Capt. John McDowell

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John McDowell

Birthdate: (28)
Birthplace: Raloo Parish, Antrim, Northern Ireland
Death: December 25, 1742 (28)
Battle Run Creek, Petit's Gap, Rockbridge, Virginia (Killed by the Indians in the "Massacre of Balcony Downs")
Place of Burial: Fairfield, Rockbridge, Virginia, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Ephraim McDowell and Margaret McDowell
Husband of Mary Magdalena Bowyer
Father of Col. Samuel McDowell; Col. James McDowell; Sarah Martha Trimble; Sarah Fred; Elizabeth McDowell and 3 others
Brother of Lieutenant James McDowell; Mary Elizabeth Greenlee; Mary Simonton; Margaret (McDowell) Carson; Margaretta Mitchell and 2 others

Occupation: Surveyor, pioneer
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Capt. John McDowell

John McDowell

  • Birth:  Jan. 19, 1714 - Raloo Parish, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
  • Death:  Dec. 25, 1742 - Petit's Gap, Rockbridge, Virginia
  • Burial: McDowell Cemetery, Fairfield (Rockbridge County) Virginia, USA
  • Parents: Ephraim McDowell, Margaret Irvine
  • Married: Mary Magdalena Woods
  • Children: Samuel, James, Sarah Martha


  • The McDowell family had left the port of Londonderry, Ireland in the ship “George and Ann”. They arrived in Philadelphia, PA in 1729, where they stopped for a time. After a while, they headed for the wilds of Virginia, having decided John Lewis’ settlement would meet their needs.
  • En route, Benjamin Borden came upon the McDowell camp. They invited him in, and conversation soon led to his large land grant and the need of a surveyor to locate it. Without any fanfare, John McDowell informed Mr. Borden that he was trained as a surveyor. Mr. Borden had mentioned he would give a surveyor 1,000 acres of land if he could locate his land grant.
  • the next day the entire party continued on to John Lewis’ settlement where a written agreement was drawn up. It stated John McDowell was to locate Borden’s Grant and blaze a packhorse trail through it, in return, he was to receive 1,000 acres of good land.John McDowell chose his 1,000 acres near what is now the village of Fairfield, Rockbridge county, Virginia.
  • Unlike many settlers, John McDowell took the time to peel the bark off the logs as he built his home. He then took red berries and stained the logs. His home became known far and wide as the Red House.
  • John was killed on Christmas Day, 1742, by Iroquois Indians on a raiding skirmish near Balcony Falls. This fight began a war that lasted until 1744.
  • The song "Oh, Shenandoah" became almost a hymn in Virginia, commemorating these early Scots/Irish settlers and their land that they loved. Samuel McDowell, the son of Capt. John McDowell, also served in the French and Indian Wars (1753-1758) and received "Land Bounty Certificates" for property in Augusta County, Virginia as a result of his military service.
  •  Captain John McDowell was killed in the first Settler-Indian confrontation on 14 December 1742 during the "Massacre of Balcony Downs" near Balcony Falls in Rockbridge County, Virginia. The spot where this incident occurred is now called Battle Run Creek as a result of this event. In early December 1742, the Delaware tribe of the Iroquois Nation, specifically the Onandaga and Oneida bands, were en route to meet the Catawba Indians when Capt. John McDowell and his company of militia (33 men, which included his father Ephraim - 70 years old at this time! - and his brother James) were sent out to escort the Delaware Indians away from the White settlements.
  • Captain John McDowell’s Company of Militia in 1742: John Aleson, Humble Beaker, David Bires, David Breenden, Gilbert Camble, James Camble, John Cares, John Cosier, Hugh Cuningham, James Cuningham, Joseph Finney, Michael Finney, John Gray, William Hall, James Hardiman, Henry Kirkham, Joseph Lapsley, ?Long, ?Long, Alexander McClewer, Halbert McClewer, John McClewer, Alexander McClure, Moses McClure, Frances McCowan, James McDowell (brother of Capt. John), Ephraim McDowell (father of Capt. John), Andrew McKnab, John McKnab, Patrick McKnab, Sam McRoberts, Loromor Mason, John Matthews, William Miles, John Miles, Mitchell Miller, James More, Edward Patterson, Irwin Patterson, John Peter Salley, Thomas Taylor, Charles Quail, Thomas Whiteside, Malco Whiteside, Richard Wood, Sam Wood, William Wood, Robert Young and Mathew Young.

Account of John McDowell's land acquisition in Augusta County, from "Ulster-Scots in Virginia, From Pennsylvania to Shenandoah", by Richard MacMaster:

With so many Scotch-Irish pioneers moving up the Valley, other land speculators kept one step ahead of them. In 1739 Benjamin Borden, a New Jersey Quaker, received a grant beginning at the southern boundary of Beverley Manor. Borden was promised 1,000 acres for every settler he located, amounting in all to 92,000 acres. John McDowell, a surveyor, helped Borden locate his tract and was rewarded with a large acreage. The Borden tract later became Rockbridge County. (See below)

Capt. John McDowell (1714-1742) From Waddell’s Annals of Augusta County, Virginia, page 37:

“On the 28th of February 1739, John McDowell, who settled in Borden’s Grant, made oath at Orange Court that ‘he imported himself, Magdaline, his wife, and Samuel McDowell, his son, and John Rutter, his servant, at his own charge from Great Britain in the year 1737, to dwell in this colony, and that this is the first time of proving their rights in order to obtain land pursuant to the royal instructions’”. Waddell further says, “Captain John McDowell, was a prominent Captain of a military force of Augusta County in 1742. Ephraim McDowell, then an old man, was a member of his son John’s company. All grown men were enrolled without respect to age.”


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Capt. John McDowell's Timeline

Antrim, Northern Ireland
October 29, 1735
Age 21
Fairfield, Rockbridge, Virginia, United States
Age 25
Augusta , Virginia
October 16, 1741
Age 27
Augusta, Virginia
December 25, 1742
Age 28
Petit's Gap, Rockbridge, Virginia
December 1742
Age 28
Fairfield, Rockbridge, Virginia, United States
Age 28
Kentucky, United States