Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Photograph and Biography of Gilbert Washington Bowne, a 19th Century Owner of Lands on Rodman's Neck and City Island

There is a fascinating item now being offered in an eBay auction.  It was brought to my attention by members of the Northeast Bronx History Forum.  It is described as a photograph of Gilbert Washington Bowne.  The photograph is a Carte de Visite (CDV) described by the seller as an original photographic copy of an 1840s daguerreotype that depicted Gilbert Washington Bowne.  The pertinent portion of the eBay auction description states:  

"Gilbert Washington Bowne was a notable resident of City Island, (Magnets Island [sic, an apparent misreading from the handwritten will of 'Miniford Island']) one of the Pelham Islands, Long Island Bay, who died at age 29 in 1853.  An original Civil War era CDV photo of Bowne in original album mat copied circa 1865 from an 1840s daguerreotype -- a fine seated waistview of young Bowne.  The 6 x 6.5" album page has beautiful hand-colored borders and is ink inscribed on the mat.  This photo came from a Civil War era CDV album of the Samuel Bowne Duryea family, notable Pelham Neck, The Bronx City Islanders"

Image of Album Page Including Carte de Visite
Photograph Purporting to Depict Gilbert Washington
Bowne.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Detail from the Above Carte de Visite
Photograph Purporting to Depict Gilbert Washington
Bowne.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Gilbert Washington Bowne was born in 1824.  He was a son of Samuel Bowne and Sarah Skinner Bowne.  Gilbert's father, Samuel, was born on Pelham Neck (today's Rodman's Neck) in 1790.  He later became a resident of Brooklyn but remained a major investor in real estate on Pelham Neck (today's Rodman's Neck) and on City Island until the time of his death.  Indeed, at the time of his death, Samuel Bowne owned between 92 and 97 acres of land adjacent to (and south of) the estate that once belonged to Elisha W. King that contained the mansion known as "Hawkwood."  

Samuel Bowne also owned two large farms on the northern end of City Island that totaled about 94 acres (one about 30 acres and the other about 64 acres).  I have written before about Samuel Bowne and the Ferry Service that he ran between Brooklyn and Manhattan beginning in 1809 that made him very wealthy.  See Mon., Mar. 30, 2015:  Pelham Native, Samuel Bowne, and His Brother Revolutionized Ferry Service Between Brooklyn and Manhattan Beginning in 1809.  

"Samuel Bowne, Who Promoted ferry transportation between
Brooklyn and New York a century ago." Source:  McLoughlin,
Washington, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct. 29, 1931, p. 1, cols. 6-7.
NOTE: Click Image to Enlarge.

Samuel Bowne died on January 10, 1853.  In his will, he bequeathed to his son, Gilbert Washington Bowne, his lands on Rodman's Neck and City Island, stating:

"I do also give and devise unto my said son Gilbert Washington Bowne all that certain Farm piece or parcel of land situate and being at Rodman's Neck or Point in the Town of Pelham in the County of West Chester State of New York, Bounded by the Sound or East River City Island Narrows or Strait, also by land now or late of the Estate of Elisha W. King deceased and by the East Chester Bay, Containing ninety two acres and an half acre of land be the same more or less.  Also all that certain piece or parcel of land situate on Miniford otherwise called City [Page 255 / Page 256] Island in the Town of Pelham County of Westchester aforesaid containing twenty-four acres be the same more or less."

Source:  Will of Samuel Bowne dated November 23, 1846 in Ancestry.com New York, Wills and Probate Records, 1659-1999, Kings County Wills, Vol. 0014-0015 1852-54, pp. 255-56 (NOTE:  Paid subscription required to access via this link). 

