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.


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