GEORGETOWN, SC (WBTW) – Harriet Tubman’s been in the news lately because of a push to get her face on the $20 dollar bill. But Tubman has a unique connection to a home in Georgetown, it was built by her grand-nephew. Today the Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce is working to get a historical marker on the property.
“I think a lot of people in Georgetown were surprised but excited about the history of the home and Mr. Bowley, and his connection with Harriet Tubman,” said Marilyn Hemingway, Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce president. “I think it raises the profile of Georgetown even more as a historic destination.”
A house with history in Georgetown is pretty standard. But on the corner of King and Highmarket is a house on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built by James Bowley, Harriet Tubman’s grand-nephew. Bowley did a lot in his day.
“In 1867 he came to Georgetown. He was not a native Georgetownian,” said local historian and author Steve Williams. “But he became very involved in the Freedmen’s Bureau as a teacher, soon after he became the commissioner of the schools, well over 60 schools. A little after that he became a lawyer, only the second lawyer in South Carolina, black lawyer, in Georgetown. After that he was elected to the South Carolina legislature, and he became the chairman of the Ways and Means, so he controlled the revenue.”
Bowley also became a probate judge, he published a newspaper, The Georgetown Planet, and in 1873 he got blacks into the University of South Carolina while he was a trustee. Of course years later they would be barred again, but he loved education, just like his great-aunt.
“What I like about it, is that Harriet Tubman, when she liberated him, and his mother, and his sister, back in 1850,” said Tubman,” she could not have known the things that he would do.”
Members of the Bowley family were the first slaves liberated by Tubman.
“She understood that with the opportunity we can do anything and everything that anyone else does,” said Williams, “and so Georgetown and South Carolina should be very proud of him.”
The house is being renovated by the current owner.
Williams and other historians are still unable to find a picture of Bowley, but they expect they will with further research.
Attached is a copy of a letter Bowley wrote to his great-aunt back in 1868.