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John Allen Fowle
 John Allen Fowle, 1826-

From American Series of Popular Biographies. Massachusetts Edition. This Volume Contains Biographical Sketches of Representative Citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Boston: Graves & Steinbarger, 1891.


JOHN ALLEN FOWLE, of Dorchester, a wool merchant, who, with his wife, performed much philanthropic service in behalf of the soldiers during the great Civil War, was born in Boston, April 4, 1826, a son of George Makepeace and Margaret Lord (Eaton) Fowle. He comes of good old stock, being a descendant in the seventh generation of George Fowle, who was born in Scotland in 1610, was admitted a freeman at Concord, Mass., in 1632, and who died in 1682. From George Fowle the line of descent is as follows :--

Isaac, born 1648, died 1718; Isaac, second, born 1676; Henry, born 1707, died 1756; Jonathan, born in 1752; George Makepeace, born February 3, 1706; John Allen, the subject of this sketch.

Jonathan Fowle, the grandfather of John Allen Fowle, married Miss Sarah Makepeace, daughter of George Makepeace, a prominent merchant of Long Wharf, Boston; and they were the parents of five children.

George M. Fowle, son of Jonathan, was born in Roxbury, Mass. For many years he was engaged in the shipping and commission business at the wharves on Commercial Street, Boston. His wife, Margaret Lord Eaton, was born in Boston; February 3, 1700, being a daughter of Ebenezer Eaton, who about 1800 built the house on Chambers Street called "Eaton's Folly." Their children were as follows: George Washington, born July 9, 1821, now a resident of Jamaica Plain; John Allen, who died in infancy in 1825; John Allen, second, whose name begins this sketch; Samuel Abbott, who died in infancy in 1831; and Samuel Abbott, second, born in June, 1832, who is now a resident of Arlington. George Makepeace Fowle died in 1874., having survived his wife about two years.

John Allen Fowle was educated in Boston, attending school for some time at the corner of Boylston and Washington Streets, where his teacher was Mr. George Fowle, and at Northampton Academy, under the preceptorship of George Bancroft. After completing his studies he entered the employ of the old firm of Waterston, Pray & Co., with whom he remained for several years. In 1855 he went into business for himself, and so continued until the breaking out of the Civil War. He then joined the Marine Coast Guards, as aid to Commander Robert B. Forbes. This organization offered its services to the government; but they were not accepted, as there was no law by which outside and independent organizations could be received as a body into the regular naval service. Through the influence of Commander R. B. Forbes, Mr. Fowle was appointed to a position in the Navy Department at Washington; and during his connection with the department he recommended some forty officers of the old Coast Guard for positions in the volunteer navy.

