I Found it In the Archives – Finalist #3


I Found it In the Archives – Finalist #3

I recently obtained transcriptions of letters written by my ggg grandfather, Robert Bowland.  Many letters detailed Bowlands anguish after his son, Robert Mercer Bowland (RMB), stabbed to death Franklin Barker, husband of Bowlands daughter, Margaretta, in 1846 on a Mansfield, OH street corner.  Barker had been relentless in his insistence that RMBs new bride, Julia, had been a prostitute in Manhattan. The Bowland and Barker families were well-known, upstanding families in the community, and the murder trial gained state-wide attention.  The prosecutor was Samuel Jordan Kirkwood, and the defense attorneys were Columbus Delano and Thomas Ewing.  All three attorneys later served as U.S. Secretaries of the Interior.  Bowland described townspeople as being sympathetic to RMB, but RMB was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged.  Before RMBs arrival at the Ohio Penitentiary, his sentence was commuted to life in prison at the request of his sister (Barkers widow) for the sake of their parents. A Mansfield friend of mine, Alan Wigton, had been interested in the murder.  Through research, he located Kirkwoods prosecutor file, and I obtained a copy of that file.  We now knew the Barker familys side of the story. Bowland garnered support for RMB, and Mansfield citizens sent letters to Governor Seabury Ford asking for RMBs pardon and release.  Barker family letters pleaded that the murderer should serve his sentence.  Alan Wigton suggested those letters might be in Governor Fords files. At OHS I hit the jackpot!  I found RMBs Ohio Pen admission records dated Feb. 1847 describing his physical appearance.  I then requested Governor Fords pardon files.  I assumed I would view film and was surprised when five boxes of original documents were brought to me by the helpful staff.  My pulse quickened as I realized the second box held what I was looking for. There were dozens of original letters from Bowland, Margaretta, and prominent Mansfield residents.  I imagined my ancestors writing them, straining under the flickering light of kerosene lamps 160 years before.  I was thrilled to hold those letters in 2010!   Included was Fords Feb. 1849 pardon of RMB. Because of the Ohio Historical Society, the circle of information became complete.  This resulted in Alan Wigton writing and publishing his book, Two Sons, The Bowland Barker Murder.  Eye- witnesses sworn testimonies show that Franklin Barkers comments about Julia had been true.  Robert Mercer Bowland met French Julia Weidenbacher, a known Manhattan prostitute, during his enlistment in the Navy.

Linda Carew Ejzak Dublin, OH

Posted February 10, 2011
Topics: All Topics

eNewsletter Sign-Up