The Story behind the Stone – the families, estates and stories of Kirkmichael, Cullicudden, the Black Isle and beyond

John Cowe, the Grieve at Braelangwell, his wife Jane Peter, and the Poppelwell family

text: Dr Jim Mackay    photography as set out below each image

This was one of the most challenging families to investigate. John Cowe was the grieve or overseer at Braelangwell in the early 1800s. The job of grieve was a paid position, and John Cowe’s annual salary was £40, a handsome sum, well above salaries of other employees of the Braelangwell Estate.

The doocot and Braelangwell steading, familiar territory for the Braelangwell grieve!

Kirkmichael Trust Guided Tour of Braelangwell House, where David Urquhart of Braelangwell resided; photo by Andrew Dowsett

Cowe is an unusual surname for the area, and he married Jean Peter, with Peter also being an unusual surname for the area, so the combination of names would make their origins easy to identify. You would think. In reality, I still do not know the origins of either John Cowe or Jean Peter. Their children were almost as difficult to track down, and it was just a fluke that his daughter Jessie turned up – and what a story there is there!

The proprietor of the estate, David Urquhart of Braelangwell (1748–1811), had trained as a doctor and had gone to the far east when younger. One of his servants, later a successful accountant, William Macao (c1750s–1831), was Chinese, and is worthy of half a dozen stories in his own right. I don’t think David Urquhart recruited John Cowe from so far afield, but you never know! I note that the 1880 Californian census required the country of birth not only of the person being entered but also of his or her father and mother, and for Jessie, daughter of John Cowe and Jean Peter, both parents were recorded as having been born in Scotland. However, I never fully trust a Census return.

Whilst the family name was usually spelled Cowe, I noted in the records that it was sometimes recorded as Cowie. However, I am informed by the Trust’s linguistic expert, who knows someone called Cowe, that the name is pronounced “Cowie” so it is to be expected that occasionally that is also how it is spelled.


A Brief Summary of the Cowe Family

I don’t know when grieve John Cowe died, other than it was sometime between 1825 and 1844. I think from the context of later references to him that he never departed from Braelangwell.

His spouse Jean Peter died on 5 May 1818, aged 28 years, indicating a birth year of approximately 1790. She must have married as a teenager. She never had much of a life, poor woman.

Son John Cowe, born 1809, I have not been able to track.

Son Robert Cowe, born 1810, became a farm agent in Norfolk, and his sister Jessie lived with him, until he died, a young man, in 1843.

Son David Cowe, born 1813, died in Resolis on 20 July 1818, in his fifth year.

Daughter Jessie Cowe, born 1814, had an eventful life. She was residing with her brother Robert in Norfolk and was “of Independent Means” in 1841. Following Robert’s death in 1843, she came up to the Borders to marry a rich farmer in 1844 at Sunwick, Berwickshire. I am pleased to say that the excellent Jessie didn’t marry anyone called Smith, Jones or Mackenzie – to assist future family historians the Borders farmer she married was called George Poppelwell. Bless her. Born in Resolis, she died in San Francisco in 1888.

Did John Cowe remain as grieve for the rest of his life? There is just a suggestion in how he is referred to in a later newspaper that he had moved from being grieve to becoming the tenant of Braelangwell Mains himself. When his daughter Jessie married, her father was described in the announcement in the Kelso Chronicle as “the late Mr. John Cowe, Braelangwell” which may have been a bit of puff or potentially a true reflection of Cowe’s final position.

By the 1841 Census John Cowe and his family had all died in, or departed from, Resolis. We know from his daughter’s wedding announcement in 1844 that he was deceased by that time but he may well have died long before the 1841 Census return. There are very few records of this period from the Braelangwell Estate but new material is always turning up so this Story will be updated when more on John Cowe and Jean Peter emerges.


The Grieve and the Estate Accounts

David Urquhart of Braelangwell, the proprietor, died in 1811. He had prepared in 1809 a detailed settlement (with one of the witnesses “John Cowie Grieve at Braelangwell”) partly to establish a tailzie in order to pass the estate on to his son, Charles Gordon Urquhart. In the end, the estate was sold to cover the family debts.

