Tradition has it that the family came from Scrabster in Caithness.
It is said, and with apparent credibility, that Gow and his father were natives of Scrabster, near Thurso, and that the latter had gone with his family to Stromness to reside. Gow, which is the Gaelic name for Smith, is not an Orkney name; whereas there has long been several, and there still are some, of the surname of Gow in Scrabster, and that they have admitted that Gow, the pirate, was their relative.
Mackay, historian to Clan Mackay in 1829
From notes accompanying 1890 limited edn of Daniel Defoe's account
"The Pirate Gow" (1978) facsimile edn of 1890 limited edn. print
John Gow was the son of William Gow and Margaret Calder from Caithness. In 1699, the Gow family moved to Stromness, in Orkney.
On 9th September 1699, to William Gow, merchant in Wick, of a dwelling house or tenement of land with the half of the quoy pertaining thereto, bounded on the shore side of Stromness to the Warth Hill, and from the deceased Robert Manson's March on the south, with fifty fathoms of ground to the north of the tenement lying in the elbow of Glowbank, to the burn and strip, having the Warth Hill on the west, and the sea or harbour of Cairston on the east parts.
Orkney Sasines 2nd Series, Vol I
The family had moved around as they had only acquired the property in Wick, the previous year.
John was one year old at the time. He did have an elder sister, Anna Gow. In 1716, John is described as the eldest lawful son of William Gow, merchant, and his wife, Margaret Calder.
John Gow was brought up in Stromness and is said to have had some popularity among the girls of the town.
Gow was engaged at one time to Katherine Rorieson, the daughter of Baillie Rorieson of Thurso. The Baillie disapproved of the impending marriage and encouraged her to look on someone else. She married George Gibson, a Thurso merchant. On coming back from sea with bridal dresses, Gow was incensed to find her already married. While she would have gone off with him, he decided to turn his attentions elsewhere.
The story of Gow's piracy is picked up by Daniel Defoe on 3rd November 1724.