Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute
John H. Robinson was born reportedly into slavery in Gloucester County and was the son of Edmund Robinson and Cornelia (or Cordelia) Robinson. His middle name may have been Hannibal, which evidently was the middle name of his son who was known as John H. Robinson Jr. In 1876, Robinson graduated from Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (later Hampton University). He taught school for four terms in Surry County, for one each in Prince George County and in Middlesex County, and thereafter in Elizabeth City County until the first decade of the twentieth century. Of the more than 450 students he taught between 1876 and 1893, about 22 became teachers. Robinson practiced law and, according to an obituary, was admitted to the bar in 1881. On December 25 of that year, while he was teaching in Prince George County, he married Margaret, or Maggie, Taylor. They had ten children of whom two daughters and two sons lived to adulthood. Their eldest-surviving son graduated from the medical school of Howard University, in Washington, D.C., and practiced medicine in Hampton’s Whittaker Memorial Hospital.
In the 1880s Robinson bought property and lived in Hampton, and in November 1887 he defeated two candidates to win election to a two-year term in the House of Delegates to represent the district comprising the counties of Elizabeth City, James City, Warwick, and York, and the city of Williamsburg. He received a majority of the votes in each of the five jurisdictions, and his total of 2,462 was almost two-thirds of all the votes cast. Sometime during the 1887–1888 session of the General Assembly, he posed with seven other nineteenth-century African American members of the General Assembly. Robinson was assigned the lowest-ranking seat on the Committee on Banks, Currency, and Commerce and the next-to-the-lowest-ranking seat on the Committee on the Chesapeake and Its Tributaries. Perhaps because Robinson continued to teach during the winter term, he was absent on December 20, 1887, when the assembly elected Democrat John Strode Barbour (1820–1892) to the . Early in January, Robinson stated for the record that had he been present, he would have voted for Republican . Robinson introduced bills that passed to incorporate the Newport News Cemetery Company (later Greenlawn Memorial Park) and to authorize a referendum in Warwick County about moving the county courthouse to Newport News. He introduced bills that did not pass to prohibit the use of long-handled oyster tongs in the James River, to authorize construction of a bridge over the northwest branch of the Hampton River, and for the relief of three former public school teachers in Elizabeth City County. Robinson did not run for reelection in 1889. He remained active in the local for more than twenty years and often presided over county conventions early in the twentieth century.in one of the few known group portraits of
Robinson retired from teaching about 1917 and worked as a bookkeeper in a local bank, possibly People’s Building and Loan Association, for which he may have been an attorney. He was also a director of the Galilean Fishermen’s Bank in Hampton. He sold life insurance, first for the Richmond Beneficial Insurance Company and at the time of his death for the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. He was an active member of the Queen Street Baptist Church in Hampton, a leader of the local Elks and Masonic lodges, and at the time of his death president of the Hampton Civic League. Robinson died of pneumonia in his home in Hampton on December 6, 1932, and was buried in Phillips Cemetery (later Pleasant Cemetery) in that city. His family caused the inscription on his gravestone to read, “Hon. John H. Robinson 1857–Dec. 6, 1932 Va. House of Delegates 1887–1888.”