John Cowe as grieve had kept detailed farm accounts in relation to all the financial aspects of the practical working of the estate, including payment of day workers on the estate, transactions in grain, cereals and meal, buying and selling of livestock, payment of construction and maintenance work and so on.

The daily work recorded by John Cowe; note the heavy reliance on female workers in the field. For “Parsons Imployed” read “Persons Employed” – you don’t need to be a minister to hoe. For “howen”, “howne”, “houne” and “hun” read “hoeing”

Many of his accounts for the period roughly from 1805 to 1815 must have formed some part of legal process as they may be found in the Court of Session records in the National Archives in Edinburgh (CS4500 to CS4511). They represent a treasure trove of information on life and expenses of a Black Isle Estate.

By the Shirers at Drumcudon for the hervest 14.14.-
By Alexr Simpson for putting one the Ruff on Springfield Squair 11.13.8
By James Holm for a Gallon of whisky for Mr Urquhart 2.5.-
By James Holm for 24 pints of whisky for Mr Urquharts feunaral 6.12.-

The revolution in agricultural improvement comes through strongly in Cowe’s accounts. In the following, apart from killing the poor moles, you can see the extent of draining and ditching going on, with elsewhere liming and new varieties of crops also being introduced

John Cowe’s record of work on the land

And they contain much insight into the Laird’s family relationships. David Urquhart was providing meal to his sister Bettie Urquhart in Inverness and to Captain Munro at Chapelton. The good Captain had married Urquhart’s illegitimate daughter Sophia Urquhart, and the arrangement was continued after Urquhart’s death directly with Sophia (“Capton Munros weddow”) following the murder of Captain Munro. David Urquhart was charitably providing homes free from rent for his retired servants – every page of the accounts contains a story. And all written by John Cowe, the grieve.

John Cowe’s accounts of disposition of meal are of considerable social interest

John Cowe’s spellling was extremely variable and you just have to learn that, for instance, when he writes workers were “gethron quickens” they were actually gathering quickens, or couch grass. “By the ferey men for Croson with a letter -.-.6” is easy enough. “By Salt petter & Crim of tarter for horses -.2.-” – the poor horses! “By Colon Munro for Caston 306 Roods of Ditches one New mill at 1/7 pr Rood 24.4.6” – it all makes perfect sense when you think it through. His phonetic style of spelling may in fact suggest to a linguist where his origins lay!

The first record we have of John Cowe in the parish registers is early in 1809. It is recorded that John Cowe, son of John Cowe overseer Braelangwell and his spouse Jane Peter was born on 29 January and baptised 7 February 1809. There is no record in UK registers of the time of their marriage, but given that Jean Peter was born about 1790 (from her age on her memorial in Kirkmichael) then they could not have been married long!


The sale of Braelangwell

The sale of the Estate of Braelangwell was a protracted affair, as it had to go through various legal hoops before being sold by judicial process. John Cowe was kept in place by the trustees following the death of the proprietor. As part of the process, a detailed plan of the estate was commissioned from surveyor George Brown. The estate at this time was much more extensive than was once the case – it included Springfield, Agneshill, Drumcudden, Gordon’s Mills, Woodhead, Easter and Wester Brae, Drumdyre and St Martins, as well as the core Braelangwell estate. The extant copy of the plan, drawn in 1812, has the names of contemporary tenants like Barry Ferguson (Barrington Ferguson) scrawled upon it upon their holdings, but not in the hand of John Cowe!

Extract of plan of Braelangwell Estate, drawn by George Brown, in 1812 – when John Cowe was grieve. The field names like “Kilnwallachie” and “Kinnachy” are helpful in interpreting the farm work described in John Cowe’s accounts.

