Saturday, January 30, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 31

Preachers Declare Allegiance During Roll Call at Opening of East Texas Conference, Feb. 4, 1846

It is the custom of most annual conferences to establish the roll of clergy and lay members by asking them to register rather than actually answering to a roll call. While such a procedure is certainly more efficient, it lacks the drama that once accompanied the calling of the roll of annual conference.

No roll call was more dramatic in Texas Methodist history than that of the East Texas Conference when it convened in Marshall on Feb. 4, 1846. The reader will remember from last week’s column that Littleton Fowler had died the previous week. Even though everyone there would have been aware of Fowler’s death, his name would have been called anyway. After a short interval of silence, one of the brothers would say something like, “He’s in heaven now,” and the roll call would proceed.

Francis Wilson was the presiding officer since Bishop Soule had not yet arrived from Houston. Robert Crawford was secretary. Crawford’s job was not merely recording those present and those absent. Each preacher was asked to respond to the roll call with either “North” or “South.”

When the plan of separation which resulted in the MEC and the MEC, South, was adopted, a stipulation maintained that each preacher could choose “without blame” the General Conference with which he would be affiliated. Feb. 4, 1846 was decision day for the preachers of the East Texas Conference. Each had to declare his allegiance publicly.

All the preachers present answered “South.” Three absent preachers, Henderson Palmer, A. J. Fowler (Littleton’s brother), and F. H. Blades, sent word that they would also adhere to the MECS. Only Lester Janes, the president of Wesleyan College in San Augustine, did not. He sent a request for a transfer back to the north, not out of dissatisfaction with the southern organization, but “because his business interests requires him at present to remove North.”

There was even more to the roll call. Each preacher was also asked to report on the sentiments of the Methodists “among whom they had been travelling,” as to their wishes on separation. Within the bounds of the East Texas Conference, all of Texas east of the Trinity River, only “three sisters and two brethren” objected to the separation and preferred the North.
The East Texas Conference thus cast its lot with the southern branch of Episcopal Methodism.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 24

Littleton Fowler Dies the “Way a Christian Should Die,” Jan. 29, 1846

Littleton Fowler, one of the first three appointed missionaries to Texas, died at his home in Sabine County at the age of 42.

Death in 19th century Texas Methodism was far different from today. Modern deaths often occur in hospitals with the dying patient attached to tubes and machines in valiant efforts to keep the decedent alive just a little longer. Family members often wait anxiously, but have little interaction with the loved one.

19th century deaths were more likely to occur in homes. Family members often sat beside the loved one until the end. Methodist preachers on their death beds often reaffirmed the faith they had been preaching and provided one last witness to the gospel.

Littleton Fowler’s last hours are well documented thanks to B. F. Sexton who wrote about it in the Southern Quarterly Review and the conference memoir written by S. A Williams, J. T. P. Irvine, and John Woolam. All the elements of a “19th century good Methodist death” were there. According to Sexton, Fowler attempted to convert the attending physician who was a religious skeptic. He reaffirmed his faith to his brother Jack, “Death does not alarm me; I feel that I must die; death to me has no terrors. I feel I can walk through the shadow of death and fear no evil. God is with me.” Fowler called each of his children (Littleton Morris and Mary and stepson Symmes), gave each a Bible and an affectionate farewell.

Littleton Fowler dictated a letter to annual conference concerning church business. He outlined his wishes for disposition of his property, care of his wife, and education of his children. Having wrapped up his temporal affairs, he was ready for his eternal reward.

Once he awoke and said, “Oh! What a glorious sight. I have seen the angelic hosts; the happy faces of just men made perfect. . . .
Farewell vain world, I’m going home,
My Savior smiles and bids me come.

Another member of the household was John C. Woolam, a pious illiterate man who worked the farm in Fowler’s long absences in return for lessons in both reading and theology. After Fowler’s death, his widow, Missouri, married Woolam who became an itinerant Methodist preacher. Fowler asked Woolam about the darkness in the room. Woolam replied that there were lights. Fowler replied, “Ah, well, my sight grows dim. Earth recedes, heaven is approaching. Glory to God in the highest.” His last words were “Home, Happy home!”

