Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Robertson, James (1720?-1788)

ROBERTSON, JAMES (1720?–1788), governor of New York, born in Fifeshire about 1720, enlisted as a private, became a sergeant, and obtained an ensign's commission by his service at Carthagena in 1740. Having sailed to America in 1756, he was appointed major-general of the royal troops raised in America, and was also barrack-master at New York. In 1772 he received a colonel's commission, and in the engagement between the British troops and the colonists at Long Island in 1776 he commanded a brigade. He took a leading part in the negotiations with Washington for the release of André. In 1779 Robertson was appointed head of a board of twelve commissioners for restoring peace, and in May of the same year he became civil governor of New York. In May 1781 he was appointed commander-in-chief in Virginia. He thereupon sailed to Sandy Hook; but hearing that Cornwallis had arrived with a commission which would supersede his, he returned to New York. On 20 Nov. 1782 he was appointed lieutenant-general. In the following April he returned to England. He died in London on 4 March 1788.

Our knowledge of Robertson's character rests entirely on the testimony of Thomas Jones, the chief justice of New York, a malevolent and disappointed man, who wrote a history of New York during the revolutionary war. According to him, Robertson, when barrack-master, enriched himself by clipping the coins which passed through his hands, and when civil governor established arbitrary tribunals. He showed, says Jones, ‘the haughtiness, superciliousness, and contempt natural to the pride of a rich and opulent Scot,’ and, when appointed governor, was infirm, paralytic, and undignifiedly amorous.

[Jones's Hist. of New York; Gent. Mag. March 1788.]

J. A. D.