Genealogical KeynotesEdit


  • Born: 07 October 1777 in VA
  • Married: 23 August 1797 in Blount Co., TN by Gideon Blackburn, Presbyterian Minister
  • Died: 17 August 1857 in Pleasant Hill, Lowndes Co., AL
  • Burial: Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Pleasant Hill, Dallas Co., AL
    (In following the Pleasant Hill link above, it will take you to the main page and you need to click Next six times until you get to page 7 of the cemetery survey -- revcemsurv7.html.)


Rosanna GILLESPY (GILLESPIE) is reportedly the daughter of James Gillespy “Sr.” and Elizabeth Finley ... and sister to James "Smoking Jimmy" GILLESPY.

Elizabeth (Finley) Gillespy’s parents were John Finley and ______ THOMSON.
Per Carmen Finley's research:  "This John was the Elder at Tinkling Spring. These two John Finleys were contemporaries living in Augusta County about 15 miles apart. Early researchers have confused the two lines."

Rosanna may have been named for an aunt:

  • Rose Finley ... sister of Elizabeth Finley


Child ListEdit

  1. Jane Walker COWAN (1798-1827) b: 25 Aug 1798 in Blount Co., TN d: 1827
  2. Elizabeth Finley COWAN (1800-1884) b: 11 Jul 1800 in Blount Co., TN d: 16 Dec 1884 in Waco, McLennan Co., TX
    m. Hezekiah George JOHNSON, Rev. b: Abt. 1797 in SC d: 14 Feb 1852 in TX
  3. James Gillespie COWAN (1802-1872) b: 27 Apr 1802 in Blount Co., TN d: 13 Apr 1872 in Pleasant Hill, AL;
    m. #1 Mary MOOR b: 07 Jul 1799 d: 15 Dec 1846 in Pleasant Hill, AL ;
    m. #2 Ann M______ CAMPBELL, Mrs. (Frederick) d: Sep 1849
    m. #3 Virginia CLOPTON b: 24 Jul 1813 in (Cowan Family Bible) d: 02 Oct 1876 in Pleasant Hill, AL
  4. William L_____ COWAN, MD (1805-1859) b: 1805 in TN d: 04 May 1859 in Eufaula, Barbour Co., AL
    m. Ann Silvia PUGH b: Abt. 1812 in Burke Co., GA d: 1869 in Union Springs, AL
  5. Campbell Gilmer (Gilmore?) COWAN (1807-1846) b: 01 Jan 1807 in TN d: 01 Mar 1846 in Pierce City, Lawrence Co., MO
    m. H_____ Elizabeth "Betsy" TANKERSLEY b: 27 May 1811 in Warren Co.?, TN d: 28 Jan 1871 in Pierce City, Lawrence Co., MO
  6. Ellen Weir COWAN (1809-1862) b: 29 Apr 1809 in Warren Co., TN d: 18 Oct 1862 near Uniontown, Bourbon Co., KS (near Ft. Scott, KS????)
    m. Cowan ______ MITCHELL (1806-1886) b: 29 May 1806 in KY d: 16 May 1886 in Gibbonsville, ID
  7. Maldonata COWAN (1811-1836) (dsp) b: 04 Jun 1811 in Warren Co., TN d: 17 Mar 1836 in Pleasant Hill, Lowndes Co., AL
  8. Samuel Colvin COWAN, MD (1815-1878) b: 30 Apr 1815 in Athens, McMinn Co., TN d: 20 Nov 1878 in Union Springs, Bullock Co., AL
    m. Mary Jane LARKINS b: 17 May 1821 in Montgomery, AL d: 18 Oct 1912 inUnion Springs, Bullock Co., AL
  9. John D______ COWAN (1817-1838) (dsp) b: 19 Apr 1817 in TN d: 05 Apr 1838 in Pleasant Hill, Lowndes Co., AL
  10. Alexander T[ankersley?] COWAN, (1820-1827) (dsp) b: 26 Mar 1820 in Dallas Co., AL d: 23 Sep 1827 in McMinn Co., TN

