Thursday, June 24, 2010

Lorenzo Dow

As I researched my family, I would periodically come across a male cousin whose given name is Lorenzo Dow. I really did not see a reason to wonder why Lorenzo Dow was a given name until I found cousins named Lorenzo Dow all over the United States and now recently in Canada.

At this point, I began to wonder why Lorenzo and, in particular, why Lorenzo Dow? I looked at the information that I had about each of my Lorenzo Dow relatives. They were distant cousins, not only in relationship but in physical proximity. Some were related to me but not to each other. The only pattern that I could discern was that these relatives were born between 1810 and 1857.

Like many others whose ancestors lived in the United States in the early days of its existence, I have many relative with given names of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, etc. Most have no connection to the men after whom they were named. I suspected that Lorenzo Dow was man of some renown who apparently was a man of note at least by 1810.

So it seems that there was a man named Lorenzo Dow who was a circuit preacher. I found a book entitled The Eccentric Preacher or A Sketch of the Life of the Celebrated Lorenzo Dow. The book is an abridged version of Lorenzo Dow's journal and was published in 1841 in Lowell, Massachusetts by E. A. Rice & Co.

Lorenzo Dow (1777-1834) was born in Connecticut. He had developed an intense interest in preaching at the age of four. This interest grew as often he had dreams of himself in the role of an itinerant preacher. Limited by the lack of a horse, Dow preached primarily in Connecticut and Rhode Island. His parents attempted to dissuade him from becoming a preacher but by 1796, they gave in and provided him with money and clothes.

By this time, Lorenzo Dow had become a Methodist and hope to become a Methodist preacher. He was turned down by the Methodist Conference but was accepted in 1798 as a circuit preacher with his first circuit in Pittstown, New York. He did not stay on the New York circuit long before being transferred to a circuit in Pittsfield, Massachusetts followed by one in Essex, Vermont.

As I read the book, I found that Dow suffered with poor health from childhood and throughout his life. He had become ill while on his circuit in Vermont. He requested to be sent to Ireland. Instead the Methodist Conference assigned him to Canada. It was from Canada that he sailed in October, 1799 to Ireland, intent on converting the Catholics.

He returned to the United States in April, 1801 and began preaching in the South. He made another trip to Ireland and England in 1805. By the end of his life, Dow had traveled throughout the United States and in Canada

Lorenzo Dow did not practice personal hygiene and pictures of him on flyers, pamphlets and books show him with long hair and beard. His appearance reminds me of the pictures of Rasputin who managed to captivate the Czarina Alexandra.

Reading his journal, I found his sermons to be full of fire and brimstone. He often wrote about those who disagreed with him and many times placed curses upon his critics. Between his manner and his appearance, some called him "crazy Dow" or "crazy Lorenzo."

He had as many who reviled him as those who loved him. The US Census from 1790 through 1840, only identified the head of household. I searched the indices for each of these years and found the occurrence of Lorenzo as a given name to be extremely rare until 1830 when there were 246 people with the name Lorenzo. In 1840, the number grew to 970.

The 1850 US Census was the first census in which all the members of a household were identified. In that year, I found 8,595 people named Lorenzo in the index. Ten years later, 10,346 Lorenzos are in the index. It would seem that Lorenzo Dow's popularity and influence was waning. While the population in the United States was growing, the number of people named Lorenzo in the indices from 1860 through 1930 remained about the same from decade to decade.

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