Recently I attended a workshop given by archivist Don Cornelius on the holdings of the Hunterdon County Historical Society. They are extensive, far more than I realized. Among them are the original daybooks of Dr. John Bowne of old Amwell Township, filled with the names of his patients and their treatment. These Daybooks are so important to genealogists that someone at the Historical Society has gone to the considerable effort of indexing the names into a card catalog, and—primitive as it may seem to be today—it’s a very useful genealogical tool for the time period of 1791 through 1857.

Egbert T. Bush got a chance to examine the daybooks back in 1930, and wrote about what he found. He lists so many of those patients in this article, that I must refrain from my usual habit of providing background genealogical information. (Their names have been underlined to make it easier to find them.) I have made an exception for Dr. Bowne’s family, which I am saving for the end.

Mr. Bush points out that Dr. Bowne traveled far and wide, so it’s helpful to see a map of his territory. It consists of almost all of south Hunterdon, as shown in this 1905 map of southern Hunterdon County. He also treated patients in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Detail of 1905 map of Hunterdon County
Detail of 1905 map of Hunterdon County

If you click on the map to enlarge it, you can see the hamlet of “Bowne” halfway between Lambertville and Sergeantsville. As Mr. Bush describes in another of his articles, “Let’s Stop Off At Bowne Station,” John Bowne bought a large farm from the Moore family in 1795 that was located on the east side of Bowne Station Road in today’s East Amwell Township. This farm was near that the of Corle family, into which he married, as well as the Deremers and the Barbers. From there for over sixty years he traveled in all directions, usually on horseback, to treat his patients.

The Records Of An Early Physician
Daybook of Dr. Bowne Reveals Joys,
Sorrows and Successes
Served a Large Area Well

by Egbert T. Bush, Stockton, N.J.
published in the Hunterdon County Democrat,
November 13, 1930

Dr. Bowne practiced from 1797 to 1857 at what later became Bowne Station. At his death he left a number of account books to tell of his wide professional services and other activities. Most of them have been lost to us. Fortunately, Mr. Cyrus Van Dolah has rescued a few of them from the usual fate of such old things—the “clean-up” fires of later generations. From these we are now able to get a better insight into the life and labors of the doctor and his patients in those far-off days. Many pleasant hours have been spent in perusing these old books and pondering over the joys and the sorrows, the successes and the failures that helped to make up the lives of the people therein mentioned.

Before me lies a Daybook headed, “Amwell, May 16, 1818.” The first charge is “WestBrewer to visit and bleeding wife 50 cents.” West—generally known as “Pap” Brewer—lived below Sand Brook on what was later the William Aller, and still later the CharlesStevens farm. He was the father of Lorenzo Brewer, late of Kingwood, and grandfather of Abijah Brewer who became a leading official in the Western Union Telegraph Company. One of West’s daughters married Thomas Besson, still living near Sand Brook.

May 20 [1818] we have: “Charles Heath (S. Samuel) to reducing fractured leg.1 Tibia & Fibula, $4.” Dr. Bowne had a habit of putting into parenthesis either the occupation or the descent of a person whose identity might otherwise be uncertain. A good habit it was, too. Even yet we find his parenthesis enlightening. So long will good work live after the doer thereof has gone to rest.2

An Extra Charge

June 17th we find: “George Rhea, Esq. to visit self $1.25.” This is followed by a number of like charges for a similar service. This set us to wondering whether it was the “Esq.” or a greater distance that accounted for the unusual charge. Investigation shows that “George Rhea, Esq.” lived between Larison’s Corner and Reaville—then “Greenville.” He was the father of Runkle Rea and George A. Rea, both well known in Flemington a half century ago. In earlier days the Reas kept the store at Greenville. When the post office was established there, the place became Reaville. So the doctor’s charge is explained without considering the “Esq.” In fact, we find no evidence that distinction was ever made on any such grounds. All were charged alike; where he felt that help was needed, he recorded the service as usual and added “Gratis.”

