Analysis:Henry Cowan of early Lancaster County, PA

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Salisbury Township, Lancaster County, PA



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Document:Excerpt from Eschelmann, 1922:41 Discussion of early roads, mentions Henry Cowan
Henry Cowan of early Lancaster County, PA
Source:Fleming, 1971 Brief mention on page 59, in article on Henry son of John Cowan, minimal data.
Data:Cowans in Old Chester Tax Assessments, Table


Person:David Cowan (14)
Person:David Cowan (15)


Henry Cowan of early Lancaster County, PA
Original text by Terry Cowan
Minor reformating, and contrarion footnotes by Q 09:05, 26 August 2010 (EDT)

Researchers of the Pequea Creek Cowans of early Salisbury Township, Lancaster County, PA are blessed with the existence of early records for the families of John, David and William Cowan. Each of these brothers left deeds, wills and estate documents which clearly identify their children, as well as strongly suggesting their own relationship as siblings. Unfortunately, no such documents survive for Henry Cowan. There is, however, strong circumstantial evidence to support the belief that he was a 4th son of the immigrant David Cowan.


Person:Henry Cowan (7) was the first Cowan to appear in records of what will become Lancaster County, a resident of “Pequa” Township in the 1721 tax list. He is also listed for 1724, when other Cowans make their appearance, and in 1725 and 1726. Henry Cowan can be eliminated as a father of the other Cowan brothers. In 1724 and 1726, there were two David Cowans listed in the township. One of them was undoubtedly the person:David Cowan (15) who died in 1758. He was too young to have grown children himself in the early 1720s. In fact, at his death in 1758, a number of his children were still minors, and his own son named David lived until 1785, leaving minor children at that time. So, the other David Cowan was most likely the father of these Cowan brothers. This conforms to the Dr. William Lightner Cowan letter of 1884, which states that David Cowan was the father of John, William and David, and that he emigrated from Scotland around 1719 or 1720. I believe this eliminates Henry as a possible father of the others.[1] Given Henry's apparent early death, The likeliest scenario was that he was the eldest brother, though it is certainly possible that he could have been an uncle.

In 1726, an east-west road was laid out, with reference to Henry Cowan’s land being about 4 ½ miles east of Eaby’s Mill. The road was said to parallel the existing Peters Road. This would place his land just south of, if not actually adjoining, the 3 farms patented by John, David and William in 1734.

In 1729, Person:Henry Cowan (7) was one of the founders of St. John’s Pequea Episcopal Church, along with David Cowan.

In 1733, Person:Henry Cowan (7) along with John Cowan, witnessed the signatures of David and William Cowan in a deed to George Fleming (Volume O, Page 155.)

In 1753, Henry Cowan[2] subscribed 1 pound for the construction of the new church at St. John’s.

Extant tax records for Lancaster County begin in 1750, but the early years are largely unreadable. 1755 is the first year that Henry Cowan’s name is discernable. He is listed on 1756 and 1757 as well. In 1758, two Henry Cowans are listed. In 1759, one Henry Cowan is listed. In 1760, two Henry Cowans are listed again, with one designated as “young man.” The tax records from the early to mid 1760s are unreadable. In 1768, one Henry Cowan is listed, but by this time, this was undoubtedly his nephew, son of John.

A Henry Cowan and Henry Cowan, Jr. [3]witnessed the 1759 will of John Cowan.

Identifying Henry Cowan on the tax rolls becomes a problem by the mid to late 1750s. Three of the four Cowan siblings named sons Henry, and each of these young men came of age in the 1750s. There was Henry, son of John, who married Jane Varner in 1753 and moved to Rowan County, NC in 1785. There was Henry, oldest son of David, who died unmarried in 1760. And then there was Henry, Jr., son of Henry, who was killed in an altercation in Middletown, PA in 1768.


Identifying possible children of Henry is speculative. There was the George Cowan who applied for a land warrant in Lancaster County in 1738. I think he was the probable son of Henry Cowan (though the possibility exists that he could have also been a younger brother.) If this is so and if Henry were indeed a brother to the 3 Cowan brothers, then George would be among the older of the cousins, which supports the idea that Henry was the oldest brother. This is man is most probably the same George Cowan who applied for a land warrant in NC, along with his cousin (?) John Cowan, son of John, in 1750. I think he was also the probable husband of Catherine Skiles Cowan, daughter of Henry Skiles, Sr., who lived next to the Cowan brothers and whose will was probated in 1750.

There were a large number of early Rowan County Cowans who could not be--by process of elimination--descendants of either John, David or William. Several have participated in the DNA study, and they fit squarely in the Pequea Cowan group. I contend that these Cowans descend from George Cowan, probable son of Henry Cowan. Until further information surfaces, this is our best guess. These descendants were closely associated with the other Pequea Cowans who settled there. We need to identify the specific candidates in Rowan County that can't be elminated. Eventually, we need to expand the Carolina Cradle Cowan Tapestry to include this.

Then, of course, there was Henry Cowan, Jr. He married Mary Byars in 1761 at St. James Episcopal Church in Lancaster. He was killed on 3 March 1768 (see “History of Middletown,” We need better documentation for this. Minimum needed is author, title. There are numerous works with "history of Middletown" as the title.and Jasper Yeates files, Lancaster County Historical Society). Soon afterwards, his widow and children moved to Rowan County, NC (perhaps in the 1769 Cowan migration when William Cowan, Sr. and wife, Susannah Fleming Cowan moved there.) She remarried to Thomas Lyall, who died in 1781, and then to Christopher Irvin, who died in 1793. She lived on until 1815, and her land was known as the “Mary Byars Cowan” tract. She is buried in Third Creek Presbyterian Cemetery, along with many other Cowans. Her daughters were closely associated with the larger Cowan family, and there were numerous marriages back into the family among her daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.


There may never be unquestionable proof that Henry Cowan was a brother to John, David and William Cowan. But, the circumstantial evidence I have outlined suggests a very close relationship. My enthusiasm for this solution may have blinded me to problems with this scenario, so I welcome any comments or observations. (Also, I might add that my connection of Mary Byars who married Henry Cowan in 1761, to the Mary Cowan who married Thomas Lyals and whose daughter Susannah Cowan was remembered in his will, to Mary Lyals who married Christopher Irwin, to the “Mary Byars Cowan” tract of the Third Creek neighborhood to the Mary Cowan, “age 77” whose 1815 tombstone is in the Third Creek Presbyterian Church Cemetery, requires a leap or two, itself.)


Primary Authors current address:

Terry Cowan
603 Circle Drive
Bullard, TX 75757


  1. Another possibility is that Dr. Cowan didn't know about Henry; he was, after all, at least four generations removed from Henry. Henry could be a brother of David (15), or in theory could have been his father, and Dr. Cowan's statement would still be accurate.
  2. Given the late date, and the absence of other records in the intervening years from 1733 to 1753, this is probably a son of one of the original Cowan settlers in the area, rather than Person:Henry Cowan (7)
  3. As Terry points out elsewhere, there were a number of "Henry Cowans" in this family: David, William, and John each had a son "Henry". In this instance, the first Henry could have been one of those sons, and the "Henry Jr.", could either have been a son of that son, or more likely, a younger cousin who used "Jr." to distinguish himself from his older cousin. Given the break in continuity of records for Henry Cowan between 1730 and 1750, it seems likely that the first Henry Cowan died c1730.