Bowman Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Bowman Surname Meaning

Bowman and Archer are English occupational names describing the same activity.

Bowman has the older origins, from the Old English boga meaning “bow” and mann meaning “man,” and probably has more than one meaning.  This surname continued in the north of England and in Scotland.

Archer, derived from the Old French archier, was brought to England by the Normans.  Archer first appeared in the 12th century and was replacing Bowman in the south and the middle of the country by the 14th century.

Bowman in America often came from the German Baumann or Bauman, meaning “small farmer.

Bowman Surname Resources on The Internet

Bowman Surname Ancestry

  • from Northern Ebgland and Scotland (East Coast)
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, South Africa and Australia

England.   The Bowman name appeared from an early time on the English side of the border with Scotland, but not on the Scottish side.

Adam Bogheman was in the Westmorland rolls of 1223 and Thomas Bouman in the Northumberland rolls of 1279. Bowman was in fact the name of a border clan in Northumberland under the Percys; while Bowmans date from the 16th century in what was then Westmorland and is now part of Cumbria.

Cumbria.  Early records at Askham near Ullswater during Elizabethan times show intermarriages between the Penruddock and the Bowman families in Cumbria (there was also a marriage in Wiltshire in 1620 between Stephen Bowman and Mary Penruddock).

One Askham line began with William and Margaret Bowman who were married there around 1570.  Later on:

  • Jane Bowman founded the local school in Askham in 1779 John and Mary Bowman departed Askham for Australia with their sons in 1829.  Some Bowmans also emigrated to America.
  • Joe Bowman held the position of huntsman of the Ullswater Foxhounds from 1879 to 1924.  He was a famous huntsman of his time, as well as having his  own well-known hunting song. Joe died in 1940. 
  • but Thomas  Bowman was still living in Ullswater beyond that time.

Elsewhere.  The Bowman name extended southward to Durham (where there are the most Bowmans today), Yorkshire, and Staffordshire.

Bowmans at Stanhope in Durham, according to churchyard records, date from the early 1700’s.  Thomas Bowman, a farmer who resided at Shepherds House in Stanhope, died in 1800.  Snaith Bowman, a lead miner, died in 1842.

Many Bowmans in Durham were in fact miners.  One Bowman family came from the mining community of Hetton-le-Hole.  Jim Bowman, who was born in Carlisle in 1898, spent his life working in Durham coal mines and rose to be Chairman of the British National Coal Board in 1957.

Bowman first appeared in the Staffordshire records at Alstonefield in 1544 when Robert and Helen Bowman were married there.

Henry Bowman and his wife Alice of Alstonefield were jailed at Leek in 1663 for being Quakers.  “Alice Bowman was sent to prison till the sessions and then committed to the house of correction, having with her a sucking child which fell sick and died there.”  

Some of these Bowmans migrated to Cheshire where Eddowes Bowman was a tobacconist and grocer at Nantwich in the late 1700’s. The line from Eddowes’ son John Eddowes Bowman the elder led to four remarkable brothers:

  • Eddowes Bowman a polymath and religious dissenter
  • Henry Bowman an architect
  • Sir William Bowman a surgeon and medical researcher
  • and John Eddowes Bowman the younger a professor of chemistry.

Scotland.  Bowmans were to be found on the east coast of Scotland.  The name appeared in Aberdeen as early as 1330 and later extended down to Angus and Fife. 

Fife.  The Bowmans were the lairds of Logie, a rural parish in Fife, from the late 17th century onwards.  Walter Bowman, who flourished in the 1750’s, was an avid book collector.  On his death in 1782, he willed his extensive personal collection for the use of local gentlemen.

Archibald Bowman married Margaret Williamson in Dunfermline in 1755.  They had grandchildren who emigrated to America. John and David Bowman – who lost both their parents when they were boys – started out as coal miners in Fife and then emigrated in the early 1830’s, John to a farm in Montreal and David to the coal mines of Pennsylvania.

