Francis Herman Gow was born of Jamaican decent in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1886. He was educated in the United States, studying at the Tuskegee Institute, Lane Theological Seminary, Wilberforce University and Miami University. In 1912, Gow married Irene Burrell of Cincinnati, Ohio. Over the next few years, he served as minister at Lee Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Cincinnati, then St. Paul AME Church in Charleston, West Virginia, where he was living when the U.S. entered World War I in 1917.
As a highly educated African American man, Gow was commissioned by Fort Des Moines, Iowa, the only U.S. Army training camp established for African American Officers. Gow was commissioned as a first lieutenant, commanding a platoon of soldiers in Company M of the 365th Infantry Regiment, part of the 92nd Infantry Division.
In the years after the war, Gow returned to South Africa. He was principal of the Wilberforce Institute at Evaton in Transvaal, South Africa. He later became pastor of Bethel AME Church in Cape Town, South Africa, where his passion for music became well-known and appreciated among the congregation. Over time, he rose to international prominence in the AME Church, gaining mentions in major media coverage surrounding various AME Church conventions held in the U.S. during the early 20th century. In 1956, Gow became the first African to be elected bishop of the AME Church.