Biographical Sketch of Sarah Jane Billiter Bowman and Her Family by John Curry

[Ed. - The author is a great-great grandson of Sarah Jane Billiter. John's excellent genealogical biography of Sarah Jane and her family provides a fine sense of the westward movement of real families in the early and middle 19C in the United States. John's work is published here with his permission. Please respect his copyright.]

Sarah Jane Billiter-Bowman

by John Curry

Copyright (c) 2003 John Curry. All rights reserved.
Sarah Jane Billiter was born 2 March 1821 in Washington Township, Fayette County, Pennsylvania. She died 21 September 1896 in Huntington County, Indiana. She was the third of eleven children born to Joseph Billiter (1791-1859) and Elizabeth Shaffer (1795-1869) of Fayette County, Pennsylvania; Brown County, Ohio; and Huntington County, Indiana. The Billiter family was originally from Caroline County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and descended from Joseph Billiter who immigrated there in 1671 probably from London, England (where there were numerous people of that name). The Shaffers may have been descended from the old Pennsylvania Dutch family of Shaffers of Northhampton County, Pennsylvania.

Sarah Jane Billiter was married to Samuel Pence Bowman on 1 February 1838 in Brown County, Ohio, the home of the bride's family. He was the son of Henry Bowman (1772-1819) and Sabina Sibylla Pence (1775-1838), both of old German families of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Samuel and Sarah Jane were the parents of fourteen children: Sarah Jane Bowman (1839-1839), Amanda J. Bowman-Forrest (1840-1882), Lucinda E. Bowman-Shultz (1841-1893), Ellis Bowman (1844-1924), Caleb Bowman (1846-1887), Elizabeth C. Bowman-Shipley (1846-1869), William Bowman (1848-1932), Manson C. Bowman (1851-1875), Corinda A. Bowman-Shultz (1854-1939), Peter W. Bowman (1857-1932), Dious S. Bowman (1860-1937), Samuel P. Bowman (1863-1864), Benjamin P. Bowman (1863-1865), Joseph B. Bowman (1865-1933).

Sarah Jane Billiter lived little more than a year in her birthplace on her father's farm in Fayette County, Pennsylvania when her parents moved with their three young children to Huntington Township, Brown County, Ohio. There the Billiter family lived 1822-1847. Eight more children were born to Joseph and Elizabeth Billiter, and Sarah Jane spent a happy childhood in her parents' farm home.

In the fall of 1837 Sarah Jane Billiter attended the county fair in Georgetown, Ohio with her family. There she met Samuel Pence Bowman. They became acquainted and began courting, and became engaged on Christmas Day 1837. On 1 February 1838 they were married by the local Justice of the Peace John Jenkins. In passing it might be mentioned that Pres. U.S. Grant, the same age as Sarah Jane Billiter, spent his boyhood in Georgetown. At the time of their marriage Samuel was almost thirty-four years old and Sarah Jane was seventeen. The young couple lived on the Bowman farm which Samuel had been running since the death of his father twenty years previously. Samuel's mother Sibylla Bowman soon died in 1838, and Samuel leased the farm for four years until her estate was finally settled in 1842. Samuel and Sarah Jane purchased a farm in Huntington Township near the Billiter family. There they lived for fourteen years. The first child of Samuel and Sarah Jane was born in 1839 and died at birth. Seven more children followed before the family moved to Indiana. Samuel was fifty at the time of their removal, but they had six additional children after going to Indiana.

The parents of Sarah Jane Billiter-Bowman had migrated further northwest in 1847, settling in section 12 of Wayne Township, Huntington County, Indiana. Joseph Billiter purchased a rich tract of 160 acres on the main road between the cities of Huntington and Marion, Indiana. He sent back very favorable reports to his sons and sons-in-law who had remained in Brown County. About 1852 Samuel Pence Bowman and a number of his and his wife's relatives went to Indiana to visit Joseph and to survey the situation. He was much impressed with the prospects and bargained for a farm near his father-in-law. After returning to Ohio he sold his farm there the next year to his double cousin Pjilip Bowman.