Two Bowman daughters – Jane and Helen – died in tragic pit accidents in Fife in 1834 and 1841.  David Bowman, born in 1833 and a coal miner at the age of eight, lived to be ninety-eight.   His son John emigrated to Western Australia in 1915.    

Glasgow.  There was a Bowman outpost in Glasgow.  John Bowman became a successful merchant in Glasgow in the late 1600’s. His son John was even more successful, living in some splendor on Virginia Street, and was Glasgow’s Provost in 1764.  This John’s son John emigrated to South Carolina in 1768.

Ireland.  Bowman was found in Ulster – primarily in county Down and Antrim – and usually had Scottish antecedents.

Some of the Bowmans in Down emigrated:

  • Robert Bowman brought his family to Albany in upstate New York in 1770 
  • while William Bowman crossed the Irish Sea to Scotland in the 1850’s and worked there as a farm servant.  He emigrated to New Zealand with his family sometime in the 1860’s.

Alexander Bowman was born at Dromora in county Down in 1854.  He became a pioneer of the trade union movement in Belfast in the early 1900’s.  

America.  Bowman arrivals in America could have come from England, Scotland, or Ireland, or also from Germany, Switzerland or possibly Holland. 

New England.  Nathaniel Bowman from Staffordshire arrived with Winthrop’s fleet in 1630 and in 1649 made his home in Lexington, Massachusetts.  Many of his descendants stayed there.  In April 1775, at the onset of Revolutionary War, Thaddeus Bowman was the first scout to bring the news to Lexington that the British were coming.

Thaddeus had six sons, all of whom fought in the Revolutionary War, Captain Samuel afterwards moving to Pennsylvania.  But many Bowmans remained in Lexington, the last of them passing away there in 1933.

Virginia.  The earliest arrival here was Robert Bowman, first recorded in Henrico county in 1667.  “It was a family tradition that the earliest ancestor was a ship carpenter who came with the first colonists to Jamestown from London, but this has neither been authenticated or disproved.”  

Robert’s origins are unknown.  His descendants settled in Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and elsewhere.  Their line was covered in Iva Bowman Manley’s 1984 book Origins of the Bowmans of Carroll County, Virginia.

Pennsylvania.  Bowmans here have been Germanic in origin.  Their Bauman name would become Bowman either at the entry port or later.  Among the early Baumans/Bowmans who entered via Philadelphia were the five shown below.

Wendel Bauman from Switzerland left Rotterdam for Philadelphia in 1709 and made his home at Puquea Creek in what became Lancaster county:

  • from his son Jacob came three brothers – Jacob, John and Christian – who settled in Berks county.   
  • from his son Christian came the Mennonite ministers Joseph and his son Jonathan.  Jonathan Bowman left Pennsylvania for Canada in 1816 to preach to the Mennonite community in Waterloo county.

Hans Dieter Bauman arrived in Philadelphia from the German Palatinate with other of his Bauman relatives in 1727.  He settled in Marlboro township in Philadelphia county where he erected a mill on Perkiomen Creek.  He later moved to what was then frontier territory in Northampton county where he built a log cabin.  His Bowman sons Bernhard and Heinrich both fought in the Revolutionary War.

George Bauman arrived from the German Palatinate in 1727.  He was one of the first in the early 1730’s to settle in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, he and his wife Mary Hite making their home on the banks of Cedar Creek:

  • their four sons – John, Joseph, Isaac and Abraham – were all excellent horsemen and became known as “the four Cedar Creek.”   They were among the early pioneers of Kentucky and were prominent officers in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.  
  • the family story was recounted in John Wayland’s 1943 book The Bowmans: A Pioneering Family.

Jacob Bauman came in 1737.  He settled first in Lebanon, Pennsylvania before moving onto Maryland and Virginia.  His son John Bowman returned to Pennsylvania in the 1790’s with his family and then, around 1804, was one of the first settlers in Montgomery county, Ohio.  His farm near Dayton was later taken on by his son Benjamin.

