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Bowles in the African Trade to the Americas

Back to The Bowles of Great Britain, The Bolles of Deal, Kent, The Forgotten Trade, Thomas Bowles of Hagley, Worcestershire or to Two Thomas Bowles, Merchants of London and Bristol

Merchants with the surname Bowles were active in the African trade since its first inception in the early 1600’s.  While it seems to be generally termed ‘the African Trade’, which did include other trade items, the principle commodity of this trade was people.  People who had been taken forcibly from their homes to be sold into slavery mostly in the Americas.  I don’t intend to comment on the horror of the slave trade, that is well documented.   My goal is to document the role that the Bowles played in it.  I do condemn the trade but not the descendants of these people or even the people themselves who, in their time, were following a legal trade protected by the navies of their respective countries: England, Spain, France, Holland, Portugal, I believe every colonial power was involved in it.  Humanity and human rights just had a long way yet to develop as we still do today.

Bowles in the Guinea Company

England’s involvement in the slave trade began with the Company of Adventurers of London Trading to the Ports of Africa, more commonly known as "The Guinea Company" which was the first private joint stock company to trade in Africa for profit.  The controlling stock holder in 1628 was Nicholas Crispe.

In his book ‘The Forgotten Trade’, as background to his section on the Bowles of Deal, Kent, Nigel Tattersfield writes that (p. 205) “As a result of the family’s connections with the Crispes, one of the Bowles was employed in the Guinea Company, coming to an untimely but spectacular end on the Guinea Coast in 1652:  Mr Bowles, one of your factors going up with a cargo to Baracunda (the English trade port on the Gambia River), was killed by an explosion of a powder chest on which he was sitting smoking a negro’s pipe of tobacco under the impression it was a gold chest.”

I have not found exactly what the Bowles connection to the Crispes was but in the 1625 Will of Ellis Crispe, sheriff and alderman of London, he left bequests to his ‘cousin Mary Bowles ten pounds and to her husband thirty shillings’ as well as to other cousins named Boxe, Crispe, Gattaker, Burt and Juxson.  The 1637 Will of Elizabeth Juxon, widow of Thomas Juxon, citizen and merchant of London mentions ‘my cousin Bowles, Samuel Crispe, Tobyas Crispe, Anthony Boxe, John Boxe and Martha Burt’.  However, I don’t yet know which Bowles this connection is through.

Bowles in the Royal African Company

Not much African trade would have been carried on during the turbulent times under the Commonwealth (1653-1660) while Royalist ships, no longer British Navy ships-of-the-line but now operating as Royalist privateers preyed off Commonwealth trade ships, apparently with a base in Alicante, Spain (see Bowles in the Royalist Navy During the Commonwealth).  After Charles II restoration a monopoly on English trade with West Africa was awarded to the newly formed Royal African Company in 1660.  Little happened until this company was dissolved and a new Royal African Company was founded in 1672 with a Board of Trustees and a membership of English merchants including Sir Nicholas Crispe, Sir Charles Littleton and a John Bowles.  That would probably be John Bowles of Eltham, one of the most prominent merchants of the time, and is an indication that the Crispe connection to Bowles may be through the ancestors of that line. 

I haven’t confirmed the death in 1652 of the above mentioned Mr Bowles yet but about 1672 another Bowles was killed while delivering a human cargo to Barbados.  In a court case in 1681 a Thomas Bowles made a claim for a share of the profits against Abraham Jaggard et al, the owners of a slave ship, the John and Sarah, on which his brother Isaac had been a partner and the master of the ship but who had been killed after delivering a human cargo to Barbados.   ref.  The event had occurred between 1668 when Isaac’s Will was written and 1672 when it was proved.  ref. 

Note: there was also a John Bowles, citizen and skinner of London in 1664, who is mentioned in their mother Alice Bowles’ Will.  There is a Carpentry apprenticeship document for his son Francis dated March 1664 in Book 1 of Records of the Worshipful Company of Carpenters: Volume I: Apprentices' Entry Books 1654-1694 at the Centre for Metropolitan History, 'London: Franciscus Bowles filius Johannis Bowles Civis et Skinner London po: se appren Johanni Jones de livery de Poultry London pro 8 ann a 25° Marcij ult preterit'.

