Bowater & the Bristol Comfort

I’ve shared the story of the Beals family on the blog before: Thomas Beals left Chester County, Pennsylvania in 1748 to establish a new Quaker meeting house in New Garden, North Carolina. He traveled far-and-wide throughout the Northwest Territory as a missionary–he was sentenced to death by hanging on more than one occasion–and opened the New Garden Meeting House as a hospital for the wounded after the Battles of New Garden and Guilford Courthouse. (He and his wife treated the American soldiers fighting under General Nathanael Greene, a cousin-of-sorts that he likely never knew he had.) Thomas Beals lived his life well, full of adventures–and misadventures–that have been passed down from generation-to-generation.

And now, I’m tracing back two more generations, to Thomas Bowater of Edgmont Township, Thomas Beals’ maternal grandfather and namesake. Thomas Bowater was born on May 10, 1655 in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, a market town between Birmingham and Worcester that was known for its cloth and nail manufacturing. Most sources identify Thomas as the son of John and Ann (Carter) Bowater in England, but I haven’t found any records that prove this connection; as far as I know, Thomas was the first Bowater to leave for America, and he serves as the patriarch of the Bowater line of my family tree.

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Artist’s rendering of the ship Bristol Comfort

Thomas was a Quaker, and he sought freedom from religious persecution in the colonies; in order to pay for his passage to Pennsylvania, he indentured himself to a Francis Fincher: “Tho. Bowater out of Worcestershire, servant to ffrancis ffincher out of Woster City, glover, for three years.” He set sail on the ship Bristol Comfort–arriving in Philadelphia on September 28, 1683–and joined the Friends Meeting in Philadelphia that year. After finishing his term of indenture to Fincher at the age of 21, Thomas moved to Edgmont Township in Chester County and married Sarah Edge on October 14, 1686.

The History of Chester County, Pennsylvania provides details about Sarah (Edge) Bowater’s family: “[John Edge] and his wife Jane and family emigrated from St. Andrew’s, Holborne, in the county of Middlesex, England, and settled in Nether Providence about the year 1685. He was an earnest member of the Society of Friends, and the Monthly Meeting was sometimes held at his house. He had been subjected to heavy fines and imprisonment in his native country for refusing to act contrary to his conscientious scruples, and on one occasion was subject to a public trial.” Like Thomas, a number of sources list John and Jane Edge as Sarah’s parents; however, I’ve found no proof of this connection, and Sarah remains the matriarch of the Edge line of my family tree.

sarah beals
These Chester Monthly Meeting Minutes mention Sarah (Bowater) Beals; I love the handwriting on these pages

Thomas and Sarah, my 9th great-grandparents, had two children–Sarah (b. 1688) and Thomas (b. 1690)–and decided to remain in Edgton Township. Sarah died on April 26, 1692 at the young age of 35, leaving Thomas to raise their two children–two and four years old at the time–on his own. He appears to have been a determined and stubborn man, though: he purchased 100 acres of land from a John Fox in Chester County in March 1695, and he married a widow, Frances Barnett, ten years after his wife’s death. Thomas likely died sometime in the 1720s; however, he lived long enough to be present at his daughter’s (my 8th great-grandmother’s) wedding to John Beals–the start of my Beals line in America.

And we’ve come full circle. Like his grandson after him, I’d wager that Thomas Bowater led a life well-lived. His courage to leave England and indenture himself in the colonies, as well as his determination to work toward acquiring land after the tragedy of his young wife’s death, is admirable, and he’s certainly another ancestor on the Beals line of my family tree that I now look up to. That same fight and determination was inherited by his grandson–I see it in his commitment to his work in the Northwest Territory and in his decision to re-open the New Garden Meeting House as a hospital for both British and American troops–and it was inherited by a number of his later descendants, as well. I do love when a family history story comes full circle; it’s pretty much the best.

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