Simon Bowman meanwhile came around 1750 and married and settled down in Hagerstown, Maryland (where he built its first stone house).  His son Jacob moved to Brownsville in western Pennsylvania in 1788.  He was the founder of the Old Monongahela Bank of Brownsville in 1814 and was its president until 1843.

Kentucky.  The Bowman brothers from Cedar Creek in Virginia arrived in Kentucky in the mid-1770’s and played a major part in its early settlement:

  • Colonel John Bowman was a military commander there and in 1781 presided as a justice of the peace in its first county court.  
  • his younger brother Abraham settled in what became Fayette county.  Abraham’s grandson John Bryan Bowman was instrumental in founding Kentucky University in 1858. 

Cornelius Bowman, also from Virginia, came to Kentucky with his family and the Moore family in 1795.  They settled at South Fork in Madison county.

Rumor has it that Cornelius was Black Dutch (i.e. mixed-race Dutch).  One source has him descended from the Dutchman Joris Jacobszen Bouwman who had come to New Netherlands in 1652.  His line then went from New York to New Jersey and onto Virginia which was where Cornelius, also known as Neal, was born in 1740.

Elsewhere.  Jesse Bowman was born in Tennessee in 1785.  He moved from there to Illinois and then to Arkansas and in the 1830’s to Texas.   He perished at the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. His son Joseph who was with Sam Houston’s army at the time survived.  He and his family settled in the Houston area.

South Africa.  Thomas Bowman from Dundee in Scotland came as an assisted immigrant to South Africa in 1859, settling in Simon’s Town.  He was a stone mason and worked on the construction of the Roman Rock lighthouse off Simon’s Town.  He later ran his own construction company and built the Woodhead tunnel through Table Mountain in 1891.

His son John was a baker by trade.  “According to an old family story, John met the red-haired Isabella Gibson on a bus in Cape Town.  Apparently he was sitting behind her on the bus and undid her hair ribbon.”  

They never married although Isabella had three children by him.  When John died in 1923 he left his entire estate to his estranged wife.

Australia.  There were three notable early Bowman pastoral families in Australia.

John Bowman from Fife was the forefather of the first.  Because of his skill in corn mill construction he and his family were given a free passage to Sydney on the Barwell in 1798.  He was later granted land at Richmond and he and his son George were pioneers of the Hawkesbury region of NSW.  George and his wife Eliza raised seven sons, including:

  • George who expanded on his father’s land holdings and became the largest pastoralist in the Hunter Valley, breeding both sheep and cattle.
  • Robert who became a medical practitioner in Sydney
  • and Alexander who was a politician elected to the Legislative Assembly of Hawkesbury.

Another John Bowman, this one from Cumbria, was the forebear of Bowman pastoralists in South Australia.  He had first arrived with his family in Tasmania.  Ten years later the family, following the lead of the oldest son Edmund, moved to South Australia:

  • Edmund’s three brothers worked for around twenty years on the Crystal Brook run
  • while it was Edmund’s son Edmund who built the magnificent Georgian-style mansion Martindale Hall in 1880.  Sadly in 1890, after several years of droughts and low wool prices, Edmund had to put the house up for sale.

The third of the pastoralists was William Bowman from Glasgow who came to South Australia in 1839.  He was a pioneer farmer, grazier, flour miller and merchant on the Finniss river near Middleton.

Bowman Surname Miscellany

Bowman Meanings.  Mark Antony Lower in his 1860 book Patronymica Britannica said that Bowman was “a common name on the English border under the Percys and derived from their weapon, the long bow.”However, another source has it that this name referred to a person who untangled wool with a bow, a process started in Italy and present in England during the 1200’s, and hence was not related to the weapon or to fighting.

In Scotland the name may have meant a man in charge of the bow or cattle.  A bowman would thus be a person who farms for a season the tenant’s milk-cows and the pasture to maintain them.

