LETTERS FROM THE RANCH | SteamboatToday.com


— December 1937

Dear Bertha,

News from Europe certainly does not sound good. Since you get the same reports as we do, there is no object in me repeating what you hear on the radio and read in the papers.

You asked about my family (the Bowies) and Fred’s family (the Mays); where these people came from and what their occupations were.

Well, Fred can trace his May ancestors back only as far as his great-grandfather who came from England in about 1770 with his parents and siblings. That ancestor (Sam May) married a Sevier, the daughter of John Sevier, the Governor of Tennessee. John Sevier’s father, Valentine Sevier a French Huguenot, came from England to America in 1740. Married Joanna Goad, whose grandfather, John Williams, was a “Virginia planter” in the late 1600s.

Valentine raised five sons, at least two daughters and probably three or more daughters. All five sons were prominent leaders military, political, community, industrial, educational you name it.

Valentine, the father, played an important role in the French and Indian War and the five sons followed in their father’s footsteps. John, in particular, proved an outstanding leader at an incredibly young age. John, at age 16, married Sarah Hawkins, 15. He platted and surveyed the town site of New Market in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. After the manner of his father, John established inns, stores, mills, factories and forges for the making of iron.

General John was destined to become one of the new republic’s outstanding military leaders being the victor in the battle of the King’s Mountain, a pivotal battle of the Revolution.

In about 1772 or 1773, John Sevier followed the example of his brother, Valentine, by leading settlers from the Shenandoah Valley across the mountains into what is now east Tennessee. There the settlers constructed Fort Wautage for defense against possible Indian raids (the Indians were being incited by the British to harass the frontier settlers). And receiving no benefits of government from North Carolina, although this “over the mountain country” was supposedly a part of that state, these frontiersmen organized their own government (the state of Franklin).

John Sevier was elected president of this new state. For four years Franklin petitioned the federal government for admission to the Union. Finally Congress separated a much larger area from North Carolina. This area, which took in all of Franklin and much more, was named Tennessee. John Sevier was elected Governor of Tennessee.

Well, I can see that whole books could be written about John Sevier or any one of dozens of other interesting characters in Fred’s family tree, and I only have touched on the tip of the iceberg.

Fred’s mother (a Wentworth) was a niece of Sam Houston of Texas. Her father, a prominent Illinois judge, and her grandfather the founder of the Chicago Tribune and was the first mayor of Chicago. Her great-great-grandfather was governor of colonial New Hampshire.

The Wentworths’ direct ancestors were important in British history, but that’s another whole story.

And now, my family history: my maiden name was Bowie. Yes, Jim Bowie, of the Alamo, was a distant cousin. I am a coal miner’s daughter. My father came to America from Ayrshire Scotland. Must close for now or go to town for more writing paper.

With love,


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