1996 – 07 July Newsletter – GRF

Sections in this issue:

1) Cmdr. Joseph H. Gowan Devoted His Life to U.S. Naval Aviation;
2) Dianne Thurman Finishes Work On Thomas Goin Manuscript;
3) Is There a Melungeon Connection To the Sephardic Jews of Spain?;

Volume 7, No. 11 July 1996

1)  Cmdr. Joseph H. Gowan Devoted His Life to U.S. Naval Aviation

By Patrick William Gowan, his son
Foundation Editorial Boardmember
1422 Puterbough Street, San Diego, California, 92103

Joseph Henry Gowan, the eldest child of William M. and Laura Maxwell Gowen, was born on a farm of 160 acres located in Boone County on the White River about 6 miles north of Lead Hill, Arkansas November 24, 1886.

Six other children were born on that farm to William and Laura:

George Fancher Gowan born January 10, 1888
Anna Belle Gowan born November 13, 1889
William Thomas Gowan born April 16, 1892
John Sherman Gowan born December 7, 1893
Martha Carolee Gowan born April 2, 1897
Frank Maxwell Gowan born September 22, 1901

[The family name was spelled “Gowen” until 1907, but after that the family gradually began to spell it “Gowan.” When Joe enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1911, the name was spelled “Gowan” in the induction process. Joe kept this spelling for the rest of his life and requested that the rest of his family do likewise. They all complied with his request. The spelling change of the surname was very casually done and probably has occurred many times in the Gowen family from the colonial period until the advent of Social Security in 1935.]

Joe grew up on his fathers farm, helping with planting and cultivation of the crops. I remember him telling me of the hours he spent making split rail fences, “just like Abe Lincoln did.” He did a lot of fishing on the White River and hunted turkey and coon on the river’s bottom land on the farm. Joe attended the Fair View School which was about one mile south of the Gowen house; this was the typical one room country school, teaching grades first through eighth.

He also attended Lead Hill School which went through the tenth grade. There he played a lot of baseball. They made their own baseballs out of string which was saved. After graduation, he clerked in the Lead Hill general store for two years and taught at a nearby school for one year. He may have been influenced in the decision to leave teaching when one of his students pulled a knife on him during class.

After leaving teaching, he enrolled in the School of Telegraphy in Chillicothe, Missouri, graduating in 1905. He then obtained work as a telegraph operator on the Santa Fe Railroad at Hackney, Kansas, but left there in 1908 to join some friends who were going to homestead land in the Estancia Valley of New Mexico, near the town of Estancia. After about a year, Joe vacated his homestead and obtained a job at Dawson, New Mexico as lineman and electrician with a large coal company. He left Dawson in 1910.

He moved to Belen, New Mexico where he obtained employment with the Santa Fe Railway Company as a locomotive fireman working east from Belen. My Uncle Frank, who also worked as a fireman on this route, stated that it was a steep grade for the first fifty miles, so Joe was kept busy shoveling coal. In late 1910, he was laid off from the railroad. After a visit home with his family, who had just moved to Harrison, Arkansas, he went to El Paso, Texas, hoping to get a job with the Southern Pacific Railroad.

He stayed for a few months in El Paso visiting his brother Tom who was working for the Santa Fe as a telegrapher, but, being unable to obtain steady employment, he decided to enlist in the U.S. Navy. Joe enlisted in the Navy at Kansas City, Missouri August 22, 1911.

Because of his experience as a telegrapher, he was able to enlist as a Landsman Electrician. After bootcamp, he was transferred to the U.S.S. Raleigh, a cruiser in the Pacific.

Life for an enlisted man was not easy in those days. I remember him telling me that each sailor was issued one bucket of fresh water daily. This had to serve for all personal needs including clothes washing. By June, 1914, he had been promoted to Electrician [Radio]) First Class and was transferred to the Naval Radio Station, Tatoosh Island, Washington. This island is one mile off the northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula, and the adjacent part of the peninsula is an Indian reservation.

