Thomas Russell Bowden was born on May 20, 1841, near Williamsburg, the son of Lemuel J. Bowden and Martha Ellen Shackelford Bowden, and grew up on one of his father’s farms. In 1859 he entered the College of William and Mary, where he studied Latin, Greek, French, history, and economics for two years. As a member of the college’s Phoenix Literary Society, Bowden won a gold medal for his debating skills. He probably also studied law in his father’s Williamsburg office.
Bowden’s father and his unclewere uncompromising Unionists during the winter of 1860–1861. In the spring of 1862, after the Union army occupied Williamsburg and acquired responsibility for the patients in the Eastern Lunatic Asylum, Union officers appointed Henry Bowden clerk and steward of the institution and made Thomas Bowden collector of its pay-patient fund. With the withdrawal of the Union army later in the summer the Bowden family left Williamsburg, and the events of the Civil War made its members . Bowden’s father represented Virginia in the before his death on January 2, 1864, and Bowden’s sister later married Charles H. Porter, a Union army officer from New York who was a member of the Virginia Convention of 1867–1868 and served two terms in Congress from Virginia.
Bowden also entered politics. In May 1863 a convention of Virginia Unionists had nominated a ticket headed by Governorfor the so-called Restored government of Virginia, but the candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general withdrew from the race. Bowden then became the Unionist candidate for attorney general and was easily elected with the rest of the slate on May 28, 1863, by a small turnout of voters in Alexandria and other Virginia jurisdictions occupied by Northern forces. With 2,743 votes Bowden became the youngest attorney general of Virginia at the age of twenty-two.
With the collapse of the Confederacy in the spring of 1865, officials of the Restored government moved to Richmond and began to administer the entire state. Bowden divided his time between Richmond and the family home in Williamsburg. In the autumn of 1865 his younger brother Lemuel G. Bowden was serving as president of the board of the Eastern Lunatic Asylum and running unsuccessfully for the House of Delegates. In January and February 1866 the attorney general found himself in the peculiar position of being both a witness and a central figure in a two-pronged legislative investigation, of his uncle’s and his own administration of the hospital’s funds and the disappearance of its supplies in 1862, and of his brother’s and his own alleged improper attempts three years later to influence the votes of hospital employees in the legislative election. The investigating committee ultimately recommended taking no action against Bowden.
On March 10, 1869. a Republican Party convention nominated, the provisional incumbent, for governor, , an African American, for lieutenant governor, and Bowden for another term as attorney general. The Republican candidates all lost in the general election held on July 6. James C. Taylor defeated Bowden by a vote of 119,446 to 101,129, and on July 26, Bowden resigned as attorney general effective August 1, 1869. During his years in office the military authorities in effect controlled the government, limiting his responsibilities. Bowden’s few arguments before the Supreme Court of Appeals were usually confined to technical matters of criminal procedure, and so far as is known he did not seriously influence any consequential public policies.
On April 27, 1869, Bowden married Rosa Marion Sands, of Williamsburg. They had one daughter. Not long after leaving office as attorney general, Bowden moved to Washington, D.C., where he practiced law for more than twenty years. In August 1870 he was arrested in connection with a Richmond forgery case arising out of the administration of an estate in which he had been briefly involved. The count against him was dropped on September 13, and thanks in part to evidence Bowden produced, former Richmond mayor George Chahoon was subsequently convicted of forgery.
In addition to practicing law, Bowden published Blunders in Educated Circles Corrected (1889), a short book dedicated to the correction of common errors in grammar and English usage. Bowden died in Washington, D.C., on July 6, 1893, and was buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery in Williamsburg.
- Blunders in Educated Circles Corrected (1889)