By no means least of the noted and splendidly influential families of our name were those founded by two brothers, Robert and Charles Ewing. All the evidence indicates and nothing disputes that they were close cousins of the other immigrants of our family. One tradition has it that they were born in Coleraine, Ireland; while another says they were born near Stirling Castle, Scotland, within the old clan bounds. Whichever be correct, it is certain they were near relatives to those who came from at least not far from Londonderry. A tradition, given me by Rowland D. Buford, of Bedford City, an aged man (in his eighty-sixth year at the time of his letter to me) who knew and respected their descendants, insists that they fled from Scotland because of some political difficulty, being staunch Covenanters who, no doubt, warmly espoused the cause of the Protestant claimants to the English throne. However, I am satisfied that they came, whether from Scotland or Ireland, because of the general unrest which prevailed in both countries, and which I have briefly narrated.
An undisputed tradition says that on reaching America they visited their relations in Cecil County, Maryland, for a short time, and then pushed on for the new lands and broader opportunities in that section shortly to become Bedford County, Virginia, near where Samuel Ewing, James Ewing and other cousins then lived.
The sketch of the Ewings left by Nathaniel Ewing of Mount Clair, Knox County, Indiana, and published in the Courier-Journal, February 28, 1897, after what I have elsewhere quoted continues:
"Some time about the year 1735 or 1740 two young men, cousins of my grandfather, Nathaniel Ewing (the only son of the first wife of William Ewing, born in Scotland), came to America. Their names were Charles and Robert Ewing. Having gotten into an affray at a fair in Ireland, they were so unfortunate as to kill a man, for which they were obliged to fly the country and came to my grandfather's, where they concealed themselves for a length of time until one of my grandfather's half brothers came from Virginia on a visit to his relations in Maryland. On his return they were put over the Susquehanna in the night and went with him to Virginia. It being a place less frequented by emigrants from Ireland than Maryland, and a proclamation having arrived offering a reward for their apprehension, their longer stay became dangerous.
"Some time after their arrival in Prince Edward County a new settlement was founded further back, in what is now called Bedford County, near the Peaks of Otter. They joined the adventurers and finally settled there and married sisters, daughters of Mr. Baker, a Presbyterian minister, and lived there until death. They both left large families, who are now settled in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri, some of whom I have seen, viz: Baker Ewing, Young Ewing, Samuel Ewing and Finis Ewing. The last is a Presbyterian clergyman and resides in Missouri. I mention the family on account of their having become so numerous in the western country and to show the connection between them and my family."
Exhaustive investigation leads me to the most decided opinion that the "affray at a fair" and its result is an error. Mr. Buford, who never heard of this fair story, was quite confident that the "trouble," whatever it may have been, was nothing other than a mere "political matter" which resulted in no physical encounter. He lived in the county where both Robert and Charles spent most of their distinguished lives; and so had a better opportunity to know their pre-American history than had Nathaniel Ewing whose article was published in the Courier-Journal. All the facts, aside from Nathaniel's statement, indicate that at that day Robert and Charles could have been as readily located where they settled in Virginia as had they remained in Cecil County.
That they had committed no grave crime in early life, even in the heat of an unpremeditated encounter, the prominence of their later lives attests. Cossett, the biographer of Finis Ewing, of this Robert and Charles says:
Among other things, this Robert or his son became a colonel of Virginia militia. (See his letter to Governor Jefferson in 1 Virginia State Papers, 510; and another of March, 1783, in volume 3, p. 459.) He served in Capt. Thomas Buford's Company of volunteers under General Andrew Lewis, known as Dunmore's Indian war, and was a participant in the famous battle of Point Pleasant, October 10, 1774, as were others of his kindred. (Letter from R. D. Buford; Virginia Colonial Militia, 86.)
Just when these brothers reached Virginia I am not sure; nor do I know where they first lived in that State, then a colony, other than what Nathaniel has said.
