Like Job of Old . . .
Alfred P. Gowen, TN Legislator
Had a String of Bad Luck
Alfred P. Gowen, Tennessee legislator, owner of 11 slaves and
several farms in Rutherford County, was sitting pretty. He was
an influential man in the community, a road commissioner, a
grand juror, a respected member of the “courthouse gang” and
had been elected county sheriff. He had married well, had a
beautiful family and was living a prosperous life.
Then, like Job of old, things began falling apart in his life. He
was defeated in his reelection bid for the legislature. He was
unable to pay 19 notes when they came due, and his creditors
were awarded judgments against him. He was forced to sell his
slaves, and foreclosures took away his land. His wife ran away,
taking his children to Missouri where she was remarried to his
brother. His health failed, and he died a broken man.
Alfred P. Gowen, son of William Gowen, was born in 1795 in
Tennessee. He first appeared in the legal records of Rutherford
County June 21, 1819 when he witnessed a transfer of a certificate
of survey, according to Rutherford County Court Minute
Book N. On April 1, 1820 he was sued for $6.75 by George R.
Nash, county jailer, who had “released to Alfred P. Gowen one
William Barfield on a writ of capias ad respondem.” On
October 24, 1823, January 21, 1824 and January 28, 1824,
Alfred P. Gowen was summoned to serve on the Rutherford
County grand jury. He was surety in the marriage of Mayfield
Tolbert to Elizabeth Johnston September 29, 1824 in Rutherford
On July 20, 1827 Alfred P. Gowen, plaintiff sued Robert Barton
in Cause No. 53 over the sale of a sorrel horse, according to
Rutherford County Court Minute Book V, page 43. “The court
found in favor of the plaintiff and assessed $90 in damages and
court costs of $20.23.”
On October 27, 1827 “Alfred P. Gowen, sheriff” won a judgment
of $112.23 in a suit against “William Thomas, Bartlett
Anderson, John Doak and Samuel S. Wilson,” according to
Rutherford County Deed Book V.
On December 18, 1827 he was surety for the marriage of Alfred
S. Harbin and Henrietta Lowe, daughter of John Lowe and his
future sister-in-law. He received a jury summons on four
occasions in January 1829. John F. Howland deeded 326 acres
to “A. P. Gowen and Mary Howland” in 1829, according to
Rutherford County Deed Book V.
Alfred P. Gowen, at age 34, was married January 14, 1829 to
Elizabeth S. “Betsy” Lowe, age 22, born in Virginia in 1807.
She was the daughter of John Lowe, one of two brothers who
came to Rutherford County in 1812.
The newly married couple appeared in the 1830 Rutherford
County census, page 84, as one of the five Gowen households
listed in the county. He was shown as the owner of 11 slaves.
He left the sheriff’s office in 1830 to run for the Tennessee
House of Representatives. His campaign was successful, and he
served from 1831 to 1835 as a representative from Rutherford
On August 11, 1832, “A. P. Gowen and Mary Howland” sold
326 acres of land to Washington Gibson and Henry Hoover for
$500, according to Rutherford County Deed Book X.
In 1836 Alfred P. Gowen owned land astride the RutherfordCannon
County line and was a taxpayer in both counties. On
April 15, 1836 “Alfred P. Gowen of Cannon County” was appointed
to a committee to layout a road running into Woodbury,
Tennessee, the county seat. On June 6, 1836 he was appointed
to help develop a road to Murphreesboro, Tennessee. He was
also named to other road committees on June 7, 1836 and July
4, 1836 in Cannon County. On November 19, 1836 he was
named on a Cannon County jury panel.
In 1836 he was named as administrator of the estate of John
Lowe, his father-in-law, and in that capacity on November 23,
1838 he sold to Col. William Lowe, his wife’s uncle, two slave
children from the estate. Sold were “Willis, age 6, and Jack, age
4, for $600.”
The household of Alfred P. Gowen and Elizabeth S. “Betsy”
Lowe Gowen appeared in the 1840 census of Rutherford
County. Again, 11 slaves were shown in the enumeration,
making a total of 18 in the household, six employed in agriculture.
Misfortune overtook Alfred P. Gowen in 1840 because he was
forced to liquidate his holdings to settle 19 notes signed by him.
