Loyd came to live with us after the death of my grandmother and he would reside with us until his death in 1994. I recall that on numerous occasions, when people would ask him about his mother’s family, he would always declare that his mother’s name was Maud Ervin. He would then go on to explain that it was spelled with an “E” and not an “I”. His Ervins were proud of that spelling and any Ervin who spelled their name that way was related.
The only information I ever received about Maud’s family of Ervins was that her father was Joseph Newton Ervin and that Maud’s mother was Laura Adelaide Cathcart. Addy Ervin had died when Maud was still young and Joseph got remarried and had several more children.
I had always wondered about whether or not my Ervins were the same Ervin family from which Robert Ervin Howard (REH) was related. Over the years doing genealogical research I had never been able to discover anything about either mine or REH’s Ervins.
It wasn’t until I found an entry on the Find A Grave website that I even considered it a strong possibility. The entry listed my great grandfather as being a brother to a Robert Newton Ervin. Those not familiar with the various comments made by REH concerning his Ervin forebears will be filled in later, but this Robert would be the second cousin of Hester Jane Ervin, REH’s mother.
It was at this time that I decided to dig a little deeper and try to unravel these Ervin families.
One of Loyd’s younger siblings was his sister Mag. She lived well into her 90’s and she gave my mother a document to give to me because she knew I was doing genealogical research on the Brantley and Ervin families. This document turned out to be a very important key in me being able to prove that Joseph Newton Ervin’s father was James William Ervin – not Robert Ervin; and thus, Joseph is not a brother of Robert’s son Robert Newton Ervin.
The document was a remembrance written by Eula Erin Ervin, a daughter of Joseph Newton Ervin by his second wife, Samantha Elizabeth Smith. This would be Maud Ervin’s younger step-sister. Eula died in 2014 and left this document for her grandchildren.
Here is what Eula knew about her father:
- “When I was born our family included Mama, Papa, Maud (married with three children), Buddy (was gone to war), Gordon, and L.D.; Kenneth came two years later.”
- “Maud Ervin and Buddy Ervin were my daddy’s children by a former wife. He and my mother married when they were small. I think she died when Buddy was born and he and my Mama married when they were like two and four. They never knew any mother but mine and no difference was ever made in all of us.”
- “My father’s full name was Joseph Newton Ervin. He died December 25th, 1943. He was born in America (I think) on September 23rd, 1861.”
- “Father has been said to resemble the Dutch people and Irish people because he was of Dutch/Irish descent. He had clear complexion, blue/green eyes and wore a heavy mustache, and his hair was snow white when I was born. He was 53 the year Mama was 39.”
- “They raised four of their own and lost four by death [not counting Maud Ervin and James Larkin ‘Buddy’ Ervin]. Douglas Cobern lived to be a toddler, and three little girls were stillborn and never named. One of them was a twin to me.”
- “For a living my father farmed and sawmilled or hauled logs for and with his brother-in-law. I was small but I remember Uncle Joe Sanders. But I never remembered Aunt Ellen. She was my daddy’s half-sister, and he had a half-brother, too, Uncle Frank Sims. I knew his family well. I saw two of Uncle Frank’s grandsons at Mars Hill at the homecoming this year (1993). They were born and still are all in Georgia (Rockmart).”
It was the last item that gave me the information which resulted in finding a family tree online that finally answered the question of who Joseph Newton Ervin’s family was. Joseph Newton appears as just Newton under the first child of Joseph and Eleanor Sanders:
SANDERS, Joseph – b. 31 Aug 1812 – d. 1 Oct 1903 AL. Moved to Perry County, AL about 1830
+ WILLIAMS, Eleanor Mary – b. 15 Mar 1814 – d. 28 Oct 1897 married 12 Dec 1834
1. SANDERS, Mary Elizabeth – b. 29 Sep 1835 married 1st to Joseph William ERVIN on 7 Sep 1856; child Newton ERVIN. Married 2nd to Benjamin Sims.