Obviously, there were no good liberty towns nearby, so Joe took a correspondence course in mathematics to keep occupied and out of the rain while not on duty. In January 1915, he was assigned to the coal-burning battleship U.S.S. Oregon, and steamed from Bremerton, Washington to San Francisco where his enlistment expired. After a visit home, he reenlisted and was assigned to the cruiser U.S.S. Pittsburgh in the Atlantic Fleet. In October 1917, while the Pittsburgh was assigned to patrol duty, South America to Africa, he was promoted to Gunner [Radio].

In January 1918, he was ordered to Paris, France for aviation duty, from where he was ordered to command a detachment constructing a naval air station at Gujan, France, [west of Bordeaux], where he later served as executive officer. In April 1918 he was ordered to the Naval Air Station at Arcachon, France where he received flight training in Navy flying boats. Joe stayed at NAS Arcachon as a flying boat pilot until the end of the war. With demobilization proceeding, Joe decided that he liked flying and decided to stay in the Navy and apply for regular commission. Flight pay, in addition to regular pay, provided a handsome salary for a naval aviator.

Returning to the United States in the spring of 1919, he was briefly stationed at NAS Akron, Ohio and then at NAS Pensacola, Florida where he completed Lighter Than Air [LTA] training in July 1919. He was designated a naval aviator, and then served as an LTA instructor. He was also promoted to ensign. In September 1919 he was married to Miss Ida Clarice Epp in Kansas City, Missouri. Two sons were born to them, myself in January 1922, in San Diego and Richard in August 1923, in Lakewood, New Jersey.

In 1920, Joe was transferred to San Diego where he was an LTA pilot until August, 1921 in support of fleet operations. Two noteworthy flights took place during this time. On September 30, 1920 he was assistant pilot of a C-type blimp with a crew of four which crashed in a canyon near Los Angles during foggy weather. He walked away unscathed.

Then, on March 29, 1921, he was the pilot of a B-type blimp with a crew of three on a photographic mission for the fleet. On return to San Diego the engine stopped over La Jolla, and the blimp was rapidly being carried by prevailing winds to nearby mountains where it would have been wrecked. Joe and the crew traced the trouble to an inoperative fuel pump, and jury-rigged a gravity-fed gas line to the engine. They then siphoned gas from the main tank and hand carried it to the jury rigged gas line. They were able to keep the engines going until the airship returned to base safely. Joe received a letter of commendation for his action.

These two incidents must have made Joe think of his long-term chances of survival in lighter-than-air, for he returned to flying airplanes in August, 1921 in San Diego. He received a few hours of instruction and was soon flying fighters and flying boats in support of fleet operations [i.e. spotting gunnery exercises by the Battle Fleet.] He was promoted to lieutenant j.g. in December 1922. In July, 1923, he was transferred to the NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey. where he tested aircraft. In October 1923, he was ordered to the U.S.S. Shenandoah, a large dirigible as radio communications officer for its commissioning and first flight.

He was detached from the Shenandoah in November and returned to test flying of aircraft.

In January 1924, Joe was ordered to NAS Pensacola again for flight training. Although he was an experienced pilot he had not taken basic flight training for airplanes at NAS Pensacola and was told that if he wanted to continue his career as a naval aviator, he must take this training. He completed flight training and was then checked out in gunnery and bombing from navy fighters. I vaguely remember living in Pensacola. We rented a nice house on a little lake in the country. We had servants–a naval aviator made a good salary.

Joe received orders to NAS North Island near San Diego in December 1924. At that time North Island was jointly used by the Army and Navy and was known as Rockwell Field. He flew VE-7 and FB-1 fighters and was assigned to Fighter Squadron VS-2.

After gunnery and bombing practice in January 1926, VS-2 was assigned to the U.S.S. Langley, the first aircraft carrier in the United States Navy and participated in fleet exercises in the Pacific and Caribbean. While he was aboard, he assisted in the development of the carrier landing system during this tour and received a letter of commendation for his ideas. Joe was promoted to lieutenant in July, 1926.

At that time written examinations were required, and sample questions were published several months in advance of the exam. A close personal friend of my parents told me that Joe was a whiz in navigation, and in spite of his limited education, could solve all of the problems. He was so well regarded that many Naval Academy graduates would request help from him with difficult problems. In July, 1927, Joe was ordered to NAS Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii. He became commander of a torpedo plane squadron.

