Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Joseph Bowman (8 March 1752–14 August 1779), officer of George Rogers Clark's Illinois Regiment, Virginia State Forces, was born near Cedar Creek in Frederick County, the son of George Bowman and Mary Hite Bowman. His brother Abraham Bowman served as a Continental army officer, and another brother John Bowman was an officer in the frontier militia. Joseph Bowman was a young captain in the Dunmore County militia in 1774 when his company was called into the field during Dunmore's War. Many of his men deserted, and it took Bowman two years to recover the value of the equipment and supplies that they took with them.

In 1775 Bowman went to Kentucky, perhaps in company with his elder brother Abraham Bowman. At Harrodsburg on 20 June 1776 he was among those who petitioned to have a new western county established. Evidently Bowman favorably impressed George Rogers Clark, who was also at the Harrodsburg meeting. In January 1778 Clark offered Bowman a captain's commission if he would raise a company of men in the lower Shenandoah Valley and join the army Clark was recruiting for western service. Bowman again lost men to desertion, but he and his company joined Clark, and on 12 May 1778 the expedition started down the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers bound for the Illinois country. They marched overland to the Mississippi River and captured Kaskaskia on 4 July 1778 without firing a shot. Clark sent Bowman and thirty men up the Mississippi River, and by 7 July Bowman had taken Prairie du Rocher, Saint Philippe, and Cahokia. Within a few weeks Vincennes surrendered without a fight, and Clark's Virginia army controlled most of the land between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes.

Bowman served as military commander at Cahokia, which Clark called Fort Bowman, and as judge of a civil court that the Americans established there. He also attempted to win the support of neighboring Indian tribes. In February 1779, after the British commander Henry Hamilton recaptured Vincennes, Bowman took part in Clark's winter march east to the Wabash River, where he commanded the second division during the fighting that led to Hamilton's surrender. On 25 February the Virginians took possession of the fort, but during the attendant military festivities an explosion badly burned Bowman and five other men. Two days later he received news from Williamsburg that he had been promoted to major effective 14 December 1778.

Bowman spent the spring and summer recovering from his burns, and by 5 August 1779 he seemed well enough to be put in charge of recruiting new men. Joseph Bowman, however, died at Vincennes, possibly from the effects of his burns, on 14 August 1779.

Sources Consulted:
John W. Wayland, The Bowmans: A Pioneering Family in Virginia, Kentucky, and the Northwest Territory (1943), esp. 114–115 (will) and abstracts of family and land records; Bowman documents in Lyman C. Draper Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wis. (Draper MSS), and Bowman Family Papers, 1774–1836, Filson Historical Society, Louisville, Ky.; James Alton James, ed., George Rogers Clark Papers, including Bowman's journal and letters, published in Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library, vols. 8,19 (1912–1926), with variant death date of 19 Aug. 1779 in Thomas Quirk to George Rogers Clark, 22 Aug. 1779, 8:360; John D.Barnhart, ed., Henry Hamilton and George Rogers Clark in the American Revolution (1951), 187; death certificate, given by George Rogers Clark in Lincoln Co. on 5 Feb. 1782, in Draper MSS, 17J16, 118.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by William Dodd Brown.

How to cite this page:
William Dodd Brown,"Joseph Bowman (1752–1779)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2001 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Bowman_Joseph, accessed [today's date]).

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