Select Bowen Surname Genealogy
This Welsh surname derives from the anglicized form of ap Owen, meaning “son of Owen.” Owen or Owain was a popular Welsh first name.

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Select Bowen Ancestry

Wales. The Welsh name Owen became two surnames, Owen and Bowen (from ap Owen), when English-type surnames began to take hold in the 16th century. If anything the use of Owen as a surname was more common in north Wales, Bowen in south Wales.

Pembrokeshire. The foremost Bowen family in Wales was that of Llwyngwair near Nevern in Pembrokeshire. Their Welsh lineage could be traced back to the 11th century. The first to adopt Bowen as a family name may well have been Evan Bowen, the builder of Pentre Evan in the late 14th century. Many of these Bowens served as High Sheriffs of Pembrokeshire, such as James Bowen in 1622, after whom the Bowen knot was named. Subsequent Bowens included:

  • George Bowen, a friend of the Methodist John Wesley who helped in his passage-ways to Ireland in the late 1700’s.
  • and a later George Bowen who was High Sheriff in 1914 and was knighted for his public services.

Another Bowen family in the county had associations with Upton castle near Cosheston owned by the Malefants. Alice Malefant had a son named Morris ap Owen which became Bowen and these Bowens then became the masters of Upton castle – until 1758 when Morris Bowen, the last male of their line died.

The Rev. James Bowen, rector of Rhoscrowther in the 1770’s, had two wives and seventeen children. One of his sons, Captain Thomas Bowen of Pantyderi, married an heiress and their Lewis-Bowen family has been farming at Clynfyw since that time.

. The 1881 census showed the largest number of Bowens in Glamorgan, followed by Carmarthen and then Pembrokeshire.

Ireland.  In 1549 a Welshman named John Thomas ap Owen, later John Thomas Bowen, was constable of Ballyadams in what is now Laios. He was a particularly cruel and brutal man, called “John of the Pike” by the Irish because he always carried a pike when he ventured out.

A branch of his family migrated to Mayo in the next century. Two lines then left Ireland in the 19th century:

  • to England, via the Rev. Christopher Bowen of Holymount, went Charles Bowen (later Baron Bowen), an English judge, and Edward Bowen, a well-known Harrow schoolmaster.
  • and to New Zealand, via Christopher Bowen of Milford, went Charles Christopher Bowen who arrived with his parents in 1850 on one of the first ships to Canterbury, South Island. He had a long and prominent political career in New Zealand.

Bowens had been in Cork since 1660 when Henry Bowen, originally from Wales and an army officer with Cromwell, settled there. They built their country house there, Bowen’s Court, in the 1770’s. The
writer Elizabeth Bowen was the last owner of this house.

The Irish surname O’Buadhachain, from the Gaelic name Buadhach meaning “victorious,” could get anglicized to Bohan or Bowen. As Irish names they cropped up mainly in Connacht.

England. Many of the Bowens in the English border counties had Welsh blood in them. That would include the Bowen line in
Herefordshire that began with the marriage of Thomas Bowen and Anne Bateman in Bromyard in 1749. The son of Evan Bowen
of Haverfordwest was Peregrine Bowen, a tobacconist in Bristol. His son Charles, born there in 1786, became a Rear Admiral in the Royal Navy.

But for some notable Bowen families the Welsh connection has been difficult to trace.

Starting in 1715, Emanuel Bowen and his son Thomas were master map-makers in London, working for royalty in both England and France. However, both died in poverty, Thomas in the workhouse.

Then there was the Bowen naval family from Ilfacombe in Devon. The father was a merchant trader from Bristol to West Africa and the West Indies. His four sons – James, George, Thomas, and Richard – all joined the Navy. The youngest, Richard, had perhaps the most illustrious career, seeing service with Horatio Nelson before being killed fighting alongside him at the Battle of Tenerife. James’s son John, also a naval officer, led the first settlement of Tasmania in 1803.

