Unmarried, Childless, and Long-lived

Week 14: #52Ancestors – Maiden Aunt: Catharine “Kate” Rowley (1826 – 1912)

By Eilene Lyon

When I saw the prompt “Maiden Aunt” I immediately thought of Catharine “Kate” Rowley. She was one of eight or nine children born to Erastus Rowley and Mary Annable (4th gr-grandparents), and she outlived all her siblings, despite the handicap of blindness.

Erastus Rowley was a butcher, born and reared in Shelburne, Chittenden County, Vermont.1,2 He married Mary Annable in 1813 in Shelburne.3 Mary was a Canadian citizen. Her father, John Annable, moved to America shortly before the Revolutionary War and went to fight on the British side. After the war, he received bounty land in Ontario (then still part of Quebec).


Mary Annable Rowley (Courtesy of Nancy Ingram). Fortunately, the Rowley family liked to have photographic portraits made.

Of the six Rowley children surviving to adulthood, only one was male, George A. Rowley. The rest were female, and all married eventually except Kate. George died young, at age 39, of consumption.4 He had one child, Lulu, who died at age 15 of diphtheria, thus the Rowley name died out on Erastus’ line.5

Kate was born 12 Sep 1826 in Shelburne.6 The family story is that she fell on a knitting needle at the age of eight and the resulting infection eventually blinded her in both eyes.7 Unfortunately, I have not been able to corroborate this story, though it certainly may be true.

The 1850 – 1880 censuses all provided a column to note any disabilities. In 1850, 1860, and 1870, there is no notation indicating Kate’s blindness. Nor do they indicate she is unable to read or write. She is first noted as being blind in the 1880 census, when she was 53, and in other censuses thereafter.8 It isn’t until the 1900 census that she is said to be unable to read and write.9

Another family story is that Kate was engaged to be married, but her fiancé died before the wedding could take place.10 I tend to think of this as a tragedy for a young woman, heartbroken at the loss of her love.

But, who knows? Maybe sightless Kate was being foisted on a willing suitor to care for her, and his death might have saved her from a miserable marriage. Could go either way.

Kate was still living with her parents in 1850, at the age of 23.11 By 1860, she had moved in with her sister, Laura (Rowley) Spear.12 Laura’s husband was Daniel L. Spear and they had three daughters and a son (born in 1861).

Though her status in the census records is given as “domestic servant,” Kate was probably just treated as one of the family, which she was. I imagine she enjoyed experiencing the growing years of her nieces and nephew.

Laura died in 1879, but Kate continued living with Daniel until his death in 1889.13 By that time, Kate had only two living siblings: Mary P. (Rowley) Cutting in South Dakota, and Sarah (Rowley) Newell in the Chicago area. Kate chose to go live with Mary, her younger sister, and my 3rd great-grandmother.14

Mary had been widowed at a young age and had moved from Hesper, Iowa, to Codington County, Dakota, to establish a homestead prior to 1888.15 The 1900 census indicates she was working as a midwife, and living in Waubay, Day County, South Dakota, no longer on the homestead.16

By 1910, both Mary and Kate had given up their own residence and gone to live with Mary’s daughter, Jessie (Cutting) Butler, and her family, also living in Waubay. Mary died in Waubay in 1910 and Kate, the last surviving sibling, died on 26 Jan 1912, aged 85.17

15DAT2 021

Grave marker for Kate Rowley and Mary P. (Rowley) Cutting in Lakewood Cemetery, Waubay, South Dakota. (E. Lyon 2015)

Feature image: Catharine Rowley (Courtesy of Nancy Ingram)


  1. Year: 1850; Census Place: Shelburne, Chittenden, Vermont; Roll: M432_923; Page: 53B; Image: 112 
  2. Aaron Rowley, father of Erastus Rowley, arrived in Shelburne in 1784, the same year Erastus was born. Not conclusive, but probable. Rann, William S. 1886. History of Chittenden County, Vermont, with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers. D. Mason & Co. Syracuse, NY. p. 677. 
  3. Ancestry.com. Vermont, Vital Records, 1720-1908 
  4. Ibid. 
  5. Ibid. 
  6. Birth day is on grave marker, but the year is incorrect. Based on the 1830 – 1860 census records, I’ve determined the most likely year of Catharine’s birth is 1826. 
  7. Personal communication with Nancy Ingram. 
  8. Year: 1880; Census Place: Shelburne, Chittenden, Vermont; Roll: 1343; Page: 307D; Enumeration District: 081 
  9. Year: 1900; Census Place: Waubay, Day, South Dakota; Page: 4; Enumeration District: 0127 
  10. Ingram. 
  11. 1850 Census, above. 
  12. Year: 1860; Census Place: Charlotte, Chittenden, Vermont; Roll: M653_1319; Page: 234; Family History Library Film: 805319 
  13. 1905 South Dakota census at Family Search, indicates Kate arrived in South Dakota in 1889. 
  14. 1900 Census, above. 
  15. Accession #SDMTAA 097615 at BLM Government Land Office. http://www.glorecords.blm.gov
  16. 1900 Census, above. 
  17. Ancestry.com. South Dakota, Death Index, 1879-1955 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2004. Gravestone in Lakewood Cemetery, Waubay, South Dakota (above), differs by two days. Mary’s birth year is also given incorrectly as 1833. Based on other evidence, it is most likely she was born in 1830. 

10 thoughts on “Unmarried, Childless, and Long-lived

Add yours

  1. It’s so interesting to look back at our ancestors and get an insight into how they lived isn’t it. I wish I had more time to do so. Congratulations on your research and finding out so much personal information 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting. Reading this biography makes me wonder about how Kate lived out her day-to-day life. The census records only reveal so much, and leaves much to the imagination… Loved reading your speculations about what might’ve been.

    Liked by 1 person

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