William & Matilda Bowie

Some information on this page was provided or confirmed by James Louis Bacon, a descendant of Nathaniel Bowie, son of William. Mr. Bacon is working on a family history that includes his Bowie ancestors.

William “Bill” Bowie
b ~1795-99, or possibly as late as 1812, PG Co; d between 1860 & 1870

+ Matilda [unknown], before 1839
b ~1796-1804, or possibly as late as 1812, PG or Anne Arundel Co; d Feb 13, 1872

William was married to or had children with more than one woman. Matilda is identified as his wife from 1839 forward.

Known Children:

  • Eliza b 1832 Washington DC,  d 1929 Montgomery, AL (d/o Caroline Bogey or Bowie & identified as Nathaniel’s sister). Married name: Chillis
  • William Jr. 1834-1900. Married Ellen Tascoe
  • Jack b ~1837 d after 1871
  • Thomas/Tom b ~1842
  • Nathaniel/Nat b 1844, d 1928 Washington DC (s/o William Bowie & Ellen Duckett). Married Victoria Church.
  • Margaret b~1848-1851, d 1878. Married Phillip Johnson
  • Susan [dates unknown]. Name at her death: Thompson. Lived in Baltimore in 1913.
  • Amelia Thompson [dates unknown]
  • Boston b~1851, d Aug 1859, of typhoid, after an illness of 16 days.

Other relatives:
Cassia Bowie b ~1840 lived in household of Matilda Bowie in 1870. She is not identified in records of McGregor’s estate and cannot be identified by James Louis Bacon, a descendant of Nathaniel Bowie. For other possible relatives, see the bottom of this page.

* * * *

1825: Inventory of John Smith Maguder’s estate, Upper Marlboro, PG Co: “Negro man Bill,” age 30, appraised at $350.  In the will, Bill was left to John Smith Magruder’s son, Nathaniel M. McGregor. (In 1820, J.S. Magruder had changed the surnames of all his living children to McGregor.) In the record of sales from the estate, “Negro Bill & family with 4 children” went to N.M. McGregor at a value of $775. (See Will of John S. Magruder for images of the inventory and sales list.) It is impossible (so far) to determine if this man was William Bowie. His age is a close match for the age given for William in Roderick McGregor’s estate inventory, but the 1860 census gives a much younger date for William.

1857: Will of Roderick M. McGregor, Upper Marlboro, PG Co, instructed his executor to take William Bowie, his wife Matilda, and three named children to Washington, D.C. There they were to be hired out for one year and then manumitted.

1860: Supplement to the inventory of the estate of Nathaniel’s brother, Roderick M. McGregor, Upper Marlboro, PG Co: William Bowie, age 59, appraised at $800; Matilda Magruder, age 56, appraised at $350. Tom Bowie, age 15, appraised at $1000; Nat Bowie, age 13, appraised at $850; Margaret Bowie, age 9, appraised at $450. Tom, Nat, and Margaret are described as children of William and Matilda in the will as well as in the inventory. Jack Bowie is not named in the will and is listed separately in the first (1858) inventory, identified by surname and valued at $1000. Between that date and the final accounts for the estate in 1860, Jack was sold. (See Will of Roderick McGregor for images of the documents.)

William Bowie’s appraisal value of $850, at age 59 (compare men in their working prime, valued around $1000) suggests that he was highly skilled, and this is confirmed by the 1860 census in which William’s occupation is given as “carpenter.”

  • In the 1830s, Alice Maude Ewell’s memoir tells us, Roderick McGregor sent two skilled carpenters to Faquier County, Virginia, to build a house for her grandparents, Jesse Ewell and Ellen McGregor Ewell. It appears likely that William was one of those two men.

In 1825, two men named Bill and Basil were left by John S. Magruder to his son Nathaniel McGregor. Assuming they are the same men, both were transferred to Roderick at some point. Nathaniel was in business in Washington D.C.; Roderick operated the family plantations in PG Co. Laws prohibiting the importation of slaves made it difficult to bring a slave into Maryland, but on 21 March 1835 Roderick obtained permission from the legislature to bring a negro man named William into the state. There is no record for Basil.

