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


Blogger Richard H said...

Hadn't heard this part of the story before. Thanks!

8:57 AM  

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