2. SANDERS, Thomas Alexander – b. 26 Jun 1837
3. *SANDERS, Margaret Louisa – b. 27 Jun 1839
4. SANDERS, John Danford – b. 23 Oct 1841
5. SANDERS, Joseph, Jr. – b. 28 Dec 1843
6. SANDERS, Benjamin F. Twine – b. 28 Dec 1843
7. SANDERS, George Washington – b. 5 Jun 1846
8. SANDERS, Rebecca Ann – b. 23 Aug 1849
9. SANDERS, Hiram Newton – b. 2 Apr 1854
10. SANDERS, William Jefferson – b. 23 Nov 1854
+ BAKER, Mary Fowler – (widow of Newell Baker (she had 2 children already by Newell and one with Joseph SANDERS)
11. SANDERS, Eleanor Parinet – b. 20 Oct 1871
* Family tree provided by great grandchild of Margaret Sanders.
There was quite a bit more to this family tree. For example, the children of Benjamin Sims and Mary Sanders are Elizabeth Sims, Ellen Sims, and Frank Sims, making them Joseph Ervin’s half-siblings. One of the children of Thomas Sanders is Joseph “Joe” Sanders. Joe Sanders and Ellen Sims married so that Eula’s last statement helps show that Joseph Newton Ervin’s brother-in-law was indeed Joe Sanders, but he was also Joseph’s first cousin. Ellen died in 1918 and Eula was born in 1914 so it shows that Eula wouldn’t have any memories of her Aunt Ellen.
This family tree helped fill in a few other things, as well. It appears Joseph Newton Ervin was named for his maternal grandfather Joseph Sanders. He also had an uncle named Hiram Newton Sanders, so the Newton likely was a family name at least that far back. Finally, it seems that he went by the name of Newton, at least in his younger years. These clues helped me to find the census records where Joseph Newton Ervin appears as Newton Sims until he was old enough to establish his own household. The following records establish a timeline for Joseph’s life:
Before turning to the Ervin family research of Robert Ervin Howard, it should be noted that the Sanders, Williams, and Lee families were recorded in the above mentioned family tree as coming from Union County, North Carolina to Alabama. This doesn’t prove that James William Ervin also came from Union County, North Carolina, but the possibility is certainly strong.
It is difficult to determine just how REH came by his family history as some of the claims are quite dubious. For example, his grandfather is claimed to be George Washington Ervin. While it is true that his grandfather was George W. Ervin, his middle name of Washington has been contested. REH also Claimed his grandfather was a cavalry officer under Nathan Bedford Forest. This, too, seems to be erroneous. George W. Ervin was most likely an enlisted soldier who took on the sobriquet of Colonel after the Civil War.
We’ll begin with quotes from L. Sprague de Camp, Catherine Crook de Camp, and Jane Whittington Griffin’s Dark Valley Destiny where the citation is referenced to the Ervin family Bible of Mrs. Virginia Sargent:
- “The Ervin family had been established since 1724 in the northeastern part of North Carolina near the Virginia line. Here in 1801, Howard’s great grandfather, the first Robert Ervin, was born on a plantation close to the shores of Currituck Sound. At the age of twenty three, Robert Ervin married Jane Tennyson, also a member of an old Tidewater family. The couple settled on a plantation near Raleigh where, in 1830, George Washington Ervin first saw light of day.”
- “Caught in the westward movement of the 1840s Robert Ervin took family to Tennessee and thence, in 1842, to a farm near Iuka in Tishomingo County at the northeastern corner of Mississippi. Here George Washington Ervin grew to manhood and here, on July 26th, 1849, in his twentieth year, he married Sarah Jane Martin, the daughter of Dr. Thomas Martin, who had recently come to Tishomingo County from Tennessee.”
The next two of REH’s quotes are taken from the two-volume set of his and H. P. Lovecraft’s letters published as A Means to Freedom, Volume 1, 1930-1932:
- “Behind my English name are lines of purely Gaelic Eirbhins . . .”
- “The Eirbhins, or Ervins, to give the name its present Anglicized spelling, came to America a very long time ago; just when I am not sure, but it was before 1700. The family was originally Scotch and there is a legend to the effect that the name was once ‘Mac Conaire’. How that name came to be Eirbhin is more than I can say, but descent from Conaire, ard-righ of Erin is claimed, which, if true, shows that the clan went into Scotland at a comparatively late date.”
- “At any rate, it was a wild Highland clan in the days of Robert Bruce and because they followed him and were granted favors by him, it is tradition in the family that a male child in every generation be named Robert. My great grandfather was Robert Ervin, and my great-great grandfather the same; my grandfather by some chance, was named George Washington Ervin [his brother was named Robert Newton Ervin], but he named his youngest son Robert, and I have several cousins of that name.”