There was a series of advertisements nationally in mid-1812 simply to publicise the news that the estate was going to be sold. John Cowe was identified as the man who would show prospective buyers around. The following from the Caledonian Mercury of 4 July 1812 is one of many:

VALUABLE ESTATE, / In the Counties of Ross and Cromarty, / TO BE SOLD.
The Preparatory Steps for a JUDICIAL SALE of the ESTATE of BRAELANGWELL, being now in forwardness, the Sale will take place in the course of the year 1813. This property consists of about 820 acres of arable land, 850 of thriving plantations, and upwards of 1000 acres of pasture and moor ground, besides an extensive right of common, all lying contiguous, and forming a most eligible compact estate, situated along the south bank of the Frith of Cromarty, within a mile of the shore, and about six miles distant from the sea-port town of Cromarty at one extremity, and the same distance from Dingwall on the other. The greatest part of the property is out of lease, and the subsisting leases are of short duration. On the Mains there is a modern mansion-house, a capital court of offices, a garden and orchard, and upon two other farms, which were in the occupation of the late proprietor, there are commodious farm-steadings lately built.
The property will probably be sold in lots, which, with the upset price, and various other particulars, shall be specified in future advertisements.
Mr Cowe, the overseer at Braelangwell, will shew the property; and a plan and estimate of the value may be seen in the hands of Joseph Gordon, W.S. Edinburgh.

The advertisements confirming the sale would take place on 24 November 1813 started to appear in August 1813, and in them John Cowe is now being called “manager at Braelangwell”. This is from the Caledonian Mercury of 5 August 1813:

JUDICIAL SALE OF AN EXTENSIVE AND VALUABLE ESTATE IN THE COUNTIES OF ROSS AND CROMARTY. … the lands will be shewn by John Cowe, manager at Braelangwell, who will also furnish you of the printed particulars and plans, and will point out the exact boundaries of the lots.

In the event, the Estate was bought by a consortium of local lairds, and the sale was confirmed in the Court of Sessions the following year (5 April 1814):

CS38/10/84 Decreet of sale in favour of Roderick Kilgour Mackenzie, Esq, Alexander Mackenzie, Esq, Sir Alexander Mackenzie of Avoch, Knight, and Donald Mackenzie, Esq, purchasers of the land and estate of Braelangwell, which belonged to the deceased David Urquhart

Braelangwell was famous for its flour mills, signifying that the land and climate were capable of growing the more demanding wheat crop. I note that in 1822, when the mills were to be let, John Cowe was still at Braelangwell and would show purchasers the premises. However, he was given as “Mr John Cowe, Mains of Braelangwell” so I do wonder if he was now the tenant of the Mains himself. By this time, the proprietor of the mills was Roderick Kilgour Mackenzie of Flowerburn, and there may be something in the Flowerburn records held in the National Archives, if some kind person would explore them? This is what was advertised in the Inverness Courier of 14 March 1822:

Flour Mills &c. / The Flour, Meal, and Barley-Mills of Braelangwell, are to be Let. / Entry at Whitsunday first. / The Town of Cromarty is near by a good Road, and the Mills have always been in full employ. The Lands presently attached to them are in good order, and the incoming Tenant may be accommodated at valuation, with the whole, or any part of the Crop, as well as with such land in addition as he may think necessary, and which was sown down last season with grass. Rent moderate to any respectable Tenant.
Apply to the Proprietor, R.K. Mackenzie, Esq. of Flowerburn, Fortrose, and Mr John Cowe, Mains of Braelangwell, will shew the premises.

Finally, I note from the Kirk Session minutes of 13 December 1825 that the Kirk Session had paid £5.10.- for wood for the construction of a new schoolhouse at Drumcudden. The cost and expenditure match:

Wood for School House from Braelangwell 5.10.-

1825 … July 14th … By Cash to Mr Cow for wood 5.10.-

John Cowe was therefore definitely still around on 14 July 1825, and presumably somewhat longer if the records could be located.


The Tablestone at Kirkmichael

At a time when most people were buried in unmarked graves, the tablestone erected by John Cowe was an expensive affair. I am surprised that he himself is not mentioned on the inscription – his children I would have thought could have had his name appended.

Erected / by / JOHN COWE Brealangwell / in memory of his spouse / JEAN PETER who departed / this life the 5th May 1818 / aged 28 years / Also DAVID their son departed / this life 20th July 1818 in the 5th year / of his age / and was here interred

The location of the tablestone, to the north west of the nave is curious – a generation later other tombs related to Braelangwell, such as Sir Hugh Fraser and family, and tacksman Samuel Gordon and family, were erected in this area. Was this section of Kirkmichael considered to be Braelangwell’s before the arrival of Sir Hugh?

