Energy on the Joseph Jr. and Benjamin Robinson Farms and the Lot 28 CSD, Prince County, Prince Edward Island, in 1861

By Joshua MacFadyen and Margot Maddison-MacFadyen

Figure 1a. Public Archives and Records Office, Charlottetown, PE (PARO-PEI), “Full Force” haying group, [between 1905 and ca. 1920], Acc2667/154, Milie Gamble Fonds. Helena Ives sits on the wheel of the hay rake machine holding Adelaide Ives on her lap. The photograph is assumed to have been taken in Tyron, Prince Edward Island, close to the farms owned by the Robinson families in this study.

The Joseph Robinson Jr. and Benjamin Robinson farms of Augustine Cove, Prince Edward Island, are an example of a Multi-family Mixed Farm in the Advanced Pioneer Stage. Born in Charlottetown, PE, Joseph Jr. (b. 1786/ d. 1874) was 75 years old in 1861, and he was the head of the Robinson “home farm,” the first of the two farms we are looking at for this Farm Energy Profile.[1] Joseph Jr.’s third eldest son Benjamin (b. 1816/d. 1881) was head of the second, less developed farm, which was located less than 2 kilometers to the north. Benjamin was 45 years old in 1861.[2] We suggest that the two farms which had a combined land base of 98 acres or 39.5 hectares were worked together as one agroecosystem.

The Robinson family arrived on Prince Edward Island in 1778 as British Empire Loyalists.[3] Joseph Jr.’s father Joseph Robinson Sr. had settled in New York in 1762 or 1763 after three years at sea with the Royal Navy. He married Mary Smith of New York. Loyal to Britain, the couple lost their land during the American War of Independence (1775-1783), and they sailed for Shelbourne, Nova Scotia, in 1777. Finding Shelbourne unsatisfactory, probably due to its rocky outcroppings and poor agricultural land, they sailed, with 25 other Loyalists, for Prince Edward Island the following year. Joseph Jr. married Phoebe Foy of Tryon, Prince Edward Island, in 1810. Phoebe’s parents John Foy and Mary Warren had also settled on Prince Edward Island as British Empire Loyalists.

Joseph Jr. and his wife Phoebe had a large family of nine, six boys and three girls.[4] His eldest son John had a farm in Lot 28 that appears on the 1863 “Lake Map,” and again on the 1880 “Meacham Atlas” map, as do both Joseph Jr.’s and Benjamin’s farms. John’s farm was 49 acres (20 ha), and although they likely shared resources we suggest it was too far (8 Km) from Joseph Jr.’s and Benjamin’s farms to be considered part of the same agroecosystem. The 1880 Meacham Map also informs us that Joseph Jr.’s farm was 62 acres (25 ha) and that his fifth son Thomas was head of this farm by 1880. The Meacham Map also shows us that by 1880 Joseph Jr.’s youngest son James had acquired a 50 acre (20 ha) parcel adjacent to Benjamin’s 36 acres (14.5 ha) as well as a 25 acre (10 ha) parcel on Traverse Road to the east, but still close by. Thus, by 1880, the agroecosytem had increased to 173 acres (70 ha) and supported three families. However, for the purpose of this farm energy profile, we are looking at the agroecosystem as it was in 1861.

In the 1861 Census of Canada, Joseph Robinson Jr. reported owning 60 acres (24 hectares) of arable (or improved) land, which the enumerator listed as “first quality.” Benjamin reported 10 acres (four hectares) of arable land, which was also “first quality.” In regard to Joseph Jr.’s farm, the two acre difference between the 60 acres reported on the 1861 census and the 62 acres reported on the Meacham Map is most likely the small woodlot along the northern edge of his parcel (see Figure 1b).

By examining the location and the combined land uses of the Robinson parcels in 1861, we see a deliberate site selection strategy. The brook that emptied into Cumberland Cove ran through Joseph Jr.’s land and extended up south facing sloped land to Benjamin’s 14.5 ha that was near the height of land between Richard Point and the upper Augustine River. Benjamin would have been able to survey the land below his 14.5 ha to his father’s house, and we suggest that this was where their livestock was wood pastured on what was for all intents and purposes common land. This meant that the Robinsons’ livestock ranged between the two parcels of Robinson land in the same watershed that centered on the Cumberland Cove brook. Wood pasturing was common practice across PEI in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the Richard Point watershed contained a variety of rich resources and shelter for livestock. From marshland grass in Cumberland Cove to the brooks and forests in the upland commons, the ruminant-intensive Robinson farms used the natural resources of the Richard Point watershed to supplement their cultivated fodder and grain feeds.

