Saturday, January 13, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 14

Strickland and Stevens Ask for Better Appointments January 14 and 16, 1839

One of the side effects of the Methodist appointive system is to make preachers knowledgeable about geography. The possibility of being assigned to a new location makes them interested in the places to which they may be appointed. Another side effect of the appointive system is that bishops, presiding elders, and district superintendents have been petitioned by preachers seeking appointment to some more desireable site. In January, 1839, after less than a month in their new appointments, both Ike Strickland and Abel Stevens asked Littleton Fowler for reassignment. Unfortunately both asked for the Washington Circuit.

Littleton Fowler had become head of the Texas Mission upon the death of Martin Ruter in May, 1838. That summer the bishops attached the Mission to the Mississippi Conference. Bishop T. A. Morris presided over the 1838 session of that conference and sent Fowler the appointments for the Texas Mission. On December 10 Fowler met in San Augustine with three of the new recruits to the Mission (Jesse Hord, S. A. Williams, and Ike Strickland), ignored Morris's appointments and appointed those three men and Abel Stevens (in transit to Texas) to Texas charges.

Fowler appointed Strickland to the Montgomery Circuit which consisted of all the churches between the Brazos and Trinity Rivers from about Cypress Creek in the south to the upper reaches of settlement. He appointed Stevens to Houston/Galveston. Both men left San Augustine for their appointments and went to work. Strickland organized the Montgomery church in William Sullivan's house on Dec. 30. Stevens went first to Houston and then to
Galveston. Hord had perhaps the most difficult charge, the Houston Circuit which extended through most of present day Fort Bend, Waller, Brazoria, Matagorda, Jackson, and Wharton Counties.

After less than one month in their new appointments both Strickland (Jan. 14) and Stevens (Jan. 16) independently wrote Fowler asking for reassignment. Unfortunately both wanted to be shifted to the Washington (on the Brazos) Circuit. Both men gave some of the same reasons. Stevens reported that he had been able to find only two Methodists in Houston and one in Galveston. Strickland reported "This is a very sparsely settled part of the country. I don't think it is worth cultivating at all." Stevens also cited health concerns, and in doing so, gave what is perhaps the first clinical description of the "Houston Crud." " My only complaint is a chronic inflamation of the mucus membrane of the throat." He also mentions that he had specifically told the Mission Board in New York about his inability to work in humid climates.

What made Washington so desireable? It was only a few miles from either Montgomery or Houston, but it was considerably higher, drier, and less desnsely forested. Modern travelers westbound on Highway 290 get a good idea of the difference when they cross the Brazos River and immediately ascend into the Fayette Prairie. The Wasington Circuit was home to a large concentration of Methodist local pastors and laity including David Ayres, John Wesley Kenney, William Medford, John Rabb, as well as the Scott, Gates, Kerr, Kessee, Bell, Chriesman, and Walker families. This concentration of Methodists had been left without a preacher when Robert Alexander relocated to Rutersville several miles to the west of the Washington Circuit. Either Strickland or Stevens would find not only a healthier climate, but also the warm embrace of a Methodist community.

Fowler did accomodate Stevens and move him to the Washington Circuit. He didn't last through the summer. He went back the United States and never returned to Texas. He eventually became a famous Methodist historian whose writings brought him enough income to live in Switzerland, far from the "Houston Crud." Strickland was not so fortunate. He died in 1843 at age 30 and is buried at West Columbia.

The letters of Jan. 14 and Jan. 16 are preserved as part of the Fowler Collection at Bridwell Library at Perkins School of Theology, SMU.


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