Robertson, Burns, and Failing families papers, 1786-1988  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Creator
Robertson family
Title
Robertson, Burns, and Failing families papers
Dates
1786-1988 (inclusive)
1850-1985 (bulk)
Quantity
9.46 cubic feet, (13 legal size document cases, 5 oversize boxes)
Collection Number
Coll 784
Summary
Materials related to several old Portland families, primarily, Robertson, Burns, Couch, Failing, Corbett, and Wood. Also included are Adams, Lewis, Reed, Warren, and Wilson. Photographs document individuals, family groups, and activities. Numerous photographic albums are also included. The documents are primarily made up of correspondence between individuals, as well as ephemera and diaries.
Repository
Oregon Historical Society, Davies Family Research Library
Davies Family Research Library
Oregon Historical Society
1200 SW Park Avenue
Portland, OR
97205
Telephone: 503-306-5240
Fax: 503-219-2040
libreference@ohs.org
Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Languages
English


Historical NoteReturn to Top

Many of Portland's early settling families created long-lasting ties with one another through marriage and business relationships. Often leaving areas such as New England and San Francisco, the first generation of transplants found Portland to be a small town of new opportunities for trade and business from 1840-1855. Family relationships, such as those seen between the Robertson, Corbett, and Failing families beginning in the 1850s, often lasted for generations. Starting with the joint venture between Henry Winslow Corbett and brother-in-law Thomas Robertson (1817-1900), multiple other partnerships were later formed, including Robertson Heavy Hardware, Corbett, Failing and Company, Foster and Robertson and Corbett, Failing, and Robertson.

The Robertson family represented a crossroads of Portland familial relationships. Beginning with the arrival of Thomas Robertson and his wife Mary Freeland (Corbett) Robertson, from New York, multiple generations of the Robertson family went on to marry into different branches of other old Portland families, such Couch, Lewis, and Reed. Through these relationships, they also gained ties with several family lineages from the East Coast. Individuals in these families later attended elite schools, traveled widely and participated in family businesses to great success. They also contributed to Portland's civic life, becoming city or state officials, and serving as early supporters for institutions such as the Portland Art Museum and Reed College.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The papers include correspondence, photographs, wedding announcements, bills of sale, family memorabilia and ephemera relating to numerous Portland families related by ties of descendancy and marriage. A majority of the materials were created and used by the Robertson family, including numerous photographic albums, personal correspondence, and diaries. Two Robertson family world trips, from circa 1907 and 1910-1912, are documented with photographs, postcards, and correspondence with family in Portland. A small amount of materials relate to the business dealings of specific individuals, including Walter John Burns and members of the Robertson family. Also included are tickets and ephemera for the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland.

Other families represented include: Adams, Burns, Corbett, Couch, Failing, Lewis, Reed, Warren, Wilson, and Wood. Often, the inclusion of these materials is related to Robertson connections, in the form of marriage or other family relationships.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

The Oregon Historical Society owns the materials in the Research Library and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. The Society does not necessarily hold copyright to all materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from copyright owners.

Preferred Citation

Robertson, Burns, and Failing family papers, Coll 784, Oregon Historical Society Research Library.

Alternative Forms Available

See digitized selections at OHS Digital Collections.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top


Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Series 1:  Burns family papers, 1873-1966, 1985Return to Top

Water John Burns was originally from Brechin, Scotland. He arrived in Portland in 1877 as the local agent for Balfour Guthrie & Company, a british grain dealer. In 1879 Burns married Mary Caroline Wilson, the granddaughter of Captain John Heard Couch and his wife Caroline Flanders Couch. They had eight children, including a daughter, Kathleen Burns, who married Thomas Robertson (1881-1924) in 1910. Through this marriage, the Burns family further joined ties with several other prominent Portland families of the 19th and 20th centuries, including the Corbett and Failing families.

