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Balfour Cowen, 1832 – 1898
Honorable Balfour COWEN, (1832 to 1898) of Virden, Macoupin County,Illinois is held in distinction for the loyalty of his citizenship, and for his worth as a man of unblemished character. As a member of the bar his legal attainments have placed him among the most successful of his profession now practicing before the courts of this and adjoining counties. It is therefore with pleasure that we invite the attention of the reader to the following brief account of his life and lineage.
Balfour Cowen comes of sterling New England stock, and is a native of that part of the country, born at Bath, Grafton County, New Hampshire on June 30, 1832. His father, Zachariah Cowen, Jr. was a native of New Hampshire and was a son of Zachariah Cowen, Sr., who is thought to have been born in New England (Lyman, Grafton County, New Hampshire, 1770 to 1846) and to have been of Welsh descent. Grandfather Cowen was a carpenter and millwright, and followed those trades some years in early manhood. He had a decided talent for music, and finally turned his attention to teaching that art, being an instructor in both vocal and instrumental music. His last years were passed in New Hampshire.
Zachariah Cowen, Jr. learned the trade of a bricklayer in his youth, and was engaged in that trade in his native State of New Hampshire until 1835. In that year he left his old home among the Granite hills of New Hampshire to seek a new one on the fertile prairies of this State, (Illinois), being accompanied hither by his wife and three sons. The momentous journey was made entirely by land with a pair of horses and a wagon, in which were carried a portion of the household goods. After three months the little family arrived at its destination in that part of Greene County now included in Jersey County, Illinois. The father entered a quarter of a section of land from the Government, four and one-half miles northeast of Jerseyville, and also bought eighty acres of land on Hawkins Prairie, eight miles northeast of Jerseyville. In the double log cabin that stood on the latter place the family took up its abode, occupying one-half of it, while Mr. Cowen’s brother, William (1809 to1836) took possession of the other part. At that time the surroundingcountry was in its primitive condition, with the exception of the fewimprovements made by the handful of settlers that had located here and there; deer, wild turkeys, wolves and other wild animals still lingered in abundance on the prairies and in the timber. There were no railways, no canals, and no good roads, travelers passing from settlement to settlement over trackless prairies or following some Indian trails.
Mr. Cowen busied himself in preparing land and in putting a crop in the spring of 1836, and then worked at his trade. In July of the same year he was stricken by typhus fever, and on the 29th of that month death cut short his career while he was yet in life’s prime, thus depriving his family of a kind husband and wise father, and the community of a valuable pioneer, whose place it was hard to fill. His brother, William, had died three days previous of the same dreaded disease, and both were buried in the old cemetery at Jerseyville, Jersey County, Illinois.
The mother of our subject, (Balfour Cowen), who bore the maiden name of Mary TITUS, was reared in Colebrook, Grafton County, New Hampshire and was a daughter of Eleazer Titus, VI (one of the earliest pioneers to settle Colebrook, New Hampshire) and Martha (Cleveland) Titus. Eleazer Titus was born at Wichendon, Massachusetts near Attleboro, whence his parents removed to Landaff, New Hampshire in 1764, with their two children, he being born in the arms of his mother who rode on horseback with the other child behind her. The great-grandfather (Samuel Titus, 1733 to 1818) of our subject had visited that part of the country before, and had marked the way by blazing trees. He improved a farm at Landaff, New Hampshire, and there died in the fullness of years. The grandfather of our subject, (Eleazer Titus) passed his early life there, but at the time of his marriage settled on a tract of forest land in Colebrook, Grafton County, New Hampshire.
He developed a fine farm from the wilderness, which is now owned andoccupied by his daughter, Mrs. C. B. LIBBY, and her family. He and his wife are reposing side by side in the little family cemetery (Titus Hill Cemetery) on the home farm where they spent their wedded life and toiled hand in hand to build up a home.
By the death of the father (Zachariah Cowen, Jr.) , the mother (Mary Titus) of our subject (Balfour Cowen) was left a widow with three small children to care for. On January 8, 1839 she married Ezekiel GILLHAM, a native of South Carolina and a pioneer of Jersey County. At that time he was living nine miles north of Alton, on the Grafton road, and there the mother made her home until Mr. Gillham’s death in 1845. She had two children by that marriage – Henry Clay and Mariah. The former died at the age of twenty years. Mariah married Major and Dr. John W. LAWRENCE at Carbondale, Jackson County, Illinois and both are now deceased. Mary Titus was married a third time, October 23, 1855, becoming the wife of the Rev. William JEROME, a native of New York and a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church. They removed to Carbondale, Jackson County, Illinois where he died June 15, 1865.
Mrs. Jerome (Mary Titus), then came to Virden, Macoupin County, Illinois, and resided with her son Llewellyn Cowen until her death, September 25, 1877. She had three children by her first marriage: Llewellyn, Norredden, and Balfour.
Llewellyn Cowen (1828 to 1881) was for a time a teacher, and then engaged in the mercantile business. He married Louisa CONN (1836 to ?) on December 08, 1852 in Jersey County, Illinois. He enlisted March 8, 1862, in Company D, Ninth Illinois Cavalry, and was promoted to the First Lieutenancy, and then to Captain of his company. He served with honor with his regiment until the close of the war, and after that resumed his business as a merchant at Virden, Sangamon County, Illinois carrying it on until 1878. In that year he disposed of his mercantile interests and opened a Home for commercial travelers at Virden, Illinois, which he managed until his death, April 29, 1881.
