Robinson, Frederick Philipse

Frederick Philipse Robinson, British army officer, military figure in the War of 1812 (b at New York, NY, Sept 1763; d at Sussex, England, 1 Jan 1852). Frederick Robinson was born in the British province of New York. During the American Revolution, Frederick’s father raised a Loyalist unit known as the Loyal American Regiment, to which Frederick was appointed as ensign in February 1777.

Robinson’s Early Career

Robinson was transferred to the 17th Foot in September 1777, and commanded a company at the battle of Horseneck in March 1779. He was present at the taking of Stoney Point in June and became a prisoner when the Americans retook it in July. Robinson was promoted to lieutenant in absentia in the 60th Foot in 1780 and transferred to the 38th Foot in November. After being released from imprisonment, he joined his regiment at Brooklyn. Robinson served in the West Indies, made captain in July 1794 and gained a majority the following September in the 127th Foot. When that regiment was disbanded, he joined the 32nd Foot in September 1795.

In 1796 Robinson became the inspecting field officer for recruiting at Bedford and later did similar duty at London. Robinson was made a brevet lieutenant colonel in 1800 and a colonel in 1810. He served in the Napoleonic Wars and was promoted to major-general in 1814.

War of 1812

Robinson was selected to lead a brigade in the Canadas and by August 1814 his brigade had joined the British Left Division under Major General Sir Francis de Rottenburg near Montréal. Their goal was to take Plattsburgh, NY (see Battle of Plattsburgh). Robinson’s brigade entered New York State on 1 September 1814. During the advance, Robinson posted two of his battalions to protect the line of communications. During the afternoon of 6 September Robinson arrived at Plattsburgh, and was asked to lead an assault against the town that afternoon. He refused to do so as there was insufficient information on the state of the defences. The assault was delayed until a reconnaissance could be conducted and then postponed until the British naval squadron could be in position to attack the American flotilla in Plattsburgh Bay.

In the meantime, the division commenced building siege works. This effort troubled Robinson, who felt the American defences could be taken with the force at hand. The attack by the Left Division was then slated for 11 September 1814. It was to be executed in two parts. To the north, Major General Thomas Brisbane was to create a diversion by crossing the two bridges over the Saranac River and then press his attack as far as practical. Further to the south, the main assault was to be led by Robinson. His brigade was reinforced with Major General Manley Power’s brigade, and now included six battalions, two light companies, two squadrons of light dragoons, two 9-pounder field guns and Congreve Rockets. His task was to cross the Saranac and storm the American works. Robinson was in position, ready to commence his attack, at 10:00 am. As his lead elements began to move off, he received orders from Lieutenant-General Sir George Prevost, the commander of the expedition, halting the attack and ordering a withdrawal back to Lower Canada. Prevost had concluded that the British line of communication back to Canada was threatened due to the defeat of the Royal Navy squadron in Plattsburgh Bay.

Robinson was incredulous, but obeyed the order. He left Canada in 1815, ready to testify at Prevost’s court martial. When the inquiry was cancelled due to Prevost’s death in early 1816, Robinson was sent to the West Indies and remained there until 1821. He became a lieutenant-general in 1825 and a general in 1841. When he died, Robinson was the longest serving member of the British army. His brother, William Henry, served as the commissary general of British North America during the War of 1812.

Author: John R. Grodzinski

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