With the experience he acquired he was able to provide expert technical support for the development of the torpedo plane. The squadron flew patrol flights around Oahu and other Hawaiian islands and provided aviation support to fleet exercises.

We enjoyed his tour immensely. We rented a house a few blocks from Waikiki Beach and went swimming there frequently. There we learned to swim and ride a surfboard. The good life in Hawaii ended in May, 1931 when Joe was ordered to the U.S.S. Houston. This cruiser was sunk in March 1942, in Sundra Strait, Indonesia, attempting to evade a strong Japanese fleet and get to Australia. She was the flagship of the Asiatic fleet and carried four seaplanes which were launched by catapult, landed in the ocean, and were hoisted aboard by crane.

The whole family steamed from Honolulu aboard the Navy Transport Chaumant, and after a voyage of three weeks we disembarked in Manila. The Philippines were an American Colony. We rented a house in a nice section of the suburbs called Valhalla Court which was patrolled by Indian Sikh guards at night. There was no air conditioning, so housing was built with plenty of window space. At night we had mosquito nets over the beds because of malaria. Also, our house was supported by wood 4×4 piers which were set in moats of oil to keep out ants, centipedes and other insects. Dick and I were told to be careful of poisonous snakes when playing in the yard.

The depression had reached the Philippines, and labor was inexpensive. We had two servants, a general maid and a cook/gardener. Only wealthy people had automobiles.

Taxicabs were unknown; one-horse carriages took their place. The fleet made several cruises each year. It would go to the southern Philippine Island of Mindanao [which was never completely pacified], each December, return to Manila, and in early March would cruise to Hong Kong. After a stay of about a month, it would journey to Shanghai for a visit of a month, then to Tsingtao for a month, to the Chefoo, and on up to Tientsin for a shorter visit and finally to Chinwangtao to coal some of the older ships.

Many of the officers and men took leave when we were in Tientsin to visit Peking. Peking was a four hour trip by train from Tientsin. Then the trip south started, and the same ports were visited on the way down to allow arrival in Manila by about the first of November.

With the world-wide depression affecting the Far East, prices were very low for everything, and most dependents took advantage of this by traveling with the fleet, living in hotels, and securing passage in coastal steamers.

Children did not get much schooling. My brother and I attended the American school when we were in Manila. The student body was mostly children of Army and Navy personnel, and there were daily fights between Army and Navy children over which service was better. My mother hired a tutor when possible when we were in China, and although we were lacking in formal education, we made up for it in the experiences we received from traveling.

The British and French had some ships in China. In Shanghai I remember having a fist fight, in the courtyard of the hotel where we were staying, with the son of a British officer, over which fleet was better. I also remember swimming at Tsingtao with young British dependents accompanying their fleet. This was the time when the Japanese began their conquest of China. In February, 1932, when the fleet was in Manila, fighting spread to the mouth of the Yangtze River, and it was possible that it would affect American interests in Shanghai, so the U.S.S. Houston was ordered to proceed to the scene without delay.

The seaplanes had been undergoing overhaul at Cavite, the shore base, and were returned to the Houston on an expedited basis without having their armament, bomb racks and machine guns installed. Joe was now the senior aviator aboard the Houston, and the installation of the armament became his responsibility. This was completed in two days while the ship was underway. He flew observation flights during the fighting after the ship arrived in Shanghai and also commanded a detachment of 40 men from the U.S.S. Houston which was guarding American-owned Shanghai Power & Light Company. For all of this he received a letter of commendation.

Our tour was over in June, 1933, and Joe received orders to NAS Pensacola. After a return voyage aboard the U.S. Army transport Grant, we disembarked at San Francisco where the effects of the depression were quite evident. I remember seeing men selling apples in Union Square. The family bought a car and drove across country, and quite a few of the highways were dirt roads. We rented a house on the bay near the air station where there was lots of fishing, swimming, and boating. I entered Hallmark School in Pensacola in the sixth grade while Dick entered the fourth. Being new, we both found ourselves in fistfights on the second day of school. Luckily, we both won so we did not have any more trouble.

