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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 of medicine.
    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.
Dear Sir

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.

    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 . . . "
    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 realtors.

Pepperidge Hall, Mansion of Dr. Robert's Eccentric Grandson, Which Stood at Oakdale

First appearing in the LI Forum 1957 No Copyright Information Data Found