William Augustus Bowles was born in 1764 in Maryland of a Tory family that enrolled him as an ensign in the British army at the age of fourteen. His first post was St. Augustine, where, after being childishly insubordinate, he was cashiered and provided the occasion for his first grand gesture—he flung his scarlet uniform into the river. After two years among the Indians, he returned to St. Augustine in 1781, bringing with him warriors in aid of the British against the Americans. He was commissioned a captain at the age of sixteen. He must have been gentle born; had that not been the case, he would not have been given officer's rank. He was serving as Captain Bowles in 1783, when Britain returned Florida to Spain.
The Loyalist troops who had retreated to Florida from the American Revolution were left stateless. Bowles, deprived of a profession as well, made his way to the West Indies, where he found employment as a musician, then as a portrait painter, and, finally, as an actor, his true calling. A painting of him in the National Portrait Gallery in London shows him as a matinee idol, dark-eyed, saturnine, Tyrone Powerish, as ready to seduce as to conquer. He was acknowledged to be attractive even by those who thought him deplorable.
His elegant and commanding form, fine address, beautiful countenance of varied expressions, his exalted genius, daring and intrepidity, all connected to a mind wholly debased and unprincipled, eminently fitted him to sway the bad Indians and worse traders among whom he lived. 1
Bowles could also sway royal governors. He was rescued from life upon a petty stage in 1788, by Lord Dunmore, the sixty-year-old Scot who had been demoted by the American Revolution from his previous assignment as the King's governor of Virginia to the lesser post of governor of the Bahamas. Dunmore was a descendant of the Stuart kings of Scotland in the female line; in 1745 his father had followed the Catholic Bonnie Prince Charlie against