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Weekly 150

The Gwin Family

From an American Patriot to a Civil War Surgeon

Posted 12/10/19

It never ceases to amaze me the information I come across when working on an article for this section. This week I was short on time and low on ideas, so I picked a family name at random from some of …

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Weekly 150

The Gwin Family

From an American Patriot to a Civil War Surgeon


It never ceases to amaze me the information I come across when working on an article for this section. This week I was short on time and low on ideas, so I picked a family name at random from some of my precompiled research and thought, “this will do for the story.” So I began doing a little extra digging and verifying on the Gwin family.

I recognized the name from the large headstone in Mount Olivet Cemetery. After a few clicks of the mouse, I learned it belonged to Dr. Robert Donnell (R.D.) Gwin. This led me down the genealogy rabbit hole, where I find myself quite regularly.

Working from website to website, I found a reference to the Gwin Home in Hico. Using some mapping software, I was able to locate the current location and found the house to be still standing.

It took a few minutes to realize I had been in the house many times and even slept there a few nights; back in a time that seemed like a lifetime ago for me.

I had heard stories about the house being built before “The War,” meaning the Civil War. Naturally, I thought it was just a line from people who didn’t know any better...Well I was wrong.

Without further ado, here is this week’s article about the Gwin family.

Three brothers, Robert, Samuel and Edward Gwin along with their father John, moved left Sumner County, Tenn. in the early part of the 1800s. Robert settled in Mississippi, Samuel ended up in California where he served as a Senator for the state, and Edward and John came to Carroll County in 1820.

Edward was the son of John Gwin and Sarah “Sally” Donnell Gwin. John, at the age of 16, served as a private in the American Revolution. During the battle of Brown’s Marsh, he was wounded when a musket ball passed threw his hip.

A year after the family’s arrival in Carroll County, John was appointed a Justice of the Peace and in 1822, chosen as chairman. Upon his death he (ca. 1840), he was buried at the family cemetery located on Edward’s property.

In 1824, Edward married Margaret Bowden. They were married in the schoolhouse where Margaret taught. They ran the first hotel in Carroll County from 1824 to 1827. The hotel was located in the county seat of Huntingdon. Edward became the first Carroll County Clerk and served as a member of the board for Bethel College when it was organized in McLemoresville. In 1832, he was given a tract of a farm located five miles south of McKenzie in the Hico community. The land grant was for his “government services.” The services were for his actions in the removal of Native Americans from Alabama to the Indian Territory (probably Oklahoma).

Edward’s home is standing and located on the east side of McKenzie on what was Big Buck Road, now Highway 436.

The Gwin Family Cemetery was located about 500 feet north of the homestead. In a letter written in 1979 by Gladys Kelly, granddaughter of Edward, she stated, “Edward (1874) and Margaret (1873) requested to be buried in Margaret’s flower garden.”

No gravestones remain in the Gwin Family Cemetery. The headstones were removed sometime before the 1970s by a former owner of the property, not related to the Gwin family. According to family records, there are six unmarked graves in the cemetery.

In a The McKenzie Banner archived article from 1939:

Ed Gwin House has Historical Significance

Near Gwin Switch, on the old stagecoach road about five miles from McKenzie, is the old Ed Gwin home at which Andrew Jackson stopped as he passed along this road when he was campaigning for president. He came to be famously known as “Old Hickory” and for his influence in bringing about the demise of the U.S. Bank, reduction of tariff, the “Spoils System,” and the growth in the authority of the Federal Government. On his trip, he made an election speech at McLemoresville on his way to Paris. Another president, Andrew Johnson, also has been a guest at this house.

Robert Donnell (R.D.) Gwin was born in 1829 to Edward and Margaret Gwin. He began training for the ministry at Princeton, Ky. and at Bethel College. In the middle of his collegiate years, R.D. changed his course of study to the field of medicine. This lead him to Jefferson College in Philadelphia.

After completing medical school in 1856, Dr. Gwin returned home and used his father’s house to open his medical practice. He kept the practice going until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. The doctor enlisted in the Confederate Army as an assistant surgeon serving in the 22nd Tennessee Infantry. R.D. was at the Battle of Shiloh; after the battle, he was detailed to hospital service for six months. He was reassigned to the 13th Tennessee Infantry and Johnson’s Brigade, serving as a battlefield surgeon until the conclusion of the war.

When Dr. Gwin returned home, he reopened his practice in McKenzie on Lee Street. In 1877, he married Sarah Bomar, and they had four children Gladys Gwin Kelley (1878–1984), Edward Gwin (1880–1937), Charles Bomar Gwin (1882–1906) and Robert Donnell Gwin (1886–1974).

An article from The McKenzie Banner archives provides a portrait of Dr. Gwin’s character:

It is said that the life of the so-called dead, who have nobly lived, is the greatest lesson for the living. He (Dr. Gwin) was a man of high thought.

He had a fixed standard of morality, a broad conception of the infinite so great that he could reach down and lend a helping hand to those in need of help. Seeing the common man in his poverty, a struggling brother who needed his hand. This is what I loved in the man. He was known as the windows’ physician as he never failed to respond to their call and no bill of service was presented.

He was never too tired, the night too dark for him to answer a sick call from some lowly cabin; many times, he would provide food and clothing to them comfortable. The dominant card in his soul was charity.

Though a young man, he did his full duty in perilous times and on many a field of battle.

Just before the war clouds appeared on the horizon, smallpox made its appearance in this town (McKenzie) and neighborhood. With his characteristic devotion to duty he vaccinated (himself with the) virus from a smallpox patient into his own arm, then went to an isolation cabin, unattended and alone he had the disease.

An old family Negro placed food and water nearby and Dr. Gwin would crawl on his hands and knees to the place and get it. His face so badly swollen that he could not see out of his eyes. After his recovery, he went forth and administered to his neighbors in the capacity of doctor and nurse.

When yellow fever cast its flight throughout the Southland and every town and hamlet quarantine against fleeing refugees from the cities, McKenzie opened wide her doors and through the press invited the people to come in. No one in the city had the dreaded fever. The fact was largely due to the strong Christ-like noble doctor, who was in charge of the sick.

For two long summers, he was a stranger to a bed his only sleep was taken by the bedside of some patient or his saddle. No field of war ever witnessed greater a sacrifice to duty.

No mausoleum could be erected to him or slab engraved in his memory did not ascribe to him, kindness, truth, justice, loyalty, love and bravery.

Jason R. Martin

B.S. • M.A.Ed • MLS

Councilman, Ward II

Rotary Dist. 6760, Asst. Governor

WestStar Class of 2019

P: 731.352.3323

E: jmartin@mckenziebanner.com

Jason Martin is a life-long resident of McKenzie. He graduated from McKenzie High School in 2000; earned a Bachelor of Science in History from Bethel College in 2004; a Masters in Education from Bethel University in 2009 and a Masters in History and Humanities from Fort Hays State University in 2011.


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