Container(s) Description Dates
Subseries 1.1: Burns, Mary Caroline (Wilson)
Box Folder
1 1
Photographs
1860, 1874, 1929, undated
1 2
Correspondence
1915, 1934-1940
1 3
Annotated obituary
1950
1 4
Bills
1914, 1927
1 5
Birthday notes
undated
1 6
Colonial Dames of New York
1923
1 7
Gift to Portland Art Museum
1949
1 8
Poetry book
1873
1 9
Wedding anniversary notes
undated
Subseries 1.2: Burns, Walter John
Box Folder
1 10
Photographs
undated
1 11
Correspondence
1917
1 12
Annual salaries
1887-1921
18 1
Certificate of Naturalization
1914
1 13
Marriage to Mary Caroline Wilson
1879 Oct 30
1 14
San Francisco arrival
1894
Subseries 1.3: Other Individuals
Box Folder
1 15
Burns, Charles Lewis Crawford, photographs
undated
1 16
Burns, Christina, photographs
undated
1 17
Burns, David
undated
1 18
Burns, Virginia, death
1915
1 19
Burns, Virginia, Westover School memorial
1915
1 20
Burns, William Rose, photographs
undated
1 21
Burns, William Rose, correspondence
1945
1 22
Hull, Mary Caroline (Webster), correspondence
1985
1 23
Hull, Mary Caroline (Webster), letter transcription
circa 1966
1 24
Hull, general family photographs
1945-1956
1 25
Peterson, Jessie Gilman (Wallace), photographs
1942
1 26
Wallace, George Barclay, memorial
1948
1 27
Wallace, Georgina (Burns), correspondence
undated
1 28
Wallace, Georgina (Burns), art
undated
1 29
Webster, Louise (Burns), photographs
circa 1894
1 30
Webster, Louise (Burns), memorial
1922
Box Folder
2 1
Burns, family group photographs
undated
2 2
Burns, house photographs
circa 1923, undated
2 3
Burns, family history
1915, 1949
17
Burns, family history, The Chalmers and Trail Ancestry of Dr. and Mrs. Guthrie's Descendants book
1902
Folder
18 2
Family tree
undated

Series 2:  Corbett family papers, 1838-1915Return to Top

The Corbett family came to prominence early in Portland's history, when Henry Winslow Corbett arrived in 1851 from New York. Arriving with $25,000 worth of goods obtained from Williams Bradford & Co through a three-year partnership, Corbett would resell the goods in the newly opened Oregon Territory. He would go on to gain widespread success in business, real estate, and politics, becoming a senator representing Oregon from 1867-1873. His descendants also played important roles in Portland's civic and economic spheres.

Originally from Westborough, Massachusetts, and later New York state, Henry Winslow Corbett was eventually joined in Oregon by his siblings Elijah, Mary Freeland, and Emily Phelps. Before embarking for Portland, Mary Freeland Corbett married Thomas Robertson from Cambridge, New York. Upon arriving in Oregon, Robertson joined Henry Corbett in his mercantile business, eventually forming Robertson Heavy Hardware, wholesale hardware firm. The descendants of Mary Freeland and Thomas Robertson would become joined to other old Portland families through marriage. In 1910, their grandson, Thomas Robertson (1881-1924) married Kathleen Burns, the granddaughter of Captain John Couch and wife Caroline Flanders.

In 1858, younger sister Emily Phelps Corbett married Henry Failing in 1858, who went on to be a leading businessman in Portland. The Failing, Corbett, and Robertson families continued to develop close business and kinship ties for generations.

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
2 4
Corbett, Emma (Ruggles), photographs
undated
2 5
Corbett, Henry Winslow, photographs
undated
2 6
Fox, Martha (Corbett), photographs
undated
2 7
Fox, Martha (Corbett), correspondence
1838
15 1
Corbett, photographs, family album
undated
2 8
Corbett, illustration of home, stables and carriage marquee
undated
2 9
Corbett, house photographs
undated
2 10
Corbett, family history
undated

Series 3:  Couch family papers, 1811, 1852-1970Return to Top

Originally from Newburyport, Massachusetts, Captain John Heard Couch was widely known for his voyages between New England and the Pacific Coast between 1840 and 1845. Skilled in the navigation of the notoriously tricky Columbia Bar at the mouth of the Columbia River, Couch would eventually go on to settle in the Portland area. In 1846, he became the treasurer for the Oregon Territory, and later a Multnomah County Commissioner and Oregon Port Commissioner. In 1850, Couch and his brother-in-law George H. Flanders founded a trading and wharf business.