The family was Non-Conformist as both Mordechai's Will of 1663 and Alice's Will of Jan. 1664/65 include bequests of '20 pounds to the most needy and late ejected Ministers'.  The Act of Uniformity in 1662 had required the use of The Book of Common Prayer for all religious services which resulted in the forced resignation of over 2000 Non-Conformist Ministers, the Great Ejection of 1662.  The Non-Conformists included Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Calvinist sects, Baptists and Methodists.  These bequests are very significant as they came at the very height of King Charles II's war against non-conformism when such practices were performed only in secret and indicate a family whose non-conformist beliefs must already have been openly proclaimed.  In 1663/64 that was a very small community of just a few dozen committed non-conformists who were able to defy the King, for one more year at least, due to their popular support. One of those ejected in 1662 was Edward Bowles who, weakened by this defeat and the loss of his wife Elizabeth that same year, died that same year.  Edward was the most well known of Oliver Bowles of Sutton, Bedfordshire's 6 sons.  The Executor of Alice's Will was Samuel Bedford of Henlow, another prominent nonconformist, who was the eldest brother of Isaac Bedford, the Nonconformist Rector of Clifton who was the executor of Oliver Bowles’ Will. 


From Isaac’s Will  ref.  and other records such as his mother Alice’s ref. and brother Mordechai’s ref.  Wills we are able to outline a part of his family tree:

? Bowles m. Alice

1.   Thomas Bowles b. ca. (skinner of London)

1.1        Henry Bowles d. at sea 1691

Thomas possibly ‘Thomas Boll of Limehouse bur. Sept. 15, 1684 St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney’

2.   Isaac Bowles b. ca. 1630 (of Limehouse 1650’s, mariner in the ship John and Sarah)

m. Jane Southerne June 9, 1652 St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney

2.1        Isaac Bowles  bp. Sept. 18, 1654 St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney (under 21 in 1668)

(this could be the Isaac Bowles (1654-1709) of Kent Co., Maryland; m. Mary and children Anne b. 1675 and Isaac b. 1678)

2.2        Alice Boles bp. June 10, 1656 St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney bur. July 25, 1657 St Botolph, Aldersgate

2.3        Mordecay Bolle b. June 2, bp. June 3, 1658 St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney, Middlesex

Isaac d. Barbados betw. 1668 and 1672 (Will written 1668, proved 1672; the Nov. 1672 date on familysearch for his burial in Stepney is probably just based on the probate date, it does not refer to any church register)

Jane Bowles bur. Nov. 29, 1669 St Botolph, Aldersgate (fever)

3.   John Bowles (skinner of London 1664)

3.1  Francis Bowles (carpenter apprentice in 1664)

4.   Francis Bowles (had children in 1664)

5.   Alice Bolles bur. July 25, 1657 St Botolph, Aldersgate

6.   Katharine Bowles

7.   daughter m. Pearson

7.1  Hannah Pearson

8.   daughter m. Samuel Pullon

9.   Mordechai Bowles (skinner)

m. Mary Arnold (or Austin or possibly the Mary Ashton mentioned in Alice’s Will)

Mordechai d. 1663  bur. July 6, 1663 St Botolph’s (Will dated July 5, 1663; proved July 30, 1663)

10.  Susan Bowles (dau. of Alice Bowles, widow) bp. Jan. 3, 1646/47 St Botolph, Aldersgate

Alice Bowles, widow bur. Feb. 24, 1664/65 St Botolph, Aldersgate (Will dated Jan. 7, 1664/65; proved March, 1664/65)

Other nearby Bowles that might fit into the above tree

Also a Samuel Bowles of Limehouse, mariner b. ca. 1662

m. Mary Holle May 29, 1684 St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney

1.   an infant son bur. Aug. 3, 1686 St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney

2.   Samuel Bowles bp. July 1, bur. Aug. 6, 1693 St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney

3.   Samuel Bowles b. Nov. 30, bp. Dec. 2, 1696 & bur. Oct. 29, 1699 St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney

Samuel d. bef. 1699


Thomas Bole of Limehouse, mariner

1.   Robert Bole bur. Aug. 14, 1693 St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney


Joseph Bowles of Limehouse, Caulker m. Mary

1.   Joseph Bowles b. July 1, bp. July 9, 1718 St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney


Richard Bowell (Capt.) of Limehouse, Mariner m. Elizabeth

1.   Richard Bowell b. Oct. 9, bp. Nov. 27, 1718 St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney


Isaac Bowles

The fact that Isaac Bowles was master of the ship John and Sarah is interesting as while there may have been other ships than that one named the John and Sarah, there is only one referred to in the database of ships of the slave trade and that one was owned by the Royal African Company. 

