Tuesday, December 16, 2014

52 Ancestors: #50 John Kennedy Gowdy and the Search for John Paul Jones

Consul General John Kennedy Gowdy
John Paul Jones was the founder of the American Navy, a prolific and eloquent writer, and a fluent speaker of several languages. Perhaps the most well-known aspect of his posterity was his reply to a demand for surrender: "I have not yet begun to fight."  

However, when the celebrated admiral died in Paris in 1792, his burial was poorly recorded and his funeral was attended by few. For 113 years, America's first naval hero lay in an unmarked tomb in France.  One of the chief detectives in the search for his burial place was my third great grand-uncle, John Kennedy Gowdy.

John K. Gowdy was born in the small town of Arlington, Rush County, Indiana on August 23, 1843 to Adam McConnell Gowdy and Nancy Oliver.  The Gowdy family migrated from Rush County to Jasper County in 1848. When Adam Gowdy died at the young age of 48, John became responsible for the farm.  He divided his time by working on the farm during the summer and returning to Arlington each November, where he lodged with his sister Mary Jane and attended the local school.

At the age of 18, John K. Gowdy joined the Fifth Indiana Volunteer Cavalry.  He helped pursue and capture General John Hunt Morgan, the only Confederate leader to pass through Indiana. Gowdy served under General Ambrose Burnside in the winter of 1863-64 and under General William Tecumseh Sherman during the Georgia campaign.  After the war, Captain John K. Gowdy became an active member of the Grand Army of the Republic.

On January 24, 1867, John married Eve Eliza Gordon in Rush County, Indiana.  The Gowdys had three children, but only one, Fanny Alice, survived past childhood.  Their two year-old son, Latta Theodore, died two weeks after his sister Fanny was born, on March 24, 1870.  Between the years of 1887 and 1888, John K. Gowdy built a fine brick house in Rushville, Indiana. His former residence is now home to the Rush County Historical Society and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places of Rush County.

John K. Gowdy's house.
Gowdy was twice elected sheriff of Rush County (the youngest in the history of the county at the time.) From 1890 to 1897, he served as chairman of the Indiana Republican State committee.  In recognition of his services to the party, he was appointed by President William McKinley as consul-general to Paris on March 20, 1897.  The news of his position was reported in many papers throughout the country, including this California publication:  He will take with him to France, his wife and charming daughter.  Mr. Gowdy has no knowledge of the French language, but thinks he can manage it.  (Sacramento Daily Union, Vol. 93, No. 51, 13 Apr 1897.)  Consul-General Gowdy also took his horses to France.  The horses, "Rush" and "Brooks," were bred and trained in Rush County, Indiana. While in Paris, the horses were involved in an unfortunate incident:

John K. Gowdy at far right, wife Eve and daughter Fanny in coach.
Chaffeur Stephen Hordsbath and the Rush County horses.
Paris, France, 1898.
[M]iscreants broke into the private stable of United States Consul Gowdy in Paris and cut off the manes and tails of the American-bred horses that he had taken over from Rush Co., Indiana ...  It is assumed that this action was designed as a hint to Mr. Gowdy that he should do in Paris as the Parisians do, and drive bang-tailed horses.  It is an outrage and the severest punishment should be visited on the perpetrators if they can be discovered.  (The Breeder's Gazette, Vol. 34, 1898.)

Nearly two years after Gowdy began his service in France, he wrote a letter urging for an investigation to locate the remains of John Paul Jones:

To Representative Charles B. Landis, January 2, 1899, Paris, France.

It does seem strange that we have not identified ourselves in gratitude to him who fought our battles at sea in our struggle for independence and who was the first to secure our recognition as a Republic.  His achievement of glorious deeds commends itself to the gratitude of the country.  Every thoughtful American citizen can not but feel the deepest regret that we have shown no interest in his resting place.  The graves of other heroes of the Revolution have been marked, and honor paid.  John Paul Jones' love of liberty and devotion to the United States Government, and its principles, were the strongest passions of his life.  Besides fighting our battles, he identified himself in many ways with our Government, that in the past century should have called forth, as for other heroes of the Revolution, the praise and admiration of a grateful people.
                                                                                                               John K. Gowdy 

John Paul Jones Monument, Washington, D.C.
The quest began in June of 1899.  Two search teams were formed, one headed by U.S. Ambassador Horace Porter, and the other directed by John K. Gowdy. Although Consul-General Gowdy later wrote that the two worked in "perfect harmony", it seems that there was a spirited competition between the two teams.  The exhaustive search was concluded on April 14, 1905, when Porter's men discovered the coffin shortly before Gowdy's team arrived at the spot.  On January 26, 1913, the remains of John Paul Jones were at last re-interred at the Naval Academy Chapel at Annapolis, Maryland.

According to a transcript of an unidentified American newspaper, Captain John K. Gowdy ... never received the credit that [was] due him for his part in the search for the body of John Paul Jones.  On his own initiative and at considerable personal expense, Gowdy, while consul-general at Paris, employed a searching party and directed its operations.  John K. Gowdy later said that he did not have any hard feelings that the Ambassador received full credit for the discovery.

Consul-General Gowdy was also instrumental in the purchasing the right to build the Panama Canal. As recognition for his extensive services to France, John K. Gowdy was awarded the Legion of Honor, the highest decoration in France, on September 30, 1905.

John K. Gowdy died at his Rushville home on June 25, 1918, at the age of 74.  On the day of his funeral, flags were lowered to half-mast and many local businesses were closed.  Scores of telegrams from old political friends were received by his family.  John K. Gowdy is buried at Arlington East Hill Cemetery in his birthplace of Arlington, Indiana.

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