June 17th we find: “George Rhea, Esq. to visit self $1.25.” This is followed by a number of like charges for a similar service. This set us to wondering whether it was the “Esq.” or a greater distance that accounted for the unusual charge. Investigation shows that “George Rhea, Esq.” lived between Larison’s Corner and Reaville—then “Greenville.” He was the father of Runkle Rea and George A. Rea, both well known in Flemington a half century ago. In earlier days the Reas kept the store at Greenville. When the post office was established there, the place became Reaville. So the doctor’s charge is explained without considering the “Esq.” In fact, we find no evidence that distinction was ever made on any such grounds. All were charged alike; where he felt that help was needed, he recorded the service as usual and added “Gratis.”

July 20, “Israel Poulson to bleeding wife 25 cents.” This was the “Old Israel” of earlier Dunkard days. Aug. 23, “Samuel Boy” is charged 40 cents for some mysterious drug hidden under scrawled Latin abbreviations through which the layman’s uncultured eye is forbidden to penetrate. We find Samuel Boy later charged with “visit to son $1.” But who Boy was or where he lived, inquiry fails to reveal.

Aug. 16, “Forman Romaine to visit son 50 cents.” This was Furman Romine—names often spelled as above—who lived on the Romine homestead on the Brookville Hollow road. This farm has been kept in the family ever since and is now owned by Furmin’s [sic] great grandson, Horace R. Romine.

Oct. 31, Robert Robins has this credit: “By making Coat for Joseph G. Bowne.” No amount is given, the coat evidently arriving ahead of the bill. That boy of the new coat was our State Senator in 1868-70.

Danien the Negro

Jan. 29, 1819, “Danien (Negro) to cash paid Evan Derumple for mending shoes and leather 75 cents.” Later the same Negro is charged 75 cents for a “second hand castor hat,” and with time for one day’s absence. Daniel (Williams), a former slave, was working for the doctor at low wages, sticking close to his old friend and master.

April 27, “Robert Robins to 8 3/4 lb flax @ 15, $1.24.” Robert—generally known as “Bobby” Robbins—besides being able to make a coat and perhaps to spin his own thread from the purchase of flax, was noted as a singer, leading church choirs and teaching many of the good old-time country “singing schools.”

July 3, “Jonas Taylor Cr. By 4 days mowing $3.” From this we see that the “Knight of the Scythe” was not pampered by high wages for his services. Seventy-five cents for such a day’s work does not seem extravagant even for that time. And the days were—oh so long! The mower did not come swaggering in at 8 o’clock and “knock off” at five, taking an hour out for dinner. He worked “from sun to sun,” which meant that he must be on the job by sunrise, might have time out for dinner, and must mow till sunset.

“Who is it would mourn for the days that are gone?”

Feb. 2, 1820, “Peter Prall (S. John) to visit daugh. 50 cents.” John Prall, father of Peter, lived at the foot of the Mt. Airy hill on the road to Flemington, in what has long been the Presbyterian parsonage. Feb. 16, “Othniel Lake to visit self 75 cents.” Othniel was the father of Jacob Lake, late of the Locktown vicinity, and grandfather of Sheriff W. Howard Lake. One of Othniel’s daughters was the mother of the late “Othie” Fauss of Sand Brook.

Shad Was Cheap

Apr. 16, “Caleb Runk Cr. By 70 shad @ 12½ cents, $8.75.” Think of buying 70 Delaware shad, no doubt the average run of the big shad of those days, for $8.75! Those shad were not sold to a dealer for re-sale, but to a big farmer, presumably to be cleaned and “laid down,” according to the custom of the time. Shad were so plenty and so cheap then, and for a long time after, that it was the common thing for farmers to buy them in quantities for salting down. If it were possible to buy 70 such shad in bulk now, they would probably cost over $100.

