They Passed This Way II


This is the second segment of several that will attempt to describe the places, and the conditions, where our Erwin ancestors lived, as well as their movements south and west in America. In the last issue of our newsletter we covered probable migrations from Gaul to Ireland and then to Scotland, as well as recorded areas of habitation at Bonshaw and Drum in Scotland, from about 1000 AD to about 1738.


Sir William de Irwyn became the first Laird of Drum (the Barony of Drum is located just outside of Aberdeen, Scotland) in 1323, and his direct descendants have lived in and around Aberdeenshire for some 25 generations. It is entirely possible, however, that some members of the clan may have been caught up in the forced migration to the Irish Plantations by the English in the 1600s.


James N. Irvine (1709-1770), our immigrant ancestor, supported and was active in the Jacobite movement. About 1737, as religious and political tensions continued to mount, and it was becoming increasingly apparent that the authorities would soon place James under arrest, his father—Alexander Irvine, the XVI Laird of Drum—arranged for him to escape to Ulster in Northern Ireland in order to escape the wrath of the Royalists. He was directed to stay with the Edward Irvine family until his reputation waned somewhat in Aberdeenshire.



History—Jacobite is the name given to the English and Scottish adherents of the exiled house of Stuart. The Jacobites derived their name from Jacobus, the Latin name for King James II of England, who was dethroned in 1688 by William of Orange during the Glorious Revolution. James had been an unpopular king because of his Roman Catholicism and autocratic rule. The Jacobites engaged for some years in futile plots aimed at overthrowing the new Protestant dynasty. In 1715 a group of Jacobite nobles led an uprising in Scotland and in the English border country in favor of James's son, James Francis Edward Stuart, who was known as the Old Pretender. After an indecisive battle with the government forces, the Jacobites surrendered at Preston, England, and Stuart returned to exile in France. Seven noblemen were sentenced to death for their part in the revolt, but only James Radcliffe, Earl of Derwentwater, and William Gordon, Viscount Kenmure, were executed.

The high point of the Jacobite movement was the second Jacobite rebellion, known as “The Forty-Five.” In July 1745, James II's grandson, Charles Edward Stuart, known as the Young Pretender, landed in Scotland and in September entered Edinburgh with 2000 men. Jacobite forces subsequently won three battles in Scotland and invaded England as far as Derby. Jacobite sentiment was strong only in the Scottish Highlands, however, and their forces retreated and were completely defeated at the Battle of Culloden. The revolt collapsed, and Charles fled to France. Again, a number of nobles were executed for taking part in the rebellion. Nearly 1000 others were condemned to death. With the crushing of “The Forty-Five,” the political significance of the Jacobite movement ended; it survived only in local sentiment and as a theme in romantic literature. Following the defeat of the 1745 Rebellion, the government forced the breakup of the clan system in the Highlands.
Source: Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 2003. © 1993-2002 Microsoft Corporation.



While staying with the Edward Irvine family James met Agnes Patterson, a young Scots-Irish beauty who immediately turned his head. Their relationship blossomed, and when James learned of Agnes' father’s intention to emigrate to the Colonies he knew he would have to act quickly. James sent a message to his father, requesting permission to marry Agnes. Alexander immediately returned a dispatch indicating that he opposed the marriage, pointing out his responsibility as the head of the family to negotiate the best marriage terms and arrangements. He further demanded that James return to Aberdeen at once.

Tradition has it that James’ father vehemently objected to his marriage, and was outraged when his son decided to ignore his decree and marry without his consent. The Laird’s anger was probably compounded when he learned that James also planned to abdicate his Drum estate responsibilities and emigrate to the Colonies. At least one historical source indicates that James “died before his father, unmarried.” It is probable that James and his father had a huge falling out as a result of his plans, and that his father disinherited him. In that era, in England and Scotland—if the anger of the parent was severe enough—being disinherited was the same as being declared dead. On the other hand, James was obviously not penniless, for he was able to book passage to Pennsylvania for himself and his family, as well as purchase land when they arrived. The old Laird may have softened up enough to give James sufficient cash to get started in the New World, but with the admonishment, “Don’t come back!” James’ named his second child Alexander—undoubtedly in honor of his father—so perhaps he was not angry with his father in return.

