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|Final days of the Dows: Mississippi Territory to eternity|
(13th & final in a series)
In 1803, during his first visit, Lorenzo Dow moved through Mississippi Territory like a whirlwind. Young, bold and eccentric, his preaching was the most moving and powerful ever witnessed in Natchez country or across the river in Louisiana Territory.
In 1804, at his urging, his wife's sister and husband came to Claiborne County to build a sawmill in the new and growing region. When the venture went sour, he determined to make things right. He and Peggy, his wife, moved to Claiborne to complete the mill and to repay the debt the relative had incurred. Although every single penny was repaid, Dow never saw a penny of profit.
In 1808, the couple returned to the northeast, where Dow had been born in Connecticut in 1777 and Peggy in Massachusetts in 1780. Dow would visit Natchez again, but Peggy would not.
Subject as a youth to terrifying dreams of hell and inspirational dreams of heaven, Dow dedicated his life to God while a teenager. He found in 1804 his perfect wife and she her perfect husband. In proposing, Dow had informed Peggy that she should expect him to be gone 12 out of every 13 months evangelizing. Stand in the way of this, he warned, and he would pray that God would remove her from his life.
Dow was just the kind of man Peggy had been looking for. Subject to bad dreams herself while a child, she had become converted at a Methodist camp meeting and wished early on to serve as a helper to a man of God. During their 15 years of marriage, Peggy was left behind more than half that period while Dow -- true to his word, and she true to hers -- roamed the world preaching.
He evangelized throughout the United States and the territories, journeyed through Indian lands and preached in Ireland and England. Often penniless, he grew a long beard during his time on wilderness journeys and typically wore a long woolen cloak, a brimmed chip hat and carried a staff or cane. He didn't take up collections while preaching but would occasionally take individual gifts, although he often gave those away to the many he considered more impoverished than he. He made appointments to preach 18 months ahead of time and rarely missed a date.
So eccentric were his manners and so great were his wanderings that he was called, "Crazy Dow," a name he never seemed to mind. He preached during the period of the Second Great Awakening and at a time when congregations experienced a phenomena known as "the jerks," a filling of the Holy Ghost in which those touched would jump, shake, twist, jerk and shout, mostly in praise of God.
By 1817, Peggy's health was beginning to fail. She contracted tuberculosis and was confined to bed for much of the last two years of her life. Fearing once that she would die before Dow's return from abroad, she wrote that "if we meet no more in this vale of tears, may God prepare us to meet in the realms of peace, to range the blest fields on the banks of the river, and sing hallelujah, for ever and ever. I am very sure if I reach safe the destined port, I shall have cause to sing..."
In his book, "History of Cosmopolite," a 19th century bestseller, is included his recollections of Peggy's death, entitled "An Account of the Closing Scenes in the Life of Peggy Dow":
"After my return from Virginia a few weeks, leaving her with my father, we parted, and I sailed for England, May 20th, and arrived there about the 20th of June, 1818. Whilst traveling in that country, many persons in different parts, who were strangers to me, remarked that they thought from their feelings, that my Peggy would be gone off from the stage of action, so that I would see her no more, unless I returned to America soon!
"Their feelings were so consonant to my own anticipations, that it caused my return a year sooner than was contemplated when we parted. Arrived back to America in June, 1819, after an absence of about thirteen months.
"She had attended a writing school in my absence, in February; and getting wet and chilled, took cold—and hence a cough and tightness across the chest, and thence a decline ensued. However, the subject was not viewed as serious at the first, as the sequel afterwards proved to be.
"She traveled with me some distance to various meetings; and when we were at Providence, in Rhode Island, I found her in a room weeping—on enquiring the cause, she, after some hesitation, replied, 'The consumption (tuberculosis) is a flattering disease!—but I shall return back to Hebron, and tell Father Dow (Lorenzo's dad) that I have come back to die with him!'
"After my return from Europe, she requested me not to leave her, till she had got better or worse—which request she had never made at any time, under any circumstances in former years whatever. We returned in September. She remarked that she felt more comfort in Divine enjoyment than she expressed to others..."
"We never parted but twice after my return from Europe—once for a night, and once on business to Boston of about five days. She continued growing more and more feeble, until in December, when she asked if I thought her dissolution was near? The reply to which was an opinion, that she would continue until spring, if not longer.
"She replied that she thought so too: but the night following, she awoke me up, and enquired the time of the month?—and being informed, she said she thought she was bounded in all by the month of January.
"Counted every day until the year expired, and then almost every hour, until the morning of the fifth, when she asked me if I had been to bespeak (order) a Coffin for her? But was answered in the negative;—when in the evening, she enquired if I had been to call in the neighbors I answered, No! But brother and sister Page came in and spent the night, which seemed refreshing to her; and with whom we had spent many happy hours in days that were gone by!
"About two o'clock at night, she requested me to call up the family, which being done; she soon began to fail very fast.
