End of the Line: The Venango Owstons

· End of the Line Series


For the past several posts, the “End of the Line” series was on hiatus because new information unfolded in other areas of the Owston/Ouston saga.  Our “End of the Line” feature examines the individuals (particularly males) who were the last in a line or a segment of a line to bear the Owston or Ouston surname.   Owston and Ouston men are typically the focus as they traditionally pass the surname onto to the next generation.

The next group of Owstons where the surname became extinct is the Venango Segment of the Cobourg Line.  The last male with the Owston surname in this subset of the Cobourg Line died in 1938; his daughter, the last Owston born female in this lineage, passed in 2002.  Although there are other living descendants from this segment, none currently possess the Owston surname.


The Venango Segment of Cobourg Line is named for the Pennsylvania county that includes Oil City and Franklin where this family grew in number; however, the propagation of the surname was restricted as the number of Owston born males was limited to one in each generation.  The Venango Segment and its associated Cobourg Line are descended from Peter Owston of Sherburn in Hartford Lythe and thus are part of the Sherburn Family of Owstons.


The Venango Segment has its genesis in the personage of Thomas Owston who was born in North Leith, Midlothian, Scotland on 14 March 1804. He was the eldest child of William Owston (1778-1857), a master mariner, and Frances Wilson (1782-1853).  At some point, Thomas also served in the Royal Navy as a midshipman and probably served on the same ship or ships as his father; however, this researcher has not verified his specific military service as of yet.


Because of this service, the Crown granted him patents for 500 acres in Asphodel and Smith townships then located in Northumberland County but which became part of Peterborough County, Upper Canada (Ontario) in 1838.  Thomas sold his lands prior to returning to Scotland to marry his first cousin’s sister-in-law.

thomas_agnes_owstonThomas and Agnes Douglas Owston, courtesy of the late Helen Owston Corkin

Thomas and Agnes Douglas wed on 17 March 1829 at North Leith and the couple produced four children:

  • Margaret Owston circa 1829-1830
  • Jane Gillon Owston 1831-1921
  • Frances W. Owston 1833-1888
  • Charles William Owston 1839-1910

After Agnes’ death in 1850, Thomas remarried a woman named Georgiana.  The 1870 census indicates that Georgiana was probably her middle name and that her first name began with an “A.”  Her surname is currently unknown; however, circumstantial evidence suggests that her name may have been “Hill” and that she may have been the sister of Thomas’ sister in-law, Jane Hill – the wife of James Wilson Owston.

The couple produced only one child, Alida Alden Owston (1853-1874).  She died four days following the birth of her only child Albert Owston Hutchins (1874-1957).  At least one descendent of this line exists to the present.

exhange_hotelThomas Owston worked in a variety of careers.  He was a merchant in Port Hope, Ontario; a shipmaster in North Leith, Scotland; a grocer in Rochester, NY; a hosteller in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, PA; and a city alderman in Pittsburgh.  He suffered loss in two fires – the first being of the Globe Building in Rochester, NY in 1837 and the second in the Great Fire of Pittsburgh in 1845.

greatfire1845Great Fire of Pittsburgh, 1845 as seen from Allegheny City

Following his retirement, he removed to Oil City, Pennsylvania where his son was living.  Thomas died there on 14 December 1874 and he was buried in Grove Hill Cemetery.  The tombstone, however, incorrectly records his birth year as 1802 – two years prior to his actual birth.  Thomas’ second wife Georgiana and his daughter Alida are also buried in the same plot.  Agnes, his first wife, is buried in Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh.

thomas_owston_graveTaken in 1998 by Karen Golden Rogers

Through Thomas and Agnes Douglas Owston’s only son the surname continued.  Noted as being one of the founding members of the Pittsburgh Rifles, Charles William Owston served in this Civil War unit that was later designated as Company A, 9th Pennsylvania Reserves.  By mid 1862, Owston had risen to the rank of captain.  During the same year, he was wounded at the Battle of South Mountain and wounded and captured at the Battle of Fredericksburg.  Following the war, he formed the Oil City Greys, a company that was accepted into the National Guard of Pennsylvania. Owston served as its captain.

