Bowles in America

The Bowles’ arrivals into America would seem to divide between earlier English merchants and settlers and later Irish arrivals. Passenger records of arrival records into the United States, admittedly incomplete, indicate that 60 percent of the Bowles came from English ports and 40 percent from Irish ports.

Joseph Bowles had settled in Wells, Maine in the 1630’s. But there are not many Bowles left in New England. Many who had settled there joined the loyalists who decamped to Canada after the Revolutionary Wars. There is still a Bowles presence in and around Hartford in Connecticut.

The Virginia Plantations

The Bowles’ influx into Virginia from the 1630’s created a larger population which stayed and spread. Over time, three gradations of Bowles could be discerned.

Merchant/planters.  First, there was the merchant/planter class. John Bowles was an early arrival.  He was believed to be onboard one of the three ships that brought relief supplies to the Jamestown colony in 1610.  He returned with Sir Francis Wyatt and 1,200 other planters in 1621.  He owned a plantation on the eastern shore of Warwick Grove and died in 1664 a wealthy man.

Later settlers in Virginia included Thomas Bowles in Hanover County and Gideon Bowles in Goochland County where there was a gold mine nearby. Family tradition has it that Gideon was an aide-de-camp to George Washington. Gideon and his wife had twelve children and their offspring were equally prolific. One of their sons, Anderson Bowles, moved first to Kentucky and then to Missouri where he owned a plantation at Fenton until the time of the Civil War. Other Bowles' offspring were to be found in Kentucky and Illinois.

In the 1680’s, James Bowles, the son of a wealthy tobacco merchant in London, moved to Maryland and purchased a 2,000 acre tract which was to become the Sotterley plantation. He owned forty enslaved workers. The house that he built in 1703 still stands as a fine example of house construction at that time in the tidewater regions.

Other Bowles plantations were set up later in the south as opportunities diminished in Virginia. In 1830, James Bowles moved his family from Virginia to new lands in Mississippi. Within ten years, James, his wife, and three sons had died. But their spouses, children and grandchildren remained, continuing to run large plantations in Lafayette County. Green Berry Bowles' Ammadelle plantation was the largest, about 4,500 acres, and was worked by some 80 slaves. There is a Bowles cemetery to the south in Choctaw County.

African Americans. These plantations depended on African American labor. Some took their master’s name and some, as the result of intercourse between the two classes, entered that shady half-world of “free mulattos.” The 1870 Federal Census listed 296 African Americans bearing the name Bowles.

Court records provide the only scanty records of their lives in Virginia. An Ann Bowles was charged with prostitution in York County in 1687. Her likely descendents appear in Albemarle County records from the 1750’s on property tax rolls and for minor misdemeanors.

One worthy man, Zachariah Bowles, appeared in Henrico County in 1819 to apply for a pension for services during the Revolutionary Wars. His record stated:

“He was sixty five year old, a rough carpenter with a large family, 45 acres of very poor land, a work horse, cow, and a few hogs and household furniture. His wife was fifty years old and they had three unmarried sons residing with him.”

He did get his pension.

Another Zachariah Bowles appeared in Albermarle County records around the same time, as a land-owner of one of the first communities for freed African Americans in Virginia.  This Zachariah married Critta Hemings, the sister of Thomas Jefferson's reputed mistress, Sally Hemings, and their descendents continued to live on the property until the early twentieth century.  A Bowles family cemetery was recently discovered on the site.

Prior to emancipation, some African Americans were able to rise to prominence in the church. John Bowles was a Baptist minister in southern Ohio in the 1840's and 1850's. Around the same time, a more free-wheeling minister, Charles Bowles of the Free Will Baptist church from Vermont, was preaching to large crowds in the south that included whites. Folklore about him includes a story that his detractors once threatened to throw him into a pond during a baptism. But the power of his preaching turned the tables and converted even some of his tormentors.

Later Immigration

A third class of Bowles were the later immigrants from England and Ireland, artisans and settlers who sought a new opportunity. Out of this stock came two remarkable individuals.

The first was John “Chief” Bowles. This tale tells how he got his name.

“John Bowles was the son of a Scotch/Irish trader and a full blooded Cherokee woman. His father was killed and robbed by two men from North Carolina in 1768 when he was twelve. But within the next two years this fair complexioned auburn haired boy had killed both of his father’s slayers.

Bowles moved south with some followers into Louisiana where he joined up with the Cherokees who lived there. Bowles took a tribal name (roughly translated as a “vessel that holds strong black drink”) and later became their Chief.”

