John McDowall, the Martyr of the Seventh Commandment
After discovering prostitution:
“Visited about one hundred families. Saw one house of ill-fame, where the girls were beautiful and elegantly dressed. It is said the house in which they live, is, by the will of the late occupant, left to this class of women.
It is painful to see, in the centre of New-York, the tender sex destitute of the semblance of modesty. To see young women, of wanton eyes, of impure speech, spreading their nets for the silly youth—the young man whose love of virtue, whose sense of character, whose regard for sisters, whose kindly feelings to his race, should inspire his soul with lofty sentiments of all that is lovely, and amiable, and of good report. Yes—for the young man whose heart should revolt at such scenes. Truly, Solomon has wisely and minutely drawn the character, progress, and end of these deluded souls. O to grace, how great a debtor am I. ‘T’is grace—grace alone makes me to differ. To grace be all the glory. [emphasis in the original] “
-This shows how much of a temptation the prostitutes were for the young men of the city.
“Oct. 6th.—Visited fourteen families. It is a pleasant work to instruct the poor and ignorant. We are kindly received, often urgently invited to revisit them again. But O, the harlots! How numerous! Modesty and purity forbid a minute detail. A passing remark on some is ventured. I think I am safe in saying, some of these women have noble lineage. For strength of intellect, general knowledge, and elegant taste, perhaps few ladies in the city can excel a few at Five Points.”
-This shows how McDowall is still caught up with the temptation from the prostitutes.
“In this dilemma; depressed, despised, and cast off; penniless, without shelter, and broken-hearted, denied a residence in the dwelling of parents and friends; the last, the fatal resort, is to the more respectable seats of ill-fame, where, after serving the unhallowed purposes of barbarous masters and mistresses, and men in elegant attire and in honorable stations, they are, when ruined, disgraced, and diseased, with merciless brutality driven from these seats of refined iniquity in high places, these mints of common night-walkers.”
-McDowall believed that these women had no other place to turn to and that they had to become prostitutes to make a living for themselves.
“In one half hour, on a Sabbath evening, I saw five or six companies of men knock for admission to a brothel. The mistress opened the window and told them that her house was so full of visitors that they could not be admitted. The last troop she invited to return in half an hour. In this group there were seven persons. Into a similar house, three doors distant, I saw, on the same evening, seventeen men go, and eleven come out. On another Sabbath evening, I saw between twenty and thirty young men standing around the door of one of the most genteel brothels in the city. Those most distant from the door encouraged those nearest to it to force it open. The dress and appearance of these men resembled that of men of wealth and fashion. Their thoughts were vicious. They associated and persuaded each other to go to those houses of death. They hold the doctrine that vice is necessary. They degraded themselves, and encouraged each other to go on in wickedness.”
-McDowall talks about how men are the real reasons as to why the women are in these brothels.
“Can this be christianity? No. The religion of Jesus has no unhallowed connection with such crimes. Christianity will add to her benevolent institutions in New-York what she has been compelled to add in other lands—a Magdalen Asylum. Ladies, ladies, your suffering sex demands this at your hands—the Savior demands it.”
“On the social principle let societies in every congregation and neighborhood in the land be formed to prevent lewdness, seduction, and immorality of every kind. Let young men associate to root licentiousness, profanity, intemperance, vice, and crime, out of existence. Let ladies join to discountenance it, and to place libertines on a level with harlots. Let merchants, masters, and others, protect the morals of the young men under their care. Let parents use their best efforts to instill into the minds of their children correct views of truth, duty, and honor. Let ministers remember that each of the Ten Commandments God has commanded them to cause the people to understand and to obey. Let magistrates execute the laws, and legislatures, by salutary enactments, protect the property, health, and morality of their constituents. Let all do all that is in their power to free the land from vice and crime.”
-McDowall states all the things that should be taught during this Great Awakening.