In a deed dated January 24, 1755, Robert and Mary, his wife, give their home as in Lunenburg County. The instrument conveys land in Augusta County. The land was patented to Robert Ewing in 1749, according to copies from the records as given by Lyman Chalkley, 3 Chronicles of the Scotch-Irish Settlement in Virginia, 338. The work is abstracts of the Augusta records. Augusta County, as we saw, was formed from Orange in 1738, and the first Augusta records begin in 1745. This is the earliest record of Robert in Virginia which I have found. He never lived in Augusta but was reaching out for land. Lunenburg was formed in 1746 from Brunswick, and up to 1753 Bedford County, which became the home of Robert and Charles, was a part of Lunenburg County.
Mr. Buford, writing to me in his eightieth year, says that Robert and Charles came to Bedford from Prince Edward. Prince Edward was formed from Amelia in 1753. But as Robert, taking the recital in the deed of 1755 as correct, did not live in Prince Edward in January, 1755, it is most probable that he was then in that part of Lunenburg which subsequently became Bedford. Amelia was formed from Prince George in 1734; but the records of Amelia give us no light upon ether of these brothers. However, it is interesting that those records contain the following deeds:
The body of the deed describes the grantors as living in Amelia County, State of Virginia, and the acknowledgment was in Amelia County and is dated 25th July, 1749.
Acknowledged in the County of Amelia, on the 15th June, 1750.
The body of the deed recites grantors as in Parrish of Nottoway, Amelia County.
Robert and Charles each acquired landed estates, both in Virginia and later in what became Kentucky. Robert owned land lying along "the south end of Ewing's mountain" and which is now in Wythe County, and near the George Ewing lands.
Robert was the older. For many years he was "clerk of the Bedford County Court, and an elder in the Presbyterian church. He married Miss Mary Baker and became the father of nine sons and three daughters," said Cossitt [sic]. But Buford says Robert was never clerk of the court.
Mr. Buford, than whom no recent man in Bedford County knew more of the genealogy of the prominent families of his county, of these immigrant brothers says that they "were useful, high-toned, wise, intelligent, and public spirited citizens."
Both of the immigrant brothers were staunch Presbyterians, Covenanters of the Scotch faith. They and their neighbor Scotch or Scotch-Irish founded, long before 1774, the historic Peaks of Otter Presbyterian church. Their children's names are upon its roster. In 1774 the congregation presented to the Virginia House of Burgesses a petition saying that they "were willing to contribute their quota in support of the church of England as by law established in this colony of Virginia," with more cheerfulness because allowed the exercise of their religion "which they humbly conceive is well calculated to make men wise here and happy hereafter." Then attention is called to the inconvenience of supporting a clergy of their denomination and they ask a law authorizing lands and slaves to be bought and title to rest in the elders for the benefit of the congregation, and to the use of their minister "as long as he continues in the doctrine and subject to the disciple of the Presbyterian Church as held and exercised by their Sessions, Presbyteries, or Synods."
Among the large number of signers are Robert Ewing, Charles Ewing, Robert Ewing, Jr., Andrew Ewing, John Ewing, Caleb Ewing, and William Ewing. If the Junior Robert who signed was the son of the immigrant, he was not quite fourteen years old according to his tombstone, which says he was born in 1760. This Charles was evidently the son of the immigrant Charles, as the latter died in 1770. This petition was presented in 1774, referred to the "Committee for Religion" of the House of Burgesses on May 17 of that year, and on the twenty-first of that month reported "Reasonable." Thus these Ewings contributed their influence to the planting of another milestone along the road leading to greater religious tolerance in Virginia.
This Robert Ewing's will was probated June 25, 1787, and the codicil is dated May 27, 1787. The codicil is witnessed by Will Ewing, who was a lawyer, Adam Beard and two others. To the wife Mary, who was a daughter of the Rev. Baker, he leaves, during her widowhood, the home plantation and personal property.
