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.


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