James H. Gowen, Melungeon
Jailed as a Runaway Slave
James H. Gowen, regarded as a Melungeon, was born about 1752 probably in Granville County, North Carolina. He, the son of William Gowen and Sarah Gowen, was very dark complexioned and later had difficulty when he was arrested as a runaway slave.
It is believed that he accompanied his father, his brother, William Gowen and his nephew, David Gowen when they made a move to Tennessee.
Levi Gowen of Fairfield County, South Carolina, brother of David Gowen, stated in a Fairfield County court affidavit that “Four mulatto went to Daverson County on the Cumberland River in 1779.” David Gowen was killed by the Indians at Mansker’s Station about 1780, and Levi Gowen was named as his heir. It is believed that the Gowen men joined the Buchanan-Mulherrin party on the trek to Ft. Nashborough in the winter of 1779-80.
James H. Gowen settled on land located north of the Cumberland River, and when Sumner County, Tennessee was created in 1786, found himself in the new county. “James Gowen” purchased a horse for $79.25 at the auction of the estate of Allen Gowen, his kinsman in 1800, according to Rutherford County Court records.
According to the research of Donna Gowin Johnston, Foundation Editorial Boardmember of Casper, Wyoming, James H. Gowen appeared in the court records of Sumner County in
1804 in a suit alleging false arrest in 1802. The jury found in his favor, but the damages awarded were far less than the $5,000 he sought.
“Pleas at the court house in the town of Gallatin before the justices on the third Monday in December Ano Domini 1804 & 29th year of American Independence.
James Gowen, Plaintiff vs Isaac Baker, Defendant:
Isaac Baker was attached to answer James Gowen in a plea of trespass, assault & battery & false imprisonment with force & arms to his damage Five Thousand Dollars.
Whereupon the said James Gowen by John C. Hamilton, his attorney filed his declaration upon the same, to wit:
State of Tennessee, Sumner County. James Gowen by his attorney complains of Isaac Baker in . . . a plea of trespass, assault & battery . . . with force & arms and assault did make upon the body of the said James . . . did beat, wound & ill treat, and . . . did falsely & illegally imprison him . . . for the space of fifteen days to the damage of the said James five thousand Dollars & therefore he brings suit.
The Defendant in his aforesaid plea . . . says he is not now nor ever has been a slave, and of this he puts himself on his county and the Defendant.
A Jury to wit, Andrew Blythe, Richard Carr, Robert Robb, Thomas Joiner, George Gillespie, Isaac George, William Bruce, William Snoddy, James Graham, John Shaver, Smith Hansbrough & James A. Wilson, who being elected, tried & sworn the truth to speak upon the issue joined upon their oath do say that they find the issue in favour of the plaintiff, saying that the said Plaintiff is a free man, and do assess the said plaintiff’s damages by occasion of wrongfully detaining him in servitude, to six & one-fourth cents [one-half of a bit] and court costs.”
James H. Gowen received an inheritance of 240 acres of his father’s 640-acre land grant. He and brother, John Gowen advertised the property, “containing 240 acres and lying on the main road from Nashville to Jefferson” for sale in a Nashville newspaper December 13, 1806, probably after the death of their mother. James H. Gowen sold the property to Daniel
Vaulx who lived nearby June 2, 1807, according to Davidson County Deed Book G, page 199.
Steve Rogers of the Tennessee Historical Commission who researched the deed record of the property wrote, “this 240- acre tract is located on the northern third of the property north of present-day Murphreesboro Road. The route of the Murfreesboro Turnpike, established in 1824, followed approximately the southern boundary, according to ‘Acts of
Tennessee, 1824,’ page 148.” The southern part of the preemption was later the location of the Metropolitan Nashville Airport.
Following his abusive experience in Sumner County, James H. Gowen moved across the county line to adjoining Robertson County which had been created from Sumner County in 1796.
“James Goin” and “Jeremiah Goin” were recorded in 1812 as taxpayers in Robertson County in Capt. Gabriel Martin’s Company, according to “Taxpayer List,” Roll 7, Tennessee State Archives.
Included among the assets of the estate of William Rains administered November 27, 1812 was a past due note on “James H. Gowan for $100, payable on June 3, 1808.”
Children born to James H. Gowen are unknown. Possible kinsmen of James H. Gowen are Reuben Gowen of Sumner County and Jeremiah Gowen, Benjamin Gowen and Reuben
Gowen of Robertson County.
Melungeon researchers Evelyn McKinley Orr, Omaha and Jack Goins, Rogersville, TN are pictured investigating gravestones in the Ebbing & Flowing Spring Church Cemetery of Rogersville.