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Bowie Family papers


Bowie Family papers
Bowie Family
Collection number:
0.50 linear feet
Bulk dates:
Inclusive dates:
Collection Area:
State of Maryland and Historical Collections
Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries, Hornbake Library, College Park, MD 20742. Tel: 301-405-9212, Fax: 301-314-2709, Email:

The Bowie family papers contain genealogical information, correspondence and legal documents documenting the Bowie, Davis, Hall, and Pottinger families as well as important information about plantation life and slavery before the American Civil War. In addition to the genealogical information, the collection includes letters concerning the distribution of Bowie family estates, a Civil War letter written by W.W.W. Bowie discussing the confiscation of sheep and slaves, and William D. Bowie's farm account ledger.

Important Information for Users of the Collection


This collection is open for research.

Preferred citation:

Bowie Family papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.

Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Publication rights:

Photocopies of original materials may be provided for a fee and at the discretion of the curator. Please see our Duplication of Materials policy for more information. Queries regarding publication rights and copyright status of materials within this collection should be directed to the appropriate curator.


This collection is PROCESSED.

Historical Note

John Bowie, Sr., the first member of this branch of the Bowie family to emigrate to North America, left Scotland around 1705 at the invitation of his uncle, John Smith, who preceded him to North America and established a plantation on the Patuxent River near Nottingham, Maryland. John Bowie, Sr., became the founder of an illustrious Maryland family that included several prominent lawyers, merchants, politicians, Revolutionary patriots, and military officers. Members of the Bowie family married into other leading families, including the Davis, Hall, and Pottinger families.

The Bowie family's economic, social, and political prominence increased during the Revolutionary and Early Federal periods. Allen Bowie, Jr., of Frederick and Montgomery counties served as a representative to the Maryland Convention that elected representatives to the Continental Congress. During the Revolution, he held numerous positions and served as one of Montgomery County's commissioners. In 1799, Allen Bowie's son, Washington Bowie, established the Alexandria merchant firm of Bowie and Kurtz, which soon gained an outstanding national and international reputation. In 1810, the Annapolis Gazette praised Colonel Bowie for his business acumen and devotion to public service, calling him the city's "merchant prince."

It was during the American Revolution that Robert Bowie, a grandson of the first American, John Bowie, Sr., achieved military and political prominence. In 1775, Robert Bowie enlisted in the minuteman company formed in Prince George's County, Maryland. Bowie received several commendations and promotions during the conflict. In 1776, he was commissioned captain of the Second Battalion, Maryland flying artillery; he amassed a distinguished service record at the Battles of Harlem Heights and White Plains; and in 1777 he was commissioned Captain of the Prince George's County militia. After the war, Robert Bowie entered politics. He served in the Maryland House of Delegates between 1785 and 1790. In 1803, he was elected governor of Maryland, a position he held until 1812.

According to family lore, Colonel James Bowie, the inventor of the Bowie Knife and hero of the Alamo, was directly related to Maryland's Bowie family. The validity of these claims is difficult to determine. Some family traditions say that James Bowie left Maryland in 1760 and settled in South Carolina, where he fathered Rezin Bowie, the father of Colonel James Bowie. Other traditions suggest that James Bowie died around 1760 and that there is no connection between Maryland's Bowie family and Colonel James Bowie.

Perhaps the most public member of the Bowie family was Oden Bowie (1826-1894), who became prominent in the Democratic Party and served as Maryland's governor between 1869 and 1872. Bowie received commendations for gallantry during the Mexican-American War. Following the war, he entered politics. In 1847, Bowie campaigned for the Maryland General Assembly, but his campaign was hindered by allegations that he was underage. He won a State Senate seat in a subsequent election, but his political career would soon suffer because of his Confederate sympathies. His 1861 Senate re-election bid, along with his 1864 campaign for Lieutenant Governor, were both unsuccessful. Nevertheless, Bowie remained active in the Democratic Party and kept the organization from crumbling during the Civil War. In 1867, Bowie won a landslide victory over his Republican opponent for the governor's office. An avid horseman, Bowie was responsible for the opening of Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and the naming of their famous Preakness race. Outside of politics, Bowie was an active business promoter. His support was instrumental in the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad's success. He also served as manager of Baltimore's streetcar system.

Washington Bowie, Jr., the fifth member of the family to bear that name, built impressive legal and military careers. The son of Colonel Washington Bowie and Nettie Schley, Washington Bowie, Jr., was born on November 20, 1872. He was admitted to the bar in June, 1896, and eventually became Vice-President and Counsel of the Fidelity and Deposit Company. Bowie launched his military career in 1894, when he enlisted in the 5th Maryland Infantry. In the following decades, Bowie served along the Mexican Border, in the Spanish American War, and overseas during World War I. He retired from the military in 1936, having achieved the rank of Major General.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Bowie Family Papers contain genealogical information and personal papers from one of Maryland's oldest and most prominent families. In addition to offering insights into family life in colonial and antebellum Maryland, the manuscripts in this collection contain important information about plantation life and slavery in the decades preceding the American Civil War.