S. A. Williams preached the funeral sermon. He used the text that Fowler had used in his last sermon at Douglass, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.”

Fowler’s death occurred between the sessions of the Western Texas and Eastern Texas Conferences (later Texas and East Texas Conferences). The Western Texas Conference had convened in Houston on Jan. 7. Bishop Joshua Soule presided in his only episcopal visit to Texas. The East Texas Conference convened in Marshall on Feb. 4, less than a week after Fowler’s passing. Naturally they were plunged into grief over the loss of the man who had been the guiding light of East Texas Methodism for the past ten years. They passed appropriate resolutions of condolence and then got down to business. One business item was electing a delegate to the first General Conference of Methodist Episcopal Church South. If Fowler had lived, he certainly would have been elected. Francis Wilson was elected instead.

Littleton Fowler’s memory continues to be revered, especially at McMahan’s Chapel where he is interred.

Note: Several authorities including Thrall incorrectly give the death date as Jan. 19.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 17

Soule President Halsey Resigns; Trustees Choose Carter as Successor January 23, 1860

On January 23, 1860 the President of Soule University, William Halsey, resigned. On that same day the trustees voted to offer the presidency to George Washington Carter, one of the most interesting persons in Texas Methodist history. Carter was born in Virginia circa 1828. He became a Methodist preacher who was employed as a professor of ethics at the University of Mississippi. He accepted the Soule presidency, finished the school term in Mississippi, and came to Chappell Hill in May, but his administration and the university were soon engulfed in secession and the Civil War.

One year after the offer of the presidency Carter was in Austin as a member of the Secession Convention. When the convention adjourned, he asked for a leave of absence and returned to his home in Virginia. He secured permission from the Confederate Secretary of War to raise a regiment. He returned to Texas and raised not one, but three regiments. His own was the 21st Texas Cavalry. The other two were also commanded by Methodist preachers with the rank of colonel. The 24th Texas Cavalry was commanded by F. W. Wilkes, who had recently been Presiding Elder of the Galveston District. The 25th Texas Cavalry was commanded by Clayton C. Gillespie, formerly editor of the Texas Christian Advocate who had moved to the editorship of the New Orleans Christian Advocate.

The units became known as Carter’s Brigade and drilled a few miles east of Chappell Hill at Hempstead which had the advantage of a rail road. In May, 1862 the units assembled at Crockett and began moving toward Arkansas. The difficulties of providing fodder for the horses proved too great and units were converted from lancers to dismounted cavalry. Naturally the Texans were dismayed at the prospect of being converted from cavalry to infantry. Twenty Alabama-Coushatte enlistees complained so much that they were allowed to return to their homes.

Difficulties and dissention continued as Carter pushed his troops into Arkansas. The troops under Wilkes and Gillespie were separated and put under another command. A measles epidemic in August and September compounded their problems. The 24th and 25th Cavalry (Dismounted) were ordered to defend Arkansas Post, about fifty miles up river from the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers. It was there that they were defeated in January 1863.

Carter settled in Louisiana during Reconstruction and became speaker of the legislature in 1871-1872. Ten years later he was appointed Minister to Venezuela. He died in Maryland in 1901 after a remarkable career that included being a Methodist preacher, university professor, university president, soldier, legislator, diplomat, and lecturer. He also married and divorced three times.

Carter, Wilkes, and Gillespie were not the only Texas Methodist preachers in Carter’s Brigade. Littleton M. Stringfield and James McKendree Stringfield, both of the West Texas Conference did not make it as far as Arkansas Post. Littleton died August 10 and James died Sept. 30—presumably of the measles epidemic. Their bodies were brought back and buried in the Tehuacana Cemetery a few miles south of Hondo. Their sister was the author’s great-great grandmother.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 10

Bishop Morris Stops to Visit Ruter’s Grave January 13, 1842

Bishop Thomas A. Morris presided over the second session of the Texas Annual Conference in San Augustine in December, 1841. Instead of returning directly home, he made a very long excursion to the new capital of the Republic of Texas. At least part of his motivation in undertaking such a journey was that his son, Francis Asbury Morris lived in Austin.