Nov. 4, “Jacob Pence Cr. By 9¾ days work $3.62 ½.” This daily wage of 37 ½ cents looks small for the support of Jacob and his wife, to say nothing of any children. But many families were then supported on little better wages. The low cost of fish, as noted above, may help to explain how it could be done.

July 29, 1821, “Moses Everitt (S. Ezekiel) to visit self and consultation with Dr. Porter $5.” Sept. 26, “Rev. J. Kirkpatrick to 1 bushel wheat $1.” This Rev. Kirkpatrick is mentioned in so many church histories that he needs no further designation.3 Sept. 30, “Robert Sharp to visit self 50 cents.” Robert lived and died on the Sharp homestead in Brookville Hollow.

Whiskey at 50 Cents Per Gallon

Nov. 3, “Capt. Tunis Case Cr. By 30 gall. whiskey $15.” Thirty gallons of condensed riches, power and bliss, for only fifteen dollars! If Capt. Case had kept his 30 gallons of “apple jack” till now, he might have sold it for thirty times as much, in spite of the Eighteenth Amendment and other slight impediments. But Capt. Case, who lies buried at Sandy Ridge, did not live long enough even to dream of prohibition or of the great profit to be made by selling the thing prohibited. And if by will he had “enjoined” that the liquor be kept till this time, who knows how his unoffending spirit might have been harrowed over present raids and padlockings and investigations?

Besides that, if Capt. Case had put his $15 out at 5 per cent compound interest, “enjoining” that it should be left to accumulate till 1930, his beneficiaries might now draw forty instead of thirty times the original amount. It seems clear, therefore, that an attempt to hold the liquid wealth would not have been the best way to provide for distant posterity. It is evident that for future benefits, an investment at compound interest always beats an investment in hard liquor, nor reckoning in the latter the danger of loss by seepage or of greater loss by “sippage.”

A Hide for $3.50

Nov. 10, 1821, “Isaac Horn to visit and bleeding wife 50 cents.” This involved a trip to the vicinity of the Harmony School, and appears to have been cheap at the 25 cents charged for the visit. Dec. 6, “John Barber to hide, 60 lb. $3.50.” This was the old “Spring Valley” tanner, evidently laying in a cow hide for use in his tannery near what is now Dilts’ Corner. He was paying for it about all that a farmer can get now for such a hide; but our farmer has one consolation: he can pay four times as much for the family shoes, and get shoes one-fourth as good. Which no doubt illustrates one of the “cheapening effects of machinery.”

Jan. 29, 1823, “John Cavanaugh, Esq., Cr. By 10 bush. Cake Meal $5.” Cavanaugh had retired from the office of Sheriff in 1821. He seems to have gone into business, either as a merchant or by managing an oil mill. The big flat cakes left after pressing the oil out of crushed flax seed were dried and ground into meal. Farmers would now be glad to pay much more for that genuine old article of high-class feed.

March 31, “Teresa Price Cr. By 23 weeks & 1 days work $11.85.” Teresa appears to have been working for 50 cents a week, as many did in still later times, and to have been allowed the munificent sum of 35 cents for some special day’s work. Ridiculous extravagance, Dr. Bowne.

June 28, “Elisha Warford to visit James Carle [Carrell] 40 cents.” This is followed by several similar charges. Warford was then probably living on a farm northeast of Locktown. A little later he removed to Croton, where he died some 60 years ago. His wife was a Carrell, and it is said that the boy James Carle (Carrell) lived with them and afterward became owner of the William O. Merrill farm near Sergeantsville.

Aug. 4, “Capt. John Bake to visit self 50 cents.” Who was Capt. John Bake? Though the name occurs elsewhere, no trace of him has been found. Sept. 20, “David Johnes to visit William 25 cents.” This was the Capt. David Johnes of Revolutionary service, whose name still clings to the big farm south of Headquarters, a century after his death. His son William was sick for a long time. Charges run along daily at the same rate; then become “to visit & dress William 50 cents.” Nov. 27, the charge is “to 2 visits and 2 dress William 75 cents.” Daily charges continue until Feb. 14, 1824, after which no such charge is found. William had probably gone beyond the reach of faithful Dr. Bowne.

