Rezin Bowie : biography
Rezin Pleasant Bowie (September 8, 1793 – January 17, 1841) was an American inventor and designer of the Bowie knife. He also served three terms in the Louisiana Legislature.
With his brother James, Bowie smuggled slaves and worked as a land speculator. The brothers set up the first steam mill in Louisiana to be used for grinding sugar cane. Bowie took credit for inventing the Bowie knife, which came to prominence when used by James in the Sandbar Fight in 1827. After James moved to Texas, Rezin accompanied him on an expedition to find the Lost San Saba Mine. They did not find the mine, but their adventures in fending off a much larger Indian raiding party became widely known.
In his later years Bowie suffered from poor eyesight. He lived with his wife and daughters on a plantation in Louisiana.
Shortly before Bowie's father died in 1818 or 1819 he gifted Bowie and his brother James each 10 servants, horses, and cattle. For the next seven years the brothers worked together to develop several large estates in Lafourche Parish and Opelousas Parish. Louisiana was gaining population rapidly, and the brothers wished to take advantage of rising land prices by speculating in land but did not have the capital required to buy large tracts.Hopewell (1994), p. 18. To raise money they entered into partnership with pirate Jean Lafitte in 1818. The United States had previously outlawed the importation of slaves, and, to encourage citizens to report the unlawful activity, most southern states allowed anyone who informed on a slave trader to receive half of what the imported slaves would earn at auction. They made three trips to Lafitte's compound on Galveston Island, where they bought smuggled slaves, then brought the slaves directly to a customhouse and informed on himself. The customs officers offered the slaves for auction, and the Bowies would buy them back. Due to the state laws, they would receive half of the price paid. They could then legally transport the slaves and resell them in New Orleans or areas further up the Mississippi River.Hopewell (1994), p. 19.Edmondson (2000), p. 91. The brothers continued this scheme until they had collected $65,000, then began speculating in land.Peatfield et al. (1889), p. 175.
In 1825, the two brothers joined with their younger brother Stephen to buy Acadia, a plantation near Thibodaux. Within two years they had set up the first steam mill in Louisiana to be used for grinding sugar cane. The plantation became known as a "model estate", but on February 12, 1831 they sold it and 65 slaves for $90,000. With their profits, Bowie and James bought a plantation in Arkansas.Hopewell (1994), p. 11. In this time period Bowie served in the Louisiana legislature three times.
Rezin Bowie was born September 8, 1793, near Gallatin, Tennessee, one of ten children born to Rezin Bowie and Elve Ap-Catesby Jones. Bowie was one of twins, with brother Rhesa. His father had been injured while fighting in the American Revolution, and, in 1782, married the young woman who had nursed him back to health. The Bowies moved a great deal, first settling in Georgia, where they had six children, and then moving to Tennessee.Hopewell (1994), pp. 2–3.Groneman (1990), p. 19.Edmondson (2000), p. 86. The year after Bowie's birth, the family moved to Logan County, Kentucky. By 1796, his father owned 8 slaves, 7 horses, 11 head of cattle, and 1 stud horse. The following year the family acquired along the Red River. In 1800, Rezin Bowie sold his property and the family spent two years in Missouri. They moved to Spanish Louisiana in 1802, settling on the Bushley Bayou in Rapides Parish.
The Bowie family moved again in 1809, settling on Bayou Teche in Louisiana before finding a permanent home in Opelousas, in St. Landry Parish, in 1812.Hopewell (1994), p. 4. Each of their homes was on the frontier, and even as a small child Bowie was expected to help clear the land and plant crops. He and his siblings were educated at home, and learned to read and write in English. With his younger brother James, Bowie learned to speak, read, and write Spanish and French fluently.Hopewell (1994), pp. 5–6. The children were also taught how to survive on the frontier, as well as how to fish and run a farm and plantation.Hopewell (1994), p. 7.
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