James Bowie (1794-1855) was a domestic slave at Sotterley plantation during the War of 1812. In 1814, Bowie was among the slaves who escaped to the British lines during the raid on Sotterley and later returned to the plantation bearing arms as a member of the First Company of the Colonial Marines. The Colonial Marines were former slaves serving in the British army.
Plater felt that “it is improper, sir, to take slaves; and to put arms in their hands is more so.” However, the British justified this as a necessary war measure because slaves were valuable assets to the American war effort.
Following the war, Bowie was settled in Trinidad as part of a British resettlement program for ex-slaves. He passed away on November 9, 1855.
Bowie and the other runaway slaves are the focus of a living history piece called “The Choice” which will be performed at Sotterley several times in celebration of the bicentennial of the War of 1812. This event focuses on the lives of the slaves at Sotterley, as well as the difficulty slaves faced in choosing to run away and gain their freedom at the risk of leaving behind their families and loved ones. For more information, please visit Sotterley’s website.
“Domestic, from the Federal Republican,” The Enquirer, July 2, 1814.
Sotterley Plantation, Sotterley.com, http://www.sotterley.com/
Weiss, John McNish. The Merikens: Free Blaxk American Settles in Trinidad, 1815-16. London: McNish & Weiss, 1995.