January 1991

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The Bowlby Family


Jeanette Denson

For many years my family has driven past a house in the Bath area without realizing, until recently, that it has a history which would be of particular interest to us. This house was built by James Bowlby, a great-great grandfather of my husband. It is located on Babcock Hollow Road just outside the Village of Bath.

James' first known ancestor was Richard Bowlby who lived in Helmsley, North Riding, Yorkshire, England. He died in 1552.

Richard's namesake, Richard of the seventh generation, accompanied his father, Thomas, and two brothers, to America in 1727. Thomas Bowlby's family lived at Mansfield Woodhouse just north of the City of Mansfield in Nottinghamshire, which borders on the legendary "Robin Hood" country. It is interesting to note that in 1662 a member of this family was Warden of Sherwood Forest and Constable of Nottingham Castle.

Probably the principal reason they journeyed to America was that a manager was needed for the large tracts of land which the family had inherited from Thomas' father-in-law, Samuel Barker. Samuel was related to a Thomas Barker who, in 1682, was one of the twenty-four proprietors of East Jersey associated with William Penn.

Thomas died when Richard was twelve years of age. After his father's death, Richard continued to live in New Jersey, probably with his brother, John. Unfortunately, Richard lost his land after the Revolutionary War because of his loyalty to England. Richard and several members of the family, who were also loyalists, moved to Nova Scotia where he received 400 acres of land from the Canadian government. He lived in Canada the rest of his life and died at the age of 99 years and 10 months after a fall from a wagon when he was driving a load of grain to the mill.

James Bowlby was born in 1779 in New Jersey, and was the son or grandson of Richard Bowlby. Because their future was so uncertain in Nova Scotia, James, who was very young at the time, remained with a relative in New Jersey. In 1807 he married Catherine Maybury in Sussex County, N. J.

Soon after their marriage they purchased 208 acres in Dryden, New York, where their ten children were born. Nine of their children lived to adulthood. When James was drafted during the War of 1812, his wife, Catherine, sold her wedding dress to obtain money for him to hire a substitute.

In 1837 he moved to Bath where he purchased 125 acres. This farm already had an interesting history because it was originally part of the Col. Charles Williamson farm and was included in the Springfield Farm. There are indications that there were slave houses on this farm. Cemetery stones bearing inscriptions dated around 1805 have also been discovered as well as old wells and evidence of fruit trees.

The slave era in Bath was short-lived. It began when a Major Thornton and a Capt. William Helm moved there from Virginia and brought their slaves with them. Major Thornton was hired by Col. Williamson to oversee the Springfield Farm. After the deaths of Capt. Helm and Major Thornton the slaves moved or ran away. Major Thornton was related to Gen. George Washington and had served as an officer in the Revolutionary War.

When James first came to Bath there was a log house on the farm. He then built a small frame house and lived there until 1856 when he erected the present house. After his death in 1862, the house was occupied by several generations of the family until it was sold to its present owners.

The Bowlby name has been well-known in the Bath area because many of James' descendants continued to reside there. In 1863, John A. Bowlby was elected trustee. A tax of $400 was levied on the district to build a school house and outbuildings.

Several descendants of James Bowlby were teachers at the school. Among them were John H. Bowlby, Nancy Thomas, Laura Sherman Heggie, and Carrie Bowlby White.

The school was destroyed by fire on May 14, 1937. After the fire, a portion of the Bowlby house was used for the remainder of the term. A new structure was built and was ready for occupancy in November of that year at a cost of $4,995. The building was built to accommodate 25 pupils, When the school districts were centralized, the building was moved to another location, and it is still in use today as part of a dwelling.

Knowledge of our relationship to this family had been lost for two generations. After the initial discovery of our connection to the Bowlby family, it became relatively easy to obtain the additional information through our contact with Raymond E. Bowlby who authored the book, Bowlby Families in England and America. The Books, A History of the Bowlby District By Idah M. W. Van Housen, and History of the Bowlby Family by Erwin Bowlby White of Bath, NY, have also been very helpful. Mrs. Harvey L. Pahnke of Chicago, Illinois, another direct descendant, aided us considerably in this endeavor.

1991, Jeanette Denson
Mrs. Eldred J. Denson
1272 Arrowhead Beach
Dresden, NY 14441
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