Early Bowmans on Scotland’s East Coast.  George Fraser Black in his 1946 work The Surnames of Scotland wrote that Gregory Bovman rendered to the Exchequer the accounts of the sheriff of Aberdeen in 1328 and that there were later Bowmans in Aberdeen during the 1400’s and 1500’s.

He also had the following curious comment about the Bowman name further south in Angus:

“In 1723 several persons of this name residing in Glenmuick and Glenesk approached the Earl of Strathmore, setting forth that their forbears were truly and really of the surname of Lyon and had come out of the shire of Angus on account of some troubles and assumed the name of Bowman, but being by blood Lyons they now desired to resume their true surname.” 

Reader Feedback – Robert Bowman in Virginia.  The earliest record of Robert Bowman Sr in Virginia is an entry by his son Robert Jr acknowledging he was gifted 100 acres of land by his father in 1661.

There may be a connection to the Leonard Bowman, an Oxford draper born about 1598, son of Edward Bowman who died about 1613, and younger brother of a Robert Bowman who was christened in 1588. Leonard was Mayor of Oxford in 1643 when it was the de facto capital of the Royalist faction during the Civil War. There was a Robert Bowman who matriculated at Oxford in 1643 and who was excluded from the college after it fell to Parliamentary forces in 1646, only to be reinstated and granted a Master’s in 1660 after the restoration.

Robert Jr sailed with his wife Sarah from Virginia to England in 1678. It is unclear he ever returned to Virginia.

No DNA match has been found to any line in the UK or Canada or Australia but I am 8th generation male descendant of Robert Sr. and my DNA on FTDNA is haplotype G-M201. Any help in finding a match to a Bowman line in Europe would be appreciated.

James L. Bowman (

Reader Feedback – Edmund Bowman who came to Maryland.  I am a descendant of Edmund Bowman (1700-1769) who was born in St. Giles Cripplegate, a district of London. His father, Richard Bowman, born in 1669, was from at least three generations of Bowmans in Merstham in Surrey.

Edmund who, at almost 20, was sent to Maryland to serve four years indenture to James Gerald, a wealthy wine merchant. He later settled in Somerset county, New Jersey where he married and began his family. Our line of Bowmans has been in America for over 300 years, beginning with Edmund.

Rod Bowman (

Reader Feedback – John Bowman in North Carolina During the Revolutionary War.   John Bowman, a Scots emigrant to Pennsylvania, migrated south to North Carolina about 1770. He had a daughter named Mary who was about three years old when he served as the Patriot sheriff of Burke County and a captain of militia. He attacked the Tory gathering at Ramsour’s mill on June 20, 1780, but was fatally wounded during the fighting.

John Bowman made a conditional provision in his will for any of his seven brothers in Scotland who might care to come to America.  At the time of his death, there was an eye-witness account of his three-year-old Mary walking around smoking a hand-rolled cigar.  Mary grew up to marry a Tate and left descendants in the Burke area.

James L. Bowman (

Early Baumans/Bowmans in Pennsylvania.  Augusta Thomas wrote in her 1934 book A History of Dieterick Bauman and His Descendants:

“Wendel Bauman landed in Philadelphia in 1709 and settled in Lancaster county.  He was the first of this family to come to America.  Wilhelm Bauman came in 1710, settling in Germantown.  Michael Bauman came in 1721 and went to Lancaster county.

Six years passed and on October 2, 1727, the ship Adventurer arrived in Philadelphia with three Baumans on board – Daniel, Jacob, and Hans Dieterick. Whether these were brothers or father and sons we have not been able to ascertain.  Possibly some of them brought their families. The same month, on October 16, Albrecht Bauman landed in Philadelphia.  Probably they were cousins and all wished to be together in the New World.

According to the records in Rupp’s Thirty Thousand Names of German and Swiss Immigrants, there were between the years of 1709 and 1773, forty-seven Baumans who landed in Philadelphia and settled in Pennsylvania.”

