Georgia legend about Lorenzo Dow, a traveling preacher who curses the small town of Jacksonboro, Georgia after a very rude reception.
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Lorenzo Dow’s Georgia Curse – Audio Story
There comes a time in life when we all need a little guidance – a little helpful push to remind us what’s right and wrong. And for some folks, that guidance comes from some good old fashioned, fire and brimstone preaching.
Now these days, you can’t turn on the TV without seeing one religious channel after another. But back in the old days when there wasn’t any TV – or cars for that matter – the traveling preacher was the only man of God some country folk got to see.
Lorenzo Dow was one of the best-known traveling preachers back in the 1800s. He was a funny looking man from Connecticut – tall and skinny with wild eyes, long stringy hair, a thick beard, and a slight hunchback. But he also had a booming voice that made sinners across the country shake in their boots. “Repent now, my brothers and sisters! Repent!” he would scream in every town he visited, and many people did just that.
Lorenzo loved the outdoors, and would rather sleep on cold, hard ground in the woods than the most comfortable feather bed in town. He’d been on the road preaching since he was a teenager, and figured there was no town wicked enough, or tough enough, to withstand his crusade for God.
But then, Lorenzo Dow had never visited Jacksonboro, Georgia.
Now, back in those times, Jacksonboro was a tough frontier town about 100 miles upriver from Savannah. Tough, rugged lumbermen cut the town out of the Georgia pine wilderness. Each day they’d chop down trees and ship them downriver to port markets in Savannah. It was back breaking work, and after a long day, the men liked nothing better than a good stiff drink.
Well, make that many stiff drinks. Folks used to say there were so many drunken brawls in Jacksonboro saloons each night that, the next morning, you’d see children picking up eyeballs in tea saucers! So needless to say, the men of Jacksonboro were not going to be the most receptive crowd for a traveling preacher.
But that didn’t stop Lorenzo Dow. He rode into town one day and immediately began preaching about the evils of alcohol. “That whiskey is the Devil’s water!” he screamed at the gathered crowd. “You’re all goin’ straight to Hell if you don’t watch it, no doubt about it!”
Now, Jacksonboro was already a pretty rough town. But Lorenzo had the additional misfortune of arriving on the day the townsfolk were celebrating the naming of Jacksonboro as the county seat. So many of the men were roaring drunk, and in no mood to be lectured. So they pelted Lorenzo with rotten vegetables and screamed, “Go home, preacher man! Nobody cares what you got to say!”
The crowd then laughed, turned away and went back to the saloons. But they didn’t call Lorenzo “Crazy Dow” for nothing. Rather than heed their warning, Lorenzo marched into the nearest saloon and began preaching all over again. “I may forgive you for what you did, but God won’t!” he yelled. “And the Lord’s gonna put an end to your sinful ways right now!”
And with that, Lorenzo grabbed an iron tool and broke open a barrel of whiskey, sending its contents spilling onto the floor. Then he smashed the whiskey glasses on the bar. “Listen to me – leave this den of sin right now and get right with the Lord!” he yelled.
Well, that was the final straw. The townsfolk grabbed Lorenzo and threw him through the doors of the saloon. They pushed him to the ground and gathered around him – a drunken, crazed mob.
“What should we do with him?” one of the men asked.
“Hey, somebody get a rope! Let’s hang him!” screamed out another.
Cheers erupted from the crowd as the men grabbed Lorenzo and looked around for the nearest tree. Suddenly a new voice shouted from behind the crowd: “Stop it!”
The men turned to find Seaborn Goodall approaching them. Mr. Goodall was a teetotaler and a deeply religious man, but he was also a hard worker just like the other men, and had therefore earned their respect. “This preacher may have made you mad, but that doesn’t mean you should break the law. Let him stay with my family tonight. I promise he’ll be gone in the morning, and won’t ever bother you again.”
The drunken men looked at each other, then reluctantly shoved Lorenzo away toward Mr. Goodall. “You’re a lucky man, Preacher,” one of them said. “You best do as he says and be out of here come mornin’. Or there will be a hangin’.”
So Lorenzo stayed that night with the Goodall family, relieved yet angry. In all his years of preaching, never had he visited a town that was so beyond hope, so trapped in its wicked ways. In his mind, the townsfolk of Jacksonboro were simply beyond redemption – except for the kind Mr. Goodall, of course.
The next morning, Lorenzo emerged from the Goodall home and prepared his horse for departure. The angry crowd from the previous night had returned to the Goodall home, watching Lorenzo with foggy, bloodshot eyes, making sure he was really leaving for good. Lorenzo climbed onto his horse and rode slowly to the edge of the town, the snickering crowd following closely behind him. When he reached the town limits he suddenly stopped, removed one of his shoes, and with dramatic flair shook the dust from the bottom. “I came here to help save you from your sin,” he cried out. “But you would not receive me. So I have no choice but to shake the dust of this wicked town off my feet. Your town is hereby cursed – it will wither and die from its wickedness. So sayeth the Lord.”