With his wife, Caroline Flanders, he had four daughters, three of of whom married prominent Portland businessmen. His daughter Caroline Elizabeth (1833-1917) married Dr. Robert Bruce Wilson. One of their seven children, Mary Caroline Wilson, married Scotland transplant Walter John Burns in 1879. Their daughter, Kathleen Burns, married into the Robertson family, who were in turn closely tied to the Corbett and Failing families of Portland.

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
2 11
Couch, Caroline Elizabeth (Flanders), photographs
1885, undated
2 12
Couch, John Heard, photographs
undated
2 13
Couch, Mary Hollbrook, death
1941
2 14
Couch, group family photograph
undated
2 15
Couch, family history
1852, 1870-1894, 1917, 1953-1970
2 16
Couch, family log book
1811-1978
2 17
Lewis, Cicero Hunt, photographs
undated
2 18
Lewis, Clementine Freeman (Couch), history
circa 1982
2 19
Lewis, Sarah Heard, history
1982
2 20
Wilson, Caroline Elizabeth (Couch), photographs
undated
2 21
Wilson, Caroline Elizabeth (Couch), correspondence
undated
2 22
Wilson, Robert Bruce (1877-1919), photographs
undated
2 23
Wilson, Robert Bruce (1828-1887), biography
circa 1887
2 24
Wilson, group photographs
undated

Series 4:  Failing family papers, circa 1862-1872Return to Top

Henry Failing, his father Josiah, and younger brother John arrived in Portland in 1851 from New York. The Failings opened a small mercantile store, J. Failing & Co. on SW Front (now Naito Parkway) near Oak Street. They were later joined by Josiah's wife, Henrietta, and their three other children in 1853. The business was a rapid success, and Josiah Failing was elected in 1853 to serve as Portland's fourth mayor. Henry Failing later became majority owner of the business, focusing on hardware and iron supplies. In 1871, Henry Failing and Henry Winslow Corbett consolidated their hardware businesses, forming Corbett, Failing & Co. This business in turn would be consolidated in 1893 with Foster & Robertson to form Corbett, Failing, and Robertson.

In 1858, Henry Failing married Emily Phelps, the sister of local businessman Henry Winslow Corbett. Through Emily's sister Mary Freeland, the Failing family thus gained ties with the Robertson family, who owned Robertson Heavy Hardware. The grandson of Mary Freeland, Thomas Robertson (1881-1924) married Kathleen Burns in 1910, gaining ties to the prominent Couch family.

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
2 25
Failing, Emily Phelps (Corbett), correspondence
1862
2 26
Failing, Harry, correspondence
1870-1872
2 27
Failing, John C., photographs
undated
15 2
Failing, photographs, family album
undated
2 28
Failing, house photographs
undated

Series 5:  Robertson family papers, circa 1839-1988Return to Top

Thomas Robertson was born in 1817 in Cambridge, New York, where his family maintained a close friendship with the Corbett family. After Henry Winslow Corbett left New York in 1851 to pursue a trade good business in the newly founded Oregon Territory, Robertson and his wife, Mary Freeland Corbett (sister of Henry), later met him in 1856. Upon arrival, Robertson joined Corbett's business, eventually forming Robertson Heavy Hardware, which sold wholesale goods.

Robertson and his wife had two sons, William Edie (1854-1939), and David (1856-1891). Both sons grew up in Portland, but completed educations at the Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. William Edie later worked for Corbett, Failing & Co. David Robertson and John R. Foster operated the retail hardware store Foster & Robertson. In 1893, the two companies consolidated to form Corbett, Failing, and Robertson.

