A History Mystery: The Disappearance of Burgess Thomas Dowse

Thomas Dowse was the epitome of a self-made man in the earliest days of the Virginia Colony. He came to Virginia in 1608 as an indentured laborer, served the leadership as a drummer when in battles against the Powhatan Indians, and survived a riverside ambush where he was the sole survivor of the boat’s crew. Dowse was a very respected man, enough to be given “Ancient Planter” status after his indenture ended after 1615, and ultimately chosen to be one of two burgesses from Henrico (currently referred to as Henricus) to the first assembly at Jamestown in 1619.

Because of his status he was awarded a land grant around Henrico, eventually Charles City. Sometime around 1621-1622, he took a wife, Ann, and the two settled down near the coast at Elizabeth City. In all, Dowse had about 400 or more acres to work in Virginia. It was so successful for him that in 1623, to help the colony recover from the 1622 uprising, Ann Dowse signed off on 9 barrels of tobacco and goods for Virginia’s relief.

Sometime between 1625 and 1626, after King James I took control of Virginia, Thomas and Ann Dowse both made a trip to Kinsale, Ireland, presumably looking for a better price for their tobacco. While there, “Captain Dowse” decided to take the £500 he made from his tobacco sales and run off with a married woman, Charity Lovell, wife of the proprietor of The Plume of Feathers tavern-inn where the Dowses were staying.  Witnesses say that after the second day the two left and vanished into Ireland.  Sometime before Dowse left, he legally signed over to Anne Dowse all holdings and goods in his name in Virginia. She was left penniless in Kinsale and described as “destitute of means.” Local Irish merchants came to her assistance and secured funding for her return, upon which she claimed her estate in the autumn of 1626.

Following this incident, no record of Thomas Dowse, Charity Lovell, or Ann Dowse can be found.

Why did Dowse give up everything in Virginia to vanish with this Irish woman? Was this a spur of the moment act?

It’s a history mystery.