The Robinsons benefited from marshland hay in the Cumberland Cove tidal estuary. Joseph Jr’s 25 ha parcel had about five acres (2 ha) of land surrounding the mouth of the Cumberland Cove brook that likely produced marshland hay. Known locally as broadleaf hay, Spartina pectiñata is a rich naturally occurring resource that farmers used for fodder. In Atlantic Canada Acadians and later settlers cultivated and expanded marshland hay production by constructing dikes and aboiteaux, although there is no evidence that any existed on Joseph Robinson’s farm. Although the 1861 Census of Canada did not collect data on marshes or broadleaf hay, we know that Island farmers made good use of it, getting approximately 2.5 tons of broadleaf hay per acre of marshland. Therefore, the Robinsons had about 12.5 tons of broadleaf hay in addition to the upland hay (or English hay) that they reported in the census and that we calculated in the farm energy flows, below.

We also suggest that the Robinsons made good use of mussel mud, a highly calcareous soil treatment that farmers dug from the ancient deposits of large oyster beds in the estuaries and bays of Prince Edward Island. In winter, when the estuary ice was thick enough to bear the weight of horses, carts, and mussel mud equipment, farmers installed a mussel mud digger and began to haul the mud they excavated to their fields where they spread it.[5] Farmers also stored the mud above the high tide mark, moving it to their farms in late summer before harvest and in winter by sleigh.

Including themselves, Joseph Jr.’s family had eight members, and Benjamin’s had five.[6] There was ample adult labour to manage and work the two farms’ combined 98 acres (39.5 ha). Moreover, Benjamin’s woodland would supply not only his own, but also his father Joseph Jr.’s firewood demands, as well as other necessary forest products such as poles for fencing.

Figure 1b. A map of the Joseph Jr. (see Thomas Robinson) and Benjamin Robinson properties (mapped in green). Joseph Jr.’s second youngest son Thomas inherited the home farm, and his youngest son James W. Robinson acquired the two additional parcels of land (mapped in brown) after the 1863 Lake, but before the 1880 Meacham, maps were drawn. Note how the Robinsons made use of the small watershed that centered on the brook emptying into Cumberland Cove. From the height of the land above, Benjamin and James W were able to survey the land below that ran to the home farm in the Cumberland Cove Valley below (note the houses visible on each property between the 22 and 24 m contour lines). The Robinson livestock were wood pastured on the land between the two farms that was for all intents and purposes used as common land. The base map is a mosaic of 1935 aerial photographs, supplied courtesy of the PEI Forests, Fish and Wildlife, Resource Inventory and Modelling Division.

Figure 1c: By the 1930s, the upland Robinson farms were most likely abandoned, although James W Robinson’s 50-acre parcel (see Figure 1b) was still owned by his son A. J. Robinson according to the 1928 Cummins Atlas. This aerial photograph shows the location of the Benjamin (in green) and James W Robinson (in brown) farm houses. Source: Photo 5247-45. Used courtesy of the PEI Forests, Fish and Wildlife, Resource Inventory and Modelling Division.

Figure 1d. A clip of the “Lake Map,” showing the Augustine Cove and Cumberland Cove areas. D. J. Lake, C. E. Topographical Map of Prince Edward Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence from actual surveys and the late Coast Survey of Capt. H.W. Bayfield. 100 rods to the inch. 1863. Robertson Library, Prince Edward Island,

Figure 1e. A clip of the 1880 “Meacham’s Atlas,” showing the Augustine Cove and Cumberland Cove areas.  From “Plan of Lot Twenty Eight: Prince Co., P.E.I.” Illustrated historical atlas of the province of Prince Edward Island: From surveys made under the direction of C. R. Allen, C.E. 40 chains to one inch. Toronto: J. H. Meacham & Co., 1880. Robertson Library, University of Prince Edward Island,

Figure 1f. Google Map.

Farm Energy Funds

Farm energy funds are components of the agroecosystem that persist over time, such as livestock herds, buildings, and farmland (including cropland, pasture, woodland and salt marshes). The farm energy profiles visualize the land funds in a nested-tree chart that is divided into three main columns. The first column is crops, the second column is fodder and pasture, and the third column is wildland—the woodland and salt marshland.