charles_emma_owstonWedding photos Charles and Emma Shephard Owston courtesy of the late Virginia Moore Hall

With the end of hostilities with the South, he incorporated a short-lived oil refining business in Pittsburgh named “Owston & Wroe.”  Following his marriage to Emma Lydia Morton Shephard on 12 October 1865 in Pittsburgh, the couple removed to Oil City, Venango County, Pennsylvania where they started their family.  He and his first lieutenant in the Pittsburgh Rifles, Isaac Morton Sowers, opened an oil business named “Owston and Sowers.”  The pair constructed a number of oil wells throughout the Pennsylvania Oil Region until they sold their holdings to the Imperial Oil Refinery in February 1877.  As with many of the smaller oil concerns in the region, it is believed that the company was forced out of business by John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company.

Although he previously refused an offer to work for Rockefeller’s South Improvement Company, Owston joined Standard Oil and served as an officer in the company for the remainder of his life.  As his role advanced, the family moved from Oil City to Franklin, PA; and then later to Cleveland, OH; Chicago, IL; New York, NY; and Maplewood, NJ. At the time of his death on 14 February 1910, he was serving as the manager of Standard’s New York sales division at 26 Broadway.

26broadway26 Broadway, New York City – offices of Standard Oil

Charles and Emma had six children:

  • Elizabeth Shephard Owston Drake 1871-1948
  • Agnes Douglas Owston Higgs 1874-1928
  • Charles William Owston, Jr. 1878-1938
  • Emma Virginia Owston Moore 1880-1982
  • Alice Haddon Owston Verdenal Leadbeater 1882-1971
  • Frances Aleda Owston 1885-1886

Although an additional generation of Owstons would germinate from this family, Charles William Owston, Jr. would prove to be the final Owston male in the Venango Segment of the Cobourg Line.  He was born in Franklin, Pennsylvania on 8 February 1878. In 1899, the young Owston graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ as a mechanical engineer.

His first professional job was as a representative of the Chicago Pneumatic Tool Company.  The position appeared to be short-lived; however, as in 1901, he set up a partnership with this brother-in-law, William J. Higgs, and others in The Eclipse Company – an appliance firm registered in the state of Delaware with $100,000 in assets.  Owston was the president of the corporation and Higgs served as its secretary.  He held this position with The Eclipse Company even after relocating to Pittsburgh in 1902 where its offices were also moved from New York to the Times Building in the Steel City.

On 1 December 1902, Charles William Owston, Jr. and Helen Brockway Strickland were married at her parents’ home in Pittsburgh.  The service, which coincided with the bride’s 22nd birthday, was officiated by the Rev. Robert W. Grange of the Church of the Ascension, a Protestant Episcopal Church.  After the couple’s honeymoon, they resided in Washington, Pennsylvania where the groom was employed by the Railway Steel-Spring Company.

During 1904, Owston and his bride relocated to St. Louis where he served as an inspector with the American Steel Foundries.  In 1907, the family returned to New Jersey and Charles became a superintendent and engineer for the Atha Steel Casting Company in Newark.  By the time the business was rechristened as Titan Steel Casting Company in 1910, Owston had advanced to become the company’s secretary.

Although much of his experience to this point was in the steel industry, Owston entered the automotive business in 1914 as a purchasing agent for the McCord Radiator & Manufacturing Company in Detroit.  Except during 1918 and a premature retirement in the 1930s, McCord would be his employer until just before his death.

charles_owston_jrMajor Charles William Owston, Jr. courtesy of the late Virginia Moore Hall

When the United States entered World War I, experts were needed to render their service to the military and Charles W. Owston, Jr.’s experience as an engineer and manufacturer qualified him for a commission as a captain in the army ordinance officers’ reserve corps. Beginning in early 1918,  his service was confined to the Detroit region where the automotive industry was retooled to produce ordinance; Owston served as production manager for the carriage section.  He was promoted to major during August 1918 and served as such until the armistice when he rejoined McCord as an assistant vice president.

