Ruth Bowie was born a slave in Montgomery County, Maryland. When she died in 1955, she was the last person in Frederick County, Maryland, who had been born into slavery.
Letha Brown was a house servant and cook for the Mullinixes while Wesley was a field hand.
“Well she remembers the days of her slavery when custom permitted owners to wield the whip ‘for the least little thing’ and little Ruthie often felt the sting of the switch,” Sullivan wrote.
However, Ruth’s experience with this came from her interactions with Asbury’s wife, Elizabeth Mullinix whom she called “Ol’ Missy.”
Hilton says he has no doubt that Ol’ Missy beat Ruth. “She treated everybody like that not just Ruth,” Hilton said. “Family stories say she was a crazy woman.”
For the most part, Ruth worked in the main house. She was brought up to be a house servant like her mother. She would wash and iron clothes, clean house and take care of the Mullinix children.
“Often she would sit on a three-legged stool, crooning to the baby while her mistress in long hooped skirts worked a spinning wheel across the room,” Mehl wrote.
During Ruth’s childhood, the Mullinix farm switched from growing tobacco to general farming. This meant that fewer slaves were needed to handle the workload.
“Tobacco had blighted the land and general farming wasn’t as labor intensive as tobacco farming,” Hilton said.
So Mullinix reduced the number of slaves he owned. The ones he freed and who chose to remain on the farm help with the raising of corn, wheat and cattle.
The Civil War
As the country split in two during the War Between the States, Ruth had memories of soldiers riding along the country roads in Montgomery County. Some of them would camp near the Mullinix farm, steal horses or just generally frighten people.
Nearly 100 years after the fact, Ruth still remembered the day soldiers broke into the main house looking for food. She heard them coming and hid behind a sugar barrel.
One of the soldiers found her and yelled, “I’m hungry!”
“They’s meat in the pot an’ bread in the box,” Ruth whispered in fright.
The soldiers took the meat and bread and left without causing any more problems except that the family went hungry that night.
Though Ruth could remember the incident past her 100th birthday, whether the soldiers had been Union or Confederate escaped her.
Another day that Ruth never forgot was April 14, 1865, the day Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
What’s less certain is whether she attended the Gettysburg Address two years prior.
“Now she doesn’t know, but young friends say years ago she used to talk about that great day in Pennsylvania and they’re prone to believe that she was there,” Sullivan wrote.
Ruth stayed with the Mullinixes until she married Charles Bowie in 1880. He had fought in the war on the Union side. After the war ended, he had returned to Frederick County to work for Dr. T. E. R. Miller until he fell off a wagon, injuring his right arm so badly that it had to be amputated.