Saturday, May 29, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History May 30

Town and Country Commission Report Highlights Changing Demographics May 31, 1965

The main story of Texas population changes from 1940 to 1965 is one of rapid urbanization and suburbanization. War time industrialization created high paying jobs in almost every urban area of Texas. Texas was home to large military bases where inductees received basic training. After the war some of those soldiers from other states decided to make Texas their home. After World War II many of plants converted to the production of civilian goods so employment remained high.

All of the major Texas cities grew in population in the period from 1940-1965. The state was transformed.

Since the growth of the cities and suburbs was the main story, it would be easy to miss another demographic movement. This one was going the other way—from urban to rural.

The movement to the country was spurred by construction of reservoirs, and their construction would change the face of rural Texas as the construction of factories had done for urban Texas. Texas went on a dam building spree in the 1950s and 1960s. It was spurred by the drought of the 1950s, the demand of growing cities for municipal water supplies, and politicians who saw the potential of reservoirs for economic development in rural Texas where much of the young work force had departed for the cities.

Although the ostensible purpose of the reservoirs was for flood control and municipal water supply, recreational facilities grew up around almost all of the impoundments. There was a boom in the construction of residences, mainly weekend homes. Other private developments of the same period such as Ivanhoe Lakes (Tyler County), Hilltop Lakes (Leon County), and Elkins Lakes (Walker County) added to the possibilities for weekend homes.

Meanwhile the construction of interstate highways had made it possible for other city dwellers to purchase rural acreage and become weekend ranchers.

The Town and Country Commission of the Texas Annual Conference grappled with the difficulties of providing Christian ministry to these two groups of weekend residents of a fast-changing rural Texas, the “Lake People,” and the weekend ranchers.

The Commission recognized that neither group was likely to join fully in the life of a rural church near the lake house or ranch. “They are there for only a short time and thus spend all their time on their farming and recreation.” There were also cultural differences. The most notable of those was in the organization of municipal governments around the lake developments for the purpose of selling alcoholic beverages. Within a few years there were many cities such as Gun Barrel City (Henderson County) and alcoholic beverages were easily available in regions that had been traditionally dry, much to chagrin of many Methodists in rural Texas.

The legalization of alcoholic beverages, garish commercial development, increased weekend traffic, a recreational life style, and county budgets strained by new demands for law enforcement expenditures all help explain why some rural church members were not particularly welcoming to lake house owners who happened to show up at church on Sunday morning.

Some members of the Town and Country Commission proposed a summer chaplaincy program to offer ministries to recreational visitors at the lakes. (The Oklahoma Conference did have such a ministry on Lake Texoma.) Another idea was to use Lakeview, the Texas Conference encampment, as the focus for Methodist weekend home development. An honest appraisal of the efforts to minister to the weekend recreational population of rural Texas would have to conclude that little was accomplished.

As years passed, more of the lake houses became permanent residences rather than weekend retreats. As lake developments shifted from weekend to permanent residency, the rural churches near the lakes finally benefitted from the increased population. Elkins Lake, in particular, became a favorite residence of retired Texas Conference preachers.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History May 23

Camp Meeting at Spanish Springs Camp, May 26, 1843.

Many of the immigrants to Texas came as members of extended families who travelled together, coordinated land acquisition, and settled near one another. No group better illustrates that generalization than the so-called “Alabama Colony” who arrived in Texas in the winter of 1830. The colony consisted of members of the Heard, Sutherland, Menefee, Rector, Rogers, and White families. An advance party came to Texas to scout for land and then returned for the rest of the party.

The party left Tuscumbia, Alabama, and arrived in Texas between December 1830 and February 1831. They settled at Texana on the Navidad River in Jackson County and at Egypt in Wharton County. The soil was excellent, and they prospered. Several of the Alabamians played prominent roles in the Texas Revolution and formation of the new government. They were also strong Methodists and included at least one lay pastor, Samuel C. A. Rogers in the group.

The community of interrelated families became the southern-most Texas Methodist settlement in the late 1830s. Martin Ruter went there in December, 1837, only fifteen days after crossing the Sabine. On May 26, 1843, John Wesley DeVilbiss, and many other preachers, conducted a camp meeting six miles below Egypt at the Spanish Springs Camp.. May was not a typical month for a camp meeting since such events were usually scheduled in slack agricultural times, but this was a make up for a rained out meeting so they went ahead.

