Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Altoona, Blair County
Signer of the Articles of Confederation General Daniel Roberdeau built a fort in Blair County to secure lead supplies for the Revolution.
Though born in the West Indies in 1727, Daniel Roberdeau spent the majority of his life in Pennsylvania. Becoming a successful merchant at a young age, Roberdeau soon became involved in the Colonial Assembly. Roberdeau was elected to the rank of General on July 4, 1776 and divided his time between serving as a congressman and fulfilling his duties as a general. General Roberdeau led an expedition that founded Fort Roberdeau: a fort constructed with the purpose of securing a lead mine operation. Throughout his life, Roberdeau was a strong advocate of independence and succeeded in convincing Pennsylvania to support the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution. Roberdeau lived to be 67 years old and died on January 5, 1795.
Born in 1727, little is known about the childhood of Daniel Roberdeau prior to his voyage to America. However, it is understood that he received a good education, part of which took place in England. Following the death of his father Isaac Roberdeau, Daniel Roberdeau traveled from the island of Saint Kitts (formerly Saint Christopher) to Philadelphia with his mother, Mary Cunningham, and his older sisters. Arriving in Philadelphia, Roberdeau completed his education with an emphasis on mercantile business and soon began a successful career as a merchant.
As stated by Roberdeau Buchanan in The Genealogy of the Roberdeau Family, Daniel Roberdeau remained connected to his place of birth by trading primarily with the West Indies and focused his area of trade on the importation of rum, wine and produce from these islands including Jamaica, Barbados and Saint Christopher. In addition to becoming a successful merchant, Roberdeau began to work his way into the upper echelons of American culture by becoming a Free Mason sometime between the years of 1749 and 1754. Through the Philadelphia Lodge, Roberdeau became closely associated with Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and many other prominent men of the pre-Revolutionary time period.
Roberdeau also became associated with men like Franklin through his charitable work serving as a manager of the Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. Becoming a prominent figure in America through his occupation as a merchant, his membership as a Mason and his service to the community hospital in addition to his full-hearted support of independence, Roberdeau was first elected to the Pennsylvania State Assembly in 1756, serving until 1761 upon resignation and once again from 1766 to 1776. Throughout his years of service as a member of the assembly, Roberdeau served on the Committee of Finance, was influential in peace arrangements with Native American tribes, and played a critical role in the allocation of the payment to the Governor of Pennsylvania and hence to England. Not only was he influential in the Pennsylvania Congressional Assembly, but Roberdeau was also extremely well favored by voters. In fact, when he was looking to take leave from the Assembly, he urged voters to elect another to take his place, but despite his desires, Roberdeau was once again elected in 1760.
Taking leave from the assembly in 1761, Roberdeau reverted back to his career as a merchant and devoted time to the development of a family. On October 3, 1761, Daniel Roberdeau married Mary Bostwick who remained his spouse until her death in 1777. Roberdeau married for a second time on December 3, 1778 to Jane Milligan. Roberdeau's early career in trade brought him into the middle of the American Revolution beginning with his involvement in the opposition of the Stamp Act of 1765. As stated by Robert Oaks in Philadelphia Merchants and the Origins of American Independence, Roberdeau, along with other Philadelphia, merchants signed an agreement "not to import British goods until 'the late unconstitutional law (the Stamp Act)' was repealed." The early years of Roberdeau's support of American Independence reflected a stubbornness to comply with British demands and laws, but as the war and his character developed, Roberdeau became more proactive in his endeavors, seeking to rally support for the cause of independence and endeavoring to devise solutions to the obstacles America encountered.
In May of 1776, Roberdeau attended public meetings in Philadelphia in regards to the decision of whether or not Pennsylvania would support the Declaration of Independence and fight in the American Revolution. At the time, Pennsylvania was in turmoil and was in fact leaning towards remaining uninvolved. The final outcome of these meetings was the replacement of the members of the Pennsylvania Delegation to the Continental Congress with supporters of the revolution, an outcome that, in large part, came about because of the influence of Roberdeau. Roberdeau was noted to be one of the most influential speakers during these meetings, hence making him an essential proponent of the unification of the colonies.
