A summary of current status of research into the Cowans' of the Tapestry



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WM Willis


Source:Fleming, 1971

July 2011

I'd like to summarize what I think are some of the key findings that have come out with the Cowans over the last few months

First, we now now that some of the groups identified by Flemming are essentially correct, and some not so.

Four Brothers. In the later category, YDNA now tells us that the Flemmings Four Brothers Group is actually composed of two separate lineages---that of Hugh Cowan of Octoraro Creek and his descendants, and the Pequea Creek Cowans and their descendants. Fleming identified them as brothers. The early Cowan settlers on Pequea Creek probably were brothers, but Hugh, even though he lived nearby, is not a kinsman. A Robert Cowan who lived near Hugh might indeed by a kinsman of Hugh, but we still do not know their relationship, nor do we know from YDNA whether or not Robert is really kin at all.

Cowan's Gap.Interesting, we also know from YDNA testing that another Group, the Cowan's Gap Cowans, are in fact kinsmen of Hugh. This is surprizing given the story that their ancestor was a British soldier station in Boston, and only came to the area after the Revolution. Yet kinsman Hugh was in the Brandywine Creek area 30 or forty years prior to the settlement of Cowans Gap. When we started disassemblying the "Romance of Cowans Gap" it quickly became apparent that there were lots and lots of things that didn't add up. (I won't summarize them. The details are available on WeRelate.). While we don't know the exact relationships of some of the players, We do know that Cowans Gap was not settled by "John Robert Cowan", but by Samuel Cowan, and presumed brother Hugh. There probably never was a "John Robert Cowan" in the area. its likely that this name is a conflation where people have tried to make sense of conflicting data, and merged the names of two separate persons---John Cowan, and Robert. Their relationship to Samuel and Hugh is unknown.

By the way, in doing some preliminary exploration of the Campbells, I came across an item I'd overlooked, or forgotten about, in the form of the warrant map for Fulton County in the PA archives. It shows exactly where Samuel and Hugh settled. I've extracted a snippet from the map, and used it as a basis for a cleaned up version that's easier to view. Its on WeRelate in the Samuel Cowan article.


Note that the streams shown are as depicted in the PA Archives map, and reflect a composite of what the surveyor recorded at various times. Their location is only approximately correct, and in many ways is quite misleading. Yet we can tell precisely where Cowan's Gap is located on this map, so we get a very good idea of the proximity of Samuel on Little Auginleck Creek, and Hugh on Licking Creek. Just don't trust the map to show the way these streams actually flow.

As a final point on the Cowan's Gap Cowans there are two main problems that I think are particularly worth further work. The first is sorting out the correct relationship between the various Cowans in the Cowan's gap area. The 104 year old Margaret Cowan, on whose 1860 recollection the "Romance of Cowans Gap" is based, is clearly not the wife of Samuel. Nor is she the Mary Cowan who was living at Cowan's Gap in 1850 (in most genealogies the two have been conflated to form "Mary Margaret". I think Mary is probably the mother of James Cowan, son of Samuel, and Margaret is probably the mother/grand mother of William Cowan et alia living in Cowan's gap in 1850/1860. But direct evidence for this is lacking.

In addition, there are clearly numerous other related Cowans in the immediate area of Cowan's Gap. Some were there well before the end of the Revolution. I suspect that Samuel's presence dates to that time as well, and that he came from not very far away in Culbertson's Row (discussed on Werlate). Chris Cowan and the other Cowan researchers that work with him have done a very good job at capturing a lot of information about all of these Cowans (indeed, without their detailed data, sorting the Cowan's gap Cowans would have been a much harder slog.). Among other things of value are their extracts from the local tax records in Bedford County etc. My thinking is that there were Cowans living nearby but in Franklin County. Extracting the early tax records for them might lead to considerable insight in to the overall family relations. I suspect that some of the confusion in our understanding of these various Cowans is because they were moving back and forth between various properties in Bedford/Fulton County, and adjacent Franklin County. We may be getting only a partial picture of them, because we do not have the same level of detail in Franklin County.