Some of the sons of the immigrant families became preachers. The Sutherland family, for example contributed A. H. Sutherland to the ministry. He devoted his life to Spanish Speaking congregations. Quinn Menefee was a promising member of the Texas Conference who died in the yellow fever epidemic of 1867. FUMC Ganado grew out of Roger’s Chapel, established by Samuel Rogers. The daughters were barred from ordained ministry, but Talitha Menefee (Quinn’s sister) married John Wesley DeVilbiss in 1845. Unfortunately she died in 1846.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History May 16

Francis Wilson Begins Camp Meeting at Liberty May 18, 1843

Southeastern Texas, embracing the lower basins of the Trinity, Neches, and Sabine Rivers, was not a particularly fruitful area for Methodist evangelization. The coast from the eastern tip of Galveston Island to Sabine Pass consisted of inhospitable marshes. The interior was mainly the magnificent wilderness known as the Big Thicket. Neither region was particularly attractive to immigrants from the Uplands of the South whose main economic activity was an agricultural system revolving around cotton, corn, and free range swine. .

There were settlements along the rivers to service the plantations and lumber, fur, deer skin, and bear grease trade. The most important town in the region was the county seat town of Liberty, so that is where Francis Wilson, Presiding Elder of the San Augustine District, went in May 1843.

Wilson arrived at Liberty on May 16 and began soliciting donations for Wesleyan College in San Augustine. He was very successful in his efforts. He secured pledges of 3920 acres of land from seven donors. On Thursday, May 18, he went to the camp meeting site and opened the camp meeting with a night service. The camp meeting continued until the next Tuesday. Wilson noted that there were two African American classes in Liberty with a total membership of 40 persons. He noted that the class leaders were African American and that there was an African American preacher there. Unfortunately, he does not name the preacher.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History May 9

J. W Fields Completes Tour of Trinity Circuit May 13, 1850

J. W. Fields was a Kentucky Methodist preacher who transferred to Texas and joined the Eastern Texas Conference in January, 1845. He showed great promise and was soon appointed Presiding Elder of the San Augustine District. He rode that district and both he and his wife, Winna Ann Duncan Fields, became ill. In 1849 Annual Conference was held in Paris. Bishop Paine presided. He could tell that Fields was a sick man so he offered to transfer him to a comfortable station back home in Kentucky close to his parents and his in-laws. Fields replied, “No, I have come to labor, to suffer, and to die in Texas.” Paine reappointed him to the Trinity Circuit, a mostly unsettled region along the Trinity River embracing settlements in Anderson, Henderson, Kaufman, Dallas, and adjoining counties.

J. W. and Winna moved to Palestine and the laboring and suffering began again. In April, 1850, he set out from Palestine to the most distant point on the circuit, Dallas. Here is a section of his diary that conveys some of the difficulty and joy he experienced.

Monday morning I started for Dallas, but the creeks being impassable I was compelled to return to Brother S's where most of the congregation, who had attended the Quarterly Meeting, still remained owing to rain and high water. I thought it best not to be idle, so I proposed to Brother H, the p. c., that we should have preaching. This we had forenoon and afternoon as it continued to rain.
I started again, found the little creeks lower but the big ones higher. The East Fork of the Trinity, the worst and most dangerous stream in Northern Texas, covering its miserable bottom for two miles. What shall I do? inquired I of the ferryman, and then of the Lord. "Go," said the Lord, "and lo I am with you even to the end of the world."
But the ferryman reluctantly took me over the channel and two or three of the worst sloughs; and then he took a horse and piloted me through the most dangerous parts of the bottom. At our parting I silently offered a prayer of thanksgiving to God. and after compensation, and many cheerful thanks to him, I made my way out finding terra firma in about one mile more.
April 27th and 28th.—Attended the Dallas Qt. M. at Webb's chapel. This place was dear to me from the recollection that here the first standard of Methodism was planted in this circuit, a few years ago; that time I `had the privilege to attend a two days' meeting at this place, when the Lord was pleased to own and bless His word, and the poor preacher felt it a privilege indeed to be among the first to bear the good tidings to the feeble few in the wilderness. They number some 50 members. Our Quarterly meetings were well attended; much good feeling prevailed. One circumstance I was forcibly struck with in the Love Feast. A very pious sister had lately gone to the spirit-land, her name was frequently called and one said, "SisterJW—is here indeed,her sainted spirit seemed to mingle with us. Does not this prove the doctrine of ministering angels?"

