From Whence We Came

by Donald D. Erwin


It seems appropriate to periodically review  the evolution of the Erinvine/Eryvine/Irving/Irwyn/Irvine/Erwin Clan for the benefit of new readers of the Erwin newsletter. In order to understand how it all came about it helps to know a little about how the little country of Scotland came into being. Let’s go back then, to around the beginning of the first century AD.

Roman legions, under Julius Caesar, successfully invaded southern Britain in 55 BC.  In 79 AD Julius Agricola, the Roman Governor of Britain, advanced north into what would be Scotland and built forts at strategic locations. His Roman legions crushed all opposition, but the Caledonians—the name given the native tribes by the Romans—established a fort at Dumbarton Rock and resisted, and the push north was stopped. Another invasion in 82 AD ended with the almost total slaughter of the Ninth Roman Legion, probably at Galloway.

The Romans gave the country north of present-day Stirlingshire the name of Caledonia. Researchers believe that there were many tribal groups in Caledonia, or Alban, who, during the early centuries AD, grouped and re-grouped. The major ethnic group was probably the Picts, a non–Celtic and non–Aryan group of people who descended from the aborigines of Britain. Tribal boundaries probably changed frequently, with first one tribe and then another having supremacy over its neighbors.

Tacitus, the Roman historian who did most of his writing near the zenith of the Roman Empire, wrote an account of the campaigns against the Caledonians by Agricola in 65 AD in which he illustrated the spirit and toughness of these early natives of what would be Scotland. In one translation it was his assessment that “while they were often defeated in battle, they were never subdued.” When unable to withstand the charges of the Roman legions in the open they would fall back to their forests and mountains and resort to guerrilla warfare.

At the Battle of Mons Graupius in 84 AD, however, the Caledonians suffered a terrible defeat. Calgacus, the chief of the Caledonians, was killed in the battle, along with 10,000 of his men, while only 340 Roman soldiers died. Although this defeat was a major setback for the native tribes, the Romans were not able to capitalize on their victory, for although the Caledonian ranks were devastated, they continued to wage guerrilla war. By 85 AD, however, the Romans had conquered all Celtic lands except Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland.

In 121 AD Rome gave up trying to defeat the Caledonians. Emperor Hadrian had a stone wall built from Solway Firth in the west to Tyne in the east. About 142 AD the Romans constructed another wall north of Hadrian’s Wall. It was made of timber and earth and ran from the Firth of Clyde in the west to the Firth of Forth in the east. It became known as the Antonine Wall and was in use for about twenty years before it was abandoned.

Emperor Valentinian sent a general, Theodosius, with a large force to relieve the province. Theodosius achieved his assigned task, but the smoldering resolve of the northern tribes was only diminished, not extinguished.

In 383 Magnus Maximus, then in command in Britain, declared himself Emperor. Scraping together all of the troops he could find, thus stripping the Wall and fortresses of their already scanty defenders, Maximus crossed the Channel to Gaul where he defeated Emperor Gratian near Paris. For five years Maximus struggled to maintain his gains, but after a time he was killed in battle by Theodosius who had succeeded Gratian as Emperor of the Roman Empire.

This was also a time when most of the Roman Empire’s outlying provinces felt pressure from all sides. Meanwhile the Wall was pierced again, and the Province of Britain lay open to raiders, from the north as well as from the sea. During the next twenty years or so Rome would half-heartedly attempt to save the Province, but their efforts were too little and too late. In 407 Constantine further stripped the Roman garrisons for his purposes—legions needed for home defense—and by the year 409 the Romans ceased to effectively rule Britain. From that point on Roman soldiers gradually withdrew to the south. All Roman legions were gone from the island by 410, and the Roman Province of Britain totally abandoned by Rome by about 450.


By the mid 500s the area that would be Scotland was divided among four major groups, three of whom were related, for they were all Celts. First was the non-Celtic Picts, whose territory was the largest. Another was the Britons who occupied the area south of Hadrian’s Wall as well as the territory between Loch Lomond and Solway Firth, known as Strathclyde. The third was the Angles. They were Germanic from northern Europe, but were originally Celtic. They had settled on the east side between the Forth and the Tyne, having moved north from the Humber and Yorkshire areas of the former Roman Province of Britain.

