Robert Manners was born on 1 September 1817 in Bishop Auckland, Durham, and was the third son of John Manners (1778-1859) and Ann Simpson (1779-1864). The Manners family had first arrived in the Auckland area in the 18th century and had quickly established themselves in the mining industry.
On 26 August 1843, Robert married his first wife, Elizabeth Wood and they had one daughter, Mary Ann, who appears not to have survived. After Elizabeth’s death, Robert married Ann Burns on 21 January 1849 and they had a daughter, Harriet (1851-1851), who died in infancy and two sons, George Burns Manners (1852-1925) and Robert Simpson Manners (1854-1926) before they made the decision to emigrate to the United States. The family boarded the Torchlight at Liverpool and arrived in New York on 2 June 1856.
After arriving in New York, they made their way to Minnesota where they settled in the town of Nininger. Robert worked in a sawmill and welcomed a daughter, Anna Mary Manners, on 28 March 1857.
Nininger, newly established in 1857, was named after John Nininger, the brother in-law of territorial and state Governor Alexander Ramsey. There were high hopes the city would become the new state capital, however it did not flourish and is a ghost town today. Nininger Township, established in 1858, was named after the original city and was the site of the first recorded organised baseball club in Minnesota. Minnesota became the 32rd state on 11 May 1858, however the settlers were constantly at war with the Dakota and Ojibwe which led to the Dakota War of 1862. Over 800 white settlers were killed during the six-week war which culminated with hundreds of Dakota being interred and 38 being hanged in Mankato on 26 December 1862, in the largest one-day mass execution in American history.
The Manners family were joined by another son, Thomas Rolf Manners (1859-1881), on 17 April 1859, and a fourth son, Austin John Manners (1865-1951), on 21 August 1865. The final child, Orlando Robson Manners (1869-1950), was born on 11 November 1869. There are significant gaps in the births of some of the children, particularly the youngest, and the 1900 US Census reveals Ann actually bore eleven children, however only six survived into adulthood.
According to the 1870 US Census, Robert had a farm in Vermillion with a real estate value of $4,000 ($76,923.08 in 2019). Vermillion, named after the river, was established in 1858 and the town’s first grain elevator, built in 1869 by Albert Rickert, transported produce by rail to different parts of the United States. As business grew, the elevator proved to be too small and another one was constructed on a different site in 1875 which was capable of handling a capacity of 5,000 bushels. Over the next few years, business boomed at the elevator and it was handling more than 200,000 bushels of wheat, plus oats, barley and corn. It is more than likely the Manners farm was producing the above crops and would have made a good income.
Robert Manners died on 12 August 1883, aged 65 years, so he didn’t live long enough to witness the elevator burning to the ground in 1884 which destroyed much of the stock. The elevator was rebuilt and business was booming again by the summer with plans being drawn up for expansion. Robert left his estate to his wife and children, however Ann had moved to nearby Hastings after marrying her second husband, Andrew Warsop, and she died, aged 88 years, on 23 August 1917. None of Robert and Ann’s children remained in Vermillion with only the eldest son, George Burns Manners, continuing to farm.