Saturday, April 19, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History April 20

Former Advocate Editor Saved From Jail by Man He Converted Years Earlier
April 21, 1909

George W. Briggs assumed the editorship of the Texas Christian Advocate in June 1884. A graduate of the University of Alabama in 1878, he rapidly gained fame in New Orleans churches, and then transferred to Galveston, the home of the Advocate. In consultation with the publishers, the denominational newspaper threw itself in the prohibition campaign. Briggs wrote numerous editorials on the evils of drink, regularly published prohibitionist poems, and included news items about the ill effects of alcohol. As his reputation grew, he was invited to numerous debates on the subject all around the state. He became one of the most prominent prohibition advocates in the state. He remained editor until the publishers gained approval to move the Advocate from Galveston to Dallas in 1888.

Twenty-five years later he was literally a “Bowery Bum” in New York City. The skid row alcoholic was in court on a charge of shoplifting three atomizers from a drug store.

His son, Wood Briggs was with him in the courtroom, and asked the judge to set a low bail so he would not have to stay in jail until his trial. Judge House looked down from the bench and said the lowest he could set was $100, and wondered if he could pay it. At that moment Walter B. Mayer, chief postal inspector for the New York District, interrupted and said, “Ill pay it.” Mayer went on and addressed the court as follows:

This prisoner was in his time one of the most eloquent and stirring of pulpit orators. When I was rather wild young man in Galveston I happened one day to go into one of his Bible classes. What he said and the way he said it gave me a new purpose in life. I was converted and became a Christian under his ministry. I was distressed . .. when I saw in the papers this morning that he had been arrested. I hastened here to do everything in my power for him.

This columnist does not know the events that turned one of the most prominent advocates for prohibition down the road to ruin but one can read the dramatic courtroom events in the April 21, 1909 New York Times.


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