Select Rowan Miscellany

Here are some Rowan stories and accounts over the years:

Saint Ruaidhain of Lorrha

Saint Ruadháin mac Fergusa Birn was an Irish Christian abbot who founded the monastery of Lorrha in Tipperary.  He was known for his prophesies. After his death in AD 584, he was venerated as a saint and as one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.

The abbey is still there, as is his headstone.  The bell of St. Ruadhain was found in a well named after the saint and has been preserved in the British Museum

Early Scottish Rowans

George Fraser Black in his 1946 The Surnames of Scotland defined Rowan as either from (a) Ruadhain, diminutive of Ruadh, meaning 'red' or from (b) the Scots pronunciation of Rolland, as with Thomas de Rolland who was the common councillor of Aberdeen in 1439.

He provided the following early Rowan examples:
  • Agnes Rowan who was tenant under the bishop of Glasgow in 1511.  
  • Edward Rowane who appeared in Stirling in 1525.
  • Thomas Rowand who was a witness in Glasgow in 1550.  
  • John Rowane who was the servitor to Robert Pont of Trinity College, Edinburgh, in 1575.  
  • and James Rowane who was a burgess freeman of Glasgow in 1595.
David Rowane, a Frenchman, was engineer to Mary, Queen of Scots in 1557.  He probably derived his surname from the French town of Rouen.

The Wealth of the Rev. Andrew Rowan

It was said that the Rev. Andrew Rowan grew modestly wealthy from his position of rector at Clough in county Antrim in the early 1700’s.  The following story was told about him by locals in the area: 

“On the west side of the street in the village of Clough stood the ruins of an old house that was said to have been the residence of the rector the Rev. Andrew Rowan.   Mr. Rowan was robbed, as tradition says, when an old man. The inhabitants of Clough pointed out the window in the upper story through which the bandits who robbed him entered.  He was heard to say afterwards that no two horses in the parish could have carried his money.  From this I am led to conjecture that all the horses must have been ponies and all his money brass."

Archibald Hamilton Rowan

Archibald Hamilton Rowan was born in 1751 in the home of his grandfather, William Rowan, in London.  He lived there with his mother and sister for much of his early life.  When his grandfather died in 1767, he inherited a large sum of money under the stipulation that he would add the maternal name Rowan, receive an Oxbridge education, and not visit Ireland before his 25th birthday.

It is thus strange that Archibald, coming from this privileged English position, should espouse the cause of Irish independence.  But his travels to Europe and America in his twenties awakened him to a changing revolutionary tide.  He returned to Ireland in his thirties in 1784.  He quickly became a celebrity there and, despite his wealth and privilege, a strong advocate for Irish liberty.

In 1790 he became a founding member of the Dublin Society of United Irishmen, working alongside well-known radicals of the time.  Three years later he was tried for sedition and sentenced to two years imprisonment at Newgate prison in Dublin.  He later fled to France, fearing a punishment even worse.  He then spent ten years in exile in America.

In 1806 Hamilton Rowan returned home to Ireland, to his ancestral home of Killyleagh castle in county Down, and received a hero's welcome.  He was now a respected figure, spending time in both Killyleagh and Dublin.  While he had agreed to be a model citizen under the conditions of his return to Ireland, he remained active in politics and retained his youthful radicalism.  He lived to be 84 and died in 1834.

Captain William Rowan - from Pennsylvania to Kentucky

William Rowan and his wife Eliza had a secure life in York county, Pennsylvania in the years before the Revolutionary War.  When the war came, William joined the 4th York Battery and was soon promoted to Captain.  When the war ended, he found his finances more precarious and decided upon moving his family to Kentucky in search of building his fortune.

In October 1783 the Rowans and five other families embarked on a flat bottomed boat near Redstone Creek and began their journey down the Monongahela River toward the Falls of the Ohio.  The travelers expected the journey to last a few days at most.  But ice along the river slowed the journey and a lack of provisions exacerbated the delays.

Three of the families disembarked near what is now Maysville, Kentucky.  The Rowans would later learn that most of them were killed by Indians. 

The remaining settlers continued downriver.  When their flatboat neared Yellow Banks, smoke was noticed in the distance.  The Rowans realized the fire had been created by Indians and proceeded with caution. A war whoop was sounded by the Indians and in broken English the Rowans were ordered ashore.  As canoes neared the flatboat, each man grabbed an axe to defend himself.  Fortunately the dispute was settled peacefully and there was no harm done to the Rowans. 

They reached Louisville, Kentucky in March 1784.  The next month the Rowans and five other families set out for a tract of land on the Long Falls of the Green River that Rowan had purchased before leaving Pennsylvania.  The party arrived in May and constructed a fort which they dubbed Fort Vienna. 

The fort, then located approximately 100 miles from the nearest white settlement, is the present-day town of Calhoun. The settlers at Fort Vienna frequently clashed with the Shawnee who used the area as a hunting ground.  The Rowans would remain at Fort Vienna for six years before moving to Bardstown.

My Old Kentucky Home

Judge John Rowan built the Federal Hill mansion in Bardstown in 1818.  It had an unhappy early history.  In 1833 an epidemic of cholera killed eight family members and eight slaves within a 24 hour period. 

Another tragedy occurred when John Rowan’s son John lost his life.  He was sitting in the window seal of his second-story bedroom with one leg dangling out of the window.  According to his wife Rebecca he dozed off, lost his balance, and fell out of the window.  He hit a tree on the way down and this killed him.  After the shock his wife never slept in that bedroom again. 

A house that had once seemed jinxed became immortalized in 1852 when Stephen Foster composed his song My Old Kentucky Home based on Federal Hill.  As the song's fame spread, so did the popularity of the home.  People poured into Bardstown for a first-hand view of the Rowan home.

In 1920 the state of Kentucky recognized the importance of retaining Federal Hill as a symbolic gesture of American hospitality and decided to enshrine it for future generations.  A commission was formed to investigate and secure the property for a state park.  Three years later Federal Hill officially became “My Old Kentucky Home," with more than 15,000 onlookers cheering the preservation of the home.

In 1928 My Old Kentucky Home was made Kentucky's state song.  By 1959 the park grew in popularity and new attractions were added, including the "Stephen Foster Story" - an outdoor musical that is considered to be the longest running outdoor musical in America.  In 1975 the park's attendance reached over 275,000 people annually

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