A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

History: The Third Great Awakening (1869)

Lorenzo Dow (Wikimedia)
The Oct 1869 edition of The Journal Monthly Advertiser in Matawan featured a story of the itinerant preacher Lorenzo Dow (1777-1834). Dow was an important figure of the Second Great Awakening, a religious movement that prompted the growth of Methodist and Baptist congregations in the early 19th century.

Reflecting back on the ministry of Reverend Dow, whose legacy was immensely popular in the US, would have been a logical exercise for the local newspaper at this time. Prominent figures in post-Civil War Matawan would have been agitating for prohibition of alcohol and other social ills, aiming to rid their community of sin to clear the way for the Second Coming of Christ and the New Millennium -- the agenda of the Third Great Awakening

In this story, which figured prominently on the front page of Matawan's monthly ad journal, Reverend Dow was in South Carolina pondering a local revival he was to hold the next day when he came upon a young African-American boy playing a tin horn. Reverend Dow asked him to assist with what we would call today a "special effect" in his sermon. The boy was to hide in a tree near the revival and blow his trumpet at a critical point in Dow's oration. The horn would evoke the legend of Archangel Gabriel blowing his trumpet to signal the onset of the Final Judgment and stir the flock to repent of their sins and prepare for coming of their Lord.

The boy earned every penny of the dollar paid him by the Reverend, who got the effect he wanted but put the boy in considerable danger in the process. (Dow had to prevent the crowd from pulling the lad from the tree to whip him.) I suspect that the use of a black boy in this story to represent the Archangel Gabriel suggests the editor's anti-Slavery sentiment, a social ill dealt with in the recent war.

I've included below much of the original text of The Preacher's Stratagem so you can see the use of jargon to characterize the boy's manner of speech. The low station of the boy in the eyes of the congregation is contrasted with his position with Dow, who refers to the boy as his brother and endows him with virtual wings.


[A]s Lorenzo was entering the neighborhood the evening preceding his appointment, he overtook a colored boy who was blowing a long tin horn, and sent out a blast with such rise and swell and cadence, which waked the echoes of the distant hills.

Calling aside the blower, Dow said:

"What is your name, sir?"

"My name? Gabriel, sir!" replied the brother in ebony.

"Well, Gabriel, have you been to Church Hill?"

"Yes, Massa, I've been dar many a time."

"Do you remember a big spruce pine tree on that hill?"

"O yes, massa, I knows dat pine."

"Did you know that Lorenzo Dow had an appointment to preach under that tree to-morrow?"

"O yes, massa, everybody knows dat."

"Well, Gabriel, I am Lorenzo Dow, and if you'll take your horn and go to-morrow morning and climb into that pine tree, and hide among the branches before the people begin to gather, and wait there until I call your name, and then blow such a blast with your horn as I heard you blow a minute ago, I'll give you a dollar.. Will you do it, Gabriel?"

"Yes, massa, I takes dat dollar."

Gabriel, like Zacheus, was hid away in the tree top in fine time. An immense concourse, of all sizes and colors, assembled at the appointed hour, and Dow preached on the judgment of the last day. By his power of description he wrought the multitude up to the opening scenes of the resurrection of the grand --, at the call of the trumpet peals, which were to awaken the nations.

"Then," said he, "suppose, my friends, we should hear at this moment the sound of Gabriel's trumpet." Sure enough, at that moment the trumpet of Gabriel sounded. The women shrieked, and many fainted; the men sprang up and looked aghast; some ran; some fell and called for mercy; and all felt for a time that the judgment was set and the books were opened.

Dow stood and watched the driving storm until the fright abated, and some one discovered the colored angel who had caused the alarm, quietly perched on a limb of the old spruce, and wanted to get him down and whip him, and then resumed his theme, saying, "I forbid all persons touching that boy up there. If a colored boy with a tin horn can almost frighten you out of your wits, what will you do when you hear the trumpet of the arch-angel? How will you be able to stand in the great day of the wrath of God?"


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