DEYE OWINGS By
W. T. Block
of Maryland, Kentucky and Texas
and Military Hero
Deye Owings was the scion of several prominent colonial Baltimore families. He
was a colonel and hero of the War of 1812 [and] was Kentucky's original industrialist
and iron master, also holding several political offices. He was also commissioned
by Stephen F. Austin in Jan. 1836 to raise 2 regiments of Kentuckians to fight
for Texas Independence from Mexico, sacrificing as a result the life of one of
his sons during the Goliad
Massacre. Nevertheless, Owings lived the last 16 years of his life in total
obscurity and anonymity at Brenham,
Texas, and died there in 1853.|
Deye Owings was born at Cockeysville, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore, on March
7, 1776. He was the first son born to the John Cockey Owings and wife, Colegate
Deye Colegate Owings. His older sister, Cassandra Van Pradelles, was lost at sea
c. 1813/1814, and according to her legend, was a victim of Lafitte pirates. T.
D. Owings was born into the colonial middle to upper class society, who inhabited
a series of 2-story mansions, such as Sherwood or Bellefield; owned many slaves,
and generally relied on tobacco culture for export to England. Although not heretofore
mentioned, the Owings children are believed to have been educated by private tutors.|
Other than tobacco farms, Cockeysville was also surrounded by several deposits
of iron ore, probably hematite of about 50% purity, as well as of marble and limestone
, which eventually accounted for many small quarries. By 1774 the North Hampton
iron furnace was already producing pig iron, later supplying cannon balls and
canister shot used by the Continental Army. Thomas' father, many of his uncles,
and his future brother-in-law, the French Lieutenant Benedict Van Pradelles, were
all veterans of the American Revolution, some of them present at the Battle of
Yorktown. Hence, it was probably the fortunes of the North Hampton iron furnace,
which created Capt. John C. Owings' interest in iron-smelting in Kentucky.
It is unknown how John Cockey Owings became so interested in territorial Kentucky
property, which at one time was part of Virginia, but Christopher Greenup, later
one of J. C. Owing's partners and governor of Kentucky, is one possibility. Another
possibility was Jacob Meyers, who in 1782 acquired a 10,000-acre tract of Kentucky
land, which patent was signed by Virginia Gov. Patrick Henry, and Meyers began
building the Slate Creek iron mill (later the Bourbon iron furnace) in 1787. During
the late 1780s, John Cockey Owings began making significant land purchases in
present-day Bourbon and Bath counties, Kentucky, which eventually included the
Meyers tract, and may have reached a total of 70,000 acres. The writer believes
that John C. Owings engaged his future son-in-law, Benedict Van Pradelles, to
oversee his property in Kentucky, and David Owings reported to the writer that
in 1790 Van Pradelles advertised in the Lexington Gazette for recovery of a lost
pocketbook, which contained papers written in French. In 1790 Van Pradelles married
Owings' oldest daughter Cassandra and left immediately for France.
Bourbon iron furnace went online (blast) in 1790, and in May 1791, was purchased
by John Cockey Owings and Company, a joint stock company, which included Owings,
Greenup, Walter Beall and Willis Green. In 1794 additional partners were added.
In 1795 John Cockey Owings emerged as sole owner.
In 1795 J. C. Owings
sent his 19-year-old son, Thomas Deye Owings, to Kentucky to oversee his lands,
and to manage the Bourbon iron furnace and grist mill. Despite his [young] age,
T. D. Owings was married before he left Baltimore in 1795.
reported that: "...The Slate Furnace, also known as the Bourbon Furnace, was built
by Jacob Meyers. It was later bought and operated by a syndicate headed by John
Cockey Owings, for whom Owingsville is named. This furnace was built just 16 years
after the building of Boonesboro. A fort was constructed for the protection of
workers (and manned by 17 Kentucky militiamen). At least one of the early iron
workers was killed by hostile (Shawnee) Indians. Incidentally it was the iron
furnace, which furnished cannon balls and canister shot used by Andrew Jackson
at the Battle of New Orleans..."
