Robbins, Thomas

Missionary, Minister, Librarian

Birth: August 11, 1777, Norfolk, Litchfield County, Connecticut
Death: September 13, 1856, Colebrook, Litchfield County, Connecticut
Burial: Old North Cemetery, Hartford, Hartford County, Connecticut
Find a Grave memorial

Reverend Thomas Robbins was a Congregational minister sent by the Connecticut Missionary Society to the Connecticut Western Reserve. He worked in the region from 1803 to 1805, returning to Connecticut due to poor health. A dedicated chronicler, Robbins began his diary in 1796, not to end his near-daily entries until 1854. The diary's pages offer much information of the early years of settlement in Vienna Township. Robbins's portrait and facsimile signature appears as the frontispiece of the published diary.

Robbins was born the ninth of twelve children of Reverend Ammi Ruhamah and Elizabeth Le Baron Robbins. At age 15, Robbins entered Yale University. Graduating in 1796, he began to preach but also taught school and studied theology. He was licensed to preach in 1798, but from 1799 to 1802 served as the headmaster at an academy in Danbury, Connecticut.

Years in Vienna and the Connecticut Western Reserve

Robbins noted nearly daily in his diary the daily weather, his health, his reading, and his work. On January 30, 1804, he noted:

Rode to Vienna. Preached from Acts viii: 8. This is a new settlement, but appears pretty flourishing. Yesterday took some cold. Have some rheumatic pains in my back. Houses very smoky.

Robbins tended to the material as well as the spiritual life of Vienna's residents. He often took off his coat and took up shovels and hammers and other tools to help construct the community. On April 6, 1804, he "procured a horse to ride, [his] being unfit for use. Rode to Vienna. Keeping for horses very scarce. Rainy." The next day he "worked with the people at their public ground in the center of the town. Visited."

Some weeks later, on May 2, Robbins "attended the raising of a house" in Vienna, noting that it was "the first frame erected in the town." On October 29, 1804, he "worked a little all day raising a log-house." The evening brought a stop to physical labor but not a stop to the discussion of "building a meeting-house."

Spring thaws brought the necessity of road clearing and scraping. "Worked some with the people on the road" was Robbins' entry for March 15, 1805. He preached that Sunday, March 19, noting

Quite uncomfortably warm. Preached from Jer. l: 34. The mud dries very fast. The people here are calculating to build a good framed school-house to be used for meetings. They have signed eighty dollars to hire preaching. Visited a school.

Establishing the Vienna Presbyterian Church

At the bequest of several families in Vienna, Robbins organized the Vienna Presbyterian Church on September 22, 1805. Reverend Robbins wrote of this meeting in his diary:

[September] 22. Preached from Matt. xvii: 5 and Gen. v: 24. After sermon in the afternoon publicly organized thirteen persons--seven men and six women--as a church of Christ, charged them to keep covenant with God and one another, and endeavored to commit them to the care and grace of the great head of the Church. Several people attended from the neighboring towns. Rainy.[1]

Later Life

After recovering from his missionary work, Robbins became a minister at East Windsor, Connecticut. There he served from 1808 until 1827. He also served in other pulpits in Connecticut and in Massachusetts. During this time he also received a doctoral degree from Harvard Divinity School.

Robbins was an avid book collector, and in 1844 he was offered the position of librarian of the Connecticut Historical Society. By that time he had acquired some 4,000 volumes, mostly on history and theology. He willed the collection to the Society, securing for himself an annual salary and providing an endowment with which to care for and increase the collection.

Contributor: Shirley T. Wajda

Updated 8/13/2020
Bickford, Christopher P. The Connecticut Historical Society, 1825-1975: A Brief Illustrated History. Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 1975.
Robbins, Thomas. Diary of Thomas Robbins, D.D., 1796-1854. Printed for his Nephew. Owned by the Connecticut Historical Society, In Two Volumes. Ed. Increase N. Tarbox. Boston, Thomas Todd, Printer, 1887.
[1] Quoted material from Thomas Robbins, Diary of Thomas Robbins, D.D., 1796-1854. Printed for his Nephew. Owned by the Connecticut Historical Society, In Two Volumes, ed. Increase N. Tarbox (Boston: Thomas Todd, Printer, 1887), Volume 1, pp. 221, 226, 228, 241, 251, 252, 266.