Religious AffiliationEdit

Cumberland Presbyterian Church (see obituary below)

  • Mars Hill Presbyterian Church, Athens, McMinn Co.,TN
  • Pleasant Hill Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Pleasant Hill, Dallas Co., AL

Boyer, Reba B & Duncan, Budd L; A History of Mars Hill Presbyterian Church, On behalf of the Mars Hill Presbyterian Church, Athens, TN; 1973; p. 57-58. [DAR Library]

COWEN, [sic] Mrs. Rosannah – rc before 9/20/1832; 5/4/1833, moderator reported that he had given her a certificate when she was about to remove from bounds of this ch. (Rosannah Gillespie m. John Cowan in Blount Co., 23 August 1797. He died in Dallas Co., AL on October 12, 1821 ... before she moved to McMinn Co. She was most certainly an organizing member of Mars Hill.)

Family HistoryEdit

  • 1797 -- John Cowan and Rosanna Gillespy were married in Blount Co., by Rev. Gideon Blackburn.
  • 1803 -- William Cowan received a TN land grant that included the land upon which both John's brothers, Robert and David Cowan, were living.
    Wiseman, Eugene M., The Warren County Story, Genealogy Publishing Service, Franklin, NC 28734, 1995, p. 343 [DAR Library]
    "By 1803, the brothers Robert and David Cowan were living on the north of the Barren Fork somewhere on the eastern side of the present Riverside Cemetery."
    "The grant to William Cowan in 1803 is described as beginning at a poplar tree on the north bank of the Barren Fork." (Wiseman, p. 112)
  • 1806 -- Mother-in-law, Jane (Walker) Cowan, dies.
  • 1806 -- The 1803 grant (above) was transferred to Robert Cowan. A deed Robert executed later states that "his home and that of David Cowan as separated by a grass lot and bounded by meanders of the town spring." (Wiseman, p. 343)
  • 1807 -- John Cowan receives land grant 35-145 for 156 acres in Warren Co., TN. (Warren Co. was created out of White Co. by the Tennessee General Assembly in Dec 1807; however, the county court did not hold its first session until Feb 1808.)
  • 1807 -- William Cowan receives land grant 34-071 in Warren Co., TN.
  • 1809 -- Father-in-law, William Cowan, dies.
  • 1818 -- Dallas Co., AL created by the Alabama Territorial legislature on Feb. 9, 1818 from Montgomery County, a portion of the Creek cession of Aug. 9, 1814.
    • John and Rosannah Cowan move to Alabama
  • McMinn Co., TN created
  • 1819 -- Alabama admitted to statehood
    • Rosannah's son, James G. Cowan, “patented land in T18N, R11E [Dallas Co., AL] on March 18, 1819” while a resident of Lincoln Co., TN.:
  • 1820 – AL state census shows brothers in Dallas Co., AL –– John Cowan (Rosannah's husband), Robert Cowan (brother), and David (brother).
    Note: There is also a James Cowan in the 1820 state Dallas Co., AL.
    This James Cowan in the 1820 AL State census is likely related to John Cowan and his sons; however is not James Walker Cowan, as the family information for this James Cowan does not match the known information for James Walker Cowan and the family/children he had at this time.
    • Rosanna's daughter, Elizabeth Finley Cowan, m. Hezekiah George Johnson in Dallas Co., AL.:
  • 1821 -- John Cowan dies in Dallas Co., AL.
    • Rosanna (Gillespy) Cowan and her son, James Gillespie Cowan, were granted letters of administration for the estate of John Cowan.:
  • 1827 -- Jane Walker Cowan, eldest child of John Cowan and Rosanna (Gillespie) Cowan dies.
  • 1830 -- Rosanna and several of her sons appear in the McMinn. Co., TN census.
  • 1831 -- The final settlement of John Cowan's estate is presented in the Dallas Co., AL Orphans Court. (By this time one of the ten children had died.)
  • 1832 -- Mars Hill Presbyterian Church (Athens, McMinn Co., TN) records show Rosanna as one of the founding members, having been received before 09/20/1832.
  • 1829-1832 -- McMinn Co., TN tax records show taxpayers: Rosannah Cowan (mother), Andrew Cowan (brother-in-law), Robert Cowan (brother-in-law), David Cowan (brother-in-law), William Cowan (brother-in-law), and Campbell G. Cowan (son).
  • 1833 -- Mars Hill Presbyterian Church records show Rosanna was about to leave the church, presumably returning to Alabama where two of her children lived.
  • 1840 -- Rosanna is apparently enumerated in the household of her daughter, Ellen Weir (Cowan) Mitchell in Perry Co., AL ... as there is no female of the right age found in the enumerations of her other children.
  • 1850 -- Rosanna is enumerated in the household of her son, James Gillespie Cowan, in Dallas Co., AL. (Dallas is a neighboring county to Perry Co., AL.)
  • 1855 -- letter written to Rosanna from daughter, Ellen Weir (Cowan) Mitchell, indicating that Ellen was glad to learn that her mother had returned home safely from Barry Co., MO.
    Apparently, according to Ellen's letter, her husband (Cowan Mitchell) and Rosanna took off for some place (unnamed) and when Cowan Mitchell returned home without Rosanna, there was concern whether she would make it home alive. Ellen even expresses concern that "I cried sorely I said the good Lord never did make just such a woman as mother. I was opposed to your going by your self but now I pray the Lord to bless you at your comfortable and convenient home." She goes on to discuss the children, neighbors, other relatives and Cowan Mitchell's plans to improve a place in the "Nation," his having been to the Kansas Territory, and not knowing when/whether they were going to move. She speaks of having difficulty writing due to her hand, gives her "love to brother [James] and sister[in-law], Virginia...," thanks her brother for a "Draft for $100," and closes by saying "I remain your affectionate daughter til death."
    The original of this letter is in possession of Robert Drake, Granville, OH (as of 2006).
  • 1856 -- Rosanna applies for a pension based on her husband's service in the Indian Wars.
  • 1857 -- Rosanna receives a letter from Andrew Cowan (m. Ester F. "Hettie" Houston) ... written from Bradley Co., TN and addressed as "Dear Sister Roseanna." (The letter was written just a few months before Rosanna died.)
  • 1857 -- Rosanna dies and is buried at the Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Pleasant Hill, AL.</ol>

