Robert, Henry Martyn (1837–1923)

By: Charles R. Kline

Type: Biography

Published: June 1, 1995

Henry Martyn Robert, author of Robert's Rule of Order and consulting engineer of the Galveston seawall, was born on May 2, 1837, in Robertville, South Carolina, son of Rev. Joseph Thomas and Adeline (Lawton) Robert. His ancestor Pierre Robert was pastor of the first Huguenot colony in South Carolina. Reverend Robert was against slavery and moved his family to the Midwest when Henry was a child. Robert was appointed to West Point from Ohio and graduated fourth in his class in 1857. From 1867 until his retirement he was involved with most of the major river and harbor improvement and fortification projects undertaken by the United States government. He worked on the Columbia River and on rivers in Oregon and Washington. He built lighthouses on lakes Michigan, Erie, Ontario, and Champlain, and on the Saint Lawrence River. He made river and harbor improvements on Long Island Sound and New York Harbor. He was engineer-commissioner for improvements on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers and was a member of various boards of engineering, such as the New York Board of Engineers, the New York Harbor Line Board, and the Philadelphia Line Board.

In 1889 President Grover Cleveland appointed him to a board of engineers to recommend a western Gulf port for the government to develop to handle tonnage that was increasing each year. Robert selected Galveston as the only site that could meet the conditions to become a major Gulf port. Congress approved his proposal and appropriated the funds. After the Galveston hurricane of 1900 Robert served as consulting chairman of the board of engineers to design means of protection against future tidal waves. The recommendations of this board resulted in a seawall that successfully saved the city of Galveston on two subsequent occasions, 1909 and 1915. After each tidal wave Robert was called back to report on seawall damage and to make further recommendations. He was also asked to help design a highway and railroad bridge between Galveston and the mainland. Just before he reached retirement age he was promoted to brigadier general, chief of engineers, United States Army, on April 30, 1901.

Robert also became this country's leading parliamentarian. Robert's Rules of Order, first published in February 1876, remained in print in the 1990s as an authoritative reference work on parliamentary procedure. Robert married Helen Thresher on December 21, 1860, and they had four children. Six years after she died, he married Isabel Livingston Hoagland, on May 8, 1901. Robert died on May 11, 1923, in Hornell, New York.

George W. Cullum, Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, 3d ed., 1891. E. J. Mehren, "Henry Martyn Robert: Soldier, Parliamentarian, Author and Engineer," Engineering News-Record 84 (April 22, 1920). Thais M. Plaisted, "General Henry M. Robert, Parliamentarian," Social Studies 48 (May 1957).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Charles R. Kline, “Robert, Henry Martyn,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995