Portal:Indian Captivity Stories/JB Cowan Letters

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Three letters from JB Cowan

The following three letters from JB Cowan are central to much of the discussion of the genealogy of certain lines of Cowans addressed in Fleming's "The Cowans From County Down" (Fleming, 1971). JB's lineage, as he describes it, may be found Here.

(From a letter dated "Tullahoma, Tenn, March 28, 1895," by Dr.

Jas. B. Cowan, addressed to Dr. E. H. Cowan, Crawfordsville, Ind.) From PD Cowan c1930 "In the Shadow of the Chillhowie", p12-13

"My father was Samuel Montgomery Cowan. My great-great-grandfather was Samuel Cowan. My great-grandfather was John. He was the eldest or second son, I am not sure which. He was a major in the Continental Army, in the War of Independence. The father, Samuel, and all his sons were in the army and fought to the end. My great-grandfather, as stated, was Major John Cowan. He was killed by the Indians at some point in East Tennessee. At the time he was killed, his wife, a daughter and son (my grandfather), James Cowan, were captured. The Indians adopted my grandfather into their tribe (Cherokee). He was only fifteen years old. His mother was taken by another tribe (Shawnee). His sister was killed. My grandfather was kept a year and made his escape. His mother was carried north, and kept seven years. Her maiden name was Walker. My grandfather had but one brother, John. He moved at an early day to Indiana. His son, Judge John M. Cowan, has visited my father and myself before the late war, at our home in Mississippi."
A second letter dated March 28, 1895, but to a different unnamed relative. The version given in Fleming, 1971 differs substantially from the version provided by Mrs. Dunavant, 1947, with considerable material deleted without ellipsis being shown. The following shows in red the material given by Mrs. Dunavant that is missing from Flemings version.
"Your very interesting letter to hand some days ago. I am sorry I cannot give you all of the history you so much desire. My father was Samuel Montgomery Cowan. Before the war between the States we had a family tree but it was lost and I will have to write from memory. My great great grandfather was Samuel Cowan. His sons were
  • John,
  • James,
  • Samuel,
  • William,
  • Robert.

I don't know that I have given them in order of ages. My great grandfather John was the oldest, or the second son, I'm not sure. He was a major in the Continental Army in the War for Independence. The father, Samuel, and all of his sons were in the army and fought to the end.

Samuel Cowan had several daughters. One of them, Elizabeth, married Samuel McCrosky, and their daughter Elizabeth wed Samuel Houston. Samuel and his brother William Houston, have often been at my father's home, and they called each other cousin. I recollect William Houston well.

I know nothing more particularly of the families that sprung from the sons of Samuel Cowan, except that of my own line, only this; that part of the family still lives in East Tennessee. One line went to Kentucky, one to Vicksburg, Miss., one to South Carolina and part to Alabama.

I have known many members of these families and they all trace back to the same place, ei {sic] to Samuel Cowan or his brothers. Most of these mentioned, however, direct to Samuel Cowan. [This is as written, and is not clear.]

My grandfather had but one brother, his name was John, born December 14, 1768, died August 17, 1832. He moved at an early day to Indiana, from his home in East Tennessee. His son, John Maxwell Cowan, born Dec. 6 1821, visited my father and me before the late war at our home in Mississippi. I think he is yet living in Missouri.

My grandfather moved to Franklin County, Tennessee, in 1806, being the second man to move to that county. He moved from Blount County.

He commanded the frontier between the Tennessee line, and northern Georgia., and Alabama, below Chattanooga (then known as Ross' Landing), to a point north of where Huntsville, Alabama now stands, for several years under the US Government. He was in the army under General Jackson at the taking of Fort Barrance in Pensacola Bay, Florida, 1812, and then went there to New Orleans, and reached there on the 8th day of January, the day of the battle. He returned to his home in franklin County when peace was proclaimed, and died in 1815.

My grandfather was an elder in the Presbyterian Church, and all of his family, as far back as I know them or their history, were Presbyterians.

Samuel Cowans father came at quite and early date and settled in Virginia. He came from Londonderry, Ireland, and our family came from Scotland to Ireland.

You ask about Aunt SallyCowan of Salem, tennessee. I knwo her well and her family have been at our house often, when a child with father and mother, also since I have been grown. Her husband was descended from the same stock. His father was one of Samuel Cowan's sons, probably the youngest. The family are now, I believe, all dead.

I have given you all I can recollect about the history of our family, which affords me pleasure, and I regret I cannot give you more.

The names of our line of the family:

  • Samuel Cowan-my great great grandfather
  • His son, Major John Cowan, my great grandfather.
  • His son Capt. James Cowan, my grandfather
  • His son Samuel Montgomery Cowan, my father (Cumberland Pres. Minister)
  • My name, James Benjamin Cowan

I am now getting to be an old man, born 1831, in my 64th year.

Respectfully your kinsman, J.B.Cowan

From a letter dated Tullahoma, Tenn, 3 April 1895, by JB Cowan to an unnamed relative.

(The source for this is Fleming, 1971.)

"I stated in my other letter that Major John Cowan, my great grandfather was killed by Indians, and his wife and son, my grandfather, were taken prisoners. My great grandmother was carried by the Shawnee Indians to the Lakes on the north for several years.

"She was the slave of the squaw that captured her. At last a half breed and his wife took compassion on her and planned to rescue her. He left his canoe with his wife for the French Trading post in Kentucky, somewhere north of the Cumberland Gap, on the Kentucky River, I believe.

They concealed the fugative under the furs in their boat, an deluded the Indians in their pursuit and reached the French Trading Post in safety. Knowing however, that they would be pursued they succeeded in getting the men at the post to conceal the refugee in the cellar of the Store, and a messenger was sent in haste to notify the settlement in (I believe) Blount County, Tennessee. The messenger rode night and day, and the people were all at church (it was a great camp meeting). The messenger rode up to the stand where the preaching was going on, and called out:

Is there a man here named Russell, Major Russell, or Colonel Walker, or any man named Cowan?

Major Russell responded, and said:

What do you want?

There is a woman at the French Trading Post makng her escape from the Indians. Her name is Mary Cowan, and the Indians are in pursuit to recapture her, and I am sent to tell her friends to come as quickly as possible to rescue her.

You can imagine the scene that followed. In an hour a hundred picked men were in the saddle and were off. The excitment in the community was intense. It was the coming back from the grave.

There was a forced march by day and night. The Indians were there first, but had not foud their victim. Late in the evening a large string of cavalry was seen approaching. The Indians fled, and my great grandmother was rescued. My father recollected to have seen her years afterwards when he was but a child. My grandfather was in the rescuing party to save his mother.

Had I the time I would love to weave these and may other thrilling facts into a romance or write them and leave them to my children. I am feeling very close to you now, as I have been hunting back into our kin who have crossed over and are resting in the shade.

God's blessing upon you and your family
Your friend and kinsman,
JB Cowan

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