Erwinna, Pennsylvania

How did Erwinna, Pennsylvania get its name? This page provides a brief history about the naming of Erwinna, Pennsylvania, the people who settled it, and the industry rising within it.

Village in central northeastern Tinicum Township on Delaware Division Canal near Delaware River Road (Route 326). It was named Erwinna in honor of its most distinguished citizen, Colonel Arthur Erwin, at the time the post office was established.1 Marshall Island, in the river, earlier called Tinicum Island, lies opposite to Erwinna, which is located on land originally owned by the London Company. Thomas Fairman, surveyor, by virtue of “a warrant from the Proprietarie,” laid out on August 16, 1699, to Henry Goldney and Company, otherwise the London Company, 7,500 acres of land, covering the river front for nearly five miles between the present Smithtown and Uhlertown, including Tinicum Island and extending from the river nearly three miles into the virgin wilderness. The company retained possession of some of this land for sixty-two years, or until 1761, and during this period the London Ferry, later named Frenchtown Ferry, was established2 London Ferry was the first name of Erwinna. It is so named on the Scull map of 1770. On Reading Howell’s map of the State of Pennsylvania, t792, the name is Marshalls. The earliest map mention of Erwinna by that name is found in Tanner’s “New American Atlas,” 1825.

The village stands on part of a tract of 528 acres, once owned by the London Company, which Colonel Arthur Erwin bought March 16, 1769, and upon which he lived until his death in 1791. Colonel Erwin was an important and colorful figure in events of his day. Born in 1726 and coming to this country in 1768 from the capital town of County Antrim, Ulster, Ireland, he is described by one of his descendants as “a gentleman of culture and affluence, shrewd business habits, untiring energy, dignified and commanding in appearance, with a pleasing and courtly address, and gentle in manner and benevolent in disposition.” He was made Colonel of the Second Battalion of Pennsylvania Militia, May 6, 1777. Among his papers was a letter from General Washington, showing that he had been in correspondence with his commander-in-chief. Twice married and the father of eleven children, five of whom came with him from Ireland, some of his sons also held military commissions and were influential in this state and New York.

In addition to 2,500 acres of land which he had acquired in Bucks County, Colonel Erwin owned other large tracts in Luzerne County, Pa., and Steuben County, N. Y., his holdings in Steuben County alone covering six square miles. His land possessions in the virgin wilderness gave him much trouble, as he was harassed by Connecticut claimants and had frequent clashes with squatter settlers. While on a tour of inspection of his lands in the Painted Post section of Erwin, a township of Steuben County named for Colonel Erwin, he was assassinated in the year 1791 by a disgruntled squatter settler, who shot him from ambush as he sat in the cabin of a friendly tenant named Daniel McDuffie, near Tioga Point and near the New York State boundary line. The assassin, who was not positively identified, escaped and was never apprehended. Colonel Erwin survived the attack only a few hours. His body was brought to Bucks County and interred in the Erwin private graveyard on the river bank a short distance above Frenchtown Delaware River bridge. The remains of his second wife, Mary Kennedy, who died in 1817 and whom the Colonel married in this county (his first wife having died at sea on the voyage to this country), are buried in Easton Cemetery.

In the Canal’s prosperous days Erwinna was a boat building center. Prior to 1860 Jonas Rapp is listed in an old directory as an Erwinna boat builder. One of the late owners of the boatyard was R. F. Rapp, whose journeymen were Sheridan Fabian, Marshall Pursell and John Whitman.

Source: MacReynolds, George. Place Names in Bucks County Pennsylvania, 2nd Edition. Doylestown, PA: The Bucks County Historical Society, 1955.

  1. “Available records do not show the exact date of establishment of Erwinna post office. However, Hugh Erwin, the first postmaster appointed to serve there, rendered his first account as of March 10, 1807. He was succeeded by Joseph Erwin, who rendered his first account October 8, 1808. Hugh Erwin was again appointed postmaster at Erwinna and rendered his first account as of April 1. 1809.”-Letter from First Assistant Postmaster General Ambrose O’Connell to the compiler, dated June 30, 1942. Hugh and Joseph were sons of Col. Arthur Erwin. []
  2. Dr. B. F. Fackenthal, Jr., in “Improving Navigation on the Delaware River,” 1932, p.46, says the first recorded account of the ferry dates back to 1741, but gives no reference. []

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