The fourth group was the Scots, referred to by the Romans as Scoti. They were of Celtic origin and had originally come from Ireland. During England’s period of Roman occupation the Scots lived in Dalriatic settlements in the northeastern part of Ireland that is now County Antrim. Although small numbers of Scots had been raiding across the North Channel for generations, it was in 498 that three Scots princes of Irish Dalriata, sons of King Erc, led a group of settlers and their families across the Channel. The three brothers, Lorne, Fergus, and Angus, established a government in the rugged mountainous area of Argyll in southwestern Scotland. It was only a short distance to the Kintyre Peninsula and the Firth of Clyde.

The territory that the Scots controlled came to be known as the Dalriadic Kingdom of Scots. It was divided between supportive families or groups of families called Tuath or Cinel (meaning kindred), or Clan (meaning children). Lorne governed the northern part of the kingdom while Angus controlled the Islay peninsula and the Western Isles. Fergus administered the Argyll area, which included the Kintyre Peninsula.

While the three brothers initially governed the kingdom jointly, Fergus would eventually succeed his brothers and rule until his death in 505. It was from Fergus MacErc (son of Erc), who was descended from Cairbre Riadhi, the founder of the Irish Kingdom of Dalriata), that the Scots kings for the next several generations would descend.

The presence of the Scots in Argyll did not go unnoticed by the Picts. The Picts had been in the northern part of the island for a long time and regarded all of the lands above the Forth-Clyde line as their personal property. The Picts were also fierce fighters, and there were many bloody clashes between the two tribes. The Scots, however, gradually took over the fertile Midland Valley. As time passed the two peoples found that they had common enemies—mainly the Vikings—as well as common problems, and over the next five hundred years or so the two peoples gradually became one.

The Picts were well organized. Their government was based on the clan (kin), a system seen in many early peoples, but one which became very involved and sophisticated under the Picts. They had strict laws of succession, which were different from those of most early groups. Succession was passed not from father to son but through the female side of the family. This meant that a man became chief because his mother was the daughter of an earlier chief and he was succeeded not by his son but by his brother (his mother’s son) or by his nephew (his sister’s son). They reached the peak of their power under Angus, who established ascendancy over the Scots in 740. The matrilineal system of inheritance caused succession problems, however, and the kingdom declined.

Constantine MacFergus—a Scottish chieftain who was a descendant of Pictish kings (via the female line)—claimed the Pictish throne and was able to win it.  Alpin, king of the Dalriadic Scots, married a Pictish princess, and the affairs of the combined kingdom prospered comparatively peacefully. Their son, Kenneth MacAlpin of Dalriada (c. 800-58), inherited the crown of the Dalriadic Scots as well as that of the Picts. In 843 Kenneth was able to unite the two peoplesPicts and Scotsand form the state that came to be called Scotia. 

Shortly thereafter Kenneth was acknowledged as the king of the two groups, and moved his seat of power out of Dalriada and into the heart of the Pictish territory, and Dalriada ceased to exist. Later, at the Battle of Carham, Scotia gained parts of Northumbria and Cumbria as well. Kenneth I reigned until he died in his palace at Forteviot in 858.

The identity and culture that survived was that of the Scots. The Gaelic of the Scots soon overcame the Pictish language, and as a result the use of their written symbols fell into disuse, and over time the Pictish written records were lost as well. Some early historians speculated that large numbers of the Picts were massacred by the Scots, or to use the modern term, that there was “ethnic cleansing.” The current belief, however, is that the disappearance of the Picts, and their language, was merely the result of assimilation and integration into the more dominant culture of the Scots.

Kenneth’s unification of the two kingdoms as a new political entity established the roots of what would be Scotland. He also founded the first recognizable Scottish royal family. As a result Scotland’s kings are formally numbered from Kenneth I. History also recognizes him as the first King of Scots.


The Vikings had been raiding the islands on the west and north of Britain for centuries, and by the early 800s they had gained control of much of Ireland. They repeatedly raided Iona and had virtually wiped out the little monastery established there. As a result, Kenneth, in about 830, moved the remaining monks and their relics from Iona to Dunkeld, which was far inland and secure from the sea-going Vikings. Dunkeld then became the center of Christianity of the new Kingdom of Scotia. Kenneth then placed a member of the Royal Family over the center as Abbot of Dunkeld. The title was hereditary, and was handed down from father to son for many generations. The members of this group of Abbots were the progenitors of our Clan. One of the earliest Abbots was Dungadr (Duncan), Mormaor of Caithness, and the Vikings are said to have called him "the greatest of all the Scottish Chiefs."

