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First West Virginia Legislature

Biographical Sketches: George Bowyer

Wheeling Intelligencer
July 21, 1863


Sketches Personal, Political and Biographical.

GEORGE C. BOWYER, of Putnam.

George C. Bowyer, the member from Putnam, is a native Virginian. He was born at Blue Sulphur Springs, Greenbrier county, March, 8, 1829, and is therefore a little rising 34 years old. His ancestry on his father's side were German. His father who was at one time Sheriff of Greenbrier county, and afterward United States Marshal of the Western district of Virginia, removed from Greenbrier to what was then part of Kanawha, (erected into Putnam in 1849,) when he was at a tender age. His father appears to have been wealthy, owning slaves and large bodies of land, and the children, of which George is the eldest, were raised without work, and with every indulgence that an unusually kind and indulgent parent could grant.

George received such an education as the schools of the surrounding country afforded, which he attended assiduously, and besides spent some time at school in Lewisburg. While a boy he traveled about a great deal with his father, whose business compelled him to do so, and acquired a sort of fondness for roving. Shortly after arriving at his majority he took a fancy to make a trip to California, and did so going alone, by the Isthmus route. After a few months he returned, and though he kept his health remarkably on the trip when there was a great deal of sickness all around him, he took the Isthmus fever a few days after reaching home and was ill some eight months.

Not a great while after his recovery he married, after a rather romantic courtship. He then purchased a farm and turned his attention to its cultivation; and although not raised to that or anything else in particular, he is considered by his neighbors a good farmer. He also up to the breaking out of the rebellion carried on merchandizing with good success.

In May 1961, he was elected to the Legislature, as the Union candidate, but like many other Western Virginia members elected at the same time, he had no notion of going to Richmond. He was ex officio a member of the Convention that reorganized the State government, but owing to the presence of Wise's legion in the Kanawha Valley he was unable to attend the June session. He, however, was on hand at the August session, and attended each subsequent session of the Legislature. On his return home, he narrowly escaped capture by the rebels. A squad hearing of his arrival, went a distance of 30 miles to take him, and but for a little circumstance not in the programme would probably have succeeded. They stopped at the house of one of his neighbors who was a secessionist and who very naturally and properly had a jug of whisky in the house. Of course the gang could'nt [sic] think of leaving as long as there was any whisky left, and as the jug was a large one and well filled it took some time to get through with. The time thus lost enabled Mr. Bowyer, who meanwhile got a hint of what was coming, to get out of the way.

At the outbreak of hostilities, Mr. Bowyer was Lieutenant Colonel of their militia regiment, and the Colonel being absent, he had command. When the federal troops first entered the Kanawha valley he was beset on every side by prominent rebels to call out his regiment to resist the "invation,"[sic] but he put them off by one device and another, and did not call it out at all. It will be remembered that he was elected Brigadier General of militia by the last Legislature.

The brother next to him in age, in spite of all reasoning and expostulation, went into the rebellion, and is now a Major in Stuart's cavalry. He is the only one of the family that caught the contagion of rebellion.

In politics Mr. Bowyer has been a whig. He was a Know-nothing in '56 and voted for Fillmore. In '60, voted for Bell and Everett. His county has always been democratic opponent three to one. - He being the Union candidate, this fact speaks well for the Union sentiment of Putnam county at that time, and is corroborated by the fact that but about 200 votes were cast in the county for the ordinance of secession. But the Union men of Putnam sadly backslided afterwards, as they did in all the counties over-run even for a time by the rebels. Experience soon taught them that the federal troops respected their private rights and property, whether loyal or secesh, while the rebels respected the property of rebels and took that of loyal men. It being safer therefore to be secesh, many preferred safety to more honest and honorable considerations, so that the county is not as loyal to day as when it voted on the ordinance. Mr. Bowyer's father, who was a whig, was elected from Putnam to one term in the Legislature. Dr. John Thompson, another whig, was elected for the term preceding Mr. Bowyer's election in '61, and these three are the only whigs ever elected from Putnam county.

Mr. Bowyer up to the breaking out of the rebellion had always been a pro-slavery man, and owned some of that species of property himself. Reared and surrounded as he was it was but natural he should be pro-slavery, yet like in thousands of other instances, the lessons of the past two years and a half have wrought an entire change of conviction and feelings on the subject. While he always felt the institution to be morally wrong he now realizes that it is wrong in a political and economic point of view, and he believes that in the good providence of God it is to be extinguished in this country with the rebellion it inspired. He thinks no reconstruction of the Union on any other basis can be lasting. As soon as the slaveholding interest could recuperate, as it soon would, it would grow domineering and exacting again, and would rebel again just for the same reasons that it did this time. He would like to see truly loyal men paid for their slaves, in the general extinguishment of the institution, but further than that, he is done with it. Does not know but American slavery may become an instrument of good in leading to the regeneration of Africa and her redemption from the barbarism and ignorance that have enshrouded her for ages, but whether this be so or not, thinks the lease of African slavery in this country has about run out.

Mr. Bowyer is not and never has been a member of any religious or Christian denomination, yet is a gentleman of correct principles and habits. In person he is over six feet, with a good breadth of shoulders and symmetrical figure. Features regular and handsome; nose straight and finely cut; eyes blue and bright; forehead capacious; complexion fresh and fair, making him look at least five years younger than he is. The lower part of the face and the mouth are concealed by beard of a reddish brown, which he wears full and in great profusion, not having shaved it for a number of years. Hair neither light nor very dark, fine, silky, long and curling down almost upon his shoulders. Wears a soft slouch hat, and dresses well, but with a certain air of easy negligence, and has the general air of a man who never worries, but takes things philosophically. As a member makes no more speeches than his duties as chairman of the Committee on Roads and Internal Navigation require. Is an efficient member in committee and attentive in the House. Is quiet and unobtrusive in manner both in the House and out of it, but is agreeable and cordial when approached. Is frank and hearty in manner, talks well among friends, and will bear acquaintance.

Biographies of the First West Virginia Legislature

West Virginia Archives and History