Permission to bring William into MD, 1835

This act shows two symptoms of the anxiety, current among whites in Maryland, about the growing population of free blacks. McGregor was required to swear an affidavit that William was a slave for life (not a term slave, expected to be freed at a certain date), and he had to contribute to the state’s colonization society, whose goal was remove free people of color to Liberia. These details shed light on why Roderick’s will specified that William and Matilda and their children had to be taken to the District of Columbia before they could be manumitted.

Roderick M. McGregor’s will, 1857, left the following instructions to his executor (his brother Nathaniel M. McGregor):

As it regards my servants William Bowie and his wife Matilda and their children, Thomas, Nathaniel, Margaret and Bosting [Boston?], it is my will that they be free at the expiration of one year from my death and it is further my will that my Executor shall take them to the District of Columbia and there hire them out for twelve months, at the expiration of which time he shall by deed manumit the above and herein mentioned servants and furthermore it is my will and desire that my Executor hereinafter named shall purchase a House and a lot in [?] District of Columbia to cost not more than five hundred dollars and give it to said Negro William Bowie in fee simple also a cart and horse, a stack of hay and fifty bushels of oats. 

Receipts for these expenses survive in Roderick’s estate papers, as does William Bowie’s final receipt for money due him from the estate. William signed with a mark, indicating that he was illiterate.

William Bowie Receipt for Legacy, 26 Jan 1860

Nathaniel McGregor was meticulous in his record-keeping. Each item in the voluminous estate papers is identified by him with a brief notation. His note on the back of this receipt confirms that William Bowie was known as Bill, and therefore possibly the “Bill” named on the 1825 inventory of John S. Magruder’s estate. According to this note, Nathaniel spent $141 on the Bowie’s house and William received the remaining $359 in cash.

Nathaniel McGregor’s note on back of the receipt

On the 1860 census, William Bowie (48) a carpenter, and his wife Matilda (48) a washing woman, lived in Washington, DC, with the three children manumitted with them: Thomas (18), Nathaniel (16), and Margaret (12). William was designated “black” while the rest of the family were “mulatto.” These ages for William and Matilda are inconsistent with both the estate records and Matilda’s age in the 1870 census. 

In 1870, Matilda Bowie (74), a washerwoman, was head of a household that included Cassia Bowie, a domestic servant (40)Thomas Bowie, a teamster (24), George Stewart, a laborer (30). None can read or write, according to the census taker, and all are designated “black.” (A “George” appears on the inventory of Roderick McGregor’s estate, with no age or surname given. There is no way to determine if this is the same George.) Nathaniel Bowie (26), by this time, was married and heading his own household with wife Victoria (23), Ella (3), and William (1).

* * * *

From 2 Feb till 1 June, 1839, Matilda Bowie was advertised as a runaway from the plantation of William Bowie Brooke, Upper Marlboro. Ironically, runaway ads are one of the few sources from which we can get a physical description of enslaved people, or a sense of their individuality.

Runaway ad for Matilda Bowie, National Daily Intelligencer, ran from 2 Feb – 1 June, 1839

That Matilda had “many acquaintances” in Anne Arundel County might indicate that she was born there. We also learn from this ad that she had run away before, having been “taken out of the Washington jail” the previous April. She was advertised as a runaway again in 1842, when she was still the property of William Bowie Brooke.

Presumably, Roderick McGregor purchased or traded another slave for Matilda some time between 1842 and 1857. On the Slave Schedule of 1850, when Matilda would have been 46-54 years old, the oldest woman on Roderick’s plantation was said to be 35.

Questions remain. Why do we see two families of children 30 years apart, both said to be the children of Bill/William Bowie? Who was the mother of those children?

  • Possibly Rachel (29 in 1825). It is also possible, of course, that the Bill named in 1825 is not William “Bill” Bowie, but an entirely different man.

Nathaniel Bowie was born in 1843 or 44, and his death certificate gives his parents as William Bowie and Ellen Duckett. His sister Eliza was the daughter of a woman named Caroline. Other sisters were Susan and Amelia Thompson.