Vaccinated Over 200

Special charges for vaccination begin Dec. 31, 1823. The doctor made a small pocket folder for this purpose and headed it, “Persons Vaccinated.” In this the first charge is: “Forman Romaine—child @ $1.” On that day he vaccinated eight children and thereby earned $8. The new year begins thus: “Jan. 1, David Johnes —grand son—$1.” Jan. 17 we find “John Case (gunsmith)—Daugh. Gratis $1.” Jan. 23, Thos. Hartpence eight children two gratis $8.” This is the highest number of children found to have been vaccinated in the same family on any one day. We can easily imagine that the mother of that family had an interesting time when so many arms became sore all at once.

On this same day, Jan. 23, he reached the 200th vaccination of this record, and celebrated the event by nicely boxing the important information, “200 Vaccinated.” Then he went right along with his charges. The last charge in this folder is: “William Johnson (S. Martin)—child—$1.” Martin Johnson owned and occupied the farm below Raven Rock, later owned by Charles Sidney Johnson, his son “Sid,” and after him by his widow, Sarah R. Johnson. After her death, it was sold to their daughter Ella R. Emmons.

A Strenuous Life

These are only faint glimpses of Dr. Bowne and a few of his contemporaries, but, though brief and rambling, they seem worth while. One can almost see the old-time doctor rushing on horseback through the wooded country here and there, visiting a patient in Ringoes, another in Prallsville, one in Brookville and another at Headquarters in and out at bridle paths and byways, until horse and rider are both exhausted, then back to the old farm hoping for rest beside the big fire and a chance to make the record of his long day’s work.

Little did he think that somebody, of whose existence he could not even dream, would be laboriously perusing his records a hundred years later; or that others of the misty future would be interested in what he was then writing of his services to the community. It is easy to see him at times laying aside his pen, and becoming lost in deep thought over some serious case among his patients; for the old-time doctors did plenty of such thinking, just as their honorable successors are doing to-day. Such old records are useful. They help to make the past live into the present and to make the present appear—as it really is—largely a product of the past.

Dr. John Bowne

Dr. Bowne was born in Monmouth County, N.J. on September 2, 1767, the third of nine children of Joseph and Hannah Anderson Bowne. His ancestors go back several generations to William Bowne, and are documented in a very heavy family genealogy titled William Bowne of Yorkshire, England and his Descendants (which can be found on Google Books). The family farm became the location of the Battle of Monmouth during the Revolution, which was fought when Bowne was 11 years old. A history of Dr. Bowne’s life was written by his fellow physician, Dr. John Blane, in 1863 and published in the Hunterdon Gazette. This is quite wonderful, since Dr. Blane knew Dr. Bowne personally.4

Bowne studied medicine under Dr. William Shippen of Philadelphia, and was qualified to practice in New Jersey in 1791. His first practice was at Prallsville (now Stockton). In 1794 he married Ann “Nancy” Corle (1770-1856), daughter of Samuel Corle and Catherine Deremer. The Corle family came to Amwell Township in 1771 and acquired a farm across the road from what became the Bowne farm. The Deremers settled in Amwell in the 1750s and lived near the Corles.

John and Nancy Bowne had two children. The first, Cornelia, died in 1802 at the age of 7. It must have been a crushing blow to the young doctor. Their second child, Joseph Gardner Bowne, was born on March 28, 1804, and became a State Senator in 1868. Dr. Bowne was a committed Presbyterian, and became an Elder in his church at Mt. Airy. He was also an active member of the Hunterdon County Medical Society. Although somewhat conservative in his medical practice, he was an early advocate of inoculation to prevent smallpox, and later, when vaccinations came into use, quickly adopted them.

