Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Women Who Owned Sotterley: Part I

Rebecca Tasker Addison and Her Daughters

In a letter from Charles Lowe to Benedict Leonard Calvert in November, 1727, Lowe wrote, “Pray when you wait on the Widow Bowles, convince her what a Melancholly thing it is to lie alone; Mr. Crow will take care to provide some Good Wine to push you on." [1] In 1727, a 24-year-old widow, Rebecca Bowles, mother of three daughters, Jane, Eleanor and Mary, owned over 3,418 acres and 41 enslaved people, on what was to become known as Sotterley.  Rebecca remarried in 1729, an ally of the Calverts, a lawyer and secretary to the royal governor, George Plater.[2]

Rebecca was well connected to prominent families in Maryland. Her father was Thomas John Addison of Oxon Hill in Prince Georges, County, Maryland. Her mother, Elizabeth Tasker, was sister to Governor Benjamin Tasker of the Maryland colony. Rebecca Tasker Addison became the second wife of James Bowles c.1719. Rebecca and her three young daughters remained at home when James traveled to England in 1727, not knowing that this would be the last they would see of him. Rebecca’s husband had gone to prove his own father’s Will in England as the only son of Tobias Bowles. James never returned to Maryland, as he succumbed to illness and was dead within a few weeks of his arrival.

By marrying Bowles’ widow, Rebecca, in 1729, George Plater would control the wealth of not only James Bowles with his marriage, but the fortune of Tobias Bowles as well.  Plater, as the secretary to the governor, had signed the proved Will of James Bowles, and was well aware of Rebecca’s wealth and status before the marriage. Mary Underdown, sister of James, worked to ensure that her brother and father’s fortunes would benefit her three nieces. Taking the matter to court, the decision favored the women. The three daughters were wealthy and property owners in their own right. Plater had to buy Sotterley property from his own step-daughters. With this wealth from the Bowles estate and sale of the land, the sisters were able to bring large dowries into marriage.

It is difficult to name too many prominent families in Virginia and Maryland that do not have some connection back to Sotterley through Rebecca’s three daughters by James Bowles. Mary Bowles, her aunt’s namesake, married William Armistead c. 1738. The Bowles, Armistead, and the Carter families of Virginia were already allied by the 17th century. Her “fortune” was reported as upwards of £6,000 sterling.[3] In today’s money, Mary’s dowry would be worth close to a million and a half dollars alone, not to mention all of her family connections that brought value, wealth and power to her husband and his relatives.  Eleanor Bowles, named for Rebecca Addison Bowles’ sister, Eleanor, married first William Gooch, who died within a year. In 1746, Eleanor was married to Warner Lewis, sister-in-law to Betty Lewis (Washington), the sister of President George Washington. Jane Bowles, named for her father’s sister, Jane, married Ralph Randolph Wormeley of Virginia by 1742. Wormeley’s mother was also an Armistead.

Rebecca Bowles Plater (Addison) had two daughters by her second husband. Her daughter, Rebecca Plater, married John Tayloe II of Mt. Airy, Virginia in 1748. Rebecca’s daughter, Elizabeth Plater, was married to Rodham Kenner of Virginia, on August 3, 1763. Some accounts refer to her as a “spinster” at age 20. After she is widowed, Rebecca marries the Rev. Thomas Davis. She died in c. 1800 and was buried at Old Christ’s Church cemetery. Her grave marker reads, “Here lie the remains of Mrs. Elizabeth Davis, the late consort of the Rev. Thomas Davis, Rector of this Parish. She was related to several of the most prominent families in Virginia and Maryland. She lived deservedly esteemed by all the worthy of her acquaintance and died justly lamented on the 9th of May 1800, aged 59."

Click on links below to see their likeness from Virginia Colonial Portraits Database.

 J. Pirtle

[1] Yentsch, Anne E. (1994) A Chesapeake family and their slaves; a study in historical archaeology.  New York: Cambridge University Press, p. 80.
[2] Note:  Since Sotterley was owned by four men all named George Plater, the George Plater that married the widow Bowles is sometimes labeled by Sotterley as George Plater II who died in 1755.
[3] The Virginia Gazette. Sunday, 26 Jan 1738, p. 4. Williamsburg, Virginia.