Saturday, October 21, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History  October 21

Texas State Fair Shows Denominational Cooperation October, 1887

October in Texas means the State Fair, Big Tex, and ridiculous fried foods, but when Texas was a predominately agricultural state, the celebration assumed a more important role than it does today—except perhaps for loyal alumni who enjoy the traditional UT-OU football game.

The fair began in 1886 as great commercial and entertainment festival.  Agricultural implement dealers and livestock competitions drew huge crowds from the start, but the real revenue generator was the horse racing which was then legal.  

This was the same era as the beginning of another Dallas institution, the Buckner Baptist Children’s Home also in East Dallas on a 44 acre tract.  Six children moved into their new home in 1881.   

Texas Methodists had not yet begun their home for orphans in Waco (1890) and many of the ladies of what is today First Methodist Church in Dallas actively supported the Baptist Home.  They did so by volunteering at the lunch stand.  As the Dallas Times Herald for Oct. 27, 1887 cheered on the Methodists for helping the Baptist orphanage.  

One finds many stories of denominational rivalry between Baptists and Methodist, but we should not overlook the many examples of denominational cooperation.  Supporting each other’s institutions was common.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 15

San Augustine Church Hosts Political Debate, October, 1848

The first U. S. Presidential election in which Texans voted is not usually remembered as one of the important elections in U. S. history.  The Democrats nominated Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan to succeed the outgoing Democrat James K. Polk, and the Whigs hoped to capitalize on the same strategy that had produced their only presidential victory.  In 1840 they nominated the popular general, William Henry Harrison, and had won. Unfortunately Harrison served only a month before dying.  In 1848 the Whigs returned to a military hero with little or no political experience, Zachary Taylor. 
As the election of 1848 approached, a debate was held in San Augustine, at the time one of the centers of political power in Texas.  The venue was the Methodist church, one of the oldest churches in Texas.
The Whig case was argued by a very young man, David Holland Epperson, of Clarksville.  Epperson was only 22 years old and had been in Texas only since 1847 when he moved from Mississippi to Texas after attending Princeton.  His youthful charisma had already enabled him to win a seat in the Texas Legislature and be named as Elector in the upcoming election.  His opponent was the sitting congressman from eastern Texas, David Kaufman.  Kaufman was also fairly young (b. 1813) and had also been a Princetonian and lived in Mississippi.  He was a veteran Texas politician, having served in office most of his adult life. 
Much of the debate centered on Texas expansionism.  Candidate Taylor was on record opposing the claims of Texas to what are today the lands of eastern New Mexico, including Santa Fe.  He even said that he would personally lead an army to prevent an attempt by Texas to occupy those lands.  Kaufman was best known for his advocacy of annexing all of eastern New Mexico all the way to Santa Fe. 
Cass was quite popular in Texas because, even though a northerner often sided with Texas in the Senate.  He was so popular that a county in Texas was named for him.  When the Civil War broke out, he did not support the Confederacy so Texans briefly changed the name of Cass County to honor Jefferson Davis but later the county name was changed back to “Cass.”   

Taylor won the election without Texas votes, but like Harrison, also died early.  David Kaufman also lived a short life, dying in Washington in 1851 while still in his 30s.  Kaufman County is named for him.  

As the Civil War drew nearer, Epperson worked to keep Texas in the Union.  After the war he worked to secure railroad expansion in Texas, and moved to Jefferson.  He spent the last years of his life in Jefferson in his famous House of the Seasons which still exists and is on the National Register of Historic Places.  He died in 1878.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History October 8

Religious Survey of Brazoria County Reveals Editor’s Ignorance  Oct. 9, 1847

A.    J. McGown (1817-1871) was one of the most significant preachers in early Texas.  He was a Presbyterian minister, a veteran of the Battle of San Jacinto, and missionary to the United States from Texas.  (His missionary efforts were designed to recruit Presbyterian ministers to come to Texas.)  In November, 1846 he began publishing the Texas Presbyterian, the first denominational newspaper in Texas at his Victoria home. 
Although some preachers of the era were parochial and insular in their outlook, McGown was interested in promoting the interests of the various denominations.  He cheered on the Methodists in their camp meetings and encouraged them to start their own denominational newspaper, which they soon did.  He particularly praised the Methodists for their evangelization efforts among Germans.   In one particularly ecumenical passage, he wrote,
  While we disclaim the idea of looking upon the Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, or Methodist ministry as the only hope of the world, or even of Texas, we do look upon a pious and educated ministry as the only hope of the church universal under God. 

