The surviving members of the McCowan family -- three brothers, three sisters and mother -- continued at the south end of Lot 20, Concessions B and C at the edge of the Scarborough Bluffs. Rather isolated by the terrain, this site had probably been chosen for settlement primarily because it was all that was then available at the south end of the Township. From his business experience in Scotland, the father knew only too well the importance of a ready market. Although the steep bank of the pre-historic Lake Iroquois shoreline rose sharply a short distance behind their cabin (thus explaining the availability of the isolated 35 acre tract), a strong horse could draw the results of their labour to the Kingston Road half a mile to the north and then to the markets in York. The family could have, of course, hired themselves out as labourers to established farmers. Such a course of action would not likely have been acceptable to an entrepreneur like James McCowan.
From the available evidence it does appear that the McCowans were independently farming as early as 1836:
From the Home District Directory for 1837 by George Walton, it appears that the family was indeed "staying together" as the only McCowan name listed in Scarborough is that of Robert (the eldest) on Lot 20, Concession C. On June 9, 1838, James Whiteford McCowan, the second son, sold eighteen and a half bushels of oats to Glendinning's store for L1/18/6 so it appears that the family was indeed "into a bit of ground".
It appears that William, the youngest son, may have been the only brother still farming the original McCowan settlement at the end of 1842 as his is the only McCowan name recorded in a lease dated Dec 15:
The subject parcel, about five workable acres on the south-west side of a deep ravine -- Gates Gully -- and immediately adjacent to and east of the south end of Lot 20, Concession C, was of little use to the new owner of Lot 19, Jonathan Gates who lived on the other side of the gully. The previous owner had quite possibly allowed the McCowans to farm this piece rent-free along with their 30 acres of Lot 20. But now, with land becoming more scarce, Gates likely wanted some return on this small but dislocated part of his recent purchase. In addition to the rent, William was obliged to pay all taxes and "also to put up a good and lawful fence along the line between the said piece of land and Lot No. 20 and leave the same in good repair at the end of said term".
Presumably, William McCowan had a similar lease with the owner of Lot 20, Concessions B and C (John Torrance) for at least the south 30 acres.
By mid 1848, only William and his youngest sister, Jane, remained unmarried. As he had resided continuously on the same property, it is very likely that his widowed mother had always lived in his house. But now he was about to move to a new home. On March 6, 1848, he purchased the north half of Lot 13, Concession 4 (100 acres) with 50 pounds down and a mortgage of 550 pounds. So the youngest of the McCowan brothers was the last to leave the original McCowan settlement but the first to buy a farm of his own. David Boyle interviewed William in 1896:
Rowsell's Directory of Toronto and York County lists William McCowan on Lot 13, Con. 4 in 1850. On December 13, 1852, his mortgage was discharged. From the Abstract Index of Deeds we learn that William McCowan purchased the south 60 acres of Lot 13, Concession 1 from William Young in 1869. In 1894 he purchased Lot 15 and the west half of Lot 14, Concession 5 together with the road allowance between the two. Later still in his eighth decade, he purchased the south half of Lot 14, Concession 4. At the time of his death in 1902 he owned about 350 acres.
With his mother and sister, Jane, and, more than likely, most of the family belongings that had come from Scotland, William settled into life in humble quarters on Lot 13, Concession 4 in the northeast part of the Township. While his dwelling will be described under separate headings, we can learn something of his unpretentious existence from the public records and from a few bits of information gleaned from folk who remember his homestead.
The 1871 Census describes what was probably a typical Scarborough farming operation of the period: William McCowan, an unmarried Presbyterian farmer owned 157 acres, (Lot 13, Conc. 4 (100 acres) and Lot 13, Conc. 1), 3 houses, 8 barns/sheds, 2 carriages/sleighs, 3 waggons/sleds, 2 ploughs/ cultivators, 1 reaper/mower, 1 horse rake and 2 fanning mills.
Of his 157 acres, 114 were improved. He had 46 acres of pasture, 35 acres of hay and a 2 acre orchard. His stock included 15 bushels of spring wheat, 160 bushels of barley, 200 bushels of oats, 84 bushels of peas, 12 bushels of buckwheat, 600 bushels of turnips, 2 bushels of grass and clover seed, 3 pounds of grapes, 55 bushels of apples and 5 bushels of pears, plums and other fruit. From 2 1/2 acres he drew at least 180 bushels of potatoes. Five horses over three years, 4 colts and fillies, 5 milch cows, 4 other horned cattle and 14 sheep were also counted. A small herd by recent standards, it may be noted that in a section of north central Scarborough, only Marshall Mackim (Lot 24, Con. 4) and William Purdie (Lot 18, Con. 2) owned more than 53 head of livestock in 1871 (66 and 54 respectively). McCowan's herd of 32 head in 1871 was probably quite respectable.
By 1876, his herd had expanded to include 5 cattle, 43 sheep, 1 hog and 9 horses. By comparison, his brother, James, kept 13 cattle (presumably dairy cows and "other horned cattle"), 3 hogs, 5 horses -- and no sheep -- on his land in southwest Scarborough. William's tendency to keep sheep may indicate a stronger connection with the old ways in the old country. He may have often reflected on the many days that he must have spent tending his father's flock on the Auchanbeg muir.
From A Man and His Home: William Porteous McCowan, 1820-1902