Joseph Robinson Jr.’s home farm (the 25 ha parcel) was approximately 97 percent cleared in 1861, and it was intensively farmed. It was smaller than the average farm in the Lot 28 CSD which was 39.5 ha. Benjamin’s less developed land was 27 percent improved, with the remaining 73 percent in woodland which included a very small portion in buildings and lanes. However, when Joseph Jr.’s land was combined with Benjamin’s 14.5 ha, the land base was exactly that of the average farm in the CSD, 39.5 ha. Of course, the Robinsons’ combined 39.5 ha supported two families comprising 13 individuals ranging from children to elderly individuals including Joseph Jr. and Phoebe. Probably, the Robinson family’s 39.5 ha was supporting more individuals than was the average farm in the CSD.

The Robinsons’ combined 39.5 ha was more developed than the average farm in the Lot 28 CSD. The Robinsons’ land was 70 percent improved, 29 percent in woodland, and one percent in buildings and lanes. Of the improved land, 18.4 ha was in cropland (including 2.2 ha in potatoes), and 9.5 ha was in fodder (2.7 ha in hay and 6.8 ha in pasture). The Robinson farm’s woodland was 11 ha. In contrast, the average farm in the CSD, although the same size as the Robinsons’ farm, was only 50 percent improved, with 49 percent in woodland, and one percent in buildings and lanes. Of the improved land, 12.9 ha was in crops (including .7 ha in potatoes), and  6.9 ha was in fodder (2.1 ha in hay and 4.8 ha in pasture). The average farm’s woodland was 19.6 ha. The average farm in the CSD had less crop land, less fodder land, but more woodland and other wildland than did the Robinsons’ farm.

The Robinsons kept horses, dairy cows, other horned cattle, sheep, and swine, which are the same livestock types reported for the Lot 28 CSD. However, the Robinson family had more of all types of livestock than did the average farm, and they had a noticeably greater emphasis on cattle, both milk cows and other horned cattle, than did the average farm. The Robinsons’ livestock intensity was 37.3 LU/kms and their grazing intensity was 1.67 ruminants per ha. For the Lot 28 CSD it was lower at 22.6 LU/km2 and 1.38 ruminants per ha. These livestock and grazing intensities for the Robinson farm are among the highest we have seen.

Figure 2a. Area Visualization of Joseph Jr. Robinson and Benjamin Robinson’s 39.5 ha farm. Note that the crop land is the largest block of land and that of the fodder land, approximately one-third was in hay with the remainder in pasture. The Robinsons also had extensive wildlands from which to draw resources. They had 2 ha in marshland from which they could have produced at least 12.5 tons of broadleaf hay, and they had an ample woodlot from which they drew firewood and other forest products. It may be that they allowed their livestock to wood pasture for part of the year. We have also read of wood pasturing as a common practice in both the Cairns, Michie, and Shadd diaries. See our Farm Energy Profiles of the Cairns Farm and Lot 25, Prince County, PEI (forthcoming), the John Michie Farm and Reach CSD, Ontario (forthcoming), and the Abraham Doras Shadd and Garrison Shadd Farm and the Raleigh CSD, Kent, Ontario.

Figures 2b. Area Visualization of the Lot 28 CSD of which the largest block of land (almost half) was in woodland and wildland and is a sign of an early stage of development. Of the improved land, approximately 65 percent was crop land and 35 percent was fodder land. As with the Robinsons’ farm, about one-third of the fodder land was in hay, with the remainder in pasture land. Very likely, wood pasturing was a common practice for the farmers of Lot 28.

Farm Energy Flows

Farm energy flows are components of the acroecosystem that are produced and consumed annually, such as crops and crop residues, grazed biomass, and livestock products. The farm energy profiles show this in three pie charts, Principal Grain Crops and Minor Crops, Fodder Crops and Pasture, and Livestock and Barnyard Produce.

The Robinson farm produced 66 bushels (bu) wheat, 30 bu barley, 512 bu oats, 80 bu buckwheat, and 900 bu potatoes, in 1861. The Lot 28 CSD reported the same crops, plus turnips and clover seed. Despite its large herds and relatively high grazing intensity, the farm had relatively small energy deficits. This demonstrates that the farm was a mostly self-sufficient producer of the energy required for its livestock and for its crop inputs. The combined agroecosystem maintained a feed deficit of 653,137 MJ and no litter deficits across the two farms. For the Lot 28 CSD, the feed deficit was 85,170,361 MJ (417,502 MJ for the average farm), and 5,269,467 MJ (25,831 MJ for the average farm). The large amount of oats grown not only on the Robinson farm, but in the greater Lot 28 CSD, as well, accounted for the relatively low litter deficits we see here. Straw, which is a by-product of cereals, was never counted by census officials but as the main source of litter it was essential to animal-husbandry and urban livestock, too. Oats was also a cash crop that met the demand of urban horses, and we assume that the farm found strong markets for all of its surplus grains. These cereals were shipped from the region to the Atlantic market, including cities such as Montreal and Boston, but also Newfoundland, Bermuda, and colonies in the West Indies.[7] In 1861, the Robinson farm had 36 cords of firewood on hand.[8] 

