It was planned to devote a chapter to the family of Thomas Ewing, who was born at West Liberty, Ohio County, Virginia, December 28, 1789. However, the commercial possibilities of this work require the merest notice of this another happily distinguished branch of our family. Since one of the purposes of this book is to present some record of the Ewings of Virginia, that Thomas Ewing has his place in these pages; but since he and his family find ample and deserved space in many works, a fuller account here can be omitted with less injustice. Too, what was in 1789 Ohio County has long been no part of Virginia' and the descendants of that Thomas regard themselves, very naturally, as scarcely the descendants of a Virginia family.
This family traces descent from Finlay Ewing, often spelled Findley, Findly and Findlay. It is believed that he was born about 1660. He served in the Protestant army in the war between James and William and Mary; and for distinguished service at the battle of the Boyne, King William presented him a sword, which was worn by Thomas Ewing, eldest grandson of immigrant Thomas Ewing, in our Revolution.
Hon. Thomas Ewing left an Autobiography (see Ohio Arch. And Hist. Quarterly, vol. 22, p. 128). The editor believes this work was written about 1869. Of the author the editor says—all the more worth quoting because he expresses the intelligent opinion of all who knew this Hon. Thomas Ewing.
He was "a profound statesman, an honorable citizen and a Christian gentleman."
In the Autobiography we are told by the writer:
My grandfather George Ewing had a subaltern commission in the New Jersey line of the Revolutionary War. He was then a very young man, of good English education, fine literary taste, and much reading for his age and the time and country in which his lot was cast.
Then he adds:
I do not swell upon the family genealogy at large as I am aware that one of you (that is, one of the children) has traced it back several hundred years; and more especially as I attach little importance to remote ancestry. [This is another instance of the great genealogical mistake our ancestors have made.]. . . You trace your name back to the siege of Londonderry and the battle of the Boyne, where a Captain Ewing, your grandfather's great-grandfather, performed an act of valor for which he was praised by King William and honored with a sword presented by his own hand; but we divide this transmitted honor with thousands whom we do not know, descendants of the valiant captain, and his blood in our veins is mingled with that of a hundred other ancestors of whose names and merits we are ignorant.
The battle of the Boyne was fought July 12, 1690, we remember, and was the culmination of the war which gave to Protestant William and Mary the throne upon which British sovereigns yet sit.
Finlay's ancestors were Scotch beyond question. That they descended from the clan to which I have traced the other Ewings here mainly under consideration, I have not the slightest doubt. Family traditions, the arms found in this branch of the family, family characteristics, and many other facts, attest this origin. Whether Finlay was born in Scotland or Ireland is not certainly known; but he was living in the barony of Inisowen, County Donegal, Ulster, Ireland, when his son, who became the American founder of this Thomas Ewing branch, was born. As John G. Ewing, at the date we go to press connected with the Department of Justice, Washington, D. C., and formerly an attorney of New York, points out, Finlay Ewing dwelt in what is now the parish Fahan (old Fanghan), in Inisowen, which parish is just north of the present parish of Burt and northeast of the present parish of Inch in Lough Swilly. Mr. Ewing also calls attention to the fact that the parishes of this community in 1660-1720 were part of the parish of Templemore, or the parish of Londonderry, as it was sometimes called. Rev. James Lyons Ewing, in his "Ewing Families," page 12, appears to be inclined to regard James Ewing, born in Scotland about 1650, as the ancestor of this Finlay; but some of the descendants of that Finlay do not concur in that view. Turning to the old Burt records as given in another place in this work, it will be seen that Thomas Ewing, son of Finlay Ewing and wife Jane, was baptized October 19, 1690. He married Mary Maskell and died February 28, 1748, and he and his wife lie buried in the Presbyterian Church yard at Greenwich, New Jersey. (Joseph Lyons Ewing gives a photograph of their tomb.)
It was my fortune to know Joseph Lyons Ewing's brother, by the way, Major Robert M. Ewing, now of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, while stationed for a time in Washington, D. C., in the United States Army service during our war with Germany, and also his splendid wife. Joseph Lyons Ewing traces his family to William Ewing of Ireland. That William married Eleanor Thompson about 1759; and they reared one of the numerous and distinguished Ewing families of Pennsylvania. Joseph Lyons Ewing was unable to determine the relation of his ancestor to the Hon. Thomas Ewing; but I am satisfied that both families descended from the Loch Lomond clan.
