Saturday, September 29, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 30

Benjamin Babbit Receives Title to Land Oct. 3, 1835
Martin Ruter’s Heirs Receive Title to Land October 3,1839

The great lure for immigrants to Texas was land. The Mexican colonization laws were generous to the extreme. The standard grant to heads of households was a league and a labor—over four thousand acres! When Texas became an independent Republic, the government continued generous land grants. Missionaries coming to Texas qualified for land grants like any other immigrants.

The General Land Office is in the process of scanning and posting its files on the web, and many of those land titles shed new light on Texas Methodist History. The Rev. Benjamin Babbit’s title from the Mexican government was granted on October 3, 1835, and Martin Ruter’s heirs received theirs on October 3, 1839. They may be viewed at

Benjamin Babbit was named by Thrall as one of the participants at the Caney Creek Camp Meeting of September 1834. He had been admitted O. T. to the Missouri Conference in 1831 and appointed to “Missouri in the St. Louis District.” At the 1832 annual conference he remained O.T. and was appointed to the Lexington Circuit of the Missouri District. After that he disappears from the Missouri Conference Journals. On the other hand the Austin County marriage records reveal that he married Sallie Allen on May 14, 1833. What is more surprising is that the October 3, 1835 three-quarter league grant in Austin County was not his first. He had already been granted a quarter-league on the present Grimes-Waller County line on November 22, 1832, a date when he was under appointment in the Missouri Conference. Generations of Methodist historians and memoirists have talked about the repressive nature of Roman Catholic rule in Mexican Texas. They all say that one had to become a Roman Catholic to receive land. Babbit’s land grant, while a member of the Missouri Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, raises questions about how strict the authorities were in enforcing the religious obligation for obtaining land. You will note that the file includes a statement that in 1845 David Ayres paid taxes on the Babbit 3/4 league.

The grant to Ruter’s heirs also stimulates provocative questions. Ruter’s arrival in Texas in November 1837 entitled him to 320 acres from the Republic of Texas. After his death, his friends ensured that his estate would get title to the land. In a June, 1838 letter from Robert Alexander to the widow Ruth Ruter, Robert Alexander tells her that he is caring for Ruter’s possessions, but that he has turned the land business over to John Wesley Kenney.

The scanned documents referenced above contain an image of the decree of the Board of Land Commissioners for Austin County from October 3, 1839. It is signed by J. Hill, chief judge of Austin County (equivalent to County Judge today) and the associate judge, William Medford. Medford was another Methodist preacher! He had been admitted to the Missouri Conference in 1818 and served in Indiana, Arkansas, and Illinois (all part of the Missouri Conference at one time.). He had come to Texas in 1833 and like Babbit was a participant at the 1834 Caney Creek Camp Meeting.
Other documents in the file include the field notes for the 320 acres (one 60 acre tract and one 260 acre tract) Who was the surveyor? John Wesley Kenney, another local preacher from the Ohio Valley, who had known Ruter when they both lived in Cincinnati.

The last item in the Ruter file is of great interest. It is an 1847 document from Ruth Ruter, now living in Cincinnati, giving power of attorney to David Ayres to settle the land deals. Although the estate had the decree from the Board of Land Commissioners and the certified field notes of the surveys, the land had still not been patented! She also gives Ayres the power of attorney to take whatever possessions of her late husband that Kenney still has in his possession! What makes the Ruth Ruter power of attorney to David Ayres so interesting? There is a letter in the Fowler Collection from Lewellen Campbell (later to be Ruth Ruter’s son-in-law) to Littleton Fowler which reads in part

I am very glad that Ayers is out of the church. For I have no doubt he is one of the grandest scounderels in Texas. For any man that would take the advantage that he did of Dr Ruter’s widow by collecting good money on a note which was to be paid in Texas which was one half under par, and she at the time hardly able by all the means she could command to sustain her small children all of which were females, I say, any man that would take this underhanded measure and advantage, would not only steal if he had the chance, but sir, he would rob a corps[e] of the grave clothes if they would yield him any profit. Although I do not believe in Lynch Law, still I do not feel much mortified that [it] has been blocked. I hope Brother K[enny] has obtained the deed for the land sold to Dr Ruter. If he has all is well. May 6, 1839.

The two letters referred to in this post are part of the Fowler Collection at Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, SMU.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 23

Alejo Hernandez Dies in Corpus Christi September 27, 1875

The brief ministry of Alejo Hernandez, the first person of Mexican descent to be ordained by the Methodist Church, came to an end on September 27, 1875. The Rev. Hernandez had been ordained by Bishop Marvin at the West Texas Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church South on December 24, 1871 as it met in Leesburg. Here is the way Bishop Marvin described the event

. . .Our brother Hernandez is an educated Mexican, brought by strange providences to the knowledge of God, and by equally strange providences brought into our Church after his conversion. Few cases on record illustrate more impressively the grace of God.

He is held by our brethren, both lay and clerical, who have had large experience with Mexican, to be a man of singular good sense and poise of character. . . .. His education is good.. . His reading has been extensive and well directed since he embraced religion, and his doctrinal views are sound. . .

