If you have ever watched the movie Roots, read Alex Haley’s book, or read about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, you will know about runaway slaves. However, when you read and find out about people who are in your own family tree, it takes on a whole other meaning. When you do find this out and you have thought for over 75 years you were all white, never a hint of African blood flowing through your veins, what kind of thoughts might be running through your mind?
Darlene started out as a client from the company I work for called Ancestor Seekers. We soon became friends and then I believe it was on her second trip to one of our research weeks, that we found out we are also related, sixth cousins one generation removed from our common ancestors. This line is from my Dad’s side through his mother’s people and for Darlene it was also from her Dad’s side but through her father’s, father. The line I will be telling you about is from her fathers, mother’s side of the family.
Family information had always said that Darlene’s great-grandfather, Joseph Henry Bowman was born in Boston, Massachusetts on March 22, 1828 and that he was the son of William Samuel Bowman and Catherine Minifee. The stories also said William and Catherine were from Washington DC which for the reader’s information use to be known as Washington City during the time this family lived there. She also knew that Joseph had at least five brothers, one older and four younger then himself. Darlene had found a number of records in Massachusetts for the family there, but everyone was always listed as white, so she had never even entertained the thought of looking for African American records. That was to change quickly after she found the following marriage record.
When Darlene found this marriage record she came to my co-workers and me and asked what the ‘blk’ stood for after Catherine’s name. The first thought for all of us was black, but then this is 1824 and typically, black marriages weren’t registered, so it must mean something else. However, after a little more research we came to realize that in the District of Columbia and a handful of other places throughout the country, mainly in the north, blacks could be legally married just like anyone else at that time, even if they were slaves. We never even thought we would find anything past this marriage for William and Catherine since they were black, but again we were in for a big surprise.
We knew William and Catherine had a son named Edward R. Bowman who was born about September of 1825 in Washington City or possibly Georgetown, before they moved to Massachusetts where the rest of their children were born. It wasn’t until we found the next record in an old newspaper that we really got hot on the trail.
From the Daily National Intelligencer in Washington City issue dated Wednesday, March 29, 1826 we found the runaway notice for William and Catherine when they disappeared from Washington City. We found the newspaper at www.genealogybank.com. The paper says they ran away about the 6th of March. The paper also says their names are Bill and Kitty, but they call themselves William Southerland Bowman and Catherine and that they have a little child aged about six months that they took as well. There was also a white indentured boy named Philip Ferner/Fenner, nicknamed Rat, that they think may have run off with them as well. There was a reward of $100 for Bill and $50 for Kitty.
The article goes on to say that Bill and Kitty are, “so near white that they may pass as such unless detected by close examination”. The article also says that they are, “artful, deceitful and ungrateful”, apparently because they will try and pass themselves off as white. Something else this article tell us which is really cool is a complete description of Bill and Kitty. The notice asks for it to be posted in five other papers, but so far we have only found just this one notice. The Boston Courier is one of the papers the notice is to be posted, but since they ended up in the Boston area, it makes me wonder if the notice was ever posted there, especially since they used the same names they had been known by in Washington City.
Can you even imagine, taking off with a six month old child, running for your life, knowing what would happen if you got caught!!! William was pretty valuable it sounds like from the above ad, so they aren’t going to shoot him if at all possible, but they probably feared they would be separated if caught and the baby taken from them. If the indentured boy really left with them, did he stay with them for any length of time or did he head in a different direction after getting away from DC? From the way the ad is written we are assuming that William and Catherine were being leased and not owned by Edgar Patterson, 1773-1835, the man who placed the ad. But who exactly owned them and how long had Edgar Patterson leased them is unknown. We have found that Edgar Patterson, who posted the runaway notice was a fairly prominent man in the Georgetown area in the District of Columbia.
One of Darlene’s cousin found the following portrait and brief bio about Edgar Patterson at: http://www.schwarzgallery.com/catalog.php?id=84&plate=5&menu=1. This portrait of Edgar Patterson, was painted by Charles Peale Polk, 1767-1822. This portrait depicts Mr. Edgar Moses Patterson, a prominent businessman and merchant, as well as an officer, from Georgetown, in the District of Columbia and has descended through the Patterson family until its most recent ownership.
Patterson built a series of mills along the Potomac River, at Little Falls Bridge, just three miles from Washington. During the Revolutionary War (This should be the War of 1812, since Patterson would have been just about 10 years old at the end of the Revolutionary War. Plus I found a book called “A Travel Guide to the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake: Eighteen Tours in Maryland, Virginia & the District of Columbia, By Ralph E. Eshelman, which mentions Edgar Patterson and his gristmill.). Patterson's gristmill was used in the heroic effort to save the Declaration of Independence and other prominent government documents.”