America. There were two early Bowens from Wales in America, Griffith and Richard Bowen. Griffith arrived in Boston in 1639 but returned to England in 1670. Richard from Kittle Hill in Glamorgan came a year later and settled in Reheboth, Massachusetts. E.C. Bowen’s 1884 book Memorial of the Bowen Family sought to connect these Bowens with the Bowens of Llwyngwair.

Their descendants spread:

  • Griffith’s descendants came to Woodstock, Connecticut in 1686. Bowens have remained there.
  • the line from Richard, beginning with Thomas Bowen, moved to Rhode Island where many including Thomas were physicians. The Isaac Bowen house in Coventry, Rhode Island still stands from those times. After the Revolutionary War, one line moved south to Bradford county, Pennsylvania, another line north to Vermont and then (following the Mormons) to Ohio and Utah.
  • another line from Richard led to the Rev. Samuel Bowen and to his two sons Elijah and Clifton. Elijah became a medical practitioner in Shiloh, New Jersey; while Clifton Bowen migrated south to North Carolina. His son Clifton fought in the Revolutionary War and was one of the early settlers in Georgia, moving there in the 1780’s.
  • and there was also a line in Albany, New York. William Bowen
    was a Loyalist who moved his family to Canada after the War. Later Bowens returned. From this line came the physicist and
    astronomer Ira Sprague Bowen.

Moses Bowen from Carmarthen in Wales, probably a Quaker, came to Gwynedd township in Chester, Pennsylvania in 1698. His line ran to Virginia in the 1730’s:

  • one branch settled at Maiden Spring Farm in Tazewell county, Virginia. Their numbers included Rees Bowen who was killed during the Revolutionary War, Colonel Henry Bowen, an officer in the War of 1812, and his son General Rees Bowen and grandson Captain Henry Bowen who both fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War.
  • while other branches migrated to South Carolina (Pendleton district) and to Tennessee. John and Margaret Bowen from Tennessee came to Bowen township in Madison county, Arkansas in the early 1800’s.

The state of Georgia today has the largest number of Bowens in America. One early arrival was Session Bowen, born in North Carolina in 1780, who married Elizabeth Biggs, came to Dooly county and raised eleven children there. Elisha and Penelope Bowen, also from North Carolina, came to Bulloch county in 1805 and made their home along Ten Mile Creek.

. Anthony Bowen, thought to have been from Glamorgan, was one of the early settlers in Barbados in 1628. The Bowen name began to appear regularly in St. Lucy parish records from the 1750’s. Israel Bowen started a bookshop in Bridgetown in 1834. From 1863 he published the Barbados Almanac and Diary, which continued after his death. Bowen connections between Barbados and South Carolina have recently been re-established. 

John Bowen from Ireland owned a sugar plantation in Jamaica in the early 1800’s and a home at Bowen’s Court in Kingston, as well as another in Philadelphia. He died in 1835, one year after the abolition of slavery on the island. His half-brother John inherited his name and his estate. He was one of the pioneer settlers in Texas.

Canada. According to family accounts, Israel Bowen was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1748. He and his wife Isabella came via America to Canada in 1796 and settled in Landsdowne, Ontario. Israel lived to be 100 years old. He died in Mooretown near Sarnia where his son had founded the Mooretown Carriage Works. The Bowen house in Landsdowne is still standing.

Select Bowen Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Select Bowen Names

Evan Bowen of Pentre Evan was the first of the Llwyn-gwair family in Pembrokeshire in the 16th century to adopt the Bowen surname.
Elizabeth Bowen
was a 20th century Anglo-Irish novelist and short story writer.
Edward Taffy Bowen
was the Welsh physicist who pioneered the use of radar during the Second World War.
Ira Sprague Bowen was one of the outstanding American physicists of the 20th century.

Select Bowens Today

  • 24,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glamorgan)
  • 27,000 in America (most numerous in Georgia)
  • 11,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)




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