In 1804, Elisha Bowman was assigned to the Louisiana Territory by Learner Blackman, who was in charge of the Natchez District. After a short stop in New Orleans in late 1805, where his preaching was not well received, he proceeded westward. In a letter written at the beginning of 1806, he tells of his experiences in Louisiana (reproduced below). By the end of his first year (1806), he had started a Methodist Society at Opelousas which boasted 17 members. The Opelousas church has sometimes been called the “Mother Church” of Louisiana Methodism. Rev. Bowman’s ministry reached from the Acadiana area up to central and northern Louisiana.
Elisha WIlliamson Bowman was born on Dec. 25, 1775 in Virginia and passed away on Oct. 3, 1845 in Estill Co., KY. He was the son of Cornelius Bowman, Sr. and Susannah E. Painter. Cornelius (1740-Jan. 5, 1825) was also a Methodist preacher.
After his work in Louisiana, Elisha returned home to Kentucky and settled on Cawood farm on the River above his father in old Madison Co. (now Estill Co.) in1815. He studied medicine and practiced for several years in Clay (now Owsley) County. He married Sarah "Sally" McMonigle (b.1796 Estill Co. KY, d. 30 Oct.1865 Estill Co., KY) on Nov. 28, 1816 in Estill Co.. Sarah was daughter of Sarah Susan Pyle and Barnett "Barney" McMonigle.
Children of Elisha Bowman and Sally McMonigle:
1) Madison McMonigle Bowman born 26 October 1817 at Estill Co., KY
(married Mary Jane Broadus or Broddus, 26 March 1838 at Estill Co., KY)
2) Seldon Fletcher Bowman born 30 July 1821 (married Armina Hunt, 2 Feb. 1852)
3) Narcissa L. Bowman born ca. 1826 at KY (married James Poynter, 22 Feb. 1844 at Estill Co., KY)
4) Sarah A. Bowman born 27 January 1826 (married John M. Wilson, 24 Jan. 1846 at Estill Co., KY)
5) Constantine F. Bowman born 27 November 1827 at Estill Co., KY
(married Mary Jane Elliott, 14 March 1851)
In addition to his father, two of Elisha's brothers were also Methodist ministers: Thomas Bowman b. 1782, and Jacob A. Bowman Sr. b. 1784. Like many of the other children of Cornelius and Susannah, Jacob and Thomas settled in what is now Owsley Co., KY.
A Compendious History of American Methodism, Abel Stevens, Carlton & Porter: NY, NY 1867.
Cyclopedia of Methodism, M. Simpson, Philadelphia, PA 1881.
The History of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Nathan Bangs, Mason& Lane, NY, NY 1839.
Louisiana Methodism, Robert Harper, Kaufmann Press, Washington, DC 1949.
The Story of Methodism, A. B. Hyde, Willey Publishing Co., Greenfield, MA 1887.
Email from Jack Baily
January 29, 1806
To: Rev. Wm. Burke, Lexington, Ky.
Dear Brother: These pages will inform you that I found a safe passage through a perilous wilderness to the city of Orleans. The city lies extremely low, the surface of the river being as high as the streets, and is kept out by a levee which is cast up immediately on the bank, and from its low situation it is as filthy as a hog-sty. As for the settlements of this country, there are none that are composed of Americans. From Baton Rouge, the Spanish garrison, which stands on the east bank of the Mississippi River, down two hundred miles, it is settled immediately on each bank of the river by French and Spaniards. The land is dry on each side about forty, and in Some places fifty, rods wide, and then a cypress swamp extends each way to the lakes, and will never admit of any settlements until you cross the lakes to the east and west.
When I reached the city I was disappointed in finding but few American people there, and a minority of that few may truly be called the beasts of men. There are a few families that are called respectable, and these are Episcopalians, and they have a preacher of their own, a Mr. Chase, from Baltimore. He arrived in this city about the time I left the Conference.
Mr. Watson, the gentleman to whom I was recommended by Mr. Asbury, had left the city early in the fall, and had gone home to Philadelphia. I went to the Governor and told him my business to that place. He promised me protection, and told mc I should have the capitol of the city to preach in, which Ire said should be at my service. My appointment was published for the next Lord’s day, but in the interval I found that the parson and his people were not very well pleased. On Sunday, when I came to the capitol, I found the doors all locked, and the house inaccessible. I found a few drunken sailors and Frenchmen about the walks of the house, and I preached to them in the open air. In the evening I heard that my Episcopalian brethren were at the bottom of all this.
The next day I went to the Governor and Mayor of the city, and informed them how I had been treated. They then promised me to issue an order for the house to be opened and placed at my service. The next Sunday, when I came with my landlord and a few others, we found the doors again locked, and I again preached to ten or twelve persons in the open air. I went again to the officers, but got no satisfaction. In the evening, as I passed along the street, I heard them pouring out heavy curses on the Methodists, and saying, "He is a Methodist: lock him out;" and they told me plainly I was not to have the privilege of the house. One of the officers told me that the Methodists were a dangerous people, and ought to be discouraged. I asked him what harm the Methodists had done. He said they were seeking an establishment. I told him it was all unjust censure. He got into a passion, and I left him. The next Sunday I preached to a few straggling people in the open street. The Lord's day is the day of general rant in this city; public balls are held, merchandise of every kind carried on, public sales, wagons running, and drums beating; and thus is the Sabbath spent.
