As told to his son, Robert James Orr McGowan, and written by the son sometime between 1851 - 1868.
Alexander Orr McGowan was born in Ballykeel, County Down, Ireland, September 25, 1812.
After spending his childhood and youth in the home of his paternal grandfather, his father having been an invalid confined to bed for 13 years, he commenced teaching in the vicinity of the place of his birth, at which employment he continued until the opening of the National Training school at Dublin, of which he was either the first or second enrolled student.
His wife, Margaret McKittrick, was born in Lisleen, a parish of Comber, Co. Down, Ireland, March 14, 1813, and their marriage was celebrated at the residence of her mother by the Rev. Francis Blakely of Moneyrea on the 25th day of September, 1837.
After teaching in Ballyhalbert for sometime, the family now increased by the birth of a son, Robert James Orr, born February 10, 1839, removed in the autumn of 1843 to Dunmurray, County Antrim, Mr. McGowan taking charge of the National School at that place. In a short time a new school building was completed, intended for a female school and containing also rooms for the teachers' family as well as accomodation for the village post office, into which they immediately removed, Mrs. McGowan being appointed post mistress in addition to her duties as teacher in the girls' school.
In the vicinity of Dunmurray were many wealthy families in which Mr.McGowans' spare hours were occupied as private tutor, often being engaged from six A.M. until 9 P.M. with only one meal per day at home, breakfast and tea being furnished at the homes of his pupils in order to gain time for all his appointments.
While in Dunmurray, two children were born to them - Adam John, September 14, 1844 and Margaret Ellen, October 15, 1846.
Dunmurray continued to be their residence through the sad scenes of 1846, 1847, and 1848, which with the hope of a better future for their family, induced them to resign their positions as teachers and Mrs. McGowans' as post mistress and prepare for a journey to America. We note here, that although Mr. McGowan had always stood in the front rank of the teachers in the employment of the National Board, and had been in their service over ten years - yet on his request for a testimonial to that effect, he was very politely informed that the National Board of Education did not give testimonials to teachers leaving their services.
They left Belfast for Liverpool April 14, 1849 from which latter port in company with about thirty-five friends and acquaintances, they immediately sailed for New York which they reached after a stormy passage of just five weeks. The party commenced breaking up immediately upon its arrival, some dropped off here and there until on arriving at Carroll County, Ohio, their then destination, there were but three families left.
Ohio not proving satisfactory, in company with one of the families, the head of which was likewise a teacher under the National Board, John McGraw from Colin, they in the spring of 1850 started for Wisconsin, traveling by wagon from Milwaukee to Berlin, near which Mr. McGowan located on government land in the township of Warren and the county of Waushara on which they resided until their decease - he November 9, 1868 and she September 23, 1879.
During their residence in Wisconsin more children were born, David Alexander Orr, July 28, 1851, and Eliza Nessy Mary Jane, June 20, 1853, and Washington Emmett, August 31, 1858.
It is a remarkable coincidence that Mr. McGowan, his father, and grand-father all died from the results of spinal injury; he being thrown from a wagon, the hind wheel of which ran across his body; his father injuring his spine while loading a sack of oats, and his grandfather being injured by a fall from a horse while hunting. Mrs. McGowan's death was caused by an attack of pneumonia to which in her later years she was almost annually subject.
The farm in Warren consisted of about four hundred acres of timber land, through which a road had to be cut in order that the wagons might reach the point on which their house was erected, and which one had to look directly up to see the sky, so dense was the forest, in the clearing and cultivation of which the balance of his life work consisted, outside of public duties to which the franchises of his neighbors called him. He was at various times Justice of the Peace, Notary Public, Assessor, and Superintendent of Schools for which latter positions his training and previous occupation particularly fitted him. Always accomodating, to a fault, ready to give up his own work, pleasure or ease for the benefits of another, he won hosts of friends, while at the same time, his retiring disposition prevented his good qualities and abilities from being as full known and appreciated as they should have been, by the society into which he was thrown in the early settlement of the county, among whom loud declamation and lengthy orations often take the place of study, thought and culture.
Just prior to his death, he deeded the farm to his wife and in the spring of 1878 she divided it among the five remaining children; Mrs. Terrill, (Nessy) as she was familiarly called having died July 1, 1877 a few days after the birth of her first child.
It may be worthy to note that during the troublous times of 1847 and 1848 Mr. McGowan was in strong sympathy with the party of freedom and liberty to such an extent that he was for a long time under government espionage, and as a token of his hatred of despotism handed down to his family his much loved fowling piece which had never been disgraced by the British stamp. Like almost all Irishmen, he, on his arrival in America, affiliated with the Democratic Party, but their action in the Kansas-Nebraska matter drove him into Republicanism, with which party he worked while he lived, voting for Fremont and Lincoln, and was happy in his dying moments to know that Grant was to fill the Presidential chair. Though in Ireland a disciple of John Mitchell, his ideas of liberty were not of that narrow class which asked for the freedom of his own friends and countrymen only, but for the liberation of the worlds' captives be they black or white - he believed with Burns (?) that, "A man's a man for a' that".
His two elder sons took part in the War of the Rebellion, the oldest in the Fifth, Thirty-Third, and afterward the Forty-Seventh Wisconsin Infantry in which latter regiment he held a captain's commission from its organization until the close of the war, and the second son, in the First Wisconsin Calvary.
At the present writing, the family are located as follows - Robert James Orr, as a merchant at Ocheyedan, Iowa - Adam John, a farmer near Ramsey, Dakota - Margaret Ellen (Mrs. James Dunlop) wife of a farmer at Auroraville, Wisconsin - David Alexander Orr and Washington Emmett at Friendship, Wisconsin, the first - a farmer, the latter practicing medicine, being a graduate of Hahnemann College at Chicago, Illinois.