This will is witnessed by Sam Ewing and others. A grandson, Bartus Ewing, a son of John Ewing, received "a set of Shew and Knee Silver buckles"; and another grandson, Bartus, son of July Mills, received another set. July Mills received a diamond ring "worth two pistols as a token of her singular obedience." To John and Finis the will gave farms near the Peaks of Otter in Bedford County. Most of the other boys had their faces set toward Kentucky, mentioned in the will as the "Western Country." This elder Robert himself had arranged for vast tracts in the rich Kentucky regions; and owned about "514 acres on the south end of Ewing's Mountain," in what is now Wythe County, Virginia, in addition to other lands in what is yet Bedford County.
To Robert, who married May Baker, it is said were born twelve children; but eleven only are named in Robert's will. Robert, Jr., who became the General Robert Ewing of Kentucky, was the oldest; and Finis (Latin for last) who became the distinguished minister, it is generally reported, was the youngest. However, Mr. Cockrell of Louisville and Judge Ewing of Houston say a twelfth was "Jane (who) married Peter Kelly, a soldier of the Revolution." As named in the will this is the order and spelling, though not indicative of relative ages: Finis, Polly, Robert, Baker, Rubin, Chattam, Young, Urbin, John, July (who married Mills) and Sydney (who married Adam Lynn). In his The Ewing Genealogy, Hon. P. K. Ewing has Martha (Betty) where in his will the father has July. She married Capt. John Mills, of Botetourt County, Virginia. Judge Ewing says "Polly (Patty) married John Ewing, son of George Ewing."
There is evidently some confusion regarding the number of daughters, and there may be also regarding the birth of Finis, which is given by Cossett as July 10, 1773. Young and Urbin were not of "full age" at the date of the father's will March 2, 1786, as shown upon its face; and Chatham was not of full age at date of the codicil, May 14, 1787. Finis receives land and other bequests as though of full age and nothing in either document suggests that he was not twenty-one.
Mary Baker Ewing, who became the mother of these children, was the sister of Martha Baker, who married Charles Ewing. Of Mary's personal history Hon. P. K. Ewing says that farther than her parentage he ascertained nothing, then adds: "but surely the mother of a galaxy of sons like hers, who are accredited by history so uniformly with worthy achievements of high order, must have been richly endowed with those attributes which make 'a perfect woman nobly planned.'" This very just compliment is equally applicable to her sister Martha; and, for that matter to many, many of the splendid mothers of our family, who, lost in their husbands, have so nobly contributed to the many "worthy achievements of a high order," accredited by history to an unusual member of all branches of our family.
July, who married Capt. John Mills, probably married in Kentucky, as there is no record of her marriage in Bedford. Robert II married May McLean; Urban (or Urbin) married May Ewing; and Rubin married Frances Whitsell, located in Logan County, Kentucky, and became one of the first justices of its court. Chatham married Elizabeth Campbell, April 22, 1790, as shown by the Bedford records; and of Finis and Robert II we shall see subsequently.
Since no attempt is being made to write a genealogy, I mention only a few of the descendants of this family. Other names may be found in the recent work of Hon. P. K. Ewing and among the data of F. M. Cockrell, of Louisville, Kentucky, and in the material left by the late James L. Ewin, of Washington. D. C.
Through her daughter, Nancy, who married Abraham Boyd, Sidney [sic] (Ann) Lynn's grandson, John Boyd, was long a member of the Congress of the Republic of Texas; another grandson, Lynn Boyd, was a member of the legislature of Kentucky, 1827-'30; a member of Congress in 1834, 1838 to 1854, being speaker of the House 1850-1854; and in 1859 he became lieutenant-governor of Kentucky.
Polly (Patty) married John Ewing (son of George Ewing), of Virginia, and moved to Kentucky where this John Ewing became a member of the first court of Campbell County. Through a son, Urban Epinetus, they have descendants of note in Louisville, Chicago and elsewhere.
