Captain William Rowan and his wife Sarah were financially secure before the American Revolutionary War in York County, Pennsylvania. The couple married in 1767, a decade before the war. William was interested in the War of Independence and joined the 4th York Battery in August, 1776 and by December he was promoted to Captain. When the war ended, William was sheriff for three successive terms in York County. The American Revolutionary War was particularly financially difficult for many families. With greater opportunities to the west, William Rowan decided upon moving his family to Kentucky in search of building a fortune.
William Rowan was deemed a "handsome" man, slightly 6 feet tall and well-proportioned. He possessed an alert mind and a natural gift for eloquence. He possessed a well versed education and appreciated the importance of an education for his children.
Rowans began a journey to settle a tract of land that Rowan had purchased in Kentucky County, Virginia, where fertile farming ground and business opportunities were plentiful. Captain Rowan purchased a flat bottom boat to make the move west, and navigated down the waterways of the Monongahela & Ohio Rivers with his wife Sarah, their three sons Andrew, Stephen, and John, and their two daughters Elizabeth and Alice joined Captain Rowan on the permanent move west. Five additional families paid Captain Rowan for space on his flat bottom boat to make the journey with the Rowans.
The trip, which was expected to last only 7 days, lasted over 6 months due to a particularly harsh winter. Upon arrival in Louisville in April of 1784, the group spent another month traveling further west to build and settle Fort Vienna on May 11, 1784. The Rowans spent 6 years at the fort, until deciding to move to Bardstown for the exceptional educational opportunities available for their children. In 1790, the Rowans settled in Bardstown and lived in a log cabin owned by a man named John Lytle. Captain Rowan favored Bardstown because of the excellent educational opportunities available.