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Portal:Indian Captivity Stories/The Source

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The following is suppositional. That is, this is an intrepretation of the Cowan family history that seems to make sense, and resolves some of the conflicts in the Mary Walker Captivity Story, but for which no direct evidence exists. This is offered as an explanation, but it is not offered as proof.

There's little question that Fleming's presentation of the family history of the relations of JB Cowan is seriously flawed. The interesting question is not what errors he made, but why he made them. To gain some understanding of this we need to look at another story, that of Margaret Handley (1753-1842).

Though relatively unknown to Walker and Cowan researchers, the Margaret Handley story is perhaps the best documented of the stories here considered, if for no other reason than that it is the only one of these stories where we have a statement from a direct participant in the events described. (In the case of Mrs. Scott's testimony, she was not actually a participant; though she was in the area at the time she was a young child, and only knew what those around her related to her. Nonetheless, some components of the story, such as the return of Ann from captivity, she knew first hand.)

Here is a summary of the essential elements of this story.

  • Margaret Handley was going to Kentucky in 1779 when her party was attacked by Indians near modern Bluefield, WV
  • Her husband, John Pauley, and his brother James were killed, along with their young child
  • Margaret was taken captive along with her sister-in-law
  • They were taken north to the Great Lakes country
  • Her sister-in-law escaped alone
  • Margaret was eventually released after six years of captivity (1785)

Superficially, there's little of this tale that seems to relate to the story of either Ann Walker Cowan or Mary Walker Cowan. Yet a careful examination of the details of these stories (see Table, coupled with an understanding of Margaret Handley family relations, reveals this story as the primary basis for the Mary Walker Cowan Story.

To understand why I'm willing to say the above you need to understand the relationship between Margaret Handley and the Cowans of Blount County who settled near the Tellico Block House at the base of Chillhowie Mountain. Margaret probably never set foot in Blount County, but her brother Samuel did. Samuel Handley (1751-1840) settled here, probably just before the turn of the century, and has his own Indian Captivity story. We will get to Samuel's particular story in a later part of this discussion, but for the moment the key element of his story is that it tells us that he lived near the Tellico Block house, along the foot of Chillhowie Mountain. This is the same area where the family of Major John Cowan [Not the Major John who supposedly married his cousin Mary Walker] and his wife Agness Martin lived. It is from this location that PD Cowan's work "Shadow of Chillhowie" took its name.

Samuel Handley's first wife is usually identified as Mary Adams (?-1779). [This is a datum that has not as yet been validated. The following takes this as a given, but future work may change our understanding here to some extent.] Mary died in unknown circumstances in 1779, at about the same time as the capture of Margaret Handley. Afer her death Samuel married Susannah Cowan, daughter of Robert Cowan and Susan Woods. Her brother was Major John Cowan, which makes Major John his brother-in-law. Evidence of the closeness of these families can be perhaps found in the fact that when the Cowans moved about 1906 to Franklin TN, ancestral home of JB Cowan, Samuel Handley and family moved with them. Cowan-Walker-Handley Relations.

Margaret Handley's story would have been known within the Cowan family. In addition, they probably would have been well familiar with another Indian Captivity story---that of Ann Walker Cowan who along with William Walker was also captured by Indians, and taken north to the Great Lakes. Ann's brother-in-law, William Cowan, and his wife (Ann's sister Jane) also settled in Blount County. In addition, John Walker IV, father of the captive William Walker, settled in this same general area. While William Cowan and John Walker IV do not seem to be in any way related to Major John Cowan, the community was small, and it seems likely that the three knew each other. Thus Ann's story would been known to the family of Major John Cowan.

Overall, what appears to have happened is that JB was exposed to a great variety of Indian Captivity stories, both within his own direct line, as well as that of Margaret Handley through her brother Samuel, and also that of Ann Walker Cowan through the unrelated William Cowan and John Walker IV. Writing down the events at age 61, based strictly on memory (as his family notes had disappeared in the Civil War and its aftermath), JB attempted to make sense of these stories, believing that they all related to his own family's history. As a result, he interspersed elements of different stories and ended up with a composite story that has puzzled genealogists for years. A summary of his story elements, and where they came from, is found at Indian Captivity Stories/JB's Sources.

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