Sunday, March 18, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History March 18

Texans Mourn I. G. John, March, 1897

A man described by historian Macum Phelan as "for many years the most prominent man of the conference" died on March 17, 1897. That man was the Rev. Isaac Griffin John whose promience in Texas Methodism was due in large part to his editorship of the Texas Christian Advocate from 1866 to 1884. John was born in Indiana in 1827 and moved to Galveston while still a youth. He was licensed to preach in 1847 and served a variety of appointments including Richmond, Washington, Bastrop, Lockhart and presiding elder of the Austin, Waco, and LaGrange Districts.

His greatest challenge came during Reconstruction when the General Conference of 1866 named him editor of the Texas Christian Advocate. That publication of the MECS had almost gone out of business during the Civil War. The presses had been relocated inland from Galveston to Houston for safety, but the shortage of paper and declining circulation almost killed it. John's immediate predecessor as editor, the Rev. H. V. Philpott, lasted only five months.

The editorship was not a full time job so John continued to serve appointments around Galveston. He was able to avoid bankruptcy. He increased the Advocate to eight pages and waged subscription campaigns by enlisting preachers as subscription agents. Unfortunately the increased number of pages often included large sections borrowed from other newspapers, both religious and secular. They also included fillers of personal information, oddities, and John's long winded and pointless editorials. As circulation increased the Advocate became more attractive to advertisers. By the 1880's the Advocate had signficant advertising, much of it from Galveston merchants, but also from patent medicine vendors.

Even though the editorial quality declined, the circulation increased from less than 1,000 to 10,500 in 1884 when John stepped down as editor and was appointed to Huntsville.

John's leaving the Advocate produced a special event in Texas Methodist history. While waiting for the Rev. George W. Briggs to take over as editor, Homer Thrall edited a special 16-page edition of the Advocate on the history of Texas Methodism. That edition had a press run of 100,000 copies, an immense effort to the era.

John did not stay in Huntsville very long. The 1886 General Conference named him secretary of the Board of Missions. He moved to Nashville where he spent the rest of his life editing and writing publications for the Board of Missions. He died in Nashville, and his body was returned to Georgetown, Texas for burial.


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