- “However, the Eirbhins went westward early, and had been in Ireland for generations, before they came to America. My grandfather Colonel G. W. Ervin highly resented any attempt to attribute Scotch characteristics to him.”
- “In 1800 the family was well established on [a] large plantation in North Carolina, but moved to Mississippi in the early 1840’s. The Civil War ruined the plantation system and Colonel Ervin came to Texas in 1866.”
Finally, the next couple of pieces of information come from Rob Roehm who has done extensive research on REH and the Howard family. I contacted him and asked him if he knew about REH’S Ervins:
- “No. All I’ve got is Howard’s claim that the Ervins were in Currituck Precinct, NC, as early as 1724. He doesn’t mention any names, and I’ve been unable to find any. Even this information is sketchy. Here’s what REH told Clyde Smith: ‘I also came upon the first evidence of the Ervin family in America – a will made by a slave-holder in North Carolina and witnessed by one Robert Ervin; date, 1724. That was kin of mine I know, because the Ervins settled in North Carolina and lived there until 1840, and only my branch spells the name that way.’ If that’s all he had . . .”
- “He spent some time in San Antonio doing research in 1931. In his ‘The Wandering Years’ he says that his branch of the Ervins ‘are not to be confused with the late Scotch-Irish drift into North Carolina from Mecklenburg County, Pennsylvania, in the early 1760’s. Robert Irwin, signer of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, was no kin of mine.”
First, it should be noted that there is no Mecklenburg, Pennsylvania. There are only two counties in the United Stated with this name and they are Mecklenburg County, Virginia and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.
Our focus will now turn to these early immigrant Ervin families and the counties of Currituck County, North Carolina; Union County, North Carolina; Mecklenburg County, North Carolina; Rowan County, North Carolina; and Williamsburg County, South Carolina. All of these counties can be found in the three circles on the following map.
To begin with, there are numerous variations on how the surname of Ervin has been spelled over the years, especially before spelling became standardized. The Irwin Clan homepage lists 240 variations! REH’s idiosyncratic spelling of Eirbhin is not listed, though. But it is clear that he was taken by the etymology being a reference to “a great man of the West”, typically understood to be Ireland. Still, there are other etymologies that differ from this, the standard one of the Irwin clans and their kin.
Regardless, it should be noted that the Irwins, Irvines, Irvings, Ervins, and virtually all of the spelling variants claim a similar lineage to that which REH espouses about the connection to Scotland, Robert Bruce, and a legendary tie to a remote progenitor of both Irish and Scottish kings.
REH is wrong, however, in claiming these were wild Highlanders. The Irwins were Lowland Scots and their family seat is in an area of the Scottish Lowlands between Carlisle and Lockerbie close the Debatable Lands. The exact location is Bonshaw Tower, which was supposedly the area where Robert Bruce took rest in his flight.
There is also a connection of the Irwins to Aberdeen, Scotland and the area of Drum Castle. One thing that seems to be another common thread is that members of the family fled Scotland after the unification of the crowns and went to Ireland. After almost a hundred years of living in Ireland, numerous branches came to the American colonies. We’ll look at some of the earliest ones in North and South Carolina. REH was adamant that his Ervins arrived quite early.
For more information about the Irwin Clan, see the following pages:
In my search for early Ervins of the Carolinas, I tried to restrict myself to just those who spelled their name as Ervin. This wasn’t easy as virtually all of the families that used Ervin, also used Irwin/e or Irvine/g variations. I also don’t claim to have been exhaustive; if there are more that I overlooked, I’d be thrilled to learn more about other Ervins in other Carolina counties.
To begin with, let’s take a look at REH’s discovery that he was convinced was his direct ancestor – the will dated February 2nd, 1724/5 that was witnessed by Robert Ervin.
I easily found this will by going directly to the Currituck County website. I also discovered the will of what I believe to be this same Robert Ervin, plus one additional will worth noting.
The will that Robert Ervin witnessed was indexed as Ervin, but his will was also indexed as Irving and was found on the “I” tab of their “Wills & Estates” page. The witnessed will is that of William Williams. Could this be the same Williams family in my own Joseph Newton Ervin’s family tree? There is no clue that would show how. There is nothing else to give us any clues about Robert on this document.