Charles_W_Owston_olderCharles W. Owston, Jr. later in life courtesy of Nell Corkin

At some point in the decade of the 1920s, he was promoted to vice president.  During his tenure with McCord, he was responsible for a number of inventions; however, as an employee, his rights were assigned to McCord as these were works for hire and by intellectual property law McCord retained ownership of the patents.


In 1931, he retired from McCord, but later rejoined the firm as a vice president in 1936.  He completely retired on January 1, 1938. Unfortunately, he did not enjoy his retirement for very long.  At the age of 60, he died while visiting his brother-in-law, William H. Dunn, in Maplewood, New Jersey on 25 August 1938.  He was interred in the family plot along side his parents and son in nearby Orange, NJ.  His wife Helen would be buried in the same grave in 1960.

cwojr_gravePhoto taken by the author in March 1988

Although he was not the last Owston born in this lineage, he would be the last living male of the Venango Segment of the Cobourg Line.  Charles William Owston, Jr. and Helen Brockway Strickland had two children.  Their eldest, Allen Strickland Owston, was born in St. Louis, Missouri on 28 August 1904; however, the male heir to this line died of pneumonia two months prior to his eleventh birthday.

A second child, Helen Strickland Owston who was born in 6 August 1918, would be the final Owston in this family.  Following her marriage to Leo W. Corkin in 1941, she often used her birth surname as a middle name until her death in 2002.  Helen was a 1939 graduate from the University of Michigan with an AB in French.  She was a member of the illustrious Phi Kappa Beta society, pledged to the Gamma Phi Beta Sorority, and was the president of the Le Cercle Francais during her senior year.  Two daughters survive her.

helen_owston_corkinHelen Owston Corkin; taken by the author in May 1995

Although the Owston name has drifted from this lineage, a large number of descendants of Thomas Owston exist to the present and have enriched society with a multitude of contributions that are too numerous to mention here.


1840 US Census. Washington, DC:  Bureau of the Census.  Available from Ancestry.com.

1850 US Census. Washington, DC:  Bureau of the Census.  Available from Ancestry.com.

1860 US Census. Washington, DC:  Bureau of the Census.  Available from Ancestry.com.

1870 US Census. Washington, DC:  Bureau of the Census.  Available from Ancestry.com.

1880 US Census. Washington, DC:  Bureau of the Census.  Available from Ancestry.com.

1900 US Census. Washington, DC:  Bureau of the Census.  Available from Ancestry.com.

1910 US Census. Washington, DC:  Bureau of the Census.  Available from Ancestry.com.

1920 US Census. Washington, DC:  Bureau of the Census.  Available from Ancestry.com.

1930 US Census. Washington, DC:  Bureau of the Census.  Available from Ancestry.com.

Annual catalogue of the Stevens Institute of Technology:  A college of mechanical engineering. (1908-09).  Hoboken, NJ:  Stevens Institute of Technology.

Asphodel Township, Northumberland County abstract index, Volume I.

Asphodel Township, Northumberland County deed book, Volume II.

Army ordinance: History of the district offices (1920).  Washington, DC:  Government Printing Office.

Burial record of Margaret Owston. Records of St. John’s Anglican Church. Copies sent from the Anglican Church of Canada, Diocese of Toronto on 24 July 1991.

Capt. Owston of Standard Oil dead.  (1910, February 15). New York Herald.

Charles W. Owston, Jr. obituary (1938). Industry Week, Vol. 103, p. 21.

Charles W. Owston, Jr. obituary (1938, August 26). Detroit Free Press.

