Robinson Crusoe Buck

The very distinguished looking Robinson Crusoe Buck (age unknown in this picture) was 109 years old when he died.  His home where he lived out the last several years of his life was located on North Church Street in Livingston.  Photograph courtsey of Ronald Dishman.

How many different reasons are there for choosing certain names for babies? Are those reasons the same today as they were in 1844? These are questions that came to my mind when I began to put this story together.

To find out why a certain name was given to a black baby boy born way back in 1844, I suppose I would need to ask either his mother, or possibly his father, or that person himself. Since that's impossible, we’re left to only wonder. Information I came across while preparing this story says that one reason often used in the choosing of a baby's name is to greatly influence that child's future accomplishments, but then goes on to say that a name itself isn't likely to make a shred of difference. So just exactly what was the reason Robinson Crusoe Buck was given that name at his birth on November 15, 1844, in what was Putnam County, Tennessee at that time? We'll never know, but that doesn't keep me from wondering about it. To refresh my memory about the fictional character Robinson Crusoe, I looked up some information about that particular book. A summary of what I found says that was the title of a novel written by Daniel Defoe and was first published in 1719. That book is sometimes regarded as the first novel in English. The character in that story spends 28 years on a remote tropical island, encountering natives, captives, and mutineers before being rescued. That brings my next question. What did the person who gave Robinson Crusoe Buck that name know about the fictional character that was obviously chosen for the baby's name? Was it a favorite book that had been shared by someone? I could go on and on with these questions, but to no avail. So I'll switch gears and include what information I've found about Robinson Crusoe Buck from old issues of The Livingston Enterprise. Here is information from some articles in the 50's:

In the October 30, 1953 issue, a story on the front page includes this information:

"Robinson Crusoe Buck, a former slave, who celebrated his 109th birthday on Thursday, November 15, is without doubt the oldest person living in Overton County. "Uncle Crusoe" as he affectionately known by a wide circle of friends, was born November 15, 1844, four miles south of Cookeville. He was one of the 40 slaves belonging to Abraham Buck, a German master, who was kind to his slaves. He well remembers the days of the Civil War and when he helped his master take care of $7,000.00 in gold and silver by hiding it in a hollow apple tree to keep it from being stolen and also aiding this master by carrying food when he was hiding from his enemies. One of his favorite recollections is a trip he made to Washington, D.C., when he visited with Secretary of State Cordell Hull and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and appeared on a radio program. He moved to Livingston in 1946 after marrying the second time at the age of 99 years. He attributes his long life to "trying to live right and treat everyone right."

On May 14, 1954, The Livingston Enterprise, has another front page story that tells this:

"Robinson Crusoe Buck, 109 year old Negro and ex-slave of Livingston has been selected to lead the parade in Cookeville on May 19, 1954, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of both Cookeville and Putnam County. "Uncle Crusoe" as he is known to his many friends in Overton County, was born and reared in Putnam County, and came to Livingston several years ago when he married for the second time. He was 10 years old when Putnam County was formed from parts of adjoining counties."

Then on September 17, 1954, the front page of The Livingston Enterprise contains Robinson Crusoe Buck's obituary. It reads:

"Robinson Crusoe Buck, age 109, the oldest person in Overton County, died at his home in Livingston on Tuesday, September 14th, at 11:00 a.m., after an illness of only a few weeks. "Uncle Crusoe" as he was affectionately known by a wide circle of friends, a gray-haired Negro, who was born in slavery, spent his life in the Upper Cumberland section of Tennessee. He was born November 15, 1844. He was one of 40 slaves of Abraham Buck, a German settler near Cookeville who owned one thousand acres of land. When the War Between the States was in progress, he aided his master when the Federal troops were near, and he often told of taking care of $7,000.0 in gold and silver for his master, hiding it in the hollow of a large apple tree until his master needed it. He later moved to Algood where he worked in a livery stable for many years, and many times furnished Judge Cordell Hull with a rig to drive from town to town where he was holding court. He went to Washington in 1941 at the invitation of Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Congressman Ridley Mitchell, and while there met President F.D. Roosevelt and brought back home with him pictures of Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Hull, autographed, which he kept in his living room. In 1946, he moved to Livingston after marrying Mrs. Ollie McDonald where he lived since. He attributed his long life to "trying to live right and treating everybody right." Surviving besides his wife are two daughters, Mrs. Daisy Finley and Mrs. Winnie West of Algood and several grandchildren. Funeral services were held at the Algood Colored Church on September 17, 1954, at 10:00 a.m. with burial in the Algood Colored Cemetery. Speck-Hyder Funeral Home was in charge of the arrangements."

Regardless of how and why the name Robinson Crusoe Buck was chosen, we can be certain his parents would definitely have been very proud of their son, not only for the good, long life he lived, but included in those years was the fact that he was able to travel to Washington, D.C. and stand beside President Franklin D. Roosevelt to have his picture made. That was quite an accomplishment for someone born into slavery. It would have been interesting to have heard the interview he did on the radio while in Washington. The wonderful stories he had to tell would be priceless treasures today.

The home where Robinson Crusoe Buck lived here in Livingston has long been torn down, but it once stood across from Tom’s Welding on North Church Street. If it had been preserved, it would surely qualify to be placed on a list of historic sites for Livingston and Overton County. Maybe the words on a sign that might have been placed out in front of the house would read: "Home of Robinson Crusoe Buck, born into slavery on November 15, 1844; died September 14, 1954; at age 109 years. While living a good, long life, he once traveled to Washington, D.C. where he stood beside President Franklin D. Roosevelt to be photographed. The Town of Livingston is proud to have had Mr. Buck make his home here for the last several years of his life."