Andrew Carson Cowles - Letters concerning Congressman and Senator Andrew Carson Cowles

Letters Within Series


Andrew Carson Cowles was a congressman and senator serving in the state legislature of North Carolina during the 1860s. In 1870, he married Margaret Caroline Reynolds, known to most as Maggie. Maggie Reynolds is the author of a separate series of letters in the Archive. Records indicate that Andrew and his family owned many slaves; in fact, in the letter written in 1855 when Andrew was but 22 years old, he writes to his brother-in-law, Billy, that he now owns “Ike” and that the family has so many slaves that his father has procured an additional farm so that they may raise enough ham and corn to support the Negroes. Andrew’s father was Josiah Cowles and his mother was Nancy Caroline Carson Duval. Nancy was Josiah’s second wife and Josiah entered this second marriage with four children from his first wife, Deborah Sanford. He and Nancy would have at least seven additional children, thus Andrew had at least ten siblings. Based upon the content of the letters, it would not seem that the two families were particularly close. Nonetheless, the Cowles Letters provide an extraordinary window into the life of a southern slave holding family during the period of Reconstruction.

Calvin Josiah Cowles was a son of Deborah Sanford and Josiah Cowles so he and Andrew were half brothers, but from the content of the letters,it seems rather apparent that they were political adversaries. Calvin Cowles was the president of North Carolina’s Constitutional Convention in 1868 and sympathetic to Radical Reconstruction, a Republican driven movement demanding more federal authority and stricter laws. The new Constitution not only abolished slavery, but guaranteed all men, black or white, the right to vote, and in the process eliminated any impediments to voting such as property or religious requirements. The Conservatives, the party to which Andrew and Bell (See "The Bell Letter" below) subscribed, launched a campaign to repeal the Constitution. This cause was finally quashed in 1871, and most of Andrew and Bell’s political comments were in response to the successes of this Radical Reconstruction movement.

The “Bell” letter was one of three letters in the Archive whose author eluded us for years. Then in the fall of 2009, I was contacted by Ms. Jayne Hartley-Tilley, who finally solved the mystery and ended our exasperating search. Ms. Tilley's ggg-grandfather was Josiah Cowles and the Bell letters were written by Margaret Isabella Reynolds. This revelation was particularly important, for it not only identified “Isabella” as the author of the Bell letter, but in fact, it has been instrumental in unraveling some of the confusing connections and relationships that existed between the Reynolds and Cowles families. For the Archive, the most important discovery was that Margaret “Isabella” Reynolds and Margaret “Maggie” Reynolds were first cousins, Isabella was the daughter of Hugh Reynolds, and Maggie was the daughter of Hugh's brother, Reuben Reynolds. One might assume from the content of the Cowles and Reynolds' letters that the two young women were close, and in fact, for a time, Reuben and Maggie lived with Hugh and Isabella. Maggie Reynolds was married to Andrew Cowles, thus explaining the puzzling question as to why Andrew Cowles always referred to “Bell” in his letters as sis. Anyone with an interest in the “Bell” letter should read the letters written by Margaret Reynolds (Maggie)and Reuben Reynolds.

The letter signed Bell and written 28 April 1868 demonstrates the resentment that some southern families felt once the Civil War had ended. Bell writes of her contempt for the new North Carolina Constitution which places the Negro on an equal basis with the white man, and describes the rather bizarre circumstance of watching Negroes that her family once owned now voting on its ratification.

When she writes the name of one of the candidates, Calvin Cowles, she spells his name, Kalvin Kowles, and wraps it in quotes, a likely allusion to the KKK. Andrew Cowles writes about the Ku Klux bill in his letter of 16 March 1871 when discussing the politics of his brother half-brother, Calvin Josiah Cowles.

Before she closes the letter, she briefly mentions the fact that Tom Dula, the character who would inspire the 1950s ballad, “Tom Dooley,” is to be hung in two days.

The letter of 16 March 1871 ends with Andrew Cowles writing, “The clock indicates the hour for the sitting of the count of impeachment, so I close.” He is referring his participation in the impeachment process which led to the removal of North Carolina’s Governor, William Holden, in 1871. This letter also discusses the Ku Klux Bill and Andrew’s frustration with his brother, Calvin Josiah Cowles Radical politics.