Because slave owners in Maryland rarely held large numbers of people, marriages between enslaved people with different masters and living on different plantations was common; but slave marriages had no legal standing and children’s status followed that of their mother. In other words, by law the children were the property of the mother’s master, not the father’s. It is clear that William Bowie had children with at least two women, and possibly more, but it is difficult to identify them.

In the early 19th c., many slave owners promoted family ties among their slaves as a way to ameliorate conditions and promote stability in their workforce. They also used such gestures to protect the institution of slavery from those who were working to abolish it. At the same time, the “privilege” of family life could be withdrawn at any time. The threat of being sold away from family could extract more labor from slaves and discourage resistance or flight. Sale of a resistant or uncooperative individual often served as an example to others, increasing their fear of suffering the same heartbreaking separation. We don’t know if this is what happened to William or Matilda. We do know that both John S. Magruder’s will and the inventory made by his executor acknowledge the existence of families among those enslaved on the estate. (See Will of John S. Magruder.) 

(See Will of John S. Magruder for my attempts to sort out the children in the 1825 inventory and sales lists.)

* * * *

Two older children who were part of Roderick McGregor’s estate but not included in the manumission:

William Bowie, Jr., 1834-1900, whose age is not given in the inventory, was drafted on 24 September 1864 at Ellicott’s Mills, MD (Birth & death dates supplied by James Louis Bacon.) He married Ellen Tascoe in 1870.

Jack Bowie appears in Roderick McGregor’s inventory, 21 years old in 1858, appraised at $1000. On 29 December, he ran away, and on 9 January 1858 was advertised as a runaway. The ad describes his voice as well as his appearance, and predicts that he will have run to relatives in Washington, D.C. A Bowie family descendant, James Louis Bacon, has found a Freedman’s Bank record of 1871 in which Nathaniel Bowie names Jack Bowie as his brother. Jack’s birth and death dates at the top of this page also were  supplied by Mr. Bacon.

Runaway ad for Jack Bowie, Baltimore Sun, 9 January 1858

On 6 April 1858 Roderick McGregor’s estate paid a bill for advertising “Negro boy Jack” for sale, indicating that the ad was placed in January. Did he run because he knew he was to be sold? Or was he sold because he had run away? Both were common scenarios.

In 1862, after slavery was abolished in the District of Columbia, Joseph C. Willard and Henry E. Willard (owners of Willard’s Hotel) filed a petition for compensation for the loss of five slaves. Among them was Jack Bowie, described as “about twenty-seven years of age. Black. About five feet six inches in height generally healthy, but not so strong and stout as the others.” The Willards stated that they had purchased Jack from “MacGregor,” on the urging of Jack’s mother, to save him from sale to the deep south. Receipts signed by Nathaniel M. Magruder (Roderick’s executor) state that the Orphans Court had ordered that Jack be sold; that title is guaranteed; and that the full price paid was $1000. (Many thanks to James Louis Bacon for sending me the petition–and welcome it was!)

  • Three of the other people named in the Willards’ petition were Mary Ann Thomas, about 50 years of age; William Thomas, about 22; John Thomas, about 21. William and Thomas were Mary Ann’s sons, and all were described as light mulattos. The petition states that the Thomases also had been purchased at the request of relatives, after being attacked and subsequently confined in the county jail for their own safety.
  • The fifth person named in the petition was purchased, at his own request, from the estate of I.P. Keefe.
  • Here’s a link to the petition, on the Civil War Washington site. http://civilwardc.org/texts/petitions/cww.00301.html. Additional information can be found there, including witnesses named for verification of the Willards’ claim–those details might help you in a search for ancestors.