It was probably in late 1739, after sixty to seventy days at sea, that James N. Irvine—with wife Agness and infant son Joseph—arrived in William Penn’s colony with the Pattersons and his Irvine relatives. The trip across the Atlantic in a sailing ship, prior to the clipper-ship era—was a miserable experience. Gottlieb Mittelberger, who arrived in Philadelphia in 1750, described his voyage: “...bad drinking water and putrid salted meat, excessive heat and crowding, lice so thick that they could be scraped off the body, seas so rough that hatches were battened down and everyone vomited in the foul air, passengers dying of dysentery, scurvy, typhus, canker and mouth-rot.” Tradition has it, however, that the Patterson and Irvine families arrived in Philadelphia intact. They had survived the scurvy and various diseases that were so common aboard the ships of the era, perhaps by luck, but more likely because they were probably able to afford better accommodations than the average emigrant.


History—The Colony of Pennsylvania was established in 1682. It came about as a result of a small fortune that William Penn received when his father, Admiral Sir William Penn, passed on. The old admiral had been a close friend of Charles II, and part of William’s inheritance was debt that Charles II owed his father. When William sought to collect a deal was made to satisfy the debt with a huge grant of land south of the Duke of York’s Delaware colony. In March 1681 William received the proprietary province that bears his name, as well as a charter from Charles II guaranteeing his perpetual possession of it. Unfortunately, however, the new province of Pennsylvania did not have a coastline, so in 1682 William made a deal with the Duke of York for a slice of southern Delaware.

Pennsylvania, which Penn liked to call the “Holy Experiment,” attracted many settlers. Penn wrote and published an article in English, French, Dutch and German describing the colony he proposed to build. He invited honest, hardworking settlers to come, promising them religious freedom, representative government, and cheap land.

Settlers poured in—Quakers from England, Wales and Ireland; Scots-Irish Presbyterians, Swiss and German Protestants; Catholics and Jews from many countries of Europe. Africans  were also brought to the Pennsylvania colony, but the black population was never large. However, in 1700 slavery was recognized in Pennsylvania.

Penn kept his promises to the settlers. As for the Indians, chiefly the Delaware-Lenape, Penn treated then fairly and paid them for their land. Penn was a hands-on administrator, and when it was necessary to return to England to face some legal difficulties, discord developed in the colony. But Penn’s wife Hannah was instrumental in keeping the colony intact and its citizens satisfied and contented, a task she continued to perform even after her husband’s death in 1718.

Penn personally laid out the town of Philadelphia in 1682. The area he selected was no wilderness though. Several hundred Swedes and Finns, survivors of the short-lived colony of New Sweden, were already there. And, as a result of the food that they produced, Philadelphia had no early pioneering hardships. By 1700—as a result of the diverse demography produced by William Penn’s early advertising—Philadelphia had become very cosmopolitan and had replaced New York as the cultural center of the colonies.

Penn’s colony continued to grow and prosper after his death. In fact by the 1740s and 1750s the Middle Colonies—Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and New York—were all very prosperous, but Philadelphia, located on the Delaware River, was the largest and busiest seaport in America.

From the beginning most of the people in Penn’s colony made their living by farming, but—unlike the pioneers in New England—they did not settle in small farming villages. As a result of the generally peaceful nature of the local Indians—except on the western frontier—newcomers tended to build their farm homes on their farms.  


It was the above described scenario that the Pattersons and    Irvines found when their ship tied up in Philadelphia. It was a tremendous relief for the weary travelers to finally get their feet on land again. Philadelphia  was a bustling city, with longshoremen unloading and loading the tall ships, and merchants hawking their wares in the crisp autumn air. It must have been an exciting scene for them, and a big contrast to the drollness and poverty of the Old World. After the long sea-voyage the Pattersons and the Irvines families were eager to begin settling in.

Winter was just around the corner and there was much to do. Although William Penn had died some twenty years before, and the initial cheap land had become somewhat more expensive, the new pioneers were able to purchase tracts of undeveloped land near the growing Scots-Irish settlement in Chester County.

The richness of  America’s virgin soil was a source of wonder to early settlers, many of whom had left Old World farmlands that were exhausted by overuse. This thought may not have been in James’ mind when he bought his first parcel of land in William Penn’s colony, for it is unlikely that he had any previous first-hand knowledge of farming. It is probable that his Irvine relatives and in-laws helped him in the beginning.

Even so, farming in colonial Pennsylvania would have been bone-numbing hard work, even more so for those not used to manual labor. The first task—assuming that he purchased raw land—was to clear it. Of course he would have cut down a few trees for his log house, but he would ultimately need at least twenty or so acres to raise enough vegetables, corn, and other grains for his family and his animals. As time passed he would have cleared more land in order to raise corn or other grains to sell. He may have started out with just one horse or mule, but a serious farmer would have had at least one team of horses or oxen. On the other hand, it was customary for family and neighbors to pitch in and help with cabin and barn raisings.