The bulk of the Bowie Family Papers consist of genealogical information, primarily documenting the Bowie, Davis, Hall, and Pottinger families. Included in the collection are family trees, newspaper clippings, wills, and correspondence concerning family history. In addition to the genealogical information, the collection includes letters concerning the distribution of Bowie family estates, a Civil War letter written by W. W. W. Bowie discussing the confiscation of sheep and slaves, and William D. Bowie's farm account ledger, which includes information on slave purchases and plantation management.

Although it is unclear when the collection was assembled, the newspaper clippings included suggest that it was compiled between 1932 and 1956. There are few clues concerning who assembled the material, but the fact that there are several inquiries concerning family history addressed to Washington Bowie, Jr., suggests that he may have played an important role in reconstructing the family's history. Included with the clippings is an undated photograph of a Jonas Johnson, but his connection to the Bowie family is unknown.

The Bowie Family Papers cover the period from 1748 to 1956. The earliest manuscript material in the collection consists of Robert Pottonger's will, dated 1748, and the latest of these materials is a newspaper clipping concerning the conversion of the Glenview Estate to a civic center in Rockville, dated 1956. Many of the wills, legal documents, and personal papers included in the collection date from the antebellum decades. The family trees included in the collection are undated. An item level listing of the documents in this collection is appended to this guide.

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The University of Maryland Libraries purchased the Bowie Family Papers from rare books and manuscripts dealer Charles Apfelbaum in 1990. Additional materials relating to various family members that had previously been included in the Maryland Manuscripts collection at the University of Maryland Libraries were incorporated into this collection in 2001.

Processing Information

Processed by:

Processed by Max Grivno and Jennie Levine, November 2001.

Processing note:

The University of Maryland Libraries received the papers in no perceivable order. During the processing of the collection, the papers were reorganized into separate series and then placed in chronological order. Folded materials were flattened. Fragile items were encapsulated and newspaper clippings were photocopied on acid free paper. Staples and metal clips were removed. All materials were placed in acid-free folders and boxes. The photographs were transferred to the photograph collection.

Encoded by:

EAD markup created using EAD databse in Microsoft Access. Markup completed by Henry Allen.

Arrangement of Collection

The collection is arranged as three series

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series 1: Family History, 1823-1956 (40 items)

