Bowen, John (1801–1867)

By: Mary Ann Noonan Guerra

Type: Biography

Published: June 1, 1995

Updated: November 8, 2016

John Bowen, merchant and city official was born as Ralph William Peacock on September 18, 1801, to Ralph William Peacock and Mary Swope Peacock of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended the University of Pennsylvania. He and his brother George Steinmetz Peacock may have traveled through Texas in 1825 on their way to South America. It is claimed that the two brothers acquired a large cattle ranch in Argentina, which they lost in a revolution. They are also said to have owned a wholesale commission business in Rio de Janeiro as well as large landholdings and other business interests in Brazil. The brothers made their way back to the United States. In Philadelphia, George married and became a father. He moved with his family to Texas but contracted cholera and died in Indianola or Port Lavaca; he was buried in San Antonio. Ralph traveled to San Antonio from Philadelphia by way of South America in March 1838. Bowen served as Postmaster of the Republic of Texas from 1841 to May 22, 1845. On January 16, 1845, he purchased a five-acre tract of land, a peninsula formed by the San Antonio River that he called Bowen's Island, for $300. On the "island" was the old homestead, part of the original Spanish land grant of the Curbelo family; the Curbelos were Canary Islanders. The house became the first United States post office in San Antonio, with Bowen serving as postmaster again in 1847. In 1848, by act of the Texas legislature, Peacock changed his name to that of his half-brother, John Bowen, of Philadelphia and of Bowen's Hall, Kingston, Jamaica, upon the request of Bowen, who had no heirs. The act was signed by Governor George T. Wood. Peacock served as an alderman in 1848–49, and after legally changing his name he served as city treasurer from 1849 to 1854, in 1856–57, and 1857–58. During the years of the republic and early statehood he operated a store for hides, wool, and pecans, as well as a general store on Main Plaza. George Peacock had left a widow and child, and John Bowen married the widow, Mary Elizabeth Allen Peacock, in San Fernando Church on August 29, 1850. They built a seven-room cottage known as "La Quinta" on the banks of the San Antonio River and raised seven children. Bowen was a Unitarian and began serving as county commissioner on August 12, 1865. He died on December 13, 1867, and was eulogized in the San Antonio Express "as a man of great firmness of character [who] stood firm through all the dark days of the [Civil War], as a loyal citizen to the United States." He was buried alongside his brother George on Bowen's Island. In 1920 when the San Antonio River channel was changed, their remains were removed to San Fernando Cemetery No. 1. A state historical marker identifying John Bowen and his island is located at the site. Bowen should not be confused with the John S. Bowen who fought at the siege of Bexar.

Frederick Charles Chabot, With the Makers of San Antonio (Yanaguana Society Publications 4, San Antonio, 1937). A Twentieth Century History of Southwest Texas (2 vols., Chicago: Lewis, 1907).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Mary Ann Noonan Guerra, “Bowen, John,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 24, 2022,

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June 1, 1995
November 8, 2016