John Bowne wrote his will on Jan. 31, 1846 when he was 79 years old, “calling to mind the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death.”5 To his wife Ann he left the house and garden, their furniture, her choice of two or three cows (“to be kept winter and summer on the farm [where] I now live”), one horse and light wagon, one sleigh, and the interest on $4,000, to be paid to her annually. He also left her all the money that was left in the house after the funeral expenses and just debts had been paid.

He left significant property to his grandchildren John Milton Bowne and Cornelia Bowne who were teenagers at the time, and the remainder to his son Joseph G. Bowne. He named Johnson J. Fisher and Solomon Holcombe his executors, and the will was witnessed by B. T. Holcombe and L. R. Holcombe. I am guessing the B. F. or T. Holcombe might have been Benjamin Frank Holcombe, son of Solomon and Kitty Barber Holcombe. But I have not identified L. R. Holcombe.

Surprisingly, both the executors renounced the obligation and were replaced by Joseph G. Bowne as administrator. Administrator’s bond was an impressive $100,000; sureties were Solomon Holcombe and John L. Jones.6 This large bond is less surprising when one considers that the inventory of his personal possessions along with his bond and notes was valued at $48,398.58.7 On the list were Flemington Railroad & Transportation Bonds and $615.78 in his purse (quite a bit of cash, even today). About 70 people owed him money, 19 of the loans being “desperate.” He seems to have been the local banker, before the existence of local banks.

One of the unusual things about his inventory was that the contents of his house were not individually itemized, but totaled by room. The most valuable rooms were the Sitting Room ($154), the Bedroom up stairs ($105), the Bed Room over Kitchen ($102.50) and the Parlor ($94). The less valuable ones were the Hall, Library (only $10), Kitchen, Pantry, Oven house, Cellar, Big Garret, Back Room up stairs, Hall over Kitchen and Kitchen Garret. Sounds like a pretty big house. The inventory was appraised by Cyrus Vandolah and William Barber.

Dr. Bowne was widely trusted, not only to heal, but to take care of estates, and on occasion to lend money to his neighbors. He became a wealthy man, having property worth $9,350 in 1850. Dr. John Blane wrote that Dr. Bowne

Bowne obelisk at the Barber Cemetery
Bowne obelisk at the Barber Cemetery

“had the reputation of being one of the wealthiest men in the county and yet I never heard a complaint among all his numerous patients, that he had charged extravagantly, or enforced the collection of a bill by distressing any one in the payment of it. In this respect he was very much missed by the poor. He lived in eventful times, both political and medical; he was warmly attached to the institutions and liberty of our country, and did not hesitate on all suitable occasions to make his opinions known, and sustain his positions with argument interspersed with the wit and humor for which he was noted, at the same time never descending to the vulgar, or in any way bringing reproach on the Christian cause to which so early in life he dedicated himself.”

John and Nancy Bowne were a long-married couple. Nancy died in 1856 at the age of 85, and about a year and a half later, her husband followed her, having, despite his strenuous life, reached the age of 90. They were buried together in the Barber Cemetery.

Addendum, 11/28/15: Since the original publication I have added information about Dr. Bowne’s will and inventory.


  1. The “S.” appears to be the way Mr. Bush (or his editor) indicates “son of.”
  2. Unfortunately, those parenthesis are not good enough for me. I cannot identify who that Samuel Heath was, let alone his son.
  3. Except to say that he became the father-in-law of Dr. Bowne’s son Joseph.
  4. You can find this article by Dr. Blane in the abstracts of the Hunterdon Gazette by William Hartman, available on CDs from the HCHS.
  5. Wills, Book 10 p. 37, Hunterdon County Surrogate’s Court.
  6. Letters of Administration, Book 5, p. 232, Hunterdon Co. Surrogate’s Court.
  7. Inventories, Book 11, p. 648, taken on Nov. 5, 1857, Hunterdon Co. Surrogate’s Court.