Saturday, August 15, 2009

this Week in Texas Methodist History August 16

Robert Alexander Enters Texas, Preaches First Sermon in Texas August 19, 1837

Robert Alexander, the first of the three official Methodist missionaries to reach the Republic of Texas, crossed Gaines’ Ferry on the Sabine on August 19, 1837. His biographer states that it was late in the day. He heard dogs in the distance and, following their cries, made his way to a log cabin where he asked to spend the night. That cabin was the home of the Walker family. A Walker grandson, Seth Ward, became the first native-born Texan elected a Methodist bishop.

Alexander was only twenty-six years old at the time, but had experience that proved useful in establishing Methodism in the Republic. He had most recently been the preacher at Natchez, Mississippi, which must have been one of the most difficult appointments in Methodism. It was a river port, and the southwestern terminus of the Natchez Trace, a historic American transportation route. It had developed a reputation for vice, murder, and theft unmatched by any other U.S. city of the 1830s. Its reputation was so great that Martin Ruter, the head of the missionary delegation, wrote to Littleton Fowler, the third member, warning him to avoid Natchez. The following November, Ruter and his travelling companion, David Ayres, disembarked thirty miles upstream at Rodney, Mississippi, so they could avoid Natchez.

Before his Natchez appointment, Alexander had served the Chickasaw Mission District. That may sound like a Native American mission, but it was not. The Chickasaws had been uprooted from their eastern lands, and Anglo settlers and their slaves were pouring in to occupy their homes, farms, and towns. The Chickasaw Mission was directed at these new arrivals. In his capacity as head of mission the twenty-four year old Alexander supervised the work of Reverends Samuel Spear, Joseph Sneed, and William Craig. All three would later serve in Texas.

When Walker discovered Alexander was a preacher, he asked if he would preach a sermon that night of August 19. Alexander agreed, and Walker sent one of the children to alert that neighbors that they would have preaching that night. A congregation assembled in that cabin, and Alexander preached his first sermon on Texas soil.

Alexander spent about a month in the vicinity and then went on to “Western” Texas (present day Austin and Washington Counties) from whence the call for missionaries had originated. He worked there until November when he returned via the same Gaines’ Ferry Route to attend the Mississippi Annual Conference. In another coincidence, he met Ruter and Ayres at Gaines’ Ferry as they were entering Texas.


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