As with almost all newspapers of the 1840s, a great deal of the content was copied from other newspapers.  The October 9th issue of the Texas Presbyterian contained one such report of the conditions in Brazoria County.  It was obviously written by someone with little knowledge of the denominations.  Here is how it appeared.

The following clergymen preach statedly in the county viz.
Bishops Wesson and Johns of the Methodist E. Church
Bishop J. T. Paxton, Presbyterian
Bishop Noah Hill, Baptist
Bishop Harrison, Episcopal
Union Sunday Schools exist at Brazoria and Velasco. 

A Baptist bishop!  Really?    The two Methodists are James Wesson and I. G. John.  John eventually moved to Nashville and became a editor of church publications and officer of several General Conferences, but he was never elected bishop.  Wesson spent a long, distinguished ministry in Texas.  He is buried at Navasota in the same cemetery as Martin Ruter.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History  Oct  .1

William Medford Receives Sitio of Land in Bastrop County, Oct. 4, 1835

William Medford, a member of the Missouri Conference (admitted 1818)who located and moved to Texas, became one of the last grantees of land under the government of the Republic of Mexico.  

Medford, although a local pastor, was very important to the small group of Methodists in the last years of the Republic of Texas.  After the Caney Creek Camp Meeting of September 1834, he organized a 4 point circuit.  Since he did not own a horse, he started walking on Saturday so he could reach his preaching point in time to preach.  After one round, a church member loaned him a horse.  

On October 4, 1835, as revolution was in the air, he finally received his land grant which he had applied for the previous April.  His grant was one of the last issued by the Republic of Mexico.  When the Revolution began, the land offices closed.
Medford volunteered for service in the Texian Army, but was discharge on account of his advanced age.  He was 47.  His two weeks of service qualified him for another land grant.  

After the Revolution, he became deputy clerk of Austin County, and in that capacity, his signature is on many of the land transactions of the era.  He bought land on Piney Creek and created a camp meeting site on it.  (see post for last week.)

He died in 1841, never having secured title to his second land grant.  His widow, Elizabeth, went back to United States and left David Ayres with her power of attorney.  In that capacity Ayres finally secured title in what eventually became Uvalde County----a really long, long way from Austin County.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

This Week in Texas

Henry Matthews Describes Camp Meeting Site on Piney Creek, September 23, 1838

The Henry Matthews Diary sheds interesting light on Methodist activities in the Republic of Texas.  The entry for September 23, 1838 describes the Piney Creek Camp Meeting site.

Matthews was writing from San Felipe which was situated at a major river crossing on the Brazos River.  It had been Stephen F. Austin’s headquarters and played a prominent role in events leading up to the Texas Revolution.  The town was burned during the Revolution and although residents tried to rebuild, and it was named seat of newly created Austin County, but it never regained its pre-Revolution prominence.  The reasons for its decline were rooted in both human and physical geography.  Independence from Mexico brought new circulation patterns for travelers.  As immigrants came to the San Felipe region, they preferred the higher lands just to the north of San Felipe.  Those lands featured a mosaic of prairies and woodlands that offered both timber and grazing.  The rolling sandy hills contributed to better drainage. 

Some of the immigrants were Methodist, and a cluster of them developed on Piney Creek to the north of San Felipe.  Here is how Matthews described a site chosen for a camp meeting in a grove of pine trees

the Church camp meeting 15 or 16 (miles) above on Piney is now in progress. And the weather delightful. As we returned from Kenney’s we viewed the spot and give it the preference to any we ever saw in the United States.  The grove is naturally open and clean and an open stream meandering through the wood. It also had the advantage of the oldest Anglo Saxon settlement in Texas who are beginning to get over the evils of the Mexican invasion.

The host families at the site, Bell, Medford, and Atkinson, continued to support Methodist preachers in the area.   Three miles further to the north was the home of David Ayres, the proprietor of Centre Hill and father-in-law of Robert Alexander.  About 7 miles to the northwest was the home of John Wesley Kenney.  The region became one of the most important sites of Methodism in the Republic.