The Robinson farm produced eight tons of upland (or English) hay, slightly more than the average farm in Lot 28 CSD which produced 6.2 tons. The CSD produced 1,269 tons of hay, overall. The Robinson farm’s hay energy was less than its pasture energy, which was the same for the Lot 28 CSD. The Robinson farm’s hay energy was 130,635 MJ, and its pasture energy was 661,213 MJ. The CSD’s hay energy was 20,721,914 MJ (101,578 MJ for the average farm), and its pasture energy was 86,855,566 MJ (425,763 MJ for the average farm). Despite being the same size as the average farm (39.5 ha), the Robinson farm derived more energy from hay and pasture than did the average farm.

In 1861, the Robinson farm had more livestock in all categories than did the average farm in the Lot 28 CSD. They had two horses over the age of three, one colt or filly, seven milk cows, eight other horned cattle, 20 sheep, and four swine. The average farmer in the CSD had two horses over the age of three, .7 colts or fillies, 3.7 milk cows, 4.5 other horned cattle, 16 sheep, and 2.7 swine. The Robinson farm slaughtered five cattle, 8 sheep, and 3 swine, whereas the average farmer in Lot 28 slaughtered 2.8 cattle, 6.4 sheep, and 2.4 swine.

The Robinson farm had 176 pounds of butter, no cheese, and 16 yards of homemade cloth, in 1861. In contrast, the average farmer in the CSD had 146 pounds of butter, 3.9 pounds of cheese, and 22.6 yards of homemade cloth. However, the farmers also had cloth on hand that was not manufactured at home. The Robinsons had 98 yards of cloth that had been manufactured off the farm, and the average farm in the CSD had 42.7 yards of this same material. Lot 28 boasted at least one carding mill and a fulling mill which supported a wool industry in the community. According to the 1863 “Lake Map,” this mill was likely James B. Leard’s property, located just east of the Robinson homestead on the Cape Traverse Rd on a small mill pond that drained into the Tryon River. Undoubtedly, this is partly why the Robinsons had 20 sheep and the average farmer in Lot 28 had 16. We suggest that the relatively large sheep herd was primarily for the wool, a valuable commodity, and secondarily for meat products.


Joseph Robinson Jr. and his wife Phoebe were the first generation of their families to be born on Prince Edward Island, their parents being British Empire Loyalists who had lost their lands and fled New York in 1777 as an outcome of the American War of Independence. With nine children, it may have been difficult for them to not only provide for all, but to also establish their six sons in farming or other ventures and to see their daughters set with good futures, as well.[9] Our small study found that of their six sons, four were established as farmers in Lot 28 either before Joseph Jr.’s death or soon after.

Our study focused on Joseph Jr. and his third son Benjamin’s farms that together totaled 39.5 ha. Joseph Jr’s 25 ha, obviously a more established farm, was approximately 97 percent improved. His son Benjamin’s 14.5 ha, however, was in an early stage of development, with only 27 percent improved and the rest in woodland. However, the woodland must have been a much-needed boon to the two families, providing firewood as well as other forest products. As well, the Robinsons’ land included marshland from where they accessed broadleaf hay. The Robinsons also made good use of mussel mud. Perhaps uniquely, their energy profile shows the importance of selecting sites with access to wood pasture such as the forests along the Cumberland Cove brook in the Richard Point watershed. Benjamin, situated at the height of land above the brook, would have been able to watch his livestock and survey the land below to his father’s farm and the Cove.

The Robinson farm had more of everything on their 39.5 ha than did the average farm in Lot 28. They had more hay land, more pasture land, more crop land, more livestock, and more of all the farm products that came from their land and animals–hay, grains, roots, meat, butter, and wool. The exception was home manufactured products such as cheese, of which they reported none, and cloth, which they produced in relatively small amounts. Possibly, with 13 family members, it was more important to churn butter for the table than to make cheese. When it came to textiles, it seems that their surpluses in other products allowed them to enjoy the services of local millers such as the carding and fulling mills that produced cloth from the Robinsons’ large sheep herd. The Robinsons undoubtedly sold some of their farm products to put cash in their pockets, possibly transporting them by ship off the Island to the greater Atlantic market. Their oats and straw, for example, would have been in demand for urban horses.

