John S. Roberts, signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, East Texas merchant, and political figure, was born in Virginia on July 13, 1796. At age sixteen he enlisted in the Tennessee Militia for service in the War of 1812; he participated in the Battle of New Orleans as a member of Col. John Coffee's regiment. He was discharged in May 1815 and turned his eyes westward toward Louisiana. By 1822 he was a resident of Natchitoches, where he became a deputy sheriff in 1826. The same year, he joined the Ayish Bayou forces that took part in the Fredonian Rebellion, led by Haden and Benjamin W. Edwards against the Mexican government of Texas. Roberts was a major in the Fredonian forces and served as a judge at the impeachment trial of Samuel Norris, alcalde of the Nacogdoches District, and José Antonio Sepúlveda, captain of the Nacogdoches Militia. Roberts married Harriet Fenley Collier (see ROBERTS, HARRIET F.) on December 26, 1826, soon after the murder of her husband, Robert, and settled temporarily on her ranch in the Sabine District of East Texas. The next year, however, for reasons of security, the family-including Robert Collier's two children from a previous marriage, Susan and Nathaniel, and Harriet's son, John Fenley Collier-moved first to San Augustine and finally to Nacogdoches.
From 1827, when he entered the mercantile business with John Durst, to 1832, when he joined the rebel forces at the battle of Nacogdoches, Roberts was a general merchant and man of affairs in Nacogdoches, where his son Lycurgus was born on April 26, 1830. From the battle of Nacogdoches until the early days of the Texas Revolution in 1835, he pursued his career as a merchant and enlarged his fortune by purchasing cheap land grants. Roberts enlisted in the Nacogdoches Independent Volunteers on October 4, 1835, as a first lieutenant (he was later promoted to captain) under Capt. Thomas J. Rusk and saw distinguished service in the siege of Bexar (November 25-December 5). He was elected a delegate to the Convention of 1836 at Washington-on-the-Brazos and signed the Declaration of Independence March 2, 1836, after which he quickly departed for Nacogdoches.
After the revolution Roberts formed a partnership with John Durst and George Allen to engage in the mercantile business at a location across Fredonia Street east of the Old Stone Fort on the town square in Nacogdoches. The next year the firm was doing business as Roberts, Allen, and Company; in 1838 Durst bought out Allen, and the firm of Roberts, Durst and [Frederick T.] Phillips was formed. Later that same year the business was sold to one Francis von der Hoya. Meanwhile, on May 18, 1837, Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Rusk appointed Roberts quartermaster of the Texas Militia; between that date and July 10, 1839, he served as quartermaster of militia on four different occasions, for a total of more than seventeen months. During this time, by an act of the Congress of the republic dated January 10, 1839, he was authorized to adopt Harriet's son, John Collier, and change his name to John F. Roberts.
Roberts and Durst were adventurous in business, but for Roberts the speculation ended in the fall of 1838, when there began a series of law suits, the nature of which is not known, that resulted in his financial ruin. In the late 1840s he first sought to protect the financial interests of his wife and stepson in the estate of Robert Collier. About this time he entered the grocery and saloon business in Nacogdoches-first on the east side of the town square, and later in the Old Stone Fort, title to which had passed into Harriet's hand. He operated this business until his death on August 9, 1871. His body was interred in the old Oak Grove Cemetery in Nacogdoches.