Saturday, November 18, 2006

This Week in Texas Methodist History November 19

Ruter, Ayres, and Alexander Meet on the Sabine November 21, 1837

On the night of November 21, 1837 an unnamed tavern at Gaines Ferry on the Sabine River hosted one of the most interesting episodes in Texas Methodist history.

The Mission Board had authorized a Texas Mission consisting of the three men. The head of mission would be Martin Ruter, currently president of Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. He was to supervise the work of two younger men, Littleton Fowler, agent for LaGrange College in Alabama, and Robert Alexander of the Mississippi Conference.

Alexander was the first to arrive in Texas. He left Natchez, crossed the Sabine and preached at McMahan's. He organized the San Augustine Circuit on September 16 and proceeded west to John Wesley Kenney's in present-day Austin County. It had been Kenney who organized the camp meetings of 1834 and 1835 near his house. The 1835 meeting had resulted in an appeal for missionaries. Alexander spent October and most of November organizing churchers around Kenney's in the Brazos and Colorado River settlements. Fowler arrived at Kenney's on November 12. Alexander then began his journey back to Natchez to attend the Mississippi Annual Conference.

Alexander crossed the Sabine on November 21 and learned that Martin Ruter and David Ayres were also at Gaines Ferry.

Ruter had resigned his college presidency, loaded his family on a river boat and travelled down the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers to New Albany, Indiana. He made provisions for his family to stay in New Albany while he went to Texas. His brother, Calvin Ruter, was presiding elder of the New Albany District, and another brother, Alanson Ruter, was a boat captain who maintained a residence in New Albany. David Ayres, a loyal Methodist layman who had recently immigrated from Ithaca, New York, to northern Austin County Texas, also had a brother in New Albany, Silas Ayers. (David Ayres was the only one in his family to spell the family name "Ayres.")

Silas Ayers was a merchant Silas Ayers was a merchant who was providing financial backing for David Ayres and his Center Hill townsite development project. In coming to New Albany, Ayres was combining church and personal business.

Ruter and Ayres waited until the yellow fever epidemic of summer had abated with the coming of cool fall weather. After attending the Indiana Annual Conference which met in New Albany that year, they rode down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to Rodney, Mississippi, where they sucured horses for the overland trip across Louisiana. They, too, arrived at Gaines Crossing on November 21.

The three men stayed up all night talking about prospects for Methodism in the Republic of Texas. Ruter had never been in Texas, but was so enthusiastic for its prospects that he intended to move his family there. Ayres had already cast his lot with Texas, buyng up tens of thousands of acres of Texas land warrants. Alexander, at age 26, had his life and ministry before him. The next morning, November 22, they parted ways. Alexander went east to the Mississippi Annual Conference. Ayres and Ruter went on to Center Hill.

Two months later the three men were together again under far different circumstances. Alexander married Ayres's daughter, Eliza, at Center Hill. Martin Ruter officiated at the cerermony.

Ruter died the next May. He never set foot outside of Texas again. Ayres and Alexander lived until 1881 and 1882 respectively. As layman and preacher, as father-in-law and son-in-law, they were involved in almost every significant Texas Methodist enterprise for more than forty years.


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