|William Drew Robeson I|
July 27, 1844|
Martin County, North Carolina
|Died||May 17, 1918
Somerville, New Jersey
|Maria Louisa Bustill|
|Parent(s)||Benjamin Robeson (1820-c1889)
William Drew Robeson I (July 27, 1844 - May 17, 1918) was the father of Paul Robeson and the minister of Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church in Princeton, New Jersey from 1880 to 1901. The Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church had been built for its black members by the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton.
He was born into slavery as William Drew Robeson in 1844 to Benjamin Robeson (1820-c1889) and Sabra (1825-c. 1885). They were enslaved on the Robersonplantation near Cross Road Township and Raleigh, Martin County, North Carolina. Cross Road Township is near Raleigh, North Carolina. He was a descendant of the Igbo people.
While a student at Lincoln University he met Maria Louisa Bustill and they married in 1878. They had seven children: Gertrude (who died young), William Drew Jr., called "Bill"; John Bunyan Reeve called "Reed"; Benjamin; Marian; and Paul LeRoy Robeson (1898-1976), the youngest. Another child died at birth, but the name is not known.
Robeson served as minister of the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church in Princeton, New Jersey from 1880 until 1901. It was built for the black members of the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton (now known as Nassau Presbyterian Church).
Robeson was ousted as minister by his church after 20 years of service. He was said to have aligned himself "on the wrong side of a church fight," having refused to bow to pressure from the "white residents of Princeton" that he cease to "speak out against social injustice." Upon his dismissal, Reverend William Drew Robeson bypassed any need "to recriminate and rebuke ... As I review the past," he said, "and think upon many scenes, my heart is filled with love." In closing his last address to his Princeton congregation, he implored them, "Do not be discouraged, do not think your past work is in vain."
He moved to Westfield, New Jersey to be the pastor of the Downer Street Saint Luke African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church from 1907 to 1910. He led the congregation through construction of their church, completed in 1908. The younger children attended the Washington School at Elm and Orchard streets. The Robesons lived on the south side of Spring Street, where it intersects with Rahway Avenue. The street is now called Watterson Street, and the house was taken down.
Robeson died on May 17, 1918. He was buried in Princeton Cemetery next to his wife.
William Drew Robeson was father of performer and activist Paul Robeson. In 1860, at age fifteen, the enslaved Drew Robeson made his escape to Pennsylvania from North Carolina to serve as a laborer for the Union Army. Robeson went on to receive an A.B. in 1873 and a Bachelor of Sacred Theology degree in 1876 from Lincoln University. In Princeton, he served as pastor from 1880-1901 at the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church.
William Drew Robeson served as pastor at the Church of the Covenant from 1878 to 1880 before moving to Princeton, New Jersey, where he preached at the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church ...
A wealthy white Presbyterian church had built Witherspoon for its black members after having accommodated them in balcony seats for decades. But ultimate control remained with the white authorities, and one day they took William Drew's pastorate from him on a spurious pretext.
In the time of [the First Presbyterian Church] sanctuary construction, ninety African-American members worshiped separately. After the church was built, there continued a separation that led to the formation of Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church in 1846.
William Drew Robeson, a former slave who had become a clergyman, and Maria Louisa Bustill Robeson, who died in a fire when Paul was 6.
In 1860, when he was 15, William Drew Robeson escaped slavery in North Carolina. ...
Louisa, in ill health and nearly blind, was set alight when a coal from the stove fell on her long dress and she failed to notice. Mortally burned, she died several days later.