Though Lorenzo Dow only had a brief stay in this area, he was an interesting character and I thought I would write him up anyway. I first ran across his name several years ago while doing genealogy research on a branch of my family that settled in the Western Reserve in Ohio, who named one of their sons “Lorenzo Dow” Rice. I tried to find out more about him at the time, but only succeeded in determining he was an itinerant preacher in the early 1800’s. Since then more information has been made available online, largely because a number of other genealogy researchers have been trying to find out why members of their families were named Lorenzo Dow.
Lorenzo Dow was born October 16, 1777 in Coventry, Connecticut. He suffered from asthma and general ill health all his life. His education was limited to what he received at the local District school. He was convicted of sin while young and converted in his teens. He and twelve others started a society to help each other remain faithful. As a result of several dreams, he became convinced God wanted him to be a preacher and applied to the Connecticut Circuit of the Methodists. He was sent out to Rhode Island and New Hampshire but turned down four times and sent home, his attitude, appearance, and lack of education being his liabilities. In 1798 he was finally admitted on trial for the first time and sent to the Cambridge, New York Circuit in 1799. He lasted only a few months there and was transferred to Pittsfield, Massachusetts and then to Essex, Vermont, all within 1799. In that same year he went to Montreal on his own initiative and sailed for Ireland, being convinced of a Divine call to preach to the Catholics. His dress and appearance drew crowds, but he was jeered and severely persecuted.
On his return he resumed preaching “on trial”, though he had gone to Europe without permission, but didn’t stand the test and was dropped from the Methodist ministry. He continued on his own, preaching in Savannah and through Georgia and South Carolina in 1802, returning in 1804 to Virginia to become one of the first evangelists to institute Camp Meetings. He also spoke at the General Conference of the Methodists in Baltimore, in response to which the church banned Methodist churches from admitting him. He addressed 500 – 800 meetings a year and traveled 10,000 miles in 1805. In 1802 (or 1804) he had married Peggy, who often traveled with him. She accompanied him South, and to Ireland on his second trip in 1805. (Pictures of Lorenzo and Peggy can be seen by following the second link below). Their only child was born there and died in England. Lorenzo introduced Camp Meetings to England, which soon after led to the formation of the Primitive Methodists. Peggy died in 1820 at Hebron, CT. Legend has it Lorenzo had her buried upright, so she could more quickly reach heaven. “The epitaph on her gravestone reads: “Peggy Dow. Shared Vissitudes of Lorenzo.” The latter is probably a gross understatement.” The same year he remarried to Lucy (or Sally) Dolbeare, who promised at their wedding to “be a thorn in his flesh and a sword in his side” (see link #1 below). They were happily married for the rest of his life.
In 1807 Lorenzo journeyed from New England to Florida, in 1808 from Mississippi to New England and then through the West, in 1809 through Louisiana, in 1810 through Georgia and North Carolina and back to New England. His journeys continued. In 1818 he returned to England, where he got the cold shoulder from most churches but was welcomed by the Primitive Methodists. He then returned to America and resumed traveling. He often was welcomed in Black churches when turned away from White ones, and sometimes stayed with Black families in the South. He was an opponent of slavery and spoke out against it. He also opposed Catholicism, especially the Jesuits.
Lorenzo had many odd habits and was often called “Crazy Dow”. He never started churches or discipled followers, though he had many, but preferred to just preach the gospel, usually in the open but occasionally in churches. He was known as a “fire and brimstone” preacher. He kept a diary, which was published after his death, and wrote a number of books, one from 1804 which is online at http://www.solomonspalding.com/docs/ldow1804.htm. A number of stories grew up around him, many of which are probably made up or exaggerated, such as “How Lorenzo Dow Raised The Devil” (see link #1 below) – others are better documented, as the his cursing of the town of Jacksonborough, Georgia in 1820 and its results (see link #6 below).
How much lasting effect he had is debatable, but there is no doubting his devotion to the Lord. In his lifetime he traveled between 200,000 and 300,000 miles preaching the gospel, probably addressing more people than any other evangelist except George Whitefield. He brought the Word to the pioneers on the frontier, where few other men of God were located. He died in 1834 in Georgetown, District of Columbia and is buried there.
As Lorenzo was so eccentric a character and there are so many stories about him, you will find it interesting to follow the links below and read more than I have room to put down here.