As the War Between the States was nearing its end, in a cabin in the Carolina winter woods, a woman gave birth to a boy child. It was a blustery, cold winter day — the third of December, 1864 — when the boy child came into the world.
He was given the name John.
John was raised in the household of Mary Fowler.
Mary Fowler — a daughter of Reuben Fowler (b.1797) — was born circa 1837 in Union County, South Carolina.
My great grandfather, Thomas Gillman “Gil” Fowler, born in 1858 was also raised in the home of Mary Fowler. There was a daughter, Alice Fowler, born in 1860. And later, two boys —Robert Fowler (b. 1868) and Jefferson Fowler (b. 1874).
There was never a father in the census records to indicate parentage of any of these children. I have assumed that each child was given the family surname of Mary Fowler
Of the five children in the household of Mary Fowler —Gil, Alice, John, Robert, and Jefferson — I only knew the fate of two — my great grandfather Gil and the girl Alice.
Alice Fowler married Davidson Mitchell (1859-1935), a great grandson of the Reverend Elias Mitchell (1759-1834).
Alice and Dave Mitchell lived in Jonesville, South Carolina, had a large family, and left many descendants.
My great grandfather Gil Fowler married Lura Mabry (a Mabry in name only as her father was William Thomas Littlejohn). Lura gave birth to seventeen children, one of whom was my grandfather Ross Fowler.
Through yDNA testing, I discovered that my great grandfather Gil Fowler was genetically a Cook. I know the Cook family from Ireland from which he descends, although I do not know which Cook son was his father. I have my suspicions but more genetic testing is needed to confirm.
Anyway, this story is not about Gil. It is, rather, about the boy John raised in the household of Mary Fowler..
John Fowler. I searched for several years, and I thanked my lucky stars when I finally ran across an obituary that seemed like a good fit for this John, raised with my great grandfather Thomas Gillman Fowler.
From the Lamar County News; Friday, March 4, 1960.
John F. Fowler Passes, Service Held Yesterday.
Death came to John F. Fowler at 6:45 a.m. Wednesday, March 2, at his home in North Purvis. He had been failing in health for about a year. He was ninety-five years old and was born in Union County, South Carolina December 3, 1864.
Funeral services were conducted in the First Baptist Church of Purvis Thursday at 2 p.m. by Rev. Troy Sumrall assisted by Rev. Harold O’Chester, pastor of the church. Interment was in Purvis Cemetery with Quigleys Funeral Home in charge. Active pallbearers were W. J. Johnston, Joel Johnston, Larkin Johnston, Hubert Foshee, J. K. Luter and E. W. Harris.Honorary pallbearers were S. E. Watts, M. C. Elliott, R. L. Anderson, C. E. Wilson, R. I. Martin, Sr., C. A. Roseberry, W. B. Jackson, J. H. O’Kelley, Dr. J. N. Mason, Z. A. Foshee, Sr. and Dr. E. G. Duck.
Mr. Fowler was known affectionately as “Uncle John” by his many friends. He was a farmer and followed his chosen profession until age forced retirement. He loved the soil and things growing. He was a friend to all and was revered by all who knew him. A Baptist in religious faith, he was a deacon since a young man though inactive in later years.
He was married to Erin Josephine Ellison December 24, 1899 in North Alabama where they lived for a number of years. With their family of six children they moved to Purvis in 1921, cleared a farm, continued farming and became valued and beloved citizens of the community. Mrs. Fowler died in April of 1959.
Survivors are three sons, Ezelle, Glen and Euel, one daughter, Mrs. Omer Elliott, a daughter-in-law, Mrs. Josie Fowler, ten grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.
From the Lamar County News; Friday, March 11, 1960.
Rural Purvis News by Mrs. J. H. O’Kelley.
Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Fowler of Baton Rouge, Mr. and Mrs. Claude Ladner of Yazoo City and Mr. and Mrs. Richard Strickland of Hattiesburg were here last Thursday for the funeral of their grandfather, John Fowler.
When I read that this man was born in Union County, South Carolina in 1864, I immediately began my search for the descendants of this John Fowler of Purvis, Mississippi.
His name, his place and date of birth were a perfect fit for the man I had been searching for all of those years. I just knew that I had finally found my great grandfather’s long, lost brother.
I reached out to several relatives of this John Fowler whom I had found through extensive research. And I waited to hear back from any one of them. And I waited.
I still remember the day that I finally I received a phone call from an elderly grandson of this John Fowler of Purvis, Mississippi. It was the kind of day that makes all of the long hours, months, years of research worthwhile. It is winning the genealogy lottery. I was so overwhelmed by my emotion that I had to sit and savor the moment.
