Analysis: The work of Mrs. H.J. Dunavant



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The core of this article was original placed on FamilyPedia and transferred here by the original author, for incorpoation into The Tapestry


Source:Fleming, 1971 The Cowans of County Down
Source:Houston, et al. 1916 Maxwell History and Genealogy
Source:White, 1902 Descendants of John Walker of Wigton Scotland
Document:Shadow of the Chilhowee



Mrs. HJ Dunavant collected considerable information about her Cowan ancestry, tracing her line to Samuel Cowan (?-1776) who married Ann Walker (?-?) daughter of John Walker III (1705-c1777) and Ann Houston (?-?). Fleming, 1971 utilized Mrs. Dunavants work extensively, usually (but not always) crediting her as his source of information. It seems likely that Fleming was aware of the letters of JB Cowan concerning his ancestry primarily because he had access to Mrs. Dunavants work. It is not clear that he knew of JB Cowan's letters independently of Mrs. Dunavant. The versions of JB's letters that appear in Fleming include a number of ellipsis', when compared to the versions in Mrs. Dunavants work. This probably indicates that Mrs. Dunavant was his source with regard to these letters, but he may also have utilized similar and related material provided in Source:Houston, et al. 1916 (Maxwell History and Genealogy).

A prominent component of Mrs. Dunavants work is the "killing of Major John Cowan" during the Revolution, whom she identifies as the son of Samuel Cowan and Ann Walker, and the capture of his wife Mary Walker. Her presentation is derived primarily from the letters of JB Cowan, combined with other information contained in The Draper MSC. It is her thinking on the relationships in this family that forms the basis for Flemings discussion of this family. Unfortunately, JB Cowan letters contain significant confusions about the family history, integrating a number of separate stories, concerning different people, at different times and places, into the single story about "Major John Cowan".

Mrs. Dunavants work, seems to be known of primarily through its inclusion in Flemings "The Cowan's of County Down. This is in part because the document in which Mrs. Dunavants work is actually contained, and which Fleming used as a source, is ill-cited in Flemings work. As a result, it has been difficult for people to follow up and see exactly what information Mrs. Dunavant had that led her to her conclusions.

Flemings citation (Fleming, 1971:363)reads:

Dunavant, Mrs. H.J. - Genealogical Records Committee (DAR) of North Carolina, Vol 1, p.80

The actual title page for this work reads:

National Society Daughters of the American Revolution of North Carolina
Miss Gertrude Carraway State Regent, 1947
Genealogical Records Committee
Mrs. HJ Dunavant
State and National Chairman
Vol 1
Mecklenberg Chapter
Colonel Frederick Hambright Chapter

Flemings problem with the citation is easy to understand. While he can be faulted for not including the date, its hard to read the above and guess the title of the work. From the handwritten note at the top of the page of the copy I'm working from, the correct title was probably "North Carolina Genealogical Records", but you can't tell that just by looking at the title page. The work was probably put together by a group "Genealogical Records Committee", of which Mrs. Dunavant was the "State and National Chairman", and which Fleming mistook for the title. It is likely that most of the work was done by members of the Mecklenberg and Colonel Frederick Hambright Chapters of the North Carolina DAR, under the titular authority of Miss Gertrude Carraway "State Regent". The content page of Volume 1 shows that the work consists of presentations by different DAR members concerning their ancestry. Mrs. Dunavant, in addition to being State and National Chairman of this committee, contributed a section on "The families of Walker, Rutherford, and Houston" (p. 78-80), with additonal and separate entries on:

Samuel Cowan and wife Ann (Walker) Cowan, and children, Robert Cowan, and other sons, Revolutionary War Soldiers (p. 81-83)
The Cowan Houston Family, two letters from Dr. JB Cowan (p84-87)
The Houston Cowan Family, beginning 1650.

Fleming, 1971 incorporated much of this material directly into his work. Mrs. Dunavants information goes well beyond the story of Major John Cowan and wife Mary, and includes information on Cowans in southeastern Pennsylvania, dating to the early 18th century. While he consistently cites Mrs. Dunavant as one of his sources, it is sometimes difficult to tell what he got from Mrs. Dunavant, and what came from other sources. In anycase, while Fleming makes extensive use of Mrs. Dunavants work, often quoting long passages from her document, he was selective in what he presented. This was probably due to a need to simplify, and dictated by space considerations. However, while he quoted entire passages of Mrs. Dunavants document, he did not show with ellipsis where information was left out. In some instances the information left out alters the sense of what Mrs. Dunavant wrote. This is particularly apparent in his quotations of the letters of JB Cowan, where substantial family information was ignored.