Saturday, January 29, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 30

Littleton Fowler Gives Medical Advice February 5, 1844

The letters in the Littleton Fowler Collection at Bridwell Library Perkins School of Theology, SMU constitute one of the most important sources about Texas Methodist history in the 1830s and 1840s. They are full of data about church affairs, preachers, circuits and so on. They also contain a great deal of information about politics, law, medicine, and agriculture.

The letter of February 5, 1844 from Littleton Fowler to Missouri Fowler is especially interesting because it describes a reaction to smallpox in Nacogdoches in the Republic of Texas. It also shows that in addition to Bibles. tracts, and hymnals, a circuit rider’s saddlebags may have contained matter from smallpox pustules with which to inoculate the faithful.

Fowler wrote, The smallpox is certainly in Nacogdoches. Dr Moore at the time he was up before was with the man who died with it at Lea’s and pulled some of the scabs off the patient and came down into our family, but at the time he was with the man it had not been pronounced smallpox but the next day it was ascertained to be that disease and strongly suspected it was the s[mall]pox when the Dr saw him. Bro Williams will bear this and will carry some vascine[vaccine] matter if he can get it; if so be sure to have all the children vascinnated[sic] without delay.

By 1844 the introduction of material from smallpox victims into healthy persons was old hat. There is documentation of the practice from the Ming Dynasty of China (16th Century) and it was widespread in Turkey, Persia, and Africa in the 17th Century. In 1706 Cotton Mather discovered that one of his slaves had been protected from smallpox when he still lived in Africa. Further examination revealed that many Boston slaves had been treated this way. George Washington protected his troops who had not yet contracted the disease.

Littleton Fowler’s instructions to his wife to protect the children from smallpox were therefore nothing out of the ordinary. Fowler’s advice was better than John Wesley’s. In Primitive Physick Wesley advised smallpox sufferers to” Drink largely of toast and water.”

Many 19th century Methodists combined preaching and medicine. The reference to Bro Williams in the letter is probably Samuel Williams. When the letter was written Williams was the preacher at Nacogdoches in the Lake Soda District of which Fowler was the PE. . Among Fowler’s contemporaries who were also preachers were Henry Matthews, William P. Smith, and Abner Manley. Matthews practiced at San Felipe. Smith and Manley lived in Washington and attended Martin Ruter in his last days.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 23

Henry Young (Heinrich Jung) Preaches to Huge Crowd on Galveston Bay January 25, 1846

The post two weeks ago was about John Wesley DeVilbiss and the first sermon he preached in German. He did so after having been appointed as Presiding Elder of the newly-formed German District of the Texas Conference.

The earliest German Methodist preacher who can be identified in Texas is Henry Young (Heinrich Jung) who was transferred from the German Mission in New Orleans to Galveston by Bishop Soule at the Mississippi Annual Conference of December 1845. Most Methodist work among Germans was around Cincinnati, but by 1844 both New Orleans and Mobile had German Methodist missions.

Young came to Galveston and according to J. A. G. Rabe in “The Work Among the Germans,” in the Texas Methodist Historical Quarterly claimed that about a month after his arrival, Young preached to 1,000 Germans on the shore of Galveston Bay. The text was Is. 55:1-3, (Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat, . . .) and the multitude listened in rapt attention. By April Young organized a church, and by November built a church building at 19th Street and Avenue H.

The German church in Galveston was one of the strongest in Texas. During the 1850s it was pastored by Peter Moelling who also edited the German Christian Advocate, Der Deutsche Christliche Apologete. Under his pastorate the church prospered enough to build a parsonage.

Certainly Galveston was an important German port of entry in the 1840’s, but is the claim of a congregation of 1000 believable? Perhaps. The period in question was during the heyday of immigration sponsored by the Adelsverein. Between 1844 and 1847 seven thousand Germans immigrated to Texas. They entered by the ports of Galveston and Indianola so perhaps it would be possible to assemble a congregation of 1000 Germans on the shore of Galveston Bay in January 1846.

It is even possible that two of that congregation of 1000 were Johann Wilhelm Hardt and his son Heinrich Christian Hardt, the author’s great-great-great and great-great grandfathers. They had arrived in Galveston aboard the Strabo with 167 other German immigrants the previous November 20—just two months before Rev. Young’s sermon on the beach. There is neither documentary evidence nor family tradition that they were there, but it is an intriguing possibility.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

This week in Texas Methodist History January 19

Wesleyan College Receives Charter January 16, 1844

Sam Houston had an interesting signature. The capital S in “Sam” was a bit ambiguous. It often looked more like an “I” than an “S.” The result was a signature that proclaimed “I am Houston.” On January 16, 1844 he used that signature to complete the process of chartering Wesleyan College in San Augustine.

San Augustine was an important place in the Republic of Texas. The main land route by which immigrants, traders, and other travelers came to Texas crossed the Sabine at Gaines Ferry and led right to San Augustine. It boasted a newspaper and Masonic Lodge. Its citizens showed an early interest in education. The same day the town was chartered, June 5, 1837, a University of San Augustine was also chartered.

It also became an important focus of Methodist activity as early as the 1830s. On October 19, 1837 Littleton Fowler, John Denton, and Moses Spear held a four day meeting and solicited pledges for the purpose of building a church. Within a week a building committee was formed and construction specs drawn up. On November 24 of the same year Martin Ruter preached to a small crowd in the school house at San Augustine. It served as the seat of a district in the Mississippi Conference with Littleton Fowler as Presiding Elder.
The University of San Augustine, although nonsectarian in its origin, came under Presbyterian influence. As the New Handbook of Texas states, “This relationship fostered animosity in the community, which had a sizable Methodist population.”