(Another Jack Bowie (a.k.a. Jack Boswell) ran away from Robert W. Bowie, P.G. Co, in 1835; no age or description is given, so we can’t say if he is part of this family. This older Jack Bowie had previously run away and been captured in Pennsylvania.) of

* * * *

Two of William & Matilda’s grandsons, William A. Bowie and Egbert Jerome Bowie (both sons of Nathaniel Bowie and his wife Victoria Grey Church) were well known in Washington D.C.’s black community in the early 20th c. William A. Bowie served as Secretary of the Laborers’ and Mechanics’ Realty Company and as Cashier and Director of the Industrial Savings Bank, which he co-founded with John W. Lewis. Nathaniel and Victoria’s youngest son, Egbert, nicknamed “Black Bowie,” was a professional musician and served as Duke Ellington’s first business manager (according to information supplied to James Louis Bacon by Ellington’s son Mercer). Egbert also held a skilled position at the Department of Printing and Engraving.

* * * *

I have no evidence of William Bowie’s parentage. There were several white Bowie households in the vicinity. The Bowies most closely related to the Magruder-McGregor family were the descendants of John S. Magruder’s cousin, Ursula Burgess, who married William Sprigg Bowie around 1777. Their sons owned plantations in Upper Marlboro and elsewhere in PG Co. and inherited slaves from more than one Magruder relative. One of Charles’ brothers, William Mordecai Bowie, married John S. Magruder’s niece, Martha Magruder, and one of their grand-daughters married a son of Nathaniel McGregor, so the family connections were strong. However, there were other Bowie families living in close proximity and throughout the county.

I have no clear evidence of Matilda’s parentage or maiden name. The runaway ad says she had “many friends” in Anne Arundel County, which suggests she could have been born there. However, it is also possible that she was inherited by Ann and Roderick McGregor from Ann’s grandmother, Ann Berry, in 1832. Among the people passed to Ann and Roderick was a woman named Matilda, 30 years old. That age corresponds exactly to Matilda Bowie’s age as given in Roderick’s inventory 26 years later. However, she clearly belonged to William Bowie Brooke in intervening years, and in the 1850 slave census there is no woman over 35 reported as belonging to Roderick McGregor.

Other possible relatives with connection to the Berry family: on 14 October 1836, Roderick’s mother-in-law, Margery Ferguson, made an affidavit to the Prince George’s County Court that Priscilla Bowie, Richard Ronsby Bowie, Elizabeth Marjery Bowie, Levi Frank Bowie, and James Henry Bowie were born free, being the children of Suky Bowie, a free colored woman.

  • Margery Ferguson is identified in the will of Ann Berry (written 1817, with codicil 1832) as the mother of Ann E. Berry, and Ann E. Berry is identified as the deponent’s granddaughter. In the same document (and others) Margery is also identified as the daughter of Josiah Ferguson.
  • I’ll post another day about the complexities and mysteries of Ann E. Berry (widow Eaton) McGregor’s family; for now I’ll just say that I believe Ann and her brother Elisha Berry (the younger) were the illegitimate children of Margery Ferguson and William E. Berry, son of Elisha Berry (elder) and either Ann Berry or Elisha’s previous wife. 

Roderick and his wife, Ann, separated between 1840 and 1850, and by 1850 Ann was living with Margery Ferguson. Her half-sister, the widow of Henry McGregor lived two households down with a family of free Mulattos headed by William Wedge. See notes on Interrelations page.

* * * *

Prince George’s County Register of Wills (Estate Papers) 1789-1831. Estate Papers of John S. Magruder. MSA C2119-60-3.

Prince George’s County Register of Wills (Estate Papers) 1790-1855. Estate Papers of Roderick M. McGregor. MSA C2119-63.

Prince George’s County Register of Wills (Estate Papers) 1788-1863. Estate Papers of Ann Berry. MSA C2119-8.

Laws of Maryland, Vol. 541, Page 395, Chapter 315; An act to allow Roderick McGregor, of Prince George’s County, to bring into this State, a negro man therein named, Passed Mar. 21, 1835. Maryland State Archives On Line (accessed 18 Nov 2011).

Maryland State Archives, Special Collections (Newspapers), Daily National Intelligencer, press date 26 Feb 1839, ad date 26 Feb 1839-1 June 1839, runaway advertisement for Matilda Bowie, MSA SC 5400, SC 5496, digital image, Maryland State Archives on Line (accessed 18 Nov 2011).

