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By Jenny Lou and Jim Brock
(Reprinted from the Cowan Bell, Vol. II, No. 12, pages 19, 20.  June 19, 1975.)

The Cowan’s who migrated to Franklin County in the early 1800’s were all related to each other, either brothers, half-brothers or cousins.  One of these Cowan’s, Captain James Cowan, was in the regular army and commanded the frontier from the Tennessee line in lower middle Tennessee to Ross’ Landing (now Chattanooga) and a point north of where Huntsville, Alabama now stands.  This land was under the control of the United States government and was still Indian Territory.

In a letter written in 1895, Dr. J. B. Cowan states that his grandfather, Captain James Cowan, moved from Blount County to this county in 1806 and was the second man to settle here

James Cowan was married April 23, 1800, to Mary (Polly) Montgomery, a sister of Hugh Montgomery.  There is a memorial marker in Cowan Cemetery inscribed, “WILLIAM H. MONTGOMERY BORN 1792 DIED 1829”.  This stone must have been erected sometime in the latter part of the 1800’s in memory of Hugh Montgomery and his son, William H.  The style is Victorian and the footstones have never been set in their proper place.  Perhaps fieldstones once marked the graves and some later member of their family erected this beautiful tombstone as a memorial.  There is no mention on the stone of their wives, though William H. Montgomery’s first wife, Susan* Cowan, died here in 1820.

Born about 1770 and dying in Franklin County in 1815, James Cowan’s life spanned that dangerous and exciting period of American History which began the push West.  Since childhood he had known perils of frontier life.  His grandfather, Samuel Cowan, had been scalped and killed by Indians.  When James was fifteen (ca 1895) he was captured by the Cherokee and adopted into their tribe.  After a year he managed to escape.  At the time of his capture, his father, Major John Cowan, and his small sister were killed.  His mother, Mary, was taken north by the Shawnee and held captive for seven years.  The story of her escape is an exciting one and is best described by quoting from a letter written by Dr. J. B. Cowan to a relative in 1895:

I stated in my other letter that Major John Cowan, my great grandfather, was killed by the Indians, and his wife and son, my grandfather, were taken prisoners.  My great grandmother was carried by the Shawnee Indians to the Lakes on the North for several years.  She was the slave of the squaw that captured her.

At last a half breed and his wife took compassion on her and planned to rescue her.  He left in his canoe with his wife for the French Trading Post in Kentucky, somewhere north of Cumberland Gap, on the Kentucky River, I believe.

They concealed their fugitive under the furs n their boat and eluded the Indians in their pursuit and reached the French Trading Post in safety.  Knowing, however, that they would be pursued, they succeeded in getting the men at the Post to conceal their refugee in the cellar of the store, and a messenger was sent in haste to notify the settlement in (I believe) Blount County, Tennessee.  The messenger ride day and night.  When he reached the settlement, it was Sunday, and the people were all at Church (it was a great camp meeting).  The messenger rode up to the stand where the preaching was going on and called out: “Is there a man here named Russell, Major Russell, or Colonel Walker, or any man named Cowan?”  Major Russell responded, and said: “What do you want?”  He said:  “There is a woman at the French Trading Post making her escape from the Indians.  Her name is Mary Cowan, and the Indians are in pursuit to recapture her, and I am sent to tell her friends to come as quickly as possible to rescue her.”

You can imagine the scene that followed.  In an hour a hundred picked men were in the saddle and were off.  The excitement in the community was intense.  It was the coming back from the grave.

There was a forced march day and night.  The Indians were there first but had not found their victim.  Late in the evening a large string of cavalry was seen approaching.  The Indians fled, and my great grandmother was rescued.

My father recollected to have seen her years afterwards when he was but a child.  My grandfather was in the rescuing party to save his mother.

Had I had the time I would love to weave these and many other thrilling facts into a romance and write them and leave them for my children.  I am feeling very close to you now, as I have been hunting back into our kin who have crossed over and are resting under the shade.

