Saturday, July 31, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History August 1

Fowler Orders O'Conner to Ease Slavery Controversy August 1, 1843

Readers of previous posts have learned of Littleton Fowler’s recruitment trip to Ohio for the annual conferences of 1842. That recruitment trip was spectacularly successful. The Texas Conference was invigorated by able preachers from the Ohio and North Ohio Conferences. Two of the recruits, John Wesley DeVilbiss and Homer Thrall, were two of the most prominent preachers in Texas for years to come.

William O’Conner, another recruit, lived less than a year after transferring to Texas, but he was the subject of an intense controversy over slavery in the summer of 1843. We know about the case from the correspondence between Littleton Fowler, John Woolam, and William Alexander. Unfortunately none of O’Conner’s letters have survived to tell his side of the story.

We can piece together the incident from the letters. O’Conner made disparaging remarks about slavery in the presence of William R. Alexander (Robert’s brother) in Harrison County. O’Conner is alleged to have said that he “. . . had as soon associate with the devil as with slavery. That the Methodist preachers who own slaves are trampling with impunity the Discipline under their feet. . .”

Accusations and counter-accusations flew back and forth. Alexander denied calling the circuit stewards together to try to remove O’Conner. He maintained they only wanted to consult with him. On August 1 Fowler wrote O’Conner, telling him to “cool it”, and to remind him of the conversations they had on the subject in Ohio and en route. Fowler’s admonition is the same advice presiding elders and district superintendents have been giving throughout Methodist history—if you keep on with this controversy, you’ll become unappointable.

At the first opportunity Fowler went to Harrison County and heard O’Conner’s side of the story in person and was partially won over to the preacher’s version of events. . Unfortunately O’Conner died soon after that visit in October, 1843, and was buried near Marshall. He was only 27 years old. The following April, when Fowler went to the 1844 General Conference in New York, he stopped in Cincinnati to make a pastoral call on O’Conner’s parents. He wrote back to his wife, Missouri, that Mrs. O’Conner cried as if her son had just been buried.

The correspondence concerning the O’Conner-Alexander affair is in the Fowler Collection at Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, SMU. .

Saturday, July 24, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 25

Chauncey Richardson Reports on Church Dedication at Montgomery, July 27, 1851

Montgomery had been a preaching point for Methodist circuit riders while Texas was still part of the Mississippi Conference. Ike Strickland is credited with organizing a church at the home of William Sanders on Dec. 30, 1838. Evidently the church grew slowly because just two weeks later Strickland wrote Littleton Fowler asking for a transfer because the area was too thinly settled.

By 1851 the population had grown large enough to build a church building. Chauncey Richardson wrote about the dedicatory services of the church named Alexander Chapel after Robert Alexander. Today Montgomery is a bustling small city with an attractive Methodist church building, a large high school, and many residential developments on the western shores of Lake Conroe.

Here’s what Richardson wrote about the Montgomery church.

In the flourishing village of Montgomery, Methodism seems to be permanently established. At an early period in the exploration of Texas by the missionaries of the Methodist Church, this place was visited, but of the success of their labors here for several years, we are not prepared to speak definitely. But in our visit to this town on last Sabbath we found a church of some thirty odd members, most of whom are truly devoted Christians, and tetotalists. They have evinced their Christian enterprise in sustaining a stationed preacher, and in the erection of a neat and commodious chapel, which was dedicated to the worship of Almighty God on last Sabbath.

A quarterly meeting was in progress, the services of which commenced on Friday. We were not able to reach the town before Saturday night, being just in time to listen to an excellent sermon from Rev. George Rottenstein, which was followed by a warm and persuasive exhortation from Rev. R. Alexander at the close of which, mourners were called to the altar, and prayers were offered in their behalf.

An interesting and animated love-feast preceded the public services of the Sabbath. The narrations of Christian experience were lively and expressive of deep religious feeling. It was a precious season to many.
It was our pleasure to conduct the dedicatory services of the new chapel, which is to be called Alexander Chapel, in compliment of Rev. R. Alexander, the Presiding Elder, on Ruterville District, who has preached there frequently for his work's sake.

In these delightful services we were assisted by Rev. Bros. Rottenstein and Alexander—the former offered the first prayer and the latter administered the holy sacrament of the Lord's Supper at the close of the sermon.
God evidently accepted the chapel as his dwelling place, the house of prayer and sacrifice for his people, and recorded his name there. Many realized his presence and were made glad by the benediction of his heavenly grace.
Rev. Bros. Ogletree, Johnson and John were present to assist in the subsequent exercises of the meeting. Our first impressions of Montgomery were quite favorable. We learned that a Baptist church has been organized in this town, and that a handsome subscription for a church edifice has been obtained and that the edifice will be erected forthwith.

July 27th, 1851.

Friday, July 16, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 18

Robert Alexander Apprises Littleton Fowler of Church Affairs in the West July 23, 1845

Both Robert Alexander and Littleton Fowler attended the Louisville Convention of 1845 and participated in planning the official secession of the Southern conferences of the MEC to create the MEC South. The trip to Louisville naturally meant that both men had long absences from Texas. In Alexander’s case, he used the opportunity to visit relatives in Tennessee on his way home. He arrived home on June 10 and rested at his farm, Cottage Hill, rather than plunging into his duties as presiding elder. His horse, Henry Bascom, also needed the rest since the mount had “ verry rotten feet.”

