Mary Magdalena Bowyer

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Mary Magdalena Bowyer (Woods)

Also Known As: "Magdalena Wood", "Magdalene (Woods) McDowell Borden", "Magdalena"
Birthplace: Dunshauglin, Meath, Ireland
Death: Died in Rockbridge, Virginia, United States
Place of Burial: Fairfield, Rockbridge, Virginia, USA
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Samuel Woods and Elizabeth Woods (Campbell)
Wife of Capt. John McDowell; Benjamin Fowle Borden, Gent. and Col. John Bowyer
Mother of Col. Samuel McDowell; Col. James McDowell; Sara Martha Trimble; Sarah Fred; Elizabeth McDowell and 6 others

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Mary Magdalena Bowyer

Mary Magdalena Woods

  • Birth:  1710/11 - Dunshaughlin, County Meath, Ireland
  • Death:  1800 - Timber Ridge, Rockbridge County, Virginia, USA
  • Burial: "Thornhill," Rockbridge, VA
  • Parents: Samuel Woods, Elizabeth Campbell
  • Married: John McDowell (2nd wife?), Benjamin Borden, John Bowyer (1st wife)

"It has been said that she was a 'very beautiful' woman. She lived to be 104 years old!" (

Magdalena and John McDowell were the parents of:

  1. Samuel Ephraim born 29 Oct 1735 m. Mary McClung
  2. James born 1739 m. Elizabeth Cloyd
  3. Sarah Martha born 16 Oct 1741 m. George Moffett

In 1743, Magdalena married Benjamin Borden - they were the parents of three children:

  1. Martha born 1748
  2. Benjamin born 1749
  3. Hannah born 1753

In 1753, Magdalena married John Bowyer - they had no children.

Richest Woman in Frontier America

Footnote: The historians of today believe Magdelene was indeed very wealthy, but not the richest woman west of the Blue Ridge Mountains as stated by the historian of old, Neander Woods. However, Neander Woods was born in 1844, and lived in our lands. He was one of our people and I believe he was just stating what the family believed to have been true.

Capt. John McDowell had been a very important member of the colonial gentry as the surveyor and agent for the Borden Tract in Virginia. His wife Magdalena Wood was the granddaughter of Archibald Campbell, the 8th Earl of Argyll in Scotland, and later married the rich (but useless) Benjamin Borden, Jr. after Capt John’s death, becoming the heir of the Borden Estates and the richest woman in frontier America.

She was noted in history as being a strikingly beautiful woman with blond hair, very intelligent, and possessing great charm, who was often seen astride a famous black stallion, wearing a hunter’s green riding cloak with gold buttons and a bonnet with many plumes. After Borden’s death, Magdalena married John Bowyer, who was 20 years her junior. Magdalena had written up a marriage agreement between herself and John Bowyer to protect her children’s inheritance, but one day sitting by the fire with it in her hand, Bowyer grapped it from her and threw it in the fire. The legal squabbles that ensued after her death over the inheritance continued for many years.


Mary Magdalena Woods was the daughter of Samuel Woods and Elizabeth Campbell, NOT -Michael Marion Woods and Mary Campbell-. Samuel was Michael's brother and Elizabeth was Mary's sister. Samuel McDowell, Magdalena's and John's oldest son, born in 1735 was named for Magdalena's father, Samuel Woods.

This has been proven through verifiable records that were obviously not researched by Neander Woods, the author who later admitted he incorrectly relied on the Woods-McAfee unverified information when he wrote that Mary Magdelena was the daughter of Michael and Mary. (2)


According to the testimony in Augusta County trials, Magdalena was the second wife of John McDowell and she married him about a year before emigrating. Her son, Samuel was born in Pennsylvania after they emigrated. She was married in 1732/3. She was just over 21, so she was born in 1710/11.