An account of the journey of the Bowman family from Ohio to Indiana appeared in the Huntington Herald 23 March 1929. Samuel and Sarah Jane Bowman began the arduous trip in early November 1853, together with their seven oldest children and a dog named "Dick." A hired man started a day before the family, driving livestock. The Bowman family came in a great covered wagon which contained all their belongings. A large cherry dresser that was brought in the wagon is now in the possession of Beatrice Young-Young of Petersburg, Indiana. The family was eight days on the road. When they came through the present city of Marion it was then just a village at what is now 16th Street, including a general store, blacksmith shop, and grist mill according to Sarah E. Shultz-Young (1876-1958) of Marion. The family arrived safely in Huntington County and spent the winter of 1853-54 with Sarah Jane's parents. A daughter was born to Samuel and Sarah Jane on the Billiter farm on 11 March 1854 and named Corinda Ann Bowman after her maternal aunt Corinda Ann Billiter-Hawkins (1826-1916). Also about this time Sarah Jane's brothers and their families came from Brown County to Huntington County: Solomon S. Billiter (1817-1896), Hugh F. Billiter (1819-1893), David R. Billiter (1823-1888), William M. Billiter (1824-1909).

Samuel had negotiated with Isaiah Garwood for a fine 80 acre farm in section 5 of Jefferson Township, just over a mile to the east of the Billiter homestead. Samuel took possession in April 1854 and was granted a deed on 25 October 1854 when he paid the balance of $1,000 in cash. On the land was a spacious house, really a double cabin of eight rooms: four on each side of a large open hall, two rooms down and two rooms up. Over the central hall, or "dog trot" as it was called in the South, was a loft for storage and where hired help usually slept. Another distinctive feature of the home was the enormous colonial fireplace of stone in the kitchen. Much of the family life and activities centered around it, and the Bowman children all remembered with pleasure the happy hours spent working and talking in front of this big fireplace. It was in this house that the Bowman family lived for the next twenty years. On the farm Samuel raised a general variety of products. He was especially noted for his fine herd of dairy cows, and for the fine sheep that he raised. He had a large orchard and made what was reputed to have been the best cider in the county.

Through the Bowman farm, north to south, ran Pond Creek, quite a large stream. The big log house sat picturesquely on a rise of ground far back from the road. The lane leading to the house was lined with beautiful maple trees. To the west of the house the land sloped rather abruptly down to Pond Creek and to a large natural spring which flowed into the creek at that point. All water for drinking and cooking was carried from the spring to the house. Also all washing of clothes was done down at the stream and spring where big iron pots were kept to boil the water. These pots were also used for many other activities, such as dyeing wool and cooking applebutter and hominy, that ubiquitous pioneer staple. There was a tradition that the area there was haunted. This was due to the fact that a body of a man had been found there. Although the mystery was never solved, apparently an old peddler was murdered for his money and his body weighed down with large stones and thrown into the spring.

Through the Bowman farm, east to west, ran a low gravel ridge. Along the top the Indians had had a path, which to the west led into the village of Mt. Etna about two miles distant. The Bowman children used this path on their journeys back and forth into that little community. Samuel Bowman was a moderate abolitionalist and in southern Ohio had been active in the movement. When he came to Indiana his farm became a station on the Underground Railroad. Slaves escaping north were guided by night on their long journey to safety in Michigan and Canada. Mostly they came up from Kentucky. They were helped by the Quakers and German sectarians so numerous in Indiana. The Bowmans guided the slaves along the old Indian trail across Huntington County, and many a poor Negro spent the day sleeping in their loft before going on the next night. According to Hazel H. Hawkins-Groff, a granddaughter of Corinda Billiter-Hawkins, David R. Billiter and his Brother-in-law Samuel P. Bowman were active in the Underground Railroad in the county during the years 1851-1861. When the Civil War came the eldest Bowman son Ellis Bowman (1844-1929) was one of the first young men to enlist in the army, although still very young. The story is told that when he returned home at the end of the he was completely exhausted and ill. His mother ran to kiss him, but before she would allow him to go into the house and perhaps infect the other children, she made him take off his contaminated and infected clothing in the back yard and take a hot bath. Ellis was then taken to one of the spacious bedrooms and put into a nice fresh clean bed. There he was nursed back to health by his mother and sisters, while relating exciting war stories to his younger and envious brothers. About this time Sarah Jane's husband Samuel developed an acute heart condition, from which he suffered until his death ten years later. All physical activity was denied him by his doctor, F.S.C. Graystone. Fortunately, he had four older sons: Ellis, Caleb, William and Manson, and three younger sons: Peter, Dious, and Joseph to take over the farming activities. Samuel supervised from his chair, which in winter was beside the large kitchen fireplace, and in summer was on the big porch. Once each week he went to the barns to inspect, and to decide on what was to be done during the following week. Sarah Jane Bowman had four daughters to help her with the domestic chores: Amanda, Lucinda, Elizabeth, and Corinda. Samuel continually made improvements until the Bowman farm was one of the finest in the area with many beautiful buildings. In 1870 they began to construct a large new Victorian frame house on the site of the old log house. The family were so fond of and attached to the big stone fireplace in the kitchen that it was incorporated into the new home. This house was finished two years later, much of the work being done by the Bowman sons.

