Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I wrote the other day that a man named Walter Bowne helped capture a burglar at the warm-weather residence of my great-grandfather, Louis Windmuller. This man, as I said, was an undertaker and sometime knacker whose family hosted community "sociables" from time to time.[1] He was also a member of an old, prosperous, and greatly-respected family.[2] His great-great-uncle, Robert Bowne, set up a shop in Manhattan to sell stationery and print financial publications. The business, Bowne & Co., was a great success and became in time the nation's oldest public company. Just last month, after two and a third centuries as an independent entity, it was taken over by the RR Donnelley. The son of his great-great-aunt Sarah, Robert Bowne Minturn, amassed great wealth as a shipper during the first half of the 19th century and is known as one of the owners of the famous Flying Cloud clipper ship.[3]

The two Roberts, like other Quaker Bownes, were ardent philanthropists and reformers. The first was a vocal opponent of slavery and long-time governor of New York Hospital. He also helped organize New York's first bank and first fire insurance company; he also promoted the development of the Erie Canal.[4] The second donated the land on which Central Park was created, and, as first president of the Union League Club, was a staunch opponent of slavery and the Southern rebellion.[5]

The grandfather of Walter Bowne, also Walter Bowne, was a state senator and mayor of New York who, like his uncle Robert, promoted the construction of the Erie Canal, a project that, as one writer notes, "made an immense contribution to the wealth and importance of New York City."[6] Mayor Bowne also promoted urban cleanliness and sanitation as means for preventing disease and recognized the importance of securing an adequate and clean supply of water for New York.[7]

Walter Bowne's great-great-great-grandfather was John Bowne who had come to America with his parents in 1649 and became a leader of the Quaker community in Flushing, then part of New Netherland.[8] Although English settlers, such as the Bownes, had been granted freedom to practice religions other than the official Dutch Calvinism, Governor Peter Stuyvesant persecuted Quakers severely.[9] And although John Bowne was not himself a Quaker, he took it upon himself to defend the rights of Quakers. This intransigence led first to his arrest, conviction, and banishment and, eventually, to full vindication. Transported to Ireland by Stuyvesant's government, he proceeded by foot to Amsterdam and there laid his case before officials of the West India Company, the commercial monopoly that ruled the New Netherlands colony. He succeeded in convincing these officials of his sincerity, the depth of his conviction, and the rightness of his cause and they both returned him home and their expense and reprimanded the colonial government.[10]

John Bowne later became a Quaker, taking his lead from his wife, Hannah, who was unusually independent for a woman of her time. She became a prominent Quaker minister and traveled, on her own, to propagate her belief both locally and abroad.[11]

The Bowne family intermarried with other Quaker families of Manhattan, Long Island, and the neighboring regions, including some of my relatives. The founding member of my Thorne relatives was William Thorne, famed as a signer of the Flushing Remonstrance. His son, Joseph, married Mary Bowne, daughter of John Bowne and Hannah Feake Bowne. My family is descended from Joseph's brother, Richard. The genealogical tree is here. There's a Van Wyck branch on this tree which, as it turns out, intersects with the Bowne family tree at one point.


Mayor Walter Bowne

{source: A girl's life eighty years ago; selections from the letters of Eliza Southgate Bowne by Eliza Southgate Bowne (C. Scribner's Sons, 1887)}

Eliza Southgate Bowne, wife of Walter Bowne, the mayor

{source: A girl's life eighty years ago; selections from the letters of Eliza Southgate Bowne by Eliza Southgate Bowne (C. Scribner's Sons, 1887)}

Robert Bowne, the merchant

{source: tenpound.com}

Robert Bowne Minturn

{source: members.cox.net}


Bowne House in 1819. Built in 1661, this was John Bowne's original dwelling. It is the oldest building in Queens.

{View of Flushing (Long Island) North America. Mr Bowne's house. It remains in the possession of his family ever since 1661 time when it was built. Charles Etienne Pierre Motte, lithographer; Jacques Gérard Milbert, artist, 1825; source: NYPL Digital Gallery}

Bowne House today

{Bowne House; source: wallyg's photostream on flickr}


Some sources:

Monograph on the Southgate family of Scarborough, Maine, their ancestors and descendants by Leonard Bond Chapman Portland, Me., H.W. Bryant, 1907)

Robert Bowne and his Company, the Evolution of a Seaport Printer (pdf) by Ginna Johnson

A girl's life eighty years ago; selections from the letters of Eliza Southgate Bowne by Eliza Southgate Bowne (C. Scribner's Sons, 1887)

Bowne Company History

Robert Bowne Minturn, 1805-1866 on members.cox.net

William, Cornelius, John, and Benny

Descendants of William Thorne & Susannah Booth

Eight generations from William Thorne of Dorsetshire, England, and Lynn Mass. by Joseph Steward Middleton and Alan McLean Taylor (Boston, Priv. print, 1913)




[1] Here is the death notice for Walter Bowne which appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on September 21, 1921.