The Trust has a programme of remedying memorials at Kirkmichael, but little was required with the Cowe tablestone. The top slab was displaced on its supports, so we pulled and pushed it so that it is sitting square. And the gravediggers had as usual used the cavity under the tablestone to dispose of some of their surplus grave soil, so we excavated it to resemble more closely how it had been intended to look. But apart from that no work was necessary. The stone had been recorded several decades ago, but we gently brushed the top half free of moss again to check the crucial details – and did find a couple of tiny errors.

Aligning the east end of the Cowe tablestone with its support; photo Andrew Dowsett

Aligning the west end of the Cowe tablestone with its support; photo Andrew Dowsett

Alignment before and after – it was fairly good before but perfect now; photo Andrew Dowsett

The inscription commemorating Jean Peter; photo Andrew Dowsett

Top slab aligned with support and waste soil removed; the Cowe stone looking good; photo Andrew Dowsett


The surprising story of Jessie Cowe (born 1814 in Resolis, died 1888 in San Francisco)

Daughter Jessie had an eventful life. I confess I could not initially locate any of the children of John Cowe and Jean Peter and had almost given up when I came across the following announcement in a Borders newspaper:

Kelso Chronicle 25 October 1844
At Sunwick, Berwickshire, on the 9th instant, by the Rev. T. Witham, Mr. George Poppelwell, Broadmeadows, to Jessie, only daughter of the late Mr. John Cowe, Braelangwell, Ross-shire.

I had not even been sure that any of the children had survived to adulthood. Knowing she was alive in 1841, I spread my net more widely. She was residing with her brother Robert in Norfolk and was of “of Independent Means” in 1841:

1841 Census record. Walsham St Mary, Blofield, Norfolk
Robert Cowe 25 Farm agent S[cotland]
Jessie do 20 Ind S[cotland]
Agnes S. Jamison 20 Ind S[cotland]
Susan Waters 20 F.S. y

Poor Robert died a couple of years later – the Burial Register for the parish provides the following information:

Burials in the Parish of South Walsham St Mary in the County of Norfolk in the Year 1843
Robert Cowe South Walsham St Mary August 4th [aged] 29 years Mattw: Ino Rackham Curate

Civil registration commenced earlier in England than in Scotland so a death certificate for Robert could be obtained. However, English death certificates for this period are notoriously sparse in information so I have spared myself the expense, but should anyone wish to do so it can be ordered using the following information: Robert Cowe, died quarter 3 in the year 1843, District Blofield County Norfolk Volume 13 Page 14. Let me know if any further information is available on it!

Following Robert’s death in 1843, sister Jessie travelled north to Berwickshire and a year later married a rich farmer in 1844 at Sunwick, Parish of Hutton. As previously mentioned, I could subsequently trace her easily as she was good enough to marry a Mr Popplewell! I have already quoted the crucial newspaper entry which referred to Jessie as the “only daughter of the late Mr. John Cowe, Braelangwell, Ross-shire.” The marriage register entry would not have assisted in locating Jessie, so thank goodness for the press:

Marriage Register, Hutton, Berwickshire
1844 … Octr. 6 Proclamation of George Popplewell and Jessie Cowe both of this Parish, they were married at Sunwick on the 9th. inst:

Built in the 1820s, Sunwick Farmhouse was once famous as the only brick building in the Scottish Border Counties. The bricks were imported as ships’ ballast from Holland. George Poppelwell senior had Sunwick itself, while George junior was in nearby farm Broadmeadows.

How did Jessie come to meet George Poppelwell? I do wonder if, following the death of her brother, she had moved to Berwickshire because there were family connections with the area. Cowe is a common family name in Berwickshire, and we find young Jessie marrying in Berwickshire. Could the Cowe family in Resolis have originated here?

Jessie Cowe clearly became popular in the Poppelwell family for her brother-in-law and wife named one of their children “Jessie” presumably out of respect. Jessie and George themselves had two children, Jean Elizabeth Poppelwell, born about 1847, and George Bell Poppelwell, born about 1850, but the names of the children do not appear in any published baptism register, and the date was prior to civil registration in Scotland. Jessie’s husband George had himself been baptised in the Catholic faith (and Jean was to have a Catholic marriage), and I wonder if the baptisms of the children of Jessie and George are written in a Catholic register. Jean herself was later to provide a birthdate of October 1848 and an age of 51 in the Californian census of 1900 but on close inspection the year had originally been written 1847 and the age 52 but they were overwritten, so I am not confident Jean knew herself.

