Robert Earl of Essex

Robert Devereux Earl of Essex2

In my previous post, “The Irwins of Orange,” I mention Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex (1565-1601). I decided to look deeper into his history, and there is an infinite amount of information about him.

Robert Earl of Essex’s great-grandmother Mary Boleyn was Anne Boleyn’s sister. Since Anne Boleyn was Queen Elizabeth I’s mother, that makes him the first-cousin-twice-removed of Queen Elizabeth I. I’m not sure what relation I am to him yet, because I have not completely traced that lineage.

Robert Earl of Essex was the favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, and sources on the Internet seem to agree that they carried on an affair, even though she was 34 years older than he. According to Wikipedia, he was very special to her, and the ring she gave him (if not a myth, as some historians believe) was to be sent back to Queen Elizabeth if he ever got into trouble. A Wikipedia account indicates that he did try to send it to her, but the countess he charged with sending the ring to her kept it instead, as her husband was enemies with the Earl of Essex.

Essex and Queen Elizabeth I became at odds with each other. He became angry and rebelled. He was tried before his peers for trying to depose and slay the Queen and subvert the government. He was convicted of treason and beheaded on Tower Green on February 25, 1601. According to Wikipedia, he was the last person to be beheaded in the Tower of London. Assuming all of this information is accurate, two of my royal ancestors were beheaded – Anne Boleyn and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.

If you have any interest, do an Internet search for him. You won’t be disappointed.
Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex
Earl of Essex

The Irwins of Orange

My mother Patricia Devereaux Irwin Towner received a letter in 1964 from her oldest sister Agnes, which included ancestry information gathered by their nephew Bill Irwin (my cousin) for a high school English class project he submitted in 1960. Bill’s mother Wilma put a lot of this information together for the family, which Agnes included in her 1964 letter to Mother. I took the information in this post mostly from Bill Irwin’s project; although, in some cases, I used dates which I uncovered in my own ancestry research. I also took information regarding Henry Jackson McCord from a letter written by my mother’s brother Hal. I have condensed this information into what I hope is a somewhat easily digestible recap. Per Bill Irwin:

The Irwins came of Orange stock, their ancestors coming from the sandy banks of the River Irvine, County Ayr, Scotland (west coast), to aid the Prince of Orange in Ireland. (After 1688)

Orange Order


Lt J. Burrowes
Lieut. Johnston Burrowes

My great-great-great-grandparents:
LT. JOHNSTON BURROWES (1780-1818) and

Lieut. Burrowes was born in 1780. He married Marie Devereaux in 1800. The following is an interesting excerpt from Bill Irwin’s information sent to Mother in 1960: Irwin ancestry Earl of Essex by Bill Irwin


Alexander Irwin
Alexander Irwin

My great-great grandparents:
ALEXANDER IRWIN (1798-1883) and

Alexander Irwin was the only son of Christopher (1773-1805) and Eliza Middleton (1778-1805). He was born in County of Sligo, Province of Connaught, Ireland. He married Frances Burrowes (Burrows, Burras) in 1820, daughter of Lieut. Johnston Burras of the 47th Regiment of Foot, of the British Army. [47th (Lancashire) Regiment of Foot]  After his wife died, Alexander lived with the youngest of his eleven children, Henry Devereaux Irwin, of Artemesia, Ontario.



GrGrandma Irwin 60 yrs 1930 a
Alice Rutledge Irwin, age 60; blind from macular degeneration; 1895

My great-grandparents
ALEXANDER IRWIN (1832-1895) and
ALICE RUTLEDGE (1835-1930):

Alexander Irwin was born in the great cholera year in the Town of Sligo, County Connaught, Ireland. He was adventurous, and the family watched him closely fearing he would run off to sea, which he did more than once. In March 1850, Alexander, Alice, and family set sail for Canada from Greenock, Scotland, in the merchant ship Malabar. Three weeks at sea, the ship became trapped in a field of ice. There were abundant seal, but they had no means to catch them. They made it to Quebec in April. They continued up the St. Lawrence, eventually reached Toronto, then moved to Weston, where they lived for two years. They took government land in Artemesia – 100 acres for Alexander and 100 acres for each of his five sons.