“A merchant at the south sent his daughter, a young woman, to this state, to spend some time with her sister. A lawyer acquainted with her family, invited the girl to walk with him one evening. In the year 1830, he led her into a den of the unclean. There he kept her for nearly six months. Then he handed her over to another person. A merchant’s clerk became her gallant, paid $5 per week for her board, took her to the theatre every week, and clothed her like a lady. She is not yet twenty years old, and is now a forsaken, broken-hearted, friendless, homeless, turbulent, thievish, drunken, offensive, diseased, haggard, bloated, filthy creature. And the lawyer and the clerk do not condescend to look at her, for they have procured other young women whom they are plunging into infamy and wretchedness like hers.”
“In addition to which the female portion of the youngest class, those who have only seen some eight or twelve summers) are addicted to immoralities of the most loathsome description; each year makes fearful additions to the ranks of these prospective recruits of infamy and sin, and from this corrupt and festering fountain flows on a ceaseless stream to our lowest brothels, to the penitentiary and the state's prison.”
How can McDowall tell that the prostitutes are intelligent if he has never spoken to one?
Why didn’t McDowall save those children who were pimped out by their parents along with those who were of noble blood?
Why did McDowall give up so easily and resign from his job?
John McDowall believed that he was sent to save all prostitutes from the hell that they were living in. He saw himself as a guardian angel that was there to protect those women from death and disease and also to slay the ‘dragons’ that had put them into that place. He wanted to launch a new Awakening that would include revival and remedy. When he put together a safe place for those of noble blood to go to, many of them returned to their former jobs instead of being reunited with their family. John McDowall’s reputation was ruined by his work at the Five Points. At the lectures he would give, he would state that those of noble blood who had turned to prostitution were not really prostitutes and that they had a loving family waiting for them at home. I can not believe that women were treated this way. That they can just be sold to another man and made into a prostitute and no one would look for them. It is unfathomable that women were treated this way and that the one man who tried to get them to reform was shunned due to the fact that he worked so closely with them.
John McDowall discusses his reaction to prostitution in the Five Points. There are several important aspects that McDowall describes about the women that work in these brothels. When looking at the use of language, many times these women are described in unlikely ways. Using phrases such as “beautiful, elegantly dressed, destitute of the semblance of modesty, wanton eyes, impure speech, and silly youth.” All of these things are describing the women or men that go to these brothels, yet this is not the depiction one would expect. McDowall seems to be trying to romanticize these women. His language expresses his interest and somewhat of a fascination with them. It almost suggests his want for these women, especially when he describes why he “should revolt at such scenes.” He says, “O to grace, how great a debtor I am.” The only way he separates himself from the men that enter into the brothels is by grace. There is another instance where he “congratulated himself that he ‘stood firm in conscious innocence of evil purpose, and found strength in discharging’ his duty.” It appears that being around these women is extremely difficult for him. It is interesting that McDowall preaches for all to stand up against this kind of evil that is occurring, yet he has trouble keeping away himself.
His interest in these women seems to stem more from him wanting to believe in the false illusions they created for men, especially those of high status. As the reading indicates, “No harlot in McDowall’s Journal ever turned to prostitution because of the low wages of honest labor. None ever drank because she enjoyed it.” During the Second Great Awakening there was a sudden interest in the issue of temperance and it became respectable not to drink. For McDowall, to see these women drinking probably led him to believe that they had no choice.
The contrast between McDowall’s images of prostitutes of the 1830’s and the police reports were quite substantial. The truth was, these women were not of “noble lineage” but rather from the slums where they did not attend school, often committed crimes as young children, and were placed into prostitution by their parents. When he preaches about these people's lives he states that their parents loved them and that they had been seduced and then abandoned by a lover. This was not the reality of their situations. Although some may have been forced into prostitution as McDowall describes, but for most it was due to their economic circumstances.
Semi-Annual Report of the Chief of Police From May 1, to October 31, 1849 (New York, 1850)
The third class . . . are mostly girls of tender years, and frequently neatly dressed and modest looking. Their ostensible business is the sale of fruits, socks, toothpicks, &c., and with this ruse they gain ready access to countingrooms, offices and other places, where, in the secrecy and seclusion of a turned key, they submit their persons for the miserable bribe of a few shillings, to the most loathsome and degrading familiarities.