He is anxious to be ordained both deacon and elder. Our Quarterly Conference, fully persuaded of his piety, discretion, education, and love did not hesitate to commend his to the Conference for both orders.

Hernandez was ordained deacon one day and elder the next. When the appointments were read, the Rev. Hernandez was appointed to the Mexican Mission in Laredo. He briefly served that appointment then went to Mexico to marry. At the 1872 West Texas Conference he was appointed to the Mexican Mission in Corpus Christi. That ministry was also brief. Bishop Keener was enthusiastic about a Mexico City mission and took Hernandez there to establish it.

A debilitating stoke ended his ministry there. In a greatly enfeebled state he managed to return to Corpus Christi where he died on September 27, 1875. He was thirty-three years old.

On December 16, 2006, Bishop Joel Martinez led celebrants in a dedication ceremony marking the 135th anniversary of the ordination of Alejo Hernandez. Hernandez's contribution to Texas Methodist history is best summarized by the Rev. Alfredo Nanez

The ministry of Alejo Hernandez was very brief. In Texas it consisted of a few months at best and in Mexico a little over a year; yet it was of great significance because it dramatized in a very clear way both to the West Texas Conference and to the Church in general the spiritual needs of the Spanish border.

Friday, September 14, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 16

Daniel and Jane Poe Reburied at McMahan's Chapel September 16, 1937

Methodist historians know very well how valuable annual conference Journals are to their research. The memoirs of deceased preachers and spouses are particularly valuable to historians and genealogists. The memoirs are usually written by family members or colleagues and printed in the first Journal after the death occurred. Readers of the Texas Conference Journal of 1937 may have been surprised when they read a memoir of a preacher and his wife who had died in 1844.

The clergy couple was the Rev. Daniel Poe and Jane Ingram Poe. Here is the remarkable story of their lives and why the memoir appeared 93 years after their deaths.

Daniel Poe was born in Ohio in 1809. He was converted when he was sixteen and immediately appointed class leader and licensed to exhort. He joined the Ohio Conference and Bishop Soule appointed him to the Indian Mission in Wisconsin under the direction of John Clark (same Clark who later came to Texas). One of his preaching points was an Indian village where Jane Ingram was teaching. They married in June 1837.

Littleton Fowler attended the 1842 Ohio Conference and appealed for missionaries. The response was one of the fateful episodes of Texas Methodist history as several preachers volunteered. The conference turned to questions of the best route to Texas. That was a question Poe knew something about. His brother, G. W. Poe, had been killed in the Texas Revolution. Daniel came to Texas to settle his brother’s temporal affairs and thereby gained knowledge about Texas. One of the brothers asked if Poe would guide the cadre of volunteers. He agreed to the task without asking Jane.

Poe instructed the volunteers ( Homer Thrall, John W. DeVilbiss, William O’Conner, Richard Walker, Wilbur Thurber, and Isaac Williams) to meet at Cincinnati. On November 20, 1842 the preachers and Mrs. Poe and their three children left Cincinnati for Texas. (Thrall took the first available passage and did not travel with the group.)

Poe served Lake Soda Mission in 1843 and the next year was appointed to San Augustine.. It was there in July 1844 that both Daniel and Jane Poe died within forty minutes of each other. They were buried in the same coffin behind the church. The children survived the same fever, and in December their uncle, the Rev. Adam Poe came to Texas to take them back to Ohio.

That’s not the end of the story. Readers of this column are already familiar with the Centennial Commission of 1934. That cooperative venture of the conferences produced the Centennial Yearbook and the Historical Pageant in San Antonio. It was also charged with giving due honors to the graves of early preachers..

So it was that the bodies of Daniel and Jane Poe were exhumed. The coffin was opened. The bodies were well-preserved. The Centennial Commission then organized a funeral and burial at McMahan’s Chapel. That service occurred September 16, 1937. The Rev. J. W. Mills, of First Methodist Beaumont, preached the funeral sermon.

James Finley devotes an entire chapter of Sketches of Western Methodism (1855) to the Poe story. You may read it at

Choose the platform for viewing (DjVu, pdf, or text) to open Sketches. Chapter 40 is the chapter about Poe.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Searchable version of Phelan

Regular visitors to this blog are probably familiar with Macum Phelan's two volume history of Texas Methodism A History of Early Methodism in Texas and A History of the Expansion of Methodism in Texas 1867-1902.

Despite its many faults, the Phelan history is still a valuable resource for Texas Methodist historians. Genealogists, among others, will find Phelan's summaries of preacher obituaries useful. The index is not particularly helpful, but there is now an on-line version of both volumes of Phelan. A user may download both volumes in searchable format. Here's how.

1. Go to Enter "phelan" as a search term. The search results will include both volumes.

2. Click on either of the volumes.

3. The next webpage will give you download options. You may choose pdf to get a version that includes original images. Choose "text".

4. A text version of the volume will appear. Choose "Save As" from the menu bar. You will be prompted to indicate the folder in which you wish to save the text. Save it in the folder of your choice.

