Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Daniel Bowie
MSA SC 3520-16726 

Biography:

Born in Prince George's County, Maryland, probably on December 6, 1754 or 1755. Son of Hannah Lee and Thomas Bowie (1723-1758). Two sisters: Elizabeth Lawson (c. 1752-1816) and Barbara (1756-1805). Stepson of Joseph Sprigg, Jr. (1736-1800). Stepbrothers and stepsisters: Philip, Casper, Joseph, Thomas, William, Lettice, Ann, Corbin, Hannah, Samuel (1783-1855. Attended Thomas Cradock's school, Baltimore. Never married. Died of wounds sustained at the Battle of Brooklyn, New York, August 27, 1776.

Daniel Bowie, captain of the Fourth Company of the First Maryland Regiment and one of the "Maryland 400," was born into a prominent, wealthy Maryland family. Four first cousins and an uncle served in the Maryland General Assembly, one of whom, Robert Bowie, served as Governor of Maryland; his step-brother Samuel Sprigg was elected governor, although Sprigg was born after Daniel's death. When Thomas Bowie, Daniel's father, died in 1758, he left a considerable estate of over 500 acres that his son could take possession of when he turned twenty one, in December 1775 or 1776. [1] Daniel's mother Hannah remarried around 1760, taking Joseph Sprigg as her second husband, and Daniel and his sisters Barbara and Elizabeth Lawson would eventually be joined by nine stepsiblings. Daniel attended Thomas Cradock's school in Baltimore, studying engineering, according to some sources. [2]

As tensions between Britain and the American colonies came to a head in 1775 and 1776, Congress directed each colony to supply troops for the Continental Army, and Maryland responded enthusiastically, creating what became known as the First Maryland Regiment. Many of the officers and men who joined had served in the militia or participated in earlier Revolutionary activities. Daniel Bowie did neither of those things, but as a young gentleman he was a marked as being well qualified to be an officer, and he received a commission as first lieutenant in the First Company, on January 3, 1776. He trained with his company in Annapolis until July 10, when the regiment was ordered to march to New York, to defend the city from an impending British attack. [3]

Four days before the Maryland troops departed, Bowie was promoted to captain on the Fourth Company, made up of men from Harford County, after the company's previous captain Thomas Ewing left to become a colonel in a different unit. [4] As captain, Bowie was responsible for all of the men in the company, leading them during battle and ensuring that they were adequately supplied; officers often had to purchase food and equipment on their own, when they did not receive any from the army. While Bowie's promotion was an honor, the position was not entirely a favorable one. Bowie had been in Annapolis all summer, but the Fourth Company was stationed in Baltimore, and Bowie may not have met any of his officers or men until a day or two before the regiment departed for New York. In addition, while a full-strength company had 74 officers and men, the unit Bowie inherited had just 58. [5]

Bowie and the Marylanders arrived in New York in early August, and waited for the arrival of the British, which finally occurred a few weeks later. On August 26, 1776, with the two armies poised to meet the next day, Bowie wrote out his will, making provisions for his friends and relatives "if I fall on the field of battle." He was to be "interred...at my plantation near Collington in a vault about twenty yards below the vault of my deceased father, in a Direct line with the Garden walk, and this I most earnestly request...should my Body be attainable," acknowledging the realities of combat which made that an uncertain proposition. Bowie left his "classical books" and "Mathamatical instruments" to his stepbrother Philip Sprigg, items left over from his education in Baltimore; his other books were to go to his friend and cousin Walter Bowie. In addition, mourning rings were to be made and distributed to Bowie's sisters Elizabeth and Barbara, his stepsister Lettice Sprigg, his aunt Eleanor Skinner, Walter Bowie, and several friends, James Mullikin, Eleanor Cowan and Milicent Tyler. Several of Bowie's fellow officers were bequeathed morning rings as well: Lt. Joseph Butler, Lt. John H. Beanes; and Capt. Patrick Sim, and Sim and Butler were to receive Bowie's military equipment. Bowie also freed his "Negro Lad Basil," a twenty-year-old slave, who could have been in Bowie's service for most of both of their lives. [6]

