By: Judge John L. Kiener
By Bernie Bowman
(Bernie Bowman is the author of “George and Barbara Keller Bowman: Immigrants and Bowman House Builders.” He is the direct descendent of John Bowman, brother of Elias Bowman who is the subject of the following article. Bowman can be reached at the following email address: email@example.com. he book title is George and Barbara Bowman: Immigrants and Bowman House Builders by Bernard (Bernie) D. Bowman, 2009. It was published by Anundsen Publishing Company, 108 Washington Street, Decorah, Iowa52101, and as noted on the cover, published in 2009. Copies are available at the cost of $35.00 per book, plus $4.50 for shipping and handling. Checks should be made out to Bernie Bowman and mailed to Bernie Bowman, 2010 Kirkland Blvd., Maryville, TN37803. I am also fine with my email address being shared – firstname.lastname@example.org. As you can see, I have attached a file that has a picture of the book. Could you work with this for the illustration? The house pictured is the Bowman House at the FrontierCulturalMuseum at Staunton, Virginia.)
Elias Bowman lived and died near Leesburg in Washington County, Tennessee. We know of Elias today primarily because of his tombstone. His life did not garner recognition in subsequent history books. Still a little research reveals a fascinating life of a very substantial early citizen. Would it be fair to ask, “Is not Elias more the ‘every-man’ pioneer than the Daniel Boones and Davy Crocketts who also lived in the same area at about the same time?” You be the judge!
When Elias arrived in WashingtonCounty in 1790 he had five children (John, Mary, Barbara, Elizabeth and George) ranging in age from eight to 17. His second wife, Eve, was pregnant with his sixth child – David born in 1790. Elias and his first wife, Elizabeth, had purchased two tracts of land totaling 97 acres in Berkeley County, VA (later West Virginia) in 1782. This land is located along Duncan Run before it empties into Opequon Creek in the southeast corner of BerkeleyCounty. The BerkeleyCounty land was sold in August of 1790 and tax records in Washington County, TN that same year reflect Elias owning two tracts of land, one of 100 acres the other 124 acres, along Big Limestone Creek just outside what became Leesburg. It was not uncommon for early settlers, once settled and owning land to be able to double or triple their acreage for the same money as they moved further inland or south. But did Elias have other reasons to relocate?
No one knows Elias’ mind, he left no dairies or written records we know of, but it would not be a stretch to think that Elias decided that a second marriage coupled with the prospect of significant financial gain would be reason enough to relocate. Keep in mind, this was at a time when that moving frontier always beckoned. As an example, records reflect that in one year in the decade of the 1770s half of the residents of Berks County, PA – Elias’ families first residence in the new world – sold their land and moved on. We tend to have the image in our minds of the lone soldier of fortune striking out in the wilderness. The reality is that most of the frontier was settled by early pioneer families who tended to move as families or affiliated groups.
We know that Elias’s parents, George and Barbara Keller Bowman (Hans Georg Baumann and Maria Barbara Keller) traveled from their home in Bodigheim, Baden, Germany and settled initially in Berks County, PA along with others who were related to each other by family, marriage, religious and business connections first established in Bodigheim. Later, in about 1770 when Elias’ parents and his brother, John, relocated to Rockingham County, VA, they settled in close proximity with others they already knew from Pennsylvania. We do not know precisely when or how Elias came to “stop off” in BerkeleyCounty while others of his family traveled on south. We do know Elias followed that pattern of traveling with related others when he relocated from BerkeleyCounty to WashingtonCounty. Michael Fraker, who along with Abraham Campbell and John Campbell are credited with founding Leesburg, was a neighbor of Elias in BerkeleyCounty.
But back to Elias, as noted earlier tax records reflect his buying and selling of land in WashingtonCounty starting in 1790 along Big Limestone Creek, but also later in GreeneCounty along the Long Fork of Lick Creek. He also bought and sold lots in Leesburg. Obviously he enjoyed a measure of financial success. A seventh child, Elias Jr., was born in 1791 and an eighth child, Samuel, was born in 1803.
