Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Jacksonborough Curse

In Screven County, not too far from Statesboro, the city of Sylvania sits as a quite, quaint, nice, little southern town. It is the county seat of Screven County, and the people there are distinctly southern. Like any small town in Georgia, there are a number of churches, small shops and stores, city parks, playgrounds, schools, fast food restaurants, and southern cooking buffets to tempt the taste buds of local residents and travelers alike. Truthfully, there is nothing that odd or different about Sylvania, other than the fact that it was a town founded by a curse.
The town became the county seat of Screven County in 1847, when the state legislature approved the moving of the seat from the city of Jacksonborough to Sylvania. It is actually to strange events that happened in the city of Jacksonborough that Sylvania owes its prosperity. Without the curse of Lorenzo Dow, Jacksonborough might not have perished as a town, and Sylvania would possibly never have developed.
Jacksonborough was founded in 1797 by Solomon Gross and his wife Mary, who donated fifty acres of their land to the Screven Commissioners. The town grew from that year and perhaps the most famous event in its history happened in 1820 with the visit from a traveling Methodist preacher by the name of Lorenzo Dow. Often called "Crazy Dow," Lorenzo was said to be very odd-looking, with long hair and a humpback. A leading evangelist of his day, Dow preached against drunkeness, slavery, and moral turpitude. When he rode in to the town of Jacksonborough on that fateful day in 1820, what he saw drew his ire.
The events in question are told differently by different sources, but some commonalities emerge. According to Jim Miles in Weird Georgia, "Lorenzo Dow became upset after some rowdies pitched bricks through the windows of the Methodist Church while he was delivering a fire and brimstone sermon. Later, when the evangelist followed the thugs into a tavern and destroyed a barrel of whiskey, the druken ruffians pummeled him." Professor Alan Brown in Haunted Georgia: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Peach State reports that "On this fateful day in 1820, Lorenzo rode through town , yelling, 'Repent, brethren, repent!' from his saddle. Offended by Dow's implication that the citizens of Jacksonborough needed redemption, they pelted him with tomatoes and rotten eggs. Undaunted, Dow climbed down from his horse, grabbed an iron tool, and broke open a barrel of whiskey. He probably would have been killed if a fellow Methodist and Mason named Seaborn Goodall had not hustled the preacher out of the mob to safety." Although the events are a little different in both scenarios, what can be seen is that Dow felt inclined to evangelize the citizens of Jacksonborough, and at least some of the citizens in that community did not welcome his attempts. Both of the above sources, as well as others, report that a local Good Samaritan, Seaborn Goodall, took Dow in for the night at his house on the edge of town and kept him there away from the ruffians who had attacked him. Deciding to leave town the next day, Dow encountered more taunting and vitriolic words from the townspeople, and some even threw objects at him again in scorn. As he was leaving the town, Dow was said to have placed a curse on the town of Jacksonborough. According to Miles in Weird Georgia, Dow had encountered similar circumstances before in the towns where he evangelized. Miles writes, " Dow's journal records numerous accounts of rude behavior and physical attacks and the usual rejection by Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Baptists, and even his own Methodists." Miles even asks the question, "Did Dow actually leave a curse on Jacksonboro?" According to the author, Dow's journals do not mention the town, but Miles does say that he surely must have passed it on his outings through Georgia.
Research in to the life of Lorenzo Dow does support the notion that the preacher was deserving of his nickname, "Crazy Dow." According to David E. Phillips in his book Legendery Connecticut, Dow buried his first wife, in "'cut after cut and fold after fold' of woolen cloth and then buried her without a coffin and standing bolt upright in the grave, so she could the more quickly and surely reach heaven. The epitaph on her gravestone reads: 'Peggy Dow. Shared Vissitudes of Lorenzo.'" Dow was born in Connecticut and lived there both before and after his evangelistic journeys. Phillips mentions other eccentricities and oddities about Dow in his book, but nonetheless, being eccentric does not prove that Dow put a curse on the town of Jacksonborough. But what happened after Dow supposedly left the town has caused this story and the tale of this curse to become part of the folklore and legend of Georgia.
After Dow left, every residence, public building, and business in the town was either destroyed by mysterious fires and gusts of winds that blew off the roof. The town was even destroyed on General Sherman's March to the Sea. There was one place in the town that was never touched, by Sherman, fire, or strong wind-THE HOME OF SEABORN GOODALL!!!! Yes, it still stands a few miles north of Sylvania on Highway 301. The home is now called the Dell-Goodall House and was saved from its disrepair by the Brier Creek Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in the 1960s. The group raised over $40,000 to put in to repairing the home. It is now open for tours on special occassions. So, the home where "Crazy Dow" was supposedly taken by Seaborn Goodall to take refuge from the pelting he received at the hands of irrate townsmen is the only thing that survived the ages in the once county seat of Screven County!! Did Lorenzo Dow put a curse on the town because of its iniquities? Or did the town die a natural, earthly death? What we can be sure of is that this story has become engrained in the folklore and legends of Georgia; in fact, it is said to be one of the oldest. It has been the subjects of internet sites, articles, chapters in books, and even in sermons. The Reverend Frank Logue of the King of Peace Episcopal Church even used the story to make a point in his sermon "Shaking off the Dust," the text of which can be found at the King of Peace website You can also read another version of the story there. If nothing more, Lorenzo Dow's Curse on Jacksonborough has become a part of Georgia legend and folklore, and is a fun to read and interesting Georgia mystery.


Lady Em said...

Oh I know Sylvania well. It's just a little ways up the road from Savannah. I've never heard this story before, how very interesting!! Funny you mention the last name Gross in the story, I know a family that lives up that way quite well. I wonder if they are related?
I can't wait until the next post!!

~Lady Em~

Herman Grace said...

My 3rd great grandfather arrived in Screven County about 1812 with his brother-in-law, Jacob Wells. Jacob lived there til his death and I was wondering where he would have been buried in 1847. Since Sylvania wasn't a town at that time, I wonder if he didn't live in Jacksonborough. He and my ggg-grandfather, John T. Poitevint are listed on the 1820 census. Thanks for the interesting story. Charlet Poitevint Grace or

Unknown said...

Sylvania was a town in 1847. It just wasn't the country seat at that time.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Sylvania and first heard the legend in elementary school in the mid seventies. I saw with my own eyes the apparent curse at work. There was always a little country store in Jacksonboro. The store was named Jacksonboro grocery. In my life the store burned to the ground three times and was built back every time and kept the same name. The store that stands now and is still open is probably 25 years old and has a different name. Every time it was Jacksonboro it would burn. Sometimes it took years but one time it burned immediately after it reopened. I don’t know if the curse is real but I know that nothing that claims Jacksonboro as it’s address or place name last very long except the Goodall house. It’s true as far as I have seen.