Bowles Articles

Who Was Gideon Bowles
circa 1728-1798 of Henrico, Goochland and Cumberland Counties?
Harry Sutcliffe

Hany Sutcliffe, a native of England, and his wife, Betty Ann Donnan, originally of Rolla, Missouri, resides in Mill Valley, California.[2015-Mr. Sutcliffe passed away several years ago]

A civil engineer "trying to retire for the third time," Mr. Sutcliffe is also an avid genealogist who has accumulated an extensive collection of material on the Bowles family of which his wife is a descendant. The Bowles family and its many branches have been prominent in Goochland County for many generations, and many of that name continue to live here.

Mrs. Sutcliffe's mother was Hortense D. (Bowles) Donnan, daughter of Dr. William Hearst Bowles of Lanes Prairie, Missouri and granddaughter of the Honorable Caleb Bowles of Fenton, Missouri. He, in turn, was the son of Anderson Bowles, the son of Gideon Bowles about whom Mr. Sutcliffe is attempting to acquire more information.

What follows are Mr. Sutcliffe's notes about the elusive Gideon Bowles. His research on Gideon Bowles is shared as a work in progress and a project on which he would welcome any input and assistance. He is especially interested to know if others share his concern about the accuracy of Thomas Farquhar's 'History of the Bowles Family" (1907).

Genealogical research is a prime interest among many of the members and patrons of the Goochland County Historical Society, and we encourage those interested in such research to share their information and questions with us.

Little is known with certainty about Gideon Bowles, an ancestor of several branches of the Bowles family. The account of the Bowles Virginia line given in Thomas Farquhar's "History of the Bowles Family' (1907) has been widely accepted and used over the years in Bowles family histories, but has been found wanting. The history was written for Mrs. Effie Bowles Kelley of Richmond Virginia whose photograph, with a daughter almost ready to enter society, forms the frontispiece of the work. Unfortunately, the references to Gideon Bowles' ancestry in England and Ireland are not borne out by any known research to date in either country.

Farquhar refers to four other brothers, sons of John Bowles, a merchant of Oxford and Dublin, who came to the Americas with Gideon; one of them to Loudoun County and one to Winchester, Virginia. There were Bowles in both those places, as there were from Maine and Boston on South, but no evidence of any relationship to Gideon has yet been provided. The Douglas Register of St James Northam in Goochland County, which begins in 1756, records that Gideon had a daughter Jean, born Dec. 1757 and baptized Feb. 1758. In fact, nine of his children are in the birth register.

Farquhar states that Gideon's grandfather was another Gideon.  Gideon Sr's son was John Bowles who reportedly married Eleanor, granddaughter of a Sir William Parsons. A granddaughter, of course, does not necessarily carry her grandfather's surname. Farquhar refers to a "History of the Parsons Family' for more information on Bowles-Parsons family ties. The British Library copy of that work, dated 1903, has no reference to such ties. Perhaps Farquhar was told of this family connection, but for his own reasons did not follow it up. It may be true in some aspect, but garbled in others. Farquhar's records are not known to have survived.

There is an 1696 lawsuit in Dublin, one of several as yet uninvestigated, between an Elinor Parsons and a Sir William Parsons, but it has not yet been linked to any Bowles. Elinor is listed as "alias Byrnes." Four Bowles-Richard, Simon, William and Thomas-are listed in the 1659 Census of Ireland, the first three in County Cork and the fourth in County Wicklow. The Parsons were and are a prominent family in County Cork. There were also Bowles in Dublin circa 1700.

There were Bowles and Parsons in the Oxford area of England, and, tantalizingly, there were the two families in the adjacent villages of Middle and North Aston, north of Oxford, but they thrived a century apart. No record has been found to date of any Gideon Bowles in England or Ireland, and no record of a Bowles-Parsons marriage in either place.

The Parsons family had strong ties with Antigua, and there were Bowles on the island, and on Barbados, but no firm ties have been established to date. Antigua, like Barbados, was a place where younger sons, denied inheritance by the law of primogeniture, came to make a fast fortune, if lucky, before returning to England to establish themselves in society. Familiar Virginia surnames are to be found on these islands, and no doubt younger sons of Virginia were attracted for similar reasons. Barbados had commerce with both Virginia and New England. Antigua had its share of unrest through the 17th and early 18th Centuries.

