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Alfred Rowe
Marcella McCormack

Alfred Rowe and his wife Marcella McCormack were both born in Giles County, Tennessee. Alfred was born to parents Joseph and Mary Asa (Carden) Rowe on February 26, 1821 and Marcella was born to John McCormack Sr. and his wife Mary "Polly" Birdwell on February 23, 1823. Thanks to a lengthy lawsuit filed in the Chancery Court at Pulaski in which Alfred and Marcella were named as co-defendants with her six siblings and some of their spouses, we have some knowledge about the life of Marcella as a child.

Marcella was the fourth born daughter of John and Mary McCormack. She had 3 older sisters and 2 younger, as well as a baby brother, when her father died in 1830. Mary Birdwell McCormack, who family lore says took in washing to survive and support her children, quickly remarried in 1832 to Josiah Phelps, a widower. Trouble came about later when Josiah decided to sue the children for Mary’s dower rights in a tract of land left to the 7 children by their father. The lawsuit is quite revealing in that depositions were taken from many people and it gives a remarkable insight into just what early life was like for poor folks in Giles County, Tennessee: meat, sugar and coffee were luxuries; the 6 daughters of John McCormack made all of their clothes, sheets and other textiles by hand from start to finish...spinning the thread, weaving the cloth, then cutting and sewing the clothes (as well as all the clothes for their parents and 5 step-siblings, and some of the slaves). As females they were considered next to worthless by Josiah Phelps as they could not work the farm, as was their younger brother John McCormack Jr. who was born in 1830. The girls were made to live in one out-building on the land, while Josiah, Mary and the 5 children they later had together lived in the main house; Marcella frequently had to cut and carry firewood for "her" family unit so that they could cook and keep warm.

Marcella married Alfred Rowe in about the year 1841. (Ultimately the children lost the suit to Phelps and were forced to sell the land in question to him in order to settle the judgement against them.) They remained in Giles County until after 1880, and became the parents of 11 children.

The first, James K. Polk Rowe, was born in 1842. He went away to the Civil War, and the story goes he was killed by Union Soldiers who tied him to a tree, shot him and left him to die. He was unmarried. His brother William Samuel was born in 1844 and remains untraced. Seven of the remaining nine children left Tennessee with their parents after 1880 and went to the as-yet wild, sparsely settled country in Montague County, Texas, where Indians still occasionally threatened the settlers. Two sisters, Virginia Frances and Mary Eliza, who were 2 years apart in age, died in an epidemic of some kind in Giles County within 5 days of each other in 1854 and were interred in a common grave in Bee Spring Cemetery. The other children were: John Thomas, who married Sarah A. Woodward; Martha Caledonia, my ancestress, who married Calvin Arthur Butler of Lincoln Co. TN and went to Oklahoma; George Milton who married Martha Mahan; Levi Calvin who married Jennie Cornet; Charlie Nathaniel who married Ada C. Burke, Walter Allen, and Henry W. Rowe. All later lived and raised families in Texas and Oklahoma.

Prior to leaving Tennessee, records can be found for Alfred. He purchased land of his own in Giles County in 1843, and in 1845 was willed a farm by his father Joseph. He donated land for the Bethany Church. He purchased land in the estate sale of his brother Eleazer Carden Rowe in 1866. In 1884, Marcella returned to her home, Giles County, to visit friends and relations. A brief mention in the Pulaski Citizen dated 31 January 1884 states: "From Bryson: Mrs. Alfred Rowe was there from Texas. She said she had tried Texas but could not call it home."

Alfred Rowe died in Dye, Montague County, Texas on August 12, 1892. Marcella lived to a very old age and died November 23, 1916. She stayed on the land they had claimed her entire life, and the newspapers for that time have several articles about huge family reunions that took place at the Rowe farm, where frequently an entire "beef" was roasted to feed everyone who came. She ran the farm in her later years with the help of her son Charlie Nathaniel and his wife and daughter. The two existing photographs of her show a plucky little woman of Irish descent who overcame a terrible and abusive childhood, exhibited an undaunted pioneer spirit, and become the matriarch of a large clan of independent Texans and Oklahomans.


Submitted by:Regina Roper