And herein lies a hint of the unknown about Elias’ marriages. His first wife, Elizabeth, was born about 1748 in Virginia according to unsubstantiated Web site data. There is no known record of her maiden name. Then we find a marriage record of Elias Bowman and Eve Rickert by the Rev. Christian Strait in 1789 in Frederick County, VA just south of BerkeleyCounty. I am convinced, but cannot produce written evidence, that Eve Rickert was the mother of both David and Elias Jr. We do know from written records that Elias Sr. was married to an Elizabeth Smith at some point later in Elias’ residency in WashingtonCounty. I believe, but cannot prove, this Elizabeth Smith was the mother of Samuel, Elias’ eighth child. At the birth of Samuel, Elias was 57 years of age and Elizabeth would have been in her early forties.
What real and circumstantial evidence supports these conclusions? WashingtonCounty tax records for 1790 indicate two white people associated with the Elias Bowman tract – presumably Elias and his wife, Eve. Keep in mind, all the children were still too young to be counted at this time. In 1791 the tax record reflects one white person, leading me to believe Eve may have died in childbirth with Elias Jr. or sometime thereafter. In 1801 a tax record reflects one white person, but by this date Elias would have been too old to be counted – leading me to conclude that he had remarried. In 1801 Elias’ youngest son by his first wife, George, would have been 19 – too young to be counted, as were his children with Eve. The daughters were married by this date. The birth of Samuel in 1803 would be in keeping with this supposition. My conclusion is further supported by Elizabeth “Smith’s” will in 1846. She bequeaths $1 each to Elias’ children – with the exception of Samuel who is not mentioned. He had died in 1845. She then gives all her personal property and her real estate to Maria Smith, with John T. Smith as executor! Based on the will of John T. Smith in 1875 I suspect, but cannot prove, that John T. was Elizabeth’s son from a prior marriage and Maria – or Mariah as her name is spelled in that will – was Elizabeth’s daughter-in-law. Had either David or Elias Jr been Elizabeth’s sons it is probable she would have bequeathed a larger amount to them as opposed to the first wife’s children.
It is worthy of note that the transcribed and readily available printed version of Elizabeth’s will is considerably abridged. It does not include the detailed list of household possessions and livestock that is included in the original, nor does it include the fact that the property bequeathed to Maria included “one black girl named Milly” and “my interest in the planation on which I now live.”
Sadly we do not know of the grave sites of any of Elias’ three wives. Elizabeth Smith Bowman’s will specified that her “deceased body be given a descent and Christian-like burial” which in my mind implies a tombstone. And Elias’ son John’s will specifies that funds are to be used to provide a tombstone for his father and his mother. Obviously his father’s tombstone is known, but not his mothers. Perhaps someone can add to our “knowing” about Elias by finding these final resting places for Elizabeth, Eve and Elizabeth.
What else do we know of Elias’ life in Washington County, TN?
- From the records of the EmanuelLutheranChurch and School (Old Dutch Meeting House) we know Elias at age 61 was a founding elder of the church along with Abraham Shnep. This church and school was established between the Booth Branch and the Lloyd Branch tributaries to Cherokee Creek very early in the 1800’s. Elias and his wife Elizabeth were noted as communicants on a regular basis. One church record appears to include a signature from Elias with the last name spelled “Bauman.” Keep in mind, sermons were still preached in German and English so the use of German and German spelling in the records is to be expected.
- Elias owned slaves, having bought from Joseph Duncan in 1810 “a negro man, Moses about 50 and a negro woman, Sarah, about 45” for $500. Later in 1812 Elias bought from Wm. P. Chester “a negro girl, Milly age 8”obviously the same person Elizabeth later bequeathed to Maria. One wonders how Elias’ eldest son John felt about this. Son John became a minister in the Methodist church and represented the Holston Conference as a delegate to the General Conference of the MethodistChurch in Philadelphia in 1832, along with W. G. Brownlow – a man whose vehement opposition to slavery is well known.