The Bourbon furnace was the first iron-smelting
operation built west of Allegheny Mountains. The furnace first began to make 10-gallon
pots for boiling out salt at the Salt Lick Springs, but the pioneer needs soon
forced the owners to make cut nails, pots and other cooking utensils, horse shoes,
axe blades, hoes, stoves, plow shares, pig iron and bar iron.
machinery was energized by a water wheel turning in Slate Creek. The "ore mines,"
composed of high grade hematite or magnetite ore about 50% pure, were located
at Howard Hills and Black Horse Banks, about 2 miles from the furnace, and 3 tons
of ore, pulled by oxen, were needed to produce 1 ton of pig iron. Products, which
included cannon balls and canister shot, were hauled over the Iron Furnace Pike
to Frankfurt on Kentucky River, from whence they were floated to Ohio River and
to all points in the Midwest, as well as to New Orleans in time for the battle
there in 1815.
Actually, 3 original ledgers and one account book survive
between 1796 and 1818 of the Bourbon furnace. One ledger is in chronological order
from Jan. 15, 1796 until Nov. 30, 1797. All four items are deposited in the archives
of East Library at the University of Kentucky. Originally the location consisted
only of the furnace and grist mill. In 1798 the Slate Forge was built on Slate
Creek, 3 miles from the furnace. In 1811 a commissary was built at the furnace
for the convenience of the iron workers, but in 1814 it was moved into Owingsville.
In 1810 Thomas D. Owings became sole owner of the furnace. And whatever else there
is to say, it became obvious by 1812 that Owings was becoming quite wealthy. It
seems strange, however, that none of this was reflected in the will of John Cockey
Owings in Baltimore, written in Feb. 1810, shortly before his death. The will
stated that Owings had left only $1 to his oldest son, Thomas Deye Owings, and
nothing at all to is oldest daughter, the widow Cassandra Deye Van Pradelles,
who at the time was running a boarding house in New Orleans. Nearly all of his
property was left to his younger children.
Following his first wife's death
Ca. 1801, Thomas Deye Owings married Mary Nicholas in Lexington on March 17, 1804,
the daughter of Col. George Nicholas of Kentucky and Mary Smith of Baltimore.
Their progeny included Thomas Cockey Deye, George Nicholas, John Cockey, Colegate
Deye, Mary Nicholas, Robert Smith, ( massacred at Goliad, Texas, Mar. 27, 1836),
John Cockey 2, Jul 26, 1847 (killed in the Mexican War on July 26, 1847), and
The new Owings home was indeed pleasing in appearance, and
included kitchen, servants' quarters, and basement. He hired Benjamin Latrobe
of Washington to design and build the residence, using hand-carved woodwork and
mantels, made from black walnut wood. There was a wide hall in the center of the
building from whence a spiral staircase, made of mahogany, was built up to the
third floor. The stairway was built in Baltimore, and its parts were hauled across
the mountains to Owingsville in ox carts. In 1813 the staircase had cost $10,000,
and the entire mansion had cost $60,000, a magnificent sum in that age. Today
the "Col. Owings House," the Owings House, or Owingsville Banking Company is occupied
by a banking institution, a lawyer, and others. It is listed in the National Register
of Historical Places. The surviving stones of the Bourbon furnace are also listed,
being now within a highway roadside park, an effort successfully completed jointly
by the Owingsville Jaycees and the state Highway Department. The park and iron
furnace ruins were dedicated on July 1, 1969.
Deye Owings exhibited his patriotism during the War of 1812. He raised a regiment
of 377 soldiers, and on April 1, 1813, he received a commission as colonel of
the 28th U. S. Infantry. He immediately attached his Kentucky regiment to General
Shelby's army, which in Sept. 1813 became a part of General W. H. Harrison's army
of the Northwest. The latter's troops captured Detroit on Sept. 29th. Gens. Harrison,
Shelby and about 3,500 soldiers under their command continued to press British
General Proctor and his Shawnee Indian allies. Eventually they defeated them at
the Battle of the Thames, northwest of Detroit, during which time the Shawnee
Chief Tecumseh was killed.
Col. Owings distinguished himself once more
in battle when 28 soldiers from his regiment joined Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's
fleet as sharpshooters in the rigging of the ships. After Perry lost his flagship
Lawrence, he continued the fight aboard the Niagara until he defeated the British
fleet at the Battle of Lake Erie, fought on Sept. 10, 1813.Another interesting
saga in Thomas D. Owings' life occurred in 1814, when Owings was on a visit to
Baltimore and he met Louis Phillipe of France, the son of the Duke of Orleans.
Louis Phillipe, although he had been a successful general under Napoleon, had
been exiled in 1813 because of a suspected plot against the republic. Owings invited
the dapper French aristocrat to visit his home in Kentucky. According to family
records, Louis Phillipe remained Owings' guest from July 17, 1814 until July 22,
1815, after which the French nobleman returned to France and reclaimed his estates.
