Biography - Thomas J. Cowan

THOMAS JAMES COWAN. One of the old and honored citizens of Vienna, Illinois, now living retired in his comfortable home and enjoying the fruits of his long period of labor, is Thomas James Cowan, who for fifty-four years lived on the same farm in Johnson county. He has been a witness to various wonderful changes that have taken place in Southern Illinois, and as the developer of a large tract of land can justly lay claim to having done his share in advancing the interests of this section. Mr. Cowan was born July 13, 1833, on a farm in western Tennessee, and is a son of David Cowan and a grandson of Stephen Cowan, who was born in Virginia.

David Cowan, who was a native of North Carolina, migrated at an early day to Tennessee, and there died in 1833. He married Lucinda Gray, also a native of the Tar Heel state, and they had a family of six children: Mrs. Sarah Venable, John, Martha, Mrs. Caroline Moore, David and Thomas James, of whom the last-named is the only survivor. After the death of her first husband Mrs. Cowan married a Mr. McDougal, and they had two children: Jackson, who is deceased; and Rhoda Ann Gill, who resides in California. Mrs. McDougal passed away in 1846.

Thomas James Cowan was but twelve years of age when his mother died, and he went to live with his brother-in-law, L. B. Venable, in Tennessee, and worked on his farm. In 1850, when Mr. Venable migrated to Johnson county, Illinois, young Cowan continued to reside with him. The year of his marriage, in 1856, he purchased forty acres of land in township 12, range 3. He was successful in his operations from the start, being industrious and enterprising, and gradually added to his farm from time to time until he had increased it to one hundred and forty acres, and had continued to live on the same farm for fifty-four years. In addition he had owned other land, but had disposed of it. On September 16, 1910, feeling that he had earned a rest, Mr. Cowan sold his farm at a good price, came to Vienna and purchased a residence and four building lots, and settled down to a life of ease and quiet. He belongs to the A. F. & A. M. at Vienna, in which he is popular, and his wife is a member of the Presbyterian church, in the work of which she is well known.

In 1853 Mr. Cowan was married (first) to Mary Clinton, who died in 1859, leaving one child, Lucinda, who married a Mr. Walters and has four children, namely: John, who has three children; Clarence, also the father of three children; Mary Estella, who has two children; and Edna. Mr. Cowan's second marriage occurred in 1860, to Mary Jane Worley, who was born March 9, 1842, on a farm in township 12, range 3, and lived there all of her life until moving to Vienna. She is a daughter of Hiram F. and Venils (Graves) Worley, natives of Johnson county, Illinois, and Missouri, respectively. Hiram Worley was born in 1814, a son of Isaac Worley, one of the very earliest pioneers of Johnson county, who migrated from North Carolina and settled in Elvira township. Hiram Worley died January 21, 1882, and his wife, March 25, 1866. To Mr. and Mrs. Cowan there have been born ten children, namely: Martha M., who married William Nobles, has one child, Dr. Charles Nobles, who has a son, William Arthur; David J., an attorney of Peoria, Illinois; Thomas J., a farmer in Johnson county, three and one-half miles east of Vienna, has two children, Mary and Ruth; Mary V., deceased, who was the wife of Dr. Hale; Adolphus, who died at the age of four years; three children who died in infancy; Gertrude, who married a Mr. Gore and has two children, Mary and Maud; and John, an attorney of Vienna. The last named was born May 6, 1880, and was reared on his father's farm and educated in the district schools, the Vienna High school, from which he was graduated in 1901, and, after he had taught school for two terms, the Southern Illinois Normal School at Carbondale. He began the study of law in the offices of his brother, David J. Cowan, of Peoria, and was admitted to the bar in June, 1910, since which time he has built up a successful practice. Many are the changes and improvements that have been made since Mr. Cowan first engaged in farming in this part of the country, and many are the anecdotes and incidents of early days that he can call to mind. He has had some decidedly interesting experiences, and bears the distinction of having lived through an incident that but few men can lay claim to. In the spring of 1866, March 20th, this section of the country was visited by a terrific cyclone, which swept the Cowan and Worley farms. It played the usual eccentric and unexplainable tricks, unroofing and wrecking the log cabins, laying low the fences and destroying the forests, and carrying the safe, which held the papers of the Worley family, from their farm to Shawneetown, a distance of sixty miles. The Cowan place was badly damaged, but the farm of Hiram Worley was literally devastated, every building being wrecked. Mrs. Worley was mortally injured and died in five days as a result of her injuries; a son, Thomas Jackson Worley, aged six years, suffered a broken hip and was crippled for life; a little son, Isaac Worley, was killed outright, while every member of the family and all the hands employed on the place were injured to a greater or less degree, but the Cowan family was fortunate enough to escape with its members uninjured except for a few minor bruises and scratches. The memory o'f that terrible day is still fresh in the mind of the venerable citizen who has seen so many important events take place during his long and honorable residence here, and who in spite of his advanced years is still possessed of all of his faculties. He has taken a lively interest in all that has pertained to the welfare of his community, and as a citizen who has borne a part in developing his section is held in high esteem and respect by all who know him.

Extracted 14 Jan 2018 by Norma Hass from 1912 A History of Southern Illinois, volume 2, pages 797-798.

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