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Thomas Anderson Bowman Biography
Cape Girardeau County, Missouri

Cape Girardeau Co Mo
Thomas Anderson Bowman

    Thomas Anderson Bowman, the youngest of eleven children of Benjamin and Sophia Bowman, was born on May 7, 1850, on his mother's 45th birthday, at what is now known as St. Albans, Kanawha County, West Virginia, though the states (WVA and VA) were one at that time. Later the family moved from Kanawha to Cabell County, at Bloomingdale, on the Guyandotte River, where his father had charge of a mill owned by a Mr. Doosenberry. Here Thomas grew up to be seven and a half years old, learning to swim and fish in the river under the tutelage of his brother Samuel Sterling. Once he caught a fish that weighed 25 pounds and was just as long as the young angler. Of course, his big brother had to assist him in landing it.

    Small steamboats came up the river, and at the mill were a lock and a dam. He could just remember these and the house in which they lived; the big trees, the high river banks; a little creek crossing the road, over which was a bridge; of being very sick once; and of moving to Missouri by boat, down the Ohio River and up the Mississippi to Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

    One thing on the trip he especially remembered: At Cincinnati, Ohio, the father took all ashore to see, for the first time, a railroad, and his only recollection was to see some houses, to start and run away. That was in November 1857, and the destination was Jackson, Missouri, where his father, Benjamin, had a position awaiting him in a mill.

    At Jackson, young Thomas entered the semi-public school. Half the tuition was paid by public taxes and half by the pupils or their parents. He remembered well the first money he earned, which he used to pay his tuition. That first money was earned for a summer's work for a Mr. Edward Jenkins at twenty-five cents a day. It was first for dropping corn, then carrying bundles in harvest, and for hoeing corn.

    Soon those stormy days of the Civil War came on. The rising clouds and muttering thunders foreboded trouble, and it was not long until schools were closed, not to open until the four years of struggle ended, and the school terms were exceedingly short and of little real value.

    When the war broke out in 1861, the mill was burned, and the family now consisted of ten members, for his sister "Betty," had died, and her husband, Mr. Henley, and his four children came to live with the family. Once more they moved to what is now Burfordville, to look after the estate of the Daugherty brothers--Sam and Fred--who had gone into the Confederate service. They had a fine stone mill on the Whitewater, but it had also been burned by the Federal soldiers. It was so "squally" here that it did not take long for another move, this time to a mill farther up on the Whitewater and off a main thoroughfare. The mill was owned by a Mr. Greable, who was away.

    The boy got to school by a two- or three-mile walk for a short term in the winter and worked on the neighboring farms two or three months in the summer until he was 18 years of age, spending the rest of his time hunting and fishing. When he became 18, he began to learn carpentry and while attending a meeting held in the residence of John T. Ford by James Reid and J. P. Bridwell, two Baptist ministers, he was converted and baptized on December 28, 1868.

    Young Thomas continued his apprenticeship until 1871. Having been licensed to preach in that year, he resolved enter William Jewell College at Liberty, Missouri, which he did the following September. There were 150 students in the college at that time, 50 of whom were studying for the ministry. He was the first student to enter the school from Southeast Missouri.

    Funds were scarce, so he did odd jobs and practiced the most strict economy to remain in school until 1873 when his funds were exhausted entirely. He then secured a school and taught at Orrick, in Ray County, Missouri. It was during this time that his father died, and he returned to his mother's side, who was left alone.

    The little country church at New Bethel in Cape Girardeau County, Missouri, called him to its pastorate, and he was ordained June 14, 1873. On October 24th the same year, he was married to Miss Sarah Emma Gholson. To this union were born six children, of whom but two survive at this writing: John J. the oldest, and Thomas DeWitt, next to the youngest. The others were Connie Irene, who died at Slater, Mo., July 26, 1891, of heart failure caused by St. Vitus Dance, age 14 years; Myrta May, who died at Fredericktown, Mo., September 28, 1898, age 19; Bessie Beulah, who married John Willis Alexander of Williamsville, Mo., June 12, 1905, and died at Williamsville, July 27, 1912, age 30; and Orren Clyde, born and died in Steelville, Mo., age two months.