5. Open Microsoft Word. Choose "File" then "Open". Go to the folder in which you saved the text version of Phelan and select it.

6. You are now able to use the search function of Microsoft Word to find any person or place that appears in Phelan.

Hope this is useful.

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 9

Hurricane wipes out Alexander Ranch Sept. 15-17, 1875

Among the relocations associated with the Reconstruction era in Texas was that of Robert Alexander who left Cottage Hill, his beloved ranch in northern Austin County, and moved to a 635 acre island adjacent to San Jacinto Bay in Harris County. His situation seemed much improved. His daughter and son-in-law lived only three miles away on the mainland. His father-in-law, David Ayres, and brother-in-law, David Theodore Ayres, lived in Galveston. That city also was the site of the Texas Christian Advocate, and therefore functioned as an administrative center for Texas Methodism. It was there, for example, that the Educational Convention met to make plans for a university supported by all the Texas annual conferences. Alexander was chosen president of that convention. He was also Presiding Elder of the Galveston District and in that role helped start a second church in Galveston (St. John’s). From 1870 to 1872 he served the Lynchburg Circuit which included not only Lynchburg, but also the settlements near present-day Baytown, including Cedar Bayou.

In 1872 Alexander did not take an appointment. He spent his time working on the Educational Convention and pursuing his agricultural interests. Things did not go smoothly. In the spring of 1873 he suffered a severe goring from one of his bulls. Recuperation of his injured thigh took months. The greater disaster occurred in September, 1875, when his island home was hit by a hurricane. The Alexander family lost everything, herds, house, outbuildings, and personal effects. (This writer bemoans the loss of personal papers.) The family had to seek shelter from the flood in tree branches.

After a long convalescence in Galveston, the sixty-four year old Alexander had to get back to work. He took an appointment at Travis, about 5 miles west of his former residence at Cottage Hill, and then became Presiding Elder of the Chappell Hill District where he bought a home.

Family problems continued. Eliza Alexander died in August, 1878, having never recovered from the trauma of the hurricane.
Alexander’s son-in-law also died so his daughter, Fanny Lide moved back into his household with her seven children. By that time Alexander had remarried. The new Mrs. Alexander was named Patience. One hopes she had that virtue in great abundance.

The hurricane of September 1875 thus had long-lasting effects for the Alexander family. Robert Alexander had to return to the active ministry. He returned to the part of Texas to which he had come nearly forty years earlier. It was there that he died in April, 1882.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 2

John W. Fields Leads Camp Meeting in Van Zandt County, September 1846

Camp meetings in 19th century Texas tended to be concentrated in late August and early September so as to conform to the rhythms of an agricultural society. Corn that had been planted in February and March had matured and been picked and stored in cribs by the first of August. Cotton was “laid by”. That meant it had been chopped (thinned) and weeded (probably three times), and now the farmer was waiting for the bolls to mature so they could be picked. Butchering hogs and steers was unthinkable in August and September. One had to wait for cooler weather.

That “lay by” period offered a window for camp meetings. A notable one was conducted by the Reverends John W. Fields and W. K. Wilson in September, 1846 at Sullivan’s Camp in Van Zandt County. Fields had been appointed to the San Augustine Circuit but kept hearing reports of increased settlement in the upper watersheds of the Trinity and Sabine Rivers. The reports were correct. The main road west from Shreveport had become a major immigrant route. The annexation of Texas to the United States had also increased interest in immigration to Texas.

Fields asked for a leave of absence from his circuit so he could perform missionary service to the immigrants. Adam Sullivan offered to host the camp meeting. He sent messengers to nearby settlements (Four-Mile, College Mound, Ables’s Springs, and Wite’s Prairie) to announce the meeting. He then split logs to provide benches and set up a small table for the preacher to lay Bible and hymn book on.

At 11:00 a.m. on a Saturday, the 23-year old Fields started the meeting by lining the hymn, Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed. Prayer, Bible reading, sermon, altar call, and then dinner on the ground followed. Night services for 25 to 30 participants lasted until about 11:00 p.m. People slept in their wagons on the ground. On Sunday morning the congregation swelled to about 60. Two more services resulted in 6 professions of faith.

Both Fields and Wilson must have been impressed by area. The next winter Fields went home to Kentucky, married, and brought his wife to Kaufman County where he established a ranch. In 1848 Bishop Andrew appointed him presiding elder of the newly created Trinity District of the East Texas Conference. That district began at the Anderson-Houston County Line and went north to the Red River. Holding the quarterly conferences required a circuit of about 800 miles. Fields appeared at the 1849 annual conference so haggard that the bishop offered to send him back to a comfortable station in the Kentucky Conference. Fields refused the easy appointment and continued to serve appointments in the East Texas Conference (Tyler, Palestine). In 1866 with the creation of the Trinity (later North Texas) Conference, Fields became a charter member. As a superannuate he returned to Kaufman County. He died in Forney in 1886.

Walker also moved to Kaufman County. The Walker Chapel Cemetery is named for him.