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John R. Bowles
*John R. Bowles was born on this date in 1826. He was a Black teacher and minister.
John R. Bowles was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. Little is known of his youth. By 1848, he had relocated to Ross County, Ohio, where he married Sarah Bryant. Records show they had at least two children. Bowles was a schoolteacher and a minister in Chillicothe, Ohio. He served as minister of Chillicothe's First Anti-slavery Baptist Church, also known as First Baptist Church.
While he was pastor, Bowles helped organize a choir, which traveled across southern Ohio; during the performances, the choir resonated with support of abolitionism. With the American Civil War's outbreak in April 1861, Bowles became convinced that his conflict would lead to slavery's destruction. He had actively assisted runaway slaves along the Underground Railroad in pursuit of freedom and had hoped to enlist in the Union military to support abolitionism.
However, the federal government prohibited Blacks from military duty, which was changed after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Bowles enlisted in the Company K of the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. In February 1864, he enlisted as a Chaplin, becoming the first Black in the regiment to be a commissioned officer. His commission service ended after the war, and he resigned on June 12, 1865.
Upon leaving the military, Bowles returned to Ohio, where he continued to minister and teach in the public schools in Chillicothe and then in Cincinnati and Xenia. John R. Bowles died in Xenia, Ohio, on September 3, 1874.