Lorenzo Dow (October 16, 1777 – February 2, 1834) was an eccentric itinerant American preacher, said to have preached to more people than any other preacher of his era. He was an important figure in the Second Great Awakening. He was also a successful writer. His autobiography at one time was the second best-selling book in the United States, exceeded only by the Bible.
|This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (April 2010)|
Born at Coventry, Connecticut, Dow was a sickly child and was much troubled in his youth by "religious speculations," but ultimately joined the Methodist faith. In 1796 he made an unsuccessful application for admission into the Connecticut conference; but two years later he was received, and in 1798—despite the objections of his family—was appointed to be a circuit preacher, on a probationary basis, to the Cambridge circuit in New York. During the year he was transferred to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and afterward to Essex, Vermont, but remained there only a brief time.
Dow made three visits to Ireland and England, in 1799, 1805 and 1818, and by his eccentric manners and attractive eloquence drew after him immense crowds. He took what he believed to be a divine call and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to preach as a missionary to the Catholics of Ireland, and thereafter was never connected officially with the ministry of the Methodist Church, though he remained essentially a Methodist in doctrine. He introduced camp meetings into England, and the controversy about them resulted in the organization of the Primitive Methodist Society.
In 1802 he preached in the Albany region of New York, "against atheism, deism, Calvinism and Universalism." He passed the years 1803 and 1804 in what was then the Mississippi Territory (present day states of Mississippi and Alabama), delivering the first Protestant sermon within the bounds of those future states. Just south of Mansfield, Georgia, on State Route 11, is a large rock on which is a plaque, placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution. It states that on that rock, in 1803, Dow preached the first "Gospel sermon" in Jasper County. In 1807 he extended his labors into Louisiana Territory.
Dow's enthusiasm sustained him through the incessant labors of more than 30 years, during which he preached in almost all parts of the United States. His later efforts were directed chiefly against the Jesuits; indeed he was in general a vigorous opponent of Roman Catholicism.
Everywhere, in America and Britain, he attracted great crowds to hear and see him, and he was often persecuted as well as admired. Because the churches were closed to him, Lorenzo Dow preached in town halls, farmers' barns, and even in open fields. He would preach anyplace where he could assemble a crowd. He preached to Methodists, Baptists, Quakers, Catholics, and atheists alike. He liked to appear unexpectedly at public events, announcing in a loud voice that exactly one year from today, Lorenzo Dow would preach on this spot. He never disappointed his audiences; he always appeared exactly 365 days later at the appointed place, usually met by huge crowds.
Dow's public speaking mannerisms were like nothing ever seen before among the typically conservative church goers of the time. He shouted, he screamed, he cried, he begged, he flattered, he insulted, he challenged people and their beliefs. He told stories and made jokes. It is recorded that Lorenzo Dow often preached before open-air assemblies of 10,000 people or more and held the audiences spellbound.
Dow's fame spread, and so did his travels. He traveled on foot and occasionally on horseback (when someone would donate a horse) throughout what was then the United States. He also traveled extensively in Canada, England and Ireland, and once to the West Indies. He was usually well-received although there were exceptions. A fierce abolitionist, Dow's sermons were often unpopular in the southern United States, and he frequently was threatened with personal violence. He sometimes was forcibly ejected from towns, pelted with stones, eggs, and rotten vegetables. That never stopped him; he simply walked to the next town and gave the same sermon again.
Lorenzo Dow was personally unkempt. He did not practice personal hygiene and his long hair and beard were described as "never having met a comb." He usually owned one set of clothes: those that were on his back. When those clothes became so badly worn and full of holes that they were no longer capable of covering him, some person in the audience usually would donate a replacement. The donated clothes often were not the correct size for his skinny body. When he traveled, he carried no luggage other than a box of Bibles to be given away. Throughout most of his life, what little money he ever collected was either given away to the poor or used to purchase Bibles. In his later years, he did accumulate a bit of money from the sales of his autobiography and religious writings. His singularities of manner and of dress excited prejudices against him, and counteracted the effect of his eloquence. Nevertheless he is said to have preached to more persons than any man of his time.
His influence and popularity led to many U.S. children of the early 19th century to be named after him. The 1850 U.S. Census counts Lorenzo as one of the most popular first names in America.
His wife, Peggy Dow (1780–1820), was almost as eccentric as her husband. She published her journal, entitled Vicissitudes in the Wilderness (fifth edition, 1833).
- Polemical Works (1814)
- The Stranger in Charleston, or the Trial and Confession of Lorenzo Dow (1822)
- A Short Account of a Long Travel; with Beauties of Wesley (1823)
- History of a Cosmopolite; or the Four Volumes of the Rev. Lorenzo Dow's Journal, concentrated in One, containing his Experience and Travels from Childhood to 1814 (1814; many later editions); this volume also contains "All the Polemical Works of Lorenzo." The edition of 1854 was entitled The Dealings of God, Man, and the Devil as exemplified in the Life, Experience and Travels of Lorenzo Dow. online: 1814 1st edn., 1848 5th edn., 1858 edn.
- Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1888). "DOW, Lorenzo". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography 2. New York: D. Appleton. p. 218.
- Farndale, W.E. The Secret of Mow Cop: A New appraisal of the Origins of Primitive Methodism. Epworth Press, London. 1950. Page 28: "Lorenzo Dow ... in 1807 ... preached at Hariseahead, Burslem, and Tunstall (Aug 16, 1818), where he met Hugh Bourne [one of the founders of the English Priimitive Methodists]".
- New International Encyclopedia
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1888). "DOW, Lorenzo". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography 2. New York: D. Appleton. p. 218.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Gilman, D. C.; Thurston, H. T.; Moore, F., eds. (1905). "article name needed". New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
- Lorenzo Dow Benjamin Griffith Brawley. The Journal of Negro History 1, no. 3 (July 1916), 265-275.
- An engraving made by Lossing-Barrett at one of Dow's outdoor sermons