Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Bowens of Zanesville

I don't know if two furtive hobbies - blogging and genealogy - should be combined, but here is a story of my ancestors the Bowens, who should never have moved to Zanesville, Ohio in the 1830s.

In 1803 Elizabeth Flint married a tailor, Dijah Bowen, in Charlestown, Massachusetts. A cousin, Daniel Bowen, wrote:
Their first son [Henry] died in infancy and they gave the name to their second, who grew to twenty years old "handsome, affectionate, and good."

Carefully dressing one evening Henry went out as if to make a call ... giving his mother a good-night kiss and begging her not to sit up for him.

She did sit up till past midnight, and when she dropped asleep in her chair it was to dream she saw him drowning. She started up with a shriek - the whole house was aroused - the police notified - his body was drawn from the water.

The shock to Dijah was such that he could not walk without assistance. His business had to be given up. A mild partial insanity supervened and finally, at 75, his body too was drawn from the water."
After Henry drowned at the age of 20 and his father Dijah went mad (Dijah was sent out to the country where he was “made comfortable”), the family started moving to Zanesville. Daughter Caroline wrote:
"I think my brother William, who was the first to go... went in 1835 ... then John, a year or two afterwards, and Charles [a wholesale bookseller and publisher in Boston] in 1838. My sister Maria went in 1837, I believe.

"Charles bought a dairy farm about two miles from the town, and built a fine house for himself in a very commanding situation. ... Charles ... was a Whig and he went several winters to the State Legislature.

"William went into the flour business on a large scale, and built large flouring mills at Duncan's Falls ... He was doing very well till one of the fluctuations incident to the business caused his failure. Then Charles, who had endorsed for him, felt it necessary to go into the business.

"He took hold of the wholesale grocery business, something quite new to him - but he was doing well with it, when he chartered a small steamboat for a cargo of goods to and from New Orleans. He took with him his wife and son, leaving his little daughters, six and nine years old, with my mother.”
What happened next is told in the History of Muskingum County:
The "Belle Zane" was built at the California boat yard on the Monongahela river. ... In December, 1845, the boat was loaded at Zanesville with a miscellaneous cargo, consisting of flour and empty molasses barrels to be filled on the Louisiana coast with molasses for the Zanesville wholesale trade.

At Marietta there were taken aboard 700 turkeys and a large number of chickens for the New Orleans market. About thirty cattle and 600 bushels of corn were added to the load at Madrid, Mo. The cabin was well filled with passengers and the boat had all the load it could carry.

The rivers were very low and there was slow traveling on account of the low stage of water. ... Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bowen and son ... were passengers from Zanesville...

The night of the 18th and morning of the 19th of December the weather was very cold, the thermometer was near zero, and ice was rapidly forming. At two o'clock in the morning, soon after the first watch had left their places, there came a crash, a heavy shock, and the boat turned on its side; the boilers rolled into the river. A snag was struck, and the boat was sinking.

The roof floated off, with Victor Fell, of Zanesville, on it. He was saved. David Hahn, Monroe Ayers and another man made a raft of the gang-plank and went ashore, and ran down the shore a distance and found a yawl, which they took and made for the boat, and commenced rescuing the passengers.

When the snag was struck and the boat careened, there were a number drowned, and among their number were Mr. and Mrs. Bowen and their son. The crew of the boat worked like heroes. The cabin broke loose from the hull, and floated down the river several miles, with human beings clinging on the wreck. ... Robert Burns, of Cincinnati, a steamboat engineer, froze to death. ... Miss Jane Conner was without shoes when taken off the wreck. One of the engineers pulled off his and gave them to her.

There were no other Zanesville people lost except the Bowen family. Their bodies were never found. The passengers and crew that escaped found shelter in the negro huts on the shore. ... From all obtainable information, eighteen or twenty passengers were lost, but all the crew escaped.
After the accident, the two little daughters left on shore (one was my ancestor) lived with their grandmother. Caroline continued:
"The second brother to die, John Langley Bowen, was a partner in ... an iron smelting manufacturing firm ... John died quite suddenly of a fever in 1848. His wife Annie and two small children were left almost penniless ..."
The third brother, William Flint Bowen, left Zanesville for Texas after Charles’ drowning; he planned to meet a fourth brother, George, in San Francisco, but didn't make it. Also from The History of Muskingum County
The Del Norte left the Muskingum for the Rio Grande River, crossing the Gulf of Mexico. It was commanded by Capt. William Bowen, who had commanded the steamer "Muskingum" in the Pittsburg trade. Capt. Bowen was a partner of Mr. L. H. Dugan in building the large flouring-mill at Duncan's Falls, now owned by Mr. John Miller. He was a brother of Mr. Charles Bowen, who was lost when the "Belle Zane" sunk, on the Mississippi river. Capt. Bowen engaged in trade in Mexico, and was killed by the Mexicans before the war with the United States.
In 1870 Caroline summed up the sorry story this way: "My mother thus lost, in less than five years, the three sons she went to Ohio to live near."

The surviving family members left Ohio and went to live with the fifth brother, Francis Bowen, a professor at Harvard University.

I marveled yet again at the power of the Internet when an email appeared recently in my inbox, saying a letter written in 1846 - touching on this tragedy - was for sale at eBay! I didn't buy the letter but the man who did kindly made me a copy. (Click for a better view.)

It says:
...our town was thrown into considerable excitement a few days ago by the sad news of the death of Chas Bowen wife & son one of our best business men and a first rate citizen. I don't suppose there ever was as much sympathy felt for one of our citizens by those who never spoke to the man, even. Zanesville has certainly sustained a very heavy loss.

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At 9:14 AM, Blogger Waterfall said...

That is really interesting. My husband is from Ohio (Jefferson County) and has really begun to research his genealogy in the last year. He's pretty amazed at the power of the internet as well; he occasionally gets e-mails from people who found his information on one of the genealogy sites and are related to him through a great aunt or grandmother. It's really fascinating.

At 10:27 AM, Anonymous colleen said...

My sister is married to a Daniel Bowen...also from Massachusetts. I wonder if there is any connection?

At 2:03 PM, Blogger Jude Nagurney Camwell said...

I really like hearing about others' genealogy, especially when told in presentations like this one.

I'm currently securing all necessary documents to finalize my DAR membership. I am of the (Farmington, Old Lyme, Hartford, CT.) Hart, Pelton & Atwater families; and the (Cambridge/Dorchester MA.) Hart & Way clans. I noticed both Flints and Bowens on this list beside my own old family names. Who knows? We could be distant cousins. ;)

My Farmington ancestors belonged to a church which supported the Africans of the infamous Amistad case. They were sent to the Farmington community to live while funds were raised privately for their return to Africa.

I'd like reading more stories like this. Thanks.


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