Friday, December 20, 2013


Surfing the Internet one day I happened upon the following photograph of a drummer boy from the Union Army during the Civil War:

It is titled "Portrait of John F.P. Robie".  The writeup mentioned that he was buried in Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago so I thought this would be an interesting subject for this blog - and I was right.

John Freeman Parker Robie was born February 23, 1848 in Candia, New Hampshire to Nathaniel D. Robie (1818-????) and Ruth Jane nee Moore (1816-1895).  John had two brothers:  George Frank Robey (1844-1891) and Walter Shedd Robie (1851-1933).  Their father Nathaniel Robey was a blacksmith.  An interesting side note:  John's brother George was a Civil War Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient for "extreme gallantry in the face of the enemy."

John F.P. Robie enlisted in Company F, New Hampshire 8th Infantry Regiment on October 1, 1861 as a musician.  He was thirteen years old.  His term was up and he reenlisted on January 4, 1864.  In addition to helping soldiers march in rhythm, drummer boys like Robie used various drum calls to send messages and signals to the troops.  The drummer boys also assisted in taking charge of and burying the dead.

The Civil War ended in May-June, 1865 and John mustered out on October 28, 1865 at Vicksburg, Mississippi.  He was just short of his eighteenth birtrhday.

By 1869 John had moved north again, this time to Boston.  The Boston Directory for 1869 shows John as a clerk at 228 Broadway in Boston.  It was here that John met Charles Louis Willoughby who had started The Boston One Price Clothing Company.  John decided to go to work for Willoughby and in 1870 had moved with the company (now called Willoughby, Hill & Co.) to Chicago where they set up shop at Clark and Madison Streets.

Robie's business still required him to travel frequently to the east coast.  During one of these trips he became acquainted with Miss Marian Hosley of Canton, New York.  Robie made sure he got back to Canton frequently, and in 1883 John Robie and Marian Hosley were married.  The new Mrs. Robie returned with her husband to Chicago where they made their home.

Marian Hosley was born in Canton, New York on October 8, 1847.  She was the daughter of local farmer Henry Hosley (1820-1888) and Esther, nee Johnson (1827-1911).

In 1884 John Robie and his partner Ferson M. Willoughby struck out on their own, calling their business Willoughby & Robie.

In 1887, John Robie's luck began to run out.  The first event on the downward slide was a fire which almost wiped out Willoughby and Robie in 1887.  Here's an account of the fire from the Chicago Daily Tribune of October 28, 1887:

Robie's bad luck continued when his partner, Ferson M. Willoughby died suddenly on October 22, 1888. By 1891 John Robie called his firm Robie & Company.  The 1890s were difficult years for Robie and Company - the last time they were listed in the Chicago Business Directory was 1897.

1900 was the year that John F.P. Robie's world fell apart.  Robie & Co. had gone out of business but creditors were demanding payment on outstanding bills.  With nowhere else to turn, John Robie and his wife filed for bankruptcy on February 17, 1900.  John listed Liabilities of $9,900 and Assets of $0.  Marian listed Liabilities of $3,000 and Assets of $0.

By the 1900 U.S. Census which was taken June 6, 1900, John and his wife had moved out of their residence downtown at 298 W. Erie, to the south side at 4132 S. Calumet Avenue in Chicago. Unfortunately all that is at 4132 S. Calumet today is a vacant lot.  John told the Census taker that he was a "travelling salesman".

Marian Hosley Robie died September 26, 1900 at the age of 52.  She was buried in the Hosley Family Plot at Fairview Cemetery in Canton, New York:

Photo courtesy Anne Cady.

John Robie died August 19, 1917 in Alexian Brothers Hospital in Chicago of a cerebral hemorrhage.

 He was 69 years old.

Here's his death notice from the Chicago Daily Tribune of August 20, 1917:

I don't imagine there was any money to ship his body back east; in any case he was buried in Section 117 of Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago. His tombstone indicates that he was part of the Grand Army of the Republic - a national organization of Union Civil War Veterans.

That's the story of John F.P. Robie.  From a drummer boy in the Civil War to a noted Chicago clothier.  From being listed in the Chicago Blue Book to being named on a list of people who filed for bankruptcy.  Many of John's fellow soldiers in the Civil War were killed and never got to realize their potential in life.  John, however survived the war and lived a life that took him from the bottom to the top and back to the bottom again.  Remember the immortal words of that great philosopher Ralph Kramden who said, "Be nice to the people you meet on the way up, because you're going to meet the same people on the way back down."

John Freeman Parker Robie - our Little Drummer Boy.  May he rest in peace.


  1. Just a follow up question Jim... Where was the original Alexian Brothers Hospital in Chicago? Thanks

  2. There were actually several "original" Alexian Brothers Hospitals.
    1867: North Dearborn Avenue and Schiller Street (destroyed in Great Chicago Fire).
    1872: North Market and North Franklin
    1896: Belden and Racine Avenue