This grandson and I talked for a very long time. He told me that his grandfather John Fowler had been born in 1864 in Union County and that John had a brother named Gil Fowler.
This grandson told me that he had lived in South Carolina when he had attended college many years before, but had never tried to find his grandfather John Fowler’s family. A young man in school with his whole life ahead of him had more to think about, and looking up long lost relatives was not high on the list of things to do.
When this grandson finally decided to search for his grandfather John Fowler’s family, he looked up phone numbers of possible Fowler relatives in Union County. He called and talked to a Fowler man who lived in Jonesville. Although he learned that this Fowler man was a grandson of Gil Fowler, for some reason the two grandsons –one of John Fowler and the other of Gil Fowler — were unable to make the connection.
Imagine my shock when I realized that the Fowler man whom he had called was my own father! When I questioned my father about this phone call that had occurred many years previously, he remembered the call, remembered a man was looking for Fowler relatives, but nothing came of the effort.
John Fowler, born in 1864, knew that he had been born in Union County, South Carolina and he knew his older brother Gil Fowler and sister Alice Fowler. The siblings were raised by their mother Mary Fowler.
His grandson began telling me a story that was nothing less than incredible — the story that grandfather John Fowler had told his grandson.
John Fowler thought that his father had been killed in the Civil War.
After the Civil War, the Union Army marched through the area and took most of their food. Mary Fowler was unable to feed her children, and told son John that he would have to leave home.
This part of the story cannot be entirely correct. John Fowler would have been less than a year old when the war ended.
John Fowler was recorded in the 1880 census as a young man of fifteen, so I know that he did not leave home until at least after June 4, 1880 — the day the census taker stopped by the Fowler home.
The rest of the story is likely, sadly, very true. John said that his mother Mary gave him a five-dollar gold piece, a trunk, and a six-shooter gun, and told him that she could no longer afford to feed him and he would have to leave home.
The story goes that John Fowler left the family home and went west, although how far west is unknown. It is known that he eventually made his way to the Francis T. Ellison farm in Walnut Grove, Etowah County, Alabama, where he worked as a farmhand.
At some point in his life, John Fowler added the middle initial “F” to his own name.
Was it a coincidence that John Fowler found his way to a South Carolina family relocated to Alabama, or had he been directed to the Ellison family by way of relatives and their connections?
Francis T. Ellison (b. 1850) was the son of John Reeder Ellison (b. 1816) and Temperence Poole (b. 1818). The Ellison family had been in Laurens County, South Carolina in 1850, and were firmly settled in Blount County, Alabama by 1860.
Francis T. Ellison married Winnie Bagwell on November 29, 1869 in Blount County. Among their many children to be born over the next two decades was a beauty — daughter, Erin Josephine Ellison, born on August 12, 1874 and known as Josie.
It was Josie Ellison with whom John Fowler met, fell in love, and married.
Two days after getting a marriage license, John and Josie were married in Etowah County by the Reverend James A. May (1857-1938) on the twenty-fourth day of December, 1899.
From The Gadsden Times-News. 22 Dec 1899
The John Fowler family remained in Alabama for twenty-one years.
While in Alabama, Josie gave birth to five sons, and finally a daughter:
- Elbert Frank Fowler (1900–1950)
- Ezell William Fowler (1903–1984)
- Graydon Eugene Fowler (1906–1930)
- Glenn Harlen Fowler (1908–1983)
- Euell Ellison Fowler (1910–1991)
- Veda Mae Fowler (1914–1999)
Josie Fowler is holding baby Euell Ellison Fowler who was born in 1910. This will date the photograph 1910/1911.
John Fowler was a handsome man, tall with a gentle ruggedness about his features. He had strength in his being, kindness in his eyes.
In 1921, John Fowler moved his family to Purvis, Lamar County, Mississippi. He was a farmer, and well respected in his community. He and Josie raised a fine family there and there John and Josie remained until their deaths.
At some point in time, John Fowler contacted his family back in South Carolina. Gil Fowler and his sister Alice Fowler Mitchell (1860-1938) visited John at least once, traveling by train. There was one photograph of the three siblings taken together later in their lives.
John Fowler, on the left, had become gray-haired, as had sister Alice Fowler Mitchell, and Thomas Gillman Fowler.
My great grandfather Thomas Gillman Fowler died in 1944. This photograph was not dated but all three look as if they are in their golden years. My best guess. is late 1930s, early 1940s…….