In 875 the Viking forces of Olaf the White, King of Dublin, and his son Tborstein the Red, captured Dumbreton (later to be known as Strathclyde), stronghold of the Bretons in Strathclyde. At that time Eadmund, King of England, and Malcolm I, King of Scots, combined their forces to expel the Vikings. But Groa, daughter of Thorstein the Red, remained as the wife of Dungadr. Thus a Viking ancestry was introduced into the line of Abbots following Durgadr. The next of this line was Duncan, son or grandson of Dungadr, who succeeded as Abbot of Dunkeld. He also held the title of Abthane of Dule and Mormaor of Atholl. He was killed at the Battle of Duncrub c. 965. His son, also called Duncan, succeeded to these titles.

The last Duncan was similarly killed in battle at Luncarty c. 990. He had three sons, Crinan, Grim, and Duncan. Crinan succeeded to his father's titles of Abthane of Dule and Abbot of Dunkeld. Crinan also was killed in battle in an attempt to regain the throne of Scotia from MacBeth for his grandson. The marriage of Crinan Eryvine and Beatrix, daughter of Malcolm II, King of Scotia, brought the lines of the Abbots and the Royal Family together again when their son Duncan I became King.

The battle of Carham in 1016-18 brought the little kingdom of Cumbria under the rule of Malcolm II of Scotia. It has since remained a part of Scotland and is now called Galloway. Never a peaceful area, it was a mixture of Picts, Scots, Norse and Danish Vikings, Anglo-Saxons and Bretons. Malcolm placed his grandson Duncan, son of Crinan and Beatrix, as King of Cumbria to maintain peace in the area. With the young Duncan (age about 18 years) were his father Crinan, his uncles Grim and Duncan, and his brother Malmare.

Historical details of the period in which Cumbria was settled into the Kingdom of Scotia are scarce. But it is known that Crinan, the Patriarch of our Clan, gave his name to the wide area of land extending from the west coast of Scotland, where the Royal Burgh of Irvine now stands, to the River Esk in the east. "Strathirwin" (river-valley of Irwin) eventually became Strathearn. Duncan, son of Crinan, was made King of Cumbria; Duncan, brother of Crinan, became its Governor; Grim, brother of Crinan, became Earl of Strathirwin (a title created in 1114 by Alexander I, King of Scotia). Duncan, King of Cumbria, had two sons, Malcolm and Donaldbane. In 1034 Duncan of Cumbria was crowned King of Scotia as Duncan I. In 1040 he was murdered by MacBeth; five years later Crinan and his son Malmare were killed in an attempt to regain the throne for Prince Malcolm.


While the thin history of this period leaves many questions unanswered, it is sufficient to indicate that the Clan Eryvine was significantly active in support of the Crown and in the establishment of Scotland as a nation. The names of the next generation following Duncan, Governor of Cumbria, and Grim, Earl of Strathirwin, are not positively identified. However, Clan Historian Edward J. B. Irving states that "the eldest son of Duncan, the Governor of Cumbria, married a British heiress and became the Laird of Bonshaw and Dumbretton in Kirtledale." Thus, one can trace the Clan Eryvine to about 1050-60.

Though historically documented facts relating to the Eryvine Clan are scarce, it is known that Ranulfus, son of Dungal, made a grant which was witnessed by Gilchrist, son of Eruini, (the Latin form of Eryvine or Irwin). Gilchrist was Earl of Angus between 1124 and 1160. Records also indicate that in 1158 Gilcrist was instrumental in putting down a rebellion against the teenage King Malcolm IV, King of Scotia.

It is also known that Malise, Earl of Strathirwin  supported the Earl of Angus in 1158. This line of Earls, by the name of Valise, were descendants of Grim. Malise VII supported Robert the Bruce and was one of the Nobility of Scotia who signed the Declaration of Arbroath in 1321.

Reginald of Irwin” is mentioned as having received five grants from Matilda, Queen of Henry I of England and daughter of Malcolm III, King of Scotia, for the continuation of his studies at what later became Oxford University. Queen Matilda reigned 1100 to 1118.

Though recorded facts are scarce to non-existent, tradition gives us the following probable broad outline: Assuming Eruini to be Duncan, Governor of Cumbria, Gilchrist his son would be the first Earl of Angus created by Malcolm III, King of Scotia. This Earl had a son Gilibrede who married a daughter of Gospatrick (possibly the British heiress who owned Bonshaw and Dumbretton). They had six sons, one being Gilchrist III Earl of Angus, who assisted the young Malcolm IV. Reginald of Irwin would have been a possible brother of the first Gilchrist. Robert de Herewine of a later generation was witness to a charter in 1226; another Reginald of Irwin became Archdeacon of Glasgow in 1245 and died not long thereafter; Robert of Irwin was witness to a charter of the Bishop of St. Andrew's in 1260. William de Irwin, younger son of the Laird of Bonshaw, armor bearer, secretary and chamberlain of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, closes the gap in history and begins a connected line of descent from Drum.


