23rd Reunion, 1935

How did Bowman’s Hill get its name?

reunion1935b A Merchant
As a major waterway in the region, the Delaware River was an important route for transport of goods. One itinerant English merchant who engaged in ferrying goods and trading up and down the Delaware River in the 1600’s was Thomas Bowman. His name is first found in Bucks County records in 1684. According to Dr. J.E. Scott’s “Historic Account of Bowman’s Hill” in 1913, “The stories of Bowman’s love for and wanderings on the lonely hill and his subsequent burial on its summit, fit in so nicely with such documentary evidence as we have of Thomas Bowman that there can be no question as to the latter’s identity with the [traditional] Bowman of Bowman’s Hill.”A Man and a Mountain
The last tale suggests that the name of the hill originally was Beaumont, perhaps somehow connected to Belle Mont, another similar hill on the New Jersey side of the Delaware. In this account, the name “Bowman” is a corruption of “Beaumont.” There was in fact, a John Beaumont who owned considerable acreage extending southward from the Solebury Township line at Bowman’s Hill, but this explanation is generally thought to be the least credible.

No matter which story you choose to believe, a Dr. John Bowman did indeed live in the area according to historical accounts. Based on traditional information handed down in the locally prominent Pidcock family, “John Pidcock together with a more or less mysterious personage, generally known as Dr. John Bowman, settled here. A house, gristmill and sawmill were built, and a copper mine was opened. The creek took its name from the owner of the land and is still known as Pidcock’s creek.”

A Pirate’s Treasure
While there seems to be no single historical document that pinpoints the origin of the name, Bowman’s Hill with absolute certainty, several explanations have emerged over the years.The most colorful story says that Bowman’s Hill is named after Dr. John Bowman, a surgeon in an English fleet that went out in 1696 to capture the pirate Captain William Kidd. Perhaps lured by the prospect of treasures, Dr. Bowman became a pirate himself, and traveled with Kidd as his surgeon. When Captain Kidd was captured, Dr. Bowman and the others from the fleet sailed to the Delaware River, where Dr. Bowman parted company with them and came up the river on his own, settling in the area that is now Solebury/Upper Makefield Township around 1700.

Eventually, the tale continues, Bowman built a cabin at the foot of the hill now named after him. In his final years, Bowman lived in a house he built on the edge of Newtown, a community about 6 miles (on today’s roads) from Bowman’s Hill. According to a Miss Sallie N. Boyd, quoted in the History of Bucks County, before Bowman died he asked to be buried at the top of the hill that bears his name, “…as that would be as near heaven as he ever expected to get.”

Folklore associated with Bowman’s Hill abounds. As told by Charles Burr Todd in a brochure describing the historic areas along the Delaware, “…it is popularly believed that his [Bowman’s] unquiet ghost haunts the hill top, and that the shrieks, groans and gibberings which in certain conditions of the atmosphere reach the valley are his.” Others told that if you put your ear to the ground next to Bowman’s grave and ask “Bowman, what killed you?”, you’ll hear the reply, “Nothing.”

Several stones believed to mark Bowman’s grave are said to have once stood near the top of the hill, not far from a black oak tree, now also gone. Even the ground around the oak took on a mythic aura. In describing the mighty tree, Todd says, “There must be pyrotechnics up here in a thunder storm for the trees all about are blasted, torn, riven and barked by lightning bolts-as if heaven were trying to purify the earth to which the ashes of the wicked pirate had returned.”

A “massive oaken chest” was found among Dr. Bowman’s possessions, but none of Captain Kidd’s gold was found in it. Treasure hunters presumed Bowman buried the loot from his escapades with Kidd on top of the hill, and many have tried unsuccessfully to recover the treasure. According to Burr, these fortune seekers employed a variety of ingenious methods to find its location, from use of a witch hazel divining rod, to seeking advice from an astrologer, a spiritualistic medium, a fortune teller and a clairvoyant.

As you might expect, details of the story have been questioned. For example, apparently there is no note of a Dr. Bowman as the ship surgeon in the records from Kidd’s trial in London in 1701, according to a brochure about Bowman’s Tower from Washington Crossing Historic Park. Based on this, it is theorized that Dr. Bowman probably left Kidd’s company before Kidd became a pirate.

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