The next day, August 27, the two armies clashed at the Battle of Brooklyn (also called the Battle of Long Island), the first full-scale encounter of the American Revolution. The battle was a rout: the British were able to sneak around the American lines, and the outflanked Americans fled in disarray. During the retreat, the Maryland troops fought their way towards the American fortifications, but were blocked by the swampy Gowanus Creek. While half the regiment was able to cross the creek, the rest, Bowie's company among them, were unable to do so before they were attacked by the British. Facing down a much larger, better-trained force, the Marylanders mounted a series of daring charges, which held the British at bay for some time, at the cost of many lives, before being overrun. One of the Fourth Company's sergeants, William McMillan, described what happened:

My captain was killed, first lieutenant was killed, second lieutenant shot through the hand, two sergeants was killed; one in front of me…my bayonet was shot off my gun...My brother [Sergeant Samuel McMillan] and I and 50 or 60 of us was taken…The Hessians broke the butts of our guns over their cannon and robbed us of everything we had, lit their pipes with our money…gave us nothing to eat for five days, and then [only] moldy biscuits…blue, moldy, full of bugs and rotten. [7]

All told, the company lost 80 percent of its men, killed or captured like McMillan. Only the company's drummer, a dozen privates, and a sergeant made it back to the American lines. The Marylanders took enormous causalities, with other companies losing nearly as many men as the Fourth, but their action had delayed the British long enough for the rest of the Continental Army to escape, earning themselves the moniker "Maryland 400." [8]

Bowie's lines written the day before proved prescient. He was among the fallen: he was wounded and captured by the British, dying soon after. So was Butler, who gave an oral account of his own desired will the same before the battle. Bowie's will was not delivered to Maryland to be formally filed until the following May, after the rest of the dismal American defeats in the winter and fall of 1776, and the final account of the estate was not filed until 1790. Whether Bowie was buried in his garden, near the father he lost as a young child, is unknown. [9]

Owen Lourie, 2015

Notes:

1. Effie Gwynn Bowie, Across the Years in Prince George's County (Richmond, VA: Garrett and Massie, 1947), 660-661; Edward C. Papenfuse, et al., eds, A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 1635-1789. Vol II. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), 762-763; Will of Thomas Bowie, 1758, Prerogative Court, Wills, Liber 30, p. 505, MdHR 1309 [MSA S538-45, 1/11/1/39]; Land Office, Debt Book, Prince George's County, 1758, Thomas Bowie, p. 32, MdHR 17693-5 [MSA S12-144, 1/24/2/35]; Daniel referred in his will, written in August 1776, to "the 6th of December 1776 when I received possession of my plantation from Mr. Joseph Sprigg." It is unclear if Bowie meant he had received the land on December 6, 1775, or that he would receive the land on December 6, 1776. Thus it is unknown whether his twenty-first birthday was in 1775 or 1776. Will of Daniel Bowie, 1776, Prince George's County Register of Wills, Wills, Liber T1, p. 80 [MSA C1326-3, 1/25/7/4].

2. Bowie, 660-661.

3. Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 5; Reiman Steuart, The Maryland Line (The Society of the Cincinnati, 1971), 59. Steuart's information is not completely accurate.

4. Proceedings of the Conventions of the Province of Maryland, 1774-1776, Archives of Maryland Online vol. 78, p. 198.

5. Return of Ramsey's, Smith's, and Bowie's companies, 9 July 1776, Maryland Historical Society, Revolutionary War Collection, MS 1814.

6. Bowie's original will, written in camp, has survived: Prince George's County Register of Wills, Wills, Original, Daniel Bowie, 1776, box 12, folder 44 [MdHR8924-12-44 [MSA C1327-12, 1/26/7/4].

7. The experience of the Fourth Company is described in the pension of William McMillan, one of the company's sergeants. See Letter, William McMillan to Secretary of Treasury, ca. October 1828. Pension of William McMillan, National Archives and Records Administration, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, NARA M804, S 2806, p. 33-35, from Fold3.com.

8. Return of the Maryland troops, 27 September 1776, from Fold3.com; Mark Andrew Tacyn “’To the End:’ The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution” (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), 48-73. For more on the experience of the Marylanders at the Battle of Brooklyn, see "In Their Own Words," on the Maryland State Archives research blog, Finding the Maryland 400.

9. "Extract of a letter to a Gentleman in Annapolis, dated Philadelphia, September 29, 1776," American Archives, 5th Series, vol. 2, p. 595; Inventory of Daniel Bowie, 1778, Prince George's County Register of Wills, Inventories, Liber ST 1, p. 156 [MSA C1228-8, 1/25/8/45]; Prince George's County Register of Wills, Estate Papers, Daniel Bowie [MSA C2119-11, 0/50/6/11].

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