David Bustill Bowser

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David Bustill Bowser
David Bustill Bowser.png
Born January 16, 1820
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died June 30, 1900
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Notable work Portraits of John Brown, Abraham Lincoln; regimental banners

David Bustill Bowser (January 16, 1820, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – June 30, 1900, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) was an African-American ornamental artist and portraitist.

Bowser attended a private school run by his cousin Sarah Mapps Douglass and studied art with his cousin Robert Douglass, Jr., an African-American pupil of Thomas Sully. During the American Civil War, he was commissioned to design banners for several regiments of U.S. Colored Troops that were formed after the Emancipation Proclamation at Camp William Penn, just outside Philadelphia. He painted a portrait of famed abolitionist John Brown, who sat for the painting at the Bowser home, which was a stop on the Underground Railroad.


Son of Jeremiah Bowser (1766–1856), a fugitive slave whose freedom was purchased by a group of Philadelphia Quakers, and grandson of Cyrus Bustill (1732–1806), who was an early member of the Free African Society, he was also the cousin of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. He married Elizabeth Harriet Stevens Gray (June 13, 1831 – November 29, 1908); their children included son Raphael Bowser, also an artist, and daughter Ida Elizabeth Bowser Asbury (1870–1955), a violinist and music teacher.



  • Samella S. Lewis, African American art and artists, University of California Press, 2003.

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