By these practices they frequently are enabled to carry home some two or three dollars daily. And this very money, to obtain which the miserable child exchanges its present and future welfare, is eagerly grasped by the often inebriate parents, who, with the full knowledge of the sacrifice by which it was obtained, scruple not to use it; and on the morrow the girl is again sent forth upon the same disgusting errand. The captain of the eleventh patrol district, in speaking of this class of children, says, "scenes of almost nightly occurrence might, if necessary, be related, which, for vileness and deep depravity, would absolutely stagger belief."
The captain of the second patrol district says, "this class of children is, probably, the most degraded of any in the city; the others steal, but most of the girls who sell fruit, &c., at the different offices, are in the daily habit of practising the most beastly and immoral things, (and when old enough they turn out as common prostitutes,) and frequently get four or five dollars per day in this way. I have known several instances where these children have grown up, and are now living in a state of prostitution, while others are already in the hospital, and some have been sent to the prison or Blackwell's Island."
These enormities have long been known to the department, and they come to me in such an unquestionable shape, that I cannot doubt the truth of the statement.
I am aware that there are honorable exceptions to the above, and some among the hundreds, included in this third class, are in reality honest children, endeavoring to gain a living by the legitimate sale of trifles, but the majority are vicious, and only so. The number is computed in the districts named at three hundred and eighty. . . .
All of which is respectfully submitted, GEO. W. MATSELL, Chief of Police
Semi-Annual Report of the Chief of Police From May 1, to October 31, 1849 (New York, 1850).
*** What I found interesting here is that McDowall writes in his Journal as if there are thousands of "nobler" women roaming the streets of the Five Points who have been forced into prostitution due to unfortunate family circumstance. In actuality, the number of women who came from higher lineage working the streets was minuscule in comparison to the number of women who were born into poverty. McDowall, however, ignores this majority in the pursuit of rescuing the "nobler". Without any real plan other then the hope that they will "find their way" through God. McDowall's plan is a complete failure.
The document about John Robert McDowall has to do with his reactions to discovering the world of prostitution in the Five Points and his journey as a moral and spritual crusader and martyr of the seventh commandment. He describes how difficult it is for him to see young women, of luxurious eyes and poor speech, spreading their nets for the silly youth. He is repulsed by the very nature of prostitution. However, an interesting point is that McDowall almost puts himself in the category as the “silly youth.” After listing all of the reasons why his heart “should revolt at such scenes,” he exclaimed “O to grace, how great a debtor I am.” He claims that it is “Grace alone" that made him different from the young men who congregated in these houses of “ill-fame.” A question worth asking is, does McDowall believe that grace is what allows someone to refrain from sinning, or is it merely the discipline that McDowall possesses that makes him different than the others? After all, it was McDowall who admitted his guilt as a debtor and a sinner. Yet, he claims to have escaped the harlot’s lures only by grace.
McDowall felt that the solution was that these people needed to be saved. It is here that McDowall takes an interesting approach to the issue. McDowall emphasizes that it is the harlot’s who are the victims. He says, “But where are their guilty murderers? The young seducer of unsuspecting virgin modesty stands at the head of the catalog; next rank our men of fashion and professions; then the catalog closes with a list of sailors and negroes. O! what a list of accessories to their ruin! And yet these murderers, with impunity and éclat, move in the circles of the young and fashionable.” It was not enough to simply rescue the maiden. McDowall had to slay the dragon. He had to go after the “murderers,” who move in "the circles of the young and fashionable.” His sword would be McDowall's Journal with which he would expose the seducer. But he needed support. There was little likelihood it would come from “men of fashion and professions” who patronized the more respectable brothels. He felt that the Savior, Jesus Christ, demanded this, and within days of his first writings, McDowall launched his crusade.
He looked at this as a revival solution. It called for an Awakening. McDowall hoped to organize anti-licentiousness societies, one for each congregation. Members would sign a pledge in which they would themselves promise to abstain from sins against the seventh commandment and to treat seducers and [patrons] of brothels as pariahs, or outcasts. Such a plan depended upon ministerial cooperation, something that was not forthcoming. McDowall’s Journal, January 1833, contains a characteristic attack on clergy and “professors of religion” who refused to condemn sexual liberty. Another important question relates to McDowall’s idea of the Savior’s “demands.” For someone like McDowall, who attended Princeton Theological Seminary, how could someone of his level of education so badly misinterpret the Savior’s message? It seems that his only correct move as a moral and spiritual crusader was his condemnation of the practicing of prostitution and thus breaking of the 7th commandment. However, his command to treat regular attendees of brothels as pariahs, or persons that are generally despised or avoided, is quite contrary to the message of his Savior. It is pretty well understood that Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, was among Jesus’ closet friends. McDowall concerns himself with judgment as he casts the first stone in the Five Points.
