Notes on the Cowan Family of the Carolinas
by Terry Cowan (January 2015) - used by permission
George Cowan was the likely son of Henry Cowan, who did not leave a will. He could not have been a son of the other known brothers John, David or William. The name "George" appears in the early generations of all three of these Cowan brothers. (Note: Descendants of Henry Cowan through his son John Cowan match the Pequea Creek Cowans YDNA.)
On April 26, 1738, George Cowan filed for a land warrant for 100 acres in Pennsboro Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He never followed-up on the application or patented the land, however. In May 1738, George Cowan was required to appear in court in Lancaster County and give evidence against Thomas McShean. The latter was fined £2.10 "for assaulting and injuring George Cowen." In November, 1739, George Cowan was a juror in the trial of James Murray, charged with commiting fornication with one Agnes Mason. Murray was found not guilty, and Mason fined £10 for having a "surious ffemale Basterd Child."
On 7 April 1750, George Cowan of Anson County petitioned the North Carolina government for a land warrant for 400 acres. This grant was confirmed on 1 April 1752. A land dispute with Evan Lewis was resolved in Cowan's favor on 10 April 1752.
From the mid 1760s on, there are numerous references to a "George Cowan" in Rowan County. This is thought to be his cousin, son of William Cowan.
On 23 April 1762, Alexander Dobbin of Rowan County, North Carolina appointed George Cowan "of Pennsylvania" as his Power of Attorney to represent him there. This George Cowan could also easily be the George Cowan, son of William Cowan.
Pequea Creek Cowans in South Carolina?
Those of us researching Pequea Creek Cowans benefit from the fact that the family largely “stayed-put” in the early generations: the Pequea Valley of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania from 1721, Rowan and Iredell County, North Carolina from 1750, and in Mercer (now Boyle) County, Kentucky from about 1772. The exceptions have been family members not bearing the Cowan surname. Recent findings suggest, however, that Pequea Creek Cowans were also in South Carolina by the 1750s.
In April, 1750, a George Cowan—along with John Cowan—applied for a land grant in Anson County, North Carolina. [The latter has been assumed to be the John Cowan later designated as “gunsmith” in the records of Rowan County, created from Anson about 1752. This John Cowan purchased land in Rowan County in February, 1753. The 1750 land grant, however, could refer to that John Cowan referenced as John Cowan “Senior” in the 1787 tax register.] George Cowan’s application was for 400 acres. On April 10, 1753, a land dispute with Evan Lewis was resolved in Cowan’s favor. Until recently, I thought he disappeared from area records. A George Cowan appeared in Rowan County records beginning in 1762, but this was most assuredly the George Cowan, son of immigrant brother William Cowan (1701-1789.)
First, who was George Cowan? The one thing we can affirm with certainty is that he was not a son of immigrant brothers John, David or William, as each of them left detailed wills. And yet, he made application at the same time as John Cowan, whose connection with the Pequea Creek family is proven—regardless of which one of that name. On April 26, 1738, George Cowan made application for 100 acres in Pennsboro Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He never perfected title to the tract, however. In May, 1738, he testified in the trial of Thomas McShean. In November, 1739, he served as a juror in the trial of James Murray, also in Lancaster County. I have found no further references to George Cowan in Lancaster County subsequent to 1739. The fact that he applied for a land warrant in 1738 indicates that he was an adult at the time and thus born sometime before 1717. The fact that he does not appear on the tax rolls for Chester County prior to the 1729 formation of Lancaster County indicates that he was not an adult prior to that time—thus born sometime after 1708. (Lancaster County was formed from Chester County in 1729. The Cowans are listed in the Pequea Township records of Chester County prior to that date. Extant Lancaster County tax records begin in 1750.)
Beginning in 1721, a Henry Cowan appeared in early Chester and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania as well. He never patented land and died intestate, so the extent of his family is much more speculative. Henry Cowan, however, is inextricably tied to the three Cowan brothers in seven different documents, to-wit: the Pequea Township tax register, the 1726 description of a proposed roadway, the founding of St. John’s Pequea Church, a 1733 deed, vestry records of St. John’s Pequea Church from the 1750s, the Salisbury Township tax register from the 1750s, and the will of John Cowan. Clearly, he was of the Pequea Creek family, and the continued connection of his known descendants with other family members in Rowan County, North Carolina confirms this belief. Henry seems to have been older than David and William Cowan, though probably younger than John, suggesting a birth date of about 1690 or so. Though his exact relationship to the other Cowans is undetermined, the most likely possibility is that of another brother. George Cowan could easily have been a son of this Henry Cowan. No other possible siblings have been found in the early records of the area. George Cowan could also have been a much younger brother of John, David, William and Henry. Certainly the name had significance in this family that paid great attention to naming patterns. William Cowan’s oldest son was named George Cowan. David Cowan did not have a surviving son by that name, but he did have a George Cowan as grandson (only two of David’s sons had children of their own.) John Cowan did not have a surviving son named George, but three of his four sons had sons of that name.