                                                        Your friend and kinsman,

                                                        J. B. Cowan

(Note:  Dr. James Benjamin Cowan was the son of the Rev. Samuel Montgomery Cowan, Cumberland Presbyterian minister, and the grandson of Captain James Cowan about whom this article is written.  In 1895, at the time the above letter was written, Dr. Cowan was a resident of Tullahoma, Tennessee.)

                                                                      (J.L.B. & J.R.B.) 

*The original published article mistakenly says “Nancy” Cowan instead of Susan.  The correction was posted in the very next issue of the Cowan Bell, Vol. II, No. 13, July 3, 1975.


By Jenny Lou and Jim Brock
(Reprinted from the Cowan Bell, Vol. II, No. 13, pages 4, 5.  July 3, 1975.)

Part II of the story of the Cowan’s of Franklin County will go back in time and begin at that point when seven brothers migrated to America.  The year was 1726.

In May of this year, at Stratford Bay, Ireland, a vessel commanded by Richard Walker left for the Colonies.  On August 2nd it landed in Maryland.  It is believed that these seven Cowan brothers came to America on this boat and settled in Chester County, Pennsylvania.  From here they migrated to the Valley of Virginia, some later pioneering the settlements in southwest Virginia and others moving into South Carolina.  The seven brothers were: Andrew, David, James, John, Matthew, Samuel, and William.

The story centers now on the brother, Samuel.  He was married sometime 1750 to Anne Walker and died in 1776 after being scalped by Indians.  To their marriage were born eight children, six sons and two daughters.  From two of these sons, John and Robert, descend most of all of the Cowan’s who settled in Franklin County in the early 1800’s.

One son, John, was a major in the Revolutionary War and fought in many of the Indian campaigns.  He was married to his cousin, Mary Walker.  Like his father, he met death at the hands of the Indians.  At this same time John’s wife and son, James, were taken prisoner.  Part I in the last issue of The Cowan Bell describes this event, the escape of Mary, and the settling in Franklin County in 1806 by James Cowan.

Samuel and Anne Cowan’s other son, Robert, whose descendents settled in this area, was also a soldier of the Revolutionary War.  He was born in Lunenburg County, Virginia, in 1746, and died in what is now Washington County, Tennessee, after July 24, 1784.  More about this Robert in Part III, which will appear in the next issue of The Cowan Bell.

Perhaps some of you can claim kinship through the Cowan line.  A partial family tree appears below through Samuel and Anne Cowan’s son, John.  Part III will list the descendents through the son, Robert.

              SAMUEL COWAN – Born _____; Died 1776 – Scapled by Indians; Major

ANNE WALKER – da. Of Anne Houston and John Walker III (b. 1705, Ireland)

              They had (among others):

              JOHN COWAN – Born before 1748; Dies about 1784 – Killed by Indians; Major,

                            MARY WALKER (his cousin) married 1768

                                          They had (among others):

                                JAMES COWAN – Born about 1770; Died 1815, Franklin County, Tenn.  Captain,

Regular Army; Served with Andrew Jackson, War of 1812, was at the Battle of New Orleans; Married April 23, 1800

                            MARY (POLLY) MONTGOMERY – Daughter of James and Margaret Weir Montgomery and a sister of

Hugh Montgomery, who is buried in Cowan Cemetery

They had (among others):

REV. SAMUEL COWAN – Born March 10, 1801 (Cumberland Presbyterian Minister); Married   NANCY CLEMENS

                                                        They Had:

                                                        DR. JAMES BENJAMIN COWAN, writer of the letter of 1895 describing his great-grandmother’s escape from theShawnee Indians.



By Jenny Lou and Jim Brock
(Reprinted from the Cowan Bell, Vol. II, No. 9, pages 8, 9.  July 24, 1975.)

In the last issue of the COWAN BELL, Part II of The Cowans of Franklin County began this story of the seven brothers who immigrated to America from Ireland in 1726 and settled in Pennsylvania.  One of the seven brothers, Samuel, was the progenitor of the Cowans who settled in this area.