I sought in rain for a house to preach in. Several persons offered to rent me a house, but I had not money to rent a house. My expenses I found to be about two dollars a day for myself and horse, and my money pretty well spent. I tried to sell my home, but could not get forty dollars for him. Thus I was in this difficult situation, without a friend to advise me. I was three hundred mires from Brother Blackman, and could get no advice from him; and what to do I did not know. I could have no access to the people, and to go back to Natchez is to do nothing, as there was a sufficient supply of preachers for that part; and to leave my station without Mr. Asbury’s direction was like death to me., and to stay here I could do nothing. But by inquiring, I heard of a settlement of American people about two hundred miles to the west and northwest. By getting a small boat and crossing the lakes I could reach the Opelousas Country and as I was left to think by myself, I thought this most advisable. I accordingly, on the 17th day of December, 1805, shook off tile dirt from my feet against this ungodly city of Orleans, and resolved to try the watery waste and pathless desert. I traveled fifty miles up the Mississippi River; and crossed to a river that forces itself out of the Mississippi, and runs into the sea in a southwest direction, down which river I traveled fifty miles and then turned a western course fifteen miles, through a cypress swamp to the lake. Here the mosquitoes like to have eaten up me and my horse. There are a few Spaniards living on this lake. I got two large canoes of them, and built a platform on them, on which I put my horse. I lured two of the Spaniards to go with me across the lakes, for which I paid them thirteen dollars and a half, and through the mercy of God I had a safe passage through four lakes and a large bay. Here I saw an old Spaniard boiling salt on a small island. I landed a little south of the mouth of the River O’Tash. Here a few Frenchmen are living at the mouth of this river, and a few American families are scattered along this bay and river, who came here in time of the American war, but not for any good deeds they had done. I have now three dollars left, but God is as able to feed me two years on two dollars as he was to feed Elijah at the brook., or five thousand with a few loaves and fishes.
I traveled up the west side of the River O’Tash, eighty miles. The land is dry immediately on the banks of the river; and about twenty rods wide, with cypress extending to the sea-marsh. On the each side of it are lakes and swamps. Eighty miles up there is a large French settlement. A few families of Americans are scattered among them, but I could not find two families together. I then passed through a small tribe of Indians, and then crossed the Vermilion River, which runs into the sea in a south-west direction. Here I had a fine sea-breeze. The next day I reached the Opelousas Country, and the next I reached the Catholic church. I was surprised to see a pair or race-paths at the church door.
Here I found a few Americans who were swearing with almost every breath; and when I reproved them for swearing, they told me that the priest swore as hard as they did. They said he would play cards and dance with them every Sunday evening after mass! And strange to tell, he keeps a race horse - in a word, practices every abomination. I told them plainly if they did not quit swearing they and their priest would go to hell together.
About twenty miles from this place I found a settlement of American people, who came to this country about the time of the American war. They knew very little more about the nature of salvation than the untaught Indians. Some of them, after I had preached to them, asked me what I meant by the fall of man, and when it was that he fell. Thus they are perishing for lack of knowledge, and are truly in a pitiable condition. I have to learn them to sing, and in fact do every thing that is like worshiping God. I find it also very difficult to get them to attend meetings, for if they come once they think they have done me a very great favor. About thirty miles from here I found another small settlement of English people, who were in as great a state of ignorance as the above; but I get as many of them together as I can, and preach Jesus Christ to them. O my God, have mercy on the souls of this people!
I find the people very much dissatisfied with the American Government, and we have a constant talk of war. The Spaniards are fortifying themselves all round the coast and three-fourths of the people hope they will get this country again. This I hope will never be the case.
Three-fourths of the inhabitants of this country, I suppose, are French. And as to the country, it is entirely level, and I suppose three-fourths prairie. The people are rich in cattle. They have
from one to two or three thousand head of cattle to the farmer; and, notwithstanding their large stocks, you might with ease carry on your back all that you could find in many of their houses
It is now the 29th day of January, 1806, and from the great quantity of rain that has fallen and the low situation of the country, it is almost everywhere in a flood of water. Every day that I travel I have to swim through creeks or swamps, and I am wet from my head to my feet, and some days from morning till night I am dripping with water. I tie all my plunder fast on my horse, and take him by the bridle and swim sometimes a hundred yards, and sometimes farther. My horse's legs are now skinned and rough to his hock joints, and I have the rheumatism in all my joints. But this is nothing.
About eighty miles from here, I am informed, there is a considerable settlement of American people; but I cannot get to then at this time, as the swamps are swimming for miles; but as soon as the waters fall I intend to visit them. I have great difficulties in this country, as there are no laws to suppress vice of any kind, so that the Sabbath is spent in frolicking and gambling.
I have now given you a faint idea of my travels, the country, and the people. Let me now tell you how it is with my soul. What I hare suffered in body and mind my pen is not able to communicate to you. But this I can say while my body is wet with water and chilled with cold, my soul is filled with heavenly fire, and longs to be with Christ. And while these periods drop from my pen, my soul is ready to leave this earthly house, and fly to endless rest. Glory to God and the Lamb! I can say that I never enjoyed such a power and heaven of love as I have done for a few days past. I have not a wish but that the will of God may be done in me, through me, and by me. And I can now say with St. Paul, “I count not my life dear unto myself, so that I may save some.” I feel my soul all alive to God, and filled with love to all the human family. I am now more than one thousand miles from you, and know not that I ever shall see you again, but I hope to meet you one day on the banks of Canaan, in the land of rest. I am your affectionate brother in the bonds of a peaceful gospel,
Elisha W. Bowman