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Portal:Indian Captivity Stories/ValidatingFleming

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Validating Fleming

Index

The family tree proposed by Fleming is fairly complex, with different components added by different hands. The following diagram shows Flemings view of the family tree. Numbers besides the connecting links are for use in the following discussion. Coloration show the principal sources for different components. Right to Left cross hatching indicates persons killed by Indians. Left to Right cross hatching indicates persons captured by Indians. Line shading indicates initial state of validation.

Fleming validation Diagram

The story line underlying Fleming's interpretation of the family history includes the following elements.

  • 1. Samuel Cowan (?-1776) and wife Ann Walker (?->1780) were living in Castles Woods in SW VA after about 1771.
  • 2. Samuel and Ann had a son known as Major John Cowan (?-1779)
  • 3. Major John married his cousin Mary Walker (?-?), and lived in the Castles Woods area of SW VA
  • 4. Several members of this family were victims of Indian raids in the area 1776-1780.
    1776---Samuel Cowan was killed by Indians
    1777---Ann Walker Cowan was captured by Indians
    1777---William Walker, and son of Ann's brother John Walker IV, captured by Indians at the same time as Ann
    1777---Ann's brother Samuel Walker (?-1777) killed at the same time as Ann
    1779---Major John was killed by Indians (c1778-1780)
    1779---Mary Walker, and 15 year old son James captured by Indians at the same time Major John was killed.

How much evidence is there that supports Flemings family tree, and the events of 1776 to 1780 as listed above?

Connections 1 to 3, as shown in the diagram are well established. These links are given by White, 1902, but that in itself does not prove anything, as White is not a primary source for this information. However, court records in Fincastle, Washington, and Russell Counties, along with the narratives of contemporaries such as Mrs. Scott, make it clear that connections 1 to 3 are valid. For example, Mrs. Scott identifies Ann Walker as the wife of Samuel Cowan who was killed by Indians on the Clinch. She identifies her brother as being killed at the same time Ann and William were captured. Connelly, 1895 uses first person interviews with William's son, and others, confirming his identity and relationship to Ann. John IV's relation to Samuel and John Walker III is validated with the probate records for John III and Samuel. Overall, these individuals can be tied together with neatly overlapping primary records.

'Connections 17 and 18 are also easily validated. In both cases we have letters from the last named individual identifying their grandfather. JB Cowan also identifies his father. Laura Cowan Blaine only identifies her grandfather, but census records for her father neatly establish that the widow "Laura Cowan Blaine" who appears in his household is in fact his daughter. I think it reasonable to accept that people can usually identify their parents and grandparents. And when they do, I think that establishes validity of the connection claimed. The fact that JB Cowan identifies John M. Cowan as the son of his grandfather's brother overlaps with the relationship draw by Laura Cowan Blaine, and makes the whole seem a bit more credible.

Connection 16 is not validated. No information that speaks to the validity of connection 16 has been identified. It may be fundamentally valid, but the connection can not be validated or refuted at the moment. It is also not central to the discussion, and for present purposes, can be ignored.

Connection 15 is thought to be correct. This conclusion, however, is based on circumstantial evidence, and is not validated by primary evidence. [Further elaboration needed---but need to draw in the Handley lineages, and the information needed is too much for this space.

Connections 12, 13 and 14 also seem likely. However, the only commonly available evidence to support them are statements in JB Cowan's letters. It's not at all unreasonable that he would know the identity of his grandfather's siblings, though it would be helpful to have something in the way of supporting evidence to support and validate his statements.

Connections 4 to 9 have not been validated. These identifications rest almost entirely on the statements of JB Cowan and Laura Cowan Blaine. Since they deal with relations several generations back, JB and Laura are on the edge of what can be accepted as having authoritative personal knowledge of this connection. They might have it exactly right, but certainly in the case of Laura Cowan Blaine, (paraphrasing "Daddy thinks his name was John, but isn't certain") this is guesswork. Additional confirming data is needed in order to accept the connections they give.

Unfortunately, the only source for these connections is what is presented in Fleming. Worse, there is direct primary evidence that suggests that at a minimum, the story that Fleming describes for the relationships and events in SW VA, can not be accepted in all particulars. The key connections here, for which validating information is needed, are particularly needed for present purposes are 4, 5 and 9.

