Analysis. Octoraro Creek Cowans and the Cowans of Cowan's Gap




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Source:Maurer, 1899
Source:Cowan, 1928
Source:Orr and Cowan, 1970
Source:Fleming, 1971:377

Data:Cowan Land Warrants Old Chester PA
Cowan Tax Records|Cowan Tax Records
Data. Cowan's in the 1790 PA, US Census
Document. Excerpt from Orr, January, 1970
Document. Burning of the Old Cowan House
Document. Romance of Cowan's Gap
Document. The Real Story of Cowan's Gap
James Cowan Land Transfer
Notes for Cowans of Cowans Gap
Letter Miller to Cowan 1865

YDNA. Cowan Surname
Mary Unknown
Person:Samuel Cowan (17)
person:Hugh Cowan (7)
Person:Robert Cowan (17)
person:Edward (1)
person:Archibald Cowan (2)
Cowan's Gap Cowans
Octoraro Creek Cowans
Wife of Samuel Cowan
The Cowan Homestead
Lower Path Valley Prebyterian Cemetery

Family Relations

pale green=Chester Countypale blue=Cumberland County; pale yellow=Bedford County; dark yellow=Fulton County;  light purple=Allegheny County, dark purple=Westmoreland
pale green=Chester County
pale blue=Cumberland County;
pale yellow=Bedford County;
dark yellow=Fulton County;
light purple=Allegheny County,
dark purple=Westmoreland


Hugh and Robert Cowan settled on Octoraro Creek, Chester County, PA about 1720. The relationship between Hugh and Robert is not known, but it seems likely that they were related, perhaps as shown in the accompanying diagrams. Each had a number of sons who migrated west to Cumberland and Westmoreland Counties, and raise families. One of these sons, Person:Mathias Cowan (1), son of Hugh, would settle in Westmoreland County. A YDNA test for one of his descendants shows that this line is characterized by the I1 Haplogroup. As of may 2011, about 5% of the kits in Cowan YDNA Project correspond to the I1 Haplogroup. In Contrast, about 90% of the Kits in the Cowan YDNA project correspond to the R1 Haplogroup.

A number of other lines of Cowans settled at an early date in Old Chester County. Of particular interest here is the Cowan's Gap Cowans line which settled in Cowan's Gap of Bedford/Fulton Counties in Pennsylvania just before the end of the Revolution. Among these early Cowan's Gap Settlers were Person:Samuel Cowan (17) and Person:Hugh Cowan (7), Samuel settled in Cowan's Gap, and Hugh settled a few miles to the west along Licking Creek, and were on the tax rolls as early as 1781, indicating that they had been present in the area prior to 1781. Given the fact that they settled near each other, and secured land warrants for their property on exactly the same date in 1783, Hugh and Samuel are presumed to be close kin, and perhaps brothers.

: Land ownership mostly based on early Land Warrants; Township boundaries are those of the modern county.
Salmon Hexagon=Samuel Cowan at Cowan's Gap
Orange Hexagon=Hugh Cowan on a branch of Licking Creek
Purple Hexagon=John Cowan on a bend in Licking Creek (dating to the 1870's)
Blue Hexagon=Edward Cowan at Roaring Springs

Tax records show that there were other Cowans in the general vicinity of Cowan's Gap at an early date. A James Cowan paid taxes in Dublin Township beginning in 1781. Based on proximity and timing he is probably related to Samuel and Hugh. We know that Samuel did indeed have a brother as land transactions show that his son James transferred to the Cowan's Gap property to Hugh, John, William and David Cowan, who are identified as sons of his father's brother. That brother could have been Hugh, or perhaps James., or even someone not yet identified.

Several individuals traceing their descent to one or another of the Cowan's Gap Cowans have taken the YDNA test through FTDNA. Their results give a characteristic YDNA signature. A single individual traceing descent to one of the Octoraro Creek Cowans has also taken the FTDNA YDNA test. Their signature is very similar to that of the Cowan's Gap Cowans. This suggests that the two groups (Cowan's Gap Cowans, and Octoraro Creek Cowans share a relatively recent common ancestor. Taking these results at face value it seems likely that the Cowans who settled in and near Cowans Gap about 1780 are descended from one of the Octoraro Creek Cowans, though direct genealogical evidence for this is currently lacking.


The above conclusion is likely to meet with considerable skepticism among Cowan researchers. Among Cowan's Gap researchers the idea that they descend from a line that was clearly in place in Pennsylvania by 1730, flies in the face of the commonly accepted story of their family. This story (commonly referred to as The Romance of Cowan's Gap) holds that the family descends from a John Cowan who settled at Cowan's Gap shortly after the end of the Revolution. According to the story John was a British soldier during the Revolution, and his wife the daughter of a Boston Merchant. Her father disapproved of the marriage, and so the couple eloped after the end of the Revolution, moving to Cowan's Gap in PA.