This is the second in a two-part series on the Robie family, from Binghamton to the 19th century; last week’s column was about Jacob Carter Robie, a pioneering dentist who raised troops and served in the Civil War.
It was September 11, 1831 when Jacob and Louisa Robie welcomed their first child, Edward Dunham Robie, into the world.
The newlyweds were living in Burlington, Vermont at the time, and Jacob Robie was in the midst of studying to become one of the area’s first dentists. His sister, Frances, was born in 1837. A year later, in 1838, the Robies left Vermont to settle in the nascent village of Binghamton, along the banks of the Chenango Canal.
Edward Robie’s father was the area’s first dentist. Edward attended Binghamton Academy, located on the grounds of Courthouse Square. At the age of 14, he worked as a clerk in the hardware store Gregory. He continued his studies and received a scholarship and a warrant as an assistant engineer in the United States Navy in 1852.
At the age of 21, Robie found a new career that would take him away from Broome County. His first assignment was as the third assistant engineer aboard the frigate USS Mississippi, the flagship of Commodore Matthew Perry’s expedition to Japan from 1852 to 1855. In 1857 Robie became the second assistant engineer aboard the USS Susquehanna as it unsuccessfully attempted to lay the first transatlantic telegraph cable.
In 1858 Robie found time to return to Broome County, where he married Helen Adams, of Lisle. The newlywed couldn’t stay long, as the same year he became the first assistant engineer aboard the USS Niagara as he rescued slaves and took them to Monrovia, Liberia, and to freedom. .
He was serving aboard the USS Lancaster when the Civil War broke out. Like his father, Edward Robie continued to serve and was appointed Chief Engineer by President Lincoln in 1861. He sailed aboard the USS Mohican, capturing forts at Port Royal, South Carolina and Fernandina, South Carolina. Florida. The ship was also involved in the blockade of Charleston, South Carolina.
Robie served as the North Atlantic Squadron’s principal engineer and oversaw the construction of the ironclad USS Dictator in 1862-1863. In 1864 he served on the steamer Ericsson, and in 1864 and 1865 he was on board the Dictator. During the last year of the Civil War, he also served on the engineering examination board.
After the war Robie continued in the Navy, sailing to the Pacific in 1866 aboard the USS Ossipee, then was promoted to Fleet Engineer on the USS Pensacola. He, along with several others, condemned a failed ship design.
While stationed at the Boston Navy Yards in 1870, he was assigned to the USS Wabash, sailing to the Mediterranean. It was during this trip that he designed an improved steam engine. He served for a time as a fleet engineer for the North Atlantic and Gulf squadrons.
In the mid-1870s he was the chief engineer of the Norfolk Navy Yards, then took on a few other duties in New York, Boston, and Norfolk before being assigned to the Navy Department in Washington, DC.
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This would be his last tour of duty, and Robie and his family would remain in this area until he was forced to retire on September 11, 1893 at the age of 62. During his 38½ years of naval service, he spent 17 years of that at sea.
He also continued to rise in rank throughout this time. At the time of his retirement, he was commodore. Despite this retirement, it was not his final classification. For his extensive service in the Navy and during the Civil War, an act of Congress in 1906 promoted Robie to the rank of rear admiral.
A year later, on June 7, 1907, Rear Admiral Robie died at the age of 79. Two days later, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Two men – a father and a son – who have rendered distinguished service to this country at a time of great conflict. Jacob Robie, colonel during the Civil War and brigadier general in the state militia, and Edward Robie, who became rear-admiral, both of Binghamton.
Gerald Smith is a former Broome County historian. Email him at [email protected]