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Matthew Rowan, Likely Scots-Irish Founder, 1753

Matthew Rowan

Matthew Rowan, though of Scotch descent, was doubtless of Irish birth.  The Rowan family was established in the parish of Govan, in the County of Lanark, in Scotland, as early as 1548.  In 1661 the Rev. Andrew Rowan, eldest son of John Rowan, of Govan, was inducted into the rectory of Dunaghy, diocese of Connor, County Antrim, in Ireland and died in 1717.  His second son Rev. John Rowan married Margaret Stewart of County Down, and their children were John; Andrew; Alexander; Stewart; Matthew; William; Robert, a clergyman in Ireland; Hugh; and Acheson.

When Matthew Rowan first came to North Carolina is not known.  His name appears as one of the church wardens for the parish of Bath in 1726 and as a member of the Assembly in 1727.  He was a merchant and dealt in “Irish goods,” for which he made voyages to and from the old country.  In 1732, he was a member of the Council in the town of Edenton and was also made Surveyor-General of the Province.  He was one of the commissioners appointed to run boundary lines between North and South Carolina.  On the death of Governor Johnson in 1752, Matthew Rowan, next in line, took the oath of office as president and commander-in-chief of the province. 

In the summer of 1753, President Rowan reported to the Board of Trade that “in the year 1746 I was up in the country that is now Anson, Orange and Rowan Counties.  There was not then above one hundred fighting men.  There is now at least three thousand, for the most part Irish-Protestants and Germans; and daily increasing.”

In November President Rowan reported; “Last June three French and five northward Indians came down to kill some of the Catawbans, but were met by thirteen of the Catawba Indians who killed two French and three of the Northern Indians.  This action was less than two miles of the Rowan County court-house during the setting of the court.”

President Rowan immediately took steps to organize the militia and provide to defend the province from the anticipated attacks.  The next spring the trouble came.  President Rowan convened the Assembly on the 19th of February and made provisions to provide arms to the poorer inhabitants of Anson and Rowan counties.  He appointed Colonel Innes to command the regiment and was active in putting the province in a state of defense. 

At the spring session of the Assembly of 1753, a new county was laid off out of the northern part of Anson and named Rowan in honor of the new president of the province who seems to have had the good will of the northern counties and western settlements as well as the Cape Fear sections; and the two years he administered affairs, the government was well sustained. 

The name Rowan is perpetuated in Rowan County which was established in the spring of 1753 by the General Assembly.  The King, claiming the exclusive right to establish counties, disallowed the act but in 1756 the county was reestablished.  The first court, near where the Indian fight took place, according to tradition, was held in the Jersey settlement, not far from Trading Ford.  At that first term, the court in June 1753 directed that “the court-house, gaol and stocks shall be located where the Irish settlement forks,” and such was the beginning of Salisbury.

From an article originally published in The Heritage of Rowan County, North Carolina by the Genealogical Society of Rowan County.1 Possibly originally published in William Laurence Saunders’s Colonial Records of North Carolina.2

  1. Kathy Sanford Petrucelli, editor, The Heritage of Rowan County, North Carolina (Salisbury, N.C.: Genealogical Society of Rowan County, 1991.)
  2. North Carolina and William L. Saunders, The Colonial Records of North Carolina Volume 5 ( Raleigh: P.M. Hale, printer to the State, 1886), iv.; digital book, HathiTrust (