Daniel Poe, one of Fowler’s recruits from Ohio, took the lead in organizing the Methodists. He organized a “committee of direction” which purchased a house for the principal and began construction of a university building. Only after construction began did Poe approach the Texas Annual Conference in 1843 to seek denominational affiliation. The December 1843 annual conference approved the relationship, and only two weeks later the Congress of the Republic of Texas passed the charter legislation. The original trustees included Littleton Fowler, Daniel Poe, Francis Wilson, J. P. Henderson (later governor of Texas), Travis Broocks (postmaster of San Augustine), Henry Augustine (a trustee of the rival San Augustine University), John Love (former alcalde under the Mexican government), and others.

About six weeks after the charter, on March 5, 1844, classes began. The president was another Ohio recruit, Lester Janes, nephew of Bishop Edmund Janes who presided at the joint sessions of the Western Texas (today Texas) and Eastern Texas Annual Conferences in San Augustine the following January. (see post for January 2, 2011).

Unfortunately Daniel Poe was not there. He and Mrs. Poe died the previous July. (see post for September 16, 2007) Francis Wilson became the driving force behind Wesleyan College. From June to December, 1844, he conducted a fund raising tour of the United States. (see post for October 3, 2010)

The high hopes of the founders were not realized. Wesleyan was closed in 1847. Its legacy is preserved by Southwestern University which claims Wesleyan as one of its four root institutions. To learn the particulars of Wesleyan’s brief existence, consult William B. Jones, To Survive and Excel: The Story of Southwestern University 1840-2000, Georgetown, Tx 2006.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 9

John Wesley DeVilbiss Preaches First Sermon in German, January 11, 1856

When the Texas Annual Conference met in Galveston in December 1855, Bishop George Pierce took the German speaking churches out of their geographic districts and placed them all in a single district based on their language. He then had to name a Presiding Elder for that district. The problem arose that none of the German preachers had enough experience for the job, and none of the English preachers spoke German.

Pierce appointed John Wesley DeVilbiss, who had come to Texas from Ohio in 1842, to the district. DeVilbiss realized that he needed to learn German. He moved to New Braunfels where he could be immersed in the language. About a month later, on January 11, 1856, he was ready to preach his first sermon in German. The sermon was at “Antioch Chapel on Clark’s Creek.” (I think this church was the predecessor of Hope UMC in Lavaca County in the SWT Conference.)

Had DeVilbiss achieved enough fluency to preach a sermon in just one month? Not really. He had written his sermon in English, and then had help translating it into German.

He persevered in both his language study and his presiding elder duties. DeVilbiss eventually achieved a fair fluency in German and some familiarity with Spanish. The German District consisted of 11 appointments from Galveston to Fort Mason south to Victoria, Yorktown, and Medina County. He served the German District for four years, and in December 1859 became P.E. of the Helena District in the newly-created Rio Grande Mission (later West Texas later Southwest Texas) Conference. He took the superannuate relationship in 1881. DeVilbiss died in 1885. The German District of which he had been the first presiding elder eventually evolved into its own annual conference.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 2

Texas Conference and East Texas Conference Meet at San Augustine January 8, 1845

The 1844 General Conference of the MEC authorized dividing the Texas Conference at the Trinity River. The two new conferences would be known as the Western Texas and Eastern Texas Conferences until 1846 when the MECS renamed them the Texas and East Texas Conferences.

As part of the plan of division, the fifth session of the (Western)Texas Conference and the first session of the East(ern) Texas Conference met together at San Augustine on January 8, 1845. Edmund Janes was the presiding bishop. The Eastern Texas Conference also received the churches in northeastern Texas which had formerly been part of the Arkansas Conference. Each of the conferences was organized into three districts. The Western Texas Conference districts were Galveston, Washington, and Rutersville. The Eastern Texas Conference included the San Augustine, Clarksville, and Sabine (Nacogdoches, Marshall, Henderson, etc.) Districts.

The annual conferences were noteworthy for the preachers received by transfer from other conferences. John Fields came from Kentucky. David Bell and Jefferson Shook came from the Arkansas Conference. Four members of the Memphis Conference came into the Western Texas Conference: Mordecai and Pleasant Yell, John Williams and Robert Guthrie.

The Yell brothers, Mordecai and Pleasant are noteworthy. They arrived at San Augustine with some reflected celebrity. They were relatives of Archibald Yell, former governor of Arkansas and member of the United State House of Representatives to whom James Polk had entrusted with pushing Texas annexation through the House.

Since both conferences were meeting in San Augustine, the transfers had a choice of which conference to join. There was speculation that Mordecai Yell would take the Clarksville District in the Eastern Texas Conference as Presiding Elder, but he ended up as P.E. of the Washington District in the Western Texas Conference. Pleasant Yell was appointed to Nashville in his brother’s district.

Both of the Yell brothers lived long, productive lives in Texas. Mordecai served as the P.E. in four districts, was a General Conference delegate, and a charter member of the Northwest Texas Conference when it was created. He retired to a farm near Groesbeck, later moved to Hays County. He died in 1897 and is buried in Caldwell County.
Pleasant Yell pursued secular pursuits. He moved to Montgomery County and was commissioner, County Judge, District Clerk, and County Clerk. He died in 1894 and is buried in Montgomery County.