his entire stock, consisting of one hundred and thirty volumes, with a determination that he would add at least one hundred volumes a year as long as he should live." (from Robbins' obituary, written by Henry Barnard.)


Robbins' became a librarian at the end of his career. The seeds were sown in 1822 when Robbins publicly suggested the creation of a historical society in Connecticut. After its establishment in 1825 in Hartford, Connecticut, he became its first corresponding secretary.

In 1844, educator Henry Barnard offered Robbins the position of librarian at the Connecticut Historical Society, the society elders being as interested in Robbins' book collection as they were in Robbins' services. [1] By the time Robbins left for Hartford, he had over 4,000 volumes, [13] mostly on subjects of history and theology. A notable part of the collection was the 385 volume Journal des sçavans , the earliest published scholarly periodical. [1] The collection also included 596 coins, such as a Roman denarius. [13]

Never having married, he revised his Last Will several times in an effort to assure his library was sustained after his death. On May 27, 1846, he bequeath his library to the historical society in exchange for an annual salary of $600. [1]


Robbins died at the age of 79 in Colebrook, Connecticut at the home of his niece. In addition to the extensive book collection, Robbins bequeath $3,000 to the society to care for the books, and to enlarge the collection. [9] Each book contains a bookplate and all the bookplates include a record of the price paid for the book. The society also has Robbins' original bookshelves. [1]

His portrait, painted by Reuben Moulthrop in 1801, is located in Hartford at the Connecticut Historical Society's museum. [14]

Partial works

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Wilkie Jr., Everett C. "Rev. Thomas Robbins, Connecticut Historical Society". Archived from the original on 2011-07-25. Retrieved 2009-01-14.
  2. Bickford, Christopher P. (1975). The Connecticut Historical Society: 1825-1975 ; a brief illustrated history. Connecticut Historical Society.
  3. "Introduction". Retrieved 2009-01-14.
  4. Tarbox, Increase Niles; Henry Barnard (1884). Thomas Robbins, D.D.: A Biographical Sketch (Google Books Digitized May 8, 2007 ed.). Cambridge: John Wilson and Son. p. 4. OCLC   10486519.
  5. Leonard, Mary Hall (1907). Mattapoisett and Old Rochester, Massachusetts: Being a History of These Towns and Also in Part of Marion and a Portion of Wareham (Google Books Digitized September 1, 2006 ed.). New York: Grafton Press. p. 223. OCLC   3680880.
  6. Tarbox, p. 9
  7. Leonard, p. 224
  8. "Mattapoisett, MA". Retrieved 2009-01-14.
  9. 1 2 Tarbox, p. 12
  10. Leonard, p. 231
  11. American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
  12. Tarbox, p. 10
  13. 1 2 Leonard, p. 230
  14. "Reuben Moulthrop". Retrieved 2009-01-14.