You can read more about Edgar Patterson and his mills in the following book, “American Paper Mills, 1690-1832: A Directory of the Paper Trade, with Notes ... By John Bidwell”. According to the runaway notice Bill, William Southerland Bowman, was quite familiar with the paper mill and woolen industries and the book I just mentioned states that Edgar Patterson owned paper mills and woolen mills. In another book called, “Grist Mills of Fairfax County and Washington, DC” we read: “It was Edgar Patterson who realized the full potential of Pimmit Run. In 1815 Patterson obtained the property from Joseph Deane. Between 1816 and 1821 this was the busiest two hundred feet of shoreline on the Potomac River.
In an 1821 newspaper this ad appeared: “To manufactures, paper mill, flour mill, wool factory, stone quarries, and land for sale.” The flour mill was described as a large three story stone building with three runs of buhrstones and all necessary machinery to manufacture flour. The mill is located at Little Falls Bridge, three miles from Washington and Georgetown. At this point, the river was forty to sixty feet deep. This was considered to be the most profitable milling establishment in this part of the county. The lower story of the mill was built on a rock base that also served as a landing for the boats. These men could load a barge with three hundred barrels of flour in one to two hours.
There was a two story stone wool factory that adjoined the mill. The building was one hundred ten feet long. Inside were carding machines, billes and jennies, twelve broad and a number of narrow looms and all necessary machinery for the manufacture of blankets and cloth. There was a stone fulling mill, a stone dye house, and a stone bleach house. There was a paper mill at this site and was probably built west of the gristmill. The Patterson Mills were located where Pimmit Run enters the Potomac River. This was a favorable location for mills because there was a 27 foot drop from Pimmit Run to the river.
Patterson had a wool factory, a flour mill and a paper mill. If one starts at the Kennedy center and begins to hike the Rock Creek trails the first mill site will be the Patterson’s Paper Mill that was on the east bank of Rock Creek, at P Street and Florida Avenue. This mill was a water powered mill that was also known as the Columbia Paper Mill. This mill was built by Gustavus Scott and Nicholas Lingan in 1800. In 1805 Edgar Patterson was the owner. In 1821, Edgar put his mill up for sale. The mill was described as a three storied structure, one hundred twenty feet long. The first story of the mill was constructed using stones and the other two stories were made of wood. In 1829, Andrew Way leased the paper mill. In 1820 the mill had two vats and two engines in operation. Patterson employed six men, twelve women and two boys. Each received around three dollars a week for their hard labor. A wooden covered bridge was constructed near the water with a steep and precipitous roadway leading down to the stream. The bridge was near the present “P” Street Bridge and was called the Paper Mill Bridge.”
After reading the above we now know a little bit more about where William Southerland Bowman worked before running away from Washington City. It also makes me wonder if Catherine could have been one of the women working at the mill too, since she and William were married.
I don’t believe that William and Catherine ever told their children that they were mulattos or that they were runaway slaves. I think they probably did this so that they did not have to worry about something slipping out, it would have been too dangerous for all of them. William and Catherine didn’t change their names either which seems rather strange, but we don’t find them again until the 1840 census when Catherine is listed as the head of the house. She apparently ran a boarding house from at least 1840 to 1870, first in Boston and then in Fitchburg, Worcester County, Massachusetts and then back in Boston. We have yet to find her on the 1850 or 1880 census, so we are not sure where she was at or what she was doing during that time.
The following map I found at this website: http://www.common-place-archives.org/vol-03/no-04/washington/ and says the following about it: H.C. Carey & I. Lea, "Geographical, statistical, and historical map of the District of Columbia," engraved by Young & Delleker. (Philadelphia: H.C. Carey & I. Lea, 1822). Library of Congress. I have circled in red where Georgetown and Rock Creek were located.
The following I also found and thought was quite interesting at this website: http://umbrigade.tripod.com/articles/federalcity.html
In February 1801 the Federal Territory was designated the District of Columbia. The district grew steadily, as follows:
Year Total Pop. Free Blacks Slaves
1800 14,093 783 3,244
1820 33,039 4,048 6,277
1860 75,000 11,000 3,000
We still haven’t found a death date for William Southerland Bowman, but it must have been before 1840, since Catherine is listed as the head of household on the 1840 census of Ward 3 in Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts. Darlene was able to find the record of Catherine’s death which occurred on June 17, 1883 on Deer Island in Suffolk County, Massachusetts. This record was found in the Massachusetts Town Records 1620 to 1988 located at www.Ancestry.com and it said the following: “Catharine Bowman, born in Washington DC, maiden name Minnavee, age 70, female, widow of William, daughter of Charles Minnavee born in England and Catharine born in Washington DC, cause of death was given as senile, gangrene and exhaustion of 3 days duration”.
