Thomas Richardson Robinson was born in 1761 and raised in a wealthy Quaker family in Newport, R.I. At the time of the American Revolution, he was a young man who shunned the violence of conflict because of deeply held religious convictions.
In 1793, after marrying Jemima Fish Robinson, Thomas moved the family to the wilds and freedom of northern New England-to a new state called Vermont. There the Robinsons homesteaded the land and created a legacy that has been carefully and lovingly preserved.
Although his mortal life ended in 1851, the living face of Thomas Richardson Robinson-photographed near the end of his life-eerily pierces the veil of time to provide 21st-century viewers with a glimpse of what a genuine Vermont pioneer really looked like.
According to Jane Williamson, director of the Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh, a newly restored daguerreotype probably taken of Richardson Robinson in the late 1840s, reveals the detailed face of the man long obscured by image "foxing".
Daguerrotypes are the most fragile of photographic media. The first image of this type appeared in 1827.
According to daguerreotype restorer Michel Vieil, "The daguerreian image is inscribed on a thin plate in copper which has been covered of a silver layer, then polished such as a mirror before being sensitized according to the process described by inventor Louis-Jacques-Mand Daguerre.
"Very often, the replacement and resealing of a dag cover glass are enough to stop the causes of the progressive deterioration of a daguerreotype," Vieil said." In addition, the general cleaning of the dag that is done at the same time, adds to a spectacular improvement of its look."
"Daguerreotype images are so sharp," Williamson reports. "You can really look into Thomas's eyes-especially now that all the muck has been cleaned off! I almost expect to hear him speak."
According to museum sources, Thomas and Jemima Robinson moved their young family to the wilds of Ferrisburgh in 1793 and purchased the property that would be home to descendants well into the 20th century. "Thomas opened saw and grist mills on the Lewis Creek and in 1810 purchased some of the first Merino sheep to be imported into the United States, setting Rokeby on the path to distinction as one of the largest sheep farms in the region."
Rokeby would also become famous during the years leading up to the Civil War. Rowland Thomas and Rachel Gilpin Robinson were devout Quakers and radical abolitionists, according to the museum. They sheltered fugitive slaves at the Addison County farm during the the 1830s and 1840s.
Williamson revealed the "before and after" daguerreotype of Thomas Richardson Robinson. The 19th-century image of the patriarch of the Rokeby Robinsons "is amazing," she said.
"Conservation of the image was funded by an American Heritage Preservation Grant offered through the Institute for Museum and Library Services in a joint effort with the Bank of America Foundation," Williamson noted.