The Conference adjourned on December 30. By January 13 Morris and his party had reached the LaBahia Crossing of the Brazos River. Washington was on the west bank, and in Methodist circles, Washington was known as the site of Martin Ruter’s grave. Fortunately for us, Morris kept a journal. Here is the entry for January 13.

Thursday, 13th, the country appeared less inviting as we neared the Brazos river, though the bottom, on the east side, about three miles across, is rich enough to be very muddy. The river is, perhaps, eighty yards wide, and the banks very high and steep, but at present not much depth of water. As we ascended the hill from the ferry on the west side, we entered the town of Washington, late the seat of justice for Washington county, which contains, probably, about fifty or sixty houses, and is apparently on the decline, though in the midst of a fine country. Having proceeded west to the middle of the town, we turned at right angles to the north, about three hundred yards, to the old graveyard, which is situated on a dry ridge in open woods. Our business was to seek out the grave of Dr. Ruter, the apostle of Methodism in Texas, who died at his post May 16, 1838. The mournful spot sought for was easily found without a guide, the grave being inclosed by a stone wall, and covered with a white marble slab, three feet wide and six long, with a suitable inscription. At the foot of the slab stands a small hickory-tree, hung with Spanish moss, waving in the breeze over the charnel-house. As we stood under this tree reading the solemn epitaph, the sun was disappearing in the west, while a thousand thoughts of the past rushed upon our minds, and forcibly reminded us that our own days would soon be numbered. With Dr. Ruter I had often united in preaching the Gospel to crowded assemblies in Ohio and Kentucky. He now rests from all his toil, enjoying the promised reward; and if faithful to the grace given, may I not hope soon to join with him in the song of final and everlasting triumph? When we read on the cold marble, "thirty-seven years an itinerant minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and superintendent of the first mission of that Church in the republic of Texas," and then remembered that the same mission had already become a respectable annual conference, and was still increasing, the thought arose, whereunto will this mission grow, and what cause of rejoicing must this be to its first superintendent forever?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 3

Cornerstone Laid at San Augustine, January 7, 1838

Sunday, January 7, 1838, was an eventful day in San Augustine. It was on that day that Littleton Fowler presided at a cornerstone laying which he described as “the first one of a Protestant Church ever laid west of the Sabine River.”

The previous September he had started the process by securing a lot and appointing trustees. He then went on to Center Hill and Houston. Fowler spent most of the rest of 1837 in Houston serving as Chaplain in the Legislature and lobbying for a charter for a Methodist school.

When the Legislature adjourned, he hurried back to East Texas and found that trustees were ready to begin construction. The ceremony was conducted with the rites of the Masonic Order. One of Fowler’s last actions in Houston had been on December 20 when he participated in the organization of the Grand Lodge of Texas. Sam Houston was the presiding officer and his colleague, the Rev. Henry Matthews also participated. The Grand Lodge encompassed the three lodges then in existence in the Republic of Texas. Two days later, on Friday, Dec. 22, Fowler left Houston in the company of Thomas Jefferson Rusk, the famed war hero who now represented Nacogdoches in the Congress of the Republic of Texas.

The journey from Houston to San Augustine took six days. About “five or eight hundred” persons assembled on the 7th for the cornerstone laying. About fifty Masons participated. Fowler gave an address and then Rusk followed “in his usual forceful and eloquent style.”

Fowler stayed in East Texas until the following April. He alternated Sundays between San Augustine and Nacogdoches. He also courted the widow, Missouri Lockwood Porter, whom he would marry the following June. The church in San Augustine became an important center for Methodism in Texas. The second and fifth sessions of the Texas Annual Conference were held there.