In the 13 December 1855 letter, a twenty-two year old, Andrew, writes that he now owns, “Ike,” a slave and that his father now has more than 29 slaves and is having difficulty supporting them.

The letters in the rest of this series are principally business letters about the buying and selling of whiskey, brandy, horses, crops, and material goods, or the every day affairs of farm life.

Andrew Carson Cowles was born 12 January 1833 in Hamptonville. He was the son of Josiah Cowles (b. 3 April 1791, d. 11 November 1873) and Nancy Caroline Carson Duvall (b. 19 May 1802, d. 3 July 1863). Josiah and Nancy were married 25 July 1828 after Josiah’s first wife Deborah Sanford died 9 January 1827. In many of the letters, Andrew refers to Maggie, which was a nickname for his wife, Margaret Caroline Reynolds. Margaret Caroline Reynolds was the daughter of Reuben Reynolds (b. about 1813) and Laura C. Sanford (b. 2 August 1827). Andrew and Margaret had three children: Carrie Bell Cowles (b. 5 May 1871), Reuben Cowles (b. 31 March 1873), Hugh Cowles (b. 17 January 1875). Unfortunately, Andrew Cowles died 5 January 1881, at the age of 48, leaving Maggie with three children under the age of 10.

Andrew often referred to Uncle Hugh in his letters. Hugh Reynolds was actually Maggie's uncle, as Hugh Reynolds and Reuben Reynolds were brothers.

Margaret Reynolds was the daughter of Reuben Reynolds (b. about 1813) and Laura C. Sanford (b. 2 August 1827). Margaret’s mother was never enumerated in any of the Federal censuses as living in the same household as Reuben and Margaret; therefore, it is likely that she died prior to 1850. It is known that Laura and Reuben had a second child, Hugh Sanford Reynolds born 28 April 1848 and who died 9 June 1848, so Laura was living as of 28 April 1848. The Reynolds line has proved to be quite difficult to sort out. Margaret’s paternal grandparents are unknown at this time. What is known is that Reuben and Margaret are living, absent Laura, in the household of Hugh Reynolds in the 1850 Census, and Laura never appears in any subsequent census. To complicate the matter more, Margaret and her husband, Andrew Cowles, are believed to be first cousins, once removed, both descendants of Josiah Cowles. They were married 8 June 1870.

Andrew Carson Cowles was born 12 January 1833 in Hamptonville, North Carolina and died 5 January 1881. Margaret and Andrew had three children: Carrie Bell Cowles (b. 5 May 1871, d. Jan 1890), Reuben Reynolds Cowles (b. 31 March 1873, d. 13 March 1902), Hugh R. Cowles (b. 17 January 1875).

Josiah Cowles, 58, and his family are enumerated in the 1850 Census and are living in Surry County, North Carolina. Josiah’s occupation is listed as farmer. Living in the household is Nancy, 48, Abel, 25, whose occupation is listed as physician, Josiah, 20, clerk, Andrew C., 17, Miles M., clerk, William H., 10, Henry C., 8, Caroline M., 5, and finally George N. Carter, whose occupation is listed as physician.

Josiah Cowles (spelled Cawles), 69, is enumerated in the 1860 Census and is living with his family in Yadkin County, North Carolina. Josiah’s occupation is Merchant and his real estate value is $12,000 and his personal property value is $50,000. His family includes N. C. Cowles, female, 59, Andrew C, 27, Miles M, 25, Wm. H, 20, H. C, male, 10. In addition, R. C. Duvall is listed as part of the household. Duvall is 40 years old and his occupation is listed as, L. E. U. S. A. Navy. (This is Robert C. Duvall, Andrew’s half brother).

The next household enumerated in the 1860 Census after Josiah’s belongs to Mary E. Cowles, 26. Her occupation is listed as Lady, and her real estate value is noted as $6,200 and her personal property is $20,000. Listed in her household is Josiah E, 5, and Mary L, 1.

A. C. Cowles, 47, Margaret C. Cowles, 32, Carrie B. Cowles, 9, Reuben R. Cowles, 7, Hugh R. Cowles 5, and Mandy Carson 33 are enumerated in the 1880 Census and listed in one household in Iredell County.