Select Rowan Miscellany
accounts over the years:
- Saint Ruaidhain of Lorrha
- Early Scottish Rowans
- The Wealth of the Rev. Andrew Rowan
- Archibald Hamilton Rowan
- Captain William Rowan – from Pennsylvania to Kentucky
- My Old Kentucky Home
Saint Ruaidhain of Lorrha
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.
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,
Thomas de Rolland who was the common councillor of Aberdeen in 1439.
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
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
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 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
maternal name Rowan, receive an Oxbridge education, and not visit
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
In 1790 he became a founding member of the Dublin Society
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
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
return to Ireland, he remained active in politics and retained his
radicalism. He lived to be 84 and died
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
building his fortune.
In October 1783 the Rowans and five other
families embarked on a flat bottomed boat near Redstone Creek and began
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
of the families disembarked near what is now Maysville, Kentucky. The Rowans would later learn that most of
them were killed by Indians.
remaining settlers continued downriver. When their flatboat
neared Yellow Banks, smoke was noticed in the distance. The
fire had been created by Indians and proceeded with caution. A war
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
They reached Louisville,
Kentucky in March 1784. The next month the Rowans and five other
out for a tract of land on the Long Falls of the Green River that Rowan
purchased before leaving Pennsylvania.
The party arrived in May and constructed a fort which they
The fort, then located
approximately 100 miles from the nearest white settlement, is the
town of Calhoun. The settlers at Fort Vienna frequently clashed with
Shawnee who used the area as a hunting ground.
The Rowans would remain at Fort Vienna for six years before
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
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
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
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
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
Home,” with more than 15,000 onlookers cheering the preservation of the
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
America. In 1975 the park’s attendance
reached over 275,000 people annually.
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