GaspeeVirtual Archives
Link with the Past--Reminiscences of the last survivor of the party that burned the Gaspee
Tribune, June 24, 1906

In his chair under the great elms that spread its protecting branches over the old mile-stone forming the most familiar landmark on Pawtuxet Hill, Nel Slocum sat and enjoyed the sunshine following the rain and fog last week.

'Nel Slocum - the expression is one of intimacy implying a cordial relation for everyone in Pawtuxet knows and loves 'Nel Slocum - is Horatio Nelson Slocum, oldest man in the village and the village philosopher. He had been reading - or hearing about- the proceedings of the patriotic societies on Gaspee Day - the anniversary of the burning of the Gaspee on Namquid Point, a short distance below the old village.

Left: "Old Grimes" was probably a contemporary of Col Bowen. Image from an old book in the possession of Henry A. L Brown.

"They never used to make, so much account of Gaspee Day when I was a boy," he said. "Old Ephraim Bowen was living here then - he was the last survivor of the party that burned the Gaspee, you know - and he used to ride in the Fourth or July processions in a carriage, so's everybody could look at him and know who he was. They used to carry them veterans of the burning of the Gaspee around in a carriage that way every Fourth of July until it got so finally that they war'nt none of them left.

"Ephraim Bowen," said the old man, whose memory is remarkably accurate, although within the last few months his powers of locomotion have been failing, "was always called Col. Bowen in Pawtuxet. I suppose he'd earned the title somewhere. Anyway, he was Deputy Grand Master of Masons, I understand, although I never was a Mason myself, he was quite a big bug.

"You know where he lived, in that big white house just beyond the turn in Fair Street, the road leading down to Spring Green and thereabouts. A. Lockwood Danielson lives there now. It's a fine, great house, set up on a terrace overlooking the whole of Narragansett Bay in sight from there, and with the grounds in front of it reaching down clean to the water, some distance away.

"I used to know old Col. Bowen, continued Mr. Slocum, "so you see it ain't so many years between now and the Gaspee trouble after all. I'm 84 and he was a pretty old man when I was a boy and used to go up to his house and ask for some of his apples. We always got 'em, too, but we had to work for them. But it war'nt much work, and we never minded that none.

"Of course I remember what he looked like," he said, in reply to a question. "He was about five feet-nine and he wore small clothes, in the old fashion. His pants came down to his knees and he wore stockings and shoes with big silver buckles in the tops. His hat, well, I don't seem to remember about his hat. But he always walked mighty stiff and erect and he was 'Col. Bowen' all right. We boys were always afraid of him.

"But he was a mighty good-hearted man. He had a lot of apple trees in front of the house, on the side nearest the road, and the barn was down near the road, what is now Fair Street, instead of being over to one side, as it is now. The yard was paved in back with cobblestones in the cracks between the stones.

"I remember, when we used to go up to the big house and knock on the door and ask for some apples, Mrs. Bowen would always come to the door and say, 'Now, boys, you can have the apples, but you must do a little work for them,' and then she'd give us a knife, and set us to digging up the grass growing in the cracks between them stones.

"But we never had to do that long, for pretty soon Col. Bowen would come along and say, boys have worked long enough,' and then we'd get all the apples we could eat. We never had to work longer than a few minutes at a time before we got the apples.

"He had an old chaise, I remember, one shaped like the pictures of the deacon's one-hoss shay that Holmes wrote about, that went all to pieces all at once. In the front of this shay he'd had the blacksmith put in a little iron three-legged stool, and his negro man driver used to sit on that when he drove him out. When it wasn't in use it folded back and when it was it looked ridiculous to see that negro man sitting there, way out in front of the dasher, on that little iron stool.

"Where did Col. Bowen get his fortune?" asked the listener.

"Now I can't tell you that," replied Mr. Slocum, waving a cheery greeting to a villager who stopped in passing to ask him how he was getting on. "He had a still-house," he continued, "and I suppose he made it in rum, like a lot of other first families of Rhode Island. Rum and the slave trade used to be mighty respectable occupations in them days. A number of the leading families in this State made the beginning of their money in trading rum for negroes.

"In front of Col. Bowen's place down at the water's edge there used to be when I was a boy, a big white building that was called Col. Bowen's stillhouse. I remember it mighty well, but it was never used at that time. There were great wooden vats there and it must have been used to make rum in, I suppose.

"And I suppose," he went on, "that the old Colonel must have made his money in that stillhouse long before I got old enough to understand much about it. He had it all by the time I grew old enough to know who he was.

"He must have had plenty of it, too, or else they wouldn't have been able to have that great house and all that land stretching down to the water that way. He was mightily respected around here, too, for everyone looked up to old Col. Bowen."

Col. Bowen died, full of years and honors, at his home, a very beautiful residence, both from its situation and from its furnishings. On the 29th of August, 1839, when he was in his 86th year, he prepared an account of the burning of the Gaspee, which is probably the best known narrative of that historic event.

Go to Col. Bowen's account of the Gaspee incident    |   Go to Biographical Notes on Ephraim Bowen
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Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 1997    Last Revised 03/2018   Slocum.html