This Week in Texas Methodist History January 30
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.