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Owen was surveyor of Shelby County, Kentucky, in 1796. He was in the Kentucky Legislature in 1798, and a member of the state constitutional convention the next year.
The city now known as Owensboro, Kentucky established itself in 1817 with the name "Owensborough," in honor of Owen. Two years later, in 1819, counties in Kentucky and Indiana were formed and named for him.
Owen was the son of son of Brackett Owen, who was of Welsh descent, and Elizabeth McGehee. Brackett Owen (son of John Owen and Sara Brackett) was born June 10, 1739, in Prince Edward County, Virginia, and died March 14, 1802, in Shelby County, Kentucky. He was also a soldier, who established Owen's Station, a small frontier fort used during the later part of the Revolutionary War for protection against the Indians; Owen's Station was located about four miles from present-day Shelbyville. John Owen's great grandparents Humphrey Owen and Catherine Nannau had migrated from Dolserau, near Dolgellau, north Wales.
- The Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society, Volume 1. Kentucky State Historical Society. 1903. p. 36.