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The Robb Sept - A Family From Scotland to Kansas

I am not a MacFarlane, but I am a Robb, which is noted to be a sept of the MacFarlane clan. So it is with pleasure that I offer you my family’s story, that I know to date.  Perhaps your family is a Robb.  We'd love to hear from you! 

The first history we ever had of the Robbs comes from a book entitled: “The Life and Times of Robert Robb, Esq.” The book was written by John F. Meginness. Mr. Meginness was writing about my family in 1899, but his facts came from a grandson of Robert Robb. A good friend and archivist for the city of Portland, Oregon, reminds us of the tons of “Shanghai history” that is formed from romantic ideas of those that follow us in time. Mr. Meginness’ book appears to be relatively factual, but one wonders. With that as a backdrop, here is what we know.

John Robb was Scot-Irish. We believe he came from Ireland out of the Ulster Plantations, but like so many, we cannot prove this yet. I’ve completed the ftDNA testing for Robbs and found matches, but through note-sharing with other Robbs, we are starting to see a pattern of Robbs coming from County Down, Ireland or from Aberdeenshire, Scotland. We don’t know which one I come from, but sooner or later, all the Robbs came from Scotland.

John Robb shows up on the tax records for Pennsylvania in 1751, and through guesswork from several researchers, we believe he was born about 1695 and died before 21 Jun 1762 in Cumberland County, PA. Research believes his wife was a Mary McKnight—all deduced from wills.

John had 4 sons: James, Robert (from whom I am descended), John and David.

Robert was born 11 Sep 1727 in Sadsbury Township, Lancaster County, PA and married Susannah Flemming. He died in Muncy Township, Lycoming County, PA 10 Sep 1814. We have looked for his headstone, but the cemetery where it might be found was washed out from a flood, so we aren’t certain where he might be resting.

Robert had 3 sons: John, James (from whom I am descended) and William

James was born 15 Mar 1775 in Muncy Township, Lycoming County, PA and married Mary Smith. He died 5 March 1857. During a recent trip through Pennsylvania, we decided that we just had to stop in Lycoming County to see if we could find any information about my family. We stopped by the history center for Lycoming County and met some wonderful people. All we had to say was that I was related to the Robbs, and they broke out books galore and started searching for information. Our goldmine was the cemetery records that revealed the burial location of my family. This included James and his wife Mary.

They also had local books written by historians about the family. Unfortunately, a recent publication told the story that my great-great grandfather and his brother had relocated to Kansas, but neither of them had children. That was a shocker! Again, “shangai history” was rearing its ugly face. The author meant well, but when they couldn’t figure the truth, they just created their own truth. So researchers beware! Don’t believe everything you read in story. Look for the records!

We headed to the local old cemetery and set about trying to find the sextant. There was no one there, so we decided to head into the cemetery to try our luck in finding the Robbs. Angels must have been on our side. There were well over 4000 headstones, but pretty soon we found a large headstone with the name “Robb” engraved on it.

We found James and his wife Mary, and then our luck continued.

James had several children, and his son Nathaniel, was my G-G grandfather. He was born 15 April 1819 in Muncy Township, and died at the age of 44. His death was noted as 29 Jul 1863. I wondered if he had died in the Civil War, but just could not find anything about him. Finally, the internet revealed some information that suggested that he had participated in the Civil War. He was part of a large group of volunteers who had marched to the battles preceding Gettysburg. We found his marker and his wife’s, Elizabeth Updegraf Thompson, but there was nothing on his plain headstone to indicate that he had died in the war. In speaking with another Robb researcher, John Barrett Robb, we were told that many of the soldiers became ill. They would go home and often die from their illness months later. We think this might have happened to Nathaniel, but it will take another trip to Muncy to see if we can find out for certain.

When Nathaniel died, he left 4 small children at home: James, John Thompson (my G-Grandfather), and two sisters. James and John Thompson became part of the history of Kansas, and particularly in settling the area near Topeka, Kansas.

James and John Thompson’s mother had a brother who had formed a small corporation for the purpose of heading west to Kansas and setting up a new community. At the time, the Robbs were living in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. When the community was set up in Kansas, it was appropriately named, Williamsport, Kansas.

James and John Thompson followed their uncle several years later. They got into the cattle business and became some of the first cattle barons in the Eastern Kansas area.


John Thompson was born 13 Nov 1856 in Muncy Township, Lycoming, Pa and died 31 Oct 1930. He was married to Sarah Crow and they had one son, Arthur Francis Robb.

Arthur Francis Robb was born 12 Feb 1888 in Wakarusa, KS and died 12 Sep 1974 in Topeka, KS. Arthur married Sarah A. Baxter. Sarah was part of a missionary family that worked with the Native Indians in the area. Arthur continued to work with cattle with his father John Thompson until the market fell in 1929. At one point, the family had owned and leased thousands of acres. But with the depression and the mounting debts, the family chose to sell off land to pay off the debt.

Arthur Francis Robb and Sarah had 3 sons: John, Arthur Dana (my father), and Ronald.

Arthur Dana Robb was born in 1920 and continued the work that his father and grandfather had started with a farm in Wakarusa, Kansas. Arthur chose to raise quarter horses instead of cattle and augmented the family income by working with Laird Noller Ford. My father was fortunate enough to receive some of the family heirlooms that had been passed down through several generations. This includes a rocking chair that we believe came from “across the pond.” Some day we’ll take it to the Antiques Road Show to see what we can find out about it.

If you are a Robb, you should look at John Barrett Robb’s work, which you can find at:

He has extensive research on numerous Robb families that have come to America from Scotland and via the Ulster Plantations.

Also, please join us at FTDNA. If you haven’t tested, jump in. It is quick, easy and the information is mind blowing. My haplogroup is I2b1. According to one of our genealogists, Mary Helen Haines, the Robbs are an ancient civilization, or as my wife says “knuckle-draggers.” The Robbs existed prior to Stonehenge. Now THAT is amazing!


Steve Robb                                                                                  John Thompson Robb, John Robb, Arthur Francis Robb, and my father Arthur Dana Robb in the front and center