David Robertson married Hannah Hodges in 1884. He died seven years later without any children. William Edie Robertson married Sarah (Sadie) Adams Wood, who arrived in Portland in 1880 to visit family. They had six children: Thomas (1881-1924); Louise (died in infancy, 1884); Nan Wood (1885-1928); David (1888-1945); Mary Corbett (1891-1986); and John "Jack" Wood (1894-1956). Mary Corbett was the goddaughter of Henry Winslow Corbett, and never married. William Edie took his family on two trips around the world, first in 1907 and again from 1910 to 1912. The eldest son, Thomas Robertson, married Kathleen Burns in 1910. She was the great-granddaughter of Captain John Heard Couch.

Nan Wood Robertson, a popular Portland socialite, married George Atkinson Warren in 1914. George's father, Frank Manley Warren, died on the Titanic in 1912, after spending three months in Europe with his wife to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. His wife, Anna Sofia Bates Atkinson, survived the wreck. George and Nan had two sons, George Jr. (1917-1921), and William "Billy" Robertson (1923-1945). Billy, the only remaining son of Nan and George, was a radio technician on the USS Indianapolis, who later perished when the ship was sunk in 1945 by a torpedo.

Container(s) Description Dates
Subseries 5.1: Butler, Mary Couch (Robertson)
Box Folder
2 29
Photographs
circa 1918, 1957, undated
2 30
Correspondence
circa 1920, 1940-1946, 1986-1987, undated
3 1-3
College papers, Stanford University
circa 1933
3 4
Dream journal
1926-1932
3 5
Poetry book
circa 1940
3 6
Travel scrapbook with mother Kathleen (Burns) Robertson
1939
Subseries 5.2: Robertson, John Wood
Box Folder
3 7
Photographs
circa 1894-1910, undated
3 8
Correspondence
1914, 1947-1955
3 9
Bills
1930
3 10
Biographical information
1894-1919
3 11
Lawrence Academy
1915
3 12
Lewis and Clark Cenntennial Exposition materials
1905
3 13
London tickets
1908
3 14
Oregon motor vehicle documents
1941-1956
3 15
Passport
1919
3 16
Stocks
1924-1929
3 17
Tax verification
1929
Subseries 5.3: Robertson, Kathleen (Burns)
Box Folder
3 18
Photographs
circa 1881-1894, undated
4 1
Photographs, Burns and Wilson family album
1899-1900
4 2
Photographs, Miss Porter's School album
1900-1902
4 3
Correspondence
1890-1914, 1929-1947, undated
4 4
American Red Cross certification
1917
4 5
Art travel diary
1901
5 1
Bills
1911-1919
5 2-3
Diary
1904
5 4
Estate of Thomas Robertson paperwork
1924-1925
5 5
Joke book
undated
5 6
Portland Art Association membership
1933
5 7
Postcards received during Robertson family world trip
1911-1912
5 8
Sixtieth birthday tribute
1941
5 9
Travel book
1926
Subseries 5.4: Robertson, Mary Corbett (1891-1986)
Box Folder
6 1
Photographs
1892, undated
6 2
Correspondence
1905-1950, 1981, undated
6 3
Voter registration
1950
Subseries 5.5: Robertson, Mary Freeland (Corbett)
Box Folder
Photographs
circa 1824, undated
6 5
Correspondence
1868-1869
6 6
Correspondence with Caroline E. (Jagger) Corbett, transcribed circa 1996
1855-1864
18 4
Passport
1911
Subseries 5.6: Robertson, Sarah Adams (Wood)
Box Folder
6 7
Photographs
circa 1860, 1881, undated
6 8
Correspondence
1869-1872, 1905-1907
6 9
Marriage
1881
Subseries 5.7: Robertson, Thomas (1817-1900)
Box Folder
6 10
Photographs
1860, undated
6 11
Correspondence
1866-1871, 1880
6 12
Correspondence, transcribed circa 1996
1841-1842, 1862, 1895-1894
6 13