According to my cousin Bill Irwin’s research, Alexander (the younger) was a great story-teller, had an infectious laugh, and liked to sketch and make rhymes. He had black hair, a red beard, fair skin, blue eyes which changed to gray when he was depressed, and a nose which became rather aquiline as he grew older.

Alice Rutledge’s parents were from Ireland. They migrated to Canada, and Alice was born in Ontario, Canada, in 1835. Alexander and Alice married in 1853. They moved to Kansas in 1883 and bought land and cattle.


My great-grandparents:

Henry Jackson McCord was 22 years old when he decided to make his fortune in the gold fields of California. He engaged passage on a sailing vessel in 1849 and, after many months of harrowing experiences (including sailing around the treacherous Cape Horn), arrived in California in 1850. He kept a journal of his voyage, the original of which was, in 1970, being preserved by Mrs. Eleanor Whitney of Manhattan, Kansas. She is the daughter of William Bogart McCord, my grandmother’s oldest brother. He apparently did not strike it rich in California and returned home to Ohio. When the Civil War broke out, he helped organize the 111th Ohio Volunteer Regiment and became a captain of one of its companies. He married Rachel Elizabeth Howell after the war ended and after several years of farming and teaching, and they moved to Kansas. They took up a homestead and an adjoining timber claim near Manhattan and began to raise a family. Their oldest daughter was my grandmother Mary Amelia McCord, born May 16, 1876.


My grandparents:
WILLIAM (WILL) HENRY IRWIN (1863-1957) and

My mother was the baby of seven children, listed in birth order: Agnes McCord (1897-1981), Fred Alexander (1898-1991), Lora Rachel (1900-2000), Henry (Hal) Francis (1902-1978), William Wesley (1905-1994), Alice Mary (1909-1996), and my mother Patricia Deveraux (1912-2005). My cousin Phyllis said Lora developed meningitis (or maybe some other severe fever) when she was about two or three years old, and her mind never developed after that. I’m not sure when Lora was admitted into a care facility, but that is where she was living when she died in 2000. Lora lived longer than any of her siblings. She would have been 100 years old later in 2000.

Bill Irwin wrote that Kansas was in a building boom in the 1880s and that Will worked seven years in a planing mill in Salina and later a year in Denver. He was working in Manhattan when he married Mary Amelia (Mayme) McCord. Almost everyone called my grandmother Mayme, except my grandfather, who always called her Mary. She was the daughter of Captain Henry Jackson McCord and Rachel Elizabeth Howell. They moved to Iola, Kansas, after the birth of their first child Agnes McCord Irwin. After the birth of their fourth child, Henry Francis (Hal), Will and a lumberman from Manhattan bought a sawmill near Cauthron, Arkansas, and the family moved there. Mayme taught Agnes at home beginning in first grade, because the schools were so bad there. My grandfather contracted malaria sometime during this period. They moved back to Manhattan, then to Wichita, where Will worked in a planing mill. Will was offered a better job by Correll Planing Mill in Manhattan, and they moved back there. In 1917, Will went to work using his expert lathe skills at Kansas State Agricultural College and stayed until his retirement about 1950. He loved his work at the school.

The Will Irwins bought eleven acres on Wildcat Creek southwest of Manhattan in 1913 and lived there until my grandfather’s death in 1957. After my grandfather Irwin died, my grandmother took turns every six months living in Dallas with us and living in Kansas with my mother’s sister Agnes. My grandmother fell and broke her hip while in Kansas and was admitted into a nursing home there, which is where she was living when she died on March 20, 1964. She was almost 88.

