George Bowman Presentation at the Bowman Gathering at the Frontier Cultural Museum in Staunton, Virginia - July of 2010
For The Bowman Gathering
At the Frontier Cultural Museum, Staunton, Virginia
July 10, 2010
As Presented and Written by Bernie Bowman
Life in Bodigheim:
Arriving in Pennsylvania:
To Berks County:
Heading to Virginia:
The Bowman House
At the Frontier Cultural Museum, Staunton, Virginia
July 10, 2010
As Presented and Written by Bernie Bowman
- GruB Gott! (gay err uyuh ss Gott)
- I’m told many of you folks are descendents of Barb and me. How could that be if so few of you understand a traditional southern German greeting? Maybe a modern day German greeting then – Guten Tag! That’s better.
- Lord, how things change in 260 years. Of course there are two things that seem to be pretty well preserved. Me – and that Bowman House over there. My wife, Barb, would be particularly pleased that the house is still standing. Not sure what she’d think of me still hanging around, but that house was her pride and joy. You know, I had no choice but to build it well and sturdy. Barb said she would not pack up and move to Virginia after 20 years in Pennsylvania unless I promised to build her a good German house upon arrival.
- I do have a problem today, two problems in fact! You call that the Bowman House and this The Bowman Gathering. That spelling – B-o-w-m-a-n. You know the real spelling on that should be B-a-u-m-a-n-n. We tried to hold onto the Baumann name, but we were Germans in the land of the English and the English liked the Bowman spelling. Still though, I think of myself as Baumann with two “n’s.” And don’t be surprised if I sneak over and post a new sign for that house – the Baumann House spelled B-a-u-m-a-n-n.
- Being German not-with-standing, I had to swear allegiance to the King of England when we first disembarked from the ship in Philadelphia. I knew I was well on the way to being Anglicized when in 1765 the authorities threatened us Germans with taking our property unless we became naturalized citizens of England. A lot of us lined up behind the English crown then. It wasn’t too long after that that those same English neighbors put pressure on us to join their fight against the English crown in hopes of establishing an independent American nation. Most of us older Germans had had enough of fighting in the homeland, but our son John, or Johannes as we called him, helped out in that fight. But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Let me tell you a bit about Bodigheim, our town and our life in Germany.
- Oh, but before I do that, what’s this I’ve heard about how you “found” Barb and me, and then you “found” our children? I never knew we were lost. But I guess record keeping did become a lost art here in America. I guess it was tough for siblings and cousins to stay in touch when they moved so far apart from each other.
- I’m told you did not know Barb’s name and you thought our son, John, was born in Germany. Speaking of John, he was such a blessing for Barb and me. You know, Andreas or Andrew as you would call him, the baby when we boarded ship, did not survive the voyage. Looking back it was a miracle all the rest of us survived. When food rations got low and rancid Andrew just wasted away for lack of adequate nutrition. And he was not alone. When our ship, Patience, made the trip the year before our voyage, 32 children died on that trip. We had better wind and far fewer died, but still it was gruesome. I understand you have an account of that 1748 Patience trip. Our trip was very much as he described it. People who died were slid off a board into the ocean. Do you realize we started our journey up the Rhine River in May, and we did not arrive in Philadelphia until September 19th. Barb went into a season of depression during and after the trip, I think primarily because of losing Andrew. It was the birth of John after we’d settled in Pennsylvania that finally brought Barb back.
- I understand someone preserved a copy of my naturalization record letting you know that I settled in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Then a search of church records in Berks County uncovered Barb’s name and correct information about John. After that I guess it was data collected by members of the Church of Latter Day Saints or Mormons as you call them, that led you to search in Bodigheim. I’m told it was knowing that our fellow travelers the Kamps and Lintzs were from Bodigheim that led you to look there. Once a researcher went through the records, it was obvious we were your ancestors.
- You talk about our “German-born children!” We never hid the fact we arrived in America with three living children, Anna Maria, George II my namesake, and Elias. Don’t blame us if our children and grandchildren did not keep in touch with each other. The way I hear it your “finding” George II and Elias, must have been exciting.
- I have not a clue what DNA means. It must be something modern like cars and airplanes and the internet, but I’m told that samples of saliva taken from males can determine the odds of people being related and if so, how closely related.
- Elias and his descendents left a considerable paper trail, but no one knew that Barb and I were Elias’ parents. Wonder how that information failed to get passed along! And John and his descendents also had good records. When a direct male descendent of John found a direct male descendent of Elias, the two of them compared DNA results and discovered they were a perfect match. Lo and behold, that presented overwhelming evidence that Elias and John were brothers! And since we were the known parents of John, we also had to be the parents of Elias.