Colonel John Bowman, Kentucky Pioneer.  John Bowman who died in 1784 was described by one who knew him as someone large, athletic, with a remarkable voice and endowed with a natural and enduring  sense of humor.

He went on to say:

“Colonel Bowman was a man of great voice.  He could be heard a mile away.  He went in through the wilderness alone, came upon a camp of Indians, made a great noise and routed the whole camp.  He weighed 300 pounds stripped.  He ran eighty miles from Limestone to Harrodsburgh pursued by Indians.  He turned around and tantalized them whenever they came near.

He built the first mill in the state I think.  He was sick when he built his last mill and would drink a gallon of water a night.  He died not long after.

He was the swiftest man of his size I ever saw.  He was a jolly man, a mighty funny man.”

David Bowman, Fife Miner.  David Bowman, born in Dunfermline in 1833, came from a mining family.  His father had been a miner working at the face at the period when the collier was almost a serf and when the conditions were so bad that few miners lived to fifty years.  Many were done men at the age of forty.  However, there was long life in his family.  His grandfather and grandmother lived to be 103 and 97 years respectively.

David was introduced to the pit at the age of eight.  His brother was an under-manager and had found an opening for the lad.  He emigrated to Australia when only 21 years of age and spent twenty-five years there as a gold miner. When he returned to Fife he became a mine manager and during the years before he retired he had under his control three Fife collieries.

He was fit and hardy in his retirement. In 1922 at the age of ninety, he took a spin in an aeroplane, a daring feat at that time. He died in 1931 at the claimed age of 100 (although he was probably only 98 at the time). 

The Early Life of Alexander Bowman, Belfast’s Labor Leader.  Alexander Bowman was born as Patrick McKeown at Dromara in county Down in 1854.  But even his own family – he had a wife, two sons and two daughters – never knew him by that name and only learned of his story after his death in 1922.

His mother Elizabeth Rogers, a Presbyterian, had married John Bowman in 1844 and was widowed nine years later with three children.  She soon married her neighbor William McKeown, a Catholic, with whom she had a further four children.  McKeown was a farmer and weave, but he died in 1865 from TB.

Faced with the threat of the Lisburn workhouse as she had no way of paying the rent, Elizabeth decided to move to Belfast where some of the Bowman family now lived.  Her oldest son by the first marriage was William Bowman and now aged 20, he became the householder.  On the advice of a Presbyterian minister in Belfast’s Argyle Place, the name Bowman was adopted by all and Patrick became known as Alexander Bowman.

In later life Alexander became a pioneer of the trade union movement in Belfast.

Edmund Bowman of Martindale Hall.  A tale of tragic, unrequited love led to the building in South Australia of Martindale Hall, a replica of the Dalemain country house in Ullswater in the English Lake District.

It was created by Edmund Bowman who in 1875 had arrived at Cambridge from Adelaide.  As a member of the emerging upper classes of Australia and having recently inherited a large amount of land and extensive fortune, he was one of the young men sent to spend a year or two in Britain to finish their education and refine themselves.

Edmund’s grandfather had been a steward on the Dalemain estate and Edmund’s father had grown up just over the hill in Askham before emigrating to Australia in 1832.  Beginning with very little money, Edmund’s father quickly increased his fortune through the wool trade, gradually enlarging his sheep flocks.

Edmund made his first journey north from Cambridge towards the end of the autumn term.  His journey had been long and he was coldly received by the butler at Dalemain, whose silent opinion of those who would emigrate to Australia was low.

Major Hasell, the master of the local foxhounds, had been out hunting all day.  But his daughter, Frances, known to her friends as Fanny, received him and Bowman was smitten.  Spellbound by her charms, he continued to visit Dalemain for the rest of his time at Cambridge, encouraged by Fanny, and rarely returning to Australia. As he left Cambridge, he made the pilgrimage north once more, with the sole desire of bringing her away with him as his wife.

