Lorenzo Dow (1777-1834) was the forerunner of that archetype of American frontier lore, the wandering preacher.
Born in Connecticut, his early years were plagued by religious controversy, but by 1798 he had joined the Methodists. He started out as a lay preacher in New England, but broke with the Methodist Episcopal Church to go to Ireland to attempt to convert Catholics. Despite his losing formal connection with Wesley’s church, he remained a Methodist in doctrine, more or less, preaching against Catholicism, atheism, deism, Calvinism, Unitarianism and Universalism.
He travelled in that age of sail three times to the British Isles, and up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and preached the first Protestant sermons in Mississippi and Alabama.
Dow often found that even Protestant churches would forbid him to preach. So he took to preaching in the open air, in fields and meadows. An eloquent speaker, he dressed his lanky form in whatever cast-off clothes his disciples gave him. His manner of speaking was very unusual – he joked, insulted, cried, screamed and begged.
His manner of life, however, did not allow much in the way of personal hygiene, he being uncombed, unshaven and unkempt.
Dow often preached at such inconvenient times and places as political rallies. An aggressive opponent of slavery, he was not always welcome in the antebellum South. Dow himself disliked the Catholic Church in general, and had a particular hatred for the Jesuits. Strenuous as his lifestyle was, he found a wife, Peggy, who was willing to share it. She even authored a bestselling memoir about their adventures on the road.
Although he founded no denomination and left no organised apostolate behind him, Dow remains one of the best-known American Protestant figures.
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