Sunday, March 29, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History March 29

John Denton Writes to Littleton Fowler about Reading Law March 29, 1838

One of the most interesting items in the Fowler Collection at Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, SMU, is the letter John B. Denton wrote to Littleton Fowler on March 29, 1838. In that letter, addressed from Sulfur Fork and postmarked at Clarksville, Denton says

Since I saw you I have been strongly tempted to read and practice law. I have bought a small library of law books and have devoted a portion of [my time to the study of] them
What makes the letter so interesting is that the previous Nov. 15 Denton had written to Fowler criticizing him and Robert Alexander for land speculation.

. On yesterday I received the inteligence that Bro Alexander had commenced to speculate in land and that he was purchasing rapidly and more my Brother that you had bought 2,000 acres as you went out west. Now my dear Bro. Fowler, if this is true I wish you to let me know it for if you have purchased a half leag[ue] that together with the land you got from your brother and your headright and your town purchase I think will go some distance towards speculation. . . Write me my dear Bro by the first oportunity and let me know that it is false as hell(Denton to Fowler, Nov. 15, 1837, Fowler Collection, Bridwell Library)

John Bunyan Denton was born in Tennessee in 1806. He was orphaned at age 8 and eventually moved to Arkansas. He was converted and became a Methodist preacher. When Fowler travelled through Arkansas in 1837 on his way to the Texian Mission, he invited Denton to come with him. Denton, although never formally commissioned as a missionary connected with the Mississippi Conference, provided useful service to the cause of Methodism in northeastern Texas.

The practice of law in the Republic of Texas was often an adjunct to land speculation. The Spanish, Mexican, and Republic of Texas governments all made very generous land grants to encourage immigration and reward meritorious service. The result was a hodgepodge of conflicting surveys, grants, land warrants, and contested titles, all of which provided great opportunity for lawyers to sort through the conflicts. From 1838 to 1841 Denton practiced law in Clarksville, engaged in land speculation, and continued to fill Methodist pulpits. In May 1841 he was killed at the Battle of Village Creek about at the Dallas/Tarrant County line. In 1846 the Legislature created a new county in the region and named it after Denton. Much later his remains were moved to the courthouse grounds. Of the 254 counties in Texas, Denton is the only one I have found to be named for a Methodist preacher. If readers know of another, please post it as a reply.


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