Joshua Stow was born April 22, 1762, in Middlefield, Connecticut. His family originated in England in the 1600's, and included the first minister in Middletown, a Congregationalist. He married Ruth Coe in 1786. They had at least three children. Joshua died Oct. 10, 1842, and was buried in the "Old Cemetery" in Middlefield.
His tall tombstone is still there. From the inscription on the tombstone, we find that his title was "Honorable," and that he had contributed to Connecticut's Constitution. The main histories of our area tell of his early journey here in 1796-97 as part of Moses Cleaveland's team, helping to survey the Western Reserve around the mouth of the Cuyahoga River at Lake Erie. He was the company's commissary manager (in charge of distributing food and drink). When he saw the forested future township, he said it was "one of the prettiest and most romantic spots in the Western Reserve." He purchased the whole five-mile square of Stow Township as an investment, for $14,154.
After he returned to Connecticut, he hired a relative, Judge William Wetmore, to travel to Stow and settle there. Wetmore would handle further sales of land in Stow. Wetmore took his family and several other men to Stow in the summer of 1804.
Although the township is named for him, Joshua Stow never lived here. He continued to reside in Connecticut. He made 13 trips here, the old stories say. Travel in those days was always arduous and frequently dangerous. People could either ride horseback through dense forests and over the Appalachian Mountains, following Indian trails, or they could brave the waters of Lake Erie in small boats and barges full of supplies. Either route would take them more than a month each way. Some of Stow's relatives did settle here, and a few of their descendants still live in Stow.
Back in Middletown (next to Middlefield) Joshua Stow was appointed postmaster and tax collector. He was also an associate judge of the court. He was "at the center of the political troubles" there, according to A Pictorial History of Middletown. He favored Thomas Jefferson in the presidential race of 1800, and thus became an enemy of the local Federalists, who wanted the social order to remain as it was: dominated by the Congregational Church. For over a century, one had to be a member of that church in order to hold public office in Connecticut.
Stow's convictions that the church should not be the center of the government led him to take an active role in Connecticut's Constitutional Convention in 1818. He wrote Article Seven of the state constitution, making it a matter of personal choice as to which church a person could join. When he was branded an "infidel" by a newspaper editor, Stow filed a libel suit against the paper. At the trial, even his brothers and sisters labeled his behavior "ungodly". He did win his suit, but continued to be criticized for such things as bringing ministers of other denominations to preach at Middlefield's Congregational Church.
The full text of the libel action may be read in the Local History room. The Stow family genealogy is also available in printed format and as a Family Treemaker file on the Local History room computer.