by Donald D. Erwin


Many of us, I’m certain, can remember our first encounter with recorded history. For me it was early in the third grade when Mrs. Clawson finally unraveled the mystery of reading for me. About that time I read about Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the New World. I was hooked. From then on I couldn’t get enough of history. I was the first in my class to get a library card, and to the disgust of my father I usually had my “nose in a book” when I was supposed to be doing my chores on the farm. Even today my favorite pastime is reading, topped off with a couple of hours of the History Channel.

A few years ago I became interested in family history, and then the Internet. The computer and the World Wide Web suddenly made it relatively easy to enjoy history as well as research ones family background. In collaboration with several Erwin “cousins” we started making family “connections.”

There were the proven ones of course, but then there were “traditions.” Traditions are those that have been repeated down through the ages. They can’t necessarily be proven historically, but they titillate us to the point that we continue to point to them with pride. One such tradition is the supposed Erwin connection in the 800s and 900s to the royal family of England. After all, if it can’t be proven, it can’t be refuted… Right?

Enjoying history is one thing, but finding a proven connection to a historical personality or event is like icing on a cake. Most of us have a vain streak, and we enjoy the “bragging rights” of being “connected,” no matter how distant or tenuous they may be. We don’t like to admit it but, being human, most people are somewhat impressed as well by modern-day celebrities, whether they be entertainers, politicians, military heroes, or perhaps some individual who is credited with a spontaneous heroic act.

We try to be casual and offhand when we announce that Joseph was an uncle, or William was a cousin twice removed, etc., etc. But what a rush it is when we can say that Sir William de Irwyn rode next to Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

Following are a few of some of our better-known connections, but let us not forget that there are undoubtedly hundreds of lesser-known ones, those to everyday people down through the generations who have accomplished everyday things and/or performed unusual acts of bravery, yet to be researched. This list should not, in any way, make those individuals, or their accomplishments, any less admirable.

Sir William de Irwyn (c.1280-1333): Most individuals in the United States today who have, or who are related to an ancestor who has, a surname of Irvine, Irvin, Irwin, Ervin or Erwin, can most likely trace their lineage to Sir William de Irwyn of Drum. William was born into the Irving Clan of Dumfriesshire in the Lowlands of Scotland. The Irvings and the Bruces were neighbors and allies.

Most of us have heard the Irving tradition of William’s service to Robert the Bruce, King of Scots. It seems that Bruce, while fleeing from the forces of Edward I of England one stormy night in 1298, took refuge with the Irvings of Bonshaw. When Bruce left the Irving sanctuary, William de Irwyn of Woodhouse – a nephew of the Laird of Bonshaw and eldest son of Alexander de Irwyn, the clan chieftain – left with him and joined his cause.

Throughout Robert Bruce’s efforts to gain, and hold, the throne of Scotland (remember the recent movie Braveheart?), William remained in his service. In 1307 Bruce had his first real success against the English forces at the Battle of Glen Trool. Sir Gilbert Hay had been Bruce’s armor-bearer up to that point, but after Glen Trool Bruce promoted young William to that post, and he would later have the added responsibility of being the secretary of the King of Scots. Trusted and admired by "The Bruce", William was eventually proclaimed a Knight, and was thereafter addressed as "Sir William," although Bruce is said to have called him "Willie."

On February 1, 1323, as a reward for long and faithful service, Bruce granted Sir William de Irwyn a Free Barony just outside of Aberdeen. The grant included the Castle of Drum and about 8000 acres of the original Royal Caledonian Forest.

James N. Irvine (1709-1770): James N. Irvine was the twelfth great-grandson of Sir William de Irwyn. He arrived in Pennsylvania in 1739 with his wife and first-born child, and in 1753 (now spelling his name E-r-w-i-n) moved his family to Rowan County, North Carolina. He was  the immigrant ancestor of many of the Erwin families, including mine, who, during the 1700s and 1800s, moved from North Carolina west to Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas Missouri and Kansas, and south into Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

Thomas L. Cowan (1747-1817): John Cowan, Thomas’ grandfather emigrated to Pennsylvania from County Down, Northern Ireland, about 1720. John Cowan, Jr., Thomas’ father moved his family to Rowan County, North Carolina about 1758. Thomas married Mary Elizabeth Barkley (1755-1836) in Rowan County in 1773. They had thirteen children. Catherine Nancy Cowan (1774-1839), their eldest, married Joseph Erwin, Sr., (1769-1846) in Rowan County in 1792. They had fourteen children. Joseph was a grandson of James N. Irvine, and my ancestor. Thomas served in the American Revolutionary War, and when released from active duty he held the rank of captain.

Alben W. Barkley (1877-1956): Alben Barkley served many years in the U. S. House of Representatives as well as the Senate, and was the thirty-fifth Vice President of the United States (1949-1953) under Harry S. Truman. The Barkley/Barclay family, like the Irvine/Erwin family, trace their roots to the 1200s in Scotland. Alben Barkley was a descendant of  Henry Barkley, Jr., a brother of Mary Elizabeth Barkley.

Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973): Lyndon Johnson, after a long career in the U. S. Congress, became the thirty-seventh Vice President under John F. Kennedy, and succeeded Kennedy as President when he was assassinated in Dallas. Johnson was a descendant of Robert Buntin, who was a brother of William Buntin, who married Mary Cowan, daughter and second-born child of Thomas L. Cowan and Mary Elizabeth Barkley.

Herbert Clark Hoover (1874-1964): Herbert Hoover was the 31st President of the United States of America. He was also a g-g-g-g-grandson of George Hayworth (1682-1724) who emigrated from England to William Penn’s colony in 1699.

So what you say? Well, it just so happens that Hazel Dell Hayworth (1889-1976)—my mother—was also a descendant of George Haworth. She married Odes H. Erwin (1888-1966) in Elk County, Kansas in 1907.

Richard Bennett Hubbard, Jr. (1832-1901): Richard Hubbard was born in Walton County, Georgia, but spent his formative years in Jasper County, Georgia. In 1851, he  graduated from Mercer Institute with an A.B. degree in literature. In 1853 he graduated from Harvard University with an LL.B. degree. Shortly thereafter he and his parents moved to Smith County, Texas. They first settled in Tyler,  and then on a plantation near Lindale.

During the Civil War Colonel Hubbard commanded the Twenty-Second Texas Infantry Regiment and served in the Trans-Mississippi Department in Arkansas and Louisiana.

Hubbard was a Baptist, a Freemason, and a member of the board of directors of Texas A&M University. He was also the fifteenth Governor of Texas (1876-1879), and a United States Envoy to Japan (1885 to 1889).

Hubbard first married Eliza B. Hudson (1840-1868),  daughter of Dr. Cuthbert G. Hudson of Lafayette, Alabama, on December 1, 1858. Eliza Hudson was a younger sister of Martha A. Hudson and Emily A. Hudson.

Martha and Emily were both wives of Augustus Owen, “Gus” Erwin (1823-1859), son of Col. Thomas Barkley Erwin (1792-1868) of Smith County, Texas. The main street of Tyler, the county seat of Smith County, is Erwin Street, so named to honor Col. Erwin.

Hubbard's second marriage, on November 26, 1869, was to Janie Roberts, daughter of Willis Roberts of Tyler. Hubbard lived his final years in Tyler, where he died on July 12, 1901. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, in Tyler, near the gravesites of Col. Thomas Erwin and his wife Elizabeth. The town of Hubbard, in Hill County, Texas, is named for Richard Hubbard.

Troyal Garth Brooks: Troyal Garth Brooks was born February 7, 1962, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In order to have a better picture of his "roots," however, it is necessary that we go back several generations.

Thomas Johnston Erwin, a grandson of Joseph Erwin, Sr. and Catherine Nancy Cowan, moved his family by covered wagon from Henry County, Tennessee to Carroll County, Arkansas about 1848. Thomas Erwin and wife Nancy Mathis had eight children: Elizabeth, born 1846; James, born 1847; Margaret, born 1849; Laura Alice, born 1856; Joseph, born 1858; Hattie, born 1860; Cole, born 1862, and Mike, born 1867.

Margaret Erwin married an unknown Epley, but he soon died and she then married William Lonner Capps. Laura Alice Erwin married Stephen Parker Dickens, and Harriet "Hattie" Erwin married John Rains Hargis, an ancestor of the Boatright family in Oklahoma. All three of these families settled in the Oklahoma Indian Territory during the late 1890s, probably about 1897, and lived in or near Tahlequah in what is now Cherokee County, Oklahoma.

Laura Alice Erwin and Stephen Parker Dickens had three children. They were: William Lillard Dickens, born 1874, Ozenia Olive Dickens, born 1876, and Gladys V. Dickens who was born in 1892.

William Lillard Dickens married Della Adelaide Capps. They had four children. They were: Velma Glee Dickens, born 1901, Phynis Rea Dickens, born 1903, Troy Ray Dickens, born 1907, and Cleburne Blaine Dickens, born in 1912.

Velma Glee Dickens married Troyal Raymond Brooks August 28, 1927 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They had four children: The name of their first-born is not known; Ona Marcellette Brooks was born in 1928, Troyal Raymond Brooks, Jr. was born in 1931, and Glenda Sue Brooks was born in 1940.

Troyal Raymond Brooks, Jr. married first about 1950 and fathered one child. He then married Colleen Carroll McElroy in 1957. This union produced two more children. They were: Kelly Brooks, born September 28, 1960, and Troyal Garth Brooks, born February 7, 1962. The world knows him as Garth Brooks.                   

Samuel Blackwell (1745-1783) was a graduate of Oxford, and was educated for the Ministry, but at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War he entered the Army, and served with distinction as a Captain, and received 4,000 acres for his services. He married Elizabeth Tyler (1755-1828) in 1773; she was a cousin of President Tyler. Their son Samuel Blackwell, Jr. married Sarah Dent, a cousin of Mrs. U.S. Grant.

Samuel Blackwell, Sr. was a cousin of William Blackwell, husband of Roxanna Erwin. She was a daughter if Isaac Erwin and Winney Richardson of Washington Parish, LA, and a great-great-granddaughter of immigrant James N. Irvine (Erwin).

Yes… I know, some of these connections are a bit distant, but we use what we can. Right? If anyone can add to this list of "connections" please let me know.