Sir William de Irwyn, who was knighted by Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, was the first Laird of Drum. He was born about 1260, and died at Drum in 1333. He married Marrotte Bernard, granddaughter of Bruce and Isobel, who was herself the granddaughter of David I King of Scotland.

In 1322, when firmly settled on the throne of Scotland,  Bruce granted a portion of the Royal Forest of Drum to Sir William’s father, Alexander de Irwyn. This was seen as a gesture of gratitude for the assistance he had received at Greyfriers Church in Dumfries on February 10, 1306. It was there, during a stormy meeting with John Comyn the Red, the only other serious contender for the Scottish crown, that an argument erupted between the two. Daggers were drawn, but Bruce got his blow in first and Comyn was killed. Alexander de Irwyn was among the group who helped Bruce escape the Comyn followers. On March 25, 1306, in the Abby of Scone, Robert Bruce was crowned King of Scots.

On February 1, 1323, as a reward for long and faithful service, Bruce granted Sir William de Irwyn a Free Barony in Aberdeenshire. The grant included the Castle of Drum, the Tower, and some 8000 acres of the Royal Forest of Drum which had been a part of the original Royal Caledonian Forest. A second grant was at Kyncross and was dated October 9, 1324. The original grants are still in existence and are kept in a vault at Drum. Thereafter Sir William was also known as the Laird of Drum. Twenty-three additional Lairds of Drum would occupy the estate. In 1975 Henry Quintin Forbes Irvine, the twenty-fourth Laird, and the last one to live on site, turned over Drum Castle and 411 acres of the original estate to the National Trust of Scotland .


James N. Irvine (1709-1770), a twelfth great-grandson of Sir William, was our immigrant ancestor. As religious tensions continued to mount in Scotland, young James Irvine was sent by his father—Alexander, the sixteenth Laird of Drum—to Ulster in Northern Ireland to stay with relatives until the unrest died down at home. Years before some members of the Irvine family had also moved to Ireland to escape growing religious oppressions by the Royalists, but the rift between Protestants and Irish Catholics had grown deadly even then.

William Penn had been encouraging disgruntled Scottish Protestants to emigrate to his colony in America. It was during James’ extended stay in Ulster with the Edward Irvine family that they decided to leave Ulster for Pennsylvania.

It was also about this time that James met Agness Patterson, a young Irish beauty who immediately turned his head. Their relationship blossomed, and when James learned of Agness’ father’s intention to emigrate to the Colonies as well he knew he would have to act quickly. He sent a message to his father requesting permission to marry Agness. Alexander immediately returned a dispatch saying that he opposed the marriage, and demanded that James return to Aberdeen at once. Despite his father’s adamant disapproval, James and Agness were soon married, and it was decided that they would accompany the Irvines and the Pattersons when they left for America.

Alexander was furious at his son’s defiance, but he did allow James and his now pregnant wife to return to the family enclave near Aberdeen. After the birth of Joseph, their first child, the young family went back to the home of Agness’ parents in Ireland to prepare for their impending departure. Probably sometime in 1739 the Irvines, Pattersons and several other allied families, including that of Joseph and Agness, set sail on a small clipper ship. After sixty-seven days at sea they landed in Philadelphia, the capitol of William Penn’s colony in North America.

The Irvines and Pattersons settled in a predominately Scots-Irish area in Chester County, Pennsylvania. In 1750, however, rumors of new land grants in Virginia and the Carolinas began to circulate, and the wanderlust that is part of so many Erwins  excited James Irvine. He decided to move his family to the raw frontier of the Carolinas. James (now spelling his surname E-r-w-i-n) petitioned Lord Granville for land, and in about 1754 he received a grant for two parcels along Second Broad Creek near the Yadkin River in Rowan County, North Carolina.

James and Agness had arrived in Pennsylvania about 1739 with Joseph, their year-old son. They had had ten more children, the last four being born in Rowan County, North Carolina.

And the rest, as so often is said, is history… our history. The descendants of James and Agness now live in most, if not all, of the fifty states.