Sunday, September 28, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 28

Methodist Family Victim of Massacre September 28, 1870.

A Texan family with deep Methodist roots was attacked by a band of about seventy Indian and Mexican raiders in present day McMullen County on September 28, 1870. The parents, Thomas Wesley and Sarah Jane Stringfield and six year old Adolphus were quickly killed. Eight year old Ida was lanced seven times and trampled by the hooves of the horses, but she survived. The body of Thomas (four years old) was never found.

Thomas Wesley Stringfield was the son of Milton Stringfield, local preacher who was present at the September 1838 quarterly meeting at McMahan’s Chapel. He was the grandson of James Stringfield who helped organize the first Methodist church in Springfield, Illinois, and the great-nephew of Thomas Stringfield, the former editor of the South-western Christian Advocate (Nashville) and delegate to the 1844 MEC General Conference and 1846 organizational conference of the MECS. Two of his brothers, Littleton Stringfield and James McKendree Stringfield, were members of the Rio Grande Mission Conference who enlisted in the Confederate Army and did not survive the Civil War. They are both buried in Tehuacana Cemetery in Frio County.

The orphaned Ida was raised by family members, including her aunt, Nancy. Nancy’s daughter Sarah Diada was particularly close to her cousin and named a daughter after her. That Ida was your editor’s grandmother.

Ida Stringfield Hatfield carried the scars from the lances and hooves the rest of her life. She died in 1937.

Friday, September 19, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 21

John W. Kenney Begins Survey of Rutersville, September 23, 1838

Martin Ruter died in May, 1838, but his dream of a Methodist university did not die with him. The summer after his death ten men united to buy a league of land in Fayette County to establish a town in which the university would be built. By September, they had made enough progress to engage John Wesley Kenney, a local preacher who lived about 40 miles east of the site to survey the league into the town of Rutersville and farms that would then be sold to raise money for the Methodist enterprise. Kenney was County Surveyor of Austin County. The site was described in Texas in 1840 or the Emigrant’s Guide published by William W. Allen: (footnotes added by TWITMH editor)

Arriving at Rutersville near noon, we soon perceived that its location on the summit of one of the most elevated prairies of the republic, was admirably fitted to secure the health of the inhabitants, as well as furnish delightsome views of the surrounding country, which, to the eye of the curious, might be said to resemble, by its varied appearance of live oak and post oak groves upon the heights and cedar forests along the valleys, mingled with frequent prairies, the scenery of a tastefully and thoroughly cultivated country of the old world.(1) . . .Situated forty miles from Bastrop, arid, but five miles from the Colorado River, it is near the centre, east and west, of the republic. The high moral and religious tone of the community, the excellent measures taken to preserve the purity of public morals,(2 ) and prevent evil influences upon the young, together with the spirited exertions of the friends of learning and education, seem well calculated to secure for it the confidence of those who would select a residence, with special reference to the education of their children. (3)

1 Rutersville is situated in the Fayette Prairie which is an outlier of the Blackland Prairie. Its mixture of grassland and trees resembled cultivated areas of Central Europe and its beauty almost always evoked rhapsodic descriptions from travelers. If the visit had been made in April or May, the writer would almost certainly have commented on the wild flowers. The Fayette Prairie became a favorite destination for German and Czech immigrants looking for scenery that reminded them of their homelands.
2 The developers prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages in Rutersville.
3 19th century memoirs often contain examples of families moving to a town with a school so their children could attend.

Friday, September 12, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 14

Seth Ward Dies in Kobe, Japan September 20, 1909

Bishop Seth Ward, the first native Texan to be elected a Methodist bishop, died on September 20, 1909 in Kobe, Japan. His body was returned for burial in Glenwood Cemetery in Houston.

Ward was born in Leon County in 1858. He joined the North West Texas Conference in 1881 and was appointed to the Corsicana Circuit. He progressed rapidly through the ranks and transferred to the Texas Conference. After the Galveston Storm of 1900 he successfully united St. John’s and St. James’ into First Methodist Galveston (later renamed Moody Memorial). He served in a variety of administrative positions. While serving the MECS as Assistant Mission Secretary, he was elected bishop at the 1906 General Conference meeting in Birmingham, Alabama.

Junior bishops were often sent to hold the mission conferences since it was assumed they could stand the rigors of travel better than the more elderly bishops. Ward was thus assigned to hold the China, Korea, and Japan annual conferences. He died in Kobe, Japan, on his second tour of the East Asian Conferences in 1909, before completing his first quadrennium as bishop.

His widow, Margaret South Ward survived him by more than 50 years. She died in Beaumont in January, 1960. She, too, was buried in Glenwood Cemetery.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 7

Missionaries Arrive in Galveston as Refugees from Mexican Revolution Sept. 10, 1913

On Sept. 10, 1913 a ship carrying 176 refugees from Vera Cruz and Tampico docked at Galveston. Among those refugees were about 40 Methodist and Presbyterian missionaries. They had been caught up in the revolutionary violence that was engulfing Mexico. The progressive president Francisco Madero had been deposed and killed the previous February. The newly-inaugurated president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, loathed the coup perpetrator Victoranio Huerta and supported his opponent Venustiano Carranza who promised a return to constitutional government. The Methodist school at Guadalajara was stormed by a mob. The borderlands, especially from Brownsville to El Paso became embroiled in the conflict as revolutionaries laid plans and obtained arms on the Texas side of the river.

Mexico had been a favorite Methodist mission field since the early 1870s. . Bishop Keener had taken Alejo Hernandez to Mexico City. Methodists had built schools, most famously in Puebla. Both the MEC and the MECS had conference structures, schools, missionaries, and Mexican preachers. In 1910 the MECS reported 17 missionaries, 63 native Mexican preachers, and 6,400 members. The MECS 1915 roster of missionaries reported 35 for Mexico. Only 14 of those missionaries listed Mexican addresses. The other 21 had come back to the United States—eight to El Paso alone.

The various denominations with missionary interests in Mexico were often confused by events on the ground including President Wilson’s occupation of Vera Cruz, frequent changes of government, and the Constitution of 1917 that severely restricted the civil rights of clergy and the right of churches to operate schools. The measures had been enacted to punish Roman Catholics, but Protestants also fell under the ban.

1914 was a particularly important year. In February of that year MECS missionaries in Mexico were called to Laredo to meet with denominational officials in an attempt to deal with the changing situation. Two months later the General Conference of the MECS created three conferences for Spanish-speaking Methodists. Two of those would be bi-national. The other consisted of of Texas east of the Pecos River. Two months later representatives of eleven denominations with mission interests Mexico met in Cincinnati and issued the “Cincinnati Plan.”

Texas Methodists were in a better position than most to sort through the confusion. Their schools in Laredo and El Paso could continue to serve Mexican children. The Revolution had displaced not just the Protestant missionaries who fled to Galveston, but also thousands of Mexicans who immigrated to Texas to escape the revolutionary turmoil. At least a few of the young immigrants found Methodist schools waiting for them.