Perkins/Shively Bowie

Rezin P. Bowie, Planters Advocate: August 24, 1838:  The first Bowie knife was made by myself in the parish of Avoyelles, in this state (Louisiana), as a hunting knife, for which purpose, exclusively, it was used for many years……The length of the blade was nine and one-quarters inches, its width one and one-half inches, single edged and not curved. 

 

Note: Rezin Pleasant Bowie resided in Avoyelles Parish Louisiana from October 1824 to August 1827.

The Perkins/Shively Bowie knife as displayed in the Old Capital Museum in Jackson, Mississippi is 15 ¼ inches long with a 10 ¼ inch blade. Perkins Bowie is another view of the Bowie knife once owned by the older brother of James Bowie, Rezin Pleasants Bowie. This authentic Henry Schively made Bowie is the earliest known signed & dated Bowie knife. The engraved inscription on the coin silver sheath reads:

PRESENTED TO

JESSE PERKINS

BY

R. P. BOWIE 1831

The top view shows the techniques, forged bolster, ebony handle, ferrule & shell pommel, used by this Philadelphia Surgical Instrument Maker of the 1830’s. The bottom view shows the bolster and blade transformation. The left side shows the Bolster, silver octagon ferrule, checkered ebony handle & silver washer with rivet. The shell pommel and attachment pin are shown in the pommel detail. Schively Philadelphia shows part of the maker’s stamp in the blade.

You can see the frog button and the extra metal thickness in the Sheath Throat photo. In the Frog Button view one can see the exquisite period engraving and the frog button. The Sheath Tip is also depicted.

On the 21st of June 1993 James Hrisoulas in the presence of Mary Lohrenz, Bob Heath, Ron Hill, and me discovered script letters scratched on the sheath in the same hand as on the pommel.  The scratched script words were engraved over by the engraver.  The scratched words were the same as the engraved words.  On the stud or frog button below center was scratched the script letters R P B by the same hand as on the pommel.

It is clear that the engraving was done after the scratched script.  The scratched word Presented is to the left of the engraved word JESSE, the script letters sse are between the engraved JESSE and PERKINS, directly to the left of the engraved letter R in R. P. Bowie is a scratched script by and R, part of a scratched script w can be seen between the engraved O and W in BOWIE, and the scratched script date 1831 is discernible.

The engraver did not engrave the scratched R P B on the frog button or the end of the pommel. The RPB Scratching is shown on the Pommel end view. To verify that R P Bowie did the scratching we can compare it to his handwritten Signature and Initials.

You will notice that the stems, proportions and curl or loop endings are the same. The scratchings are not as nice. Also notice that the letters on each example decrease in size from the R to the B. The signature of The signature of James Bowie shows the difference in the B's. Jesse Perkins Signature is depicted. It is a high probability that Rezin Bowie scratched the letters in the sheath.

In 1844 & 1845 Jesse Perkins paid taxes on his Bowie knife and dueling pistols. This Bowie knife was donated to the Mississippi Museum on May 28, 1918 by Thomas Gale, son of Abner G. Gale and Mary Perkins and grandson of Jesse Perkins. In the 1870 census Jesse’s wife, Mary B. Perkins, is living in the household of Abner Gale with Thomas Gale who was 13 years old. His grandmother may have given him the knife.

R P Bowie went to New York and Philadelphia in 1833 to have his failing eyesight renewed. In Philadelphia, he related the San Saba Indian fight to Samuel C. Atkinson publisher of the Atkinson’s Casket. Rezin could have had the knife made by mail order. Most of the Eastern hardware houses and some cutlers had representatives in New Orleans and Natchez.

But chances are that this knife was made on order of James Bowie. On 13 February 1826, James Bowie boarded a sailing ship at New Orleans bound for New York. He would pass through Philadelphia on his way to Washington City. On this trip he may have stopped at Henry Shively’s shop at 75 Chestnut Street and admired the knives and surgical instruments. It is more likely that he had the knife made by Schively on his second trip to Philadelphia. In late February of 1828, five months after his terrible encounter at the Sandbar Fight, he sailed for New York. This time his fame has preceded him. The knife’s fame is not yet established. He could have carried the large knife used in the Sandbar Fight to Schively as a pattern to have a knife or knives made for his brother.

