When Portland’s mayor had a militia shoot into a crowd

Neal Dow
Died 1897 at age 93

Greetings from Portland. Sweater weather is here. Every day this month I’m telling a story that bridges the gap between this world, and the next. I’m resurrecting the memory of Portlanders who’ve crossed over to the other side by posting one video each day, relating the tale of one, interesting “permanent Portlander.”

Portland native Neal Dow was a businessman, Civil War general, mayor of Portland, state legislator, presidential candidate and was known nationally as the “Napoleon of Temperance.”

He was also kind of a jerk.

To say he was dead set against alcohol would be a vast understatement. As a city fire chief, he once ordered his men to let a liquor store burn to the ground. Shortly after becoming mayor of Portland in 1851, he lobbied Augusta lawmakers to ban booze statewide. They did, making Maine the first “dry” state in the union.

He was also a bigot who disliked immigrants — particularly Irish Catholics who enjoyed a snort from time to time and wouldn’t vote for him.

PORTLAND, MAINE -- 10/19/16 -- Neal Dow, former mayor of Portland and temperance advocate, is buried in Evergreen Cemetery off Stevens Avenue. Dow once ordered a city militia to fire into an unarmed mob on the steps of City Hall, killing one man.Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Neal Dow, former mayor of Portland and temperance advocate, is buried in Evergreen Cemetery off Stevens Avenue. Dow once ordered a city militia to fire into an unarmed mob on the steps of City Hall, killing one man.Troy R. Bennett | BDN

On June 2, 1851, word spread around Portland that Mayor Dow had paid for a shipment of “medicinal” alcohol and it was being stored at City Hall. A mob gathered, demanding it be dumped out and Dow arrested. He refused and ordered a city militia to fire into the unarmed crowd.

One man was killed. Upon hearing the news, Dow only wanted to know if the man was Irish.

Dow finally died at the age of 93 in 1897. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Today’s story is brought to you, in part, by William Lemke’s great book, “The Wild, Wild East: Unusual Tales of Maine History,” published in 1990. I should also thank my Uncle Tony for giving it to me for Christmas that year.

Disclaimer: I’m not a historian. I owe everything I know to the dedicated research of those who have come before me. These character sketches are assembled from multiple (often antique) sources and sprinkled with my own conjecture. I’m happy to be set straight or to learn more.

PORTLAND, MAINE -- 10/19/16 -- Neal Dow, former mayor of Portland and temperance advocate, is buried in Evergreen Cemetery off Stevens Avenue. Dow once ordered a city militia to fire into an unarmed mob on the steps of City Hall, killing one man.Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Neal Dow, former mayor of Portland and temperance advocate, is buried in Evergreen Cemetery off Stevens Avenue. Dow once ordered a city militia to fire into an unarmed mob on the steps of City Hall, killing one man.Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Troy R. Bennett

About Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.