Saturday, March 08, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History March 9

Annual Conference Disrupted by Armed Mob March 11 1859

Imagine the scene—The presiding bishop at an annual conference is conducting the ordination service on a Sunday morning. A mob armed with shotguns, pistols, and knives gathers outside. One of the leaders of the mob marches in and demands that the conference close and members disperse. The bishop asks permission to finish the service, but the mob insists on reading a set of demands which include the dissolution of the annual conference. It’s hard to imagine greater tension in a Methodist annual conference.

Improbable as it seems, that’s what happened on March 11, 1859 when Bishop Edmund Janes was presiding over the Arkansas Conference of the MEC at Timber Creek in Fannin County. Let’s set the stage.

When the southern conferences of the MEC withdrew and formed the MEC South in 1846, the MEC disappeared from Texas. The disappearance was short-lived. Immigrants from the Upper South and Ohio Valley to North Texas included northern Methodists who naturally organized themselves into churches. In 1852 the MEC General Conference reconstituted the Arkansas Conference which included a Texas Mission. The charges in that mission were concentrated in Collin, Fannin, and Denton Counties. The presiding elder of the mission, Anthony Bewley at one time had five preachers under his administration.

The Arkansas Conference convened at Timber Creek on Friday March 11 under inauspicious circumstances. A meeting at Millwood on March 4 had resulted in a call for local residents to attend the conference and monitor the deliberations for any hints of abolitionist sentiment. The results of that meeting had been published in the Bonham newspaper so the entire community was aware of possible friction.

On Saturday March 12 one of the MEC conference attendees went the three miles from Timber Creek to Bonham and evidently expressed his opinion that the MEC was solidly in the abolitionist camp and intended to end slavery. His remarks prompted a angry meeting of locals in the courthouse.

The Conference was so small that it could have wrapped up its business that Saturday and adjourned, but the preachers wanted a Sunday worship service in which Bishop Janes would preach, administer communion, and ordain deacons so they did not adjourn on Saturday night.

It was that Sunday morning service that was interrupted by Judge Sam Roberts who presented the resolutions that had been drawn up at the courthouse meeting. Janes explained that the conference was not in a business session and therefore could not respond to the demands. The mob withdrew. The conference reconvened at 6:00 a.m. on Monday for the reading of appointments and adjournment.

Both Janes and Roberts left written accounts of this episode, and published reports appeared in both the religious and secular press. Curiously, the main journalistic debate was not about the events themselves or whether the MEC was truly an abolitionist organization. The debate centered on whether the mob was acting on its own authority or in behalf of the MECS. Bad blood over the episode continued to be a source of enmity between the denominations for at least a decade.


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