Anecdotes of (Once) Famous Men

Lorenzo Dow (1777-1834) was an itinerant preacher who attracted, sometimes, thousands to hear him preach.  He preached in all parts of the United States, and, often was the first preacher to be heard in the wildernesses.  The early 19th century newspapers carry many anecdotes about him and his eccentricities.  The following is one printed by the Essex Register, August 13, 1817, reprinting from the Western Herald.

A few years since, while the famous Lorenzo Dow was travelling through a certain state, he came to a solitary house in the woods, and asked for lodging during the night.  The woman of the house reluctantly consented; (her husband being absent, and not expected to return that night.)  Lorenzo got his supper, attended family worship, and went to bed, in a room adjoining the one where the woman was, and separated from it by a rough partition, with large cracks between  the boards.   Lorenzo could not get to sleep,  and therefore lay in a wakeful posture for some hours.  About midnight he heard a gentle tap at the door, which the woman opened to a sturdy looking fellow, who it seemed, was the lady’s paramour; she whispered to him that Lorenzo was in the next room, and he must speak very low for fear of awaking him.  The lovers sat up a while conversing together, and then retired to bed.  This probably was not surprising to Lorenzo, because he came from a quarter where bundling was in fashion.  [Dow was born in Connecticut]  In the course of an hour the husband unexpectedly began to thunder at the door; the lovers were put into terrible consternation; but the female mind is wonderful for expedients.  The paramour was stowed into a large barrel, and some cotton locks thrown over him.  The woman opened the door, and received her husband with as much tenderness as surprise.  He was about three sheets in the wind, that is to say, a little intoxicated, and began to talk loud and swear; she hushed him by informing that a minister, the famous Lorenzo Dow, was asleep in the next room.  The husband upon hearing this, replied that Lorenzo shoulld get up and sup with him.  The woman’s entreaties and Lorenzo’s excuses were in vain; a drunken man is a most unreasonable being; Lorenzo had to get up.  Well (said the husband) I understand you can raise the Devil; I wish you would bring him up now, I wish very much to see him.  Lorenzo observed he made no such pretensions.  The drunkard was importunate, and would have the Devil raised at any rate.  Lorenzo told him he would be sadly terrified at the sight.  No, said the husband, knocking his fists together, I defy him.  Well, said Lorenzo, since you will have him raised, I request that you would open the door so that he may escape, otherwise he might carry off the side of the house.   The door was opened, and the husband prepared for the attack.  When Lorenzo set the cotton on fire in the barrel, out came the Devil amidst the flames, and made a rapid retreat through the door.  The husband reported the story about the neighborhood, and upon its being questioned, he went before a magistrate and made oath to it.  It gained such credence that Lorenzo was compelled to explain the mystery by clapping a pair of horns on the head of the swaggering fool.



Anecdote of British Admiral Coffin –from the Essex Register, November 22, 1817

[Note:  Sir Isaac Coffin was born in Boston before the War of Independence, and often visited his relations on Nantucket]

It will be recollected that Admiral Coffin, of the British navy, visited the United States a year or two hence.  While at Gadsby’s hotel in Baltimore, he related the following anecdote.

Being in the south seas, he fell in with a Nantucket whale ship, and desirous of seeing the whole ceremony and operation of catching a whale, in true Yankee style, he asked liberty to go out in one of the boats for the purpose.  This was readily agreed to, provided he should take a station, and promise obedience to orders–no unnecessary person being permitted on board.  He consented and took his seat as an oarsman.  After a while they encountered a whale, and struck him secundum artem, & away he went, dragging the boat after hi with such lightning like rapidity as to make so deep a trough in the sea, that it appeared and perhaps really was, several inches higher than the uppermost part of gunwale of the boat!  The man whose place it was stood ready with the axe, to cut the line when necessary.  The admiral, much terrified at so novel a danger, looked at the axe man, who, perfectly collected & intent on his duty, was as calm as if he had been reposing on a bed of roses–and called out with great vehemence and agitation –“Cut the rope, you ___  _______.’   “Not yet,” said the fisherman very deliberately, ‘we can’t afford to lose the yarn.”  Nor did they, for they caught the whale, without loss or damage.