It was not to be.  Her fear of the unknown paralysed her.  Australia was too far away and she was more in love with the house she had grown up in than with him.  Fanny told Edmund that she would never leave Dalemain.

He vowed to build her a house of such magnificence and splendor that she would happily leave Cumberland one day to live with him when it was finished.  On his return to Adelaide he immediately began plans for the house. At a time when most Australian houses cost £500, the Georgian-style mansion came in at a staggering £36,000.  The house was to be called Martindale after both the valley in Cumbria and the Bowmans’ land in Australia.  Absolutely no cost was to be spared if Edmund was to entice from Cumbria the woman on whom he had set his heart.

In 1878 Edmund travelled to Dalemain with his building plans.  His arrival was met by the shattering news that Fanny was engaged. He begged her to leave again with him, but she refused.  Distraught he retreated, angrily stating that it would be one of the greatest regrets of her life.

Four years later the house acquired a mistress, with Edmund’s broken heart mended by a Miss Annie Cowle, another first-generation immigrant.

However, in 1890 the unthinkable arrived.  The catastrophic event which caused the Bowmans to lose Martindale and most of their other assets was a severe drought.  This made some wells in the middle of their very extended range fail and resulted in them having to slaughter their livestock in order to avoid them dying of thirst. Since they were too far from any settlement to transport to a butcher, the carcasses were totally valueless.

As a result, Edmund’s magnificent property of 9,000 acres had to be signed over to W. T. Mortlock for £33,000, an astonishingly paltry sum at that time.  The whole saga was told in Elizabeth Warburton’s 1979 book The Bowmans of Martindale Hall.

Joe Bowman the Huntsman.  Joe Bowman was working at the Greenside mine when he was made huntsman of the Ullswater foxhounds in the Lake District in 1879.  He held this position, with a few short interruptions, until 1924.  Joe and his family lived at that time at Grassthwaite.  Three of Joe Bowman’s sons – Dawson, John and James – appeared on the Glenridding village hall Roll of Honor, having served in World War One.

Joe was one of the most famous huntsmen of all time and was the subject of a famous hunting song.  This song began:

  • “Down at Howtown we met with Joe Bowman at dawn,
  • The grey hills echoed back the glad sound of his horn,
  • And the charm of its note sent the mist far away
  • And the fox to his lair at the dawn of the day.”

And the chorus ran:

  • “When the fire’s on the hearth and good cheer abounds 
  • We’ll drink to Joe Bowman and his Ullswater hounds, 
  • For we’ll never forget how he woke us at dawn 
  • With the crack of his whip and the sound of his horn.”

Joe was also an early Border terrier breeder. And he was also the first person to cross up a blue-black Border terrier with a black and tan Fell terrier to create what he called a Patterdale terrier.

Bowman Names

  • George Bauman/Bowman was the immigrant father of “the four centaurs of Cedar Creek,” four brothers who were among the early pioneers of Kentucky in the 1780’s. 
  • Joe Bowman held the position of huntsman of the Ullswater Foxhounds from 1879 to 1924.  He was a famous huntsman of his time, as well as having his own well-known hunting song. 
  • Alexander Bowman was a pioneer of the trade union movement in Belfast in the early 1900’s. 
  • John McEntee Bowman, born to Scots Irish immigrant parents in Toronto, moved to New York in the 1890’s and developed the Biltmore hotel into one of the most recognized hotel chains in the world. 
  • Scotty Bowman was one of the most successful coaches of the National Hockey League, winning his ninth Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 2002.

Bowman Numbers Today

  • 15,000 in the UK (most numerous in Durham)
  • 39,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 12,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Bowman and Like Surnames   

The various medieval trades and occupations were a source of surnames as John the baker would over time would become known as John Baker.  Some skilled craftsmen – such as chandlers, fletchers and turners – were able to form guilds, protective organizations, and style themselves Worshipful Companies.  These are some of the occupational surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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