{source: fultonhistory.com}

[2] In 1892, the local paper took the occasion of Walter Bowne's wedding to give a short summary of the family. It shows Hannah's surname as Fitch rather than Feake and lists only the first of John Bowne's three wives. The others were Hannah Bickerstaff and Mary Cock.

{Newtown Register, Feb. 11, 1892}

[3] See the Bowne Family Biographies at bownehouse.org.

[4] See Bowne Company History.

[5] See Robert Bowne Minturn, 1805-1866 on members.cox.net.

[6] "New York did not rise to commercial preeminence until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Its rise is due to its central location on the Atlantic seaboard, and especially to its excellent harbor, which lies at the entrance to the fine natural waterway, the Hudson River and the Mohawk Valley, leading to the highly productive North-Central portion of the United States. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 was the most important event in the business history of the city. " -- The new international encyclopæeia. The quote in my text comes from the Erie Canal in wikipedia. Louis Windmuller noted that the need for the canal was not at all obvious to contemporaries. He wrote: "In our own time De Witt Clinton was called an arrant fool because he wanted to connect the waters of our great lakes with the Hudson by his Erie Canal." -- letter to the editor of the Sun, February 23, 1893.

[7] See Bowne Family Biographies. I've written previously about the Croton Aqueduct which resulted partly from Walter Bowne's foresight:
* Croton Water
* the resurrection of Sparta
* Beechwood and vicinity
* a river three miles wide
* Collect Pond and the origins of Five Points

[8] "Although the Bownes of England could trace their ancestry back to William the Conqueror's time and were connected to many titled and powerful families, we do not know what caused John Bowne with his father, Thomas, and sister, Dorothy, to leave Lime Tree Farm in Matlock, Derbyshire, England to travel to Boston in 1649. After a few years, John left Boston for New York, and by 1661 had built his home in Flushing on land purchased from the Matincock Indians for eight strings of wampum (about $14). He married Hannah Feake, the niece of Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts and cousin of Governor Robert Winthrop of Connecticut. John and Hannah had 8 children. After Hannah's death in 1677, he married again and had 8 more children." -- Bowne Family Biographies.

[9] Stuyvesant's predecessor as governor of New Netherland had granted English settlers freedom of religion as a means of enticing them to join the underpopulated Dutch colony. Those who took advantage of this offer were not at first Quakers and Stuyvesant took action against Quakers when they began to show up in the colony. He was not the only head of government to single out Quakers for persecution. Seventeenth-century governments were almost unanimous in believing that the Quakers were politically subversive in their commitment to independent thought, direct approach to God, and refusal to take oaths or provide any support for military establishments. They were also suspect for their lack of deference to the power structures of church and state. Many sources attest to this fact. See for example "Charles II, 1662: An Act for preventing the Mischeifs and Dangers that may arise by certaine Persons called Quakers and others refusing to take lawfull Oaths.", in Statutes of the Realm: volume 5: 1628-80 (1819), pp. 350-51. What is surprising is the resistance of the non-Quaker community to Stuyvesant's actions. I've written previously about the first complaint against them — the Flushing Remonstrance. See love, peace and liberty condemn hatred, war and bondage and Newtown families.

[10] The order of the West India Company said in part: "Wherefore it is our opinion that some connivance would be useful that the consciences of men, at least, ought ever to remain free and unshackled. Let everyone be unmolested as long as he is modest, as long as his conduct in a political sense is unimpeachable, as long as he does not disturb others or oppose the government. This maxim of moderation has always been the guide of the magistrates of this city [i.e., Amsterdam], and the consequence has been that from every land people have flocked to this asylum. Tread thus in their steps, and we doubt not you will be blessed." -- Annals of our colonial ancestors and their descendants by Ambrose Milton Shotwell (Printed for the author by R. Smith & co., 1895). See this publication for a detailed history of John Bowne's heroic achievement.

[11] Her travels included two trans-Atlantic crossings to England, Ireland, Holland, and Friesland. -- Annals of our colonial ancestors and their descendants by Ambrose Milton Shotwell (Printed for the author by R. Smith & co., 1895).

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