- Elias, like most people of some means, made personal loans. One of those to Joseph Clemens did not go so well and on a debt of $26 Elias received all Clemen’s household property and a cow and a calf instead of repayment.
- Elias did jury duty, in the case of Jacob and Ruth Brown versus Thomas Brown, finding with his fellow jurors in favor of the defendant.
- We know from a variety of records that while Elias himself did not make the history books, he was a neighbor to, and had relationships with those we do recognize from the history pages. Some of these included the already mentioned Michael Fraker, along with Leeroy Taylor, Christopher Taylor, Frederick DeVault of DeVault Tavern fame, Jason Sevier, Thomas Brabson, and Joseph Tucker among others. Keep in mind, Elias lived on the Old Stagecoach Road, formerly Boones Trail, which connected Washington to Nashville. He would have been at the center of a lot of coming and going. But then the railroad went through Jonesborough instead and that was the end of Leesburg as a prominent town.
- Elias served as a witness to a number of court transactions for others and as “bondman” at two marriages, one for a John Rickard, the other for Seth Smith. No doubt Seth was a relative of his wife Elizabeth, and do you remember Elias’ second wife’s last name – Rickert? Given the variation in spelling in early records, I take this as further circumstantial evidence that Eve Rickert was in fact Elias’ second wife.
- Of Elias’ children:
o I’ve already commented on Elias’ son, John. It appears he never married, but served as a minister in the Holston Conference of the Methodist church. He is buried in Rheatown.
o Mary “Polly” married Leonard Calvert and lived in Cooper County, Missouri.
o Barbara married John McConnell and lived in Muncie, Delaware County, Indiana.
o Elizabeth married John Simpson and lived in Greene County, Tennessee.
o George was married twice, first to Susannah Davis then to Nancy Browder. George’s home place in Loudon County, Tennessee is on the historical register.
o David married Sarah (Sally) Smith and lived in Washington County, Tennessee.
o Elias Jr. lived in Washington County, Tennessee.
o Samuel married Sarah Bright and lived on the home place along Big Limestone Creek in Washington County, Tennessee until his death in 1845.
- Elias was in reasonably good health up to the year before he died on August 20, 1829 at age 83. We know this because in March of 1829 he served as witness to a transaction of land and a slave from Christopher Taylor to his son, James Taylor. And this brings us back to the tombstone mentioned in the first paragraph. The Elias Bowman family cemetery is located south of the Old Stagecoach Road between State Highway 81 and Leesburg, adjacent to the Ruritan Club building. It was the information provided from this tombstone, along with all the other “paper trail” records that convinced me this Elias Bowman was a brother to my direct ancestor, John Bowman. DNA testing proved this to be the case. The May 21, 2012 Johnson City Press included an article about the Cohen family “discovering” the Elias Bowman cemetery and their efforts to bring it back from its current disastrous state. Hopefully descendants and others will step up to make this happen.
- In 1835, six years after Elias’ death the home place was sold to Samuel Bowman by the other heirs for $327.
- And a final note, Elias’ descendent Harriet Bowman and her husband Samuel Murr built a cabin about 1852 just behind McCartyHollowChurch. Harriet’s granddaughter, Virginia Campbell and her husband, Houston, restored and moved the cabin to Telford and at one time it was available for tours.
So… we salute Elias Bowman – two and a half years old when he boarded the ship Patience in 1749 with his parents and siblings; grew to manhood in PA where he lived until at least the age of 19; married and raised a family in Berkeley County VA (WVA); and then relocated to Leesburg, near Washington County, Tennessee where he was a substantial contributor to settling the frontier. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Elias and other unrecognized pioneers!
For those familiar with the Bowmans in Washington County, TN affiliated with the Church of the Brethren and the town of Bowmantown, Elias is from an unrelated Bowman line. DNA analysis has confirmed this.
The FrontierCulturalMuseum in Staunton, Virginia is an interesting excursion for those interested in history. The log house that George and Barbara Bowman built in Rockingham County, Virginia in the early 1770’s has been dismantled and re-constructed on the grounds of the museum as a permanent display.