Joe was an instructor at Pensacola in seaplanes and torpedo bombers. In addition he transported personnel. He piloted the American ambassador to Cuba from Miami to Havana to Pensacola in January 1935. In June, 1935, Joe received orders to NAS San Diego.

We make an uneventful automobile trip across the country, although the highways still left a lot to be desired. Shortly after Joe reported to his new duty station, Rockwell Field, which had been in joint use by the Army and Navy since World War I, was designated Naval Air Station, North Island and all of the Army left.

Joe was initially assigned to a utility squadron which provided support to the fleet during exercises and flew missions for the Naval Air Station. Promotions in the Navy as well as other branches of the Armed Forces had been very slow since the mid-1920s due to size limitation treaties with other nations made after WWI. However, following Japanese aggression in China and the start of WWII in Europe, expansion of the armed forces began and in late 1938 Joe was selected for promotion to Lieutenant Commander.

The selection process divided the selectees into two classes, best qualified and qualified. Graduates of the Naval Academy and other colleges were considered best qualified and were promoted without a written examination, but all others were considered qualified and were required to take a written exam. Joe passed his exam and was promoted in January, 1939.

Upon his promotion, two things occurred. First, he joined the NAS North Island officers’ club. He had never before joined an officers’ club because of his enlisted service, and the general feeling among some of the senior officers was that it was not proper for him to do so. Second, he was transferred to the NAS North Island Operations Department where he became Assistant Operations officer with a lot of administrative duties, but he continued to fly. He began to fly sea and land transport planes more often, although he flew fighters and other types from time to time.

In April 1940, Joe became the Operations Officer of NAS North Island, but still continued flying. On January 3, 1941, he was the pilot of a transport plane which crashed into a mountain as it was returning to San Diego from Texas. Not much is known of the circumstances except that it was late on a foggy night, and the plane was on instruments. NAS North Island was transmitting a radio beam which apparently was deflected by mineral deposits in the mountains, and the plane was close enough to San Diego to have begun its descent. Eleven other naval personnel were killed in the crash.

He was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery, and his wife now rests with him. At the time of his death, he was one of the most experienced pilots in the U.S. Navy. A street at NAS North Island was later named for him.

Note: All information up to Joe’s enlistment is taken from “Gowen 1687-1980,” a family history written by my uncle Frank Maxwell Gowan of Phoenix, Arizona.

Two sons were born to Joseph Henry Gowan and Ida Clarice Epp Gowan:

Patrick William Gowan born January 10, 1922
Richard Leroy Gowan born August 17, 1923

2)  Dianne Thurman Finishes Work On Thomas Goin Manuscript

After over 40 years of research, Dianne Thurman, a member of the Foundation Editorial Board, has turned to her publisher a manuscript on her ancestor, Thomas Goin of Virginia, North Carolina and Claiborne County, Tennessee. The 626-page book, entitled “Goin and Variants: Going, Gowin, Gowen, Gowan, Goen, Gowing,” is due off the press in late fall.

Mrs. Thurman of Wichita, who became interested in genealogy while in junior high school, is the author of two earlier volumes of family history. She is a member of the legal profession and is the first paralegal ever admitted to the Kansas State Bar Association. She, a member of the Midwest Historical Society and the Leichleiter Historical Society of Missouri, was a featured speaker at the Foundation Research Conference in Nashville in May. Pre-publication price, until November 1, is $45; afterwards $55. Orders should be directed to the authoress at 4201 Wildflower, Wichita, Kansas, 67210.

3)  Is There a Melungeon Connection To the Sephardic Jews of Spain?

By Evelyn McKinley Orr
Chairman, Melungeon Research Team
8310 Emmet, Omaha, Nebraska, 68134

The name Sephardic Jew is a misnomer. Historians classify them as being Spanish citizens, not being of Jewish nationality, who were practicing the Hebrew religion. They were forced to convert to Christianity or be thrown out of Spain after the Spanish Inquisition of 1492.

Many of them fled to northern Eu-rope and north Africa right along with the fleeing Islamic Moors. Later, the English Jews would notice the Hebrew culture traits of these displaced people, and they anglicized the term to Sephardic Jews.