- But then “finding” George II and his descendents proved equally interesting. Two of George II’s sons, George III and Nicholas, had settled in Shenandoah County just north of where John and Barb and I lived in Rockingham County. George III and Nicholas both married and started families there in Shenandoah County, then that old Baumann wanderlust found them and they moved on.
- Well, those descendents of Elias and John that I spoke of earlier posted their DNA results on the web (whatever the heck that means) for God and the whole world to see. Someone from Indiana named Gann contacted them and said he was also a perfect match. Gann had no ancestor named Bowman, which seemed strange. Or maybe not so strange if you realize DNA follows our genes not marriage records.
- It turned out that the Gann ancestress had lived on an adjoining farm in Jefferson County, TN to one of my grandsons, Nicholas, a son of George II. Nicholas had two boys, one named William. It seems Ms. Gann got pregnant without benefit of marriage. In that time and place the father was required to pay a bastard tax on a child born out of wedlock. Well, Ms. Gann refused to name the father preferring instead to pay the bastard tax herself. She named her son William Anderson Gann. There is no doubt one of my descendents fathered that child, and I bet it was William Bowman, son of Nicholas. Nicholas later lived in Henderson County, TN.
- But the story doesn’t end there. Another gentleman named Weeks who traced his ancestry to southern Ohio had already made contact with Mr. Gann because the two of them were a perfect DNA match. When Mr. Gann found his connection to his Bowman paternal ancestor he reported that to Mr. Weeks, Mr. Weeks contacted me with his paper trail evidence. Mr. Week’s ancestress also had a child born out of wedlock with the likely father being Thomas Jefferson Bowman, a son of George Bowman III, the brother of Nicholas.
- This grandson, George III, had married an Elizabeth Roush. The Roush family had claimed for years that Elizabeth had married into the George Bowman and Mary Hite family. It is no wonder. That Bowman line was well known in history and given a choice, who would not have chosen them. But the paper trail evidence did not support the Roush family claims, and now the DNA evidence provides overwhelming evidence that Elizabeth’s husband was my grandson.
- So that is how George II and Elias were “found” through a combination of paper records and DNA testing.
- Barb and I would love to know what happened to Anna Maria, our oldest child and only daughter. I’m told the records show she grew to adulthood in Pennsylvania, but nothing further is known. Maybe one of you can help.
Life in Bodigheim:
- But enough of that “finding” business. Let’s get back to our life in Bodigheim before we came to America.
- I was a tailor. I made clothes for people. Mostly it was clothes for folks like us, working people. But I was good at it and occasionally I made some fancy clothes for the prince’s family or for scholars. I learned the trade from my father. His father was a wagon maker. I guess you could say working with our hands came easy, but to be a tailor I also had to be able to read and figure. Not to brag, but in addition to being able to figure, folks seemed to trust me and I was the treasurer for the parish for a time. While we were not farmers, we had enough land to support a cow and sheep and some fruit trees and grow lots of vegetables. Without that we’d have starved.
- Oh, and I should say, after my father died, my mother worked as a mid-wife for many years.
- You know we became frontier farmers when we settled in America, but it was not like farming in Bodigheim. In Bodigheim everyone lived in town and farmers went out to the fields to work by day, and then returned to their house in town at night.
- Barb and I were both older – 27 and 28 – when we got married. I admit to marrying up. I hear the same has been true of a lot of you Bowman men over the years – marrying up that is. Barb’s grandfather was a well educated minister in the Lutheran church and her father was an arbiter and member of the City Council.
- Barb and I had five children in Bodigheim, but little Michael died when he was three years old.
- All in all it was not a bad life, but I grew up hearing stories about America. Some of the first German settlements in America were around the time I was born in 1712. I heard stories of those places as a child. On the one hand, free productive land and meat for the table just for the hunting of it. But we also heard about the savage Indians and we knew that many people never survived the ocean voyage. We were Lutherans in a large Lutheran area so we were not forced to leave because of our religion, but many were. If you held to the “wrong” religious beliefs in a given area, your land and possessions could be taken – you could be killed.
- My serious thinking about going to America began when my Cousin George Kamp’s son went and began sending letters back encouraging others of us to follow. Barb thought I was crazy at first, but with time she got more used to the idea as he described the land and life there in Pennsylvania. Whatever their reasons, Germans by the thousands were leaving. I was not alone in wanting to start over in the new land.
