Family Stories

Colonel John Cowley Biography

from Who Was Who in Hardin County

Hardin County Historical Society

Colonel John Cowley

Colonel John Cowley was the son of John Cowley, who came to this county with his family from Montgomery County, Maryland, at an early date.  At the same time came Colbert S. Cowley and his family, also William Owen and family, and two men of the Viers family brought their families.  They must have come at an early date and by flat boat from Fort Pitt to the Falls of the Ohio.  They began to buy up land after crossing the Rolling Fork River at the mouth of Cedar Creek, large tracts of land on Dorrett’s Run, on Mill Creek and on westward where the Louisville and Nashville Turnpike crossed some of their holdings near what is now Rogersville.

Colonel John Cowley was born October, 1802, on the east side of Dorrett’s Run where his father had acquired a large acreage of land.  He took up military tactics and training at an early age and was soon advanced from a private to the rank of a commissioned officer and was commissioned by the state to issue the muster call for all troops in Hardin County, to assemble for training at some place designated in the muster call issued by Colonel John Cowley.

The Colonel owned a farm on Mill Creek of probably a thousand acres, on which he had a grist mill and a distillery at what was then and is now known as the Falling Springs, which furnished the power to run his mill and also water for the distillery.

He issued the muster call and trained the troops on his own farm near the Falling Springs where there was an abundance of water for drinking and cooking.  The Colonel’s dwelling, a large, two-story log house, weather-boarded, with large stone chimneys, stood on the bluff overlooking Mill Creek.  At the rear were a number of buildings used as slave quarters.  On the roof of his dwelling was a bell covered by a belfry, with the lower end of the rope hanging by the side of the Colonel’s bed on the first floor.  Each morning this bell was rung for his head slave to come in and make the fires and get the cook up to begin preparing breakfast, and to get the other slaves out to do their work.

Colonel John Cowley was of Irish extraction, and always looked “dressed up,” wearing blue jeans in winter and grey jeans in summer, military coats and a black silk hat with a crown about six inches high.  He must have had a slave who was an expert weaver of cloth, as each year he carried sufficient cloth of both blue and grey to Louisville on horseback where his tailor cut him a suit of each, basting in the lining and wrapping them in oil cloth to carry back home to be made up.  In 1870 a newcomer in that section asked Colonel Cowley where Abe Lincoln got the brains to be President.  The Colonel told him that he didn’t have to go any further back than his grandmother, Bersheba Lincoln, known as Granny Lincoln, who for many years was known all over north Hardin County.  Colonel Cowley said of her that she was a Jeffersonian character, of fine brains, and full of energy and business.

Colonel Cowley died November, 1884, aged 82 years.  He was respected by his neighbors as a good, substantial citizen and a good neighbor.  He reared a large family of good citizens who all became land owners.  His oldest son, Owen Cowley, was at one time likely the owner of the largest acreage of land owned by one person in Hardin County.

Colonel Cowley was married to Hester Owen, and to this union six children were born.  His second wife was Susan Daugherty, and to them was born one son.

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