Most of the children of Robert Ewing fell in with the westward expansion along the "Old Wilderness Road," leading through Southwest Virginia by what is now Bristol, thence across the mountains into Powell Valley, Lee County (as the region is now), where my own family and other Ewings early located, thence out beyond the enchanting Cumberlands into Kentucky; and, in time, later descendants spread into all parts of the vast, inspiring West. Some sojourned as they went,--for instance, Urbin lived for some time in Washington County, of which he was part of that period sheriff. At Abingdon, the seat of that county, Urbin Ewing, in 1773, was by its court admitted to practice as an attorney at law.
Baker Ewing became identified with Lincoln and Franklin Counties, Kentucky. In 1788 he was in the legislature as a member from Lincoln. He was the first register of the Kentucky Land Office; and in 1802 represented Franklin County in the legislature.
Young Ewing went early to Kentucky, married three times; in 1792 he was one of the justices of the first court of Logan County; he represented that county in the legislature in 1795; was a member of the constitutional convention; again in the legislature in 1800-1807; in the State senate for many years; Presidential elector in 1824; and with the rank of colonel commanded troops in our war of 1812-'14, distinguishing himself particularly at the battle of the Thames.
Urban Ewing went to Logan County, Kentucky, about 1796. For many years he was a member of the legislature; was a gallant soldier in the war of 1812; and moved to Cooper County, Missouri, about 1819, and there died. He married Mary (Polly) Ewing, daughter of George Ewing, at Abingdon, Virginia, Judge P. K. Ewing says, in 1787, and she died in Lafayette County, Missouri, in 1832. Many of their descendants are today in that State.
Reuben Ewing went to Kentucky, became a member of the constitutional convention, one of the judges of the Logan County "quarterly court" in 1801; and associate justice of the circuit court in 1803; and, of course, he also served in the legislature. He married Frances C. Whitesell and left descendants.
Chatham Ewing married and lived for a short time at Abingdon, Virginia; then he went to Kentucky, and from there to Lafayette County, Missouri, where he died, leaving many descendants.
John Ewing had a wife named Martha (Mary?) and it appears that they remained in Virginia. They had a son, Robert, says Judge Ewing, known in the will of his grandfather as Bartus, as we have seen; and it is said a daughter, Sidney, married Micajah Rowland in 1793; and that another daughter married a Frazier. These children of this John clearly distinguish him from my great-grandfather with whom some of my correspondents have confused him.
All of the children of Robert and May Baker Ewing were born in Bedford County, Virginia.
Robert II, son of the pioneer Robert, was born in 1760; and died in Kentucky July 14, 1832; and is buried, says Judge Ewing, near Adairville Kentucky. On his tombstone we read:
"In memory of General Robert Ewing, a soldier of the Revolution, who departed this life 14th day of July, 1832. He was born in Virginia in 1760, removed to West Tennessee in 1781, from whence he was elected and served two sessions in the North Carolina legislature." Then the inscription tells us that he married Jane McLean on July 4, 1787; removed to Logan County, Kentucky, in 1792; and was elected to the legislature of Kentucky, in 1797, and served twenty-one successive years, sixteen of which were in the senate, during two of which he was its president.
Judge Ewing gives a roster of this Robert Ewing's descendants, among them being many men and women of mark—lawyers, physicians, etc., such as Henry Clay Ewing, once an attorney general of Missouri, and later a commissioner of the supreme court of that State; Mrs. W. A. Dallmeyer, of Jefferson City, Missouri; George Washington Ewing, of Logan County, Kentucky, 1808-1888, once member of the Kentucky legislature, and then a member of the Congress of the Confederate States; and many others.