Replacing King Charles X on the throne, Louis Phillipe was crowned "King of the
French," following a revolution in 1830. He remained on the throne until 1848,
when another liberal revolution toppled him, and he fled in exile to England.
Actually another account claimed the visitor was an imposter.
law under Col. Nicholas between 1797 and 1798. He was elected and served in the
Kentucky House of Representatives from 1815 until 1818. He also served as Associate
Judge of the First Circuit Court in 1811, and years later he was elected state
senator in 1823.
seems logical; too, that Stephen F. Austin of Texas had at least a passing acquaintance
with Thomas D. Owings, although the first offer for Kentucky troops passed from
Owings to Austin. By Nov. 1835, solicitations for troops to fight in the Texas
Revolution against Mexico were published up and down the Mississippi and Ohio
River valleys from New Orleans to Cincinnati, and Owings may simply have responded
to that request. By 1798 Austin was living at the lead mines in Missouri, and
since Austin graduated from Transylvania College and remained in Lexington, Kentucky,
until 1810, the probability is great that the two men first met at that point.
A few extracts from Austin's letter to T. D. Owings, dated New Orleans, Jan. 18,
T. D. Owings|
Your offer to furnish one or more regiments, not to
exceed 1,500 men, to be in Texas March next, armed and equipped for the service
of Texas … your offer is accepted - The Regiment … will be received into the service
of Texas on terms…enacted by the Provisional Government by their ordinance of
Dec. 5 …The expense of arming and equipping said force … will be refunded to you
at the close of the war… On your arrival, you will report yourself to the Governor
of Texas or the Commander in Chief of the Army… The bounty lands for the volunteers
are to be located under the direction of the government. - S. F. Austin
long before the date of the foregoing letter, Thomas D. Owings was already active
in recruiting Kentucky volunteers for the Texas Army. On Dec. 25, 1835, Robert
Smith Owings, T. D. Owings' son, enlisted in Capt. Burr H. Duval's company of
"Kentucky Mustangs." By the end of Jan. 1836, Duval's company of Bardstown, the
Paducah group of Capt. Peyton S. Wyatt's company, and Capt. Amon B. King's Paduacah
Volunteers were already at New Orleans, awaiting shipment to Texas. Both R. S.
Owings, Duval and 75 other Kentuckians were murdered at the Goliad
On Jan. 20, 1836, Austin wrote Gov. Henry Smith that he had
engaged Col. Owings to enlist 1,500 men for service in Texas. On Jan. 24, 1836,
while aboard the schooner Tuscarora, Austin wrote Gov. Smith that he (Austin)
had directed Texas agent William Bryan to provide $35,000 worth of articles for
Col. T. D. Owings' troops. On Jan. 28th, Bryan's report to the governor showed
that $5,000 had been deposited for Owings in the Bank of Orleans.
16, 1836 Austin, while soliciting in Nashville, Tennessee, wrote a letter to his
cousin, Mary Austin Holley, that Col. T. D. Owings was en route from Kentucky
with a regiment of troops for the Texas Army. On March 27, 1836 (the same day
that 75 of his Kentuckians, about one-quarter of Col. James Fannin's ill-fated
army, were massacred at Goliad) Samuel M. Williams, Austin's secretary at San
Felipe, wrote from New Orleans that: "...Col. Owings is on the march with 1,400
men, left Maysville on March 12th, is armed principally with U. S. Yagers (muskets)..."
In April, 1836, William Bryan, purchasing agent for Texas, wrote President D.
G. Burnett that: "...the $5,000 in the bank for Col. Owings has been used by us,..
Not one dollar of means is now left... and the result will be that Col. Owings
will lose the large amount he has expended on us..." From the last letter, it
appeared likely the Thomas D. Owings personally paid for the recruitment, arming
and transportation for his Kentucky troops with no monetary remuneration from
the Republic of Texas. And because of the quick termination of the war, many of
Owings troops never experienced any military action. However he later was awarded
4 land grants from the State of Texas, which was probably intended as reimbursement
for his expenses during the Revolution. Also Thomas D. Owings drew as sole heir
the last pay of his massacred son, Robert S. Owings, although the latter's name
was garbled either as Robert G. Owings or Charles Robert Owings in the Revolutionary
Deye Owings never returned to Kentucky to live, except possibly for a couple visits,
after 1836, and the last sixteen years of his life again are marked by extensive
obscurity. Also, why he chose Brenham, Texas as a place to live is also marked
with mystery. In 1838 it was a very sparsely-populated rural community known as
Hickory Grove, when it changed its named to Brenham in 1843, and in 1844 became
the county seat of Washington County. T. D. Owings lived to have two more of his
sons predecease him, the first being Thomas Cockey Deye Owings, who died there
in October, 1837, still single. The second son was John Cockey Owings, who also
fought during the Texas Revolution, and died at Brenham in July, 1847, also still
single. They were the first members of the Owings family to be buried in the Old
Masonic Cemetery in Brenham.
