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Story Archives: Peggy arrives in Natchez country after a long, cold voyag
|Peggy arrives in Natchez country after a long, cold voyag|
(Fifth in a series)
In the community of Western in New York state on Sunday, July 14, 1805, Methodist evangelist Lorenzo Dow and his new bride, Peggy, said good-bye to Peggy's sister, Hannah, and her husband, Smith Miller. The Millers had been among the first white settlers in the central part of the state and a number of neighbors turned out to offer their best wishes for their new life in Mississippi Territory.
Hannah stood on a log and said a few words to her longtime friends. "Oh! What weeping and embracing," Lorenzo Dow recalled in his autobiography. He would see Hannah three more times, but Peggy would never see her sister again. In Claiborne County in Mississippi Territory – on Clarks Creek four miles south of Gibson Port, known today as Port Gibson -- the couple settled to build a sawmill and hoped to earn a good living.
Dow, who would write a bestseller in the 19th century about his ministry in America and Europe, preached for the first time in Natchez country in 1803, which had long been a destination for Americans from the eastern seaboard and interior states. In Claiborne County, Smith Miller's alcoholism and lack of business ability resulted in an unfinished saw mill, excessive debt and the break up of his marriage.
After preaching in England and Ireland, Dow and Peggy learned after returning home that Hannah, who was in her forties, had left Miller for a younger man and had moved to Spanish West Florida, located in present day Louisiana on the east side of the Mississippi River. Dow also learned that his friends and others had loaned money to Miller, who promised them that Dow would stand behind the debt.
Shortly after Miller walked out on his responsibilities and returned to New York state, Dow and Peggy prepared to journey to Mississippi Territory so that Dow could finish the sawmill and clear the debt. In the autumn of 1806, according to Peggy's autobiography, the couple along with a young European and "Brother Valentine," departed New York state for Natchez country.
Dow and Peggy saw Smith Miller, an alcoholic descending into deep depression, before departing. Peggy wasn't looking forward to the move South. She feared she'd be ostracized in Claiborne County: "I could not hold my head up in a place where my own sister had disgraced herself and me."
The four travelers left home with two horses, a small wagon and a few supplies. They were headed for the Ohio River at Wheeling, West Virginia, located in the Allegheny range of the Appalachian Mountains. Dow hoped to find the owner of a flatboat heading for the Mississippi River and Natchez to secure passage for himself, Peggy, the European, Brother Valentine, their supplies and horses. Peggy's autobiography ("Vissicitudes in the Wilderness") offers a glimpse of a story played out many times during that era -- the river journey of Americans heading south for Natchez country for a new life.
Unable to find a flatboat that would take the horses, Dow decided that he would travel by land and preach along the way. Peggy said he "met with the person who was going down the river to Natchez -- they engaged to carry me with some trunks and other baggage...I felt very gloomy to be left among strangers, and to go on board a boat with a company of men without one woman for a companion."
Dow hoped to meet up with Peggy somewhere along the way, and departed soon on his horse. Peggy stayed at Wheeling for two to three weeks where a handful of citizens provided her hospitality and upon her departure many necessities, including sugar, tea and things to make her comfortable. The owners of the flatboat were Quakers and promised Dow to look after Peggy, but during the interim they sold the vessel and goods.
The new owner gave the European a job as a deck hand to pay for his passage on the flatboat, which Peggy said was "laden with flour and cider, and various kinds of produce fitted" to be sold in Natchez country. The vessel had a small cabin with four beds, and included a small wood stove for cooking that was vented with a chimney to let out the smoke.
"In this gloomy situation," Peggy wrote, "I was fixed to start for the Mississippi, where I knew I should meet with many trials, if ever I should reach there." The Ohio was low, slowing progress, and as the only woman on board, Peggy didn't care for many of the boatmen on board, noting that some were "of that class who neither feared God or man," although they treated her with civility.
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