Robert James was the oldest of the nine children of James and Margaret Matilda Richardson. He was born in Box Iron, Maryland, a small town, not much more than cross roads, in a remote part of eastern Worcester County, Maryland. While details of his youth are few, it is remembered that they were a hard working farming family, poor by some standards but rich when measured as a close knit family and their faith in the church. His pious father, James, (nicknamed Jimmy Jesus) was a truck farmer who took crops to market by horse and wagon.
The Richardsons lived practically on the same tract of land where their ancestors lived 250 years before when they came from England to the New World. While many of his forbearers migrated to other parts of the country, Robert's family line remained and the way of life changed very little over the several hundred years until the railroad appeared in the mid to late 1800's.
When he turned eighteen, Robert enlisted in the Navy. It was the era of the Spanish American War and patriotism was running high. It was also an opportunity for a rural country boy to travel the world.
1899 was a time when industrialization was changing the face of our nation. Even rural Box Iron, Maryland was being touched by the changes. The Navy's wooden sailing ships were giving way to steam powered steel battleships. The railroad and other technological marvels had made travel accessible to the average person. It was an exciting time to be a young man ready for adventure
As a sailor in the U. S. Navy at the turn of the century, Robert kept a log of the ports that he visited, the Naval displays and the engagements he attended from enlisting on the US Receiving ship VERMONT, Oct. 14, 1899 until Sept. 1903.
From his log: "Enlisted on US Receiving Ship Vermont, Oct. 14, 1899
US Auxiliary cruiser Prairie Oct. 29, 1899 USRS Vermont NY yard Dec. 19, 1899 US Auxiliary cruiser Dixie Dec. 22, 1899 Supply Ship Glacier (Manila, PI) June 4, 1900 US Battle Ship Oregon (Hong Kong, China) June 20, 1900 US armored cruiser Brooklyn (Cavite, PI) April 3, 1901 USRS Wabash (Boston, Mass) Oct. 3, 1902 US Protected cruiser Olympia (New York) Oct. 21, 1902
He notes that the Brooklyn was in New York at the time and he took transportation to Boston via the Joy Line. He also described some of the naval displays and reviews.
"...the USS Brooklyn represented the US in the opening of the first Parliament in Australia and New Zealand in 1901."
"...USS Olympia ordered from Culebra USVI March 1903 to Purto Cortes, Honduras, Central America to liberate five American citizens and also to protect US interest while a revolution was going on in Honduras."
He was a bachelor as far as any family member remembers, but in his log there were names and addresses of two women from Philadelphia who still remain a mystery. Robert later moved to Salisbury and was listed in the Delmarva Peninsula Directory of 1908-9 as a "professor of boxing".
Robert traveled quite a bit after this and came home to Salisbury visit the family occasionally. In 1927 his address was listed as the American Hotel in Bethlehem, PA from a registered letter he sent his mother. Robert was living in Albuquerque, New Mexico in February of 1962 as per a letter to his brother Wood Richardson. He died in a Veterans hospital in Baltimore and is buried in Arlington Cemetery.
Carolyn Richardson McMurran remembers: "I found a letter dated Dec. 31, 1899, from Shanghai. He describes the New Years Eve fireworks in the harbor.
Bob had a pension from the Navy for his youthful service. My father did not approve of his "living off the government" at all for the rest of his life.
Uncle Bob (or Rob) was a character. I think my father didn't approve of his way of life. He had a way of suddenly appearing on one's doorstep out of nowhere. Once when I was living in an apartment in New York City and had an out-of-town couple visiting me, I answered the door and there was Uncle Rob. Don't know how he found me. I hadn't seen him (or to tell the truth thought of him) in years. This was around 1955. Actually, I guess it's characteristic of Eastern Shore people to appear without notice--and expect instant food. I recall my parents missed visits because they were away when relatives drove all the way from Salisbury without notice."
September, 1998 - research from collection of George Elwood Richardson, III