Sunday, June 17, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History June 17

Littleton Fowler Weds Missouri Porter, June 21, 1838

As this column has previously noted, there were strong disincentives for circuit riders to marry. The meager pay, long absences from home, and frequent changes of appointment made married life difficult. On the other hand, there were powerful incentives for marriage in the Republic of Texas. Immigrants to Texas between March 2, 1836 (the date of the Declaration of Independence) and October 1, 1837 received a second class headright of 640 acres. Heads of households, i.e., married men, received twice that amount, 1,280 acres. Those who arrived between October 1, 1837 and January 1, 1840 received 320 and 640 acres respectively.

The first three officially commissioned missionaries to Texas, Martin Ruter, Robert Alexander, and Littleton Fowler, understood land law as well as the other immigrants to Texas. Ruter was only in Texas from November 1837 to May 1838, but in that brief time, he obtained two land claims. Alexander and Fowler, both unmarried when they volunteered for the Texas Mission, married within a year of their arrival. Not only did they marry and thus double the amount of land to which they were entitled, both men married women who brought prospects of even more land with them.

Robert Alexander was first. He entered the Republic of Texas in September, 1837, thereby beating the October 1 deadline. Fowler barely missed it, arriving in October, 1837. Alexander married Eliza Ayres, daughter of David Ayres, land speculator par excellence, in January 1838. ( See post for 1/29/06) Fowler married Missouri Porter, a Nacogdoches widow, on June 23, 1838. Mrs. Porter thus brought her deceased husband’s land claims to the marriage.

Mrs. Porter was widowed under unusual circumstances. Her husband, Dr. J. J. Porter, had been killed by a chained bear near the Old Stone Fort in Nacogdoches. Lewellen Campbell presided over the wedding ceremony. Campbell had also volunteered for the Texas Mission and came to the Republic where he preached in Houston and East Texas. About the same time as the June wedding, the MEC bishops attached the Texas Mission to the Mississippi Conference. In December, much to his disappointment, he was appointed to New Orleans and spent the rest of his career in the Mississippi Conference. He also had Texas land claims via marriage. He married Sybil Ruter, daughter of Martin Ruter, and thus participated in Dr. Ruter’s estate which included the two claims mentioned previously.

Many of Fowler’s letters to Mrs. Porter are preserved in the Fowler Collection at Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, SMU. The courtship by correspondence was necessary because Fowler had spent the months leading up to the wedding in Houston lobbying the Texas Congress to grant a charter for a Methodist school and appropriate land for the support of that school.

The letters that have been preserved reveal a loving attitude toward Mrs. Porter. Other letters in the collection such as those he wrote en route to New York City as a delegate to the MEC General Conference of 1844 reinforce the observation that he was a devoted, loving husband. After Fowler's death in 1846 Missouri married for a third time. Her last husband was the Rev. John Woolam.


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