Biography of James Byron Robinson

Fealty to facts in the analyzation of the character of a citizen of the type of James Byron Robinson, the well known president of the Nodaway Valley Bank, one of the leaders in financial circles of this county, is all that is required to make a biographical sketch interesting to those who have at heart the good name of the community, because it is the Honorable reputation of the man of standing and affairs, more than of any other consideration that gives character and stability to the body politic and makes the true glory of a city or state revered at home and respected abroad. In the broad light which things of report ever invite, the name of Robinson stands secure in Nodaway county, for the character of each member of this old and well established family has been exemplary; and though of modest demeanor, with no ambition to distinguish himself in public position or as a leader of men, the career of Mr. Robinson has been signally honorable and it may be studied with profit by the youth entering upon his life work, for he has attempted to bear aloft the worthy principles and precepts set by his father, long one of the prominent and influential men of this locality.

James B. Robinson was born in Maryville, Missouri, November 24, 1864, the son of Theodore L. and Rebecca J. (Ray) Robinson. Owing to the prominence of the father in Nodaway county for a period of over fifty years, his life record will be given in detail in the following paragraphs.

Theodore L. Robinson
Theodore L. Robinson

Theodore L. Robinson was born in Callaway County, Missouri, February 8. 1833. the son of Daniel and Martha Robinson. He was born of poor parents and his mother died when he was between three and four years old and soon afterwards his father placed him and his two little brothers with their grandmother and went to Texas, never returning to Missouri. His father re-married in Texas and by this marriage had three children. He died there, and Theodore, then hardly more than a boy, learning of the destitute circumstances of his stepmother and her children, drove from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Houston, Texas, with a team and brought them back to Missouri and cared for them as long as he could. When eleven years old Theodore L. Robinson came with his grandfather’s family to Buchanan County, locating near St. Joseph, where the grandfather pre-empted land; but owing to sickness and being unable to do farm work, young Theodore, when twelve years old, went to St. Joseph and secured work in the old Madison House, at that time one of the leading hotels of that city. Later he accepted a position with John Curd, a pioneer and a prominent merchant, for whom he worked for five years at a salary of sixty dollars per year, about enough to clothe him. During that time he attended school only six months. In the spring of 1849 he, like many other youths of this part of the country, started for the gold fields of California, Mr. Curd having equipped him with a small lot of cheap goods and a team. He “spliced” teams with another young man and they drove oxen across the plains. After many hardships he reached the coast, got very little for his goods, but he was fairly successful in mining and remained there until 1855, when he returned to St. Joseph, intending to go back to the gold fields; but finding that his father and elder brother had died in Texas, his younger brother having died in 1844, he invested the little money he had in a two-horse team which he drove from St. Joseph to Houston, Texas, and brought the family to St. Joseph, where, after trying for more than a year to support them, he found he could not do so on a salary. Mr. Curd furnished a stock of goods and located him in Maryville in 1857 from which time until his death. May 28, 1894, he was continuously in business here, being actively engaged for a greater number of consecutive years than any other man in Nodaway county. In 1873 he became connected with the Nodaway Valley Bank and for several years he was in partnership with the late James B. Prather in this bank, Mr. Robinson, however, always having charge of it. Upon the death of Mr. Prather, he took his son, James B. Robinson, who had been in the bank as bookkeeper and assistant cashier, into partnership with him. During his last sickness, and on April 7, 1894, the bank was incorporated, and has been ably managed by the son, James B. Robinson, to the present time. In fact, before his death, with that perception and clearness characteristic of the man, he made final disposition of his vast business affairs and very large estate, with a precision, carefulness and foresight that corroborates the estimate always placed on him by the community as a far-seeing and eminently safe and successful business man. No man had in larger measure the confidence of the community. He was always plain, candid, wide-awake, unassuming and attended to his duties assiduously. Self-possessed, even-tempered, no one, whatever the provocation or aggravation, ever saw him in a passion. Notwithstanding his great wealth, and his very busy career, he always had time to grant a consultation or to give advice to even the humblest citizen, if advice was sought, and when that was sought and heeded, the party, almost invariably, if not entirely so. profited thereby. So that while successfully managing his own large business interests, he was a great help to many others. He was truly the architect of his own fortune, having commenced life without means and achieving his success by overcoming obstacles to which less determined and less clear-sighted men would have yielded.