- Oh, a little aside about Cousin George Kamp. He was always a bit of a rounder in Germany. His first wife died after giving him a passel of children. George took up with another lady without benefit of marriage. She got pregnant and had a child. The next day after that child was born George and his lady friend got married. She was still in bed and George and the clergyman stood by her bedside for the ceremony. I guess you all might call that a shotgun wedding. The pastor recorded the bit about the bedside wedding in the official records. He also noted that George and his bride were “frivolous” characters. I guess that was a nice way to put it. But Cousin George changed when he got to America. You might say he got religion. He was one of the founders and strong supporters of building a Lutheran church and a school in Berks County, Pennsylvania. The church was always important to Barb given her family heritage I suppose, but you’ve probably noted from the records, I was never particularly involved. I never served as a deacon though most men did, and the record does not reflect any generosity on my part to the church.
- But back to Bodigheim, I hear you found the records of our property sale and manumission tax. You know from that we were not the wealthiest among our friends, but we had enough to pay for our own tickets with some money left to get started in Pennsylvania. Those people who had no money and had to sell themselves or their children for years of service to pay for their passage were a sorry lot.
- Oh, I know many of you have trouble understanding that manumission tax thing. Well in Germany, legally we were serfs to the Rudt von Collenberg family and the only way to be freed of our obligation to them was to pay a manumission tax of 10% on all the assets we took with us out of Germany.
Arriving in Pennsylvania:
- After 260 years, I find I start to ramble a bit now and then. Let’s see where did I want to go next? Oh, arriving in Philadelphia! Now that was the most exciting day of my life and I can assure you it was for Barb and the kids as well. When we finally sighted land we all fell to our knees and thanked God that our journey was almost over. Once we made our way up the Delaware River and tied up at the Philadelphia docks I staggered up the river bank with the other men to announce our arrival and swear our allegiance to the Crown. A doctor made sure there were no passengers on our ship with contagious diseases, and then Barb and the kids were allowed off to join me.
- Lots of Germans, including many from the Baden area, were living in Philadelphia. Some of these folks greeted us hoping to make a little money from helping us while we sojourned in Philadelphia before heading off to the frontier. We were happy to find accommodations we could rent for a time before heading out.
- We spent most of our time in the German section of Philadelphia, but we did see much of the city. Of course the constant coming and going at the docks was always interesting. And the city streets were straight and at right angles, not meandering like streets in German towns. The houses were all brick, three stories high, with marble doorsteps and iron railings. Why, we even got to see the city streets lighted for the first time before we headed north. And the markets – unlike anything we’d ever seen. For folks who could not afford meat in Germany, it was astounding to see stall after stall of affordable meat and all other manner of provisions.
- Of course, not everyone was pleased with us Germans in their English town. You could not stay in Philadelphia for any length of time and not know of Benjamin Franklin. Wonderful man that he was in many ways, even Mr. Franklin had no use for us Germans, fearing we’d take over the city with our German street signs and newspapers and schools and churches. You know how many people feel today about the Hispanic immigrants! Well, we Germans were no more appreciated back then. It did take us a while to get settled and become comfortable but look at all we’ve contributed to this country.
To Berks County:
- Enough of the big city. Our destination was not Philadelphia, but a patch of farmland on the frontier in Berks County, about 70 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Now that may not seem like a long distance for you, but trust me, when you have a horse and cart with some basic household furnishings and farm implements traveling what can barely be called a path through the dense forest, it proved to be a long, long way! Have any of you walked any portion of the Appalachian Trail? Well, that is the kind of trail we followed to Berks County.
- I came to understand that path was actually an old Indiana trail running along the Schuylkill River to what is now Reading, then northeast from there. Hunting for food along the trail was something all-together new! I was glad I listened to folks in Philadelphia who told me I’d better purchase a good gun before heading off. I would have been lost without it. And we did encounter some Indians along the trail. You talk about space travel today, well, walking that trail and meeting Indians was space travel for us.
- We were not the first Germans to settle in that part of Berks County, but as the newcomers with not a lot of money to spare, the plot of land we settled on was about nine miles further toward the frontier than the main settlement, and it was not the best land. It did have a spring, and the previous owner had at least left a squatter’s cabin and a little lean-to barn shelter.
- That first winter was none-too-pleasant. Barb often longed for the comfort of our Bodigheim home and neighbors. We had no neighbors to the north of us, so we were truly the frontier. I have to admit; I was lonely as well and wondered sometimes if I had made the right decision. But spring came and we set in to make that place a home. We were never rich, but we did well. Prices were good for any grain that we could sell. The children grew and were a great help on the farm.