Farquhar quotes family tradition that John Bowles married a Welsh lady named Sarah Knight. Whether this John Bowles was the one who was alive in 1625, or his probable grandson John whose six grandchildren were old enough to sign a wedding register in 1723, is not clear. It is rather a vague record, and the five generations of Johns are identified largely by land records and wills. The Barbados records are of interest regarding the Sarah Knight tradition. In 1676, a Thomas Kerby married a Sarah Knight. In 1668, in the will of Isaac Bowles, his ship, the "John and Sarah," and his brother John are mentioned. In 1673, the will of John Knight mentions land in England and a sister Sarah Knight whose parents were John and Jane Knight. A John Bowles was in St. Michaels Parish 1678-80. A Sarah Bowles is mentioned in the 1715 will of John Collins, Speights Town. The 1719 will of Richard Scott, Esq. of Barbados mentions Mrs. Jane Lightfoot and my sister Sarah Bowles, widow. In 1721 Sarah Bowles, aged 40, made a deposition. A Sarah Knight, daughter of Thomas and Mary Knight, was baptized in January 1733. These Barbados records indicate that the Knight family and given name Sarah flourished in Barbados. As yet, nothing more. One Sarah Bowles was formally Mrs. Sarah Scot and married Major Phineas Bowles, 24 April 1692.

So much for evidence. What about conjecture? Farquhar says that Gideon Bowles' father was John. Conjecture: Did one of the John Bowles spend time in Barbados, marry a Sarah Knight, move or return to Virginia? "Knight" becomes a Bowles given name from about 1745.

At St Peters church, Speights Town, Barbados, some eighty years ago, a partially legible stone read:

Elizabeth....Knight | .... 1729 | Aged 20 years
....Bowles …to Jane Burch | departed this life|
line illegible | .... Knight late merchant line
illegible | August 20 1750 | Aged 64 years. John
and Jane Knight had daughters Sarah and Elizabeth.

Were there also links in Barbados or Antigua between Bowles and Parsons? In 1714, William Parsons was a witness to a will in Barbados. From the will of Michael Parsons, Tomduffe, County Wexford, Ireland, Nov. 1699: "My Brother William, or William of Parsontown, Bart. ... My sister Elinor, if she will sail to the Island of Antigue in West Indies. In 1705, Edward Parsons was made Secretary of the Leeward Islands, which include Antigua."

So many hints, so little firm fact, but enough to encourage further research on the possible Barbados-and Antigua connections.

As early as 1637, a John Bowles and son were in Elizabeth County, Virginia on the narrows of Back River. A succession of Johns through to 1719 are believed to be forebears of Benjamin Bowles of Goochland and Cumberland Counties, and possibly of Gideon. Benjamin Bowles (c. 1705-67) was of this line. A John Bowles is a witness to a land sale in Goochland County in 1739.

Evidence suggests we should consider that Gideon Bowles may have been the brother of Captain David Bowles (c. 1730-1806), of Margaret, John and Benjamin, children of Benjamin Bowles (c. 1705-67). Captain David Bowles married Sarah Hughes. Gideon married Charity Ann Hughes. John Hughes (c. 1710-91) of Stoney Point Mills, Cumberland County is a possible father or uncle of the girls. His wife was thought to be a Miss Anderson.

Research into Hughes' wills for a mention of Gideon may be fruitful. John Hughes' will of 1791 has the following familiar names: daughters Ann, Mary Ann, Sarah, Elizabeth, and Martha; grandsons Anderson, and Benjamin Bowles Hughes; son John; and wife Joice. A witness was Francis Anderson. A son named Anderson had died in 1782.

In 1749, Margaret Bowles was about to marry Thomas Puryear. On March 27th of that year, Puryear bought 191 acres on Chickahominy Swamp in Henrico County. The sale was witnessed by Gedion [sic) Bowles and David Bowles. By 1771, David was guardian of the Puryear orphans on land adjoining the land of Benjamin Bowles. It seems likely that two brothers were witnessing a purchase made with dowry money. But was Gideon a blood relative, or a more distant relative who had been taken to heart by Benjamin's family?

Gideon first enters the record in Virginia in 1749, when he is a petitioner for a ferry in Henrico County. We can take it, therefore, that at that time, he was at least 16 and probably 21 years old. That would put his date of birth at 1728 or earlier. He first buys land in Goochland County in 1761 and was married before 1757.

As with so many Lost Record County residents, Gideon probably will be identified only by an accumulation of facts and hints from secondary sources. This recognition is what prompts the casting of this net in the great ocean of little facts. Other fisher folk are invited to compare their catches with those of the writer.

This article first appeared in Goochland County, Virginia Historical Society Magazine, Vol 30 1998. It is reproduced here with the author's permission.