When residents finally gave up on San Felipe as the county seat of government, there was an election to determine the new site.   Ayres and Bell each offered tracts for that purpose.,  The offer by Bell, adjacent to the Piney Creek Camp Meeting site won the election.,  That is how Bellville was created.   Ayres abandoned Centre Hill and moved to Galveston. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History  September 17

Nathan Bangs Informs Fowler of Reorganization of Texas Mission
September 1838

The death of Martin Ruter in May 1838 necessitated a reorganization of the MEC mission to Texas.  Ruter was one of the most respected and experienced administrators in the denomination.  He had been Agent of the Cincinnati Book Depository, president of two colleges, General Conference delegate, and well-known author.  His two junior partners assigned to the Texas Mission in 1837, Littleton Fowler and Robert Alexander were both younger men, and thus not nearly as experienced.

The bishops met in the summer of 1838 and decided to appoint Fowler as head of mission until the winter round of conferences began.  When the Mississippi Conference convened in December, the Texas Mission would be added to that conference. 
Fowler took his new responsibilities seriously, but Texas was a vast republic and he had just married in June, and was also trying to set up housekeeping.  In practice, an informal arrangement grew up in which Fowler remained in Eastern Texas and Alexander in Western Texas.   Folwer’s home base was the San Augustine area and Alexander moved to Rutersville where a “Methodist town” was being formed. 
The informal arrangement was eventually made official when two Texas districts were created in the Mississippi Conference with Alexander and Fowler being appointed the Presiding Elders. 

Putting Texas churches (except those in northeastern Texas which were part of Arkansas) proved disastrous.   The arrangement meant that preachers wishing to volunteer for the Texas Mission had to transfer to the Mississippi Conference where they were subject to appointment anywhere within the bounds of that conference—Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.  When Bishop Andrew appointed one of the 1838 volunteers for Texas, Lewell Campbell, to New Orleans, it had stifling effect on further transfer requests. 

Fortunately the arrangement lasted only until the creation of the Texas Conference in 1840. 

Saturday, September 09, 2017

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 10

James Caldwell Shares Doubts with Fowler, September 18, 1840

One of the most prominent citizens of the Republic of Texas was James P. Caldwell  (1793-1856).  He had been born in Baltimore, and lived in Kentucky before his arrival in 1824.  He settled on the lower Brazos at Velasco and is credited with building and operating one of the first sugar mills in that fertile river bottom.  In 1852 he shipped 200 hogsheads of sugar.  

He was also a participant in the Battle of Velasco and an organizer of the first Masonic Lodge in Texas.  

On September 18, 1840, he wrote Littleton Fowler a letter expressing the hope that the two would see each other in October when Methodists planned to gather for the Centenary Campmeeting.  The letter also reveals some interesting doubts about Caldwell’s assurance of salvation.
I want to realize those feelings of Joy which belong alone to the Christian, ah! Bro Fowler, I have some bitter moments of reflection, at times I imagine I have sinned against the best of beings too long ever to hope for repentance, these thoughts will obtrude themselves uncalled for, and though I never give them audience long before I banish them yet they cause at times phantoms to flit across my breast, that this may possibly be, or why so long without the evidence of redemption from sin. Parson Allen & Baker talking to me on the subject thought it probably I expected to receive too much, that we should be satisfied, etc., etc., etc. Well, I have not that evidence that I am a changed man, and until I experience that I have passed from death until life, I shall never feel that I am prepared to die, and until I can feel ready to die, assured of my acceptance with God in heaven, I shall never feel that I am a Christian in my acceptation of the term.

Allen and Baker refer to William Y. Allen and Daniel Baker, both Presbyterians, who along with Jesse Hord, the Methodist circuit rider, had been preaching in the Velasco area.

Our interest in the letter comes from the fact that most Methodist correspondence of the period is full of the assurance of salvation rather than doubts about it.   It sounds much more like letters and diaries from 17th century Puritans who were obsessed with the question of whether they were saved.  One of the features of the revival movement of the early 19th century was the “sure and certain” promise of salvation that penitents received at the mercy seat.  Caldwell’s letter shows that he wanted some dramatic sign even though his spiritual advisors provided reassuring advice.
Caldwell died in one of the periodic yellow fever epidemics and was buried at Peach Point.