This Week in Texas Methodist History February 24
Last week’s post recorded the establishment of Methodism in Waxahachie. The first Methodist missionary effort in Brownsville was going on about the same time. Although there had been settlement in the lower Rio Grande for decades, the construction of Fort Brown by federal forces during the war with Mexico provided a new focus around which a city would grow. After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo fixed the Rio Grande as the international boundary, Charles Stillman promoted a town on the Texas side and created Browsville in Deceember 1848. It became the county seat of Cameron County in January 1849.
Nehemiah Cravens transferred from the Alabama Conference to the Texas Conference and received an appointment to start a church in Brownsville. He arrived Feb. 27 1850. He had been preceded by Presbyterian preacher, Hiram Chamberlain who had opened his church on Feb. 24, three days before Cravens arrived.
The 1850 census showed 519 inhabitants in Brownsville, and what a congregation Cravens must have served! Soldiers from Fort Brown, merchants, smugglers, travelers, and adventurers from Mexico, the United States, Germany, and France gave the young city a cosmopolitan atmosphere.
Cravens went to work on church construction. He soon had a 60 x 20 foot structure. Ten feet in the rear were struck off for a preacher’s living quarters. (Does any reader know of any other Texas churches that included living quarters?)The interior walls were covered with canvas instead of wall paper and the exterior was yellow washed with white washed palings.
Cravens spent two years in Brownsville. He was then appointed to Galveston, and then transferred to the Louisiana Conference. In 1874 he came back to the Texas Conference, serving Shearn (now First) in Houston, Bryan, and the Galveston District.
What about Chamberlain, the Presbyterian who opened his church three days before Cravens arrived? He stayed in Brownsville and opened Rio Grande Female Institute made famous by Melinda Rankin. (See Twenty Years Among the Mexicans: A Narrative of Missionary Life by Rankin, 1881) Chamberlain’s daughter, Henrietta, became even more famous than her father. She married Richard King. The couple went into ranching. Perhaps you have heard of their King Ranch.