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.


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