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Table of Contents
Outline for a Historical Drama
With I Hope a New Face
The Story of a Newcomer to a New Land
James McCowan, 1773-1834
James McCowan's story is fascinating. Some of the
events in his life that could make for interesting and
entertaining drama are listed below in the suggested "scenes". The central theme
should be "entrepreneurial values brought into Canada by
immigrants". James McCowan had essentially been a serf in Ayrshire coal mines
until emancipation in 1799. He then
started his own coal operation as a "Coalmaster" in Lanarkshire. He was
bankrupted two decades later, due partly to the efforts of a Glasgow coal cartel. He then
farmed full-time and was involved in cattle-breeding. Another bankruptcy
in 1831 and social turmoil in Scotland sent him to Scarborough, Canada, in 1833. Along
with his wife, Margaret Porteous, and eight children aged 3 to 19 years, he brought to
Canada his values -- including profound respect for freedom, order, individuality, faith,
family, honest toil and material wealth.
Immigration is an important issue today. Immigrants can and do bring valuable non-tangible assets to the
Canadian mosaic. The McCowan family immigrated to Scarborough in 1833. Their experience as
new Canadians, although different in many ways, has
some striking similarities to the experience of new Canadians today. The James McCowan
Memorial Social History Society has published several books and
booklets about the social history of Scarborough.
Additional Educational Component -- Information
Ewart Young was a next-door neighbour and a classmate of Ashley McCowan (both born in
1886). They lived on adjacent farms at McCowan Road and Kingston Road. Many Scarborough
residents including two of Ashley's great uncles, James W. and William
P. McCowan, were interviewed by David Boyle in 1896 during
preparation of The History of Scarboro. Ewart Young
later co-founded the brokerage firm, McLeod Young and Weir. Ashley aspired to a corporate
"new economy" career but he was convinced by his father to stay on the farm
(details in Neigh the Front.)
One evening, Ewart was visiting his friend, Ashley. David Boyle
arrived at the house to interview Ashley's great-uncles, James W. McCowan (82 years of
age) and William P. McCowan (76) and Ashley's father, Robert McCowan
(later Reeve or Mayor of Scarborough). (Robert's father, the eldest brother, had died in
1886.) The boys were thrilled by the early development of the market economy in Lowland
Scotland as experienced by the father of James W. and William P. McCowan.
The story could be "told" through the interviews that David Boyle held with
William P. and James W. McCowan. More importantly, the attentive youths, Ewart and Ashley,
could engage in the interpretive and analysis process as the
seniors relate the story of entrepreneurial and social challenges. The drama could
periodically flash forward to the kitchen table discussion in 1896.
Some sample dialogue here...
A detailed historical bibliography is available
from Bruce McCowan, Co-Chairman, The James McCowan Memorial Social History Society, 19
Monarchwood Cres., Don Mills, Ontario, M3A 1H3, 416-447-4895 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Personal letters, account books and receipts, Church records, court papers, James' personal library of religious and history books and many secondary
sources are available. Family statistics associated with radical economic change are on
this web site.
(Old Cumnock, Ayrshire, 1793-1799)
Ewart Young visiting his friend, Ashley McCowan. David Boyle arrives at
the house to interview Ashley's great-uncles, James W. McCowan and William P. McCowan and
Ashley's father. The stories begin...
James McCowan hewing at the coalface of the Earl
of Dumfries' Garlaff Coalworks, 1793, with his fourteen year old brother, William,
"drawing" the coal away on a sled.
Family mealtime discussions of the impending legislation that was to
grant emancipation to all "bound" Scottish coalminers in 1799. Followed by the usual family
evening bible reading.
Argument with the Earl of Dumfries' Factor (property manager) regarding
limited opportunities to manage coalworks in Old Cumnock
Parish, Ayrshire, 1798.
Negotiations with James Corbett, Proprietor of Stockbriggs in
Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, for the lease of Auchanbeg Coalworks, 1799.
(Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, 1799-1812)
Departure of his brother, David, to
Trinidad, 1800. Also evidently emancipated in 1799, David later married a native of
Death of James' first wife, 1804, at the age of 20.
Installing the steam engine in about 1810, not
the first in Lanarkshire, but certainly one of the earliest in that part of the County.
Delivering coal and lime on a lonely road: ("highway robbery"
An accident in the coalmine: (accidents were
The Ladies' Man
(Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, 1813)
"Marriage Negotiations" with two young ladies, both of whom
were pregnant by him (August 1813).
"Compearing" before the Kirk Session for certain wrong-doings
with one of these young ladies, 1813. A few minutes later, finalizing upcoming wedding
plans with the other young lady (Margaret Porteous).
(Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, 1815-1820)
Baptism of his nephew visiting with parents from Trinidad, 1815.
Argument over money that brother David McCowan owes to James.
Meeting with creditors and the "Judicial Factor", 1817.
Discussions of the "squeeze-play" by a cartel of wealthy Glasgow Coalmasters.
Contracting the embankment of the River Nethan after floods, 1817.
Installing iron rails in the mine, perhaps one of the early underground
iron tracks in that part of Lanarkshire (1817).
Meeting with Judicial Factor and the other offerors regarding the
renewal of the lease on the Coalworks, 1818.
Argument with his brother, John, over some finances at the end of the
family coalworks era.
Served with bankruptcy papers, 1820. Followed by discussion with wife,
Margaret, of what to do next.
(Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, 1829-1832)
Argument with the Landlord regarding large farm
rent increase, 1829 and meeting with an arbitrator.
Taking bull to neighbouring farms, 1830, for breeding purposes.
Baptism of his daughter, Jean, and Alexander Muir
at the same time, 1830. (Alex Muir later wrote "The Maple Leaf Forever".)
Confrontation with the Sheriff's Officer, 1831, regarding petition for
bankruptcy -- taking inventory of James' farm and personal
Great Reform Bill parade in the village of
Lesmahagow, 1832. (Some tenants were granted the right to vote at this time.) Argument on
the subject of politics and reform.
(Springbank, Scarborough, 1833
On the sailing ship to Canada, May 1833, with
several other Scarborough families including the Weirs, Muirs, Tackets and Gibsons.
Discussion of what to expect in Canada. Martha Weir flirts with James' son, James W. These
two eventually marry.
Arrival in Scarborough -- meeting with John Torrance to arrange a lease
of an isolated farm beside the Scarborough Bluffs. (The
trail through Gates Gully to get to the farm is, more or less, part of the Toronto
Building the first log cabin at "Springbank".
Confrontation with American smugglers carrying goods up Gates Gully, fall 1833.
Argument on a religious subject with an elder following a Service at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church.
Death of daughter, Mary Ann, of typhus fever, July 1834.
At bedside of son, William, who was "very ill of cholera",
August 20, 1834. Writing his last letter -- sets it aside.
Death of son, David, followed a few minutes later by death of James
McCowan himself, of cholera (Aug. 28, 1834): James' last words to his children. One of the
children notices the letter that had not been mailed. They decide to treasure it, rather
than mail it.
The McCowans' Who's Who
The Scarboro Heights Record V9
Visitors Since Jan. 3, 2002