"Being asked if she felt any pain? She answered in the negative—and that but one thing attracted her here below—pointing her finger towards me as supported in my arms. When I replied, 'Lord, Thou gavest her to me! I have held her only as a lent favor for fifteen years! and now I resign her back to Thee, until we meet again beyond the swelling flood!' She replied with a hearty 'Amen,' and soon expired, as the going out of the snuff of a candle, without a struggle, contraction or groan!
"In the course of conversation the last night — her views and attachments to the things of time and eternity — she replied that she felt no condemnation, and that but one thing attracted her here below, that was hard to give up; but that she felt willing to resign herself into the hands of the Great and Wise Disposer, for the things of eternity were far more desirable than the things of time; for her better prospects were beyond this life, and there appeared to be a calm and sweet submission!
"By my request, she was dressed and laid out in her best plain, neat meeting dress, with woolen blankets, instead of shrouded sheets..." Dow chose to bury Peggy three feet deeper than "the common depth" (about seven feet total), to insure that she remained "undisturbed in ages to come, by the future moving of the earth for the dead...until the 'Trump of God Shall Sound!" A great crowd attended her funeral.
"...Love and affection cannot he bought; they are above rubies—yea, beyond all price, when applied to the married state!
"The following was put upon her tomb stone, in the Methodist Burying Ground, in Hebron, Connecticut, ten years after:—
"'Peggy Dow Shared The Vicissitudes of Lorenzo Fifteen Years, And died January 6th, 1820, Aged 39."
"Seventeen years before this, I lost my Mother, and two years and eight months after the decease of Peggy, my father died. Six of us children are still living; and out of twenty-eight grandchildren, sixteen are still on mortal shore!
"It is now March, 1833, which brings me to the age of 55 years and five months; and 40 years and 4 months of my religious pilgrimage; and 37 years in the public field of battle, wandering through the world!
"My Peggy is gone to meet our Infant in yonder world, where I trust to meet them both by and bye—which is a sweet and pleasing thought to me!"
Dow died a year after writing these words.
In her journal, Peggy quoted two of her favorite Bible passages, both from Proverbs. Says one: "A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband." Another says: "She will do him good, and not evil, all the days of her life."
Dow's nephew, Lewis J. Bridgman of New York, in an article in the "Vermont Historical Gazetter," recalled that Peggy was a "very tender hearted, amiable, Christian woman" and that his uncle use to tease her and sometimes she "would take it all to heart." Three months after Peggy's death, Dow remarried, a move that didn't set well with his family. Bridgman said Dow's second wife, Lucy, was "a perfect amazon, with a regular tiger-temper" who "used to rule him with a rod of iron."
In his final years, Dow enjoyed a comfortable life in Connecticut, where thanks to his autobiography and other writings, he earned a good income, bought a farm and owned a house that his nephew said was a mansion. He had a room made expressly for himself -- for relaxing peace away from Lucy -- and had only one key made. He spent much time with family and friends talking about his years of preaching in the wilderness and about Mississippi Territory.
In Adams County, he had sold his watch in 1803 to purchase property in Kingston to establish a church. This was the first land ever purchased by Methodists for religious purposes in Mississippi. A church was never built on that site although that was the intent. He and Peggy later donated a lot in Washington, Miss., where the Washington United Methodist Church is located.
Dow last visited Natchez in 1816. He arrived on a steamboat and saw a number of friends. In New Orleans, before leaving, he visited William C.C. Claiborne, governor of Louisiana, and walked the battle field where Gen. Andrew Jackson defeated the British. He also enjoyed worshipping with Claiborne's slaves, taking "great satisfaction," he wrote, in "hearing them sing and pray."
A vocal opponent of human bondage, he once wrote, "Slavery in the South is an evil that calls for national reform..." He said it should be abolished and that "repentance" must follow. During this final journey to the South, he preached a funeral, baptized 12 at a meeting and delivered a sermon in a New Orleans' courtroom.
In the early 1900s, Methodist Bishop Charles Galloway wrote that in Claiborne County southeast of Port Gibson that the "ruins" of Dow's unfortunate sawmill venture on Clark's Creek could still be seen. Galloway said the site was still known at the time as Dow's Mill. All signs of the old mill have vanished during the last 100 years.
Dow died in February 1834 at the age of 56 in Washington, D.C. His property and $3,000 were all left to Lucy, a fact some family members felt was never his intent. A Washington D.C. newspaper -- the "National Intelligencer" -- reported:
"He was one of the most remarkable men of his age for his zeal and labors in the cause of religion...His eccentric dress and style of preaching attracted great attention...He had been a public preacher for more than thirty years and it is probable that more persons have heard the gospel from his lips than from those of any other individual since the days of Whitfield. (George Whitfield, 1714-1770, was a preacher from Britain, who was considered a father of Methodism and evangelism.)
The paper also said of Dow: "...His purity of purpose and integrity and benevolence of character can hardly be questioned. He was a Methodist in principle and though not in connection with that society was held in esteem by many of that body. A wanderer through life, it is believed he was a sincere Christian pilgrim, seeking a heavenly country and that he now rests in the city of God."
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|Frank Morris Murder Series|