Connection 4. Fleming identifies Mary Walker as the wife of Major John Cowan. He also identifies her as her husbands cousin which points to her being the daughter of John Walker IV. Currently, there seems to be no data that can be pointed to that shows that Mary was the daughter of John IV, or the wife of a Major John Cowan. This identification rests solely on Fleming's interpretations of JB Cowan's letters, and the work of Mrs. Dunavant. Mrs. Dunavant's statements in Fleming have not been verified, and neither authors statements with regard to Connection 4 have been validated.
In addition, there are specific reasons to question whether Mary could be Major John Cowans cousin, and for Major John to be the son of Samuel Cowan and Ann Walker. Specifically, for this to be true, Mary would have to be the daughter of one of Ann Walker's brothers. Ann had two brothers, John IV and Samuel. Samuel died unmarried, without wife or child, as indicated by the fact that Washington County court records of 1778 designate brother John IV as heir at law for John Walker III. Had there been a wife, or surviving adult children it seems unlikely that John IV would have been designated 'heir at law'. That means that Samuel did not have an adult child Mary Walker. John IV did in fact have daughter Mary. John IV is now identified as the John Walker also known as Indian Killer who lived in Blount County, TN c1786 to c1817. Indian Killer is known to have had a daughter Mary. This Mary is identified in court records as having married George Snider, who lived near Indian Killer in Blount County. George and Mary have been well traced, and we have gravestone readings for Mary indicating that she was born in 1783. She is not a plausible candidate for the wife of Major John Cowan who ostensibly had a 15 year old son at the time of his death 1778-1780. This argument depends on the identifiction of Indian Killer as John Waliker IV; evidence for that identification does not rise to a level sufficient to consider the point proven, but is sufficient to meet the lesser standards of validation.
On that basis, the Mary Walker who was captured by Indians on the Clinch c1779, and who was the wife of Major John Cowan, is very unlikely to be the child either Samuel Walker or John Walker sons of John Walker III and Ann Houston.
Connection 5. Fleming identifies Major John Cowan as the husband of Mary Walker, and the son of Samuel Cowan and Ann Walker, brother of John Walker IV. Currently, there seems to be no data that can be pointed to that shows that Major John was the son of Samuel Cowan and Ann Walker. This identification rests solely on Fleming's interpretations of JB Cowan's letters, and the work of Mrs. Dunavant. Mrs. Dunavant's statements in Fleming have not been verified, and neither authors statements with regard to Connection 5 have been validated.
There are specific reasons to question the idea that Major John Cowan could be the son of Samuel Cowan and Ann Walker. Specifically, a John Cowan is identified in 1781 to 1783 Washington County court records as the eldest son and heir at law of Samuel Cowan. He is further identified as the heir of Samuel Cowan, and as living in Greene County TN and later in Knox County TN, as late as 1793. Clearly he can not be the the Major John Cowan who was supposedly killed on the Clinch River c1779. As a result, Major John Cowan killed by Indians c1779 can not be the son of Samuel Cowan and Ann Walker.
Connection 9. Fleming identifies Robert Cowan as the son of Samuel Cowan and Ann Walker. That makes him the brother of Major John Cowan who married Mary Walker. Currently, there seems to be no data that can be pointed to that shows that Roert was the son of Samuel Cowan and Ann Walker. This identification rests solely on Fleming's interpretations of JB Cowan's letters, and the work of Mrs. Dunavant. Mrs. Dunavant's statements in Fleming have not been verified, and neither authors statements with regard to Connection 9 have been validated.
Additional information is needed to validate this connection. On the surface, this seems unlikely for the simple reason that John Cowan is identified as the "eldest son and heir at law" of the Samuel Cowan killed in 1776. It might be possible to read that as meaning their were younger sons, but the designation "heir at law" seems to exclude that point. On the whole, this connection seems unlikely; additional data is needed to better support or refute the connection.

Overall, it is highly unlikely that the story of Major John Cowan and wife Mary Walker as related by Fleming, can be accurate in all of its particulars. In particular, if there is any substance to this story at all, it is unlikely to have occurred on the Clinch River in 1779. Some support for this view is obtained by considering the fact that there is apparently no independent account of these events other than what is described by JB Cowan, Laura Cowan Blaine, and Mrs. Dunavant, as related by Fleming. During the 1960 and 1970's local historians in southwest Virginia (Notably, Emory Hamilton) went to great length to identify "Indian Tragedies" (Hamilton's term for it) that occurred on the Clinch and Holston Rivers between 1773 and 1793. Hamilton recorded more than 80 of these stories (Hamilton, Mullins, and Weaver, 1992), and was particularly interested in the stories related to the Walker and Cowan families. Had there been any surviving record of such a story it seems likely that Hamilton would have come across it, and given his interest in the Walker and Cowan "Indian Tradgedies, would almost certainly published on it. As far as can be told from his published work, he came across nothing like this. This, in itself, does not mean that no such story occurred, but it seems unlikely.

This is not to say that there is not a core of truth underlying the story; only that it is not likely to have occurred in the time and place indicated by Fleming, and that the names of the persons involved are probably not those as given. in point of fact, there is reason to believe that a series of events very much like that described by Fleming, did in fact occur within the Cowan family, but that they did not involve a "Major John Cowan" and wife "Mary Walker". This is discussed at The Source.

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