Clearing the land, however, was something he probably had to do mostly by himself. Visualize, if you can, how much labor it would take to remove just one tree that was perhaps eight inches in diameter. First he would have to cut down the tree, then (assuming he had that team of horses or oxen) drag it away with his work animals. The next step would be to dig a big hole around the stump, cut off the roots with his ax, drag the stump away, and then fill in the hole. All of this—without a bull dozer, dynamite or a chainsaw—would take a couple of days at least...for just one tree. The bottom line was that most of the early settlers did not remove the stumps, and some even followed the lead of the natives and girdled the trees at the base (cut through the bark all around the tree), then built a fire around the tree to hasten it’s death. After the tree died sunlight could then reach the ground.

After he had a small plot cleared he would have had to prepare the soil for planting. The modern steel plow had not been invented yet, so he would have used a plow with a wooden mould board and an iron point; an implement very inefficient by today’s standards. A harrow would probably have been made of wood also, with hard wood points to break up the dirt clods, but hoes and wooden hand rakes may have been used also.  A rototiller would have been a great time and labor saver. The frontier farmer used a hand-scythe to cut his wheat and oats, then he had to place the grains on hard-packed earth and beat them with a bundle of twigs in order to separate the grain from the chaff—no threshing machines yet either.

Few white colonists became full-time hunters, but most had a weapon of some sort. The famous Kentucky rifle had its beginning in Pennsylvania in the early 1700s. German settlers began lengthening and lightening the short-barreled Bavarian hunting rifle into the sleek and deadly favorite of future Daniel Boones. It weighed less than ten pounds, and took less lead and powder. James most certainly would have owned arms, perhaps of better quality than the average colonist. He, like his neighbors, probably would have hunted to supplement his family’s bland mush and porridge diets with venison and wild turkey.

Early settlers often treated the cattle and hogs brought from the Old Country almost like game. Turned loose to fend for themselves—except the family milk cow of course—the animals often grew as wild as the deer they supplanted. Hogs especially multiplied rapidly, feeding on acorns.

Family tradition has it that after a time James leased an existing mill and began to earn a modest income from it in addition to that received from his farm surplus. Specifics are scarce, but mills of the era would have been on the bank of a fast-flowing stream or river. They were powered by a water wheel, usually an undershot type. Through gears, the revolving shaft of the wheel drove a vertical spindle that in turned the top stone of a pair in the mill above. James’ mill, most likely, would have ground corn for corn meal—the basic ingredient for mush, a common staple on the frontier—and wheat for flour. By changing the mill stones oats could have been rolled also, both for animal feed and for oat bread and breakfast porridge.

Milling was not an easy task. It took both precision and muscle. Stones had to be balanced and “dressed” —the furrows cleaned and chiseled deeper—as they wore dull. It took the miller a full day or more to remove the hopper, the casing, and top stone, and then re-groove the stones, and reassemble.

James would have processed his own grains, but his income would have been generated by custom milling for others. Actual cash was scarce among the pioneers of the day, so the miller usually took every tenth bushel for his services. He then sold the accumulated surplus to traders for cash or trade credits.

We know little else about the ten years or so that James and his family lived in Chester County. We can only assume that he prospered. Joseph, his first child, had been born in Scotland, but his next six children—Alexander, Elizabeth, William, James, Jr., Isabelle and Isaac—were born in Pennsylvania; Alexander about 1740 and Isaac about 1750.
As Pennsylvania’s population steadily increased, both from immigration as well as from a high birth rate, the demand for land drove prices to a point that encouraged those seeking new horizons to look beyond Pennsylvania. Around 1750 rumors of new land grants in Virginia and the Carolinas began to circulate, and the old wanderlust many of us know so well excited the Irvines and the Pattersons. Edward Irvine and some of the Pattersons decided to move to Augusta County, Virginia, but James Irvine (now spelling his name E-r-w-i-n) was intrigued with the raw frontier of the Carolinas. After careful research he decided to settle in the northern part of Lord Granville’s section of North Carolina.      »»»


The next segment of They Passed This Way  will describe the migration of the James N. Erwin family down the Great Wagon Road, through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and into the Piedmont region of North Carolina. James bought land from Lord Granville and settled near Salisbury on the Yadkin River. There he would prosper, father four more children, and pass on February 27, 1770.