COWAN-L ArchivesArchiver > COWAN > 2002-06 > 1024605552
Subject: [COWAN-L] Mount Stewart, The National Trust
Date: Thu, 20 Jun 2002 16:39:12 EDT
Perhaps this post will help explain the relationship between the Londonderry
Cowans and their connection to County Down.
We decided that the last day in Northern Ireland should be devoted to a
drive from Belfast over to the Ards and a visit to Mount Stewart, ancestral
home of Alexander Stewart and his wife Mary Cowan followed by the short ferry
trip from Portaferry to Strangford and a leisurely drive through the Mourne
mountains ending up that night just outside of Dublin. We arrived Mount
Stewart around ten, parked the car and wandered up to the big house just to
learn that it did not open until 12:00. The gift shop was open as was the
tea room but since it was Sunday the house did not open to the public until
noon. We were a bit depressed because our schedule was tight and waiting for
two hours was not part of the program. I struck up a conversation with the
lady at the entrance desk and told her we were related to the folks who built
this place and it was a shame we were not going to be able to see it. She
disappeared for a couple of minutes and when she returned she was with the
house manager, a young girl who was in charge of the entire property. She
asked if we would like a private tour of the house and after thinking about
it for about two nanoseconds said "hell yes" For the next hour she took us
all through the house and we received a grand tour. She even explained that
the beautiful set of china in the tall corner cabinet was that of Mary Cowan
and had been in the Cowan family for generations. If you look on page 4 of
the "Discover Mount Stewart" guide published by The National Trust you will
see a picture of the china. The pattern consists of an impressive crest
containing the St. Andrew's cross, the flag of Scotland. They may have lived
in Ireland, but they were Scots.
Alexander Stewart came from Presbyterian Scottish planter stock. When he
married Mary Cowan (youngest daughter of Alderman John Cowan of Derry), the
sister of Robert Cowan (the guy from Bombay, her older brother), her hugh
fortune allowed the family to move from Donegal to County Down. He was
described as "a man of polite and pleasing manners, a clear and comprehensive
understanding and principles truely liberal in politics and religion."
Just how did Mary Cowan come into this pile of money? Laura, you provided
some of the best information on the Stewart-Cowan relationship by finding the
two films from the LDS #0908972, and 0908973 titled Stewart Family records
which are the writings of the Rev. Samuel Stone to Mary Cowans son Robert
Stewart, Lord Londonderry. I have written extensively about these two films.
Remember that Alderman John Cowan, merchant of Derry was married to a
Stewart and his daughter married a Stewart.
Robert Cowan son of Alderman John Cowan made his money while employed by the
East India Company and when he died it was to pass to his younger brother
William. Problem was, William died in India at almost the same time Sir
Robert died in England. This left the entire fortune to sister Mary who
received it after a protracted legal battle. One good thing about legal
battles is that they produce lots of written records. Lucky again!
The marriage agreement between Alexander Stewart and Mary Cowan is one of the
most beautiful documents I have ever seen. Written on some sort of animal
skin it is as clear now as it ever was and the wax seals are bright red and
still intact. We held it in our hands and it made us feel rich!
The connection to Stirling is an interesting one and the Stirling Cowans are
well documented because of a gentleman named John Cowan who was Dean of the
Merchant Gild and was the Cowan who began the merchant tradition in Scotland
by providing goods to the royal family at Stirling Castle. There is a book
that details these relationships but I have never made it available because I
was not sure our Cowans were part of the Stirling-Londonderry-Va. Cowans
until now. It is:
The Stirling Merchant Gild and Life of John Cowan(e), Founder of Cowan's
Hospital in Stirling, David B. Morris, Town Clerk, Stirling, Jamieson and
There are two know copies of this book outside of Scotland and they are both
in my library. Perhaps it is time to release this information to those
interested or related.