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Bowie Family papers

 Collection 0167-MDHC
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.


  • 1748-1956
  • Majority of material found within 1823-1956

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open for research.

Duplication and Copyright Information

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.


0.50 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of 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.

Family History

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.


The collection is arranged as three series.
Series 1
Family History
Series 2
Legal Documents
Series 3

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.

Related Material

Researchers interested in the Bowie family's history may consult the following works in the Maryland Room:
  1. Bowie, Effie Gwynn. Across the Years in Prince George's County: A Genealogical and Biographical History of Some Prince George's County, Maryland and Allied Families. Richmond, VA: Garrett and Massie, 1947.
  2. Bowie, Walter Worthington. The Bowies and their Kindred: A Genealogical and Biographical History. Washington, DC: Cromwell Bros., 1899.
  3. Hurst, Harold W. "The Maryland Gentry in Old Georgetown, 1783-1861." Maryland Historical Magazine 73 (Spring 1978):1-12
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.

Processing Information

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.
Guide to the Bowie Family papers
Processed by Max Grivno and Jennie Levine.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742