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.


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