Over a century and a half later, Joseph Robinson Jr.’s family has become well-established in Prince Edward Island’s larger farming community. Descended from Joseph Jr.’s youngest son James W., Lori Robinson, in 2022, is the farm manager of Eric C. Robinson Inc. located in Albany, PEI, on the border of Lots 27 and 28.[10] Eric was her grandfather who incorporated the farm in 1962. A 2,500 acre (1,012 ha) farm comprising several blocks of land, there is still a large amount of woodland, now set aside for conservation purposes.

Figure 6a.  PARO-PEI, Fred Gamble and team of horses, [ca. 1912], Acc2667/137, Milie Gamble Fonds. This photograph is assumed to have been taken in Tryon, Prince Edward Island, not far from Anderson land.

Figure 6b. PARO-PEI, Picking cherries, Tyron, [ca. 1912], Acc2667/134, Milie Gamble Fonds.




[1] “Joseph Robinson,” 1861 Census of Canada, Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Ottawa. Schedule 1, p. 2, line 9. and schedule 2,, p. 1, line 9.

[2] “Benjamin Robinson,” 1861 Census of Canada, LAC, Ottawa. Schedule 1, page 2, line 11. and schedule 2,, p. 1, line 11.

[3] Augustine Cove, Prince Edward Island, 1800-1973 (Augustine Cove, PE: Women’s Institute [History Committee], 1973), 77.

[4] Miriam Robinson family trees and branches,, Their sons were John (b. 1814/d. 1864); Joseph (b. 1814/d. 1866); Benjamin (b. 1816/d. 1881); Charles (b. 1819/d. 1896); Thomas (b. 1821/d. 1903); and James (b. 1833/ d. 1898). Their daughters were Clementina (b. 1811/d. 1892), Maria (b. 1823/d. 1940), and Jane (b. 1826/d. 1863). Maria never married, and Charles moved to Shediac, New Brunswick. The remaining seven married men and women of the Augustine Cove community with surnames such as Howatt, Gamble, Lord, Campbell, Malone, and Callbeck.

[5] Joshua D. MacFadyen, “Drawing Lines in the Ice: Regulating Mussel Mud Digging in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence,” in Claire Campbell and Robert Summerby-Murray, eds, Land and Sea (Fredericton, NB: Acadiensis Press, 2013), and Joshua MacFadyen, “The Fertile Crescent: Agricultural Land Use on Prince Edward Island, 1861–1971,” in Edward MacDonald, Joshua MacFadyen, and Irene Novaczek, eds., Time and a Place: An Environmental History of  Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown, PE: Island Studies Press, 2016).

[6] Joseph Jr. and his wife Phoebe lived with a younger couple, probably their son Thomas and his wife Martha (nee Lord), two children, a girl and a boy, probably the children of Thomas and his Martha, plus two other single people, both aged 21 to 45. We suggest these two single people were Maria and James, two of Joseph Jr.’s and Phoebe’s adult children still living on the home farm. Maria never married, and James W. was the youngest of their nine children. Benjamin and Martha lived with two children, a girl and a boy, and an older woman, who was probably a relative. See 1861 Census of Canada for Joseph Robinson and Benjamin Robinson.

[7]  MacFadyen, “The Fertile Crescent: Agricultural Land Use on Prince Edward Island, 1861–1971,” pp. 167-168.

[8] The 1861 Census of Canada did not collect data on forest products. However, based on the 1871 Census of Canada, we assume that each household had 18 cords of firewood on hand. The Robinson farm would have needed twice this because there were two households.

[9] We have found women listed as heads of farm households in the 1871 Census of Canada. See, for example, our Farm Energy Profile, Energy on the Marguerite Messier Farm and the St. Hyacinthe CSD, St. Hyacinthe, Quebec ( and the farm of John Michie, Reach CSD, Ontario (forthcoming). As far as we know, Lori Robinson is the first of the Robinson clan to be a designated farmer, or farm manager, although we are certain the women of the Robinson family, as with women of other farming families, did much farm work.

[10]“ Lori Robison”, Farm and Food Care, Prince Edward Island,

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