Note: the ship The John and Sarah may have been named for John and Sarah Boules of Waltham Abbey (John Boules of Waltham Abbey m. Sarah Lawrence of the same June 1, 1655 St James Clerkenwell)

Isaac was a Royalist who continued to hold out against Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth (1653-1660).  In 1656 his conduct since 1653 was reviewed by the Court of the Admiralty. ref.  In 1658 he is recorded as standing parole for a Royalist privateer, Captain James Smith, who was captured by the Commonwealth and held prisoner at Plymouth.  ref.  That loyalty would have been handsomely rewarded upon Charles II’s return in 1660.

This was almost certainly the same Captain Isaac Bowles, commander of one of the Royal (African) Company’s ships, the Blackamoor, who testified at an inquiry in Jamaica in 1664 into a trade ship’s destination.  ref.

According to the extract Isaac’s Will was witnessed by a William Clutterbanck and a William Darrison.  These were likely William Clutterbuck and William Harrison, both merchants of Bristol whose families were involved in the African trade.  William Clutterbuck was later Mayor of Bristol and was knighted by Charles II in 1683 for his loyalty. ref.

Bowles in the South Seas Company

The next Bowles involved in the African trade are two Thomas Bowles of London and Bristol, merchants, who were both connected to the South Seas Company which was formed in 1713 with a monopoly on all trade with the Americas and the Caribbean.  These two were active in the same period which has resulted in details of their lives being intermixed in books and in family trees on the Internet.  However, one of them died when the other was still raising his young family and their lives can be sorted out.  The older Thomas (x-1721) had a very senior post as the South Seas Company’s representative to Spain from 1713 to 1718.  This Thomas Bowles was the son of William Bowles of Hagley, Worcestershire.  See Thomas Bowles of Hagley, Worcestershire    The younger Thomas (1692-1774), who had apprenticed as a merchant in Bristol but soon after moved to London, was the son of Phineas Bowles of Loughborough House, Brixton.    Please see Two Thomas Bowles, Merchants of London and Bristol

There appears to have been no family connection between them or between them and Isaac Bowles’ line in London although all were involved in the African trade during the 17th/early 18th centuries.

Except there is one possibly very important point.  The younger Thomas Bowles above, who was from the Bowles of Eltham, Kent line, can be closely connected to the Sir William Clutterbuck who signed as a witness to Isaac Bowles’ Will in 1668.  The 1716 Will of Sir William’s widow, Dame Susannah Clutterbuck, shows that her niece, namesake and heir, Susannah (Sukey) Hickman was the younger Thomas Bowles’ wife.  He had married her that same year during his apprenticeship in Bristol.  So Isaac Bowles, a Captain and merchant of London, could have been connected to the Bowles of Eltham line but if so it was in the generation just previous  to the known family tree that we have for The Bowles of Eltham.  It’s a potential well worth further research though.

A second point of confusion are the two Bowles who were Directors of the South Seas Company and have been assumed to be brothers. 

In his book, 'The Forgotten Trade', Nigel Tattersfield describes the role that the South Seas Company played in the African slave trade.  The Bowles of Deal were significantly involved in this trade as he outlines in his book.   While discussing their involvement with the trade he states that "amongst others of the Bowles family engaged in the slave trade of the time were Tobias and Valentine's (note: of the Bowles of Deal line) first cousins, Thomas and William, who both held senior positions in the South Sea Company."

However, Thomas was the elder Thomas discussed above who was from the Bowles of Hagley line while William, another son of Phineas Bowles of Loughborough House, was a brother of the younger Thomas from above.  The fact that William Bowles of the Eltham line was appointed to the Board of the South Seas Company shortly after the passing of Thomas Bowles of the Hagley line leads to another potential connection.  We know that the John Bowles of Eltham was the son of Charles Bowles of Chatham but we don’t know where Charles came from before arriving in Chatham in 1632 as clerk to the shipwright Phineas Pett  who was then Commissioner of Chatham Dockyard.  Perhaps he was from the Hagley line.  If so that connection has not been found yet but is another potential well worth further research.

This site was last updated 10/19/18