Dr. Daniel Robert, 1746-1804
Chester G. Osborne - 1957
One of the more colorful figures in provincial New York
and Long Island was Daniel Robert III, a physician; his name is obscure
now, but at the turn of the 19th century he was a confidant of U.S. Senator
John Smith, and known throughout the east as a learned and able doctor
Two letters from him have been discovered in the
papers of Judge William Smith at the Manor of St. George, Mastic; one letter
is interesting for its terse comments on the relations of the United States
with France; the other cites a plague in New York City. We will quote from
the letters, but Dr. Roberts references to "Our Envoys" needs explaining.
When the first letter was written, the United States
was in acute danger of war with France; angered at Jays treaty with the
British, the French in 1796 had suspended diplomatic relations and later
cxpelled U. S. Minister Charles C. Pinckney. President Adams then sent
John Marshall, Pinckney, and Elbridge Gerry to Paris; in 1798 their efforts
met with failure. In the meantime, Napoleon threatened the British Empire;
from Dr. Roberts letter, it is evident that the British feared an immediate
invasion of their home lands, but history shows that Napoleon's thrust
was to be at Egypt.
The colorful Doctor Robert was born in New York City
on January 27, 1746. His father was Christopher Robert of New York and
Flushing, a silversmith and sometime magistrate; his mother was Mary, daughter
of John Dyer, a soap and candle maker; John Dyer is said to have had a
genial disposition; research shows that he found more than one way to make
a bit of gold or sterling: in 1733 he advertised in the Gazette in an effort
to sell a "very good bell, of a very good size and sound, fit for any country
church or court house," and a "very good copper (tank?) that holds 120
gallons . . . "
We have no news but what you have already received. Our Envoys still
remain at Paris as some say with a prospect of accomplishing the object
of their mission: others go farther & say that we are on the Eve of
a general peace. be that as it may, the French are certainly making immense
prepavalions for the Invasion of England; which is in its turn making every
effort to prepare for defense --How it will terminate is difficult to say---our
little Family is well. my wife joins me in affectionate regards, she hopes
soon to have the pleasure of seeing you & embracing her Daughter.
I am respectfully yours Danl Robert
New York 24 Apr. 1798
There is a dozen wine glasses which my wife bought for her mother (cheap
4/6) in a basket sent to Tucker.
Doctor Roberts grandfather was Daniel Robert, a
Huguenot refugee to Martinique; Daniel Robert (I) later moved to New Rochelle,
and in 1703 is listed as a principal inhabitant of New York City; he married
Suzanne Latour, who after his death married Thomas La Roche. The Robert
line gets complicated because of the early American passion for repeating
names: Daniel (I)'s son Christopher had three daughters named Mary, and
our Doctor is the third Daniel in the family.
Daniel (III) graduated from Columbia College in
1763. Soon after, he studied medicine with a Doctor Ogden of Jamaica, Long
Island (possibly Jacob Ogden), and went for further education to Edinburgh
in the late 1760s. From there he went to the Island of Dominica to set
up a practice. His son Christopher once estimated his yearly income there
at $25,000; if this is correct, it was an enormous amount for the time.
While in Jamaica, Doctor Robert had married Elizabeth
Hinchman; he took her with him as he began his career, but her failing
health forced him to return to the States. She died March 12, 1775 at the
age of 29; her mourning husband had her tombstone inscribed, "Man that
is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble."
He resumed his West Indies practice until about
1784 and then returned to New York. In 1788 he bought a large tract of
land in Mastic, some 3000 acres formerly owned by the Tory Colonel, Richard
Floyd. In the meantime, the Doctor's sister Mary had married William Rhinelander,
of New York, and through Rhinelander's friend Henry Niccoll of Mastic,
the Doctor met Mary Smith, daughter of Judge William Smith.
Doctor Robert married Mary July 3, 1788 the couple
stayed for time at Mastic, then moved to New York City, where the Doctor
set up another practice; this was on Franklin Street.
He made still more money, and if we are to report
the truth, he didn't seem to mind charging his relations a whacking good
fee for his services: Caleb Smith, a New York merchant who was Mary's brother,
wrote on June 12, 1797 to his father in a vein which suggests that he needed
help in meeting a bill: "I shall have to pay Doctor Roberts fifty pounds
. . he says he would not draw on me for it but he wants to pay his house
rent . . ."; another letter says jealously that "The Doctor is making money
at a great rate." The reader is free to draw his own conclusions, and will
remember the Doctor's pleased little postscript about some wine-glasses
for his mother-in-law at a cheap price: Mary's mother was Ruth (Woodhull)
Smith, a sister of the martyred General Nathaniel Woodhull.
Doctor Roberts other letter dates from around 1800.
"After having struggled with my own Indisposition & the fatigues arising
from attending to the distresses of my fellow citizens . . . I have retired
from the field." He continues that while he is happy to retire to
the midst of a circle of friends, he is alarmed that much of the New York
populace flees before a plague: "Those in New York having in their Panic
abandoned us & left us to our fate - The Fever is terrible indeed.
The deaths have more than tripled in a week & those (fatalities) in
Philadelphia much increased . . The number of deaths was 37 by the fever.
Doctor Daniel Robert died November 11, 1804; his
wife lived until 1829; both are buried at the Manor cemetery near Smith's
Point, Long Island. Their many living descendants in New York, Long
Island and elsewhere can of course trace their family line straight back
to Marys father, Judge Smith, a Revolutionary War patriot and statesman,
and to Colonel William "Tangier" Smith, colonial statesman and founder
of the Manor of St. George.
Robert College in Istanbul, Turkey, was named for
a son of Dr. Daniel - Christopher Rhinelander Robert. who contributed the
funds for its establishment in 1863. It was a son of the latter,
of the same name, who during the 1890s built Pepperidge Hall at Oakdale,
a fabulous medieval-type castle which, after his death by suicide some
years later, fell into ruins as the once vast estate was subdivided by
Pepperidge Hall, Mansion of Dr. Robert's Eccentric Grandson, Which
Stood at Oakdale
First appearing in the LI Forum 1957 No
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