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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Owen, Thomas

by William S. Powell, 1991; Revised by Jared Dease, Government and Heritage Library, December 2022

1735–2 Nov. 1806

Thomas Owen, Revolutionary officer, was born of Welsh ancestry in Chester County, Pa., but moved to North Carolina with his father when he was about five. The family may have lived first in Granville County but soon was established in Bladen County. Nothing is known of Owen's early training and education, but over time he acquired three thousand acres of land and, by 1790, enslaved thirty-seven people. In August 1775 he was elected a justice of the Bladen County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, and on 9 Sept. 1775 he was made major of the local militia company.

During the American Revolution he was promoted to colonel of state troops, and at the Battle of Camden on 16 Aug. 1780 he earned a reputation for bravery. A year later he saw action at the Battle of Elizabethtown, where the Tories were routed and their commander, John Slingsby, was killed. A contemporary who knew him well said: "Tom Owen was a warm-hearted friend, generous to a foe, and as brave a soldier as ever wore a sword."

Owen represented Bladen County in the Third Provincial Congress in 1775 and in the Fifth Provincial Congress in December 1776, when the state constitution was adopted. He early demonstrated his Revolutionary sentiments as a member of the county safety committee. Owen also served in the House of Commons in 1777 and in the state senate in 1778–79, 1779–80, 1784–85, 1787, and 1790. Intermittently during the war, he was a member of a legislative committee to consider ways of bringing the Tories of the Cape Fear section "to justice" and of a committee concerned with obtaining material from the Wilcox Iron Works on Deep River in Chatham County. On one occasion he was reimbursed for expenses in connection with taking four Continental army deserters to headquarters. At the Hillsborough convention of 1788, when North Carolina declined to approve the new U.S. Constitution, he was a delegate from Bladen County. Reelected to the Fayetteville convention of 1789, he voted with the majority to adopt the Constitution.

Owen's wife was Eleanor Porterfield, the daughter of James Porterfield and the sister of Captain Dennis Porterfield, who was killed at the Battle of Eutaw Springs, S.C., in September 1781. Thomas and Eleanor Owen were the parents of John, governor of North Carolina; James, a general and congressman; and Mary, who married Elisha Stedman.


Samuel A. Ashe, ed., Biographical History of North Carolina, vol. 8 (1907).

Bladen County Wills (North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh).

Walter Clark, ed., State Records of North Carolina, vols. 12 (1895), 19–22 (1901–7).

William L. Saunders, ed., Colonial Records of North Carolina, vols. 9–10 (1890), 12 (1895).

John H. Wheeler, Historical Sketches of North Carolina from 1584 to 1851 (1851).

Additional Resources:

Alexander Martin to Thomas Owen, October 28, 1782. Colonial and State Records of North Carolina. Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (accessed March 5, 2013).

North Carolina General Assembly. Minutes of the North Carolina Senate November 19, 1787 - December 21, 1787
Volume 20. 314. Colonial and State Records of North Carolina. Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (accessed March 5, 2013).

Vincent, W. Curt. "It’s just a real shame …" The Bladen Journal. April 3, 2012. (accessed March 5, 2013).

Parker, Louis F. Owen Hill, Home of Bladen’s Three Illustrious Sons : 1735-1865, Colonel Thomas Owen, General James Owen, Governor John Owen. Elizabethtown, N.C.: L.F. Parker. 1957.

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