During the sixteen or seventeen years of Thomas D. Owings residence in Texas,
it would appear that he was neither penniless nor enduring poverty. He was apparently
involved considerably in land speculation, and other than his land grants from
the State of Texas, he purchased ten tracts of land from private sources. When
the 1850 Washington County, Texas census was enumerated, Thomas D. Owings was
recorded at residence 200, page 299-A, living in the household of Rebecca and
A. G. Compton, who was a Brenham merchant with $8,000 of assets. Perhaps Owings
was away at census time, and Mrs. Compton reported several incorrect items. T.
D. Owings was listed as being born in Texas rather than Maryland; no assets for
him were reported, and the census listed his age as 65 when in fact he was actually
age 74. In his article, George Stone reported that Owings died in his home on
October 6, 1853, so most likely he allowed the Compton family to live in his home,
in return for cooking and care during his geriatric years. T. D. Owings was age
77 at the time of his death, and he was the third Owings family member to be buried
in the Old
article would be remiss without adding a paragraph about Major John Calvin Mason
and his wife Ann Eliza Owings. Mason was born in Mount Sterling, Kentucky in 1802,
and he graduated from Mount Sterling Law School and Transylvania College in 1823.
From about 1826 until 1838, he owned and operated the Bourbon iron furnace. He
served in the Kentucky House of Representatives for 2 terms. In 1846 he enlisted
during the Mexican War in Col. Ben McCulloch's Texas Rangers, Worth's Division,
under Gen. Zachary Taylor. Mason was wounded at the Battle of Monterrey and he
was "appointed quartermaster with the rank of major following gallantry in battle
in the field..."
While returning from the war, Mason stopped in Texas
long enough to marry Ann Eliza Owings, T. D. Owings' daughter, in San Antonio
in 1847; the newlyweds soon returned to Kentucky. Mason was elected to the 31st,
32nd, and 35th U. S. Congresses, and he was an elector to the Democratic National
Convention in Charleston in 1860. When Mason found himself so close to the Ohio
River while living in a slave state in 1861, he moved his family to Brenham,
Texas. Already age 60, Mason served the Confederacy in the Brenham Graybeards
of the Texas State Troops in 1863. In 1864 his wife Ann Eliza Mason died, leaving
a houseful of infants and children, and she was the last Owings family member
to be buried in Brenham. Mason
died aboard a steamship at New Orleans in 1865, and Kentucky brought his remains
back to the State Cemetery in Frankfurt. Afterward, their oldest daughter brought
her siblings back to Kentucky to live. However, all records or markers of 4 Owings
burials at Brenham, Texas appear to be lost.
Marker Text (partial) from the 2006 marker placed at the gate of the Masonic
Cemetery in Brenham. TE photo,
November 12, 2006|
Thomas Deye Owings was an American hero in every sense of the word, having distinguished
himself in battle in 1813. He was Kentucky's pioneer industrialist, having earned
a fortune while operating the first iron smelter, located west of Allegheny Mountains.
He was a socialite who built a very exclusive mansion in Owingsville, where Henry
Clay, Prince Louis Phillipe, and a host of others were often entertained. The
State of Kentucky, the Daughters of the American Revolution and perhaps others
have honored him often on several historical markers.
Stephen F. Austin
engaged Col. Owings to raise 2 regiments of troops to fight in the Texas Revolution,
and 75 of them were brutally slain during the Goliad
Massacre. In spite of his Texas Revolutionary achievements, the remains of
Thomas Deye Owings rest today in the the Masonic
Cemetery in Washington County in total anonymity and oblivion, and no one
in Texas bothers to remember who he was.
W. T. Block, Jr. |
November 14, 2006 column
note: A detailed and illustrated bio of Thomas Deye Owings can be found on the
author's website. The above is a condensed version of that article
Note: This oversite
was corrected on November 11, 2006 with the dedication of a historical marker
at the Masonic Cemetery gate as well as an upright marble VA marker within the