    Surname VariationsEdit

    The GillespY surname has several spelling variations -- e.g., GillespIE, Gillespy, Gillaspy, Gillsapie, Gilaspy, Gilaspie, Gillispy/Gillispie, etc. -- found in various documents and, sometimes, multiple spellings within the same document.

    It seems likely that in the 18th century settlement the differences in spelling represented individual idiosyncracies in how different record takers chose to spell the name, and not necessarily the spelling chosen by a specific individual. Thus, as has been discovered by this research, the surname for a single individual may differ between census, may appear one way on a marriage license, may appear differently on a will, land record, tax record, pension record, military record, etc. ... or have multiple spellings even within the same document. How the surname was spelled may have been due to whether the person involved in the transaction knew how to read/write or the document was being written for him/her, whether the person giving the census info was the family member/neighbor, etc. To further muddy the waters, are indexes and transcriptions where the person had trouble reading the old handwriting.

    For example, the Cowan Bible records has Rosanna Gillaspie, her Blount Co. marriage license has Gillaspy and Gillespy on the inside and Gillespie on the front, and her pension application for her husband's Indian Wars service has Gillespie. To disregard these spelling variations would cause a researcher to overlook and/or disregard important documents and clues about relevant family data without investigation and analysis of their applicability to a specific family member.

    Thus, one cannot reject the GillespIE spelling for individuals (particularly in 18th and early 19th century documents) as not being related to James GillespY. While documents pertaining to Rosanna often have a variant spelling, the naming pattern Rosanna used for her children and the naming pattern used by Smoking Jimmie for his children (see Alternative Interpretation) should not be overlooked. If, as Cowan tradition has it, Rosanna and Smoking Jimmie were siblings, the names used for both sets of children would indicate a close family relationship for the names to so closely mirror the names of both Cowan and Gillespy grandparents.