Thomas and wife Mary had: Maskell, Thomas, Mercy, Mary, Samuel, John, Lydia, Joshua, Samuel and James, as given by Joseph Lyons Ewing.
John G. Ewing says that with that Thomas Ewing two brothers came to America, whose names were William and Robert. "Robert," he writes me, "was a witness to the will of Thomas in 1748. His descendants are, I believe, still found in Western Jersey. William went south, and I am under the impression that he was the William Ewing, first of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, then of Rockingham County, Virginia." His cousin, Mrs. Maria Ewing Martin of Newstraitsville, Ohio, is inclined to agree with this identification of William Ewing of Rockingham; but most of the descendants of that William decline to accept this view because they say he came to America directly from Scotland and that neither he nor his father ever lived in Ireland. A few of his descendants go so far as to insist that he was not related to the other Ewing families of America; but, as I have said elsewhere, that contention is without foundation—is refuted, in fact, by the evidence. If that William and that Thomas were not brothers, I am sure they were close cousins.
This Thomas Ewing of Greenwich, New Jersey, had seven sons and three daughters. His second son was named Thomas. Thomas II married Sarah Vickars, and they lived and died in Greenwich. Their son, George, was a patriot soldier of the Revolution, a commissioned lieutenant. After the close of the Revolution, he went with his wife, who was Rachel Harris, to the western frontiers of Virginia, and there, in what was then Ohio County, as we have just seen, their son Thomas was born. He met the usual hardships of frontier life and his family was born far from the advantages of the older communities. In 1818 he asked for a pension as a soldier of the Revolution; and the application papers show that he was living on the land of his son George; that he enlisted in 1775, was appointed lieutenant in 1777, and took part in the famous battle of Brandywine. At the date of the application, he says his children were Rachel, age 35; Abigail, 39; George, Jr., and Thomas. There were others; and those named must have been then yet part of his household. During the Revolution he was in the famous encampment with Washington at Valley Forge and kept a journal. He died in 1824 in Perry County, Indiana.
The son Thomas, born in 1789, as we have seen, obtained an education under the most adverse circumstances, working for a time for school money at the widely known Kanawah Salt Works. He graduated at Ohio University; studied law, and practiced until sent to the United States Senate from Ohio. In the Senate he served with signal distinction from 1831 to 1837. As a member of President Harrison's cabinet he served as Secretary of the United States Treasury, 1841; and President Taylor in 1849 appointed him Secretary of the Interior Department, the first to fill that important office. "In the United States Supreme Court he ranked among the foremost lawyers of the nation. During the Civil War his judgment in matters of state was frequently sought by President Lincoln." His historic telegram, "There can be no contraband of war on neutral vessels between neutral ports," is said to have been decisive of the trouble which grew out of the capture of Mason and Slidell, thus averting war between the United States and England. It "was his advice that finally prevailed on Everett's opinion (in that case) and the envoys were set free." (The Americana). Notwithstanding he adhered to the Union cause in the war between the United States and the Confederate States, he used his influence to avert the conflict, serving as a delegate to the peace congress which met in Washington in 1860.
He married Maria Boyle and they had:
Phileman Beecher Ewing, Lancaster, Ohio, who became a distinguished judge, the father of John G. Ewing of whom I have spoken several times; Eleanor Boyle Ewing, who married the distinguished General William Tecumseh Sherman; Hugh Boyle Ewing, who became a well known general in the Federal army in the war of 1861 to 1865; was minister at The Hague 1866-1870, and left creditable literary productions. Thomas Ewing, who also became a general; was once Democratic candidate for Governor of Ohio, and member of Congress from the Fairfield district. Mrs. Maria Ewing Martin, of New Straitsville, Ohio, to whom I have referred several times, also one of the genealogists of her family, is a daughter of Gen. Thomas Ewing. Charles Ewing, who became a general; and Maria Theresa Ewing, who married Col. C. Clemons F. Steele. All of these children of the Hon. Thomas Ewing have been dead many years.
Page last updated 13 October 2008.