Maryland State Archives, Special Collections (Newspapers), Baltimore Sun, press date 9 Jan 1858, ad date 9 Jan 1858, runaway advertisement for Jack Bowie, MSA SC 5400, SC 5496, digital image, Maryland State Archives on Line (accessed 18 Nov 2011).

Civil War Washington: Texts. Petition of Joseph C. Willard & Henry E. Willard, 19 May 1862. Civil War Washington ID: cww.00301. http://civilwardc.org/texts/petitions/cww.00301.html.

A microfilm reproduction of the original document held at the National Archives and Records Administration, Microcopy 520, Reel 3. The original document is held in the Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury, 1775–1978, National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 217.6.5. Within the National Archives’ Archival Description Catalog, see ARC Identifier 4644616 / MLR Number A1 347 (http://arcweb.archives.gov).

Archives of Maryland (Biographical Series). Biography of Jack Bowie (Boswell), MSA SC 5496-9949. Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom. Archives of Maryland On Line (accessed 17 Nov 2011).

1870 U.S. Census, Washington, D.C, population schedule, Ward 3, page 78, dwelling 496, family 690, Matilda Bowie family, digital image, Ancestry.com (accessed 17 Nov 2011).

1870 U.S. Census, Washington, D.C., population schedule, Ward 7, page 296, dwelling 2233, family 2411, Nathaniel Bowie family, digital image, Ancestry.com (accessed 27 Jan 2013).

1860 U.S. Census, Washington, D.C., population schedule, Ward 7, page 175, dwelling 1274, family 1372, William Bowie family, digital image, Ancestry.com (accessed 17 Nov 2011).

1860 U.S. Census, Mortality Schedule for Year ending 1 June 1860, digital image, Ancestry.com, (accessed 1 March 2013). Death of Boston Bowie. [Thanks to James Louis Bacon for finding this record.]

1850 U.S. Census, Prince George’s County, Maryland, population schedule, Marlborough District, page 76, dwelling 554, family 554, Roderick McGregor, digital image, Ancestry.com ( accessed 18 Nov 2011).

1850 U.S. Census, Prince George’s County, Maryland, slave schedule, Marlborough District, slaves of Roderick McGregor, digital image, Ancestry.com (accessed 21 Nov 2011).

Sue Emerson. Magruders in America. Self-published, 2007, compact disc. 460, 1669-72 .

Alice Maude Ewell. A Virginia Scene, or Life in Old Prince William. Lynchburg: J.P. Bell Co, 1931. Repr. Prince William County Historical Commission, n.d. pp 13.

James Louis Bacon. E-mail messages to author, 25 Jan – 1 March 2013.

Provine, Dorothy S., compiler. Registrations of Free Negroes, 1806-1863, Prince George’s County Maryland. Washington, D.C.: Columbian Harmony Society, 1990. Extracted from the Registry of the County Clerk, 1806-1829; the Register of Wills, 1820-1852; and Affidavits of Freedom, 1810-1863, Prince George’s County Court, using microfilm copies: CR47, 249 and CR47, 250. Affidavit by Margery Ferguson re: Priscilla Bowie, et. al., from Affidavits of Freedom, 1810-1863, No. 15, p 157.

Runaway ad for Matilda Bowie. Washington DC: Daily National Intelligencer, 25 June 1842, p3. Genealogybank.com

50th Anniversary & Golden Wedding [of Nathaniel & Victoria Bowie]. Washington DC: Washington Bee, 8 Jan 1916, p4. Genealogybank.com [27 Jan 2013]

A Pleasing Surprise. Absent Sixty Years before Brother and Sister Meet-a Happy Meeting. Washington DC: Washington Bee, 30 Aug 1913, p5. Genealogybank.com

Washington DC: Death Certificate for Nathaniel Bowie, 1928. Digital image provided by James Louis Bacon.

Montgomery AL: Death Certificate for Eliza Chillis, 1929. Digital image provided by James Louis Bacon.

Washington DC: Death Certificate for Margaret Bowie Johnson, 1878. Digital image provided by James Louis Bacon.

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