Tubman’s Ties To Georgetown

Historic marker will highlight connection between Georgetown resident James A. Bowley and abolitionist icon Harriet Tubman 

GEORGETOWN, SC – After months of research and planning, the Georgetown community will unveil the James A. Bowley-Harriet Tubman Historic Marker with two days packed with a variety of exciting events the weekend of Sept. 20 and 21, 2019.

Harriet Tubman

“In culmination of a fascinating journey, we are excited to invite Georgetown and surrounding communities to the unveiling of this significant yet sadly hidden piece of history,” said Steve Williams, local historian, newspaper columnist and co-chair of the Bowley-Tubman Historic Marker committee. “This is a momentous occasion in Georgetown not only for historical reasons but for the potential economic impact as Harriet Tubman is an internationally renowned freedom fighter and civil rights icon. There is heightened interest in Tubman’s legacy from around the world.”

The Georgetown Story

After accomplishing her own escape from enslavement, it was Harriet Tubman’s deep love for her family that propelled her to return to Maryland slave territory to rescue enslaved family members in 1849. James A. Bowley, his baby sister Araminta, and their mother Kessiah (Tubman’s niece) were the first people Tubman rescued. Once free, Tubman ensured that James received a coveted education. 

Denied the right to an education herself, Tubman knew that literacy was its own liberation. Working long hours to pay for James’ tuition in a Philadelphia school during the 1850s secured his bright future. After the Civil War, Bowley settled at 231 King St. in Georgetown, where he worked with newly freed people as a teacher and eventually as commissioner of 60 Georgetown County Schools. Supported by the Freedman’s Bureau and resources raised (money, books, clothing, food and supplies) by Tubman and her allies in Auburn, NY, Bowley expanded educational opportunities for many in Georgetown.

Bowley was eventually elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives and served as chairman of the Ways and Means committee. As a trustee of the University of South Carolina, he opened the doors for blacks to attend the venerable institution in 1873. Later he published a newspaper (the Georgetown Planet) and became a distinguished probate judge.

The James Bowley house as it exists today and undergoes renovations.
(Photo by Mark A. Stevens)

Bowley’s life represents tangible evidence of African-American struggles and triumphs for family, freedom, equality, education, justice, self-determination, economic independence and community.

Local historian Kent Hermes has done extensive research on Bowley and Tubman. He also now owns Bowley’s former home at 231 King St., where renovations are under way.

A vintage photo of the James Bowley House.
(Photo courtesy of the Ballard Family) 

Through her involvement with Williams and Herme’s research, Dr. Kate Clifford Larson, author of “Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero,” developed a fondness for Georgetown. As a result, Dr. Larson will speak at the Georgetown County Library and Coastal Carolina University on Friday, Sept. 20 as part of the two-day celebration.

“Dr. Kate Larson is considered the pre-eminent researcher and author of Harriet Tubman,” said Dwight McInvaill, head librarian of the Georgetown County Library System. “We are excited to have her join us on Sept. 20 for a speaking engagement and book signing. In addition, we have added “Bound for the Promised Land” to our library’s collection for the future enjoyment of our patrons.”

Schedule of Events 

Friday, Sept. 20
11 a.m. – Georgetown County Library, 405 Cleland St., Georgetown
4 p.m. – Coastal Carolina University, Johnson Auditorium, Wall 116, Conway

Dr. Kate Clifford Larson, author of “Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero”

Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019

8 a.m. – Historic Bowley House, 231 King St., Georgetown
GirlTrek Health Walk through the historic district of Georgetown, SC; Register at https://www.girltrek.org/168438/trekking_to_celebrate_bowley- tubman_history_in_georgetown_sc 

11:30 a.m. – Historic Bowley House, 231 King St., Georgetown
Bowley-Tubman Historic Marker Dedication 

12:30 p.m. – Georgetown County Museum, 120 Broad St., Georgetown
Reception with Dr. Kate Clifford Larson, author; Steve Williams, local author, newspaper columnist and historian; Kent Hermes, local historian and owner of the Historic Bowley House.

The weekend events are possible through the generous support of the following organizations: The Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., the Georgetown County Library System, Georgetown County School District, Georgetown County Museum, Coastal Carolina University, The Village Group and the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce.