Gossips, backsliders, perils & the Dows' wilderness cabin
by Stanley Nelson - posted Wednesday, October 10th, 2012 @ 12:37 pm
(10th in a Series)
In a period of two years, Peggy Dow would be forced to move more than a dozen times. She had no home, no money and she and her husband were deeply in debt. Worse still, gossips in Claiborne County, Miss., and elsewhere had manufactured incredible stories about the couple.
Some said Peggy was becoming too familiar with another man when her husband, Methodist evangelist Lorenzo Dow, was on the road preaching. Back in their home states of Connecticut and New York, it was rumored that Dow and Peggy were living it up in a fine mansion down in Mississippi Territory and that they had slaves at their beck and call.
In her autobiography ("Vicissitudes in the Wilderness," 1833), Peggy recalled the gossips put out stories that the couple was "rolling in riches, surrounded with plenty." The fact was, Peggy wrote, the two were in "quite a different situation -- without house or home, or any thing of consequence that we could call our own."
They had come to Mississippi Territory to complete construction of a sawmill started by Peggy's brother-in-law, Smith Miller, who was married to Hannah, Peggy's sister. Dow had encouraged the two to move from New York state to Natchez country to enjoy the opportunities this young American territory offered white settlers. Instead, Miller drank too much and made bad business decisions. In the meantime, Hannah fell in love with a much younger man.
When Dow came South to help, he ended up with the unfinished sawmill on Clark's Creek in Claiborne County and he assumed the couple's debt. Soon, Miller returned to New York after Hannah and her lover fled to Spanish West Florida.
William Winans, one of the Methodist circuit riders in Mississippi, didn't like the Dows. He thought Dow was a mediocre preacher and expressed little sympathy for Dow's plight in Claiborne County. Winans believed that the public viewed Dow as possessing little more than the "ordinary standard of respectible humanity." He thought Peggy dumb and superstitious and he showed little appreciation for Dow's painful and honorable struggle to repay the debts his brother-in-law had incurred.
Yet other preachers adored the Dows. Circuit rider Jacob Young loved to hear Dow preach and was amazed at his ability to mesmerize a congregation and quiet any rowdies. Several circuit riders thought so highly of Dow that they helped him work on the mill-dam on Clark's Creek: "We all loved Lorenzo, and he loved us, and we worked in great peace and harmony."
Young said in his autobiography ("Autobiography of a Pioneer," 1857) that in Mississippi Territory he and Dow became great friends, recording that "our confidence in each other was mutual, and our kind regards were reciprocated. From that time till he left the territory, he was my constant companion. We traveled together, lodged in the same room, prayed and preached together, and the Head of the Church blessed our labors of love." Years later, while visiting with his future wife, Young also "met with Peggy Dow, much to our mutual comfort. We spent two days together, and parted to meet no more."
Both Peggy and Dow suffered several illnesses while living in Claiborne County, and Dow, an evangelist known both for his eccentricity and confrontational sermons, was so on fire for God that he pushed himself to keep working, sometimes disregarding high fever and chills while preaching at camp meetings lying down. Circuit riders not only had to battle rowdies at camp meetings, they also had to dodge or confront hostile Indians and white outlaws along wilderness trails and they were always dealing with the elements. Some preachers drown while pushing their horses across flooded streams to make a camp meeting. Dow once traveled night and day through a blizzard in the northeast to make a preaching appointment on time.
Young recalled a nighttime crossing of the storm-fueled rushing waters of the Homochitto River shortly after he arrived in the territory. Methodist preacher Learner Blackman, the presiding elder in the Mississippi District for two years, led Young through the wilderness on horseback to a church meeting in Wilkinson County when the river became an obstacle to reaching their destination.
"We were compelled to travel one dark and dreary night for the want of some place to stay," Young wrote. "There had been a heavy fall of rain the night before. We had to cross a small river called the Homochitte, before we could get any place to lodge, and it was too cold and damp to lodge in the woods; so we rode on and came to the river late in the night. He proposed crossing, although he could not see or tell how high it was. I had very little fear of following him, for I was in the habit of swimming my horse, and felt nearly as safe on his back in the water, as on land and I was a practical swimmer..."
"He (Blackman) alighted from his horse, tied a pair of garters tight around the tops of his boots, to keep the water from running in, and, committing himself, as I suppose, to the care of his heavenly Father, mounted his horse and plunged into the stream. In a few minutes we found ourselves safely landed on the other side, and by the good providence of God, found a comfortable dwelling-place for the night."
A few years later, Blackman, at the age of 34, drowned in the Ohio River at Cincinnati. Young said that while he may have known greater preachers than Blackman, "I know not that I ever knew a better man."