Magdalene was "a famous beauty". Mary McDowell Greenlee described Magdalene's arrival in the Valley: "With her family she rode a white stallion wearing a green velvet riding habit that fell to the ground, and with a hat with twelve ostrich plumes." In the space of the next two years, the McDowell's built a log home, cleared and planted crops of hemp, rye and wheat and had two more children. James and Sarah. As more people arrived and the settlement grew, Magdalene's home became the center of the community as well as the sales office for the Borden Grant. Her husband, John, was the land agent representing the Borden interests. One of the visitors received by Magdalene in early 1742, was Benjamin Borden, Jr. who was viewed with coldness and suspicion by Magdalene and a the other settlers. In December, the newly appointed Captain John McDowell assembled his militia company in front of the house and marched off to fight the Indians, and it is here that his bloody body was returned and Magdalene prepared it for burial.

She died in 1800, at age 90—not 100. She was buried at Thornhill, the estate that started out the land paid to John McDowell by the Bordens for surveying and helping to bring in settlers (all relatives of him and his wife—mostly his wife) to the Grant so the Bordens could retain it. The house was built by Benjamin Borden Jr.—Magdalena’s second husband, who had been interested in her even before her first husband died.

Magdalene was not completely alone in the wilderness. Samuel was seven and able to help with his three siblings, she had three servants and there were McDowells, Greenlees, Woods and Wallaces living all around her. Never the less, it was not easy being alone and when Benjamin Borden, Jr. arrived to take over the land business, after his father's death, the temptation was great to change her poor feelings about him. They were married at Timber Grove Meeting House in 1744 and Ben Jr. moved into the homestead.

There was a minor scandal about the 2nd marriage, but none of the local families ever blamed Magdalena. Essentially, Benjamin put her into a situation where she could not refuse his offer of marriage, even though it was less than one year after John McDowell died. It was not that something had necessarily happened, but Benjamin made sure that it appeared there had been a compromising situation. The family made sure that the Bordens paid, though.

She had two more children by Ben, Martha and Hannah, before he and Hannah died from the smallpox epidemic in 1753.

The third husband, John Bowyer had come into the area as a younger son of a decent family and a school teacher and some-time accountant and estate manager. Magdalena’s 2nd husband, died just as suddenly as the first, and none of her children were grown yet. Her household and estate were “a mess.” John Bowyer brought order to it and enlarged the house. He never had any children with her. Yet, it was his relatives who eventually inherited Thornhill, but not a lot else. That’s what the inheritance lawsuits were all about. First the McDowell children had to sue to get all of their lands, then Magdalena and Benjamin Borden’s only surviving daughter and her spouse had to sue John Bowyer. (3)

Magdalena was one of the three women who placed their names on the call for the pastoral services of the Rev. John Brown to the Timber Ridge and New Providence Churches. The other two women were the widow McClung and Agnes Martin. When the Rev. John Blair, "set in church order" the people of the Timber Grove Meeting House in 1746, Magdalena Borden placed her name on the roster; Benjamin Borden, Jr., being a Quaker as was his father before him, never became a member. Her signature to the call for the Rev. Mr. Brown indicates that she was recognized as one of the mainstays of the congregation. (3)



  1. Cecilia Linda Fabos-Becker Research, Cecilia Linda Fabos-Becker, (Various Internet message boards. "Google" her name to find messages associated with the Woods Family of Dunshaughlin Castle, County Meath, Ireland.).
  2. Find A Grave Memorial# 59565145
  3. Bledsoe-Turner Rootsweb database quoting researcher Cecilia Becker, 2007
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Mary Magdalena Bowyer's Timeline

Dunshauglin, Meath, Ireland
December 14, 1732
Age 22
Donegal, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
October 29, 1735
Age 25
Fairfield, Rockbridge, Virginia, United States
Age 29
Augusta , Virginia
October 16, 1741
Age 31
Augusta, Virginia
Age 33
Frederick County, Virginia, United States
Age 33
Timber Ridge, Rockbridge, Virginia
January 15, 1746
Age 36
Age 43
Augusta, Virginia
Age 43