Joshua Stow (April 22, 1762 — October 10, 1842) was the founder of Stow, Ohio. His family originated from England in the 17th century, and included the first minister in Middletown, Conn., a Congregationalist. He married Ruth Coe in 1786; they had at least three children.
The main histories of the area tell of his early journey in 1796-1797 as part of Moses Cleaveland's team, helping to survey the Western Reserve around the mouth of the Cuyahoga River at Lake Erie. The land to be surveyed was land that the state of Connecticut claimed as part of their original charter from the King of England. It was called the Connecticut Western Reserve and was given to the state as a settlement for that state's contribution to the American Revolution. It is still referred to as the Western Reserve encompassing a number of counties in the northeast corner of the state. Stow was the company's commissary manager (in charge of distributing necessary supplies). In actual practice Stow, as Commissary, was responsible for seeing that the survey party was equipped with clothing, equipment, food, drink and lodging. He was also a financial holder in the Ohio Land Company which conducted the land survey of 1796 of which Moses Cleaveland was the Superintendent. When Stow saw the forested future township, he said it was "one of the prettiest and most romantic spots in the Western Reserve". He purchased the whole five-mile square of Stow Township as an investment, for $14,154.
After he returned to Connecticut, he hired a relative, Judge William Wetmore, to travel to Stow and settle there. Wetmore would handle further sales of land in Stow. Wetmore took his family and several other men to Stow in the summer of 1804.
Although the township is named for him, Stow never lived there. He continued to reside in Connecticut. He made 13 trips here, the old stories say. Travel in those days was always arduous and frequently dangerous. People could either ride horseback through dense forests and over the Appalachian Mountains, following Indian trails, or they could brave the waters of Lake Erie in small boats and barges full of supplies. Either route would take them more than a month each way. Some of Stow's relatives did settle here, and a few of their descendants still live in Stow.
Back in Middletown (near Middlefield), Stow was appointed postmaster and tax collector. He was also an associate judge of the court. He was "at the center of the political troubles" there, according to A Pictorial History of Middletown. He favored Thomas Jefferson in the presidential race of 1800, and thus became an enemy of the local Federalists, who wanted the social order to remain as it was: dominated by the Congregational Church. For over a century, one had to be a member of that church in order to hold public office in Connecticut.
Stow's convictions that the church should not be the center of the government led him to take an active role in Connecticut's constitutional convention in 1818. He wrote Article Seven of the state constitution, making it a matter of personal choice as to which church a person could join. When he was branded an "infidel" by a newspaper editor, Stow filed a libel suit against the paper. At the trial, even his brothers and sisters labeled his behavior "ungodly". He did win his suit, but continued to be criticized for such things as bringing ministers of other denominations to preach at Middlefield's Congregational Church. Stow was an active and dedicated member of the Universalist Church of Middletown, Connecticut.
Stow died October 10, 1842, aged 80, and was buried in the "Old Cemetery" in Middlefield where his tombstone still lies.