Dow, John (1758-1828)
John Dow (1758-April 21, 1828), one of many Scots who settled in southern North Carolina, is among the best documented of the immigrant carpenters active in the rural area in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The date of his arrival in North Carolina is not known. Like many building artisans, he worked in a fairly large area, including present Robeson, Cumberland, and Mecklenburg counties, where he erected public buildings, all long lost, and likely built other structures as well. More prosperous than most building artisans of his day, he owned extensive property in land and slaves as well as a saw and grist mill.
According to the inscription on his gravestone in Paw Creek Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Mecklenburg County, Dow was born in Lenreck Shire, Scotland. He was living in Robeson County soon after its formation in 1787, and is credited with drawing the plans for that county’s first courthouse (a frame structure set on one-story brick piers), a frame jail, and a frame academy building, all in Lumberton. It is not known if he was also involved in their construction, though it seems likely that he was. Scots settlers such as Dow were so important to early Robeson County that according to the county’s website, its official language was once Gaelic. Robeson County deed books between 1795 and 1828 record Dow’s ownership of 11 town lots in Lumberton and 2,000 acres in the county.
Dow moved to Mecklenburg County by 1810 and made it his principal place of residence. In that year, according to local history, he built the second Mecklenburg County Courthouse, which stood in the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets at the center of Charlotte, and also in 1810 he took Philip Simpson, aged 19, as an apprentice to the carpenter’s trade in Mecklenburg County. Although he apparently lived for a time in Fayetteville, Cumberland County, while constructing the brick county jail there (1818), Mecklenburg County remained his principal place of residence. It is not known whether he himself, his enslaved or hired artisans, or both executed the construction for which he contracted.
He was of sufficient stature that notices of his death on April 21, 1828, aged about 70, were carried in several newspapers, including the Raleigh North-Carolina Star of May 8, 1828.
At his death Dow owned extensive property in land and slaves as well as several stills and a grist and saw mill. The property he willed to his wife, Susannah, and his children and grandchildren included 1,400 acres of land, 13 slaves, two clocks, a silver watch, the saw and grist mill, and “my Library of Books.” Several items sold at his estate sale related to his trade, including window and door hardware, blacksmith’s tools, mill saws, paint (yellow, blue, verdigris, and red), glass, shingles, various pieces of “square timber” and 16 lots of sawn timber and plank, totaling over 10,000 feet. Also sold was a long list of carpenter’s tools including a large collection of planes indicative of his involvement in finished carpentry. Especially interesting was the “lumber for a house ready fram’d,” which sold for $39.00 and suggests that Dow was prefabricating houses for sale. A few years after his death, Dow’s son-in-law, William S. Norment (who was planning a move to the west) offered for sale in the Charlotte Miners’ and Farmers’ Journal of April 5, 1834, a 500-acre tract near the Catawba River, “the residence of the late John Dow,” which included “extensive and elegant” buildings as well “first rate” river bottom land and a “good meadow.” John Dow, his wife Susannah (1773-1845), and their children David, William, and Susannah Dow Baker are interred at the Paw Creek Presbyterian Church cemetery.
- “1810 Second Mecklenburg County Courthouse,” The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Story, cmstory.org/content/1810-second-mecklenburg-county-courthouse, from Courthouses of Mecklenburg County, 1766-2007 (2007).
- Mrs. Furman K. Briggs, “Lumberton” typescript, 1945, copy at North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- James H. Craig, The Arts and Crafts in North Carolina, 1699-1840 (1965).
- Cumberland County Miscellaneous Papers, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Mecklenburg County Estates Papers, Will Books, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Robeson County Deed Books, Office of Register of Deeds, Robeson County Courthouse, Lumberton, North Carolina.
- Dates:1787Location:Lumberton, Robeson CountyStreet Address:Lumberton, NCStatus:No longer standingType:EducationalNote:Mrs. Furman K. Briggs's history of Lumberton reports that Dow drew the plans for Lumberton's first academy. Whether he built it is not documented.
- Dates:1787Location:Lumberton, Robeson CountyStreet Address:Lumberton, NCStatus:No longer standingType:PublicNote:Mrs. Furman K. Briggs's history of Lumberton reports that Dow drew the plans for Lumberton's first courthouse and jail. Whether he built them is not documented.