Since Catherine died on Deer Island she must have been in the Almshouse there. Wikipedia says the following about the Almshouse: "In 1850, an almshouse was built to house paupers. Opened in 1853, it was administered by the City of Boston”. The following is from the 1883 death register for Catherine in Boston, Massachusetts.
I believe she is the same Catherine Minifee who is buried at Pine Grove Cemetery in Lynn, Essex County, Massachusetts even though www.findagrave.com has her listed as dying in October of 1883 instead of June. The age on findagrave and the age in the death records on Deer Island are the same, aged 70 years. We also know that two of her sons Edward R. Bowman and William W. Bowman are buried at Pine Grove Cemetery as well.
The Bowman’s lived in Massachusetts for many, many years and descendants still live there to this day. All that is except for Joseph Henry Bowman, Darlene’s great-grandfather, who left we believe sometime after 1846 and fought in the Mexican War and was married in Nashville, Tennessee in 1851. He stayed mainly in the south and his children never lived in Massachusetts, though he did go back to Massachusetts at least a couple of different times before his death and he did keep in contact with his brothers there as well.
The other children of William and Catherine were the following: Edward R. Bowman, ca. Sep 1825-June 30, 1893 who married Jane Jackson and then Adeline C. Hall; Charles F. Bowman, Nov 1830-after 1910, who married Hulda F. Sampson and Mary A. Drake and possible a third who is unknown at this time; William W. Bowman, April 1832-December 12, 1907 who married Sarah A. Reed and then Emma (maiden name unknown at this time); Joshua Grafton Bowman, ca. 1834-1925, who married Alice E. Weymouth; and Benjamin Franklin Bowman, ca. 1836-November 27, 1919, who married Rosabella Fessenden Holbrook. As far as we know, Edward, Charles and Joshua are the only ones besides Joseph who had any children and if the other two boys had children, those children must have died as infants.
The following map of the state of Massachusetts with its county boundaries shows the different counties that the Bowman’s lived in at different times throughout the years. Boston is already shown on this map and the little plus signs I added show where the towns of Lynn, Cambridge, Fitchburg and Pembroke are approximately located. These five towns were where we found the Bowman’s the most frequently in the records we have looked through.
What must it have been like, wondering every day if someone might recognize you, or recognize your names from the old runaway notices? How could you ever let your guard down? For 37 years Catherine had to hide her true identity and even after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 you still weren’t really safe, even though the proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free”. What a relief that must have been, but even the proclamation didn’t stop some people from being cruel to the blacks, free or otherwise. So for another 20 years after the proclamation, Catherine Minifee Bowman, probably continued to be afraid to totally let down her guard. It wasn’t until she was lying dead and buried that she finally got the rest she so richly deserved.
Unfortunately though, we know nothing else about William Southerland Bowman and if it weren’t for the runaway notice, all we would have ever known is his name. He was born in approximately 1798, possibly in Baltimore, Maryland and he may have been dead by 1840 or maybe been captured and sent back to Washington City. We just don’t know and we probably never will know what happen to him. On some of his children’s marriage records and some of their death records his name was given as was Catherine’s, but nothing else. So did he go by William Samuel Bowman after they ran away and that is why later family thought that was his name, instead of William Southerland Bowman? Again we will probably never know the answer to that question either.
Fortunately we know more about Catherine. Catherine Minifee Bowman’s death record gave her parents’ names as Charles Minnavee born in England and Catherine Minnavee born in Washington. We have not yet been able to figure out who Catherine’s mother Catherine was, but we believe she might have been a slave belonging to Charles Minifee and she may very well have been a mulatto herself, since Catherine was so ‘bright’ as the runaway notice stated. Thankfully there were only a couple of Minifee’s in the DC area and one was Charles Minifee and since then Darlene has found tons of information about Charles Minifee from his citizenship papers in Philadelphia in 1798, to correspondence with Thomas Jefferson and others in high offices in Washington, to filing for bankruptcy and property disputes with the government. Charles is a story for another day, but he led a very interesting life to say the least and was in one business deal or another before and after he arrived in America from Devon, England.