Other distinguished descendants of the pioneer Robert Ewing are:
Presley K. Ewing is the son of Dr. Fayette Clay Ewing, 1824, a distinguished surgeon and physician, and who was surgeon in the Confederate army. Doctor Ewing was a man of very large fortune. He was the son of Judge E. M. Ewing, who, 1843-47, was chief justice of the highest court of the State of Kentucky. The Biographical Encyclopedia of Kentucky speaks of Judge E. M. Ewing as a lawyer and man in the highest terms. Presley K. was born in Louisiana July 21, 1860. He obtained a thorough education, studied law, and was admitted to the bar of Houston, Texas, in 1882. He became judge of the supreme court of Texas; and is an author of note, The Ewing Genealogy (1919), being a recent work from his pen in collaboration with his talented wife now, unhappily, deceased.
The widely known John W. Kerr, once candidate for Vice President of the United States, said:
"Judge Presley K. Ewing of Texas is a profound jurist, a prince among men, and one of the finest democrats between the oceans."
Judge Ewing is a noted orator and has been honored and his great abilities recognized in many happy ways. He married Mary Ellen Williams, one of the most brilliant and distinguished women of Texas, and to them were born two daughters, both married and now residing in New York City.
Of Finis Ewing we know more than of the others of the Robert Ewing family because of the facts left us in his life written by Cossett. That biographer tells us that Finis Ewing "scrupulously respected the rights of others" and "was generally prompt to assert and resolute to maintain his own." He was, we are further told, a man of "indomitable energy of character," independent and self-reliant. He was "a patriotic citizen as well as Christian minister." In the war of 1812-'14 he served both as soldier and chaplain. He belonged to the regiment (Kentucky troop) of which his brother, Young Ewing, was colonel; and the picture recorded by Cossett, when he tells us of the preacher-soldier delivering a sermon to the troop as he sat on his horse, rifle across the saddle pommel, is characteristic of the man and representatives of the time. He spent much of his early manhood in Tennessee. When duty called, he took part in expeditions against murderous Indians. From there he moved to Christian County, Kentucky, serving as postmaster at Ewingsville. He moved to Missouri in 1820; and again, among other activities, became postmaster of another Ewingsville in that State. However, his fame lies in his chief instrumentality as founder of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Differing from the old school Presbyterians upon the doctrine of predestination, he founded a society based upon man's complete free moral agency; and that body grew in numbers until in recent years it reunited with the older church, which, in the meantime had modified the doctrine to which Ewing objected. He died July 4, 1841, age 68, generally regarded as the youngest of his brothers and sisters. Cossett thus estimates him: "Mr. Ewing was emphatically a great as well as good man."
July 10, 1794, from "Walnut bluff, Davidson (County, Tennessee), per safe hand," Finis Ewing wrote Capt. William Ewing in Bedford, on family business, being unable to attend to it on account of wife's health. Says he gave Rubin Ewing a well "authenticated" power of attorney, to deed a tract of land, evidently in Bedford, and to collect money due. The bond for this he sent with the letter to be delivered, adding: "Pray solicit the old Gentleman not to fail in sending me the money as I expect to be sued if I do not get the money." Then he says: "Sir, you have frequently told me that when I made the deed you would bestow on me a chunk of a horse or some present out of the store and I always refused which I now do but if you think proper to bestow anything you may send Mrs. Ewing some trifle out of the store, cloth for a setout coat or something that suits your best judgment. Sir, be assured that I do not ask it."
He speaks of the place from which he writes as a "fresh county of fertile soil."
Cossett says of this Finis Ewing:
He was comely in person, graceful in manner, frank, kind and generous in his disposition. He was considered a young man of fine talents and extraordinary energy and character. [He was a] very good singer and had a strong and melodious voice.
His manners were prepossessing. Smith, a contemporary writer, says: "Mr. Ewing is a man of liberal education and extensive readings."
When he lived in "the Cumberland County," in the midst of which Nashville, Tennessee, now stands, Indian raids were frequent. When the alarm of this danger was given he was always among the first to reach the threatened or beleaguered point; and was "distinguished for his zeal and energy in defense of the settlement," his biographer-friend truthfully says. And the story is all the more interesting to us because this picture of the part played by Finis Ewing is equally true of all the Ewings of pioneer days and frontier hardships and dangers. They were men of action and nerve tempered by sound judgment; and the women bore their part with equal credit.