On October 15, 1755, George “Cowin” and wife leased their 400 acres to John Hitchcock, “planter of Anson County (Deed Records of Anson County, Volume 1, Page 129.) For now, this 400 acre is assumed to be the same 400 acre tract that Cowan received in his April, 1750 application. The Cowans were referenced as being “of Granville County, South Carolina,” and George Cowan’s occupation was listed as “slaymaker.” The counties and/or districts of South Carolina were ever-changing, but at this time, Granville County was a strip of land along the southwest border of South Carolina with Georgia. The acreage was said to be on the “north side of the Broad River.” This locates the tract along the southwest border of present-day York County, South Carolina with the northeast border of Union County, South Carolina.
By the 1760s, a Zachariah Bullock (1718-1791?) was accumulating large tracts of land, on both side of the Broad River, in what is now York and Union Counties, South Carolina. He was a son of Richard Bullock and Ann Henley of Granville County, North Carolina. His sister, Agatha Bullock, married John Nuckolls, who also settled in the area by the mid 1760s. Nuckolls (1732-1780) was a leading citizen in the region, and was killed by Tories in December, 1780. His is buried at the Old Whig Hill Cemetery in Union County, South Carolina. Zachariah Bullock was one of the first surveyors in the region as well. He gave his name to Bullock’s Creek, a major tributary flowing south into the Broad River, as well as the small rural community of Bullock’s Creek. On April 28, 1768 Zachariah Bullock received a grant for 300 acres from Gov. Tyron of North Carolina.
In 1772, the boundary question was resolved between North and South Carolina. The Broad River area was no longer in Anson County, North Carolina, but in Cravens District, later York County, South Carolina. The George Cowan and Zachariah Bullock land grants were now in South Carolina.
In January of 1774, Curtis Cullwell filed a memorial for two tracts on Bullock’s Creek in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. George Cowan is mentioned as an adjoining landowner. Bullock’s Creek rises in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina and drains into the Broad River in southwestern York County, South Carolina. Memorials filed for William Byars for six tracts in Tryon and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina also mention a George Cowan.
On August 31, 1774, George Cowan and Thomas Nicholls “who were settle on Lands now within this Province but which were formerly deemed to be part of the Government of North Carolina,” petitioned the South Carolina Council for a memorial for 400 acres each. I infer that Cowan was attempting to perfect title to the 400 acres he already owned, but now located in a different colony. Without reading the actual deeds, however, the possibility exists that this was another 400 acre tract on the Broad River.
On September 15, 1774, the plat was certified for George Cowan, and on November 9, 1774 his deed was recorded. The 400 acres was described as being “on the east side of Broad River near above the mouth of Lafferty’s Creek…commonly called the Beauty Spot.” Thomas Fletchall, Robert McCurdie, James Durvin (Darwin) and Arthur Dudney were the adjoining landowners. (South Carolina Royal Grants, Volume 34, Page 93.)
George Cowan filed a memorial for the 400 acres in May, 1775 and again references James Durwin(Darwin).
James Darwin (1744-c.1825) mentioned above first appears in area records as a chain-bearer for surveyor William Simms (married to Agnes Bullock) for a 580 acre tract for Zachariah Bullock in 1767. He was also a chain-bearer, along with Robert McCurdy (above) for surveyor John Fitzconnell in a 1771 survey of 176 acres “on both sides of Laffertys Creek of Broad River” for John McKenny.
A 600 acre grant platted and recorded at much the same time to William Thomas was described as “on the north side of Broad River on the lower end of George Cowan’s survey.” (Volume 33, Page 562.) This 600 acre tract was also described as originally being granted to John Hitchcock—the same man who leased George Cowan’s 400 acre tract in 1755.
On February 29, 1777 George “Gowin of the State of North Carolina” conveyed to John Foster of Ninety Six District, South Carolina the tract of land on “east side of Broad River near above Lafferty’s Creek being granted to George Cowins by patent dated November 9, 1774.” This was the 400 acre tract patented in South Carolina in 1774, and presumably the same tract patented in North Carolina in 1750, and leased in 1755. The deed was recorded in Volume C, Page 95-96 of the Deed Records of York County, South Carolina and in Volume A, Page 54 of the Deed Records of Union County, South Carolina.
On October 12, 1782, Humphrey Barnett deeded 300 acres to John Darwin , brother of James Darwin. This was the same tract mentioned earlier that was patented to Zachariah Bullock in 1768. The 1782 deed described the chain of title from Bullock to George Cowan to Robert Loughridge to Humphrey Barnett to John Darwin. John Nuckols and Richard Nuckols witnessed the deed.
From these assorted deed records, three distinct parcels can be indentified with George Cowan. First, there was the 400 acres on the Broad River patented in North Carolina in 1750, perfected in South Carolina in 1774, and sold to John Foster in 1777. Next, there was the 300 acre tract on Lafferty’s Creek at the Broad River purchased from Zachariah Bullock after 1768 and sold to Robert Loughridge before 1782. Finally, there was as yet undetermined acreage in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.
The 1777 deed is the last reference to George Cowan that I have found to date. He probably did not survive the war years, as the fighting in the South Carolina backcountry was particularly brutal. By the late 1770s, George Cowan would have been aged 65 or older. Also, the fact that the 1777 deed listed him as a resident of North Carolina indicates that he had left the area, if only temporarily.