    In following the descendants of James "Smoking Jimmy" GILLESPY (1772 - 1861) and Eleanor Cowan through to the present day, a number of the GillespY descendants at some point elected to use the GillespIE spelling – even though this may not be the spelling used by their original ancestor. Some researchers, however, are of the opinion that the differences in spelling reflect real differences in heritage. This seems to be a minority opinion, but one strongly held by some researchers. Perhaps, the choice of spelling reflected political separation, strongly differing viewpoints on other matters, a family feud/rift, or just personal choice, etc. -- for example, a story about two branches of the Wellborn family is that they held differing Revolutionary War loyalties which resulted in one branch spelling the name WELLBORN and the other deliberately changing the vowels and electing a spelling of WILLBURN.

    Alternative InterpretationEdit

    Tradition claims that Smoking Jimmy Gillespy and Rosannah Gillespy/Gillespie were siblings. Credence is given to this theory by looking at the naming patterns of children of the two sets of siblings: Eleanor Cowan/James Gillespy and John Cowan/Rosannah Gillespy/Gillespie

    • ELEANOR COWAN and James “Smoking Jimmie” Gillespy’s children are well-documented through 16 DAR applications. Husband, James Gillespy’s parents are documented in these applications as James Gillespy “Sr.” and Elizabeth Finley. Elizabeth (Finley) Gillespy’s parents were John Finley and ______ THOMSON.
      • John Finley Gillespy – named for husband’s maternal grandfather.
      • William Cowan Gillespy – named for Eleanor’s father (perhaps, a grandfather? as no one has yet been able to determine who William Cowan’s parents were.)
      • James Houston Gillespy – there is much documentation of intermarriage between the Cowans, Houstons, and Walkers as far back as Virginia.
      • Jane Walker Gillespy – named for her maternal grandmother.
      • Campbell Gillespy – named for one of Eleanor’s maternal relatives.

    • JOHN [ALEXANDER] COWAN married Rosannah Gillespy/Gillespie and their children followed a similar naming pattern as Eleanor's children, incorporating many of the same names used above.
      • Jane Walker Cowan – first daughter named for paternal grandmother.
      • Elizabeth Finley Cowan – as James Gillespy (Eleanor Cowan’s husband) and Rosannah Gillespie were reportedly siblings, this second daughter was named for her maternal grandmother.
      • James Gillespie Cowan – as with above, first son named for maternal grandfather.
      • William L. Cowan – named for paternal grandfather.
      • Campbell Gilmer/Gilmore Cowan – as in Eleanor’s family, son named for one of John’s maternal relatives.
      • Ellen Weir Cowan – could she have used Ellen as a nickname for Eleanor? … thus, being named for her aunt?
      • Maldonetta – not sure where this name came from but it carries through to current descendants of John Alexander Cowan.
      • Samuel Colvin Cowan – perhaps named for William’s brother, Samuel, who married Ann Walker.

    Note re Gillespy siblings -- (Note: James HOUSTON m. Mary “Polly” Gillespy in Blount Co., TN on October 6, 1796. Polly was a sister of Rosannah Gillespy/Gillespie and James Gillespy.)

    Note re John [Alexander] Cowan -- Of note is that 5 of John’s children named sons William, and William L. Cowan child named a daughter Willie.

    Note re Ellen Weir Cowan -- Ellen Weir [Cowan] Mitchell’s eldest daughter is named Rosanah Maldanettie and six of Ellen’s sons bear the same first names as her six brothers: John, William, Samuel, James, Campbell, and Alexander!

    Rosannah was apparently nicknamed Anna and/or referred to as Annie and/or Roseanna.