On May 13, Fields returned home to Palestine.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History May 2

Lewell Campbell Denounces David Ayres May 6, 1839.

David Ayres is widely known as the most prominent lay Methodist in Texas from 1835 to the early days of statehood.. He emigrated from New York with a shipment of Bibles from the American Bible Society, was a generous supporter of missions, financial agent of the Advocate, and frequent attendee at camp meetings and conferences. He often contributed not just money, but also articles to the Advocate. Those articles were often about events in early Texas Methodist history. They are very valuable source documents.Ayres lived a long time and became one of the “grand old men” of Texas Methodism.

The Fowler Collection at Bridwell Library at Perkins School of Theology contains a scathing letter denouncing Ayres as “one of the grandest scounderels (sic) in Texas.” That’s saying a lot. Texas in 1839 was full of scoundrels.

The writer of the letter was Lewell Campbell, a missionary from Kentucky who came to Texas in 1838, but at the Mississippi Annual Conference in December, 1838, was appointed to New Orleans. On May 6, 1839 Campbell wrote Littleton Fowler from New Orleans

I am very glad that Ayers is out of the church. For I have no doubt he is one of the grandest scounderels in Texas. [p. 3] For any man that would take the advantage that he did of Dr Ruter’s widow by collecting good money on a note which was to be paid in Texas which was one half under par, and she at the time hardly able by all the means she could command to sustain her small children all of which were females, I say, any man that would take this underhanded measure and advantage, would not only steal if he had the chance, but sir, he would rob a corps[e] of the grave clothes if they would yield him any profit. Although I do not believe in Lynch Law, still I do not feel much mortified that [it] has been blocked.

The details may be hard to reconstruct exactly, but the source of Campbell’s anger seems to have related to Ayres’ role in settling the accounts of Martin Ruter’s temporal affairs. Ruter had died the previous May. Robert Alexander wrote the widow Ruth Ruter soon after the death indicating that he was managing the estate. Ruter had obtained land claims in Texas. Alexander turned them over to John Wesley Kenney, a preacher-surveyor, who carried through on surveying and obtaining title for those claims. Alexander indicated that Ruter had left a horse, some cash, and other property. Alexander intended to sell the horse to pay off Ruter’s debts and forward the cash to Ruth Ruter in New Albany, Indiana.
If the Ruter estate included notes or any other financial instruments, it would have been natural for Alexander to turn them over to David Ayres, his father-in-law, for ultimate disposition. Ayres was one of the biggest wheeler-dealers in Texas in 1839.

Texas was fertile ground for financial wheeler-dealers. The Republic of Texas, throughout its existence, had problems with its official currency. Much of Texas had a barter economy. Promissory notes passed from hand to hand and served the place of currency. U. S. currency circulated. Mexican coin continued in circulation. Notes on wildcat banks from the United States circulated in Texas. Newspapers regularly printed the discount for Republic of Texas currency as compared to “real” money. They also printed the discount for some of the bank notes issued by banks in the southern United States. In short, even if a perfectly honest man were given the task of redeeming notes left in an estate in Texas and sending the proceeds to an heir in the United States, he would be open to criticism.

It is unlikely that we will ever know whether Ayres acted in good faith in settling the Ruter estate or whether he was a “scounderel.” Campbell was certainly not an objective observer. Just before writing his denunciation of Ayres, he had married Sybil Ruter and therefore had some family interest in the estate. If Ruth Ruter really was the victim of some financial hanky-panky at the hands of David Ayres, she either did not know of it or forgave him. On December 1, 1847, she gave Ayres her power-of-attorney to try to get any of the Ruter estate still remaining in the custody of John Wesley Kenney. You can read the instrument at