of Roberts parents in England were orphans who worked in
the same mill. He had only a few months of school. At 14 he became
a blacksmith for 12 years. When his wife died in childbirth, he
gained strength by becoming a Methodist and soon thereafter a
volunteer preacher of power.
He and his new wife sailed for America where he found employment
outside Philadelphia making claw hammers. Upon listening to Lucretia
Mott, he joined the abolitionist cause and thereby met William
Henry Furness, who invited him to speak from his Unitarian pulpit.
The Methodists then staged a trial, related to his lack of support
for Methodist dogmas (and encouraged by his growing abolitionist
convictions). Since the lay preacher could not answer their questions,
Dr. Furness recommended that the former blacksmith serve as a
much needed Unitarian minister-at-large in Chicago, where Robert
Collyer proved a popular preacher and Lyceum Platform speaker.
Chicagos North Church congregation built a new church. It
turned to ashes in the Great Fire of 1871, which also destroyed
their home and his library. After total immersion in relief work
and construction of a new church, he was invited in 1874 to serve
the Church of the Messiah in New York. He declined. Upon repetition
of the offer five years later, he accepted and served a flourishing
congregation, finally being succeeded in 1907 by John Haynes Holmes,
whose first book was The Life and Letters of Robert Collyer.