Manitoba Historical Society
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Memorable Manitobans: Abraham Cowley (1816-1887)


Born at Fairford, Gloucestershire, England, on 8 April 1816, he was educated at Fairford Free School from 1821 to 1828. He was admitted to the Church Missionary Society College in 1839, then ordained by Bishop George Mountain in Montreal on 7 March 1841, and spent a brief curacy at Chateauguay River near Huntington, Quebec. In 1842 he established a mission at Partridge Crop, now Fairford, where a church and school were built.

Recorder Adam Thom refused to recognize Mountain’s competence over Rupert’s Land, and Cowley served as a missionary to Indigenous people at Fairford until the dispute was settled. His record with the Natives was mixed. He was good at teaching them farming but less successful in translating Christianity into terms they understood. He left Fairford in 1854 and served as assistant to Reverend William Cockran at St. Peter’s until 1855. From 1857 to 1866 he was in charge of the Indigenous congregation of St. Peter’s. In 1866 he was elevated to the clerical rank of Archdeacon, and moved to Mapleton, St. Clement’s Parish, where he remained until his retirement. He received an honorary DD from St. John’s College in 1867. He was a founding member of the Manitoba Historical Society.

On 24 December 1840, he married Arabella Sainsbury (1823-1893) and they had twelve children: Francis William Rice Cowley (1843-1920), Robert George Sainsbury Cowley (1845-1867, who drowned in Yukon while serving with the Hudson’s Bay Company), Arabella Bateman Cowley (1847-1863), Alfred Edmeads Cowley (1849-1916), William Cowley (1851-1870), John Sainsbury Cowley (1853-1895), Arthur Tebbs Cowley (1855-1934), Mary Elizabeth Cowley (1858-1938, wife of Lynds S. Vaughan), Caroline Ann Cowley (1859-1928, wife of Samuel E. Smalley), Agnes Matilda Cowley (1861-1926), Emma Ester Harriet Cowley (1863-1895), and Beatrice Stiles Cowley (1865-1931).

He died at Winnipeg on 11 September 1887 and was buried in the churchyard at St. Peter’s.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: St. Helen’s Anglican Church (Fairford, RM of Grahamdale)

Abraham Cowley, Dictionary of Canadian Biography XI, 208-9.


1881 Canada census, Ancestry.

“Archdeacon Cowley,” Manitoba Free Press, 12 September 1887, page 4.

Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

Cowley family genealogy, Geni.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 8 June 2018

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society. We acknowledge that the collection contains both reputable and disreputable people. All are worth remembering as a lesson to future generations.

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