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Home: Regional: U.S. States: North Carolina: Duplin County

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Baker and Matha Bowden Wills
Posted by: Richard Bowden Jones (ID *****9415) Date: January 09, 2003 at 21:49:55
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For some time there have been differing opinions as to exactly who were the offspring of Baker BOWDEN and his wife Martha of Isle of Wight County, VA, and (old) New Hanover County, NC, even though the wills of both Baker and Martha have been available for many years.

Wills are generally recognized as one of the best sources of factual information concerning family structure. However, in the case of Baker and Martha BOWDEN, both of whom left wills, neither will named all of their children, despite the fact that the wills were executed only a few years apart. Because of the confusion surrounding their children there was also confusion as to the line of descent from the Bowden patriarch, Nicholas BOURDEN Sr. and his spouse, Prudence DAVIS, of Isle of Wight County. This, of course, affects the relationships of all of the succeeding generations of Baker and Martha's descendants.

Several genealogical compilations, most notably material gathered by Mrs. Ann Jacobs BOYKIN (m. Robert Neal MURPHY), daughter of Julia Augusta BOWDEN and Bias Franklin BOYKIN, and repeated by Mrs. Bertha Long CORN in her book concerning the BOWDENS, contain significant errors that were, no doubt, based on the incorrect version of Martha BOWDEN'S will that appears in the records of New Hanover County. Additionally, a gift deed of 170 acres of land was found in Duplin which was made by Nicholas BOWDEN IV, (son of Samuel BOURDEN, son of Nicholas BOURDEN Sr.) to his grandson Nicholas " son of my son Baker". That gift deed from Duplin County records was erroneously described as a will. Based on the incorrect will and the erroneously reported gift deed, Mrs. Murphy contends, and Mrs. Corn accepts, that the correct line of descent for Baker and Martha BOWDEN and their children is from Nicholas Sr. (Isle of Wight), to Nicholas Jr. (Duplin), to Baker and Martha (Long Creek, New Hanover County), while the correct line is directly from Nicholas BOURDEN Sr. to Baker BOURDEN (Bacor in his will) and Martha.

It became obvious that something was amiss when the version of Martha BOWDEN'S will which was reproduced in the BOWDEN HISTORY, by Josie B. BOWDEN of Greenville, AL, did not agree with the version of the will held by other researchers, in that the children named in the two versions were not the same, even though the two wills were the same in most other particulars. The eight children named in the BOWDEN HISTORY version of Martha's will, in order, were: John, Rebecca (Stanley), Richard, Jesse, NICHOLAS, LEMUEL, Sarah and Molsey. While in the will extracted from the records of New Hanover County, only seven were named; they were: John, Rebecca (Stanley), Richard, Jesse, SAMUEL, Sarah and Molsey. Baker's will, signed in 1787, named only the three oldest children, John, Rebecca and Richard, in that order.

The version of Martha BOWDEN'S will utilized by Mrs. BOWDEN in her book came from the NC State Archives, while the second version came from the New Hanover County will books kept in Wilmington. New Hanover County was the office of record where the will was originally recorded. It was quickly determined that there were, indeed, two versions of the same will. It was also determined that errors probably were made when the original will was hand-copied into the large will book of New Hanover County. According to a notation found with the NC State Archives version, the will in question was "Recorded in (New Hanover County) Book C, p.34, by order of Court at Sept. Term 1845. Teste, L.H. Marsteller, Clerk". That note was made by a New Hanover County official, but was not with the New Hanover version. It was not recorded in the New Hanover will book until 53 years after it was proven, and then it took an order of the court. It no doubt had to do with the transfer of the original wills to the archives.

A word-for-word comparison of the will book entry from New Hanover County with a copy of the original will from the NC State Archives disclosed that there were two significant errors in the New Hanover version. First, the paragraph referring to Baker and Martha's fourth son, NICHOLAS (III) , was completely omitted. This led to the false conclusion that instead of Baker and Martha of New Hanover County, an entirely different Baker BOWDEN (m. Mary Branch) of Duplin County, (the son of Nicholas BOWDEN Jr., son of Nicholas BOURDEN Sr.), was the father of Nicholas (III). The second error occurred when the name "LEMUEL" in paragraph six of the original was incorrectly copied as "SAMUEL". Since it was well known that Lemuel and Nicholas (III) were brothers, that second error compounded the first and reinforced the mistaken conclusion concerning the parents and siblings of Nicholas (III).

After studying both wills and other verified supporting facts, it can be concluded that the correct line for Nicholas (III) and his brother Lemuel can only be from Nicholas BOURDEN Sr. (b. ca 1700/10) and Prudence, to BAKER (Bacor) BOURDEN (Bowden) (b.1742/3 in Isle of Wight County, VA) and Martha, thence to JOHN, REBECCA, RICHARD, JESSE, NICHOLAS, LEMUEL, SARAH and MOLSEY (or Malsey) and their offspring. BAKER AND MARTHA DID NOT HAVE A SON NAMED SAMUEL..

There was, in fact, a son of Baker BOWDEN (II) of Duplin named Nicholas (IV), however, it is documented that Nicholas (IV) married Elizabeth SOUTHERLAND in 1815, and subsequently lived in a part of Duplin County which later became Wayne County. That line is Nicholas BOURDEN Sr. and Prudence to Nicholas Jr. to Baker and Mary Branch to Nicholas (IV). Nicholas (III) of New Hanover and Nicholas (IV) of Wayne were first cousins, once removed.

