Saturday, August 22, 2009

This Week in Texas Methodist History August 23

James C. Wilson born Aug 26, 1816
One of the reasons for the success of Methodism in the first half of the 19th century was its ability to recruit enough circuit riding preachers to keep up with population as it moved west. One factor in that recruitment was its willingness to accept relatively uneducated men into the clergy ranks and then put them in a course of study that consisted of reading Wesleyan literature and theology. Your TWITMH editor is in the middle of reading Texas Presbyterian history, and is struck by the contrast. The Presbyterian missionaries to Texas tended to be well-educated—often Princeton graduates.

The willingness to accept uneducated clergy seemed to contradict its roots. Methodism started at Oxford, one of the most venerable universities in the English-speaking world. The Wesley brothers were both highly educated. The genius of having lax educational standards meant that Methodists could mobilize an army, and the Presbyterians were constantly understaffed on the mission field.

James C. Wilson was an interesting exception to the rule. He was the only pre-Civil War Texas Methodist preacher I have been able to find who studied at Oxford. Born in 1816, he migrated to Brazoria County from England in 1837—too late for the Texas Revolution, but not too late to volunteer for the Mier Expedition and be captured. Refusing to parlay his British citizenship into a release by his Mexican captors, Wilson stayed in prison until he could make an escape. He returned to Brazoria and served in the 3rd and 4th Legislatures of the Republic of Texas. He later served in other government offices.

In 1857 he began a brief career as a Methodist preacher. He was admitted to the Texas Conference and was appointed to Gonzales. He died in 1861 but is not forgotten. Wilson County is named in his honor.


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