The bulk of this series consists of genealogical material, including family trees, family histories, and correspondence about reconstructing the family's history. This series also includes several historical documents pertaining to the Bowie family. Among these materials are a letter written during the American Civil War to "Tuck" from W.W.W. Bowie, a letter from the Maryland Adjutant General's Office to Washington Bowie, Esq., and a plantation ledger kept by William Bowie detailing the management of a family estate. This series is arranged alphabetically by document type. Documents are arranged chronologically within folders when possible.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / FrameItem
Clippings, 1932-1956 and undated series 1box 1folder 1
"Cotton Goods That Needy Will Wear," Baltimore Evening Sun, September 24, 1932 series 1box 1folder 1item 1
Funeral Announcement for Mary George Bowie, October 20, 1935 series 1box 1folder 1item 2
Walter W. Bowie Obituary, The Enquirer-Gazette, November 18, 1938 series 1box 1folder 1item 3
"Brookeville Was Capital For One Day," Times-Herald, November 14, 1939 series 1box 1folder 1item 4
"New Rockville Recreation Area Has Long History," Montgomery County Sentinel, November 1, 1956 series 1box 1folder 1item 5
"Public Opinion-Pickett's Division and the Light Brigade", undated series 1box 1folder 1item 6
"Jim Bowie's Rifle Being Fought Over", undated series 1box 1folder 1item 7
"Sketch of Colonel George Schley's Life", undated series 1box 1folder 1item 8
Correspondence, 1823-1948 and undated series 1box 1folder 2
Washington Bowie to Father, December 15, 1823 series 1box 1folder 2item 1
W. W. W. Bowie to William H. Tuck, September 10, 1863 series 1box 1folder 2item 2
Maryland Adjutant Generals Office to Washington Bowie, July 3, 1869 series 1box 1folder 2item 3
Robert B. Bowie to Washington Bowie, May 31, 1919 series 1box 1folder 2item 4
George L. Radcliffe to Major General Washington Bowie, Jr., February 26, 1948 series 1box 1folder 2item 6
Letter concerning the need for an umpire to settle William Bowie's estate, undated series 1box 1folder 2item 7
Correspondence related to Bowie Family Crest (3 letters), 1923 series 1box 1folder 2item 5
Family Trees, undated series 1box 1folder 3
Buchanan Family, undated series 1box 1folder 3item 1
"Bowie Family Copied from an Old Bible", undated series 1box 1folder 3item 2
Allen and Ruth Bowie, undated series 1box 1folder 3item 3
John Bowie, undated series 1box 1folder 3item 4
John Bowie and Elizabeth Pottinger (1), undated series 1box 1folder 3item 5
John Bowie and Elizabeth Pottinger (2), undated series 1box 1folder 3item 6
John Bowie [Showing Relationship to Claggett Family], undated series 1box 1folder 3item 7
Richard and Elizabeth Hall, undated series 1box 1folder 3item 8
"The Halls of Hagerstown", undated series 1box 1folder 3item 9
Colonel Richard and Anna Lee, undated series 1box 1folder 3item 10
Ledger, 1837-1925 and undated series 1box 1folder 4
Notes on Sale of Robert W. Bowie's Estate, March 18, 1837 series 1box 1folder 4item 1
Allen Bowie's bill for defending William Leizure, February 18, 1900 series 1box 1folder 4item 2
Allen Bowie's bill for defending several clients, April 21, 1909 series 1box 1folder 4item 3
Note concerning Washington Bowie's Military Service, May 26, 1925 series 1box 1folder 4item 4
Receipt to Thomas J. Bowie for fabric and patterns, undated series 1box 1folder 4item 5
Roster, Squad No. 1, Co. B, Washington League, undated series 1box 1folder 4item 6
Ledger, 1843-1872 series 1box 1folder 5
William D. Bowie farm account book and ledger, 1843-1872 series 1box 1folder 5item 1
Miscellaneous, 1837-1925 and undated series 1box 1folder 6
"The First Tournament in Maryland", October 12, 1865 series 1box 1folder 6item 1
"Narrative of the 'Sand Bar' Fight", 1885 series 1box 1folder 6item 2
W. W. Bowie to Washington Bowie, Jr, September 25, 1896 series 1box 1folder 6item 3
W. W. Bowie to Washington Bowie, Jr., February 16, 1926 series 1box 1folder 6item 4
Minnie Bowie to Washington Bowie, Jr., December 12, 1932 series 1box 1folder 6item 5
Lucy Leigh Bowie. "The Reverend John Bowie, Tory." Maryland Historical Magazine 38 (1943): 141-60., 1943 series 1box 1folder 6item 6
"Important November Events in Maryland History", undated series 1box 1folder 6item 7
Narratives, 1865-1943 and undated series 1box 1folder 7
Narrative of John Bowie's Descendents, undated series 1box 1folder 7item 1
Narrative of Allen Bowie's Descendents, undated series 1box 1folder 7item 2

Series 2: Legal Documents, 1748-1850 (7 items)

This series consists of seven wills written by members of the Bowie family. The wills provide useful information about the size of the family's landholdings, the distribution of their personal property, and the emancipation of the family's slaves. Arrangement is chronological.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / FrameItem
Legal Documents, 1748-1850 series 2box 1folder 8
Robert Pottonger, Will, April 20, 1748 series 2box 1folder 8item 1
Allen Bowie, Will, 1803 series 2box 1folder 8item 2
Allen Bowie, Will [Typed Copy], 1803 series 2box 1folder 8item 3
Thomas Davis, Will, 1833 series 2box 1folder 8item 4
Elizabeth Davis, Will, 1839 series 2box 1folder 8item 5
Thomas J. Bowie, Will, [typescript], 1850 series 2box 1folder 8item 6

Series 3: Photographs, 1948 and undated (2 items)

This series consists of an undated carte-de-visite of Jonas Johnson taken in Dubuque, Iowa. Washington Bowie, Jr., son of Colonel Washington Bowie and Nettie Schley, married twice; the second marriage to Marion Andrae Johnson, daughter of Jonas and Marion Andrae Johnson of Norway. The second photograph is of a stone in memorial to Thomas Davis "Patriot," 1667-1749. These items have been transferred to the photograph collection.

DescriptionSeriesBox / ReelFolder / FrameItem
Photographs, 1948 and undated series 3box 1folder 1
In Memory of Thomas Davis, Patriot, 1948 series 3box 1folder 1item 2
Carte-de-Visite of Jonas Johnson, undated series 3box 1folder 1item 1

Related Material

Researchers interested in the Bowie family's history may consult the following works in the Maryland Room:

The Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, Maryland, owns several collections of Bowie family papers, including those of Lucy Leigh Bowie and Walter W. Bowie.

The Maryland State Archives also holds a collection of Bowie family papers containing correspondence, deeds, legal documents, and other personal and business papers of the Bowie, Belt, Sprigg, and Duckett families of Prince George's County, MD, relating in part to the tobacco market. It includes six letters from Oden Bowie, who was a soldier in the Mexican War and later governor of Maryland.

For other related archival and manuscript collections, please see the following subject guides.

Selected Search Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in the University of Maryland Libraries' Catalog. Researchers desiring related materials about these topics, names, or places may search the Catalog using these headings.


Names (Added Entries)