- As more Germans settled in our area, life got better. I mentioned the church Cousin George Kamp started. Well, that church was only two miles from our house, and a school was added. You know, we never spoke English at home, but the kids did begin to learn English at school. We all felt much less isolated. You might say the next fly in the ointment was that dang French and Indian War.
- We often had contact with the Indians, trading with them. But they turned on us with the help of the French. Even though individually I think we treated the Indians fairly well, it is true that we were encroaching on their hunting grounds and livelihoods. George II and Elias were old enough to participate in some of the local efforts to defend ourselves. But still we had to return to Philadelphia for a time to be safe. Perhaps it was that time away from our farmstead that got me to thinking more about heading off again – this time toward Virginia.
Heading to Virginia:
- When we first arrived in Philadelphia we had seen posters and heard people promoting settlement in Virginia. Many of our neighbors had already headed south for the cheaper land. One acre of land in Berks County could trade for three acres in Virginia, and it was as good or better land. And it certainly helped us to think about Virginia when our son, Elias, headed south finding a bride and starting a family in what was then northern Virginia, but became West Virginia during the Civil War.
- George II had become a weaver, following in his father’s former trade I guess. He seemed pretty well settled in Pennsylvania.
- But young son John got a lot more interested in traveling south after his brother Elias left. And it was all that talk of Virginia that prompted Barb to put her stake in the ground about a German house. By this time I had lived long enough as a married man to say, “Yes, dear!”
- I have to say, traveling south was far better than the first trip north from Philadelphia. The Great Wagon Road was no highway as you think of it today. It was rough and narrow, with tree stumps still sticking up in many places. But it could accommodate a team of horses and a wagon in most places except during the rainy season.
- I was able to sell the Berks County farm and we started gathering our most prized possessions for the trip. Of course we took our two horse team and best wagon, and then began packing. Our best chickens went in a coop tied to the back. A couple pigs and a cow were tethered along side. Barb’s most prized household furnishings went in first, then I added farm implements in any leftover space.
- There were long stretches of dense forest along the Wagon Road, but also a number of settlers and way stations. The English complained that we Germans traveled without patronizing their inns along the way because we carried all our food and provisions. That is true. But when we came to a German inn we were happy enough to stop and have a great German meal and catch up on all the news with fellow Germans.
- You have newspapers and radio and TV, and now the web to keep up on things. We had the wall of each inn along the Wagon Road. Those walls were plastered with all kinds of postings. Where a doctor might be located. Notices about slaves or wives that had run away. Trust me, being a woman on the frontier with a bad man was no picnic. Not a few ran away.
- The scenery on the trip was spectacular. The Wagon Road followed the natural valley and ridges created by the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountain ranges. Where the Road followed the crest of a hill the views both east and west caught one’s breath.
- As we crossed the Potomac and entered Virginia Germans became more numerous. Some towns like Frederick Town, Stephensburg and Strasburg were almost exclusively German and felt very comfortable.
- South of Woodstock we turned west of the Great Wagon Road toward the plantation we had purchased. Yes that is what it was called, a Virginia plantation. This place was much more established when we arrived then the place in Berks County had been. It had several buildings including a barn and a house of sorts. But that house not-with-standing, the deal with Barb was for a new, good German house! And I set to work. John helped, and we hired others. The stones for the foundation came right from the plantation fields as did the trees for the logs and lumber in the house.
- We found a friendly community of like minded Germans in the area around Rader Lutheran Church. John proved to be a good farmer and businessman. He married and began raising his own family. He took over the farm and Barb and I moved aside. Of course, you know about that court case when John died. Kids and in-laws! Enough said.
- Son Elias’ first wife died and he moved on further south to Tennessee. It was great to have them stay with us for a time on their way. And it was a special treat when two of George II’s sons, our grandsons, moved to Shenandoah County setting up housekeeping there before moving on to Tennessee and Ohio.
The Bowman House
- Speaking of the house again, did you notice the addition. I understand John’s son, George, put that on. We thought it was plenty big, but times do change.
- And to think that house and property stayed in the Bowman family for 250 years! That is remarkable. Some of us settle down and stay put. Others, like me, keep moving to the next frontier.
- You know, the stone for the basement came from the farm. I guess that is why Frazier Quarry bought it. And what a wonderful gift the Frazier family gave to all of us when they donated the house to the Museum! The Museum has done a remarkable job of rebuilding and displaying it. It makes us all proud!
- Well, enough for today. I do wish you descendents well. And don’t forget your roots. It is a lot easier to grow strong and tall if you nurture your roots.
- Guten Tag!