Civil War pension records for Charles W. Owston, claim #712,595.  Records of the Pension Office, RG94.  Washington, DC:  National Archives and Records Administration.

Compiled military service records for Charles W. Owston, 9th Pennsylvania Reserves; #1265.  Records of the Adjutant General, RG94.  Washington, DC:  National Archives and Records Administration.

Corkin, H.S. (20 April 1988).  Letter to the author.  In the author’s possession.

Detroit city directory for the year commencing September 1st., 1914. (1914). Detroit, MI:  R.L. Polk Co.

Family bible of Charles William and Emma L.M. Owston. Photocopies of original in possession of the author.  Original owned by Verdenal Hoag Johnson.

Foster, J.H. (1845). A full account of the great fire at Pittsburgh, on the tenth day of April, 1845: with the individual losses and contributions for relief.  Pittsburgh, PA:  J.W. Cook.

Globe Building fire. (1837, June 19).  Rochester Daily Advertiser, p. 2.

Gould’s East St. Louis Directory for 1906. (1906). St. Louis, MO:  Guild Directory Co.

Lee, W.C. (1863, January 23). Record of the Pittsburgh Rifles, Company A, Ninth Regiment, Pennsylvania, Reserve Corps.  Pittsburgh Dispatch.

Marriage notice of the wedding of Charles William Owston, Jr. and Helen Brockway Strickland. (1902, December 3).  Pittsburgh Chronicle-Telegraph.

Marriage license of Charles William Owston, Jr. and Helen Brockway Strickland. Allegheny County marriage records, Register of Wills, City-County Building, Pittsburgh, PA.

Marriage record #73 of Charles William Owston, Jr. and Helen Brockway Strickland. Records of The Church of the Ascension, Pittsburgh, PA.  Copies sent to the author 7 April 1988.

Men of the industry. (1918, February  14). Automobile Industries: The automobile, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 7., p. 389.

Michiganensian 1939. (1939). Ann Arbor, MI:  University of Michigan.

Newark directory 1907. (1907). Newark, NJ:  The Price & Lee Company.

Northumberland County, Upper Canada Lots Index.

Ouston, R. J. (2004). 2003 Directory of Ouston/Owston families. Highbridge, Somerset, UK: Roger J. Ouston.

Owston, T. J. (2011). Owston family: Sherburn based branch of the family East Yorkshire with links to other branches. http://freespace.virgin.net/owston.tj/owstonln.htm.

Owston grave data, Rosedale Cemetery, Orange, NJ. Copies of records mailed to author on 17 February 1988.

Owston made major.  (1918, September 5).  Automobile Industries: The automobile, Vol. XXXIX, No. 10, p. 439.

Parish records of North Leith, Midlothian, Scotland.

Records of Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Records of Grove Hill Cemetery, Oil City, Pennsylvania.

Smith Township, Northumberland County deed book, Volume II.

Supplement to the directory of the iron and steel works of the United States. (1910).  Philadelphia, PA:  The American Iron and Steel Association.

The Oil City Greys’ ball. (1871, December 2).  Titusville Morning Herald. P. 3.

The Daily Railway Age, Vol 14. (1900).

The Stevens Institute indicator, Vol. XIX. (1902). Hoboken, NJ: Stevens Institute of Technology.

The Stevens Institute indicator, Vol. XX. (1903). Hoboken, NJ: Stevens Institute of Technology.

Tarbell, I.M. (1904).  The history of the Standard Oil Company.  New York, NY:  McClure, Phillips, & Co,

The Derrick’s handbook of petroleum:  A complete chronological and statistical review of petroleum developments from 1859 to 1898. (1898). Oil City, PA:  Derrick Publishing Company.

The Trow (formerly Wilson’s) copartnership and corporation directory of the boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx, City of New York, Vol. XLVIX. (1901). New York:  Trow Directory, Printing, and Bookbinding Company.

United States commercial register. (1851).  New York, NY:  George Prior.

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