Friday, July 17, 2009

Notes And Documents of Free Persons of Color: The Bowden's of Popes Creek

 Mary and Patty Bowden were Indentured Servants to George Washington's family from, 1737-1780. They were the last two of four generations of Female Indentured Servants in Westmoreland County Virginia. Over four generations beginning with a white woman, Lydia Hillard, (born about 1690), who had a daughter named Mary Monroe, by a Negro man, (about 1710). Lydia and her daughter Mary were Indentured Servants to William Monroe Senior, the Grandfather of President James Monroe. In 1730 Mary Monroe, entered into a marriage with William Monroe Junior, a white man. She and Williams daughter, Mary Bowden, was born February 20, 1730. Mary learned of the law later that year, when she was indicted for Bastardy. As a Mulatto woman, she could not by law, marry a white man, therefore their child was illegitimate. In a stunning move (for 1730), the Grand Jury throughout the indictment.  Seven years would pass before the Westmoreland County Courts took control of the child. By that time her mother was deceased and her father remarried. She was taken to court and sentenced to a thirty year Indenture, to George Washington's father, Augustine Washington Senior.

While serving her Indenture Mary bore several children, all of whom were Indentured to the Washington Family. Mary's daughter, Patty Bowden's Indenture was passed to Augustine Washington Junior, after the death of his father. Mary's Indenture was extended because she frequently ran away, and at one time was gone for four years. She had a taste for freedom that did was quenched only after her indenture ended. Having been born on the Plantation Patty was not familiar with freedom and was made a Personal Servant to Elizabeth Washington. Patty completed her Indenture on her thirty First Birthday and moved to Fredericksburg. It was there she meant her husband, James Jackson, who was a slave to Charles Yates. Upon the death of Charles Yates (in 1811), all of his Servants and Slaves were freed, including James Jackson. Patty and James owned property in Fredericksburg and she worked as a Seamstress for many years. Mary and Patty lived into their eighties and both died in Fredericksburg Virginia.

The first and last time my family and I gathered there was in 1999, over ten years ago. It was a bitter sweet reunion for descendants of Mary and Patty who labored there.  Mary Bowden was born February 20, 1730 to William Junior and Mary Monroe. Her birth caused a stir in the community, when her mother was indicted for Bastardy. She was summoned to appear in front of a Grand Jury, the summer after her daughters' birth. Mary Monroe was born 1710 to Lydia Hilliard and a Negro man. Her birth also caused a stir, when the courts indentured the Mulatto child to William Monroe Senior. In the court records, William Monroe Senior states that he was previously awarded an indenture to the child, and demanded that Reverend St. Shropshire return her to him. The courts agreed and the child was sent to live in the household of William Monroe Senior.

It is not clear what part William Monroe played the Grand Jury proceedings. In the end the indictment was thrown out, because of the ambiguity of the law. It seems that someone who knew the law quite well, was there arguing for Mary Monroe. The courts also stated that the law did not recognize the marriage between a White man and Mulatto woman. That meant that there was no marriage, but Mary was not found culpable, possibly because she was not aware of the law. That would not be unusual as she was a servant, and it is unlikely that she had knowledge of the laws. It is not clear what happened with William Monroe Junior after the court case. Mary Monroe died in 1837, the same year as William Monroe Senior. The child, Mary Bowden was living at her Uncle Thomas Chilton's house, after her mothers death. The Chiltons are related on the Monroe side of Mary Bowden's family. Mary was living there when theWestmoreland County Courts sentenced her to a thirty year indenture at Popes Creek (now George Washington Birthplace). Mary's daughter, Patty was born at Popes Creek in 1750.

The story of Mary and Patty Bowden is in , Notes And Documents of Free Persons of Color (Revised Editon) and Pieces of the Quilt: The Mosaic of An African American Family. I am pleased to share the rich and inspiring history of my ancestors.

I am Here

I am Here!

(Mary & Patty Bowden)

Listen to the wind, the songs of the trees, the dancing steps of the leaves,
the dripping drops of the creek-the voices of Mary and Patty Bowden saying,


I am here! I will not go away! I can not go away! I didn’t will myself here! But where I am, has become my destination. I am darker, intelligent, I am powerful. I flowed from the waters of Euphrates, down the river Nile, towards the banks of Egypt, to the shores of Africa; but my waters were troubled, my power to resist left. I found myself flowing against the tides, the waves beat vehemently underneath. My brother is upon me and upon him, my sister, upon her, my daughter. It’s too heavy for me to bear. The darkness! the coldness! the dampness! the smell! the stench! the cry! (mother for daughter, daughter for mother). Suddenly! the light appears, as needles piercing my eyes, loud voices (faces-light and bright) never seen, the noise of whips and sticks,


My family lost, children abandoned. I am shackled, hands and feet to a strange land! I sing but my song is gone. I hear no drum beat, no dance, no music! I mourn; a hoe, a shovel, a mule and a field. I run! I run through the night in the rain, up the river, “freedom cries inside.” I fall tired under the juniper tree, when I awake, I am here again! Look!...paper say ‘am free- no where to go-


I press on looking for a better day. I press through the cotton fields, to the battlefields, the Revolution, “storm is passing over, Hallelujah!” I walked the hills of segregation, through the emancipation to sit where they sit, to eat where they eat, to rest where they rest. I flow on Alabama, Georgia, Memphis, Jacksonville, New York, Boston and Washington – I hear the “Dream,” the same dream that all men and women are created equal. Look at me now 250 years, I’m still here, alive and well, on Popes Creek, the heart of the confederacy, surrounded by the battlefield of my past, with hope for a Harvest. I am suddenly awakened and I realize that

I AM Here

In You……

I am Here

Written & Delivered by Dr. James E. King October 16, 1999
George Washington Birthplace National Monument Oct 99 Duplication & Copying written document in prohibited ©Copyright 1999