The second problem in the genealogy of the Cowans gap Cowans is figuring out how they relate to Hugh Cowan of Brandywine Creek. I think the problem here is that Fleming was able to give only a partial description of Hugh's children. The Hugh and Samuel who settled in Fulton/Bedford County are probably grandchildren of his, (or perhaps Robert) but that probably implies the existence of an otherwise unrecognized son.

Seven Brothers. We now know that there's little direct evidence for the Seven Brothers in PA. They undboutedly came from that area with the Woods, Campbells, Wallace's and Gass', and probably were in Cumberland County----but good data to support this is quite limited. Certainly the old story of them coming over with the Walker family "on a ship commanded by Richard Walker" is just that---a story. I won't say that this can not be correct---but I will say there's no evidence to support this, and it appears to be a concoction intended to explain the family connection to the Walkers in Castle's Woods. I doubt that there's any truth to it at all.

On the otherhand, the Seven Brothers Cowans does seem to be a real entity---or at least there are many separate lineage that share the same YDNA signature. That signature corresponds to the Niall of the Nine Hostage signature, and points to a deep ancestry in Ireland. Interestingly, one of the Seven Brothers lines in the literature, as described by some early genealogists, stated descend from Niall. Sort of looked like a silly story, given when Niall lived---yet here we are today with evidence that the Seven Brothers are indeed Niall descendants.

Here I find it intersting that the largest group in the Cowan YDNA project are members of the Seven Brothers. I don't know if this is because there are more Seven Brothers Cowan's in the world, or whether its because their lines are so problematical that they have had a greater need to resort to YDNA to "cut the Gordian knot" of their heritage.

Augusta/Albemarle. We now have good reason to believe that the various lines of Seven Brother Cowans came into Virginia about 1733 settling on either side of the Blue Ridge, in what is now Albemarle County and Augusta County. Much of this idea is developed from the study of the extended family of Michael Woods (1) who settled in Albemarle County. Among his extended family are Person:David Cowan (1) and Person:David Gass (1) both of whom have been shown to have been living in Albemarle, near Michael Woods (1), and both of whom moved to Castle's Woods in southwest Virginia shortly before the Revolution.

The Cowans came to these Augusta and Albemarle in conjunction with the extended family of Michael Woods (1), which includes Campbells, Wallace's and Gass' in addition to Cowans. The Augusta and Albemarle groups maintained close communication with each other, as evidenced by at least one surviving letter. Sometime in the early 60's they moved in a coordinated fashion into the Carolina's (settling along the Savannah River), and later moving into Southwest VA (Castle's Woods). ONe branch backflushed into NOrtheastern TN (settling on the Nolachucky). After the Revolution various members of this family moved into Kentucky, and into Blount County, TN, and still later further south into Franklin and points south and west. A major problem that remains as yet unaddressed is firming up the exact identities of those who made these post Revolutionary War moves. There's a fair bit of confusion here---if I didn't feel I needed to go on with other families, this is probably where I'd be working.

However, as far as sorting out the broad picture of the Seven brothers, I think the key probably lies back in Albemarle County. There's fairly decent documentation for the Cowans in Augusta, but we don't have anything comparable for Albemarle. I think the data exists, but is not readily available on line. My impression is that there is considerable Albemarle material in microfilm form, that needs to be examined. I think examining that material would yield consiserable insight.

One success that we've had in this area is fleshing out of the history of David Cowan who settled in Castles Woods in 1769. We now know that he's the same David who settled later in Blount County, and that prior to Castle's Woods, he was in Albemarle County. We've also been able to identify his likely parents, and have confirmed that the first name of his was was indeed Jane. We've also been able to show that her last name was probably not Wright as is often stated. Proof of David's parents, and their history is still needed, as is the last name of his wife.