As Texas A&M University this month observes the 137th anniversary of its opening as the state’s first public institution of higher learning, it has come to light that its current student body includes the great-great-grandson and granddaughter of a member of the school’s first class — and who is believed to be the first student to actually enroll, meaning he also would be the first student to enroll at a public college in Texas.
That ancestry also makes the duo fifth-generation Aggies, a distinction shared by few others since Texas A&M opened for classes on Oct. 4, 1876.
The current students of extraordinary legacy proportions are Zachary and Lindsay Lawrence. He is a sophomore psychology major and member of Texas A&M’s Corps of Cadets, just as his father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were. Lindsay is a senior majoring in allied health. Also, a brother, Ryan, a history major, graduated from Texas A&M last spring. They grew up in Shiner in south Texas.
Asked why he had not made known this connection of historic significance, even though he has been an Aggie for more than a year, Zachary replied: “I didn’t want to call attention to myself,” adding he didn’t want his family connection to be a factor in his admission.
“I wanted to get into Texas A&M on my own merits,” he emphasized.
Attention to this Aggie footnote was called to attention in a modern manner — a tweet from a former classmate of Lawrence’s father to Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin. The student-oriented Aggie president asked a staffer to check into it.
The great-great-grandfather’s name shows up as James Archibald McIver on a copy of the “catalogue of students” for the institution’s first session in 1876-77. However, his first name is actually John, and a correction was made in the catalogue issued the following year. Given that the struggling new institution in 1876 was still at least somewhat caught up in the throes of the old wild-west frontier, and with its hard-scrabble campus occasionally visited by roaming packs of wolves, university officials noted that niceties such as precise record-keeping were not likely among the highest priorities back then.
University records show him as being from Caldwell, a small town about 25 miles west of what is now College Station.
Zachary recounted often-repeated family history that helps substantiate the belief that McIver was the first Aggie: “What I’ve often heard family members say is that he rode over on horseback from Caldwell to enroll but was told he was a day early. Rather than ride back to Caldwell as he had planned, he decided just to stay overnight. He slept under a tree that night and then registered the next morning.”
The family has copies of newspapers stories reporting McIver’s death in 1923 and having headlines noting that he was the first student to register at Texas A&M.
Also, a photo of McIver is on display in the Sanders Corps of Cadets Hall of Honor on campus and includes a caption describing him as “the first student to register at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas,” as the institution was officially known until 1963.
“The Lawrence and McIver families came into relation when John Archie's granddaughter, Patsy McIver (my grandmother), married my grandfather Allen S. Lawrence Jr. and took the Lawrence name,” Zachary said in explaining why his last name differs from that of the earliest family Aggie.
Zachary is in the same Corps of Cadets unit in which his father was a member, as was his brother — Company E-1. His other Aggie family members were also in the Corps but it is not known which units.
Taking into account the two brothers and sister, prospects appear bright for extending the legacy to a sixth generation and perhaps beyond — extending even more what seems to be the ultimate Aggie family ties. That would also result in a great-great-great-grandfather designation -- perhaps not a Guinness World Record but still a feat of historic proportions.
“It’s one of those special things, knowing that my family linage goes back to the very start of Texas A&M,” Lawrence added, still emphasizing he doesn’t choose to “gloat about it.”
What he could gloat about, if he chose to, is that he and his sister are now part of the largest student body in Texas, with Texas A&M’s fall enrollment standing at a record 58,809. More than 400,000 students have attended Texas A&M since McIver helped pioneer its path to becoming one of the largest and most diversified universities in the nation.