    • Owen, Mrs. Marie B., State of Alabama Department of Archives and History, Director; Alabama Official and Statistical Register, The Birmingham Printing Company, Birmingham, AL; 1927, p.112: Twenty-Sixth District: Bullock and Macon Counties
    "COWAN, SAMUEL COLVIN, of Union Springs, Bullock County, was born August 4, 1861, at Aberfoil, Ala.; is the son of Samuel Colvin and Mary Jane (Larkins) Cowan; the grandson of John Alexander and Anna (Gillespie) Cowan and of William L. and Christian Williams (Scott) Larkins...."
    NOTE: Samuel Colvin Cowan was the eighth child of John [Alexander] Cowan and Rosanna (Gillespy/Gillespie) Cowan.
    • Andrew Cowan (fourth child of William Cowan and Jane Walker) wrote Rosanna (Gillespie) Cowan a letter, written from Bradley Co. TN, dated 17 May 1857. He addressed the letter to her as "Dear Sister Roseanna ..." (Rosanna's husband had been dead nearly 36 years at this point. By addressing her as "Dear Sister Roseanna," he establishes a relationship between himself and her deceased husband as siblings/brothers.
    Original letter in possession of James E. Freeman (as of 2006). The signature on the letter matches the signature on his War of 1812 pension papers at the National Archives, Washington, D. C.
    • Paddock, Capt. B. B, History and Biographical Record of North and West Texas, Vol. II, Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago, 1906, p. 257-257 ... vanity publication re James Independence Gillespie Cowan, son of Andrew Cowan:
    "JAMES INDEPENDENCE GILLESPIE COWAN. The birth of Mr. Cowan on Independence day and the exemplary life of a favorite uncle, James Gillespie ..., led his parents to christen their ninth child with the initials J. I. G. C. His ancestors were among the first of Tennessee's foreign settlers, and about the first years of the nineteenth century his grandfather, William Cowan, entered that state."
    • Obituary [portion] of Elizabeth Finley (Cowan) Johnson in Waco, McLennan Co., TX:
    "Mrs. E. F. Johnson was born July 11, 1800 near Merriville [sic], Blount Co., E. Tenn, daughter of John and Annie Cowan, moved to Middle Tennessee in 1804, remained there until 1818 in McMinnville Warren Co Tennessee. Her father moved in 1818 to Alabama near Selma and there [she] married in 1820 to H G Johnson...."
    NOTE: Elizabeth Finley (Cowan) Johnson was the first child of John [Alexander] Cowan and Rosannah (Gillespy/Gillespie) Cowan.
    • Obituary -- The Dallas Gazette, Cahaba, Alabama, Friday, August 21, 1857, p. 3
    At the residence of her son, James G. Cowan, near Pleasant Hill, on the 17th August, 1857, Mrs. Anna Cowan, in the 80th year of her age. She was a member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church for the last forty years of her life.
    • Houston, Samuel Rutherford, Brief Biographical Accounts of Many Members of the Houston Family, Elm Street Printing Company, Cincinnati, 1882, p. 213 [DAR Library]
    James Houston ("Major") ... His second wife (married 1791) was Pollie Gillespie, born 1770, daughter of James Gillespie, Sr., and sister of the one who was distinguished by being called "Smoking Jemmie [sic] Gillespie."


    • Blount Co., TN marriage record (copy of the actual marriage license)
    • Cowan family Bible (in possession of Margie Cowan as of 2006) ... provides Rosanna's birth and death dates.
    • Rosanna (Gillespy/Gillespie) Cowan's pension application for the military service of her husband, John [Alexander] Cowan -- provides information on their marriage date (27 August 1797, Blount Co., TN by Gideon Blackburn, Presbyterian Minister) and his miltary service: "as a private in the company commanded by Captain Bradford in the Tennessee Regiment of Mounted Volunteers commanded by Col. Dougherty in the War with the Cherokee Indians in the year 1793 or 1794 ... volunteered in Blount County, Ten [sic] and mustered into service at Knoxville, Ten [sic] the month of 1793 or 94 and … was discharged at the close of the expedition in the fall of 1793 or 94 A. D. ... filed 11 April 1856 in Dallas Co., AL" [Folder at National Archives is marked "Rejected"]
    • Dallas Co., AL courthouse records -- Letters of Administration granted to Rosannah Cowan and her son, James Gillespie Cowan to administer the estate of John Cowan. (Dated: ___________, 1821 and __________, 18__)
    • Old letters written to Rosanna by either children or grandchildren in the year or so before her death. (The original letters are in the possession of James Freeman, Camas, WA or Robert Drake, Granville, OH ... as of 2006.)
    • Tombstone for Rosanna Cowan, Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Pleasant Hill, Dallas Co., AL.
    • Obituary -- The Dallas Gazette, Cahaba, Alabama, Friday, August 21, 1857, p. 3.
    At the residence of her son, James G. Cowan, near Pleasant Hill, on the 17th August, 1857, Mrs. Anna Cowan, in the 80th year of her age. She was a member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church for the last forty years of her life.