Goodspeed's Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Mississippi published in 1891 provides a sketch of Jesse Perkins which may or may not be factual.

1st, - Colonel Perkins emigrated from Virginia in 1821.

2nd, - He settled in Natchez and engaged in mercantile pursuits.

3rd, - In Natchez he became friends of S. S. Prentiss, Hiram G. Runnels, Gen. Quitman, William L. Sharkey, Col. McClung, etc.

4th, - He appeared on field of honor as the second of Gov. Runnels.

5th, - James Bowie liked him so much that he gave Jesse one of the first specimens of his famous weapon known today as the bowie knife.

Jesse Perkins was born on 29 March 1798 in Goochland County Virginia. He was the son of William Perkins and Olive Judith Clopton. His mother descended from English peerage. Her ancestors built Holy Trinity Church and Kentwell Hall in Long Melford, Suffolk England.

According to Jesse Perkins’ descendant, Mrs. Jeanne Oglesby, he rode into Natchez on horseback with $75 in his pocket in March of 1821. Mrs. Oglesby has several letters that were written to Jesse and some that he wrote. She also has the notebook of Jesse’s daughter, Virginia, who married Frisby Freeland a wealthy planter. In 1871 she recorded some of Jesse’s reminiscences about his life. In 1820, Jesse’s father and family settled near Whippoorwill Bridge in Logan County Kentucky not far from Terrapin Creek where James Bowie was born in 1796. Jesse probably came from Kentucky to Natchez.

From Virginia’s notebook, in business Jesse amassed a fortune. He witnessed half a dozen duels and was involved with three. He was the second to the ex-governor of Mississippi (1833-1835), Hiram G Runnels’ duel with Volney E. Howard which was conducted outside of Columbus, Mississippi. Jesse told Runnels not to look Howard in the eyes for Howard had fought other duels. Runnels told Jesse that he was not afraid to look Howard in the eyes and that he would kill him as sure as the sun was rising above the roof tops. And Runnels would have but the lead ball was deflected from the heart as it struck a buckle of Howard’s suspenders. The ball struck a rib and coursed through the breast of Howard. Both survived and moved to Texas. Howard County Texas is named after Volney E. Howard and Runnels’ nephew, Harden J. Runnels, became a Texas Governor.

Jesse delivered a challenge for a duel from Colonel Darden to Colonel Gibson. Gibson refused to receive it. A fight ensued and "Pa stabbed Gibson", possibly with the Bowie knife given to him by Rezin P Bowie. The thought of Colonel Gibson dying weighed on Jesse’s mind. He was much relieved when Gibson lived. Jesse told Darden that he thought Colonel Gibson intended to kill him. And in a hotel in Clinton, Mississippi, Colonel Gibson pulled a sword from a cane and attacked Colonel Darden. Darden managed to kill Gibson with the sword from his cane.

We know that Jesse was in Natchez in 1823 because of a letter dated 14 June 1823, marked Natchez to Washington City. The letter was to Commodore Jesse Elliot from Charles Norton, recommending Jesse Perkins as a Midshipman in the US Navy. The letter was hand carried to Washington City by Jesse. A Natchez Mississippi Mercantile store ledger revealed that Jesse Perkins purchased merchandise amounting to $10.69 on 5 June and on 14 June 1824 paid for it in cash. Jesse along with M. Terrell witnessed an Adams County Probate Court record on July 18, 1824. In October 1824 and in January and February 1825 James Bowie purchased merchandise from William Brune in Natchez on credit.

On June 20, 1827 in a formal letter, Captain Quitman of the Natchez Fencibles invited Major Jesse Perkins in full uniform to a public dinner to celebrate the 4th of July. In June of 1828, Captain Quitman invited Lt. Colonel Jesse Perkins to attend the 4th of July public dinner. According to Mrs. Oglesby Jesse was selected as Grand Marshall of the parade held for General Andrew Jackson on 4 January 1828. Jackson was on his way to New Orleans to celebrate the 13th Anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans.