The children were still very young when Jessie’s husband George gave up farming. I think he must already have been very ill. In the Census return for 1851 he is given as “Lately Farmer”:

1851 Census return for Nansfield, Hutton, Berwickshire, Scotland
George Poppelwell Head Mar 34 Lately Farmer [born] Whitsome, Berwickshire
Jessie Poppelwell Wife Mar 30 [born] Resolis, Ross-shire
Jean Poppelwell daur [born] 3 Hutton Berwickshire, Scotland
George Poppelwell Son 1 [born] Hutton, Berwickshire, Scotland
Sidney Melrose Sert Unmarried Female 16 Dom. House Sert [born] Edrom, Berwickshire, Scotland

By 1861, poor Jessie was widowed and she and her children were living with her parents-in-law back at Sunwick Farm:

1861 Census return Sunwick Farm House, Hutton, Berwickshire, Scotland
George B. Poppelwell Head Mar 72 Farmer of 650 Acres, employing 10 Men and 8 Women England
Catherine Poppelwell Wife Mar 73 Farmer's Wife England
Jessie Poppelwell Daur-In-law W. [widow] 43 RossShire, Resolis
Jean Poppelwell G. Daur 13 Scholar Berwickshire, Hutton
George B. Poppelwell G. Son 11 Scholar Berwickshire, Hutton
Fanny Lyle Serv. Unm 21 Domestic Servant England / Mary Gibson Serv. Unm 19 Domestic Servant England / Thomas Lyan Serv. Unm 21 Cattle Feeder England / Gabriel Simpson Serv. Unm 17 Groom Berwickshire, Hutton

Jessie’s father-in-law passed away at Sunwick on 23 January 1864. His will is of considerable interest and may have been behind some of the later behaviour of the children. He left £100 straight to Jessie, a nominal sum, and split the residue of several thousand pounds five ways, with one fifth going to each of his children, or, in the case of Jessie’s children, to his two grandchildren. However, they could inherit only when they reached the age of 21.

One fifth part to be equally divided between my grand-children Jean and George Daughter and Son of my deceased Son George and the before mentioned Jessie Poppelwell in equal portions, as they respectively attain the age of twenty one years

By 1871, Jessie’s son George was old enough to take on a farm himself. We find him in the census return of that year having crossed the border into England with his mother and sister and taken up residence in the distinguished Adderstone Hall in Northumberland. It is not a million miles away from Sunwick and Hutton.

1871 Census return Adderstone Hall, Adderstone Village, Adderstone, Belford, Northumberland
George Poppelwell Head Unm. 21 Farmer of 305 acres employing 9 Labourers Scotland
Jessie Poppelwell Mother W. 56 Farmer’s Mother Scotland
Jean Poppelwell Sister Unm. 23 Farmer’s Sister Scotland
Ann Lysle Serv. unm. 25 General Serv. (Domestic) Northumberland, Belford / Robert Johnstone Serv. Unm. 15 Groom (Domestic Serv.) Scotland

Adderstone Hall is a Georgian Grecian style home, built in 1819 to a design by architect William Burn, situated on the bank of the River Warn near Lucker, Northumberland. It is now a Grade II* listed building.

Adderstone Hall, Northumberland, in 2004; source Historic England

Gravestone commemorating George Bell Poppelwell and his two wives in Parish of Hutton

I see from the advertisements below that the contents of the Hall had been sold off in May 1868, and then the Hall itself was offered up for let, with a focus on the shooting possibilities it afforded. The Poppelwells (George, sister Jean and mother Jessie Cowe) must have moved in some time after that date and before 1871. It was some undertaking, and I wonder if George spent much of his inheritance on leasing and furnishing Adderstone Hall, and taking on Adderstone Hall Farm.

A tiny portion of the advertisement of the contents of Adderstone Hall when sold in 1868

The advertisement in the Field, appealing to sportsmen

And as further evidence that George was keeping up with the rural gentry, I note that the year after this, when the Prince and Princess of Wales attended a hunt at Chillingham,“Mr Poppelwell, Adderstone” was in the large number attending the meet (Newcastle Journal 19 October 1872).


Jessie’s daughter: Jean Elizabeth Poppelwell (1848–1907) and her variously-named husband

Now, a new man begins to appear in the picture. At the Grand Bazaar to raise money for a new Volunteer Hall at Coldingham, everybody was engaged in either running a stand or purchasing from stands. The Berwickshire News of 19 November 1872 reports that at “No. 3 Stall” one of the assistants was “Miss Poplewell, Addison Hall, Northumberland”. And among the gentlemen who patronised the bazaar were observed “… Mr George Popplewell, Addison Hall, Northumberland; Mr W.J. Dodds, Berwick…”

Sure enough, there was a liaison developing. And so Jessie’s daughter Jean Elizabeth married at Ellingham, perhaps three miles from Adderstone Hall, the following year.

Morpeth Herald, 7 June 1873
At Ellingham, 3rd inst., Mr. W.J. Dodds, Berwick, to Miss J.E.M. Poppelwell, Adderstone Hall, Belford.

Marriage solemnized at the Roman Catholic Church Ellingham in the District of Belford in the County of Northumberland
Third June 1873
William Johnston Dodds 27 bachelor Corn Merchant [residence] Berwick [father] John Dodds Farmer
Jean Elizabeth Poppelwell 25 spinster [residence] Adderstone Hall [father] George Poppelwell (deceased) Farmer

You will note that the marriage certificate confirms the gentleman’s name as Mr William Johnston Dodds. I make a point of this, as Jean’s husband mysteriously changes name several times when they move to the United States. At his marriage in 1873 he is William Johnston Dodds, in the 1880 Californian Census (on Third Street, San Jose) he is William Jackson and in the 1900 Californian Census (at 1825 Clinton Avenue, Alameda) he is Jas. E. Jackson. The names of his wife and daughter remain more stable during this period, although first and middle names seem to reverse. Lest there be any doubt, when his daughter, Maude Emily, died in 1947, the death register confirmed her parents as Jackson and “Poppywell”. It was the same family. Note by the way that the latter census return states that they had emigrated in 1875 and had been married for 28 years.

1880 (top) and 1900 (bottom) census returns, Third Street San Jose and Clinton Street Alameda, respectively, for the Jackson family

In 1888, when brother George Bell Poppelwell died, the probate records reveal that at this time Jean Elizabeth was living in San Francisco, and that her mother Jessie was residing with her, although Jessie was herself to die late that year in that city. By 1900, the Jacksons had moved to Alameda where they seem to have reside thereafter. It is straying too much into the recent past, but I note that daughter Maude Emily or Emily Maude (c1878–1947) married a top social circle dentist named Homer Craig, and both the daughter, and Jean to some extent, feature frequently on the social pages of the Californian newspapers! I include a small selection below.

You will note from the final snippet that Jean Elizabeth Jackson ms Poppenwell (“Mrs. Jeanette Jackson, Prominent in Social Circles”) died in Alameda on 25 August 1907, and that she had previously lived on Clinton Avenue, Alameda – which was the address in the 1900 Census return, the lower of the combined pair given above. The family had obviously done well for themselves. Her death certificate can be obtained from the Vital Records Office of the California Department of Public Health at some expense: the publicly available index entry to access the correct certificate is “Janet E Jackson Birth Year: abt 1849 Death Date: 25 Aug 1907 Age at Death: 58 Death Place: Alameda, California”. I would love to see this to learn more about Jean Elizabeth’s mysterious husband – there is undoubtedly a story there!

Why did the family emigrate to America in the first place? Well, in fact I see that William Johnston Dodds became bankrupt in 1875, the year, according to the 1900 Census return, that they departed for the United States. These newspaper pieces tell their own story. Bankruptcy was once a very public affair. And note the luxurious lifestyle that William Johnston Dodds had been enjoying!

There are, of course, two possibilities. One is that William Johnston Dodds emigrated, changing his name to make a fresh start untainted with the stain of bankruptcy. The other is that Jean discarded him, perhaps believing he had married her only to use her inheritance to prop up his failing business, and emigrated with another man altogether. I think the former is probably the more likely. For the record, should someone wish to investigate further, the parents of William Johnston Dodds were farmer John Dodds and his Scottish wife, Sarah Montague Johnston.