    For more than forty years, he preached to churches at Jackson, Salem, Steelville, Pacific, Slater, Corder, Chaffee, Owensville, and Belle, in Missouri, besides at quite a number of country churches. He served as Superintendent of the Missouri Baptist Orphans' Home at Pattonville, Mo., near St. Louis.

    As a sideline, he also engaged in newspaper work for several years at Fredericktown and Sikeston, Mo. He also published a little book, "Truth in a Nutshell about Baptist," which had a rapid sale, and the edition was soon exhausted.

    He was fully identified with the denominational work in the state, attending nearly all the sessions of the Missouri Baptist General Association from 1870, when it met at the Second Baptist Church in St. Louis on Sixth Street, until a short time before his death.

    In the history of the Missouri Baptist General Association by the Rev. W. Pope Yeaman, is the following reference: "Rev. T. A. Bowman has been mentioned before in these records as an active Secretarial adjunct. He has been associated in such work a greater number of years than any other agent of the General Association. This alone testifies to the high esteem in which he is held by his brethren. His name is inseparable from the Baptist history of Southeast Missouri. There is perhaps not a Baptist in all that quarter of the state that does not know and respect him. Other portions of the state are acquainted with his work and love him for his work's sake."

    "This one thing I do" was the watchword of this good man, and that was to preach the Gospel. This he did for over 40 years, celebrating the 40th anniversary of his ordination to the ministry on June 14, 1913. Like Paul, he worked often with his own hands at carpentry, schoolteaching once for a little while, merchandising, newspaper editing, etc., to support and educate his family. He never set a definite salary as a condition of acceptance of a pastorate or other kingdom work.

    He believed a workman is worthy of his hire, but he also believed that there are fields to be cultivated that could not properly compensate the laborers, and, in such cases, the laborers go into the vineyard and work and trust the rest to the Master.

    He kept a complete record of sermons preached, with time, place, and text; names and dates of all marriages and baptisms performed; and also all money received from all sources for his compensation. The record for these forty years from 1873 to 1913 show the following items: 5000 sermons preached; 727 baptisms administered; 180 couples married; and total receipts of $29,800.00.

    He was a member of Excelsior Masonic Lodge at Jackson, Mo. He died at Belle, Missouri, March 17, 1915.



    Today we buried my father at his old home in Jackson, Mo. Others have expressed much-appreciated words of tribute, but I knew him even better than they. A stranger who attended the funeral service said: "That must have been one of the greatest men in the state," and he was great--great in his simplicity, great in the faith, great in his earnestness and devotion to the cause he preached, and great in the pure, devoted life of service he lived.

    In the midst of our grief, we are proud of the heritage he has left us, for we know that his life was one of meekness and gentleness, without guile, hypocrisy or deceit, full of good works and service--a life in which there is nothing to be sorry or ashamed of, but everything to be proud of. A friend said: "I would rather have the things said about me that were said over his body today than to be President of the United States," and the appreciation of his virtues helps to relieve the sting of sorrow.

    As pastor, missionary worker, representative of the denominational paper, the Orphans' Home, and other interests, he has gone up and down the state, in season and out, never faltering or complaining, but doing the work he felt called to do and serving his Master and his brethren. Difficulties and discouragements never halted him, and in all things he was faithful to the end.

    With the closing of the year, he resigned his last pastorate and expressed the belief that his work was about done. Though seriously ill only a few days, he said he was tired and wanted to rest. He knew he was ready. After a night of suffering, as the morning sun was rising, "God's finger touched him, and he slept." As a tired child falls asleep, his spirit entered into that new day of everlasting sunshine to meet his Master whom he had served so long and so faithfully. He "crossed over the river and now rests under the trees."

    And so we are proud that we can pay this humble tribute, through our sorrow, for we know that he fought a good fight, he finished the course, he kept the faith, and that a crown was laid up for him.

    by John J. Bowman, Bonne Terre, Missouri, March 19, 1915.

Contributed by Carol Bowman

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