Detail from 1868 Beers Map Showing Portion of Pelham Neck
Once Owned by Samuel Bowne and, Later, by His Son, Gilbert
Washington Bowne.  Note Reference to "Bowne Est."Source:
of New York and Vicinity from Actual Surveys by and
Under the Direction of F.W. Beers, p. 35 (NY, NY:  Beers,
Ellis & Soule, 1868).  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Detail from 1868 Beers Map Showing Portion of City Island Once
Owned by Samuel Bowne and, Later, Gilbert Washington Bowne.
of New York and Vicinity from Actual Surveys by and
Under the Direction of F.W. Beers, p. 35 (NY, NY:  Beers,
Ellis & Soule, 1868).  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

At the time of Samuel Bowne's death on January 10, 1853, both he and his son Gilbert lived in Brooklyn.  The Bowne family was fabulously wealthy.  Consequently, Gilbert Washington Bowne received a tremendous windfall as one of the principal legatees named in his father's will.  Gilbert Washington Bowne, however, was not able to enjoy that windfall.  Only about ten months after his father's death, Gilbert Washington Bowne died, according to court records, on November 27, 1853.

Gilbert Washington Bowne was a young man, about 29 years old, at the time of his death. To make matters more tragic, he was newly-married.  Records establish that he married Mary Peters also of Brooklyn, daughter of John Peters formerly of Boston, on June 9, 1853 only five months before he died.  Mary Peters Bowne, of course, survived her husband.

Gilbert Washington Bowne's will was written rather confusingly.  Eventually, the confusion resulted in a major litigation among descendants of some of his legatees.  In his will, Gilbert Washington Bowne appeared to place the property he owned on Rodman's Neck in trust, directing his trustees to: 

"permit my cousin Gilbert Bowne and in case of his death, his family, to occupy my [Page 135 / Page 136] farm of land situate at Pelham in Westchester County in this State, and now occupied by the said Gilbert Bowne for and during the natural life of my uncle John Bowne (my said uncle now lives with him) without pying rent therefor, upon the express condition however that he the said Gilbert Bowne and his family take the charge of my said uncle and board, lodge, wash and mend for him, also pay the yearly taxes upon said farm, insure the buildings and improvements thereon in the name of my said Trustees and for such sum or sums . . . as they from time to time shall direct and keep the same so insured and deliver the Policy and Policies of Insurance, and certificate and certificate of renewal thereof unto my said Trustees and also that he keep up repair and maintain the buildings and improvements upon said Farm and the fences surrounding the same, that he use upon the said Farm all the manure made thereon, that he cut down no timber or wood growing thereon & commit no waste and use till and worksaid farm in a husbandlike manner; and in case the said Gilbert Bowne and his family shall fail or neglect to comply with all or any or either of the above conditions that then the perission thereby given is to cease and become and be null and void, and my said Trustees are hereby authorized to remove the said Gilbert Bowne and his family therefrom.  Upon the happening of the death of my said uncle John Bowne, the permission to occupy said Farm by the said Gilbert Bowne and his family upon the conditions above expressed relative thereto is to cease determine and be null and void, and the said sum of money above directed to be invested the interest or income whereof is directed to be applied to the support and maintenance of my said uncle John, and the accumulations thereof are to revert back to and form a part of my estate."

Source:  Will of Gilbert Washington Bowne dated 18, 1853 in Ancestry.com New York, Wills and Probate Records, Kings County, Vol. 0014-0015 1852-54, pp. 135-36 (NOTE:  Paid subscription required to access via this link). 

Although the will provided that other real estate -- presumably including the properties owned on City Island -- should be held in trust for general distribution as provided in the will, there was no explicit mention of the properties on City Island.  There is, however, a map in the collections of the New-York Historical Society that depicts a portion of the lands on City Island owned by Gilbert W. Bowne at the time of his death.  See Andrew Findlay, Surveyor, "Map of Part of the Real Estate of Gilbert W. Bowne, Dec'd on City Island, Town of Pelham, County of Westchester, NY, 1858" (New-York Historical Society).  These lands on City Island were two different farms once owned by Samuel Bown who bequeathed them to his son, Gilbert Washington Bowne.  One farm was about 30 acres nd the other was about 64 acres.  See Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York Ninety-Fifth Session - 1872, Vol. 5, No. 71, Part 1, p. 475 (Albany, NY:  The Argus Company, 1872). 

