Robinson, James W. (1790–1857)

By: L. W. Kemp

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: January 19, 2019

James W. Robinson, judge, attorney, and San Jacinto veteran, was born in 1790 in what is now Hamilton County, Indiana. He was probably the son of Samuel and Margaret (Newell) Robinson, but his parentage has not been definitely established. He was admitted to the bar in Indiana and was a law partner of William Henry Harrison. Robinson practiced law in Indiana, where he married Mary Isdell in 1820. They had five children. When Robinson left for Arkansas in 1828 he deserted his family. His wife later obtained a divorce, and in Arkansas Robinson married Sarah Snider. They had one son, William N. Robinson. James W. Robinson arrived in Texas in January 1833, with a letter of recommendation addressed to Stephen F. Austin, settled at Nacogdoches, and on October 6, 1835, received title to a league of land in Joseph Vehlein's colony in the area of present San Jacinto County. Robinson was a delegate from Nacogdoches to the Consultation in 1835 and was elected lieutenant governor of the provisional government. The executive council of the provisional government deposed Governor Henry Smith on January 11, 1836, and named Robinson as his successor. Smith, claiming that there was no quorum present when he was deposed, refused to relinquish the office, and as a result both Smith and Robinson claimed to be governor. Robinson served in the Texas army from March 12 to September 15, 1836, and fought at the battle of San Jacinto as a private in the cavalry company under William H. Smith. Robinson was living in Gonzales County on December 16, 1836, when he was elected by Congress as judge of the Fourth Judicial District, which automatically made him a member of the Supreme Court. He resigned in January 1840 and later opened a law practice in Austin. On March 19, 1840, Robinson was wounded in the Council House Fight at San Antonio. He was again in San Antonio when it was captured by Adrián Woll in September 1842 and was one of those carried prisoner to Mexico. Robinson in Mexico, opened a clandestine correspondence with Antonio López de Santa Anna and reached an agreement by which he was to be released from prison and allowed to return to Texas with terms for an agreement between Texas and Mexico. Robinson reached Galveston on March 27, 1843, conferred with President Sam Houston at Washington-on-the-Brazos, obtained his release, and may have been responsible for the negotiations that resulted in an armistice of several months between the two nations. In 1850 Robinson and his family moved to San Diego, California. He was district attorney from 1852 to 1855 and school commissioner in 1854. He secured possession of considerable property and helped promote a railroad from El Paso to California. Robinson died in San Diego in October 1857. When his estate was finally distributed in 1903, his children were all dead, and seventy-one legatees, chiefly grandchildren, shared in the property settlement.

Sam Houston Dixon and Louis Wiltz Kemp, The Heroes of San Jacinto (Houston: Anson Jones, 1932). Hobart Huson, District Judges of Refugio County (Refugio, Texas: Refugio Timely Remarks, 1941). San Francisco Chronicle, May 24, 1903. Homer S. Thrall, A Pictorial History of Texas (St. Louis: Thompson, 1879).

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • General Law
Time Periods:
  • Texas Revolution
  • Republic of Texas

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

L. W. Kemp, “Robinson, James W.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 25, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 19, 2019