Biography of Robert McCloud Gwinn

In the early development of Idaho this honored citizen of Caldwell came to the territory to preach the gospel among those who were isolated from the interests and advantages of the east. He was the first representative of the Methodist ministry in the territory and continued his labors for many years, but is now living retired. A man of ripe scholarship and marked executive ability, one whose life has been consecrated to the cause of the Master and to the uplifting of men, there is particular propriety in directing attention to his life history, as it has left so great an impress upon the development of the state.

A native of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, he was born on the 5th of June 1833, and is of Scotch descent. His grandfather, John Gwinn, was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and after residing for a time in county Tyrone, Ireland, crossed the Atlantic to America, when this country was a part of the British colonial possessions.

He brought with him from the Emerald Isle letters from the pastor of his church, certifying to his high Christian character; also a letter from the member of the house of burgesses of his town in county Tyrone. Here he placed his membership in the Covenanters’ Church, and by his upright life sustained the reputation which he had borne in the old church in Ireland. At the time when British oppression became intolerable he joined the colonists in their struggle for independence, and gallantly fought for liberty, under command of General Washington, until the close of hostilities. After receiving an honorable discharge he located on the present site of the city of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, owning there a valuable farm of four hundred and ninety acres of land. The old bombazine pocket book which he carried throughout the Revolution, and which now contains his war record, was found in a secret drawer of an old bureau that had long been in the family, and is now in possession of our subject a rare and valuable relic, highly prized by Rev. Gwinn. Although the paper is much faded and worn, the ink with which the record is written still remains undimmed. This honored Revolutionary hero lived to the advanced age of eighty-eight years, and therefore witnessed a large share of the development of the republic which he had aided to establish. He married Miss Mary McCloud, a lady of Scotch birth, of fine education and amiable character, who died in her seventy-sixth year. They had a family of three sons and three daughters.

Their son, John Gwinn, Jr., father of our subject, was born in Maryland, in 1781. He was very industrious, and followed farming in Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, for many years. He served as a magistrate and was a member of the Seceder Church. His wife departed this life in her forty-second year, but he reached the advanced age of ninety-four years. Of their family of four sons and two daughters only two are now living”.

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Robert McCloud Gwinn spent his boyhood days in his parents’ home, acquired his literary education in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, afterward read law and was admitted to the bar. He and his wife were found among the loyal adherents of the Union cause in the war of the Rebellion. Mr. Gwinn enlisted in his country’s service as a member of Company I, Thirty-second Iowa Sharpshooters, and continued to defend the stars and stripes and the cause they represented until the flag was planted in the capital of the Confederacy. His wife, too, labored for the nation, spending two and a half years in the south as a member of the United States sanitary commission, and devoting her life to the care of the sick and wounded. Many a soldier has reason to bless her memory for her tender ministrations, and many a life was undoubtedly saved through her careful nursing.

After the war Rev. Robert M. Gwinn, returned to the north, and in 1866 was converted, while attending a great camp meeting held at Cherry Run, in Clarion county, Pennsylvania. In 1870 he was ordained to the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal church and joined the Southern Illinois conference. In 1872 he went to Salt Lake City, Utah, where he met Bishop Foster and seventeen ministers of his denomination, whom he assisted in forming the Rocky Mountain conference of the Methodist Episcopal church. Rev. Gwinn was assigned the territory of Idaho as his mission field, and made his way to Boise, where the same year he organized the first Methodist church in the state. For some time he acted as its pastor and also traveled over the state, preaching, and organizing the representatives of Methodism into congregations. His labors were a source of great good, holding in check much of the lawlessness that often exists in newly developed regions, and strengthening the faith and works of the earnest Christian people who upheld law, order and righteousness. There were many hardships and trials to be borne by Rev. and Mrs. Gwinn in their work, and their journey from Salt Lake City to Idaho had been one of peculiar difficulty, after which Mrs. Gwinn was seriously ill for some time. They labored on, however, and the cause of morality and Christianity was greatly advanced through their zeal and consecrated effort. During the winter after his arrival Rev. Gwinn served as chaplain of the territorial legislature. He was the founder of the Methodist church in Caldwell, and through his instrumentality their tasteful house of worship was erected. He has now retired from the active work of the ministry and lives in a pleasant home in Caldwell, where he has won many warm friends.

Unto Rev. and Mrs. Gwinn were born four children, three of whom are living: Montie B., general manager of the New York Life Insurance Company, with headquarters at Caldwell; Carrie, wife of H. D. Blatchley, the leading druggist of Caldwell; and James H., a merchant of La Grande, Oregon. Gertrude died in the twenty third year of her age. For twenty-nine years Mr. Gwinn has been a faithful member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. He was one of the organizers of the Republican party, has since been a stanch advocate of its principles, and is now serving, by appointment, as state fruit inspector of district No. 4, but has never been an aspirant for political honors or emoluments. He is a man of deep human sympathy and generous spirit, and he has devoted himself without ceasing to the interests of humanity and to the furtherance of all good works.


Illustrated History of the State of Idaho. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company. 1899.

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