Early in life Finis Ewing saw the need of preachers along the advance line of civilization and felt the divine sanction to preach the gospel story. The Presbyterian ministers of his church were slow to brave the hardships and dangers of the frontiers; and as a result Methodism, with its stronger hold on emotional faith and personal experience and its firm grasp of the individual's free will, gathered the harvest as civilization advanced to and beyond the Cumberlands and into Kentucky, West Tennessee, and beyond. Finis Ewing, seeing the need of reform in his church and realizing the need of greater zeal in its ranks, yet unable to effect the needed reforms within his church, put into the organization of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church the principles the older needed; and with splendid zeal and success carried the banner of the new church in friendly co-operation with the Methodist itinerants. Cossett tells us of Ewing's missionary journeys along Indian paths, beset by wolves and liable to savage surprise. When Ewing started as an "exhorter," says that biographer, "many persons had never attended meeting, or heard a sermon since they came to the (Cumberland) County."
At least two of his brothers were active supporters of the new church. At a session of its synod held in Kentucky in 1804, Rubin and Young Ewing filled official layman positions. Cossett says of them: "Rubin was a judge of one of the courts of Kentucky, and Young had been long known in political annals of the State, and was a colonel in the expedition under general Hopkins in the War of 1812."
The children of this Rev. Finis Ewing were:
(a) Winifred W., 1794-1876. She married Henry M. Ruby, leaving descendants.
(b) William Lee Davidson, who died in Illinois in 1846. He served in the Illinois legislature; became major of Illinois troops; became acting governor of Illinois in 1834; was elected United States Senator in 1835; was promoted to general of the militia; and was State auditor at death.
(c) Thomas M., who served in the Kentucky legislature; was Presidential elector in 1832; moved to Missouri and served in the constitutional convention of 1845, leaving issue.
(f) Baxter, all died young;
(g) Mary Anderson, who married Archibald Kavanaugh, and died in 1837, leaving issue.
(h) Margaret Davidson, married Rev. Robert Sloan and died in Missouri, leaving children.
(i) Pamela Jane, married James W. Read and died in Texas.
(j) Finis Young, who left issue in Kentucky.
(k) Washington Perry, who married Aletha Jane Ewing, granddaughter of Chatham Ewing, leaving issue.
(l) Robert Chatham Donnell, who married Maria L. Harris, leaving issue.
(m) Ephrim Brevard. He and his brother were lawyers of note. This Ephrim was Secretary of the State of Missouri in 1849; served in the legislature; was elected Attorney General of the State; and in 1859 was elected a judge of the Missouri supreme court; and after the first again became a judge of the supreme court. See The Green Bag, October, 1899. He left issue of marked ability, one of whom, a grandson, is Francis M. Cockrell, of Louisville, Kentucky, the genealogist of his family, as I have heretofore observed. The latter's mother was Anna Ewing, daughter of this Judge E. B. Ewing. She married Francis Marion Cockrell, who became a brigadier general in the Confederate Army; and later United States Senator from Missouri. I had the fortune to interview Senator Cockrell several times before he died in 1905. The Senator's grandfather was one of the pioneers of Powell Valley, Lee County, Virginia, and for thirty-five years was a neighbor of my grandfather.
Another descendant of this Judge Ewing was Alice Brevard, 1848-1914. She married John R. S. Walker, of Missouri, who was also a distant descendant of the immigrant Robert Ewing. He was a man of deserved prominence and filled positions of high responsibility. (See Judge P. K. Ewing's The Ewing Genealogy and other sources.)
So that it is no surprise that a Dr. Burt of Kentucky distinguishes an era in the history of Logan County, Kentucky, as "When the Ewings came and brought the law with them."
The Bedford County marriage records show the following Ewing nuptials:
Page last updated 13 October 2008.