Select Bowles Surname Genealogy
There were many early variants of Bowles, Bolle, Bolles, Bowls,
Boals, Bowle, Boles, and finally Bowles. Some Bowles were once
Bould and Boulds, names which have remained as a separate regional form. Boles and Bowles both continued into the 19th century. But now Bowles is generally the standard spelling.
The recognized forebear of the Bowles line is Alleyne Bolle who resided in the 1200’s in Bolle Hall on the head of the Swine river in Lincolnshire. He is possibly of Norman descent and the name
originating from Bouelles in Normandy. Other suggestions are that the name is of Saxon origin, Boll meaning “steward,” or comes from a Viking named Bolla.

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England. The original line continued until Elizabethan times when Sir John Bolle was the dashing captain at the capture of Cadiz. Three branches said to have derived from these Bolles were those of Gosberton, Bromley/Chislehurst, and Osberton:

  • the Gosberton country seat was Scampton Hall in Lincolnshire. There is early evidence, in the 1450’s, of their presence in Kent. The draw of London and its trade opportunities appeared to be the reason.
  • a possibly related branch also settled in Kent in the late 1500’s. Proximity to political power in London enabled William Bowle and his successors to secure and hold onto
    the oddly named “Groom of the Tents and Pavilions,” in essence an exclusive license to supply the army with tents.
  • the third Bowles branch was started by William Bolles
    from Suffolk, one of the commissioners executing the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. Out of these profits, he acquired property at Osberton near Worksop in Nottinghamshire.

While some of these Bowles faded away in time, many remained to take advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves in London during the 17th and 18th centuries. Some stuck to trade. John Bowles started his glass factory in Southwark, London in 1677. Others Bowles sought adventures abroad. Enterprising Bowles headed for Virginia and Maryland and later to the Caribbean.

Ireland. However, the earliest emigration was to Ireland, following Cromwell as “adventurers for land in Ireland.” Thomas Bowles arrived in Cork in 1648. Bowles were later to be found elsewhere, particularly in Limerick. They generally remained staunch Protestants in a Catholic land. As sectarian strife mounted in the early 19th century, many departed for Canada.

America. The Bowles in America were first of the merchant/planter class, initially in Virginia and later, as opportunities there diminished, in the south. Other Bowles did arrive and settled elsewhere. Two notable later Bowles, both with Indian associations, were William Bowles and John “Chief” Bowles.

The Federal Census of 1920 showed that the old slave-owning states of Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri still had the largest number of Bowles in the United States.

Canada. Bowles from Ireland came to New Brunswick, Montreal, Quebec City, and various parts of Ontario by the 1820’s. Charles Bowles, who arrived from Tipperary in the late 1820’s, was the forebear of a formidable Bowles family, including Annie Bowles, the mother of a future Prime Minister of Canada, Lester Bowles Pearson.

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

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Alleyne Bolle of Bolle Hall in Lincolnshire is the reputed founder of the Bowles family.
Sir John Bolle was the daring adventurer for Queen Elizabeth
in the attack on Cadiz in 1595.
Thomas Bowles started his renowned printing and publishing
business in London in the 1690’s which was passed down over four generations.
John “Chief” Bowles’ father was Scotch/Irish, his mother Cherokee. He became a Cherokee Chief, but was massacred with his people by Texan troops in the Battle of the Neches in 1839.
Paul Bowles from New York achieved success as a musical composer and later, after he had moved to Tangier in 1950, as a writer and author of such novels as The Sheltering Sky. His wife Jane Bowles was also an accomplished writer.

Select Bowles Today

  • 8,000 in the UK (most numerous in Hampshire)
  • 7,500 in America (most numerous in Virginia)
  • 5,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)




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