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Manumission and New York Mayor Walter Bowne

The Bowne House Historical Society has received this inquiry from a descendant of the Johnson and Foster families regarding Mayor Bowne's role in a Virginia manumission case decided in the Supreme Court of Appeals in Virginia. The case was heard in 1931, during Bowne's term as mayor.

The Society would welcome any information about this case or about any manumission transactions witnessed or signed by Mayor Walter Bowne.


Dear Bowne House Historical Society,

While researching my family tree, I stumbled across a book - Virginia Reports, Annotated - that lists court cases heard by the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia. Included within this volume was the case of Foster v. Foster Administrator; a family of freed slaves had been illegally seized by the executor of their former owner and patriarch's last will and testament, and they had sued for their freedom. Briefly, in November of 1831, Francis Foster of New Kent County, Virginia, took his female slave - and the children he'd fathered by her - to New York City to be emancipated.

According to the court record, the person who officially made them free by witnessing the signing of their manumission papers was Mayor Walter Bowne (it is unclear as to whether or not he signed the papers himself). The court records offer only a partial list of the slave names, those being the participants in the lawsuit; the mother's name is unknown.

I would be grateful for whatever information I can discover about the manumission papers, particularly the mother's name. These were the participants listed in the lawsuit, those taken to New York for manumission:

Betsey Johnson (daughter)
William Foster (son)
Thomas Johnson (grandson)
Francis Johnson (grandson)

I've searched online, to no avail, for any trace of manumission transactions witnessed or signed by Mayor Bowne. Can you point me to either an online or hardcopy source, or even better, does the Bowne family have copies of these papers in existence within the family archives? Any assistance you can provide would be most appreciated.


We ask that any responses and information be sent to office@bownehouse.org