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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture


Educator and missionary William Schenck Robertson was born on January 11, 1820, in Huntington, New York, to Rev. Samuel Robertson, a Presbyterian minister (his mother's name is unknown). Receiving a master's degree in 1843 from Union College in Schenectady, William Robertson became interested in teaching. He taught in various schools in New York state before deciding to work for the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, which sent him to the Creek (Mvskoke) in the Indian Territory in summer 1849. There he taught at Tullahassee Manual Labor Boarding School. He soon met Ann Eliza Worcester, daughter of Rev. Samuel A. Worcester of Dwight Mission and Park Hill Mission, and married her on April 16, 1850. She, too, became a teacher and, like her husband, a translator. Ann Eliza and William Robertson became the primary agents by which the Creek language was placed into printed and oral religious educational materials for native speakers. Assisted by David Winslett, a Creek, he prepared various Creek-language materials for the use at the school. These included First Reader in 1856 and Second Reader in 1871.

Robertson took his family out of the territory during the Civil War, but before he returned at war's end, he prepared himself for the ministry and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church. The family returned to Tullahassee to reopen it in 1868. In later years he edited a Creek-English bilingual newspaper, Our Monthly. Along with instructing his students in agricultural practices, he also doctored the sick. In addition to his mission duties he served on the board of the Indian International Fair and corresponded with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on agricultural pests that he collected for study.

William S. Robertson died on June 16, 1881, and was survived by his wife and four children; all of them had worked at the mission and school. In the 1920s his second daughter, Alice Mary Robertson, was elected to serve as Oklahoma's first woman U.S. representative. His son, Samuel Worcester Robertson, followed his father into the teaching profession.

Dianna Everett

Learn More

Althea Bass, "William Schenck Robertson," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 37 (Spring 1959).

Grant Foreman, "The Hon. Alice M. Robertson," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 10 (March 1932).

Arlene B. Hirschfelder, Encyclopedia of Native American Religions (Rev. ed.; New York: Facts on File, 2000).

Martin Wenger, "Samuel Worcester Robertson," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 37 (Spring 1959).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Dianna Everett, “Robertson, William Schenck,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=RO007.

Published January 15, 2010

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