Even though he was not making his quarterly conference rounds or attending the camp meetings in his district, the preachers in his district were sending reports. There were the usual reports of conversions at camp meetings. Alexander also passed on complaints he was hearing. The first was discontent over his fellow presiding elder, Chauncey Richardson. He wrote, “he is not popular with his preachers nor with the people generally.” He also wrote that the young preachers were grumbling about having to collect the missionary appropriation. Naturally there were still complaints against John Clark, the only Southern delegate to the General Conference of 1844 who had sided with the North. Alexander’s district was a particular hotbed of anti-Clark sentiment. The resolution condemning him had been introduced at a quarterly meeting at Travis, about 10 miles west of Cottage Hill. Alexander also reported that preachers blamed him and Fowler went appointments went sour.

Does all this sound familiar? Preachers complaining about apportionments and blaming the presiding elder or district superintendent when they receive a bad appointment—sounds like some things never change. The original letter is in the Fowler Collection at Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, SMU.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 11

Lydia McHenry Writes Brother, “Do Not Treat Me Like an Idiot.” July 17, 1836

Lydia McHenry, Methodist lay woman, teacher, and mission supporter, immigrated to Texas in December, 1833, with her sister Maria Kenney and her brother-in-law, John Wesley Kenney. The move was prompted by the death of her parents, the Rev. Barnabas and Sarah Hardin McHenry in the cholera epidemic of the previous June. The travelling party arrived in Washington on the Brazos in December, 1833, but when spring came, they moved a few miles to the south in present day Austin County. That move was very significant since it was at that location that Kenney organized the famous 1834 Caney Creek Camp Meeting the following September.

Lydia McHenry and Ann Ayres opened a school on Feb. 1, 1836 at the Ayres residence at Montville (near present day Burton). It was at this school that Wm. B. Travis left his son Charles when he went to the Alamo.

February 1836 was, of course, a very poor time to launch a school because the Texas Revolution was underway. After the fall of the Alamo the Ayres household, including the students who boarded at the school, participated in the Runaway Scrape.

When they finally got back home, Lydia McHenry wrote her brother John McHenry in Hartford, Kentucky. She began her letter of July 17, 1836, in a highly contentious tone. As is often the case, the heirs of the McHenry estate (Lydia, Maria, and their brothers who stayed in Kentucky) disputed the distribution of the assets. (From what the author has been able to piece together from other sources, it seems that the two sisters left for Mexican Texas with at least two horses and three slaves before the estate had been probated. Inference on part of author)

She closes the last paragraph, “I have no wish to discuss the subject, but for God’s sake do not you and Martin any longer treat me as an idiot who required a guardian. . .”

McHenry then goes on to describe their Runaway Scrape adventures and return in which she found her bed destroyed and clothes stolen. Fortunately they were able to find all their cows so they did not starve. She then vented her anger on the Texas government. . .
Our cabinet, with the exception of two, Genl. Zavala and Genl. Lamar, a Frenchman, is perhaps the worst imbecile body that ever sat in judgment on the fate of a nation. Weak, corrupt, and credulous, they were with difficulty prevented from setting Santa Ana (sic) at liberty, notwithstanding all his crimes, upon his bare word that he would pay the expenses of the war.

The same letter reported that John Wesley and Maria Kenney had changed the name of their infant daughter to Emily Travis Kenney in honor of their fallen friend.

The original letter is in the Hardin Collection of the Chicago Historical Society. Some of those letters were published in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, January 1971.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

This Week in Texas Methodist History July 4

Methodists Mourn Ike Strickland’s Death July, 1839

In 1839 Texas Methodists tempered their celebration of Independence Day with the knowledge that one of their brothers, Isaac L. G. Strickland, had died in West Columbia at the age of thirty.

Strickland had itinerated in Tennessee for six years before transferring to the Texas Mission of the Mississippi Conference in October 1838. Littleton Fowler assigned him to the Montgomery Circuit, and he began his rounds.

Unfortunately he became discouraged. On January 14, 1839 he wrote Fowler asking for a transfer to the Washington Circuit which had recently been left without a preacher because Robert Alexander had moved to Rutersville. Strickland had no way of knowing that Abel Stevens, the preacher stationed at Houston/Galveston, on January 16 had also written Fowler asking for a transfer to Washington.

The arrival of Joseph Sneed from Mississippi allowed Fowler to grant both men’s requests for transfers. He decided to handle it in person. While at the Mississippi Annual Conference in December, 1838, Bishop Andrew entrusted Sneed with $800 of mission money to distribute in salaries to men of the Texas Mission. Fowler announced that he would go to Washington County in February, 1839, and act as pay master. The expectation of finally being paid insured that all the preachers in “West Texas” assembled at William Kesee’s where Fowler held a quarterly meeting during the first week of March.

Having all the western preachers at one place for several days allowed Fowler to size up the situation. He moved Stevens to Washington and Strickland to Brazoria. Sneed, the newcomer, took Strickland’s place in Montgomery.

Strickland started the Brazoria Circuit in March. He died at the Bell Plantation at West Columbia on July 2 and was buried in a private cemetery on the plantation. There was an outpouring of grief such as that from Jesse Hord, writing from Velasco on July 8.

I scarcely know how, or what to wright[sic], I am so overwhelmed with feeling by the death of our dear and beloved Bro. Strickland. I know of no death in all my life to which I found it so extremely difficult to be resigned, which indeed is my duty but I am constrained to say, the fleash[sic] is week[sic], very week. But my brother in the Lord is gone, gone to that rest that remains for the people of God. Doubtless while his body and manly [presence?] moulders within the rayless tomb and earthly friends heave their bosoms with agonizing sorrow, disbelieving tears of sympathy from every eye, his blood-washed, his sainted spirit, unconscious of earthly and heart-rending commotions, calmly rests beneath the peaceful umbrage of the tree of life, touching a chord of his golden harp, and making melody, surpassing in softness and sweetness that made by the Angelic choir of Paradise.

(Original in Fowler Collection, Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, SMU)