Larger and more imposing than most of the houses nearby, the architectural style of the house is unadorned Georgian. Bowman furnished it with exquisite Chippendale-style furniture, Chinese export porcelain, and imported silver and glassware, creating a world of beauty and elegance far away from the rough reality and challenges of life on the Maine frontier. Receipts show that he continued buying for the house right up to his death.
In 1770, Jonathan Bowman married Mary Lowell Emerson, the widow of a ship captain. The family soon grew to include three sons and a daughter. By then, Bowman was Judge of the Courts and Probate, and a power behind most of what went on in the region. He had also grown his participation in shipping, including owning all or part of at least seven international trading ships.
Although it is difficult to imagine today, the Kennebec River was busy with shipping traffic through the early nineteenth century. Bowman ships carried vast amounts of lumber and salted fish down the Kennebec River to Baltimore and other southern ports, Liverpool, Leith, Glasgow, St. Kitts, and Eustatia. The ships brought back sugar, rum, whiskey, wine, coffee, chocolate, spices, linens, silk, cotton, sewing tools, knives, tobacco, tea, snuff, pipes, books, magazines, and manufactured goods.
Bowman had at least three Black servants, named Cicero, Boston, and Dinah. The documentation for Cicero and Boston suggests that they were both enslaved by Bowman. Cicero appears in accounts of expenses for medical treatment, shoes, and billing for his labor on a ship. He ran away from Bowman in 1775 to go to Cambridge, probably to join the Continental Army. Reuben Colburn, the man who sold Benedict Arnold shoddy bateaux for the ill-fated Quebec venture that same year, was hired to bring Cicero back. Boston appears in accounting of labor hours for ship work, and might be the same Boston who ran away from his owner in Connecticut in 1770 using false papers. Dinah appears in 1787 accounting from Bowman’s first cousin John Hancock for her board in Boston while the Bowmans’ daughter Mary was attending school there.
The Revolutionary War was a bitter civil war in Pownalborough, with roots in religious feuds as well as politics. Bowman and Cushing were descendants of seventeenth-century Puritan immigrants. Both were staunch Congregationalists who did not want the Anglican church in their community. Their former classmate Anglican Rev. Jacob Bailey was controlled by his patron, the wealthy Sylvester Gardiner.
Gardiner made enemies of Thomas and John Hancock when he used fraudulent legal methods to try to claim land they owned. His machinations ensured that Jonathan Bowman would become an even greater foe. Gardiner and Bailey were Tories. Bowman and (now Sheriff) Cushing, both Patriots, became leaders of the Committee of Safety. After Bailey refused to read the Declaration of Independence to his congregation, local fighting intensified. Gardiner and Bailey were forced to flee to Canada. Bowman and Cushing remained in positions of power, with their prewar wealth intact.
Sylvester Gardiner wrote the only known contemporary description of Jonathan Bowman, describing him as tall and striking in appearance, with strong features and silver hair. He particularly noted Bowman’s clothing, described as a full black suit with silk stockings and large glittering shoe buckles.
Mary Bowman died in 1785. In 1798, sixty-three-year-old Bowman married thirty-three-year-old Nancy Goodwin, of the neighboring Courthouse family. A condolence letter from Bowman to Nancy on the death of her brother Charles in 1790 shows a friendship well before their marriage. Jonathan Bowman died in 1804. Nancy outlived him by fifty-two years, and it is through her family descendants that Bowman furniture, objects, accounts, and correspondence were saved.