On July 2, 1840 he deeded to Gilliam & Fulks “518 acres which
William Gowen originally held in Rutherford County,” also the
Rutherford-Cannon tract, and also slaves, Tom, about 37; Jude,
45; Adeline, 17; Silvy, 16; Jude, 47; Mely, 20; Dick, 47; Cabit,
60; Fanny, 40; Jack 13; and Ned, 17,” according to Rutherford
County Deed Book Y. This transaction was forced “because
Alfred P. Gowen is indebted to William Gilliam by four
On January 7, 1842 his troubles were apparently continuing
because he sold one-half interest in 100 acres on Cripple Creek
to Rubin Todd for $248, according to Rutherford County Deed
Book Y. On February 2, 1842 he deeded 24 acres of land to
Walter S. Lowe for $75, according to Rutherford County Deed
Book Z. In 1844 he deeded land “for Thyatira church” to David
Patton, according to Cannon County Deed Book D. A few years
later, with the help of Walter S. Lowe, Alfred P. Gowen
regained some of his Rutherford County land. This he later sold
to William H. Murry for $1,266, according to Rutherford
County Deed Book Y.
The land was described as “the tract of land known as William
Gowen’s old place where Alfred P. Gowen now resides, 525
acres more or less.”
In 1849 Alfred P. Gowen was reduced to his homestead, 125
acres of land, valued at $200, on which he paid 38c advalorem
tax to Rutherford County.
On November 2, 1850 his household was enumerated in the
Rutherford County census, page 212. The family, living in the
May District near Murfreesboro, included:
“Gowen, Alfred P. 55, born in TN, farmer
Elizabeth 43, born in VA
Martha 15, born in TN
Burrell A. 12, born in TN
Mattie L. 9, born in TN
Amanda H. 3, born in TN
May E. 1, born in TN
Although Elizabeth S. “Betsy” Lowe Gowen was enumerated in
the household of Alfred P. Gowen in the 1850 census of
Rutherford County, she also appeared in the household of John
S. Gowen, brother of Alfred P. Gowen in the 1850 census of
Barry County, Missouri. The enumerator noted that John S.
Gowen and Elizabeth S. “Betsy” Lowe Gowen Gowen were
“married within the year.”
According to an interview in 1975 with Alvin Estell Lowe,
Rutherford County octogenarian, Elizabeth S. “Betsy” Lowe
Gowen suddenly and mysteriously removed to “somewhere in
Missouri” before the death of Alfred P. Gowen.
He suggested that “John S. Gowen influenced Betsy to run away
with him.” Missouri descendants related that Elizabeth S.
“Betsy” Lowe Gowen arrived in Missouri a widow, “her husband
having died en route.”
Alfred P. Gowen did not die in 1850, but survived for another
seven years. Alfred P. Gowen died sometime before April 1857
without leaving a will. Alfred P. Lowe, his nephew, was
appointed by the court as administrator of the estate on April 14,
His report to the court, dated June 20, 1857 read:
“A. P. Gowen, Dcsd. The affects of A. P. Gowen:
Money found in the hand of John Land, 38 cents; One
note, 17 dollars and 97 cents against Daniel Bullard
given in 1857, Insolvent; 2 notes against James Mangham,
one for two dollars and the other for 50 cents given
in 1843, Insolvent; 2 notes against Isham Pelham due in
1850 for 20 dollars cash, Insolvent; 1 note against Lewis
Shipp for 23 dollars & 81 cents due in 1838, [Collected
$10.40]; one note on David Paton for $6.40 due in 1843
[Collected]; one note on R. W. Lowe for Ten dollars due
the 30th of Jany. 1858, Good.
A. P. Lowe, Adm. of A. P. Gowen, Dec’d”
In 1860, Elizabeth S. “Betsy” Lowe Gowen Gowen, again a
widow, was enumerated as the head of a household in Sugar
Creek Township in Barry County. She reappeared there in the
census of 1880 as “Elizabeth Gowen, 72, widow.”
Children born to Alfred P. Gowen and Elizabeth S. “Betsy”
Lowe Gowen include:
Martha R. Gowen born in 1835
Burrell Allen Gowen born in 1838
Mattie L. Gowen born in 1841
Amanda H. Gowen born in 1847
Mary E. Gowen born in 1849
Sarah C. Gowen born in 1854