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First published 23 October 2017

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The desk was built for Capt. John Cowan (1748-1823), a Pennsylvanian who helped survey land that is now Louisville in 1773. The next year, he was a founder of Harrodsburg, the state’s first town, and in 1784, he helped John Filson create the first map of Kentucky, which included his plantation near Danville.

Family lore says the desk, which stands 8½ feet tall, was made by a “traveling cabinet maker” who fell ill and was nursed back to health on Cowan’s plantation. Inside the desk is an inscription “1796 MJ”, likely for Cowan and his wife, Mary.

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