On July 4, 1776, Roberdeau was awarded the rank of General by the Associators of Pennsylvania, a group that was the precursor to the current National Guard. His position as General allowed him to fully express just how dedicated he was to the cause of independence. This sense of duty can be summarized in a speech made by General Roberdeau on August 19, 1776. In this speech, called the Address to the Pennsylvania Associators at Amboy, Roberdeau expresses: As it hath pleased Providence, for the exercise of our patience, and for the defense of that freedom which we inherit from the great Giver of all things, to call us from our families to the field; and as I have the honor of being your General officer, I trust you will take it well in me to endeavor to point out to you whatever appears necessary, either for your own particular good, or the more noble object — the good of all. His ability to rally people behind a cause was highly touted; Roberdeau was empowering the men that were looked upon as leaders of the nation (men of rank in the army), reminding them of the meaning of honor and the significance of their support of America. Roberdeau also served as a proponent for organizational and tactical success during the American Revolution.
Being a member of a committee in congress that was in charge of managing the supplies of the army, Roberdeau was influential in ensuring the army's capability of fighting, in addition to attending to his role as a general. In the spring of 1778, after recognizing the depleting sources of lead used to make musket balls—much of the lead was imported and imported primarily by the British—Roberdeau sought a reliable source of lead. Hearing about the presence of lead in Western Pennsylvania, Roberdeau convinced George Washington and others of the significance of the discovery. Heading up the expedition himself, Roberdeau led a group of men into the wilderness of Pennsylvania to the location of the lead to construct a fort. At a time when most Americans were moving east out of fear of attacks by Loyalists and Native Americans, Roberdeau had to convince people to stay and work at the mine. Additionally the British bribed a large portion of the remaining smelters to leave the area and abandon the mining operation. Desperately lacking support, Roberdeau had to request of General Washington that smelters and soldiers be sent out to implement the mining operation. Roberdeau understood that the wilderness of Pennsylvania was an especially dangerous place at the time especially after the British had captured Philadelphia and inspired Loyalists to put to arms by promising them land in exchange for their service. He recognized the value of the fort and hence took special precautions to prevent the lead mines and smelting operation from falling into the hands of the British.
Despite the efforts and strong will of Roberdeau leading to a successful first year of production resulting in 1000 pounds of lead in 1778, the mining operation gradually came to a halt throughout the year of 1780. For the duration of the war, with the mining operation terminated, the fort served solely as a safe haven for local settlers. Although his upbringing in trade fueled his dedication to independence, the trade industry in May of 1779 represented the enemy of independence. Monopolies formed by merchants such as Robert Morris drastically increased the prices of goods in America and rendered a large portion of citizens unable to pay their taxes. Without the revenue from these taxes, the American Government would not be able to proceed with the war and the struggle for independence would have failed. Roberdeau saw such monopolies as a barrier towards independence and declared at a meeting in Philadelphia to bring such merchants to justice and prevent such exploitation from occurring.
With victory achieved and independence won at the end of the American Revolution, Daniel Roberdeau had accomplished his dream. In a sense, the end of the war brought his retirement, so in 1783, Roberdeau traveled to England with his son Isaac with the purpose of attaining an education for him. Returning to the Unites States in 1784 with his son remaining in England, Roberdeau briefly stayed in Philadelphia which had previously been the focal point of his life, but soon left the city and settled in Alexandria, Virginia for unknown reasons. He established a wharf and a distillery and quietly lived out the rest of his life. Just prior to his death, Daniel Roberdeau moved from Alexandria to Winchester, Virginia to be near his daughter. Soon afterwards, Daniel Roberdeau, a hero of American Independence, died of a mental disorder presumed to be linked to his encounters during the Revolution, on January 5, 1795 at the age of 68. Fort Roberdeau represents the most prominent legacy of Daniel Roberdeau despite the fact that it is not the original fort. Because of the deteriorating effects of insects and moisture, the original fort fell into a state of disrepair following its peak usage during the Revolutionary War. For 150 years the fort held little use and was salvaged for parts to construct cabins in the surrounding area. In the 1930s, a trench was excavated around the original foundation and the fort itself was reconstructed in 1976 in honor of the Bicentennial. To this day the Fort Roberdeau Association continues to keep the memory of Daniel Roberdeau and all of his accomplishments from fading into decay.