Debt, death, infidelity & scandal shake Port Gibson, 1805
by Stanley Nelson - posted Wednesday, August 29th, 2012 @ 1:02 pm
(Fourth in a series)
While sailing home from Europe to America on the Atlantic Ocean in 1805, Methodist evangelist Lorenzo Dow was burdened with worry. He was suffering, he wrote in his autobiography, "from an unaccountable impulse of mind...I awfully feared all was not right at the Mississippi."
In Mississippi Territory in Claiborne County, Dow's brother-in-law, Smith Miller, and his sister-in-law, Hannah, had settled four miles south of Port Gibson to build a sawmill. Hannah was the sister of Peggy, Dow's wife. Peggy had journeyed to Europe with Dow where he preached in England and Ireland.
Mississippi had become an American territory only seven years earlier in 1798; Louisiana only a few years later in 1803. Dow had preached in Natchez country in 1803 and thought it had great potential, thinking it would one day be "the garden of America." He urged his brother-in-law and sister-in-law to settle there. In 1804, Smith Miller traveled to Mississippi with Dow and made arrangements to establish himself on Clarks Creek.
Hannah and Smith Miller had endured a rocky marriage as they reared Peggy from infancy in New York state. But they had in recent years turned to God and become involved in church. Life had become more harmonious and happy for them.
"In Ireland," Dow recalled, "one day a person observed to me her dream, which left a tremor of horror on her mind -- that I had wings, and could roam at pleasure where I pleased; at length I lit down on a certain place, and sunk into the mire -- and the more I strove to get out, the deeper I sunk in the black mire..."
Dow couldn't get the image out of his head. Both he and Peggy had been subject to nightmares; Dow had been tormented by them as a child. Horrifying visions of earthly destruction and of hell had become common. Both were happy to be returning home, but devastated over a tragedy in Europe that had broken their hearts. This, coupled with their worries about Smith Miller and Hannah, added to their gloom.
While in England, Peggy had given birth to the couple's first and only child, Letitia, who died a few weeks later. Dow had been miles away preaching at the time and Peggy had been so ill that she barely knew what was going on. The loss was multiplied as she was forced to stay in the homes of strangers -- who cared for her kindly -- until Dow returned for her.
"They carried my sweet little Letitia, and consigned her to the tomb," Peggy wrote in her autobiography ("Vicissitudes in the Wilderness"), "there to rest until the last trump shall sound, and the body and spirit be reunited again...I often felt a pleasure of the sweetest kind, in contemplating that my child had escaped all the vanities and dangers of the treacherous and uncertain world, for the never-fading glories of paradise, where I hoped, when life should end, I should meet her to part no more! -- notwithstanding, I felt the loss..."