Saturday, February 23, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History February 24

Nehemiah Cravens Arrives In Browsville Feb. 27, 1850

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.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History February 17

James Addison writes about Waxahachie February 22, 1852

One of the most prominent Methodist families in 19th century Texas were the Addisons. The family immigrated from Baltimore to Burleson County in 1835. Isaac Addison donated land for Waugh Campground, and three of his sons, Oscar, John, and James, became Methodist preachers.

James Addison joined the Texas Conference in 1848. He was appointed to the Waxahachie Circuit and arrived in February, 1852. This column has related many stories of the hardships faced by circuit riders. It is rare to find a circuit rider account of an easy circuit, but that is what James Addison reported.

Waxahachie was a new town when Addison arrived, having been founded only in August 1850 to be the county seat. What is really rare is that when Addison arrived, he found an existing Methodist church building in a town so young. Here is an excerpt from a letter dated February 1852.

My circuit is a pleasant one in several respects 1st. The rides are not hard, twenty miles being the farthest ride in a day, and only twice do I make such rides in a round, the distance averaging each day about 8 miles. 2d. In having a very
hospitable set of folks to deal with, those who feel for a preacher a correct moral community. As an evidence of this I may state that in this town (Waxahachie) which has not been in existence more than about 12 months, and which now numbers about 100 souls has a very fine M. E. Church, and no Doggery,
nor has there been one. Beat that if you can 3d. Because there is no jarring with other denominations all is peace and prosperity, and methodism takes the day

Were there no problems in Waxahachie? No ruffians or gamblers? No forces of evil with whom to contend? Addison did tell about a woman who would not put down her knitting when he led devotions.

But as usual there are drawbacks, one for instance, a Lady at whose house I was
stopping, a member of the church, after supper placed the books down on the table, invited me to hold prayers, and then quietly took up her knitting I selected my chapter & hymn, and waited till she quit she knit on and I waited, till she was convinced I would not commence till she quit, she folded up her work &
I commenced, but as soon as she had got me fairly started she recommenced her knitting with a will. I soon put a stop to it by calling her to her knees—

If that was the worst behavior Addison had to deal with, no wonder that he praised Waxahachie.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History February 13

St. John’s Methodist Church in Galveston Dedicated and Consecrated Same Day February 12, 1871

In Methodist terminology a new church building is dedicated when construction is complete and the facilities are ready for worship. It is consecrated when the building is debt free. .

After the Civil War Galveston, which had been one of the few cities in Texas to see actual combat, resumed its prominence as the leading port of the Western Gulf of Mexico. Cotton shipments resumed as farms in the hinterland resumed production. Galveston experienced prosperity.

It was that prosperity that enabled the construction of what Homer Thrall called “unquestionably the finest church building in Texas.” The first Methodist church building in Galveston depended upon donations from the United States. That church was Ryland Chapel in the early 1840s.

By 1868 Galveston Methodism had outgrown Ryland Chapel. Methodists purchased a lot at the intersection of Bath and Broadway, and construction soon began. The church, named St. John’s, was two story Gothic with a tower. The sanctuary was 52 x 80 feet with 144 padded walnut pews. Naturally there were also Sunday School rooms, a second floor assembly hall, and offices.

Bishop Enoch Marvin came to Galveston to dedicate the building. He preached the dedicatory sermon. That afternoon and evening the congregation raised the remaining $16,000 of the $75,000 cost of the building so Bishop Marvin then consecrated the building—a magnificent accomplishment. They had dedicated and consecrated the new church in a single day.

The joy of the day was marred by a maritime tragedy. The Varuna had sailed from New York City on October 15, 1870. The passenger list was a veritable Who’s Who of the Galveston commercial elite. The Varuna sank in a storm off the east coast of Florida. All passengers drowned. Two of the victims, Allen Lewis and J. L. Briggs were trustees of St. John’s. Read more about it in the New York Times at

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Bishop John Wesley Hardt Recognized

Here's a piece from the Tyler Texas paper about John Wesley Hardt.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History February 3

Henderson Palmer and John Wesley DeVilbiss Build Raft, Then Coffin February 3, 1843

John Wesley DeVilbiss was one of the transfers to Texas Littleton Fowler recruited at the Ohio Conference in September 1842. His first appointment was with Henderson Palmer to the Egypt Circuit. That circuit consisted of the settlements in present day Colorado, Lavaca, Jackson, Wharton, and Matagorda Counties. Palmer and Devilbiss arrived at the Colorado River on Friday, February 3, 1843 with plans to preach at Columbus on Sunday. The two preachers found the Colorado in flood stage, and Columbus was on the west side of the river. Methodist preachers of that era were driven to overcome physical difficulties in meeting their preaching appointments. They inquired in the neighborhood and found that Mr. Beason, two miles down the river, had willow logs that would make a fine raft.

They spent most of the day constructing a raft. By 3:00 p.m. they had finished a raft that DeVilbiss claimed “was entirely seaworthy, though Brother Palmer and the bystanders thought otherwise.”

Fortunately for Palmer, he never had to test his raft-building skills. Before they could launch the willow log raft into the current, a messenger arrived with news that a Mr. Williams had drowned. His family wanted Palmer and DeVilbiss to build a coffin and conduct funeral services.

The news of the drowning dampened DeVilbiss’ enthusiasm for trusting the raft to the flood. The preachers turned their carpentry skills to coffin building. They stayed east of the Colorado and conducted funeral services on Sunday, Feb. 5.

Both men went on to distinguished careers. Palmer served circuits in the East Texas Conference for about thirty years. DeVilbiss became the most prominent evangelist of southwest Texas. He is given credit for founding the first Methodist church in San Antonio.