Mr. Fowle's philanthropic work began as soon as he became a resident of Washington, he being chairman of the Navy Association for the Relief of Soldiers. In company with his future wife, then Miss Elida Barker Rumsey, he established a series of religious and other meetings that were largely attended by the soldiers, and the interest of which was largely increased and sustained by Miss Rumsey' s sweet voice; for she was musically gifted in more than an ordinary degree. It was in November, 1861, that Miss Rumsey first began to visit the hospitals with Mr. Fowle, and sing to the soldiers; and the knowledge of how little the boys had to look forward to from day to day, while under such depressing influences, first inspired the thought of supplying them with pictures, books, and other reading matter. One of the first things established was a Sunday evening prayer-meeting and a week-day concert in Columbia College Hospital, in an upper room in Auntie Pomeroys' ward (Mrs. Rebecca Pomeroy, of Chelsea, Mass., a well known hospital nurse, who served, for a time in President Lincoln's family). "The room was crowded night after night, and overflow meetings were held in the dining-room. The interest steadily increased; and the enthusiasm of the soldiers could not be repressed when Miss Rumsey' s sweet voice stirred their souls, and rekindled the noble, self-sacrificing spirit that had brought them to such a place. The soldiers planned what they wanted her to sing; and she threw into the songs all her great desire to bring the boys to their better selves, and help them to feel that they were not forgotten and alone." Mr. Fowle and Miss Rumsey also established a course of concerts in many of the hospitals, and founded a Soldiers' Free Library in Judiciary Square, Washington. The first one hundred dollars for the building fund was given by Mrs. Walter Baker, of Dorchester, Mass.; and this was followed by donations from many of the friends of Mr. and Mrs. Fowle, a greater part of the remainder being earned by Miss Rumsey and Mr. Fowle through their concerts. They also wrote letters and requests for aid for this purpose to newspapers in Boston, by which means they realized a fair sum and gathered a good-sized library. Each of the concerts in Washington netted about one hundred and fifty dollars. A grant of land for a site for the building was obtained by government appropriation, a joint resolution to that effect being introduced in the House of Representatives at Washington by Congressman Thomas D. Elliot, of New Bedford, and into the Senate by Solomon Foote of Vermont, and, passing both Houses, was signed by President Lincoln the same day. The building was erected, and dedicated March 1, 1863, and contained between five thousand and six thousand volumes. Thus was founded the first free library in Washington. The Secretary of War gave an ambulance for the use of the library, to distribute reading matter and supplies; and the building, besides fulfilling the library purposes, became the headquarters of various State soldiers' relief associations. Mr. and Mrs. Fowle were prominently connected with this work for some two and a half years, and their services were entirely gratuitous. He was married to Miss Rumsey (his second wife) on March 1, 1863 in the Hall of Representatives at Washington, D.C. about four thousand being present, mostly soldiers. The marriage service was performed according to the rites of the Episcopal church, by the late Rev. Alonzo H. Quint, pastor of the church which Mr. Fowle attended in Jamaica Plain and chaplain of the Second Massachusetts Regiment. Mr. Fowle's first wife, Adeline Frances Gifford, to whom he was united in 1851, died in 1860, leaving two children: John Allen, Jr., who lives in Oakland, Cal.; and Adeline Gifford, who lives at the home of her parents.

After the war Mr. Fowle returned to Massachusetts and engaged in the wool business, carrying on his operations both in New York and Boston. He resided. in Brooklyn, N. Y., for some ten years, but in 1877 returned to Boston, where he has since continued in business, his residence being in Dorchester. He is a member of the Dorchester Historical Society, the North Dorchester Improvement Society, and the Dorchester Republican Club. He was clerk of Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, N. Y., for three years, and is now president of the Mutual Improvement Society of Pilgrim Church, of Dorchester. Mr. and Mrs. Fowle are connected, by membership or otherwise, with several literary' and social or benevolent organizations. Mrs. Fowle was a member of the Old Couples' Home, the Helping Hand Society, the Miss Burnap's Home, and the Women's Charity Club. She belongs to Bunker Hill Chapter, and is an honorary member of the Army Nurses' Association. During the residence of herself and husband in Brooklyn, N. Y., she was a leading member of the choir of Plymouth Church. Mrs. Fowle's parents were John Wickliffe and Mary (Underhill) Rumsey, of New York City, and descendants of English and Dutch ancestry. With respect to her services during the war, it has been said of her: "Of all the women who devoted themselves to the soldiers in the Civil War, perhaps none had a more varied experience than Elida Barker Rumsey, a girl so young that Miss Dix would not receive her as a nurse. Undaunted by seeming difficulties, she persisted in, doing 'the next thing,' and so fulfilled her great desire do to something for the soldiers; for, wherever she saw a soldier in need, her ready sympathies were enlisted, little caring if the heart-beats stirred a coat of blue or gray.

Mr. and Mrs. Fowle have had four children, namely: Florence Howard, born in 1867 ; Edith Rumsey, who was born in 1869, and died at the age of five years; Edward Rumsey, born in 1872, who is engaged in business in Boston; and James Walter, born in 1878, deceased March 13,. 1900. Florence is the wife William J. Parker, Jr., and they have three children: Gladys Fowle, born in 1893; Howard Jefferson, born in 1895; and Kenneth Rumsey, born in 1898. Mr. and Mrs. Fowle adopted two other children, both soldiers' orphans: Annie Geisenheiner, who died in New York, and was buried in Washington; and Jennie Ormsby, who is still with her foster-parents in their Dorchester home.

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Created: November 1, 2004   Modified: November 1, 2004