In this segment, Part III, we will follow some of the descendents through Robert Cowan, a son of the immigrant Samuel.  This Robert was a soldier of the Revolutionary War and a pioneer in the settlement of what is now East Tennessee.  It is known that two of his sons were among the first settlers of Franklin County, both filing occupant claims in 1807.  The two sons who came to Franklin County were John and Robert.  There may have been a third, but we have not documented proof of his lineage.  Sara Rittenberry, James Henry Hawkins and Bill Williams are descendents of the Robert Cowan who settled here in the early 1800’s.  Below is a chart of their line:

SAMUEL COWAN – Born _____; Died 1776; Scalped by Indians.  Believed to be one of seven brothers who immigrated to America from Ireland in 1726 settling Chester County, Pennsylvania.  Later migrated to the Valley of Virginia.  He married:

ANNE WALKER – Daughter of Ann Houston and John Walker (III).  This John Walker, born 1705, Ireland, and immigrated with parents to Colonies in 1726.  Samuel and Anne Walker Cowan had, among others:

ROBERT COWAN – Born 1746 Lunenburg County, Va.; Died after July 24, 1784, Washington County, Tenn. (then North Carolina); Revolutionary War Soldier when resident of Washington County; N.C. by 1780.  He married, possibly 2nd:

SUSAN WOODS – Born 1751 or 1761 Albermarle County, VA; Died 1836 Franklin County, Tenn.; Buried near Belvidere, Tenn.; Daughter of Anne and Michael Woods.  After Robert Cowan’s death, Susan Woods Cowan married 2nd Samuel Handly.  Robert Cowan and Susan Woods Cowan had, among others:

ROBERT COWAN – Born Feb. 26, 1776; Died Sept. 14, 1841; Buried Goshen Church Cemetery.  Settled Franklin County early 1800’s.  Filed occupant claim for 200 acres in 1807.  Served in War of 1812 (Creek War).  He married in 1797:

NANCY WEIR – Born _____; Died _____; They had, among others:

SUSANNAH COWAN – Born 1799, Died 1820 Franklin County, Tenn.;  Buriel place unknown.  She married

WILLIAM H. MONTGOMERY – Born 1792; Died 1829 Franklin County, Tenn.; Buried Cowan Cemetery.  He was son Hugh Montgomery, also buried Cowan Cemetery.  After death of Susannah, William H. Montgomery married 2nd Elizabeth Cowan, daughter of Capt. James Cowan and Mary (Polly) Montgomery Cowan.  (See part I of this series.)  To William H. and Elizabeth Cowan Montgomery were born three children: James C., Mary Anne and Averine.  Mary Anne married Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest.  To William H. Montgomery and Susannah Cowan Montgomery was born one child.  He was:

JOHN C. MONTGOMERY – Born Sept. 24, 1820; Died December 28, 1910; Buried Cowan Cemetery.  One of the founders of the town of Cowan in 1852.  He married, Jan. 15, 1850

NANCY COWAN – Born Aug. 9, 1829; Died Feb. 1, 1903; Buried Cowan Cemetery; Daughter of James P. and Mary Cowan who are also buried Cowan Cemetery.  John C. and Nancy Cowan Montgomery had nine children.  They were:

JAMES CHESTER MONTGOMERY (1853-1910) who married KATIE POWER (1859-1912).


MARY FORREST MONTGOMERY (1856-1901) who married ANDREW JACKSON HINES (1845-1912).

ELLA MONTGOMERY (1863-1950) who married JESS N. WILLIAMS (1854-1917).

KITTIE MONTGOMERY (1869-1902) who married ALFRED L. AUSTELL (1868-1973).

M. E. MONTGOMERY – infant daughter, born Apr. 24, 1860; died Oct. 28.

INFANT SON – Born and died 1861.

TWO OTHER CHILDREN – probably dying in infancy.

The above JAMES CHESTER and KITTIE POWER MONTGOMERY had, among others, AGNES and ROSS MONTGOMERY (1882-1962).  She married ROSS HAWKINS (1874-1958).  AGNES and ROSS HAWINS were the parents of SUE RITTENBERRY and JAMES HENRY HAWKINS.


This brings the line to the eighth generation.  There are several other residents of Cowan who descend from this direct line, however, the dates have not been compiled at this writing.

                                                                                    (J.L.B. & J.R.B.)

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