As a citizen Theodore L. Robinson always manifested a great interest in all that had a tendency to promote the interests of the county. In educational affairs he was especially prominent. He was a member of the public school board and its treasurer for twenty years consecutively, and to no one man does the city of Maryville owe more for the high standard which her public schools has reached. He was one of the first to engage in the Maryville Seminary enterprise, though that was technically under the control of another church than his own, and he always stood by it. He would have been successful in any line of human effort. He had that energy, application, self-reliance and comprehensive grasp of details which insure success. He acted largely on the idea that if care he taken of the little things, larger affairs will, to quite an extent, take care of themselves. His life affords many lessons of great value to young men especially. A large volume could be written on the generous side of his nature and disposition and added to his great worth as an active business man and an honorable, useful citizen. No true history of the growth and development of Maryville or of Nodaway county would leave out as a potent individual factor the name of Theodore L. Robinson. He left an estate valued at three hundred thousand dollars, besides thirty-five thousand dollars life insurance. All this he made unaided, starting with nothing, and he made it, too, in an honest manner, as all those who know him best will attest, his relations with his fellow-men always being straightforward. His home, one of the most attractive and imposing in the city, has always been a place of hospitality and good cheer. Shortly before his death he became a member of the Christian church, hut from his youth up he had been a man of exemplary character, against whom no word of reproach could have been uttered.

On October 9, 1859, Mr. Robinson married Rebecca J. Ray, who survives, living at the old home in Maryville, where she is greatly admired by a wide circle of friends for her beautiful Christian attributes. She was born in Bardstown. Kentucky, November 26, 1837, the daughter of James and Sallie (Hungate) Ray, each from excellent old Southern families, the father having been born in Virginia in 1792, the mother being the daughter of John and Molly (Coffman) Hungate. John was the son of Charles and Molly Hungate, and Charles was the son of William and Nancy Hungate. William Hungate was born in Virginia in January, 1725, and he nearly rounded out the century mark, dying in the community where he was born, in February. 1822. He was an ensign during the Revolutionary war, serving in a most gallant manner throughout the struggle. He was on the commission which was signed by the committee of safety at Williamsburg, Virginia, October 22, 1775 – The Hungate family can be traced back to the fourteenth century. Sir Philip Hungate was made lord of Saxton and Sherburn by Charles I, of England. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Robert Hungate founded and endowed two hospitals and a school at Sherburn. His father, Sir William Hungate, was a member of Privy Councillors of Queen Mary. William A. Hungate was an admiral in the British navy in 1836.

James Ray and wife came to Missouri in the early forties, making the trip by water, coming on a boat from Louisville.

To Mr. and Mrs. Theodore L. Robinson five children were born, three of whom are living at this writing, James B., Fred P. and Jennie I. The last named is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and she is a trustee of Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa.

James B. Robinson was educated in the schools of Maryville, and at the age of seventeen he took up banking, following in the footsteps of his father by becoming a clerk in the Nodaway Valley Bank, and by close application and merit gradually worked his way up to cashier. In 1892 he became a partner in this institution, and at the re-organization of the bank and the death of the elder Robinson he became president, in 1894, and he has very ably discharged the duties of this responsible position ever since, maintaining the solid and conservative policy of the bank and greatly increasing its prestige, its patrons having constantly increased in numbers from year to year. He has inherited much of the sound business acumen and rare discernment of his father. Politically he is a Democrat, a member of the Christian church and of the Knights of Pythias.

James B. Robinson was married in October, 1894, to Maggie Garrison, a lady of culture and refinement, the daughter of Dr. I. B. and Sarah Garrison, an influential family of Worth County, Missouri. This union has been graced by the birth of three children, Theodore G., James B., Jr., and Chilton K., all attending school in Maryville.

Mr. Robinson is a worthy son of a worthy sire, and he is a public-spirited, genial and industrious gentleman, unassuming and well liked by all classes for his integrity and simplicity.

Source: B. F. Bowen & Company. Past and present of Nodaway County, Missouri. Indianapolis, Indiana: B. F. Bowen & Company. 1910.

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