Life in Dwight


Daddy’s Uncle Jim operated a general store which was located in the Masonic Building. In 1987 Dwight celebrated its Centennial. In honor of the occasion the organizers printed a commemorative book entitled Dwight, Kansas, The First 100 Years (1887-1987). In my photo gallery, I have included a picture of the Masonic Building, along with a photo of Daddy’s Uncle Jim, (photographers unknown) which were printed on page 47 in the commemorative centennial book almost thirty years ago. Jim Madsen’s store occupied space below the Masonic Lodge on the lower floor and in the basement of the Masonic building from 1915 to 1940, at which time it moved to the Workman building. In the Gallery of Memories section of that book, a man named Dwight Parken offers a peek into what the general store was like:

“Madsen’s store was a typical country store of that time. Most dry foodstuffs like beans, rice, flour, and oatmeal came in barrels and boxes and were weighed and sacked by the clerk. It was a delightful place with interesting smells…Bolts of cloth and new overalls had an aroma of their own. Redman plug and Bull Durham smoking tobacco another. New shoes, Red Parrot brand, smelled about like the horse collars in the back room. Vinegar and kerosene were delivered into your own container from barrels at the back. If you lost the cap to your kerosene can, a potato was jammed over the opening to keep from spilling the fuel. Candy, cookies and crackers were kept in closed bins near the front of the store. Two pot-bellied stoves heated the store in the winter time. The dry goods department was near the front of the store and the area around the front stove was kept neat and clean. The rear stove, however, was a gathering point for the men customers or whoever dropped in to gather the news or pass the time of day. Sometimes they aimed their tobacco juice at a spittoon and sometimes scored a bullseye on the glowing bulge of the stove…Spittin’, whittlin’ and shooting the bull was a harmless enough pastime in the winter months but when the weather cleared, those with anything to do elsewhere usually reappeared at the loafing areas only Saturday nights.”

After moving to Dwight in 1919, Daddy’s mother Petrea went to work for her brother Jim at his general store. Daddy was six. His brother Gordon was twelve, so he was old enough to work in Uncle Jim’s store, too. Gordon opened the store every morning and began by sweeping the wood floors. Gordon also filled the rice bin as he removed mouse turds. He explained to Daddy that Uncle Jim said customers didn’t like to buy rice if they saw even one little mouse turd in it! Gordon showed Daddy a handful of rice with a mouse turd that looked just like a black grain of rice. They began to wonder if Uncle Jim was “joshin’” him. Usually, Daddy walked with his mother the two blocks to her work each morning, home for lunch, back to work, and back home for supper. That was the routine. Sometimes he stayed home with his grandmother after she came to live with them.

The store was very busy. Wednesdays and Saturdays were “open store nights.” Customers came to shop and then went out on the town. The store stayed open until the last person picked up their groceries, which was often after midnight and sometimes two o’clock in the morning. On those nights, they checked the store before closing for the night to make sure no youngsters had fallen asleep in the balcony among the boots and shoes or on a stack of one-hundred pound bags of sugar. Daddy said he crawled onto those shelves himself a few times and that he saw some wild goings-on in the front of the store late at night. When he woke up in his own bed, he couldn’t remember going home or getting into bed.

Daddy described the Dwight night life that he observed:

“The dance hall was a combination, roller skating rink, moving picture theater, and stage theater for minstrels that performed one night stands along the main line of the Rock Island Lines. It was a big barn of a building with high straight white stucco walls inside and out. A high stage set at one end with a drop curtain, two enclosed dressing rooms at each side and two rear exit doors that lead only to a weed patch. The front of the building was similar, but with concrete steps up into an alcove and a ticket booth in the center. An entrance door on either side entered into the large hall. On either side at front was a service room. One side was skate storage and service for roller skating. The most unique part of ‘The Rink’ (as it was called regardless of what was being held there) was its proximity to [my] house. It was just the other side of the hotel toward town and, as the front step was right on the front sidewalk, just as [my] house was, and the hotel set away back, it was practically next door. [I] lay in bed most every Saturday night listening to square dance music or the roar and hollering of the din of roller skating. That is, after [I] was made to come in and go to bed.  Earlier [I] was very much a part of all the fun and many times, much to the chagrin of cuddling couples that had slipped out a rear entrance thinking they were not missed. Time did not seem to be measured by the merry-makers, and [I] often was free to roam among them.”

Basically, Daddy was given free rein to go anywhere in town he wished, but there was one place that was off limits – Maude’s restaurant. It had small hotel accommodations upstairs, and his mother threatened him with “a pinchin’ you’ll never forget,” if she ever caught him there.

