The Short Life of Capt. Daniel Bowie

Daniel Bowie had been a soldier for seven months, and a captain for just seven weeks, when he wrote out his will on August 26, 1776, the day before he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Brooklyn. We have featured Bowie’s will before, since it is such a remarkable document, and we have now posted a greatly expanded biography of him.

Bowie was part of a prominent family in Maryland. Four first cousins served in the General Assembly, and he was the stepbrother of one governor, and cousin of another. Had Daniel Bowie survived the war he would undoubtedly have done similar service. To say that “the Maryland troops…[were] all young gentlemen,” as one observer noted, would be an exaggeration, but it was certainly true in the case of Daniel Bowie. [1]

Bowie was not the only person who made out a will while in the army. Joseph Butler, one of Bowie’s lieutenants, dictated his will the night before the Battle of Brooklyn. Edward Sinclair, a private in the Fifth Company, “being mindful of the uncertainty of human life,” wrote his about six weeks later, and Corporal Zachariah Gray of the Third Company did the same in January 1777, not long after he reenlisted. These wills give us insight into the men who wrote them, and serve as a powerful reminder of the presence of death to the men of the army. Indeed, Bowie, Butler, and Gray were all killed in combat, and Sinclair died in camp, probably of natural causes.

Read more about Daniel Bowie’s life here.

Notes:
Joseph Plumb Martin, Private Yankee Doodle: Being A Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier (1830; reprint, George F. Scheer, ed., 1962), 26.

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  1. Pingback: “Winged Messenger of Death”: Captain Edward De Coursey’s Letter to a Friend | Finding the Maryland 400

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