Barney’s Corner July 6, 2021

Christopher Cowan purchased Woodville in 1814. By that point the 35-year-old was a successful merchant in Pittsburgh. Me married Eliza Maria Kirkpatrick in 1810. Eliza was the daughter of Mary Ann Oldham, General John Neville’s sister-in-law. Her father was Abraham Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick oversaw the defense of Bower Hill during the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.

                Cowan was from Enniskillen, County Fermanagh and constructed the first rolling mill in the city of Pittsburgh in 1812. Located on Penn Street and Cecil Alley (now the site of a Rite Aid about ½ a block east of the Highmark Building) the mill featured a 70 hp steam operated tilt hammer. However, he sold the operation to two operators from Boston, Stackpole and Whiting. He may have sold out for credit reasons or to live the life of a country squire at Woodville.

                While Cowan worked in the burgeoning iron industry in the first decade of the 19th century, he more than likely did business with the Reverend John Wrenshall.  According to a plaque placed in the Melrose Cemetery in Bridgeville, John was the “Father of Methodism in Pittsburgh.” The Wrenshall family enjoyed the freedom of the city of Preston in England, where the Reverend’s father was a successful baker. After their arrival in Pittsburgh in 1796, the reverend operated a profitable hardware business. His youngest son, John Fletcher Wrenshall, would become important in Woodville’s 19th century history.

                Eliza and John Cowan’s first daughter, Mary Ann, married John Fletcher Wrenshall at Woodville in 1832. She was 21, Wrenshall was 30. It was his third marriage; he had already buried two wives. 35 years later, this created a great connection for the Wrenshall family at Woodville. One of John Fletcher’s older sisters was Ellen Bray Wrenshall. She was less than 2 years old when her parents left England to come to the United States. The Wrenshalls were a strict Methodist family, and Ellen led a very circumscribed social life.

                Sometime around 1807-1808, the Wrenshall family came into contact with Frederick Fayette Dent. Dent, a 22 year old fur trader from Cumberland, Maryland. Dent arrived in Pittsburgh in 1802. The Dents were a family of wealthy slaveholders who operated several plantations in Maryland. Following the War of 1812, he married Ellen Bray Wrenshall. Dent himself conducted trade with the Meskwaki and Fox tribes in modern day Illinois and Wisconsin. It was these connections that brought the Dent family and their two children to St. Louis in 1819.

                In 1820, Mary gave birth to a son, Frederick Tracy Dent. He attended the Military Academy at West Point and graduated in 1843. While he was there, he became friends with another cadet named Ulysses Simpson Grant. This cadet was born Hiram Ulysses Grant, but kept the name Ulysses Simpson after a clerk at West Point recorded it incorrectly. Tracy Dent and the others called him “Sam”. After his graduation, the army stationed Grant at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis. He became a frequent visitor to the Dent family plantation outside of town, called White Haven. There, he courted Julia Dent. The two would be engaged for over five years; Frederick Dent thought Grant was too poor and the army demanded Grant’s services in Mexico.

After he became president, he visited Pittsburgh in September of 1869 and in 1871. During both visits, the Grants spent time visiting the mansion of his wife’s cousin Fanny Wrenshall Smith in Washington, PA. By that point, another of Julia Dent Grant’s first cousins, William Ebbs Wrenshall, owned Woodville. There is no information as to if the Grants made a visit here, but the Wrenshalls most certainly visited with the Presidential couple and their cousins in Washington.


Ronald C. Carlisle, The Story of Woodville PHLF, 1998.

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