Above: The "autograph" (his mark - x) of James Bowie, free man of color
Welcome to the website dedicated to James Bowie, free man of color and his descendants.
James Bowie, free man of color (c. 1795-1832) was a contemporary of Col. James Bowie (1796-1836), and has sometimes been confused for him. They are two different people.
"Free man of color" and "free woman of color" were legal terms used to describe non-slaves in the Southern United States. It distinguished them from their white counterparts, who often had the same name. [Slaves rarely had surnames.] These free men and women occupied a middle ground between free whites and black slaves in antebellum culture. They could come to possess their freedom through birth, manumission or purchase through their own labor. Depending on their locale, their presence could be troublesome to maintenance of the status quo and general morale. With the free black Bowie family of Catahoula Parish, I suspect the prominence and influence of the white Bowie family was a factor in the family of James Bowie, FMC remaining in the area. How James Bowie, free man of color came by his freedom is a subject of continuing investigation. [His children were free born.]
Using census data, James Bowie, FMC was born about 1795. Where he was born is unknown at this time. He married a freed slave named Chaney (b. circa 1795, d. after 1850 and before 1860) around 1817. Together they had seven children: Stephen, James, Heman, Rufus (my great-great-great-grandfather), Albert, Parker & Annis. James Bowie, FMC had a connection (most likely biological, since hes described as a mulatto) to Col. James Bowie and his family, but the exact nature of the relationship is unknown at this time. Several surviving documents show James Bowie, FMC dealing with John J. Bowie and Rhesa Bowie, the Col.'s brother and uncle, respectively.
James FMC was an accepted and active member of the community. Surviving documents show him buying and selling land and slaves, and lending money. Depositions were taken at his home regarding the disputed 1824 election of John J. Bowie to the Louisiana House of Representatives.
In Dr. Carter G. Woodson's book Free Negro owners of slaves in the United States in 1830, James Bowie, FMC is the only free person of color in Catahoula Parish owning slaves (3 in number). In neighboring Avoyelles Parish, only Julien Barzanna (aka Berzat) with 1 slave, is in a similar position. Two of James Bowie, FMC's sons, James and Albert, married two of Juliens daughters in Avoyelles Parish in 1860.
At the time of his death in October of 1832, James Bowie, free man of color left a significant estate 690 acres of land, 350 cattle, 150 hogs, 13 horses and 3 slaves.
James Bowie, free man of color is my great-great-great-great grandfather. Research on the origins and life of James Bowie, free man of color are ongoing. Perhaps some yet to be discovered document or DNA research (e.g., the Jefferson-Hemings controversy) will shed more light on the subject.
- Steven C. Bowie, 2012
P.S. - I will be making continual updates to this websites. New documents, references, relatives and photographs are always cropping up. It will never be 'done,' so keep coming by!
When I appeared on Jeopardy! in 1985, I discussed my (then) beginning quest in genealogy with host Alex Trebek:
(Click on picture for video)
From Insider Racing News - "The First African American NASCAR Driver: It Wasn't Wendell Scott" by Rebecca Gladden - The Story of Elias Bowie's Amazing Race!