Sitting on the Fence called the Bowker Brick Wall

February 19, 2016 at 5:08 pm | Posted in BARBARA BOWKER, Bowker | Leave a comment
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Today’s post is to examine the parentage of Levi B Bowker (1763-1850).

To recap from my previous profile of Levi: The first official sighting (or citing if you prefer) of our Levi Bowker is in March, 1781 in Scituate, MA upon his enlistment as a Continental Soldier in the American Revolution. He was in a group of 34 men who enlisted at Scituate under a quota from the General Assembly issued in late 1780. As far as I know, he is not listed in any surviving muster rolls. His discharge papers dated December, 1783 are included in his pension application from 1818. None of these, nor any other record found so far, give any indication of the identity of his parents.

All along Levi maintained that he was born in Scituate, Massachusetts in July, 1763. Unfortunately there is no record of his birth or Christening in that town or neighboring towns. There are numerous Bowker households in Plymouth county at that time, which we will examine in a bit. These are all descendants of James Bucar (abt 1645-1724), an Englishman who was in Scituate by 1680 by way of Sweden.

Alternate theories to Levi’s parentage are:
1. He’s the illegitimate son of a Bowker man. If so, I have found no record to that effect.
2. He’s the illegitimate son of a Bowker woman. If so, I have found no record to that effect.
3. He is adopted and changed his name. I have searched the probate records in Plymouth County, and have found no adoption that matches.
4. He took the name Bowker and/or is not from Scituate and/or that’s not his birthdate.
6. He is a descendant of a different Bowker line in Massachusetts. So far, I have not found a comparable Levi Bowker on other lines.

The Bowker surname is sometimes spelled Bucar, Buker, Boker, Boucher, Beuker…. there is a possible mistranscription as Baker, Barker, Booker, etc. Soundex searches help with these. However, not all sites support soundex or even wildcards, so one must key in each possible spelling separately.

My grandmother, Barbara Bowker, was an unabashed Francophile, and said Bowker is derived from Boucher, which (she said) is French for “butcher.” According to the Massachusetts Archives, there were a few Acadians (French Neutrals) in Scituate in the early 1760’s. Lazarus Bowker is named as having a part in transporting some of them to other towns. However, I haven’t found any record where a Lazarus Bowker or his kin claimed any child who might have become our Levi.

Another question I have that might help identify Levi is his middle initial “B.”  Finding out what that stands for might point to a family name and narrow the search. So far, I have not seen his middle name mentioned anywhere. Ok, descendants and distant cousins, does anyone have some help for me on this??

Levi Bowker first appeared in the settlement that became Jonesboro, ME about 1787 in the party of Captain Gustavus Fellowes. He was a carpenter by trade. In December, 1789 Levi married Betsey Watts. Looking for hints in the names of their children: Watts, Levi Jr., Betsey, Lydia, Deborah, Mary, Hannah, Sarah, and Frederick. Not much help there. Deborah maybe. Frederick… who the heck was he named for?

Going back to descendants of James Bucar from Scituate:
One Bowker family in Scituate is headed by John Bowker (1724-1807). In the NEHGS library is a work called “New Englanders in Nova Scotia.” It profiles Watts Bowker, Levi’s eldest son, who settled near Shelburne, NS. It has an entry making claim that one of John Bowker’s children, “Lefy” b. 1765, is our Levi. Further research reveals that Lefy was actually a daughter, Relief Bowker, who married Perez Jacobs. She is mentioned in John Bowker’s will. Levi is not.

Then there is the family of Joseph Bowker (1738-1802) and Elizabeth Deberow Cowen/Cowing (1740-1831) of Phippsburg, Sagadahoc Co, ME. This is the couple mentioned as most likely Levi’s parents. Yet I have never seen a source cited except other family trees and the echo chamber of the internet. The most official “source” I can find for this theory is the quote in Massachusetts Genealogy Vol 3, [pg 732 of vol, or 2025 of complete work], which leaves room for doubt. Here’s the entry:

(IV) Major Levi Bowker was born in Scituate, Massachusetts, July 6, 1763, died in Machias, Maine, August 28, 1850. There is no question that he was a descendant of the fourth generation of James Bowker, immigrant, of Scituate, and it is perhaps more than possible that he was a son of the Joseph Bowker who “moved to Maine”, although the most patient research among vital records and genealogical references fails to reveal the names of his parents. The presumption that Joseph and Elizabeth (Cowen) Bowker were his father and mother is a fair one in the absence of any fact to indicate to the contrary, but still there appears no present means by which to determine the fact beyond question of doubt. But however this may have been the truth remains that Major Bowker was born in Scituate about three years after the marriage of Joseph Bowker and Elizabeth Cowen, and that both Joseph, and Major Levi took up their residence in Maine, the latter in 1789. The records show too that he was a soldier of the revolution, in service from March, 1781, until December 18, 1783, in Captain King’s company of Colonel Tupper’s regiment. He enlisted as a private, but being expert in woodworking was employed as an artificer and had charge of keeping artillery carriages in repair. After removing to Machias he engaged somewhat extensively in building operations and erected many of the noted public and private buildings in that vicinity. And he always retained his old interest in military affairs and for many years was major of the state militia. He applied for a pension in May, 1818, and his claim was allowed, the pension surviving to his widow after his death.

Looking at other Bowker entries in this volume, we see that this is yet another aggrandizement of Levi’s grandson, Watts Henry Bowker, also a carpenter, who had political aspirations in Brookline, MA. It seems that, according to this work, Elizabeth Cowen Bowker had a connection to the Mayflower. This ups the ante for Levi to be her descendant and creates further doubt about the veracity of the claim. Somehow, I think, if we were Mayflower descendants, that “fact” would loom large in family lore. It does not.

In addition, the timeline is incredibly tight for Levi to be between the first two daughters of Joseph Bowker and his wife. Deborow Bowker was born in 1762 and Desire Bowker in 1764. Yes, it’s possible but not likely for three births in three successive years. Also, both girls were born in Maine, and Levi was born in Scituate. Again, it’s possible but not probable. Finally, I have not seen a probate record, which during that time frame were in Lincoln County, for Joseph or his descendants that ever mentions Levi. True, one son, Joseph Bowker (b. 1766) had a child named Levi Bowker (b. 1790), but that is hardly a smoking gun.

I tried looking at the records for other Bowker families, including probate and adoptions from Plymouth County, MA on NEHGS. Not a single mention of our Levi Bowker.

I recently acquired an accounts book from the 1790’s that belonged to Levi Bowker listing the income and expenses from his carpentry and furniture making business. At some point I will post transcriptions and analysis of it’s contents. I was hoping it would give me a clue to his origins. It does not.

After all this, I find myself sitting on the fence. It would be simple to “go with the flow” and say Joseph Bowker and Elizabeth Deberow Cowing were Levi’s folks. I think, however, I will wait for more conclusive evidence. Whatever the case, Levi and Betsey were the beginning of the Bowkers of Washington County, Maine, and cherished members of the family tree – even if his roots are still, for me anyway, sitting under a brick wall.


Photo “apple01” by David Bleasdale, via Flickr. Licensed by Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.


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