McDowall helped organize the Female Benevolent Society of New York on December 27, 1832 with members from a dozen or so Presbyterian churches in lower Manhattan and officially became its agent the following February. The Society, according to its First Annual Report, had two goals, prevention and remedy. With prevention, it is thought that divine Providence, that is, God's sovereign guidance and control, will develop a method, by which they can most effectually exert a preventive influence against this monster vice. A clever approach would be to save the kids. Most prostitutes grew up in slums, did not attend school, and took up various forms of crime and vice as young children. Often their first pimps were their parents. McDowall knew this as well as the police. But he did not set out to rescue these children. Instead he set about rescuing the few "nobler" harlots and organizing respectable opinion to denounce licenciousness by portraying them as typical of fallen women.
Unfortunately, the rescue proved to be a shattering failure. The Society attempted to put the best face on the numbers as they could but had to admit that of the twenty-seven prostitutes who were “received” into the asylum between May 1832 and January 1834, “there are nine now in the asylum, and five at service in pious families, who are still under the care of the Society. The remaining thirteen have left the asylum, and the most of them have returned to their former vicious habits." In the middle of the year McDowall resigned as their agent. The failure of rescue attempts left prevention. And, despite their claim that they awaited the revelations of Providence to guide them in this area, the Society shared McDowall's vision here as well. As a whole, evangelical reform failed in this arena precisely because it was evangelical. It defined success in terms of redemption, and how can one really assess, judge, or even claim to determine another’s redemption?
John Gough was one of the first celebrities in American history. He was one of the first people to make his profession by becoming a public speaker. In his speeches, he spoke of the dangers of alcohol as while speaking he would make it his goal to have thousands verbally commit to quit drinking once and for all after hearing his words. Gough made lecturing quite a lucrative endeavor, as when he died in the late 1800's, he was considered one of the most well known public speakers in the U.S. or Britain. In his speeches, he frequently drew upon his own experiences. His celebrity status remained highly regarded throughtout his entire career despite an incident which took place in 1845.
"Gough’s misadventure in the Five Points began on September 5, 1845 when he checked into the Croton Hotel, went out for the night, returned on the next day, purchased a new shirt, and disappeared again for six days. His friends, afraid of foul play, issued an alarm. On the 12th he was found in a brothel on Walker St. by Enoch Camp and George Wilkes, publishers of the Police Gazette."
After coming back, Goth published his own account of what happened during to him during his mysterious week away. In this account he claimed to have been drugged by a former coworker named Williams. There after, his memory is filled with holes, as he says he went into a store, came out with brandy, bought a new shirt, found a woman and asked her for a place to stay. To his amazement a week later, the place where he had been staying at was a brothel. He claims to have little memory of much of the week as he was still under the influence of intoxicants and when the police finally found him, he said it was quite a relief. He did know why the man poisoned him or how long he had been in the brothel.
Because his story was published with the Journal of Commerce , and not with the National Police Gazette, the editors of the Gazette who found and brought Gough back to his friends would gain no monetary gain. This angered them to the point where they said if he did not publish a new letter filling in the blanks of the story they claim to know, they would be forced to release it themselves. Upon failing to respond, the editors came with a story claiming that a while before they received a report that a man of prominence had been staying at a whore house for some time now. Upon inspection, they came to find that the man was actually Gough. By their description he was extremely drunk and had been so his entire time stay at the brothel where the women with whom he stayed had been using his money at will. Because they had so much work to do, they decided not to arrest him, but to simply send him away back to where he came from. Upon hearing that a man fitting the description of the man they had found months earlier was missing, they went straight to that same brothel and found him, raving drunk once again. Apparently he had been drunk for a week straight, explaining why his memory was blank for the entire week. "According to the account they did publish in the December 13th issue of the National Police Gazette, Gough had offered them $300 when they first found him to keep the story hushed up. Given his fame and the success of his lecturing career, they might have decided that their silence was worth a lot more. And Gough might have decided that, if he were to try to buy them off, they might bleed him dry. After waiting far longer than they originally said they would, Camp and Wilkes published their "exposure" of John B. Gough".