It appears from the will of Gilbert Washington Bowne that at about the time of the death of his father, Samuel Bowne, on January 10, 1853, Samuel Bowne was permitting his elderly brother John Bowne -- the uncle of Gilbert Washington Bowne -- to live on the Bowne farm on Rodman's Neck.  It further appears that the elderly John Bowne was living there with the family of one of his own sons also named Gilbert Bowne -- the cousin of similarly-named Gilbert Washington Bowne.  Gilbert Washington Bowne decided to provide in his will to continue the living arrangements for the benefit of his uncle.  Indeed, Gilbert Washington Bowne took great pains in his will to help provide for his elderly uncle John Bowne.  He set aside funds in a trust, the interest from which would be used to help support his uncle.  He allowed his uncle to continue to live on the Bowne estate for the remainder of his life provided that he and his son, also named Gilbert, took care to preserve and maintain the farm.  

The Rodman's Neck farmhouse owned by Samuel Rodman (until he bequeathed it and the surrounding farm to his son, Gilbert Washington Bowne, and in which the family permitted John Bowne to live with his own son, also named Gilbert) likely was the farmhouse known for generations as the "Bowne House."  A photograph of the Bowne House appears immediately below.

"Bowne House Erected 1730 on Site of Pell's Manor-house;
near here the British Landed on October 18, 1776 -- Pelham
Bay Park."  Source:  Jenkins, Stephen, The Story of The Bronx
NY and London, The Knickerbocker Press, 1912).
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

 As the caption of the photograph immediately above suggests, according to local tradition, the Bowne House stood on the site of the house that Pelham founder built on Pelham Neck -- a house in which he never lived but clearly was serving as a working farmhouse according to an inventory of its contents prepared shortly after Pell's death in late September 1669.  It seems that a caretaker may have resided in the home built by Pell who continued to live in Fairfield after purchasing the lands that became Pelham from local Native Americans.  This tradition has been repeated countless times.  For an example, see:

"Pelham Neck is terminated by the property of the late Gilbert Bowne. On the site of the dwelling-house, stood the residence of Thomas Pell, Esq., first lord of the manor.  Perhaps the finest view of City Island and the adjacent waters are to be had from this portion of the Point." 

Source: Bolton, Robert, The History of The Several Towns, Manors, and Patents of the County of Westchester, From Its First Settlement to the Present Time Carefully Revised by its Author, Vol. II, p. 71 (NY, NY: Chas. F. Roper, 1881).  

The Bowne House burned and was rebuilt on a number of occasions.  It was even used as a yacht club in the early years of the 20th century.  See Twomey, Bill, The Bronx in Bits and Pieces, pp. 103-04 (Bloomington, IN:  Rooftop Publishing, 2007).

Detail from Map Published in 1853 at About the Time
of Gilbert Washington Bowne's Death Showing Location
of Bowne Estate on Pelham Neck.  Source:  Dripps, Matthew
& Conner, R.F.O., Southern Part of West-Chester County
N. Y. (1853) (Museum of the City of New York, No. 29.100.2628).
NOTE: Click on Image to Enlarge.

Following Gilbert Washington Bowne's death, his confusing will with its web of overlapping trusts and the fact that it purported to deal with property that Gilbert's father had attempted to bequeath in his own will (but which had not yet been done at the time Gilbert died) meant that the large estate was ripe for litigation.  Indeed, complex litigation followed.  That litigation is reflected in the Record of the Case on Appeal in Annie Aletta Elwell Moffett v. Mary S. Elmendorf, et al.  (Given the length of the materials, it may behoove the reader to search for the phrase "Gilbert Washington Bowne" within the material.)

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