I have a copy of a letter that Alice Fowler Mitchell wrote to her sister-in-law, Josie Ellison Fowler. I feel gratitude that this letter has survived almost one hundred years.
There is another letter whereas one of the sons of John and Josie had gotten himself in a little trouble and the idea of sending him to his uncle Gil Fowler in South Carolina was suggested.
Before a trip could be arranged, a work-related accident occurred and the young man lost his life.
I was also told that there had been hard feelings when Mary Fowler had become ill and John was not told in time to make the trip to say good-bye to his mother.
I DNA tested direct descendants of John Fowler. As it often happens, some questions were answered and more questions needed to be asked.
John Fowler and Thomas Gillman Fowler were not brothers. They did not have the same mother. They did not have the same father. The two men raised as brothers were not related genetically in any way.
I have also DNA tested two descendants of Alice Fowler. It appears that John Fowler and Alice Fowler were full siblings, and my great grandfather Thomas Gillman Fowler did not belong in the family!!
Did they know that they were not blood related?
The yDNA results of a direct male descendant of John Fowler has proven — finally– that the father of John Fowler was a Whitlock.
The odds are great that one of the sons of William Whitlock was the father of John Fowler and Alice.
William Whitlock was born in 1789 and died July 8, 1867 in Union County, SC. His wife Delila Fowler (1793-bef 1832) was a daughter of John Fowler the Hatter. John Fowler the Hatter penned his Last Will and Testament in December 1832, and daughter Delila was deceased at the time the will was written.
It is likely that the first four Whitlock children below were born to Delila:
- Jane A Whitlock 1823–1875
- Francis Marion Whitlock 1824–1870
- Felix Gaines Whitlock 1825–1895
- Caroline Whitlock 1828–1918
The Whitlock children listed below were born after the death of Delila Fowler:
- Mary Whitlock 1833–1917
- John “Jack” Whitlock 1835–1909
- Charles Whitlock 1838–1895
- Altissima Whitlock 1838–1918
- William A Whitlock 1839–1895
- Sarah F. “Sallie” Whitlock 1841–
- Amanda Whitlock 1842–1895
Circumstantial evidence places John “Jack” Whitlock, Charles Whitlock, and William A. Whitlock in “the right place at the right time” to have fathered John Fowler and Alice.
John “Jack” Whitlock is the most likely of the three. Was John Fowler named after his father John Whitlock?
William Whitlock, and many of his children and their descendants were buried at Gilead in Jonesville.
I have always believed that my great grandfather Gil and his sister Alice were true siblings, and that John was an informally adopted war orphan.
The DNA testing has turned my research upside down, now knowing that John and Alice were the true, full siblings, and my Gil was the outsider.
I must consider that Mary Fowler could have been the mother of Gil, and not the mother of John and Alice.….
…..or Mary Fowler could have been the mother of John and Alice and not the mother of Gil.
Mary Fowler could have been the mother of none of the three…….
…….but there is no way that Mary Fowler could have been the mother of all three since the descendants of John and Alice share a good amount of DNA with each other and the descendants of Gil share none –zip– zero with them.
Mary Fowler and her father Rueben Fowler (b. 1797) have always been a tall, brick wall in my research. Who was Reuben Fowler’s wife? Mother?? Father???
I have always suspected that Reuben Fowler may have been one of the unnamed sons in the Last Will and Testament of John Fowler the Elder (d. 1818). I have been circling the wagons around this theory for many years but I have no proof.
If all of this DNA testing has put my great grandfather Thomas Gillman Fowler back into genetic uncertainty, then perhaps it has at least given me a clue as to Reuben Fowler’s genetic origins.
The descendants of John Fowler and Alice Fowler (probable grandchildren of Reuben Fowler and likely great grandchildren of John Fowler the Elder) have shared DNA with several of the documented descendants of John Fowler the Elder!
Obviously, more research is needed, always.
I am beyond grateful for the two grandsons of John Fowler who shared their stories and family photographs with me. I will be forever indebted to the grandson and great grandson who agreed to genetic testing.
Without the generous help of these men, I would not have been able to tell the story of John Fowler. It is my hope that knowing his story will help keep his memory alive for future generations of his descendants.
4 thoughts on “JOHN FOWLER (1864-1960)”
Great work! Thank goodness for DNA testing. Can’t wait to see what you discover.
I ment Debbie
Sent from my iPhone
Thanks for reading and commenting NRF!! I think of you and your family often and hope to see you all soon. Deb Fowler 702 683 4465