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.
The Bowie family had a large plantation, Fairview Plantation, starting around 1810, and during this time there are records of the family enslaving many individuals. The 1860 “U.S. Federal Census - Slave Schedules” records that Oden Bowie enslaved 103 individuals, 53 men and 50 women ages 6 months to 70 years, and his relative Walter W. W. Bowie enslaved 28 people, 18 men and 10 women ages 6 months to 80 years. Names of the individuals enslaved are not recorded in this 1860 record.
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.