Dr. Thomas Rivers Erwin, the son of John and Margaret Rivers Erwin, was born in Davidson County, Tennessee, in 1809. As stated in records of the Board of Land Commissioners of Brazoria County, Erwin arrived in Texas "pre to 2 May 1835." Harriet Hite Reese Cox married Dr. ERWIN in Brazoria County by bond on 25 Feb 1835.
He indeed had arrived "pre to 2 May 1835," the standardized label of county boards of land commissioners designating qualification as a colonist prior to the date of a Mexican law for the granting of lands to those who until then had been without access to the granting process and who were entitled to the same amount of lands given to earlier land applicants during the Mexican colonization era. Also, during 1835, Dr. Erwin placed his card (advertizement) before the public in various issues of the Brazoria Texas Republican. Whatever the exact date of his arrival, Dr. Erwin wasted no time in becoming caught up in events of the community.
As noted by historian Clarence R. Wharton, Dr. Erwin seemed to have had a knack for finding trouble. Late in the 1820's early ("Old Three Hundred") colonist Thomas Henry Borden began buying up the labors of land (blocks of 177 acres) that had been granted there to William Morton, Randal Jones, and two men named Little. Borden, son of Gail and Philadelphia (Wheeler) Borden, and brother of Gail Borden, inventor of the condensed milk process and developer of the Borden Company, had devised a plan to develop the area of Austin's Colony known as Fort Bend or the Fort Settlement as the site for a plantation and gin and perhaps even a town he said he would name "Louisville.". In 1828, Old Three Hundred colonist Jesse Thompson, who had received a grant of a sitio (4,428 acres) of land in current Brazoria County, moved to the east bank of the Brazos in current Fort Bend County where James White and Walter C. White had owned and operated a ferry and a trading post. Thompson had also contracted for the Knight and White labor (No. 6) across the river in the bend. At some point, when Borden purchased another nearby tract that Thompson had his eye on matters turned violent.
A neighbor, Randal Jones, had interceded by having both men sign in his presence an agreement to have Borden and Thompson's difficulties settled before a Board of Honor, but before such a board could meet, Thompson left on business downriver. In a letter to Moses Lapham, an old friend, Borden stated that one of Thompson's sons shot at him while he was passing the Thompson plantation. Borden wrote that some time later (in 1834) accompanied by James Cochran, who also had been threatened by Thompson, he (Borden) was taking a two-horse wagon to San Felipe when the two men were surprised by Thompson in company of Dr. Erwin. Thompson was pointing a large pistol. What follows is Borden's version of the encounter:
...and [Thompson] says, 'I have got you d--m you. (I was on the ground in the act of getting in the wagon. I had got out to mind a trace.) I had a small pistol in a side pocket (the rest of my arms was in the wagon). I drew it and fired at the old hellion. He fired at the same time but missed me. He wheeled and pursued Cochran, fired his pistol at him. My horses ran off to the timber about three hundred yards. I went to it and got my big pistols and a double barreled shotgun that I kep [sic] near me in case of an attack. Got on one of my best horses and went back to see what had become of my friend. When I first saw them they was in a scuffle or fight. I fired another pistol but C had hold of the muzel [sic]. I ran up and shot the old rascal....
Historian Wharton wrote that "The tradition in the Thompson family related by Dr. Feris's daughter who is a granddaughter of Jesse Thompson, is that Borden stepped from behind a tree and shot without warning; that only a colored man saw it and could not testify."
On Aug. 9, 1835, Thos. R. Erwin signed a call for a Convention signed also by nearly 100 other inhabitants of Brazoria and vicinity.
Following the Battle of Gonzales (October 2, 1835), Dr. Erwin, on October 9, was among the volunteers calling themselves the Matagorda and Bay Prairie Company, about to take up the line of march to Goliad, who at the town of Guadalupe Victoria signed a pledge giving their "united and unalterable resolution to give ample and complete protection to the citizens of this town." Erwin was on the night of the 9th among the "some forty or fifty of the citizens of Caney and Matagorda who marched upon Goliad" commanded by Captain George Morse Collinsworth (while other contingents were preparing for the march to take San Antonio). In a letter written on the 11th October by Ira Ingram (and published in the Texas Republican October 24th) it is stated that the Texans sent "a deputation of Juan Antonio Padilla (who had joined us a little this side of La Vaca) Benj. R. Milam (whom we found encamped on the east bank of the San Antonio) P. Dimmit and Doctor Erwin to demand of the civil authorities a surrender of the Town. About eleven Dr. Erwin returned, and informed us that we had to fight. We then proceeded along the bank of the River, until we came between this and the quartel. The plan of attack was here communicated and the force disposed of accordingly. The plan was executed with utmost success. All conducted well. It would be extraordinary indeed if among fifty odd men, nearly all untried, there should not be some difference of conduct in a first engagement. The attack was made by storm, and in thirty minutes the quartel was ours."