Sarah Jane Billiter-Bowman was an exceedingly active and efficient wife and mother. She had learned to work hard as the oldest girl in her parents' large family. She could do all those tasks required of a woman managing a self-sufficient household. For example, she made most of the clothing for her family. She helped Samuel shear the wool from their sheep: she washed and dried it: she carded and dyed it: she spun the thread and then loomed the cloth. Sarah Jane then cut out the pieces and sewed dresses, shirts, and pants for her family. The evenings were often spent piecing quilts and weaving rugs from carpet rags. Sarah Jane also supervised all food preparation aided by her daughters and ofter by hired girls. Her granddaughter Lola Inez Shultz-Winegardner (1892-1957) remembered the fine gardens at the Bowman farm, both flower and vegetable. Sarah Jane also took pride in her dove-cote. It was said that she was not "idle a minute in her whole life." In Ohio she had joined the Disciples of Christ or Christian Church, a general protestant denomination of frontier America. In 1873 she united again with the church at Purviance Chapel near Mt. Etna. A plain clear pressed glass berry set belonging to her is now in the possession of Helen R. Winegardner-Curry of Lansing, as is a cap she made and wore.

Samuel and Sarah Jane raised twelve children to maturity. Each child had different tasks to perform. The boys fetched endless buckets of water from the spring, the girls spent hours peeling vegetables for the family's meals. All the children vividly standing beside the spinning wheel, whirling the big wheel, while their mother made thread. And they recalled filling spools with the newly spun thread. Often Sarah Jane went to her mother's (Elizabeth Billiter's) to combine their efforts on various projects, such as when they would dye wool or make together. Her brothers and sisters all lived nearby, and social visits were about the only activity that took Sarah Jane away from home. She was particularly close with her sister Corinda Billiter-Hawkins who lived on a nice farm only a mile from the Bowman farm. Corinda lived to be 91 years old. At the close of the Civil War Sarah Jane lost her twin baby boys to infant fever. Her daughter Elizabeth C. Bowman-Shipley died in 1869 soon after her marriage. She was walking in the orchard and was stung by a bee, which had a drastic and tragic effect, and she died within a few hours. She was pregnant at the time and the doctor took the baby, but it too died a day later. Mother and baby were buried together in the old Mt. Etna Cemetery, a mile south of that village. Also in 1869 Sarah Jane's beloved mother died and was buried beside her husband on the Billiter lot in the same cemetery. In 1875 at the age of 24 her son Manson Chesterman Bowman died of typhoid fever. He was the favorite of the family, having a wonderful and amiable personality. For many years his mother and brothers and sisters lamented his untimely death.

When Samuel Pence Bowman died in 1872 of heart failure, he left his wife, four married children, and seven children still at home. Sarah Jane and her son Caleb continued to manage the homestead. Caleb married in 1879, and the farm was deeded to him, with Sarah Jane reserving a life lease. She continued to live there until her death. However, she died on 21 September 1896 while visiting with her son Dious S. Bowman in Warren Township. According to her newspaper obituary "Mrs. Samuel Bowman, one of the oldest residents of the county, and a respected citizen of Mt. Etna, died of the infirmities of old age and heart failure." She waas survived by five sons: Ellis, William, Peter, Dious, Joseph, and one daughter Corinda: one brother William M. Billiter and two sisters: Corinda A. Billiter-Hawkins and Drusilla E. Billiter-Hollowell-Linn, together with thirty-three grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Fureral services were conducted at the German Baptist (Dunkard) Church at Lancaster by the Disciples minister the Rev. Page, his text being from chapter 64, verse 6 of Isaiah. She was buried on the Bowman lot in the Lancaster Cemetery across from the church. Her grandniece, Hazel H. Hawkins-Groff, said that the relatives and community loved Sarah Jane, "She was such a warm, considerate, and fine person."


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The background music, Johnny's Gone for a Soldier(2) by Lesley Nelson-Burns, is courtesy Lesley Nelson-Burns's extraordinary folk music Web site. Please see the lyrics and then take a little time to explore some of Lesley's vast collection of folk songs.