Joseph Bowman (c. 1752 – c. 14 August 1779) was a Virginia militia officer during the American Revolutionary War. He was second-in-command during George Rogers Clark's famous campaign to capture the Illinois country, in which Clark and his men seized the British-controlled towns of Kaskaskia, Vincennes, and others. Bowman was injured in an accidental gunpowder explosion after the campaign, and subsequently died of his wounds. He was the only American officer killed during the Illinois campaign. Bowman kept a daily journal during the trek from Kaskaskia to Vincennes, which is one of the best primary accounts of the event.
Bowman was the son of George Bowman and Mary Hite Bowman. His maternal grandfather was Jost Hite, a German immigrant credited as the first European colonist to settle west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In 1732, Hite led his extended family, including daughter Mary and her husband George Bowman, to the Shenandoah Valley, near present Winchester, Virginia. Hite distributed land to his family and to other settlers—claims which would later be contested in Hite v. Fairfax, a landmark Virginia land case. Joseph Bowman was born at Fort Bowman near what is now Strasburg, Virginia.
In 1774, Bowman served in the Virginia militia during Dunmore's War. Other Virginians in the war who would be important in Bowman's activities in the next several years included George Rogers Clark and Leonard Helm. Soon after Dunmore's War, Bowman moved to Kentucky with other British colonists who were seeking to settle there. He was living in Harrodstown in Kentucky by 1777. On 11 September 1777, 37 men from the area gathered at Bowman's property to shell corn and were attacked by Indians. One settler was killed and six others were wounded before the attackers were driven off.
Bowman and three of his brothers served in the American Revolutionary War. Joseph Bowman is sometimes confused with his brother Colonel John Bowman, a prominent leader of the Kentucky militia during the war.
Joseph Bowman served as a Captain during the Illinois campaign and was present at the capture of Fort Gage at Kaskaskia on 4 July 1778. He then led a combined American and French force to capture Prairie du Rocher, Fort de Chartres and Cahokia, where he remained for a time as commander of the renamed Fort Bowman.
When Fort Sackville and Captain Leonard Helm were captured by British Lt-Gov Henry Hamilton in late in 1778, Captain Bowman marched with Colonel Clark in February 1779 across 180 miles (290 km) to lay siege to the British forces at Vincennes. He also participated in the negotiations for their surrender. The American flag was raised in the renamed Fort Patrick Henry on 24 February 1779. In celebration, thereafter, a six-pound cannon was fired on 25 February. Some nearby cannon cartridges ignited, wounding Captain Bowman, Captain Worthington, four privates, and a British soldier.
Within days, a dispatch from the Governor of Virginia arrived, with commissions promoting Clark to general, and Bowman to major. For his services rendered, Major Bowman was granted a total of 4,312 acres (17.45 km2) in land north of the Ohio River known as "Clark's Grant."
Oddly enough, Clark makes no mention of the cannon accident in his memoir. However, he does describe Major Bowman leading soldiers as late as June 1779.
Major Joseph Bowman's health deteriorated, and he died at Fort Patrick Henry on 14 August 1779. The last page of his journal is blank, except for an anonymous notation: "God save the commonwealth, this 15th day of August, 1779." A bronze grave marker with the date of 18 August was later placed in the St. Francis Xavier cemetery, adjacent to the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, though he was buried somewhere along the Wabash River.
- English, Conquest of the Country, 1:108.
- English, Conquest of the Country, 1:112.
- English, Conquest of the Country, 1:83.
- English, 1:83
- Butterfield, History of Clark's Conquest, 294n.
- Letter from Joseph Bowman to George Brinker from The First American West: The Ohio River Valley, 1750-1820 at the Library of Congress
- English, 1:197
- English, 2:839
- English, 1:109 is a facsimile of Bowman's death certificate.
- English 1:374 says Bowman probably died on 15 August and was buried 18 August.
- Butterfield, Consul Willshire. History of George Rogers Clark's Conquest of the Illinois and the Wabash Towns, 1778 and 1779. Columbus, Ohio: Heer, 1904.
- English, William Hayden. Conquest of the Country Northwest of the River Ohio 1778-1783 and Life of Gen. George Rogers Clark Vol I. ©1896. The Bowen-Merrill Company. Indianapolis, Ind., and Kansas City, Mo.
- Harrison, Lowell H. George Rogers Clark and the War in the West. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1976; Reprinted 2001, ISBN 0-8131-9014-2.
- Online memorial to Joseph Bowman by the Indiana SAR.
- Online excerpts from Joseph Bowman's journal, courtesy of the Indiana State Library.
- "The Forgotten Long Knife", article about Bowman from the Early American Review, 2003.
- "Fort Bowman", historical marker near the house where Joseph Bowman was born.