CORRECT WILL of MARTHA BOWDEN, State of North Carolina, New Hanover County

In the name of God, amen. I Martha Bowden of Long Creek in the County and State aforesaid, being weak of body, but of sound and perfect understanding and memory, do make this my last will and Testament, in manner and form following:
Imprimis. I give to my son John Bowden one linen wheal (sic).
Item. I give to my daughter, Rebecca Stanley one looking glass.
Item. I give to my son Jesse Bowden, one cow big with calf, one two year old heifer and one heifer yearling, being the cattle that have always been called his; the said cattle to be sold, and the money arising from the sale to be put to interest for his use, till he may attain the age of twenty-one years.
Item. I give to my son Nicholas Bowden two cows and two calves, being the cattle that were always called his, and one shotgun, the said cows, calves and gun to be sold and the money arising from the sale to be put to interest for his use till he may attain the age of 21 years.
Item. I give to my son Lemuel Bowden, two cows and two calves and one heifer yearling, being the cattle that were always called his, the said cattle to be sold, and the money arising from the sale thereof to be put to interest for his use till he may attain the age of twenty one years.
Item. I give unto my daughter Sarah Bowden one feather bed and furniture and one bedstead, also one loom & implements thereto belonging, also one woolen wheel and one pair of cotton cards, and one large clothes chest.
Item. I give to my daughter, Molsey Bowden, one feather bed and furniture and one bedstead, six silver tea spoons; and the remainder of my property I desire may be sold and my just debts paid therewith; and what money may remain after payment of said debts, I bequeath to my said daughter Molsey Bowden to be put to interest for her use till she may marry or attain the age of eighteen years.

And I constitute and appoint Samuel Bowden of Duplin County, Executor to this my last will and testament, In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this eleventh day of March Anno Domini 1792.
Martha Bowden X Her Mark (SEAL)
Sealed, published and declared by the above named Martha Bowden as and for her last will and testament in presence of us.
s/ W. Sharpless s/ John Bowden s/ John Rivenbark
Will Proved by John Bowden, 22 May 1792, New Hanover County Court Minutes. The execution of the written will was proved by the oath of John Bowden in due form of law and ordered to be registered.
Geo. Gibbs D. Clk.

The will of Baker BOURDEN (Bowden) was proven in New Hanover County in January 1790, he therefore could not have appeared in the 1790 US Census. Furthermore, Baker's wife Martha appears as the head of the household in 1790. The Baker BOWDEN family at the time of the enumeration consisted of "one white male over 16, three white males under 16, and three white females." The identity of the male over 16 could only have been Richard, who was left the "plantation I live on" by his father, Baker, in his will which was signed in 1787, while a life estate on the same plantation was specified for Martha in the same document. John, the oldest son, had already left home as evidenced by the fact that he was was bequeathed in his father's will the plantation on which he (John) was living before his father's death. Additionally, John also appears in the 1790 census as the head of a household, next to Martha. (From the description of the property lines in Baker's will it can be concluded that the two plantations abutted). The three males under 16 were obviously Jesse, Nicholas and Lemuel, all of whom were mentioned as being under 21 in the will of their mother, Martha, signed in March 1792. The fact that they were under twenty-one in 1792, the date of Martha's will, and under 16 in 1790, the date of the census, means that none of the three could have been born before 1775. The three females were, of course, Martha, Sarah, who was probably of age, and Malsey (or Molsey) who was referred to as under 18 in her mother's will. Rebecca, who was mentioned in both wills and who was refered to in her mother's will as "Rebecca Stanley" was married and, in all likelihood, not living at home.
It is interesting that in the 1790 US Census enumeration, Martha BOWDEN and John COWAN were recorded as neighbors in the Long Creek section of New Hanover County (now Pender). Subsequently, two of John COWAN's daughters, Catherine and Susannah, married two of Martha Bowden's sons, Nicholas and Lemuel. The children of these two families (Cowan and Bowden), as well as several other Bowden groups from Duplin County, apparently lived in close proximity to each other and obviously visited frequently. In the 1810 will of John COWAN, he refers to his daughters Susannah BOWDEN and Catherine BOWDEN, indicating they had married sometime prior to the making of his will. There were several other marriages between the Cowan and Bowden families and the Cowan-Bowden name combination was carried on for a number of generations, first by Catherine COWAN and Nicholas BOWDEN, who named their first son, born in 1802, John Cowan BOWDEN, and then by John's brother, Richard Tate BOWDEN, who named a son Morris Cowan, and by the third brother, Morris J. BOWDEN, who named a son Robert Cowan BOWDEN, and finally by John Cowan BOWDEN'S son, Joseph J., who named his son John Cowan BOWDEN II.

Nicholas BOWDEN'S brother, Lemuel, who had also married a Cowan (Susannah), had a large family but did not give the Cowan name to any of his children. Sarah, the second daughter of Lemuel BOWDEN and Susannah COWAN, married her double first cousin, Morris J. BOWDEN, the son of Nicholas BOWDEN and Catherine COWAN. Morris and Sarah named a son Robert Cowan BOWDEN and he was the grandson of both brothers, Lemuel and Nicholas, as well as the grand nephew of each.

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