The admiral declared, that so great was his terror on the occasion, that he would rather be grappled in a frigate, to a French 74, than assist in taking another whale.”



Anecdote of Andrew Jackson

Essex Register, November 13, 1819 — “At the attack on New Orleans, after Jackson had thrown up his cotton fortification, a Frenchman came to him and complained that he had taken 150 bales of his cotton, that they were in the breastwork, & that he must have them or be indemnified.  Jackson, having listened to him attentively, called to one of his men, and ordered a musket, cartouch box, &c. to be immediately brought to him; ‘There (said he, addressing the Frenchman) take these; no man has a better right to defend this cotton than yourself; see that you do it faithfully;’ and immediately ordered him into the ranks.”


December 5, 1814
In Alabama, on the Way to Pensacola as printed in the Alexandria Gazette on  February 4, 1815 by an unknown author, but probably by Thomas Hart Benton.


Fort Montgomery, December 5

An express going to Fort Jackson enables me to seize only a minute to tell you I am here, not quite dead, but reduced on pine smoke, and suffering ten thousand privations, you cannot expect I should enumerate.  Sickness, death and starvation arrested our progress to this place until the 20th ultimo, although under forced marches of from 20 to 30 miles per day–five quarters to the mile (the common expression in this country).  I have no time for particulars.  We expect a fight with the British in a few days.  A letter of Gen. Winchester’s, now before me, to Gen. Taylor, of the 2d inst. and brought by express yesterday morning, says, ‘A British ship of war arrived and anchored off the Head of Blind Island, about 14 mile from Fort Boyer, on the 29th ult.  between 2 and 3 o’clock, p.m.  Her tender, a large schooner, came near the shore; an attempt was made to land some barges, but failed on account of boisterous weather.  An attack is hourly expected–in which way is uncertain, land or water.’  We look every day for orders to march & meet the enemy.  I am heartily wiling as to spend my last gasp for my country.  The ruins of Fort Mimms, 2 miles from here, through which I have rode with Gens. Winchester, Taylor and other officers are enough to ‘harrow up the soul.  The piles of human bones, from aged decrepitude to the infant at the breast bleached by the rains and winds of Heaven must arouse a holy rage in every manly bosom.  I expect to see the Hell Hounds of England and their cursed allies in a few days.  May the God of Heaven inspire me with an Ajax prayer, or that of Macduff to the manes of a Duncan against Macbeth.  I am called to duty every moment in the day.  The Colberts are here with 135 Chickasaws; a number of the Choctaws under their leaders, a few weeks ago 700, but not more than half that number now; as many have been discharged.  A secret expedition under Major Blue will proceed from this place the day after to-morrow with one thousand riflemen and the Indians.  We have our scouting parties out constantly; and in a few days hence a blow will be stricken–‘a deed be done,’ which, I hope, will be honorable to our cause and country, and to every one concerned, an sanctioned by our God.  Your regretted friend Anderson died at Fort Strother.  The Knoxville Gazette announced it.  Our excellent friend Col. Johnson has been in danger, but I rejoice to say he is convalescent, and now within our tent–his station is at Fort Claiborne, for which he will probably depart tomorrow.

December 6

Last night I witnessed a most interesting scene–the war dance of the Chickasaw and Chocktaw warriors, and a sham fight.  It is a ceremony, which precedes their going to war.  The effect was admirable; the scene by pine fires in the night–the clash of arms–the incessant firing–the naked, painted warriors–the yells, which might have been heard 2 or 3 miles–all conspired to make it highly interesting.  This day they marched against the Seminoles and hostile Creeks.  In two or three days I expect to be in Pensacola.”

About the Author

Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.

Mary Bowden