Jessie’s son: George Bell Poppelwell (c1850–1888)

So daughter Jean Elizabeth Popplewell emigrated to California. What about her mother Jessie and brother George? Well, they emigrated to California as well. I do not know if they emigrated as a group or as two separate parties. We pick them up first in the Californian 1880 census returns, where I see George, the erstwhile farmer, had become a saloon keeper in San Jose! Mother Jessie meanwhile was keeping house. At this time, Jean Elizabeth and her variably-named husband were also residing in San Jose, on Third Street, which runs parallel to Locust Street, and is not far away. This is the entry on Locust Street for George Bell Poppelwell and Jessie Poppelwell ms Cowe.

1880 Census return for Locust Street, San Jose, County of Santa Clara, State of California. Note the columns devoted to the country of birth of the person, and the father and mother of the person, have for Jessie Poppelwell ms Cowe all been entered as “Scotland”, which if correct demonstrates that John Cowe, the grieve at Braelangwell, and Jean Peter were both born in Scotland.

Locust Street, San Jose, in April 2019, courtesy of G.O. Ogle

North Third Street, San Jose, in 2018, courtesy of G.O. Ogle

George married widow Maggie S. Farman ms Comins in San Jose later that year, on 15 December 1880. The witnesses were Maggie’s father, Cooper Comins, and an A.N. Poppenwell of Alameda, a family member from left-field whom I have not explored. Or at least I think the initials are “A.N.” – they are difficult to make out. Poor George lasted only a few years, before dying in 1888. He died intestate, but there are over a hundred pages of documentation in his file in the probate court. I have not looked at it all, but here are some key extracts which fill in some of the details of the lives of the family. George in his life had been a farmer, a saloon keeper and finally … well, we’ll come to that.

In the Superior Court County of Santa Clara State of California. In the Matter of the Estate of George B. Poppelwell Deceased Petition for Letters of Administration. To the Hon. F.E. Spencer Judge of the Superior Court of the County of Santa Clara, State of California: The petition of Margaret S. Poppelwell of said County respectfully shows: That George B. Poppelwell died on or about the 18th day of July A.D. 1888, in the said County of Santa Clara State of California. That the said deceased at the time of his death was a resident of the County of Santa Clara State of California. That said deceased left estate in the said County of Santa Clara State of California consisting of Real and Personal property. That the value and character of said property are as follows, to wit: One lot of land on Lenzen Avenue 50 feet front and rear by a uniform depth of 250 feet in said County of Santa Clara, valued at $2250. Also the undivided one half interest in a certain lot of land on San Salvador Street, forty eight and ¾ feet front and rear by a uniform depth of 137&rac12; feet valued at $300. One thousand nine hundred and fifty dollars in case. And the stock fixtures, household furniture contained in the building known as the Alum Rock Hotel in the said County of Santa Clara. All of which personal property is valued at $1000. And that all of said real and personal property is the separate estate of your Petitioner, excepting five hundred dollars in cash which is community property. That the estate and effects for or in respect of which letters of administration are hereby applied for, do not exceed the value of five thousand five hundred dollars.
That the next of kin of said deceased and whom your petitioner is advised and believes is and therefore alleges to be the heirs at law of said deceased, Jesse Poppelwell aged 73 years, residing at 1927½ Sutter Street, City of San Francisco, California, Jean E. Jackson, aged 40 years, residing at 1927½ Sutter Street, City of San Francisco, California, and your petitioner, the widow of said deceased, aged 33 years, residing in said Santa Clara County.