Just a little tidbit to make you want more of the story about Charles Minifee. He had a bastard child in England with a woman who possibly worked for his family. He then married a woman 15 years older than himself who came from money. However, her father wrote in his will that Charles was not to inherit or have control over any of her money. He then left England because he is running from debtors and that means he leaves his wife too. She stayed in England and died in 1814. He also leaves the daughter he had with the house maid, who was still living in 1814. After arriving in America around 1794 he marries again to a widow in Philadelphia in 1800, but we don’t believe he ever divorced the woman in England and by 1805 or so, he is pretty much living in Washington City and his wife in Philadelphia, and she does not die until 1839.
Charles Minifee seems to always be running from something and getting in over his head, but we believe he must have cared for this daughter who was born a slave. Otherwise I don’t believe Catherine would have known his name or where he was from. This just popped into my head one day not too long ago and I don't know why I hadn't thought of it before now. Charles Minifee died September 5, 1825 in Washington City and William and Catherine ran away sometime between March 6 and March 26, 1826 when the runaway notice was posted. That was within six months of Charles Minifee’s death. I think they may have run away because maybe after his death, Catherine could have been sold off for his debts, if she was indeed his slave. Maybe that was the reason they ran, but we will never know for certain unless we run across some other records and knowing Darlene, I know she will keep looking as long as she can.
Darlene does have a copy of an old letter written in 1908 from Charles F. Bowman to his niece Minnie, daughter of his brother, Joseph Henry Bowman. In the letter Charles is saying they are trying to see about getting some money from a Minifee estate in England and he is telling his niece the following: “Now in relation to our claim, this Lord Minifee had a son by the name of Charles Minifee Jr. who came to this country in the year 1780 or there abouts and settled in Washington bringing a large amount of money which he invested in land on the Eastern Banks of the Potomac River, he also invested in the Chain Bridge between Georgetown and Washington to the amount of ten thousand dollars ($10,000), he married a woman by the name of Johnson, and had only one child, her name being Catherine Minifee, who married at an early age a man by the name of William Samuel Bowman in the year 1824. She had by him ten children of whom there is but four living children, claiming to be the grandchildren of Charles Minifee, Jr.”
There are just a couple of things off in this letter from what we have been able to verify. We know who Charles Minifee’s father was and that his name was William Minifee, so we know Charles was not a junior, nor have we ever found him listed that way. We also know that William Minifee was not a Lord, and we also know Charles Minifee didn’t get to America until about 1794. This letter also says that Catherine’s mother’s maiden name was Johnson, but again we don’t have anything to verify that fact yet. If Catherine’s mother was a mulatto and a slave like we are prone to believe, she may not have had a surname or it could be the original name of her slave owner. The year 1824 for their marriage is the correct year. There was indeed four children still living in 1908, Charles F. Bowman who is writing the letter, Joseph Henry Bowman, Joshua Grafton Bowman and Benjamin Franklin Bowman. We only know of six children and so if there were really ten children, we still need to find the names of the other four.
Darlene, since finding all of this information, has done DNA as has one of her brothers, her son and a cousin and they are all showing African ancestry. Another cousin who descends from Joshua Grafton Bowman is still waiting for DNA results to come back. I feel sure that will show approximately the same percentage of African genes as all the others. She still needs to find some descendants of Edward and Charles Bowman and have their DNA checked to see what percentage they might show as well.
DNA is a marvel to be sure and makes for some interesting details in a family’s makeup and may change what you might have thought was your family’s heritage to something completely different from the way you have always believed.
William and Catherine’s son, Joseph Henry Bowman moved in with Darlene’s grandparents sometime after 1910 but probably before 1913 and continued to live with them until he died on August 30, 1920. As far as Darlene knows, if he did indeed know he had African blood, he never told anyone. Darlene sent me the following picture which was taken around 1913 and includes Joseph with three of his daughters and one of his granddaughters.
When one of Joshua Grafton Bowman’s descendants, found out about the heretofore hidden part of their family, they said, “What you have uncovered is wonderful and our family will be so enriched as we continue to discover the beautiful pattern that has been woven by our ancestors. The fantastic story of William and Catharine, filled with struggle, courage and the desire to be free during one of the most chaotic periods of American history, should be an inspiration to each of us. Possibly they hid their story for fear it would bring harm to their descendants, but now it is time that it is told and celebrated by us, their children's children who carry their brave blood in our veins.”
Darlene gave me permission to write their story and I will be forever grateful for this opportunity. She also proof read it for me and made suggestions along the way. I am sure there is more to this story than any of us will ever know or be able to find. The story so far though is more than enough intrigue and mystery that Darlene keeps looking and so do I. They seem to call out to both of us to tell their tale and let their voices be heard. I know that there are many, many more stories such as these waiting to be found and the spirits of these brave ancestors too, beg to be set free. May we all look for the stories of our ancestors, black or white, slave or free and tell their tales, never to be forgotten ever again.