The Queens' Bowne House Museum has reported it is missing approximately 50 historical documents ranging from the 1600s through the 1800s, which are believed to have been removed in the 1980s or 1990s.

The Bowne House, is a historic house museum in Flushing Queens, New York. The house was built in 1661 by early settler John Bowne, a Quaker convert known for his successful defense of religious freedom in the face of persecution from New Netherlands Governor Peter Stuyvesant. The home was continually inhabited by nine generations of his descendants, many of whom were also Quaker reformers and prominent New Yorkers, and their personal papers and effects have been preserved onsite.

Please note that the original Colonial documents will probably use Quaker dating conventions- i.e., they did not use the names of the months or days, only numbers, and mostly adhered to the Julian calendar. The documents reported missing are:

EARLY BOWNE LETTERS:

Documents relating to the arrest and trial of John Bowne:

  • August 14, 1662: Complaint by Magistrates of Flushing re: Quakers; the condemnation and banishment of John Bowne.
  • Jan. 1663: Letter to Dutch West India Co. from Governor & Council of New Netherlands ordering transport of John Bowne into exile.
  • April, 1663: Letter to Governor Stuyvesant and Council of New Netherlands rebuking them for persecution of John Bowne.
  • 1663: Letter/Address from John Bowne to Dutch West India Co., declining to do as asked

Note: The above documents are presumed to be hand-copied English translations of the originals, made by or for John Bowne himself at the time of his trial, or possibly copied from the public record at a later date by his descendants. In either case, they are considered historical Bowne Family documents.

Correspondence with unknown Mary Bowne:

  • 1662. Letter, John Bowne to Mary Bowne. Signed. Plus signed fragment (W.D.)
  • June 4, 1663: Letter. John Bowne, Amsterdam, to Mary Bowne
  • Jan. 18, 1675. Letter, John Bowne, New York to Mary Bowne.
  • March 18, 1675. Letter. John Bowne to Mary Bowne, Oyster Bay.
  • June 23, 1676. Letter. John Bowne to Mary Bowne.
  • June 2, 1681: Letter, John Baxter to Mary Bowne.

Note: We are unsure of the identity of this Mary Bowne, her dates of birth/death, and her relationship to John Bowne.

Miscellaneous Bowne Family Documents:

  • An undated account of Willet Bowne's robbery by his neighbors during the time of the American Revolution. Author unknown. This may be a testimonial recorded in a Quaker Meeting after his death. Probably written in the latter half of the 19th century, after Willet Bowne’s death in 1845.

OTHER IMPORTANT EARLY AMERICAN DOCUMENTS:

  • Fifteen records of various Friends’ (Quaker) Meetings in Flushing, NY, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania. (No dates supplied, but based on other Quaker materials in our collection these records probably date from the 17th/18th centuries.)
  • Between two and four Quaker Epistles addressed to George Keith, Philadelphia, March 20th, 1692. Important for the Keith controversy.

Note: George Keith was a minister in the Society of Friends who broke with his fellow Quakers over doctrinal matters and briefly formed his own sect. The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting was the first Quaker body to formally disown him. We have located two documents in the collection recovered from the Queens Public Library that may come from this group, but at least two Epistles are unaccounted for.

  • 1713-1734: “King vs. Van Dam”: A series of eight legal documents, one in code, totaling about 100 pages in all. This important case was the forerunner of the John Peter Zenger freedom of the press case of 1732.

Note: The legal case referred to appears to be “Cosby vs. Van Dam,” Cosby being the representative of the Crown. The case lasted from 1733-34, so the dates in our inventory were probably transcribed in error. The case itself did not directly concern the freedom of the press, though press coverage of the case did inspire the Libel suit against John Peter Zenger. Lewis Morris was a Supreme Court Judge who heard the case and issued a dissenting opinion that got him dismissed. As our collection contains other documents from the Morris family, I imagine that these papers relate to his involvement in some way.

  • Indenture, James Lewis Jr. to James Lewis, March 20, 1715. Sealed and signed James Lewis, Mary Lewis, James Clement; 12” x 14”. Important Lewis Family record.
  • June 26, 1761. Probate and Will of Joseph Swasey, Suffolk County, with official paper seal of New York.
  • Dec 19, 1778: Military order by Major General Jones, Commandant of New York, dividing the woodlands of Thomas Brush at West Neck, near Lloyds Neck, L.I., into two parts, half for Thomas Brush’s use and the other half to be cut down and brought to New York City, for use as firewood. Important Revolutionary War era document. Brush Family were important early Long Island residents.
  • 21 Aug 1799: Letter, Newtown, by and signed Dewitt Clinton to unnamed recipient: “Reports of yellow fever have prevented me from visiting on you…” (Important.)

Note: Dewitt Clinton was then New York State Senator. It's likely that this letter was written to Robert Bowne, who did some early expeditionary work that helped pave the way for Clinton eventually to start construction on the Erie Canal as Governor.

PARSONS FAMILY PAPERS: 1798 – 1877

Note: The Parsons were another important early New York Quaker family, who married into the Bowne family and ultimately inherited the Bowne House. The Parsons started one of the first commercial nursery businesses in this country, and made many contributions to the fields of horticulture and landscape architecture.

  • Collection of twenty items of Parsons family correspondence, dating from 1798 to 1849.
    • June 5, 1849: Letter from Clarence Parsons sent from San Francisco to his parents, discussing the Gold Rush and its effects upon social conditions of the time. (Considered the most important of the 20 Parsons Family letters in previous entry.)
  • May 12, 1877. Passenger list brochure of the White Star Line of Saloon Passengers per steamship BRITANNIC.

 

If you have information on any of these documents, please contact the Bowne House. Rosemary Vietor, Trustee: Rrvietor@aol.com and Charlotte Jackson, Archivist: bownehousearchives@gmail.com

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