I haven’t looked at all the claims against the estate, but I did notice a small bill from the Times Publishing Company (the local Times, that is) for advertisements which reveal what George’s final enterprise was:

George Bell Poppelwell’s advertisements for his Alum Rock Mineral Springs enterprise

A Grotto within which a mineral spring flowed

Mineral deposit from stream in Alum Rock Park

George seems to have been right in at the beginning of the explosion of popularity of Alum Rock Mineral Springs, which saw vast numbers of people flocking to these hot, sulphurous springs out of wonder and seeking health benefits. Nowadays part of Alum Rock Park, with Silicon Valley down below, many of the springs are much reduced in size due to over-use, but the Park is recovering from over-exploitation. For more see Wikipedia’s page on Alum Rock Park:

I have not pursued George’s spouse. She was the daughter of Cooper Commins or Comins, a real estate agent, and Margaret Commins, both from England but living in San Jose in 1880. Daughter Margaret had married George Farman, but he died about 1877, and she had moved back with daughter Maude Edna to live with her parents. She married George Bell Poppelwell later that year in San Jose, and Maude Edna became George’s step-daughter.

It seems to be sheer coincidence that the daughters of George and sister Jean Elizabeth should each have the first name of Maude. With one having a middle name of Emily and the other the middle name of Edna, they were both Maude E! How confusing could that be.


Final Note on Jessie Poppelwell ms Cowe, born Braelangwell, 1814, died San Francisco, 1888

You may have noted from the probate of her son, George Bell Poppelwell, that Jessie in 1888 was living with her daughter Jean Elizabeth Jackson at 1927½ Sutter Street, San Francisco. Nowadays, this has been swallowed up by a multi-storey car park, but Sutter Street is and was a very smart street. And it was there that she died, later that year, on 13 October 1888. I don’t know where exactly she is buried in San Francisco, but it sure is a long way from her Black Isle origins.


Appendix: William Cowe, Grieve at Newhall and the illegitimate Thomas Cowe

It may be just one more coincidence, but another Cowe was grieve at Newhall at the same time as John Cowe was grieve at Braelangwell. He comes to notice through an unfortunate affair which did not end well for the poor child. The parish records for 1810 state:

William Cowe Overseer at Newhall and Ann Mackinzie had a child in fornication born upon February 26th. and baptized on March 12th named Thomas

William Cowe remained in the area. I note that on 22 November 1811 he signed the account for carpentry work at Newhall. The account is for sawing wood, cutting hay, marking kitts & Hoops, thatching the Smidy, amounting to £2.14.6. John Ferguson makes his mark, with Ino Collins as Witness, and it is signed and dated by William Cowie. I also note that at the Roup Roll of the farm stock at Newhall on 31 May 1819, both Cowies were at the sale (Highland Archives HRA/D32/G1) and each made a purchase:

Mr Cowe 1 Belly Band -.1.6
Mr Cowie Braelangwell 2 Shovels -.2.6

Other than that I know not what happened to William Cowe. As for the mother, Ann Mackenzie, the popularity of the name makes it impossible to follow her destiny. But I do know what happened to the poor child, Thomas Cowe. Early in life he fell into distressed circumstances and despite being the recipient of parochial relief died at a young age. In the Kirk Session records for 6 December 1824, it is noted that a sum of five shillings had been given to Thos Cow, and the minutes state:

A Balance of 13/ remaining, it was given to Thos Cow a boy & to Lucy Bayne both residing in the parish & in great indigence.

On 13 December 1825, “In consideration of their indigent circumstances, the Session resolved that Thomas Cow Newmilns should be placed upon the poors Roll for the first time & on the first class”. He appears on the Poors Roll for a period but sadly the next record is a bit final:

1827 … March 25 … By Cash for Coffin to Th. Cow £-.12.-

and the associated minute reads:

The Poors Roll of last year was then read & found to contain 57 persons, of them during the course of the year four died … Thomas Cow Newmilns on the first class

And it emerges that carpenter Finlay Ross, the subject of a forthcoming Story behind the Stone himself, was the maker of the coffin:

At the Church of Resolis the 5th day of March 1827 … An account was presented by Findlay Ross for a coffin made by him for Thomas Cow on the poors Roll & lately deceased which was ordered to be paid by Treasurer.

Were these Cowes the same family as that of the Grieve of Braelangwell? Poor Thomas would have been buried in the kirkyard at Kirkmichael, undoubtedly in an unmarked grave, but perhaps in the proximity of the Cowe tablestone? This is mere conjecture but new information is always turning up so hopefully the Cowe connections can be clarified!

The area of the kirkyard adjacent to the Cowe tablestone; photo by Andrew Dowsett


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