Peggy & Lorenzo face scorn and trials in Claiborne County
by Stanley Nelson - posted Wednesday, September 12th, 2012 @ 1:09 pm
(Sixth in a series)
Mississippi Territory was enveloped in a bone-chilling Arctic freeze during one of the coldest winters in generations when Peggy Dow arrived in Port Gibson in January 1807. Homeless and penniless, she would be ostracized by many in the newly-formed and growing Claiborne County for the next two years, befriended by few and forced to move 12 times.
She was 26 years old, had been reared by her sister and alcoholic brother-in-law in New York state following her mother's death and had lost her own child months earlier while her husband, Lorenzo Dow, was preaching in Ireland. The 29-year-old Dow was a Methodist evangelist known for his unkempt appearance and confrontational preaching style who traveled thousands of miles on horseback and on foot to preach and whose 19th century autobiography would become a bestseller.
The couple's move to Mississippi Territory was by necessity, not by choice. Peggy's brother-in-law, Smith Miller, and sister, Hannah, had moved along Clarks Creek a few miles southeast of Port Gibson to establish a sawmill. The deal went sour, Hannah ran off with a younger man to Spanish West Florida and Miller returned to New York state leaving a major mess for Dow to clean up.
Dow had visited Mississippi three times before. In 1803, the year of the Louisiana Purchase, he sold his watch to buy a lot for a church at Kingston in southern Adams County. In 1804, he and three other Methodist ministers led the first camp meeting in the territory at the capital in Washington, six miles northeast of Natchez, and in 1806 he returned to assess his brother-in-law's financial collapse. On every visit, Dow spent the bulk of his time preaching the Word.
Peggy had disembarked a Mississippi River flatboat at the mouth of Bayou Pierre the night before arriving in Port Gibson, located 10 miles to the east. Port Gibson had been founded by pioneer Sam Gibson as a plantation landing on Bayou Pierre. When no one showed up to take Peggy into town, she lodged for the night at the tavern in Bruinsburg. The next morning, Dow's friend, Roswell Valentine, arriving on a flatboat himself, found Peggy in Bruinsburg and lifted her onto his horse. Planning to settle in Claiborne County, Valentine led the animal and Peggy through the mud and cold to Port Gibson.
In her autobiography ("Vicissitudes in the Wilderness"), Peggy recalled that Dow had written ahead to friends asking them to care for his wife until he arrived. One, a Methodist minister, "did not seem very anxious that I should stay at his house," Peggy recalled. Others indicated the same.
In the end, she found shelter at the home of the family who owned the property where Smith Miller had constructed the mill frame and dam on Clarks Creek -- the widower Sam Cobun, his children and his two sisters. Ironically, while those in church turned their backs on the Dows, Sam Cobun, a Deist, didn't. Cobun believed that God created the world but didn't interfere or intervene in the day-to-day life of man. He didn't believe in church, either.
Lorenzo Dow recalled that trusting those who encouraged his move to Claiborne County "an error," resulting in "the most painful situation imaginable." These friends and acquaintances, he said, were "like the pine tree which appears as good timber, but upon investigation is found rotten at the heart."