Indian Captivity Stories of the Cowan Family



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During the Revolutionary War period settlers in Southwest Virginia were in armed conflict with various Native American groups. Much of this conflict took the form of raids by Native Americans on the frontier settlements. Such raids often resulted in the death or capture of settlers, their wives, and family. There are numerous contemporary records documenting some of these events. Other events are known to us only through oral tradition passed down through the immediate family. During the 19th and early 20th century some of this oral family tradition was "captured" in various formal and informal publications. This article collects contemporary documentation and oral family traditions for these events related to the Cowan family of Southwest Virginia, including stories related to members of their extended family such as the Walkers and the Handley's.


Document Persons Identified Date
of Event
of record
Documents:Mrs. Scott's Testimony in Drapers MSCAnn Walker Cowan, Samuel Cowan
Samuel Walker, William Walker
c1777early 1800's1,2
Documents:Thomas Carter Testimony in Drapers MSCAnn Walker Cowan, Samuel Cowan
Samuel Walker, William Walker
c1777Mid 1800's3
Document:Letter From Andrew Finis Cowan to Columbia Cowan, 1906, ExtractAnn Walker Cowan
Sister of his grandmother Jane Walker**
1777late 1800's4
Document:JB Cowan to EH Cowan, March 1895Mary Walker Cowan**, Samuel Cowan, John Cowan, James Cowan177718954
Document:JB Cowan to Unnamed Relative, March 1895Samuel Cowan, John Cowan177718954
Document:JB Cowan to Unnamed Relative, April 1895Samuel Cowan, John Cowan, Mary Walker Cowan177718954, 5
Document:Laura Cowan Blain to J. Max Cowan, 1916Samuel Cowan, Major John Cowan177719164
Document:The Capture of Margaret Handley, 1779Margaret Handley, John Pauley, James Pauley1779early 1800's1?
Document:The Capture of Samuel Handley, 1792Samuel Handley, Mary Adams, Susannah Cowan179218534
Document:Sarah Cowan Maxwell to Margaret Allen Maxwell, before 1856Samuel Cowan, John Cowan, Ann Walker Cowan**177718563
Analysis:Mrs Dunvant's version of the Major John Cowan storyMajor John Cowan, Mary Cowan, Mary Walker Cowan, James Cowanc1777Early 1900's4
Document:In the Shadow of the ChillhowieJohn Cowan, Mary Walker, Mary Walker CowanRevolution19315

*Removal---distance in time between the story-teller and the event.

1 First hand account--Story-Teller is an eye-witness or participant in the event.
2 Second hand account--Story-teller is a contemporary of the persons involved in, or witnessed the event, and knew of it through direct interaction with them.
3 Story-teller is removed from the event by one to two generations, but spoke with persons who had second-hand accounts of the events;
4 Story teller is removed from the event by three or more generations; knew of the details only through third hand accounts.
5 Fictionalized account

**Identified indirectly, partially assumed this is the person meant.


There are a surprisingly large number of Indian Captivity Stories associated with the Cowan Family in Southwest Virginia. Some of these stories are based in part on contemporary accounts of certain events, and have considerable credibility: (See Documents:Mrs. Scott's Testimony in Drapers MSC). Other stories are more remote, representing family tails passed on passed on more, or less, completely, though several family generations. Inevitably such stories loss accuracy with retelling, as successive generations loose sight of critical facts, and interpret what remains as best they can. Retellers of these tales often have a particular perspective on the events being related, and sometimes that perspective is skewed by missing information, Often that interpretation includes the addition of elements not in the original events, but "needed" in order to make sense of other elements that they "know to be true".