Norrenden Cowen, Sr. (1829 to 1872) was reared and educated in Jersey County. He married Melvina Jane MURPHY (1828 to 1890) on March 12, 1851 in Montgomery County, Illinois. After selling in his father’s estate to his brothers, he entered Government land near Walshville, Montgomery County, Illinois. He improved a farm, and was a resident there at the time of his enlistment, in August, 1861, in Company L, Third Illinois Cavalry. He was soon commissioned First Lieutenant of his company, and was subsequently promoted to the rank of Captain. In the winter of 1861 – 1862 he was Judge Advocate of a court martial of the Department of Missouri. He was wounded in a skirmish, and on that account was obliged to resign his commission in May, 1861. As soon as he recovered from his injuries he engaged in milling at Litchfield with Messrs. Best and Sparks. Subsequently he went to Carlyle, Clinton County, Illinois to engage in the same business with the same firm of which he became a member, andresided there until his death, October 12, 1872. His wife, Melvina Jane, died in Carlyle, Clinton County, Illinois on February 12, 1890.
Balfour Cowen was but three years old when his parents brought him from his New England birthplace to the frontier wilds of Illinois. The first school that he attended was a free school established by old Dr. Hamilton at Otterville, Illinois and endowed by him. That was before the era of public schools in this State, as then the schools were conducted on the subscription plan. After the death of his stepfather, Ezekiel Gillham, his mother removed with her children to the land which his father had entered from the Government, and she built thereon. The brothers farmed the place together until 1852, when Balfour bought out the interests ofhis brothers and continued to till the soil until 1857. In that year he sold the old homestead and in February, 1858, came to Virden, Illinois to devote himself to mercantile pursuits with his brothers.
Balfour Cowen continued actively engaged in business here until 1862, when he left his partner, Gordon Evans, in charge, in order that he might offer his services to his country to aid in subduing the great rebellion that was threatening the very life of the Union. He enlisted August 13, 1862, in Company G, One Hundred and Twenty-second Illinois Infantry, and was honored by being elected Captain of his company. He was captured December 20, 1862, at Trenton, Tennessee, by Forest’s command in a raid on the Ohio & Mobile Railroad. He was marched under guard one week and was then paroled and sent North, where he was exchanged in the spring of 1863. Our gallant Captain then joined his company at Salisbury, Tennessee, and was with his regiment in all its subsequent campaigns and battles until peacewas declared. He did good service at the battle of Tupelo, inspired his company to do brave deeds at Nashville, Tennessee, and again gave proof of his excellent soldierly qualities and worth as a leader before Ft. Blakely, Alabama. He was honorably discharged with his regiment at Mobile, Alabama, July 15, 1865 but mustered out at Springfield, Illinois on August 9, 1865.
At the close of his military life, Captain Cowen returned to Virden,Illinois and at once commenced the study of law. On April 5, 1867, he was examined before the Supreme Bench and was admitted to the bar, after passing the crucial test successfully, Judges P. H. Walker, Sidney Breeze and C. B. Lawrence signing his certificate. He immediately opened an office at Virden, Illinois and has been in active practice here since. He has an extensive clientage to whose interest he pays the closest attention, and has thus secured the undeunded confidence of all who appeal to him for legal advice, or have entrusted to him the management of important affairs. His standing as one of our best lawyers is too well-known to need comment here.
Mr. Balfour Cowen and Miss Amanda BARTLETT were united in marriage onMarch 29, 1855 in Jerseyville, Jersey County, Illinois, and they have been eminently happy in their domestic relations. Mrs. Amanda Cowen is a native of Wellsville, Maine born December 28, 1834 and a daughter of Joseph WATERMAN and Mary (Twombley) Bartlett. Mr. and Mrs. Cowen have five children – Nora Amanda, Blanche Balfour, Elmer A., Henry Herbert, and Mary Augusta.
Nora Cowen is the wife of Rev. Eben C. Sage, Ph. D., a graduate of Yale College, and pastor of the Grand Avenue Baptist Church, New Haven, Connecticut. They have three children – Nora A., Eben Balfour, and Truman Bartlett.
Elmer Cowen married Miss Nettie Reed, and they have one child. They are residents of St. Joseph, Missouri.
Although chiefly absorbed in his profession, Balfour Cowen has given some of his time and talent to public service, and has filled positions of trust with dignity and ability. He was the first Police Magistrate of Virden, and has served several terms as City Attorney. His fellow citizens honored him and themselves by electing him to represent this district in the Thirty-second Legislative Assembly of the State of Illinois. He cast his first vote for J. C. Fremont, and has ever since been a staunch supporter of the Republican party. Socially he is a valued member of John Baird Post, No. 285, G. A. R., and of Virden Lodge, No. 161, A.F. & A. M.
Source: Portrait and biographical record of Macoupin County, Illinois: containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens of the county, together with biographies of all the governors of the state, and of the presidents of the United States. Chicago: Biographical Pub. Co., 1891, 893 pgs.
Contributed by Joe W. Cowing [email protected]