John A Quitman did not remain a Captain for long. He was appointed Brigadeir General of the Natchez Fencibles after his return from Texas in 1836. In 1846 he was commissioned as a brigadier general of volunteers in the Mexican War. He served with Gen. Zachary Taylor in the northern Mexico campaign of 1846 and with Gen. Winfield Scott in the campaign against Mexico City in 1847. His command was the first to enter the Mexican capital after its surrender, and Quitman was appointed civil and military governor of the city. He was brevetted to major general on September 23, 1846, "for gallant and meritorious conduct in the battle of Monterrey," and was promoted to major general on April 14, 1847. He received one of only fourteen swords ever awarded by resolution of Congress, "in testimony of the high sense entertained by Congress of his gallantry and good conduct in storming Monterrey." He became Mexican War Hero.

On July 21, 1827, Jesse Perkins proposed by letter to Mary Boursiquot Fontaine, the daughter of Patrick Henry Fontaine and Great Grand Daughter of American Patriot, Patrick Henry. He wrote the letter in Vicksburg and mailed it to Dicksville, Henry County Virginia. Patrick Henry Fontaine resided at Greenwood which was built on Patrick Henry’s estate called Leatherwood. At the time Mary was 19 years old.

On June 1, 1829, Jesse Perkins wrote a letter from Natchez to Major George Miller concerning the business partnership of Montgomery & Perkins. He then traveled to Henry County Virginia and on September 11, 1829 married Mary B. Fontaine at the Greenwood Estate. Two daughters were born at Greenwood, Virginia on January 12, 1831 and Mary on December 29, 1832. The third daughter was born in Mississippi in 1835 and died in infancy.

The Pontotoc Creek Indian Treaty was signed in October of 1832 where the Chickasaw ceded 6 million acres of land in Mississippi to the United States. The land was to be surveyed and sold so that the Chickasaw could be paid. President Andrew Jackson appointed Jesse Perkins’ father-in-law, Colonel Patrick Henry Fontaine, as Surveyor General.

According to the WPA History of Pontotoc County Mississippi:

When Colonel P. H. Fontaine, having received an appointment with the United States Land Office, came to Pontotoc in the fall of 1835, there came with him a long train of family connections, household goods, slaves, cattle, farm implements, etc.

The personnel of the caravan included N. W. Dandridge, a brother-in-law, married sons and daughters, and his own household.  The head of the family soon acquired two sections of land east of Pontotoc, and on the ridge one mile east, the erection of the manor house was begun, which was completed in the fall of 1835 and named "Ridgeway".

Mrs. Oglesby thinks that Jesse wife migrated with her father to Mississippi as early as 1833. Jesse received a letter while he was in Richmond, Virginia from William Spottswood Fontaine in August 1834. In 1834 Jesse bought 2 parcels of land from Angus McNeill in Coahoma County Mississippi. He paid $10.63 in taxes in Madison County Mississippi in 1835. The earliest land purchase in Madison County was in May of 1836. By 1839 Jesse owned 25 slaves and 1060 acres on the Pearl River valued at $4,920. From the letters written to Jesse while he was in Virginia and the Mississippi, Tax, & Deed records, we know that Jesse resided in Virginia from the summer of 1829 to 1834 or 1835. How could he receive Bowie knife from Rezin P Bowie in 1831?

In a letter postmarked Natchez, June 7, 1830 written by Angus MacNeill to Jesse Perkins at Dicksville, Henry County Virginia and forwarded to him in Richmond Virginia., reveals a possible visit by Jesse to Natchez in the winter of 1830-1831. Angus writes,

"Knowing where you are and the pleasure you are enjoying among so agreeable and beloved friends, but I hope with all their charms they may not be so fascinating as to induce you to remain with them during the winter, not that I wish by any means to deprive them of your society, but merely to divide your time among those who love you as well."