Appointment to Sergeant, New York militia
1839-1845
6 14
Obituary in Church Life publication
1901
6 15
Vital information
circa 1900
Subseries 5.8: Robertson, Thomas (1881-1924)
Box Folder
6 16-17
Photographs
1882-1906, undated
7 1
Correspondence
1907
7 2
Bills
1911, 1918
7 3
Birthday date book
1893
7 4
Lewis and Clark Centennial tickets
1905
7 5
Paris clothing
1919
7 6
Travel diary
1906-1907
7 7
Postcards received during Robertson world trip
1911-1912
Subseries 5.9: Robertson, William Edie
Box Folder
7 8
Photographs
undated
7 9
Correspondence
1887, 1904-1915
7 10
Appraisal report and commentary on estate
1945
7 11
Autograph book
1870
7 12
Commencement speech
1871 July 20
7 13
Diary
1877
7 14
Letter of credit
1911
7 15
Letter to Oregonian
1930 May 29
7 16
Lewis and Clark Centennial tickets
1905
7 17
Mayoral run
1898
18 5
Passport
1911
7 18
S.S Siberia stateroom, Pacific Mail
undated
Subseries 5.10: Warren, Nan Wood (Robertson)
Box Folder
8 1
Photographs
circa 1887-1928
8 2
Photographs, Japan trip with sister Mary
circa 1911
8 3
Correspondence
1914-1918
8 4
Diary
1907
8 5
Marriage announcement to George Warren
1914
8 6
Sons and Daughters of Oregon Pioneers certificate
1906
Subseries 5.11: Other individuals
Box Folder
8 7
Barrow, Margaret Kathleen (Lowry), photographs
1963
8 8
Butler, Scott, photographs
1951-1968
8 9
Butler, group family photographs
1949-1956
8 10
Cairo, Mary Caroline (Butler), photographs
1944, 1960
8 11
Lowry, Kathleen Louise (Butler), photographs
1942
8 12
Perrot, Nan Robertson (Butler), photographs
1954, undated
8 13
Robertson, David (1856-1891), photographs
undated
8 14
Robertson, David (1856-1891), death
1891
8 15
Robertson, David (1888-1945), photographs
1889, undated
8 16
Robertson, David (1888-1945). correspondence
1938
8 17
Robertson, Emma Louise, photographs
1883-1884
8 18
Robertson, Hannah Bell (Hodges), photographs
undated
8 19
Robertson, Hilda (Gleaves), photographs
undated
9 1
Robertson, Thomas Burns, photographs
1913, 1942, undated
9 2
Robertson, Thomas Burns, wedding announcement
1946
9 3
Warren, George Atkinson, photographs
1907, undated
9 4
Warren Jr., George Atkinson, photographs
circa 1917-1921
9 5
Warren Jr., George Atkinson, family memorabilia
circa 1917-1921
9 6
Warren Jr., George Atkinson, funeral service
circa 1917-1921
9 7-8
Warren, William Robertson, photographs
1923-1928, undated
9 9
Warren, William Robertson, death on U.S.S. Indianapolis
1945
9 10
Warren, William Robertson, family memorabilia
1923-1936
Subseries 5.12: Robertson photographs, general
Box Folder
Albums
1900-1948, 1957, undated
17
Albums, Thomas Burns Robertson and Mary Couch (Robertson) Butler, childhood
1912-1927
Folder
11 4
Houses
undated
11 5-6
Group family
1891-1893, undated
12 1-2
Group family world trip
circa 1912
Box Folder
12 3-4
General correspondence, 1990 transcription of letters
1824-1900
12 5
Family history, general
1979, 1988, undated

Series 6:  Wood family papers, circa 1786-1979Return to Top

In 1880 Sarah "Sadie" Adams Wood arrived in Portland to visit her aunt and uncle, Amanda and Simeon Reed (founders of Reed College). In 1881, she married William Edie Robertson, the son of Mary Freeland Corbett and Thomas Robertson. While little is known of this branch of the Wood and Adams family, Sarah Adams Wood was originally from Quincy, Massachusetts, and was a member of several early families from that area.

