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John Bryan Bowman (October 16, 1824 – September 21, 1891) was an American lawyer and educator, most notably as the founder of Kentucky University and the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky. He was the grandson of Kentucky frontiersman Abraham Bowman, as well as the grandnephew of Isaac, Joseph and John Jacob Bowman. His great-grandfathers were noted Virginia colonists George Bowman and Jost Hite.[1][2]

John Bryan Bowman
Born(1824-10-16)October 16, 1824
DiedSeptember 21, 1891(1891-09-21) (aged 66)
Alma materBacon College
OccupationLandowner and educator
Known forTrustee of Bacon College; founder of Kentucky University ,the University of Kentucky, and Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky.
Home townHarrodsburg, Kentucky
TitleRegent of Kentucky University
Mary Dorcas Williams (m. 1846–1891)
Parent(s)John Bowman and Mary Mechum
RelativesAbraham Bowman, grandfather
Sarah Henry, grandmother
Isaac Bowman, granduncle
Joseph Bowman, granduncle
John Jacob Bowman, granduncle



Born to John Bowman and Mary Mechum/Mitchum in Mercer County, Kentucky. John Bryan Bowman's father John Bowman studied law under Henry Clay and became licensed to practice law in 1809, and inherited in 1825 the house, Bellevue, from his first cousin, John Bowman Jr., son of Col. John Bowman Sr., brother of Col. Abraham Bowman. John Bryan Bowman was a member of the Disciples of Christ and attended Bacon College; his father being an incorporator and trustee. Upon graduation in 1842, Bowman studied law under Major James Taylor and was admitted to the bar, although he did not become a practicing lawyer. Four years later, he married Mary Dorcas Williams and settled down as a farmer after inheriting the Old Forest Farm in Mercer County. Managing the property for the next ten years, he became a successful farmer and landowner.[3]

He was also a trustee Bacon College until the close of his old alma mater. In 1857, he led a campaign to found a new academic institution, Kentucky University, on the site of the defunct college administrated by the Disciples of Christ.[4] He proposed to the other trustees to organize a fundraiser to raise $100,000 for an endowment, one-third of the proceeds to be raised in Mercer County. With the assistance of Major James Taylor, he was successful in gathering $30,000 in his county and, traveling to nearby communities, gained $150,000 within five months. Due to his efforts, the Kentucky Legislature granted a charter in Harrodsburg on January 15, 1858.[3][5]

Named a regent by the Kentucky state legislature, he oversaw the later merging of Kentucky and Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky in 1865. During the time, he also founded and organized the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky as an extension of the new Lexington university. Under his administration, Bowman's liberal-minded policies saw Kentucky University grow as a modern center for education and learning during the next several years.[4]

He remained its chief executive administrative and financial officer, a position he held for over twenty years until he resigned in 1874.[3] Following his retirement however, criticism from both his church and the state eventually caused the withdrawal of the state A&M college in 1878,[clarification needed] and the board of curators abolished the office of regent.[4]

In 1887, he moved to the New Mexico Territory due to his wife's poor health. In his later years, he became a prominent resident in the Las Cruces-area and was active in promoting industrial interests in the territory serving two years as the general manager of the Southern New Mexico Fair Association. He was involved in the organization of Hocker College, the College of the Bible and Commercial College.[3] Returning to Harrodsburg, he died at the home of his brother-in-law John Augustus Williams on September 22, 1891. He was buried in Lexington Cemetery.[4][6]


  1. ^ Wayland, John W. A History of Shenandoah County, Virginia. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1980. (pg. 588) ISBN 0-8063-8011-X
  2. ^ Johnson, E. Polk. A History of Kentucky and Kentuckians: The Leaders and Representative Men in Commerce, Industry and Modern Activities, Vol II. Chicago and New York: Lewis Publishing Co., 1912. (pg. 1132)
  3. ^ a b c d Ohles, John F. Biographical Dictionary of American Educators. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1978. (pg. 153-154) ISBN 0-8371-9893-3
  4. ^ a b c d Kleber, John E. The Kentucky Encyclopedia. Louisville: University Press of Kentucky, 1992. (pg. 107-108) ISBN 0-8131-1772-0
  5. ^ Wright, John Dean. Transylvania, Tutor to the West. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2006. (pg. 191-192) ISBN 0-8131-9167-X
  6. ^ Bowman, Charles W. Bowman Genealogy: Fragmentary Annals of a Branch of the Bowman Family. Washington, D.C.: Law Reporter Printing Company, 1912. (pg. 93-94)

Further readingEdit

  • Pyles, Henry M. "The Life and Work of John Bryan Bowman". (doct. diss., University of Kentucky, 1945).
  • Wayland, John W. The Bowmans: A Pioneering Family in Virginia, Kentucky and the Northwest Territory. Staunton, Virginia: McClure Co., 1943.

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