In a letter to General Stephen F. Austin on 30 October, Philip Dimmitt, then commanding at Goliad and who had convinced Austin to "issue orders prohibiting men from leaving without permission of Dimmitt," reported to Austin that: "Yesterday three officers, Dr. Erwin, Surgeon; Lieut. David M. Collinsworth [brother of George M.] , and Lieut. A. H. Jones; and three privates, Milton Hicks, Edward B. Wooten and ---Atkinson, mustered and left this fortress, not only without permission, but in open contempt of the general order above quoted, and took up the line of march for Head Quarters, near Bexar." They had set out at 4pm but at 9pm they returned to Goliad, four of the five returning into the fort (excluding Dr. Erwin). They had been attacked by Indians and David Collinsworth killed. Dimmitt continued "That Doctor Irwin originated, and headed the mutiny; and drew the others, either directly, or indirectly into it, proof abundant, and of the most respectable character, can be furnished from here, on the shortest notice. The Conduct of this man too, on former occasions, has been highly improper, unmilitary, and very rash." In a letter dated "Goliad 12th Novbr 1835," Lt. Augustus Harris Jones (one of the party who had left without permission) wrote to Major James W. Fannin "---I have always been of opinion that the aim would be at Doct. Erwin, he has I have no doubt acted incorrectly, in fact I am sure of it but let me add he may have cause and Dear F. I am not the man to desert a friend because the world does---Capt Dimitt refuses to speak to him others follow the example---Doct Erwin has joined the volunteer [New Orleans] Grays."
If Dr. Erwin joined the Grays for certain and, if so, how long he served with them is not known. A financial statement by Stephen F. Austin lists a debit of $100 paid on January 21, 1836, to "Thos P. [?] Erwin Sergt Schooner Liberty." On April 10, 1836, Erwin wrote to General Thomas Jefferson Green "I have this day recd. through you and accept the appointment of Surgeon of the Second Regiment of your Brigade in the Army of Texas."
Dr. Erwin and Harriet were married by a Justice of the Peace in Brazoria County on 27 November 1837. They were parents of Thomas Rivers Erwin, Jr. (born in Texas 1838) and Harriet (originally Elizabeth) Underwood Erwin (22 April 1840 in Brazoria). In January 1838, Dr. Erwin, his wife and a child embarked on the schooner Corrine (M. Flinn, master) at Velasco, bound for New Orleans. Mrs. Harriet Hite Erwin died in late (@Nov) 1840. In January 1838, the Board of Land Commissioners of Brazoria County granted to Dr. Erwin certificate #574 for one league and one labor of land (the portion granted a married man). (4428 acres---plus 177 acres= 4,605 acres.)
T. R. Erwin paid a poll tax in Brazoria County in 1840 and also taxes on property listed as 6 and 1/2 town lots. He also paid taxes as Administrator for the estate of C. C. [sic--C. G.] Cox, 5 town lots.
In 1846, Dr. Erwin was a taxpayer of Matagorda County, TX.
Thomas Rivers Erwin was a private (age 36) in Benjamin McCulloch's Company, Texas Mounted Volunteers (Spies) in the Mexican War. The company was composed of men recruited chiefly from Gonzales and Fayette counties. They were mustered into federal service on 31 Jan 1847 and mustered out on June 14 and July 31, 1847.
Name: Thomas Rivers Erwin
Service Date: 31 Jan 1847
Service Place: Monterey, Mexico
Unit: McCulloch's Co., First Regiment, Texas Mounted Volunteers
The final years of Dr. Erwin are a mystery. Clarence Wharton wrote as follows in his History of Fort Bend County:
After the Revolution he lived for a time on a Brazoria plantation and then wandered away, crossed the Continent to California in the '49's, was back in New Orleans in 1857 where he divested himself of his property by a deed which recites 'wishing to absent himself from the United States and liquidate his business, he conveys, etc.' This is the last we hear of the roving Doctor who went thence to South America, and ever afterwards absented himself from the country.
Or did he? According to undocumented assertions on Ancestry.com family files, Dr. Thomas Rivers Erwin died in 1858 in a community called "South America," in Whitley County, Kentucky.