Daddy liked to go to a swimming hole with the guys. As soon as they arrived, they would all take their clothes off and jump into the twenty-foot pool. They loved to play underwater tag. Once, when he dove to the bottom of the pool, he got caught in some trees at the bottom when a tree shifted as he swam through them. The boy Daddy was chasing surfaced, but Daddy did not. When Gordon realized Daddy had not come up, he dove in and rescued his little brother. I’m not sure if this incident happened exactly as he described, because this might have been part of a creative writing piece he wrote but never finished. I like to believe it is true (and it probably is), but it’s possible he embellished it a bit. (Daddy took a correspondence writing course from 1949-1951. He received a Membership Certificate from the Newspaper Institute of America, New York, dated September 4, 1951. He took another writing class in 1971.)

When Daddy was about nine or ten years old, his grandmother Anna Marie Christensen Madsen came to live with them. He described her as having “soft merry brown eyes set deep and wide under smooth curved brows…with an enormous nose…Her forehead was high, wide, and swept smooth and wrinkle-free down to the heavy brows.” She had straight hair pulled tightly into a bun in the back. She was toothless and smelled of the sweet pungent odor of chewing tobacco. She only spoke Danish. She understood some English but could only shake her head and occasionally utter, “Psshaw!”  Daddy’s grandmother Anna Marie Madsen died October 6, 1925.

Daddy said he only remembered his Uncle Jim getting angry with him twice: Once, Daddy broke up a bunch of egg crates that Uncle Jim was making and his uncle had to patch them up. The other time (as an adult) he took my mother Patricia and his cousin Jennie Marie on walk on a zero degree winter day a couple of miles into the hills south of Dwight so they could all go sleigh riding. He admitted it was a dumb and dangerous idea. Uncle Jim died July 8, 1945.

The Towners Move to Dwight, 1919

Daddy was born on February 3, 1913, in Lorain, Ohio, and grew up in Dwight, Kansas (1920 Federal Census population 246). According to Daddy, his father disappeared when he was about six years old. No one ever told Daddy what happened to him. I researched online about ten years ago and discovered that in 1919 when Daddy was six, his father Reid Clark Towner was admitted to a state hospital in Ohio, where he died later that year at the age of 35. Cause of death was listed as general paralysis of the insane which goes by other names as well. I have learned that this is a syndrome of mental disorder and weakness occurring in tertiary syphilis. Daddy suspected that his father was either committed to an asylum or sentenced to jail. He also wondered if perhaps his father might have had syphilis, because he said his mother died of it years later in his arms on a stormy night in Dwight. The family must have had him institutionalized, but no one ever informed my father about any of this, not even when he became an adult. My sisters and I could tell that even late in his life, Daddy still felt the pain of not knowing what happened to his father, and he died wondering. I discovered the truth, but not until after my parents had both passed away.

25 Reid Petrea Gordon Jim2
My father Jimmy with his mother Petrea, father Reid, and his older brother Gordon, abt 1914

After Daddy’s father “disappeared,” his mother’s brother Jim, in Dwight, wrote to her and insisted she and her sons Gordon and Jimmy move to Dwight from Lorain, Ohio, where they would be close to him and his wife Grace. This is his Uncle Jim’s touching letter to Petrea, inviting her to move to Dwight with the boys. The letter is dated July 7, 1919, the year Daddy’s father Reid died: 1919 July 7 Letter from Jim to Petrea

Petrea took her brother up on his offer. Daddy was six years old, and, after much argument and discussion and at the risk of getting caught, they smuggled Daddy’s white Eskimo puppy Snow onto a train in a satchel and headed to Dwight. It was a long trip to Kansas – two and a half days and two nights on a train. Daddy’s mother warned him that he was going to have to see to it that Snow stayed quiet and fed all of the way.