He died in 1839 when he and his Cherokees were attacked and slaughtered by Texan troops.

The second was William Bowles. He too allied himself with Indians, but under somewhat different circumstances.

“William Bowles, a native of Maryland, entered the British army at the age of fourteen as a foot soldier. After a year’s service against his countrymen, he sailed in 1777 with a British regiment to Jamaica as an ensign and from there to Pensacola. Here he was deprived of his rank for insubordination.

Disgusted with military discipline and fond of a roving life, he contemptuously flung his uniform into the sea and left Pensacola in the company of some Creeks. He lived upon the Tallapoosa for several years and acquired the Muskogee language to great perfection. He visited the lower towns and there married the daughter of a Chief.

His elegant and commanding form, fine address, beautiful countenance of varied expressions, exalted genius, daring and intrepidity, all connected with a mind which fitted him to sway the Indians and traders among whom he lived.”

Bowles had grand ideas for a future Indian nation in the southeast states which were still nominally Spanish. He was in the end undone by an American agent who conspired with the Indians against him.

Bowles in the Nineteenth Century

As the nineteenth century proceeded, most of the planter class stayed loyal to the old slave-owning ways and supported the Confederate cause in the Civil War.  As did another Bowles adventurer and flatterer, "Doc" William Bowles.  A contemporary said of him:

 "If he was not obviously sincere, he had the faculty of making those about him read in his words and actions the deepest sincerity."

Probably originally from North Carolina, Bowles acquired lands in the 1830's at French Lick in south Indiana where he started a resort spa.  It was an immediate success.  People flocked from miles around to partake of the "miracle waters."  He fought in the Mexican War, struck up a friendship with Jefferson Davis, and set up a Confederate secret society, the Knights of the Golden Circle, in Indiana.  For this he was arrested for treason and narrowly escaped execution.

Some Bowles migrated to other states of the Union. William Bowles moved to Texas in the 1840's and set up the first Baptist church in Dallas County. John Bowles was an early frontiersman and cattleman who helped found the township of Uvalde in Texas in the 1850's. Eighty years later, Federal Writer researchers discovered a Bowles still living there who had fought in the Civil War. Joseph Bowles settled in Colorado in the 1860’s and became a prominent cattleman and local citizen. Charles Bowles moved further west, to California. But he pursued an entirely different career, robbing stagecoaches.

However, the Federal Census of 1920 showed that the old slave-owning states of Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri still had the largest number of Bowles in the US.

Bowles Leading Name Distribution in the 1920 US Federal Census
Virginia                           13
Kentucky                          8
Missouri                            5

Many Bowles stayed where they were.

Canadian Immigration

St. John in New Brunswick was the early entry port for immigrants. Starting around 1815, many Irish immigrants, mostly Protestant initially and tradesmen by profession, came to the city and formed the backbone of its workforce. The early Boles seemed to have arrived there in two main family groups, Hugh Boles and his family around 1818 and Thomas Boles and his family around 1827. Robert Boles and his family were early arrivals into Nova Scotia from Tipperary in 1825.

Bowles can also be traced in Montreal and Quebec City from the 1820’s. Two brothers from Carlow county, John and Joseph Bowles, together with their families, arrived in Quebec City at that time. Both were shoemakers and they handed their trade down through two generations.

While the Maritime Provinces took the early influx of Bowles, more settled in Ontario as the nineteenth century proceeded. The table below shows where the Bowles were to be found in 1881.

Canada: Bowles Name Distribution in 1881
Maritime Provinces                26
Ontario                               58
Quebec                                9
Elsewhere                             7

Ontario.  The first Bowles into Ontario came in the late 1820’s. Charles Bowles arrived from Tipperary and worked for two years as a stone mason in Toronto before buying land and homesteading in Peel county.

“He secured a yoke of oxen and an ox sled and, one morning in the spring of 1828, he and his wife just hitched up the oxen and put all their belongings on the sled and headed northwest for their promised land, their New Jerusalem.”

Other Bowles from Ireland soon joined them in their shanty backwoods home. These Bowles raised a formidable family including Annie Bowles, the mother of a future Prime Minister of Canada, Lester Bowles Pearson.

Adam Boles arrived from county Antrim with his two brothers in the mid 1830's.  He settled in the Niagara area of Ontario.  Later arrivals into Ontario spread throughout the province. Over time, Protestants and Catholics did mix in this new land.