The Christian Spaniards applied the term Moranos to the Spaniards who had been practicing the Hebrew religion before converting to Christianity, and they applied Moriscos to Christianized Moors. My discussions with a Jewish rabbi confirms that it was likely that many of these Moranos were in northern Spain and were expelled by King Philip, 1609-1614, along with the Moriscos, many of whom were also in northern Spain.

Our Melungeon research has revealed that not all the citizens of early Spain were what we consider today to be of Spanish her-itage. Witness the fact that Spanish historian Eloy Gallegeos discovered the ‘Spaniard’ Capt. Juan [Joao] Pardo to be of Por-tuguese heritage. And, the people he brought to the Santa Elena Colony were also Portuguese from northern Spain. It is very likely that the displaced Sephardic Jews would also have a Por-tuguese and Moorish heritage along with their so called Spanish heritage.

Dr. Fernanda Rodrigues of Suffolk University and Dr. Brent Kennedy of Clinch Valley College of the University of Virginia have discovered that some soldiers and sailors in the Ottoman Empire were known to be Jews. And the mix of nationalities among this military force resulted in the admiral of the Ottoman Navy ordering the flag of Barbaroso flown on the Ottoman Empire ships to bear the Ottoman Cross Bar, the Christian Cross, the Star of David, and the Islamic Crescent.

Is it any wonder the story of the Melungeons is so complicated and intriguing? The confusing heritage of the Sephardic Jews, Moranos certainly could account for how some of them might be connected to some of the first Melungeons in the American colonies.

Another piece of intriguing information regarding the Sephardic Jews came my way recently from Drs. Rodrigues and Kennedy. They determined that the Hebrew word “Gaon” [pronounced Goin], translated as “Great Teacher,” was used by early Sephardic Jews as a title for outstanding rabbis. The term is still common in the Jewish culture. When the religious students had questions about or challenges to the doctrine, they would be sent to the “Gaon” for authoritative answers. Is this another possible source of the surname?

Dr. Kennedy’s revised edition of “The Melungeons: Resurrec-tion of a Proud People,” scheduled for September release in both the United States and Turkey, at about $16.95, will include the Turkish research update and be expanded to include the medical, genetic, linguistic and historical findings. It will also include corrections supplied by readers in response to his request. He has assigned his publication profits to the athletic department of Clinch Valley College. Orders will be received at 800/468-3412.


I wanted you to know that the Research Conference in Nashville was extremely valuable to me, and I am so glad that I was able to be in attendance. It’s amazing that your list of the participants placed my first cousin [whom I had not seen since he was age five and I was age four] and me right next to each other. My check is enclosed for a set of tapes of the Conference. It was priceless and should be preserved forever. Alice Louise Goin, 1416 N. 8th St, Boise, ID.

==Dear Cousins==

This is a sincere Congratulations! for a great, informative and wonderful Foundation Research Conference. It was a great pleasure for me to attend and meet all of my fellow Goins/Gowens. It was exciting to learn about all of the research teams and the collecting of family ethnographies being done “Gowen-wide.” It was also an honor for me to be voted as new member of the Editorial Board, and I welcome to opportunity to assist in the planning of our next Conference. I am very interested in purchasing a copy of the taped presentations of the entire Conference. Dr. Will Moreau Goins, 555 Brush St, #2805, Detroit, MI, 48226, 313/962-1248.

==Dear Cousins==

Nashville was certainly a good spot for the Melungeon part of our reunion in May. The feedback received since our team’s presentations has been very favorable. The Gowen founders of the Foundation, back in 1989, may have known only a little of the mystery of the Melungeons at that time, but it was fortunate for both the Melungeons and the Foundation that the first edi-tion of the Newsletter carried an article that piqued the curiosity of researchers nationwide. Bill Fields of Seymour, Tennessee, who attended the Conference, heads a group of researchers who are probing into the history of Melungeon-related groups in that area. They are investigating the historical events that affected them and reporting their findings in their newsletter. Evelyn McKinley Orr, 8310 Emmet St, Omaha, NE, 68134.

Gowen Research Foundation 806/795-8758 or 795-9694
5708 Gary Avenue
Lubbock, Texas, 79413 Electronic Library/BBS 806/795-2005

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