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.


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