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The Border Series - The Bowens of Tazewell

By William C. Pendleton © 1920

Issue: March, 1990

This is an excerpt from the book, "Pendleton's History of Tazewell County and Southwest Virginia." It was written by Wm. C. Pendleton and was published in 1920 by the W.C. Hill Printing Company, Richmond, Virginia. It is no longer in print, but you can sometimes find copies in used and rare book stores.

[Update 2012: "Pendleton's History of Tazewell County and Southwest Virginia," by William C. Pendleton has been reprinted and is now available through]

The Bowens of Tazewell

Rees Bowen was the second white man who brought his family to make permanent residence in the Clinch Valley [Tazewell County, Virginia]. Therefore it is meet that he and his family should be the second considered in the sketches I am writing of the pioneer families.

The Tazewell Bowens are of Celtic blood. Their immediate ancestor was Moses Bowen, a Welchman, who married Rebecca Rees. They came from Wales to America a good many years before the Revolution, and settled in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Their son John was a Quaker and married Lily McIlhany. He and his wife moved from Pennsylvania to Augusta County, Virginia, soon after the first settlements were made in the Shenandoah Valley, perhaps as early as the year 1732; and located in that part of Augusta now embraced in the county of Rockbridge. They had twelve children and Rees was one of their five sons. He married Louisa Smith, whose parents then lived in that section of Augusta now known as Rockingham County. It is said that, after his marriage, he took up his abode on the Roanoke River close to where the city of Roanoke is now situated.

In some way Rees Bowen learned of the fertile lands and abundance of game that could be found in the Upper Clinch Valley; and he concluded to abandon his home on the Roanoke River and settle in this region, where he could locate and occupy, without cost, a large boundary of fine unoccupied land. It is known from tradition that when he arrived with his family in the vicinity of the great spring, to which he gave a peculiar name, he had not then selected the boundary of land upon which he would settle. After they went into camp, on the evening of the day he reached the place that has since been home of the Bowens, he went out to find and kill a deer to get a supply of fresh meet. While thus engaged he discovered the spring. Bickley thus tells of the discovery of the immense fountain and what followed:

"When Mr. Bowen first saw the spring, he discovered a fine young female deer, feeding on the moss within the orifice from which gushes the spring. He shot it and when he went to get his deer, saw a pair of elk horns standing on their points, and leaning against the rocks. Mr. Bowen was a very large and tall man, yet he had no difficulty in walking upright under the horns. He chose this place for his, and the spring and river have since been known as Maiden Spring and Fork."

The first four years after he and his family located at Maiden Spring were free from any hostile demonstrations by the Indians against the Clinch settlements. He was possessed of great physical strength and was very industrious, and in the four years he erected a large and strong log house, extended his clearings into the forests and added considerably to the number of horses and cattle he brought with him from his home on the Roanoke. Then came trouble with the Ohio Indians, in 1773, when the whole frontier of Virginia was threatened by the red men; and Rees Bowen built a heavy stockade around his dwelling, converting it into an excellent neighborhood fort.

In the meantime, his four brothers, John, Arthur, William and Moses had moved out from Augusta to find homes in the country west of New River. John settled at some point in the Holston Valley; Arthur located in the present Smyth County, four miles west of Marion; and William and Moses took up their abode in the Clinch Valley, but in what immediate locality is now unknown. When Dunmore's War came on the three brothers, Rees, William and Moses went with Captain William Russell's company on the Lewis expedition to the mouth of the Kanawha River; and were prominent figures in the eventful battle at Point Pleasant. Moses Bowen was then only 20 years old; and on the return march from the Kanawha he was stricken with smallpox, from which frightful malady he died in the wilderness.

After his return from Point Pleasant, for two years Rees Bowen, like all the pioneer settlers, was actively engaged in clearing up fields from the forest and increasing the comforts of his new home. While thus occupied the war between the colonies and Great Britain began; and the British Government turned the Western Indians loose on the Virginia frontiers. This caused the organization of a company of militia, expert Indian fighters, in the Clinch Valley. The two Bowen brothers were members of the company, William being captain, and Rees, lieutenant. This company, composed of pioneers, did effective service for the protection of the settlers in the Clinch and Holston Valleys.

When Colonels Shelby and Sevier, in the fall of 1780, appealed to Colonel William Campbell to join them in the expedition to King's Mountain, with a volunteer force from Washington County, Virginia, the company from Clinch Valley volunteered to go. Owing to illness from a serious attack of fever, Captain William Bowen was unable to lead his men on the expedition, and the command of the company devolved upon Lieutenant Rees Bowen. He marched with his company and joined Campbell at Wolf Hill (now Abingdon), and thence on to the Carolinas, and gave his life for American freedom, while leading his men in the memorable battle at King's Mountain.

The widow of the pioneer hero, Louisa Bowen, bravely accepted the responsibility of rearing eight orphan children, none of whom had reached their majority.