John Bowne Memorial / Lime Tree Road

Who Was John Bowne?

Although John Bowne’s name is not widely known in his birthplace of Matlock, he is famous in America as someone who played a key part in formulating their rights and freedoms in the America Constitution.

John Bowne was born at Lime Tree Farm in Matlock (which was situated somewhere near the Londis Store at the bottom of Hurst Rise, Matlock) in 1627. His family is recorded as living at the farm since at least 1554. Sadly his house in Matlock – Lime Tree Farm – no longer exists. It was demolished in the early 1950s to make way for the post-war Hurst Farm housing development. The Farm had taken its name from a lime tree which stood at the site for over 300 years – it was cut down in 1928.

Emigration and Bowne’s Fight for Religious Freedom in America

John Bowne emigrated to America in 1649, along with his father and sister, and settled in Boston. John went on to marry Hannah Feake, a great-niece of the State’s Governor. The couple adopted Quaker beliefs and moved to the village of Vlissingen (now Flushing) on Long Island in the Dutch colony of New Netherland. By 1661 he had built a home in Flushing on land purchased from the native Americans.

John Bowne was best known for his courageous defence of religious freedom. Flushing was then part of the colony of New Netherlands, and its town charter, granted by the Dutch West India Company in 1645 guaranteed “liberty of conscience”. When the newly appointed Director General, Peter Stuyvesant, a staunch Calvinist, prohibited the practice of religions other than that of the Dutch Reform Church, town leaders delivered the Flushing Remonstrance to Stuyvesant challenging his edict, which was aimed chiefly at Quakers. In 1662 John Bowne openly defied the ban and allowed Quakers to hold services in his Long Islands home. Bowne was arrested and imprisoned and when he refused to pay a fine or plead guilty, Stuyvesant banished him to Holland, where he argued his case successfully before the Dutch West India Company. Stuyvesant was ordered to permit dissenting faiths to worship freely. John Bowne returned to America victorious. In 1664 Britain took over the colony, renaming it New York. in 1664 and the principal of religious freedom was established in New York Colony. His actions and those of his fellow residents of Flushing established principles that evolved into the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution in 1789 as The First Amendment.

How John Bowne is Remembered in America

John Bowne’s house in New York still exists – it is the second oldest house in the city and is now a Museum, and has recently undergone a multi million dollar restoration. The house was chartered by the New York State Board of Regents, is run by the Bowne House Historical Society and owned by New York’s Parks Department. The Management Board still includes his descendants

John Bowne’s House in Flushing, New York

His descendants have played an important part in American life. Robert Bowne founded what is now the oldest public company in America, Bowne & Co. He was a founding director of the Bank of New York and also the Mutual Assurance Company, the city’s first fire insurance company. He was also a founder of the New York Hospital and the American Chamber of Commerce. Another descendant donated land for the establishment of Central Park.

This cutting (left) from the New York Sun in October 1945 records how the people of Flushing decided to honour the Bowne legacy. The Bowne House Historical Society ensures that this legacy is still honoured.

The John Bowne School in Flushing with some 3300 students is named after him. For more details of John Bowne and his descendants please follow the link.

Matlock Civic Association Honours John Bowne

A recent Matlock Civic Association project commemorates John Bowne’s achievement on a bronze plaque on a local gritstone plinth at the junction of Hurst Rise and Lime Tree Road. A new lime tree has been planted too – ninety years after the original tree was felled. On 20th October, to celebrate the completion of this project, the plaque was draped in the British and American flags which were pulled away in a joint unveiling ceremony involving the six partner organisations involved.

This included three guests from the Bowne House Historical Society in New York who had made a special trip for the unveiling – two of them direct descendants of John Bowne. The Americans had paid for the plaque while the costs of the plinth and tree were shared between the Civic Association, Matlock Town Council and Derbyshire Dales District Council. Local Quakers were present and Waterloo Housing formally took ownership of the completed project. 

Grateful thanks are given to all those who supported Matlock Civic Association in this project including Matlock Town Council , The Bowne House Historical Society ,The Quakers of Flushing in New York and the Quakers of Matlock together with  Christine Shaller (Descendant of John Bowne in America). “John Bowne was a powerful example of the Quaker principles of Justice, Peace and Equality. It is good to remember these principles as well as the man.” – Judith Green (representing local Quakers).

This 2018 newsletter from the Bowne House Historical Society tells more of the story and contribution of the Bowne family.


A tight fit! Jimmy Osborne helps Adam Needham of Askey Transport fit the stone plinth. The red line is approximately ground level.
Drilling the holes; Dave Aucott
Fixing the plaque; Dave Aucott. New lime tree is behind.
The newly installed plaque