COMING tO Natchez
Bowles was born enslaved on June 20, 1844, in Charleston, S.C. However, he acquired his freedom before the start of the Civil War. In 1863, he enlisted in the Union Army. Bowles was an educated black man who studied in such places as South Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee. While in Tennessee, he studied law on his own to become an attorney, and in 1868, at the age of 24, he was admitted to practice in Tennessee. Bowles worked in Tennessee as an attorney until 1871, the year he came to Natchez.
His move to Natchez was not uncommon for ambitious people who viewed the city as a place of growth and opportunity, according to Dr. David Slay, chief of interpretation at Natchez National Historical Park.
“Bowles was part of a generalized wave of educated African Americans moving to the south to help their brothers and sisters adapt to life in a democracy during Reconstruction,” Slay said in an interview. “There was a wave of freed black men who came to Natchez to help lead their communities forward into a new life of freedom and industry.”
Slay said men like Bowles understood the needs of “his newly enfranchised brothers and sisters,” and he saw the need, as well as the value, for them to enter government. He managed to use his talent and resources to help them with their political voice.
“Beginning around 1875, as white home rule settled itself upon the state, fewer and fewer blacks were elected to public office in Natchez or Adams County,” observed Dr. Ronald L.F. Davis in his book, “The Black Experience in Natchez” (Eastern National, 1994). Disappointed in the changes, Bowles “spoke of his people having been reduced, with the loss of their suffrage, to a position ‘more intolerable than the old-time slavery,” Davis wrote.
In 1875, Bowles was admitted to the bar of Mississippi, and in 1878, he was appointed colonel of a militia. One year later, he became chief of police. It was during this decade that he married Laura E. Davis, a member of a prominent black family. The couple had one child: a daughter named Mamie Bowles. She was born on Aug. 12, 1866, in Natchez. Sadly, she died of consumption (Tuberculosis) at the age of 19 on Dec. 4, 1885.