Because Gough was such a prominent figure, there were many people who took his side in the issue, even claiming to have located the mysterious "Williams". In the end the inncident did little to his reputation as he continuted with his career as a public speaker with much success about the dangers of alcohol until the end of his days.
This story is a great example of the difference between the way people used to look at "celebrities" and they way they are looked at now. This man made his whole career telling people not to drink alcohol and making them pledge to quit their habits once and for all. However, from these accounts we can clearly see that he himself frequently went on bindges consuming mass quantities of alcohol for days at a time. He is a hypocrite in the truest sense of the word. The story he created is beyond terrible, and this man never owned up to what he did and apologized to his audiences for it; this is something no modern day celebrity would be able to get away with. If this incident occured in the modern day it would likely destroy the career of the perpetrator as they would no longer be taken seriously by anyone. The media would tear them apart as they would be forced to make an unsincere apology and vow to retreat to rehab to save any shred of public dignity they had left. Not only was this man going on drinking binges, but he was staying at brothels the entire time. Despite this, the deeply religious world of the 1800s was willing to let this one go and stand by his side no matter what. I suppose this is a good thing as even though he is the definition of a hypocrite, he was doing a good thing and changing the lives of many for the better.
First of all, John B. Gough lived from 1817 – 1886 and was known as the “Temperance Orator as Revivalist.” Perhaps one of the most consequential points about Gough would be that he exemplified the emerging celebrity culture. Gough is said to be one of the most well known public speakers in America and in Great Britain. How did he obtain such a high status? Well, to begin he was an exceptionally gifted and charismatic public speaker. The editor of the National Era described Gough’s speaking as, “language would fail to portray the effects he produces on his hearers, and any analysis of his lectures or the outbursts of natural, heart-stirring, enthusiastic oratory, by which he enchains the feelings and convinces the minds of his auditors…” Also, The Massachusetts Cataract describes Gough in 1849: "When his name was announced, he rose rather awkwardly, and walked leisurely towards the foot lights on the platform, with his hands folded behind him, and commenced speaking slowly and in a low tone of voice. In a few moments, however, the lightening began to flash from his eyes, and the thunder of eloquence to peal from his tongue, and his countenance glowed with the inspiration of his own ideality, whilst his thoughts, clad in simple Saxon, fell on the eager ears and found their way to the willing hearts of his hearers (ahc website)."
Gough was able to turn temperance reform into a promising and profitable profession as well as a cause. He drew on his own experiences and did not even loose popularity when he fell off the wagon in New York City. This, perhaps, shows that people of this time wanted to listen to other regular people. Gough had reformed his life, made mistakes, and was able to reform again. Maybe this was a hopeful message to the ordinary people listening to his speeches, that they can succeed in reforming themselves even if they are not perfect in the beginning. This was clearly not a message that the people would receive from Finney or from Palmer, whose theories on Perfectionism and Holiness, respectively, told people that perfection was possible and needed.
Perhaps another reason that the people were willing to accept Gough again after his “misadventure in the Five Points,” in 1845 would be that in his account of things, he did not do anything wrong. He maintained that a man, claiming to be an old shop mate from years ago, had drugged his soda. Gough made it very clear in his explanation that he had no idea what was happening to him, but he vaguely remembers asking a woman for lodging and drinking a lot of something. He also states that he “felt glad someone had come,” when Mr. Camp and Mr. Wilkes (two publishers of the Police Gazette) found him. Gough published his account of occurrences in the Journal of Commerce. Clearly, Camp and Wilkes were not happy about Gough not publishing in their Gazette. Thus, they decided to blackmail him, first by sending Gough a letter and then by writing an "Exposure" piece. They basically filled in the gaps that Gough said he did not remember. People of the time and even now are left with the same question, what really happened?