Robert Robinson

Robert Robinson (1735-90) was born in Swaffham, Norfolk. He briefly attended the local grammar school before moving to Scarning after his father’s death.  His mother tried valiantly to support the family and continue his education, for he was a precocious scholar, but eventually she was forced to place him under indentures to Joseph Anderson, hairdresser, in Crutched Friars, London, on 7 March 1749 (Dyer, Memoirs 11).  During his years in London (1749-58), Robinson regularly attended services conducted by several of the more popular Calvinistic preachers of the day, including John Gill, Baptist minister at Carter Lane, Southwark; William Romaine, rector at St. Ann’s, Blackfriars; Edward Hitchin, pastor of the Independent chapel at White Row, Spitalfields; and Robinson’s favorite preacher, George Whitefield, whose letters from Robinson “breathe the genuine respect of a dutiful son, and the self-abasing language of a sincere Calvinist” (Dyer, Memoirs 18).  In 1758 Robinson moved to Norwich, where he briefly pastored a Calvinistic Methodist congregation before forming an Independent congregation in St. Paul’s parish. However, shortly after he began this work, he was approached by a small group of Particular Baptists meeting at the Stone Yard in St. Andrew’s Street, Cambridge, who, upon the recommendation of Mrs. Ann Dutton of Great Gransden, proposed that Robinson become their pastor, which he did on 8 July 1759 (Dyer, Memoirs 25-26, 44).  Robinson demonstrated his orthodoxy early on with his popular work, A Plea for the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ (1776), as well as his devotion to the cause of Nonconformity with such works as Arcana: or the Principles of the Late Petitioners to Parliament for relief in the matter of subscription (1774), A Plan of Lectures on the Principles of Nonconformity (1778), Christian Submission to Civil Government (1780), and The Doctrine of Toleration (1781). The Cambridge Constitutional Society, founded by Robinson, adopted in 1790 the fundamental principles of the London Revol­ution Society, which had embraced “the more revolutionary political ideas of Paine—the rights of man and sovereignty of the people” (Murphy, Cambridge Newspapers 26). Robinson’s commitment to religious toleration and political reform never wavered, but his theology underwent considerable changes during his latter years, especially his views on the Trinity. His massive tome, Ecclesiastical Researches, published posthumously in 1792 and edited for publication by George Dyer and most likely William Frend, listed among its numerous subscribers "Miss Hays" of Gainsford Street (3 copies). Her brother-in-law and neighbor, John Dunkin, subscribed to Robinson's other posthumous work, History of Baptism (1791). Benjamin Flower, Dunkin's classmate at Northampton in the late 1760s, printed many of Robinson’s sermons and other writings during his years in Cambridge and Harlow, including the Miscellaneous Works of Robert Robinson (1807) and the Posthumous Works of Robert Robinson (1812).  To give some idea of the pervasiveness of Robinson’s popularity among Dissenters, as well as the tight Dissenting network in which Flower lived and moved, thirty-one individuals who appear in the Correspond­ence of Benjamin Flower were listed as subscribers to Robinson’s posthumous Ecclesiastical Researches (1792). He corresponded with Hays for much of the 1780s and was instrumental in her movement into Unitarianism. For Robinson's letters to Hays, click here