1940s Uncle Jim
Dad’s Uncle Jim Madsen; frame from 8mm movie, 1940s

Daddy wrote about the first time he saw his Uncle Jim, who was basically the only father Daddy would ever know. His mother, his brother Gordon, and he had just arrived in Dwight by train from Lorain, Ohio. He was so excited to be in “Dee-White,” as the conductor called out. He saw Uncle Jim (smaller than he had imagined) standing on the red brick platform by the depot door. His thumbs were hooked into his vest pockets, and a half-smoked cigar jutted out from under his mustache. He wore a gray suit, black bow tie, and a black derby-style hat. As they all gathered on the depot platform, Daddy couldn’t understand why everyone was crying.

As they walked from the train depot to Uncle Jim’s and Aunt Grace’s house, Uncle Jim pointed out Main Street (which was just one block long), the two-story native limestone bank building on the corner, and Uncle Jim’s general store at the far end of the block. When they approached Uncle Jim’s house, Daddy saw his Aunt Grace sitting between two large white columns in a porch swing. She was tall and thin with black shiny hair, and she was dressed in white or in a white apron. She greeted them warmly. Aunt Grace was very good to “Jimmy,” as she called Daddy. Thinking back on that first meeting, he wrote, “I knew I was looking at an angel.”

Uncle Jim and Aunt Grace had a four month old baby girl named Jennie Marie. Much of what he wrote about his upbringing was in long typewritten letters from him to his cousin Jennie Marie around 1990. I refer to them often in my posts. I don’t know if he ever mailed them to her, because the copies in his files look like originals. Aunt Grace and Uncle Jim had a big dinner for Petrea and the boys the day they arrived in Dwight. Dinner was served on the prettiest table that Daddy said he had ever seen. He said Aunt Grace was a great cook.

After dinner, Uncle Jim walked Petrea and the boys to their new home only two blocks away from Jim’s and Grace’s home. It was a small wood-frame house set three feet back from the walk, facing a row of large ash trees. The trees grew close to the walk on the street side and were separated from the street by a deep graded ditch. A bay window faced the street on the right as they walked into the house. He wrote, “The house smelled dead, hot, and of old wood. A single light bulb hung by a long cord from the center of each room. The wood floors were solid but creaked as we walked over them. To the rear of the front room a small dining room continued through a large square opening. To the left of the dining room a similar opening joined to the only bedroom. The entrance to a small narrow kitchen was to the rear of the dining room through a narrow door in the corner. A well-used sink and a cistern hand pump in the corner of the kitchen were the only fixtures in the house and the only water on the property. There was nothing [in the backyard]. No trees, no fences and no roads. There was one faded wood outhouse sitting in the weeds fifty feet to the back of the property. This was to be home – a tiny four-room white house on the edge of a dirt street jammed between an old abandoned unpainted blacksmith shop and the three-story white frame [Fisher] hotel. The one and only block of business buildings lay in view a short distance up the hill.”

The next day a team of horses pulling a wagon arrived with the furniture, and after a few hours the house was arranged for living. In a letter to Jennie Marie, he described a large reddish rug, a piano, and a rocking chair occupying the front room. A round dark oak table and matching chairs with a matching oak buffet were in the center room. I don’t know if my grandmother hauled the table and chairs from Lorain or if Uncle Jim got them for her in Dwight, but Daddy told me that he was circumcised on that oak table. Mother and Daddy got the table and chairs after his mother died in 1951 and used them every day until they moved into a nursing home in 2002.  Our family still has the oak table, most of the chairs, and the buffet. In 2016, the table is at least 97 years old.

Daddy’s first impression of his new Dwight home that smelled dead, hot, and old might not have been very good, but it was memorable, and he grew to love it. He spent the next twelve years of his life there. He wrote a warm and sentimental letter to his mother at Christmas in 1947, 28 years after moving to Dwight. At that time he had been married to my mother Pat for twelve years and had two children (I was not born yet). He told his mother that he would do anything to protect Pat from a fate such as hers, and he did. In that letter, he also told his mother that he would always remember the feelings of comfort, safety, and security that she offered him in Dwight, and that Dwight would always be his home. He promised his mother that he would be home for Christmas the next year. As he listened to the radio while writing that letter, he wrote, “Strangely as it seems, the radio just broke out with the song Home.”