Darwin family records record that James Darwin married Mary Cowan (1746-1818) on March 11, 1766. The source for this exact marriage date is not given. Darwin researchers believe that Mary Cowan was the daughter of George Cowan. This would certainly be the most likely scenario, as there were no other Cowans of record in the Broad River neighborhood in the 1760s. James and Mary Cowan Darwin named their oldest son William, after his paternal grandfather Darwin. Their second oldest son was given the name George Cowan Darwin, after his probable maternal grandfather. The Darwin family’s attachment to the names is evident. James and Mary had 7 grandsons named George, and 6 with the middle name of Cowan.
The extended Darwin clan is well-researched, including the descendants of James and Mary Darwin. Other possible children of George Cowan remain speculative, at best. The 1790 census lists a Joseph Cowen in Union County, South Carolina, only 5 households away from Zachariah Bullock. This places this Joseph Cowen in exactly the right neighborhood to have been a son of George Cowan. The fact that he lived in Union, rather than York County is not alarming. The Broad River was the division line between the two counties. The old tracts owned by George Cowan were on the York side of the river. Confusion about county boundaries, however, continued for some time—as indicated by George Cowan recording the sale of his 400 acre tract in both counties. Joseph was married with two daughters, and two sons under age 16.
Another possibility is the Sarah Cowan charged with bastardy along with William Summerford in October 1789. Each was fined £3.11.6 and costs. William Smith signed as surety. And so, Sarah Cowan who had a child out of wedlock with William Summerford is another possible child of George Cowan. On the 1790 census, William Summerford is only 3 households away from Robert McCurdie, whose land adjoined the George Cowan 400 acre tract. William Smith also lives nearby. John “Durvin” (Darwin) who purchased George Cowan’s 300 acre tract, and James “Durvin” (Darwin) who presumably married George Cowan’s daughter are on the same census page. The 1790 census implies that William Summerford had a wife, 3 sons and 3 daughters, so he apparently had no opportunity to “make an honest woman” of Sarah. Summerford lived in the right neighborhood for Sarah to have been a daughter of George Cowan. Interestingly, in 1800 a “Sarah Summerford,” age over 45 (born before 1755) resided in Marlboro District, South Carolina with 1 son, aged 10 and under. This could be the same Sarah, who moved off and started a new life with her son, using the name Summerford.
By 1800, Joseph Cowen had died, and his widow Rachel is listed in Union County, South Carolina. She had one daughter at home (aged 10-16) and two sons at home (age 10-16). The family does not appear on the 1810 census. A Vincent Y. Cowan appears on the 1820 census of York County, South Carolina. Both he and his wife are in the 26-45 year old category, and they had 3 daughters and 1 son under 10 years of age. 1824 probate records infer that Nancy Nickels was the first wife of Vincent Y. Cowan. This couple is on the 1830 census of York County with 1 more son and 5 more daughters. Vincent Cowan and wife are on the 1840 census of York County with 2 more sons. The Aleck Cowan living next door, aged 15-20, married with 1 daughter, is presumed to be one of the older children. In 1850, Vincent Y. Cowan is listed in York County, age 62 (1788) with a new wife, Martha (age 33,) and children Jane (age 33,) Martha (age 23,) John (age 19), William (age 16,) and new daughter Frances (age 10/12.) Son Alex, wife, and daughter live nearby. In this census, Vincent Cowan lives next to Sarah (Darwin) Smith and her brother Robert R. Darwin , children of John Bland Darwin and grandchildren of the John Darwin who purchased the George Cowan 300 acre tract in 1782. Again, this Cowan is in exactly the right neighborhood to be a son of George Cowan.
The Darwin Cemetery is located on a bluff overlooking the Broad River. John Darwin is buried there, and it is presumably on the 300 acres that had once been owned by George Cowan. There is a Cowen Cemetery nearby, as well. Only 3 marked graves survive:
Jane Nickels, 1773-February 10, 1842
Nancy Cowen, December 11, 1792-December 31, 1847
Daniel J. Cowen, March 6, 1829-May 10, 1846
These are clearly the mother-in-law, first wife, and son of Vincent Y. Cowen. I suspect that Nancy “Nickels” Cowen could well have been a member of the Nuckols family mentioned earlier. The Nuckols are buried in the historic Old Whig Hill Cemetery in Union County, about 12 miles northwest of Darwin Cemetery.
When seen in the light of these associated families—Nuckolds, Bullock and Darwin—possible outlines of the George Cowan family begin to take shape. This also expands the scope of the Pequea Creek Cowans in the piedmont. Rachel Dawson Park Thompson’s home in the Fairforest neighborhood of Union County, South Carolina—only 20 miles or so west of the Broad River neighborhood—no longer seems like such an outlier. The nucleus of the family remained centered in Rowan and Iredell Counties of North Carolina, to be sure. But the area of study should also include Mecklenburg, Lincoln and Gaston Counties in North Carolina, and York and Union Counties in South Carolina.