Angus sent Jesse a check for $1100 from Gab Tichener, John Wilkens has not replied in relation to $800 and Angus asks Jesse to send his reply to New York City for Angus will leave on the twentieth of the month.

In a letter dated June 9, 1832 to Col. Jesse Perkins addressed Richmond, Virginia, Angus does not mention that Jesse visited Natchez. He is replying to a letter from Jesse concerning the purchase of a 100 to 150 slaves. Angus plans on leaving on the twentieth to meet Jesse in Richmond. He ends the letter with, " ….my best respects to Mrs. P. & a kiss to your little Virginia."

Now Jesse’s one year daughter Virginia is the reason he did not go to Natchez in the winter of 1830-31 for she was born on January 12, 1831. A good father would not leave his wife at a time like this. He may have traveled to Natchez in the summer or fall of 1831. Where was Rezin in 1831? Was he in Natchez? 

On 12 February 1831, Stephen, James and Rezin P. Bowie sold their large sugar plantation on the right bank of Bayou Lafourche 1 ½ miles below Thibodauxville along with 82 negroes to Natchez residents, Robert J. Walker, Duncan S. Walker and James C. Wilkens. James Bowie, a Texas citizen, has returned to Louisiana for the sale. In New Orleans on 23 February 1831 James buys land on Bayou Lafourche from his brother Stephen and Angus McNeill, the partner of Jesse Perkins. James then went to Natchez. On the 9th day of March 1831 bail was executed for Angus McNeill and James Bowie. James returned to Texas in March and marries Ursala Veramondi on April 25, 1831 in Bexar.

Rezin Bowie continued to make land transactions in Lafourche Parish into June of 1831. He had planned to move to Texas with James. He was involved with the San Saba Indian Fight in Texas with James in November of 1831. However, he recorded some legal transactions in the Catahoula Parish Courthouse in Harrisonburg, La which is only 40 miles from Natchez. From the following transactions in the Catahoula Court House which were signed by Rezin P Bowie, we know that Rezin was in the vicinity of Natchez in July and September of 1831. He may have resided in Natchez after the plantation sale in February. Rezin P Bowie could very well have presented this Bowie knife to Jesse Perkins in Natchez, Mississippi in the summer of 1831.

8 July l831 -Know all men by these presents that JOHN J. BOWIE does hereby authorize and impower REZEN P. BOWIE to sell and receive payment on my lands in the Parish of Catahoula, State of Louisiana, or such parts of lands as my said attorney may think proper ....

Witness: R.P. BOwie, R.J. WALKER, B.M. CLARK

8 March 1831 - Be it remembered that I, JAMES BOWIE, do authorize and empower my brother, REZIN P. BOWIE, of Lafourche Interior Louisiana to sell lands, etc. in the State of Louisiana, Territory of Arkansas, or Province of Texas, in Mexico, and generally to do and perform my business of every kind ... and particularly to make any contracts for the purchase or sale of moveable or immoveable property, and particularly for the sale or exchange of lands in the U.S., for lands in Texas... and to make any such contracts with any person immigrating to Texas ... Parish of Lafourche ...

/s/ JAMES BOWIE Witness: R.J. WALKER, ELIJAH BELL

1 September 1831 - REZIN BOWIE, attorney in fact for my brother,JOHN J. BOWIE of Arkansas, and JAMES BOWIE of Texas, sale of 4000 arpens of land to WILKINS Z. WALKER, property owned in Catahoula, Rapides and Ouachita by the BOWIEs ...

/s/ R.P. BOWIE, JAMES BOWIE, JOHN J. BOWIE by their attorney R.P. BOWIE - Witness: JOHN MAXWELL

Sale to JAMES C. WILKINS, ROBERT J. WALKER, and DUNCAN J. WALKER

on the unsold portion of their land in Ouachita, Rapides, Concordia, Catahoula and Natchitoches, originally containing 67,000 arpens, now supposed to contain between 30,000 and 40,000 arpens for $20,000 ...