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Portal:Indian Captivity Stories/Mrs. Dunavant/Validation

< Portal:Indian Captivity Stories | Mrs. Dunavant

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The following is incomplete, and under construction:


It remains unclear as to what Mrs. Dunavant's presentation of the killing of Major John Cowan, and capture Mary was based. It seems likely that she was aware of JB Cowan's letters, or at least had the information in those letters available to her, and that they shaped her understanding. The extract given in Fleming, 1971 identifies Major John's mother as Ann Cowan who was held captive by Indians "for several years". She further identifies his wife Mary Walker as "his cousin". This seems to clearly link Major John to the couple Samuel Cowan (?-1776) and Ann Walker (?-aft1780).

While we have not yet examined Mrs. Dunavants papers directly, we can nonetheless attempt a preliminary validation based on what Fleming tells us about her views. The following assumes the following:

  • Major John Cowan was killed by Indians between 1778 and 1780
  • This took place on the Clinch River, probably in the Castle's Woods area of SW Virginia
  • His mother was Ann Walker, wife of Samuel Cowan
  • Ann Walker had been previously captured by Indians, and taken north into captivity for several years
  • Major Cowan's wife was his cousin Mary Walker

A diagram of the family relations stated and implied is shown at XXXX. This chart is based on a combination of both Fleming's views, but seems to be consistent with what we can tell about Mrs. Dunavants views as well.

We can ask several questions about Mrs. Dunavants presentation.

1. Is there any evidence that a Major John Cowan was killed on the Clinch River between 1778 and 1780?

Emory Hamilton was a well known family historian concerned with the genealogy of the families who settled southwest Virginia beginning about 1769 until after the Revolution. One of his particular interests was stories about Indian attacks during this period. He published many articles concerning the death of pioneer settlers and Native Americans at each others hands, and about persons who were taken captive by Native Americans. Many of the stories he wrote were compiled into publications such as "Unsettled Settlements: Indian Forays on the Holston and Clinch River 1773-1794" (Hamilton, Mullins, and Weaver, 1992). This work includes over 80 articles dealing with what Hamilton sometimes referred to as "Indian Tragedies". Some of Hamilton's articles have also been presented on the Internet (see XXXXX). Hamilton work, largely based on primary sources, and contemporary accounts, is widely viewed as comprehensive, far-reaching, and authoritative. His corpus of work includes, among other items, articles on the killing of Samuel Cowan, and the later capture of his wife Ann Walker. Indeed, Hamilton was particular interested in stories about the Walker family, and their kindred, publishing an article entitled "Indian Tragedies of the Walker Family". Hamilton, XXXX.

Nonetheless, his corpus of work does not include a story relating to the death of a Major John Cowan, and the capture of his wife-cousin Mary Walker. Given the comprehensive nature of his work it would seem unlikely that Hamilton would have missed such a story if there had been any trace of it in contemporary records of the area. While absence of proof does not prove that such an event did not occur, the fact that there is apparently no evidence in contemporary records that support the story, is a matter of considerable concern.



Samuel Cowan and Ann Walker did indeed have a son John.



Is Samuel Cowan the Samuel Cowan who married Ann Walker Ann Walker (?-?).




*Major John and wife Mary Walker are said to have had a James, age 15, who was captured at the same time as Mary. Assuming the CBI event occurred in 1779, that would mean he was born 1765. That implies a 1745 DOB for Major John.


Mary is supposed to be Major John's cousin. That seems to mean that she was the sister of Ann Walker Cowan, and daughter of John Walker III (c1705-c1776) and Ann Houston. This couple is known to have had a daughter Mary, but that daughter is known to have married Andrew Cowan, and lived until well into the 1800's. Also, this Mary would have been Major John's aunt, not his cousin.

John III and Ann had two sons, and one of their children might have been Mary "Cousin of Major John".

Samuel died unmarried and without heirs in 1777, in the same raid in which Ann Walker Cowan was captured; Mary could not, therefore, be his child.
John Walker IV, did marry, and in fact had a daughter Mary; she was involved in an Indian attack (after 1786), but was not taken captive, and her subsequent history is well known, marrying the Rev. George Snider in Blount County. While we can't rule out the possibility that she was previously married to Major John Cowan, it seems unlikely; moreover, had she been captured by Indians it seems likely that her story would have been preserved in her family as well, and so far, there's no indication that such a story exists.

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