Container(s) Description Dates
Subseries 6.1: Wood, Abigail Baxter
Box Folder
12 6
Photographs
undated
12 7
Correspondence
1923-1925, undated
12 8
Childhood mementos
circa 1856-1866
12 9
Last will and testament of Annie Wild Wood
1924
12 10
Quincy article
1944
12 11
Shipment from Quincy to Portland
1924
Subseries 6.2: Wood, John Henry
Box Folder
12 12
Photographs
circa 1880-1890, undated
12 13
Correspondence
1897, undated
12 14
Funeral service
1928
12 15
Lewis and Clark Centennial tickets
1905
Subseries 6.3: Other individuals
Box Folder
12 16
Adams, family history
1939-1940, undated
12 17
Baxter, Abigail (1812-1879), photographs
undated
Baxter, Daniel, photographs
undated
12 19
Baxter, family photographs
undated
12 20
Baxter, family history
circa 1779-1800, 1979, undated
12 21
Chamberlin, Anna Adams, photographs
1887, undated
13 1
Reed, Amanda (Wood), photographs
circa 1850, undated
13 2
Reed, Amanda (Wood), inventory of jewelry, furs, and feather boa
undated
13 3
Reed, Simeon Gannett, photographs
undated
13 4
Reed, Simeon Gannet, correspondence
1880
13 5
Wood, Abigail (daughter of John Henry Wood and Elizabeth Ohle Wood), photographs
undated
Wood, Annie Wild (Baxter), photographs
undated
13 7
Wood, Annie Wild (Baxter), death
1924
13 8
Wood, Becky Biddle, birthday party invitation
1948
13 9
Wood, Carrie Baxter, photographs
undated
13 10
Wood, Charles Erskine Scott, Los Gatos property sale
undated
13 11
Wood, Charles Erskine Scott, testament
1921
13 12
Wood, Elizabeth (Ohle), photographs
undated
Wood, John Adams, photographs
1865, undated
13 14
Wood, William, photographs
undated
Box Folder
13 15
Wood, family group photographs
undated
13 16
Wood, photographs, home in Quincy Massachusetts
undated
13 17
Wood, autograph book
1872-1876
13 18
Wood, family history
1897, 1979, undated
13 19
Wood, family registers
1786-1938
13 20
Wood, old Quincy documents
1814-1896

Series 7:  Miscellaneous, old Portland familiesReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
13 21
History
1919-1921, 1947, 1979-1989, undated
14 9-18
Unidentified daguerreotype photographs
undated
18 6
Old Portland family tree
undated

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Families--Oregon--Portland
  • Hardware stores--Oregon--Portland
  • Merchants--Oregon--Portland
  • Social networks--Oregon--Portland
  • Personal Names :
  • Corbett, Emma, 1846-1936
  • Couch, Caroline Elizabeth, 1811-1870
  • Couch, John Heard, 1811-1870
  • Failing, Henry, 1834-1898
  • Reed, Simeon Gannett, 1830-1895
  • Robertson, David, 1888-1945
  • Robertson, Mary Freeland, 1822-1879
  • Robertson, Sarah Adams, 1858-1938
  • Warren, William Robertson, 1923-1945
  • Wilson, Caroline Elizabeth, 1833-1917
  • Wilson, Robert Bruce, 1828-1887
  • Corporate Names :
  • Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition (1905 : Portland, Or.)
  • Geographical Names :
  • Oregon Territory--History
  • Portland (Or.)--History
  • Other Creators :
    • Personal Names :
    • Burns, Mary Caroline, 1857-1950 (creator)
    • Burns, Walter John, 1855-1947 (creator)
    • Butler, Mary Couch, 1915-2008 (creator)
    • Corbett, Henry W. (Henry Winslow), 1827-1903 (creator)
    • Failing, Emily Phelps, 1836-1870 (creator)
    • Hull, Ma'Carry Webster (creator)
    • Robertson, Jack Wood, 1894-1956 (creator)
    • Robertson, Kathleen, 1881-1970 (creator)
    • Robertson, Mary Corbett, 1891-1986 (creator)
    • Robertson, Thomas, 1817-1900 (creator)
    • Robertson, Thomas, 1881-1924 (creator)
    • Robertson, William Edie, 1854-1939 (creator)
    • Warren, Nan Wood, 1885-1928 (creator)