Erwin is one form of spelling the Scottish surname Irvine, Irving or Iwin, and is used by most of the family of County Antrim, Ulster, Ireland. In 1890 the names Erwine and Erwin were both common in Antrim, but not elsewhere in Ireland or Scotland. The family traces its descent from William de Irwin, whom Robert Bruce appointed armor bearer and on whom he conferred, besides a grant of land comprising the forest of Drum, his own device or arms, when Earl of Carrick, the three holly leaves, now found in the coat-of-arms of all the Irwins, Irvings and Erwins, of this family, his descendants.
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(II) Joseph Erwin was born about 1775 in New Hampshire. He settled with the early pioneers at what is known as Trout brook in the town of Madrid, New York. He married Phebe Allen. Among their chldren was George, mentioned below.
(III) George, son of Joseph Erwin, was born at Madrid, Sept. 21, 1813. He was a man of more than ordinary native ability and possessed great influence in the community. He was well-educated, notwithstanding the dififculties of obtaining schooling in his youth, and he taught school for some years. He devoted his later years to farming.
He married Ann Matilda Bayley, who was a descendant of General Bayley of revolutionary fame. Among their children was George Zalmon, mentioned below.
(IV) George Zalmon, son of George Ewin, was born in Madrid, N.Y. Jan. 15, 1840. His early life was spent on his father's farm and in attendance upon the district schools. When he was fourteen years old, he began to work in a drug store in Madrid village, and continued for two years. He then entered St. Lawrence Academy at Potsdam and fitted for college in four years. He entered Middlebury College and was graduated in August, 1865. To aid in paying his college expenses he taught school during the winter terms. He took up the study of law directly after he graduated and spent a year and a half in the law office of the United States district attorney for northern New York, William A. Dart, and was admitted to the bar in the fall of 1867. He entered partnership with Samuel B. Gordon, Jan. 1, 1868. A year later, in the spring of 1869, he succeeded Mr. Dart as partner in the law firm of Dart & Tappan, and practiced for ten years under the firm name of Tappan & Erwin. In 1878 Mr. Tappan was elevated to the bench, and Mr. Dart returned to Potsdam and resumed practice in partnership with Mr. Erwin under the name of Dart & Erwin, continuing until Mr. Erwin retired from practice.
The two firms with which he was connected commanded a large practice, much of which was in the higher courts and brought the partners into prominence. As a lawyer Mr. Erwin was indefatigable. He neglected nothing in his preparation of cases, and he was convincing in presenting his cases to the court.
In Nov. 1881, he was elected to the assembly from the third district of St. Lawrence county, and re-elected for five successive terms. He was appointed to the committee on ways and means in his first term, and before the end of the session his well-ordered mind, extensive knowledge of political history and law, and his natural aptitude for leadership had gained for him a prominent position in the legistlature. In 1883 he was again on ways and means; also on the committee on railroads and elections. In 1884 he was a strong candidate for speaker, but was defeated by Hon. Titus Sheard. He was again place on a special committee to investigate the public works department of New York City, and proved especially valuable through his ability to cross-examine witnesses and probe affairs under consideration. In 1885 he was elected speaker and in this position he displayed special ability and knowledge of parliamentary practice. He was afterward for two years Republican leader on the floor of the house. He was sagacious in determining policies and vigorous in pursuing and supporting them. In 1887 he received the unanimous nomination of his party for state senator in the twentieth district and for three terms was a distinguished member of the state senate. In 1892-93 he was the Republican leader of the senate. For ten years he was one of the ablest and most influential men in the state legislature.
To him is due the credit of organizing the dairy department for suppressing the sale and manufacture of oleomargarine. He secured the enactment of the bill preventing the sale of liquor in quantities of five gallons or more in towns having no license. He was active in reforming the procedure in insurance receiverships and was especially prominent and useful in various investigating committees. Perhaps in no one instance during his whole legislative career did he exhibit his wonderful powers as a leader more conspicuously than in the candidacy and election of Hon. Frank Hiscock as United States senator. In that contest he was leader of his forces and displayed great akill and tact in holding his men in line. In 1891 he was chairman of the committee on general laws and made interesting investigations into the subject of electricity for lighting and power. He was a prime mover in the establishment of the modern asylum for the insane at Ogdensburg. In the session of 1892, when Republican leader, he made a strong but unsuccessful fight against the reapportionment of the state, and for his refusal to vote on an enumeration bill he and two other senators were declared guilty of contempt by Lieutenant Governor Sheehan and their names taken from the roll. But they were supported by the judiciary committee in their position, were purged of contempt and their names restored.
He was always especially solititous and mindful of the interests of his own constituents, and it is safe to say that no legislator from northern New York accomplished more for that section than he.
He always took a keen interest in local affairs. He was active in securing the location of the Normal School at Potsdam and served on the board of trustees, and as treasurer for a number of years. He assisted in organizing the fair society at Potsdam and was for several years on the board of trustees.
He was a member of the local volunteer fire department and its chief for several years. He was influential in securing the water works for the village in 1870, in building an opera house, in constructing sewers and drains in 1886, and in securing the necessary legislation. He was interested in various local industries. He ws one of the proprietors and organizers of the Thatcher Manufacturing Company, and up to the time of his death was its vice-president. He helped to organize the High Falls Sulphite Pulp and Mining Co., and was its president.
He was fond of sports and games, hunting, fishing, etc. No one excelled him in generous, hearty good nature. He had a kind word for all regardless of class or condition, and wherever he went he carried good cheer and good fellowship and was always welcome. Neither in his business nor political affairs was his integrity ever questioned.
Mr. Erwin joined the Protestant Episcopal church in 1891 and was confirmed on Thanksgiving day in 1893 by Bishop Doane. He died Jan. 16, 1894, of heart disease. The lieutenant governor and committees from the legislature and many state officers attended his funeral, as well as the bar of the county, the faculty of the State Normal School, the Masons, firemen and other organizations with which he was connected, and resolutions were passed by these organizations, lamenting his death.
He married Caroline C., daughter of William A. Dart, June 23, 1868. They had no children. (see Dart VI).
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