    • Census Records
      • 1820 census, Dallas Co., AL (state census, not federal) -- John Cowan -- M 1(+21), 6(-21); F 1(+21), 1(-21)
      • 1830 census, McMinn Co., TN (husband died 1821), p. 172 -- M 1(10-15), 1(15-20); F 1(10-15), 4(15-20); 1(50-60)
      • 1840 census, Perry Co., AL -- Rosannah appears to be in the home of her daughter, Ellen Weir Cowan (m. Cowan Mitchell) … she cannot be accounted for in the homes of any other children -- MITCHELL, C[owan] -- M 1(under 5) 1(30-40); F 1(under 5) 1(30-40) 1(60-70).
      • 1850 census -- Lowndes Co., M432_8, 10/15/1850, p. 118, l. 6-13 (Rosanna=73)
        • COWAN, James G, 43, M, Planter, 5000, TN
        • COWAN, Virginia, 38, F, GA
        • COWAN, Rosana, 73, F, VA


    • Boyer, Reba B & Duncan, Budd L; A History of Mars Hill Presbyterian Church, On behalf of the Mars Hill Presbyterian Church, Athens, TN; 1973; p. 57-58. [DAR Library]
    • Boyer, Reba & Reksten, Harald, Index to McMinn County, Tennessee Tax Lists 1829-1832, 1836 & Detail from 1836 Tax List, Heritage Books, Inc., 1996, p. 39, 78. [DAR Library]
    • Fleming, John Kerr; Cowans of County Down, Derreth Publishing Co., Raleigh, NC; p. 371-376. [DAR Library]
    • Houston, Samuel Rutherford, Brief Biographical Accounts of Many Members of the Houston Family, Elm Street Printing Company, Cincinnati, 1882, p. 72 [DAR Library]
    • Murray, Dorothy, Blount County, TN Marriages, 1986 [DAR Library / Library of Congress] -- documents of marriage of John Alexander Cowan (to Rosannah Gillespie).
    • Nankivel, J.R. History & Times of Mars Hill Presbyterian Church, 1823 - 1923. Athens, Session, n.d. 26 pp.
    • Sims, Michael V., Pleasant Hill, Alabama During the AnteBellum Years 1813-1865, South Dallas Historical Preservation Association, Inc., Selma, AL, 2004;
      p. 102

    • Ancestral File (R), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Publication; Microfilm: 1394414; Rosanna Gillespy (AFN: C6WV-BV); Submitter(s):
      1. V. Vern Hutchison, 1341 S Osage, Bartlesville, OK 74003; Submission: AF83-107286 -- descent through Campbell Gilmer Cowan
      2. Jerry L. Smith, 11627 Sunset Knolls Road, Lakeside, CA 92040-2844; Submission: AF94-100079
    • E-mail correspondence with William Cowan, descent through Campbell Gilmer Cowan
    • Traditional mail correspondence with James E. Freeman, Camas, WA for 30+ years.
    • E-mail correspondence, family photos, and old letters in possession of Robert Drake, Granville, OH (descendant of Elizabeth Finley Cowan, wife of Hezekiah George Johnson)

    Research NeedsEdit

    Relationship between William Gillespy (m. Isabella Houston) and James Gillespy, Sr. (m. Elizabeth Finley)??

    Page NeedsEdit


    If you are a COWAN male, the Cowan DNA Project needs you to help establish links between the various Cowan branches. Click the link and sign up!



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