I did find the will of Robert Irving/Ervin dated February 16th, 1735/36. In this we learn that Robert was a merchant tailor. A merchant tailor was a person who dealt in the transportation and trade of fabric and/or clothes.
The most frustrating thing, though, is that Robert leaves his estate in the hands of George Powers and names absolutely no one else.
Finally, I found what appears to be the will of this same George Powers dated March 27th, 1754. George leaves his estate to his wife and children without any naming of an Ervin or Irving. His son George inherits land adjacent to a Joseph Sanderson. Could that be Joseph Sanders – the grandfather of Joseph Newton Ervin? Again, we are left with more questions than answers.
And certainly it would be difficult to connect this Robert to REH with no more information than this. With just this evidence, it appears Robert had no wife or children, though.
Chronologically, the next family of Ervins are the pioneer settlers of Williamsburg, South Carolina at the famous pioneer settlement at the King’s Tree. This migration was led by Roger Gordon and the colony was named for William of Orange.
The source for this family is two-fold. Before his death in 1810, Col. John Ervin, who fought under Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox of the Revolutionary War, left a family history in his Bible. The Bible of Col. Ervin was inherited by his great-great grandson, North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin, Jr. Senator Ervin published the history along with further information in an article entitled “Entries in Colonel John Ervin’s Bible” that was published in 1978 in The South Carolina Historical Magazine.
Recounted in this family lineage is the same tradition of the Scottish Border Reiver family that once served Robert Bruce and trace their lineage to Scottish nobility. They too fled Scotland to Ireland and, finally, to America.
According to this line, though, their name was Irvine and was changed to Ervin when the family settled in America. There are no names that could be tied directly to either REH’s or my line of Ervins. The names of Robert, James, William, John, and Hugh are used frequently in this family.
The most conspicuous thing to me, though, is the prominence of this family. Both REH and my Ervins seem have come from lesser means than these South Carolinian Ervins. I’m quite sure that if REH’s family knew they were descended from a prominent officer who fought alongside Francis Marion, REH would have certainly boasted of it.
The next family is more frequently known as Irwins, but they do have branches that adopted the spelling of Ervin. These are the same Irwins who REH seemed to find reprehensible for signing the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and emphatically affirm that they were not kin. Maybe REH felt the controversy surrounding the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and its possibility of being a forgery cast a unpalatable stain on the family.
In reality, modern-day scholars believe that the citizens of Mecklenburg did write a forerunner of the Declaration of Independence called the Mecklenburg Resolves. It is still questionable whether they went ahead and declared full independence. The problem was that the original document was lost to history.
Mecklenburg County sits beside Union County, North Carolina; however, these counties are not very close to either Currituck County, NC or Williamsburg County, SC. The Irwins came from Ireland to Pennsylvania in 1730 and then relocated to Mecklenburg in 1763 after General Robert Irwin’s father died.
General Robert Irwin, serving as a Colonel, fought in the Revolutionary War and won a battle at Hanging Rock in South Carolina while serving as cavalry commander under General Thomas Sumter.
Again, I wasn’t able to find any clues that would help in my Ervin search other than the close proximity of Union County.
Finally, I was able to find a will from Rowan County, North Carolina of one Joseph Ervin dated June 20th, 1793. In the document, the “1793” might be construed as a “1743”, but this is impossible as Rowan County wasn’t created until 1753. In the will Joseph names his two sons William and Joseph, but there is nothing that would connect them with either REH’s Robert Ervin or my James William Ervin.
One corner of Rowan County touches Mecklenburg County. While it doesn’t prove anything, the proximity is still noted.
In the final analysis, I wasn’t able to find any concrete proof that connected either my Ervin family or REH’s Ervin family to their colonial roots. It wasn’t without reward, though, and I hope that other researchers may take up the standard and add to either branches knowledge of the Ervin family.
David Garrett was born near Birmingham, Alabama and joined the United States Air Force after high school. He served as an enlisted medic in Desert Storm, attended Officer Training School in 2002, served in Iraq in 2010, and retired as a Major in 2016. Since retiring at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, he and his wife remained in The Springs and currently run First Light Home Care of Colorado Springs, a company specializing in in-home care for the elderly and disabled.