He then pointed at the Goodall house and said, “But the Goodall house will remain. For they received me and heard my voice.”
Waves of laughter erupted from the townspeople as Lorenzo galloped away. Then they turned and walked back to town. And as the months went by, the story of the crazy preacher always guaranteed a hearty round of laughs in the local taverns. But for the most part, his warning was forgotten.
That is, until a series of strange and destructive fires began plaguing the town. When the first home burned to the ground, everyone thought it was a freak accident, or a lightning strike. Or maybe some drunken fool who fell asleep smoking a cigarette. But then another home burned down, followed by another, then several more – all without explanation. The fires were followed by vicious storms that destroyed even more buildings.
And what nature didn’t destroy, the local economy did. The lumber industry slowed down, and the men in town lost their jobs. Then the townspeople suddenly remembered the parting words of the crazy preacher. And whether it was from fear, or the lack of jobs, the remaining families began moving out one by one until the town of Jacksonboro died away.
You won’t find Jacksonboro, Georgia on a map today. The county seat moved to Sylvania many years ago, and today there is not one marker indicating where Jacksonboro used to be. It’s as if the town simply vanished off the face of the earth.
Except for one building, that is. On a dirt road where the town once stood, you’ll find a lone, white clapboard house. There’s nothing remarkable about it, until you find out that its previous owner was none other than Seaborn Goodall, the man whose kindness saved him from the curse of Lorenzo Dow.
Where is Jacksonboro, Georgia?
Today, there are few signs of Jacksonboro’s existence save a historical marker 5 miles outside of Sylvania, Georgia. Just a few yards away, at the end of Dell Goodall Road (Google Maps), sits the Seaborn Goodall House, where Lorenzo Dow spent the night. The Seaborn Goodall House has been restored and is owned by the Briar Creek Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Jacksonboro, Georgia was once the county seat of rural Screven County (Google Maps), 56 miles northwest of Savannah. Its origins date back to the Revolutionary War, when early settlers founded the small community of Bascom amidst the untamed pine forests. Screven County was founded in 1793. Six years later, the state purchased 50 acres of land from Solomon Gross to create the county seat of “Jacksonborough,” named for then Governor of Georgia, General James Jackson. The current historical marker stands at what was once the center of town.
Jacksonboro gained a reputation as a lawless and rowdy pioneer community. There were as many saloons as all other businesses combined. Historical records also list one school, one church, a jail, and a courthouse on a hill above the church. Seaborn Goodall, who would take in Lorenzo Dow, was the Clerk of the Superior Court and one of the few who “carried the torch for law, order, and church.” ( source: C. D. Hollingsworth, Sr. , A WORTHY HOUSE).
Jacksonboro, Georgia remained a major business center until the county seat moved to Sylvania in 1847. Shortly thereafter, it became a ghost town and eventually disappeared altogether. Odds are Jacksonboro was destroyed by economic and natural forces, not the curse of a traveling preacher. But its mysterious disappearance gave birth to enduring legends of “The Jacksonboro Curse.”
Who Was Lorenzo Dow?
Lorenzo Dow was America’s first celebrity evangelist. His religious zealotry, theatricality and wild man appearance drew immense crowds throughout the world – in the days where traveling ministries were conducted by boat, on foot, or on horseback.
Lorenzo Dow was born in 1777 in Coventry, Connecticut. He suffered from intense religious visions at an early age. He eventually joined the Methodist faith, gaining fame as a teenager preaching across the state. But he ran afoul of the Methodist church due to his eccentric manner and missionary zeal. On tours of England and Ireland, he introduced the concept of multi-denominational “camp meetings,” or revivals, to reach large crowds outside traditional church walls.
Dow would spend the next 40 years traveling throughout America, parts of Europe, Canada and the West Indies. He was a staunch opponent of Roman Catholicism (his Ireland trips were “missionary visits” to Irish Catholics). Since traditional churches did not support him, Dow sought open fields, barns or whatever public spaces he could find.
By all accounts, Lorenzo Dow was a character unlike anyone had ever seen before. He was bearded, tall and bony, with long, unkempt hair. Personal hygiene was of little importance. He wore the same clothes each day until they disintegrated off his body, and an audience member would donate new ones (often comically ill-fitted). On stage, he would scream, cry, tell stories and jokes, and harshly confront the crowds.
Such theatrics didn’t endear Lorenzo Dow to some audiences, like the roughnecks in Jacksonboro, Georgia. But Dow was also a staunch abolitionist, attracting threats of violence throughout the American South. Despite the danger, Dow was stubborn. He would simply dust himself off and give the same fiery sermon in the neighboring town.
By his death in 1834 at age 57, Dow had traveled over 200,000 miles tirelessly spreading the Gospel. At one time, his autobiography was the second best-selling book in America behind the Bible. Thousands of children throughout the 19th century were named after him. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Lorenzo Dow’s Georgia Curse – Story Credits
Written and Directed by Craig Dominey
Told by Lanny Gilbert
Photography by Andy Young
Sound Design by Henry Howard