Saturday, October 22, 2011

This Week in Texas Methodist HIstory October 23

Quarterly Meeting in Harrison County Passes Resolution in Favor of Mission to African Americans, October, 1843

One of the areas of the Republic of Texas that benefitted most from changing transportation patterns was the region around Marshall and Jefferson. Before the Texas Revolution there were two main routes by which travelers came to Texas. One of those routes was the Natchitoches to Nacogdoches route which crossed the Sabine at Gaines Ferry. The other was in extreme northeast Texas where travelers crossed the Red River at Fulton, Arkansas, where the river turned in a great bend to the south. In the early years of the Republic a third route became more prominent. U. S. Army engineers under Henry Miller Shreve cleared a huge raft of logs and other debris from the Red River. Instead of stopping at Natchitoches, travelers could now go further upstream to where the Texas Trail crossed the Red River. Grateful town developers named their community Shreveport in honor of the man who made navigation possible. Westward bound travelers at Shreveport had both land and water options for going into Texas. Some chose the water route and snaked their way through the shallow waters of Caddo Lake and Cypress Bayou to Jefferson (laid out as a town in 1842). Land travelers naturally wished to avoid the low country so they took a more southerly route to Marshall (made the county seat of Harrison County in 1842).

The Shreveport to Marshall-Jefferson route became the route of choice for thousands of immigrants. Methodist circuit riders always followed settlement so it was natural that Harrison appears as one of the original Texas Conference appointments upon the organization of that conference in 1840. In only two years, there had been enough growth that the Lake Soda District was formed for the churches in the area.

Many of the travelers on the Texas Trail were involuntary immigrants. Because it was the route of choice from Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, many of the immigrants were enslaved African Americans. The area around Marshall and Jefferson eventually achieved African American population percentages comparable to the Brazos, Trinity, and Colorado River bottom lands. The 1860 Census revealed that 59% of the Harrison County population was African American.

Slavery became an issue in Harrison County in 1843 in two different ways. On Aug. 19 William R. Alexander (Robert Alexander’s brother) wrote Littleton Fowler that William O’Conner had made some dinner table remark criticizing slavery. Since O’Conner was an Ohio recruit, perhaps Alexander was testing the northern preacher who was now in the South. Fowler took the accusation of the anti-slavery remark seriously enough to write O’Conner a reprimand and also to instruct John Woolam to look into the matter.

Unfortunately the O’Conner flap ended because the 27-year-old Ohio recruit died in October and was buried near Marshall. On October 21 the Rocky Creek Quarterly Meeting passed a resolution asking John Woolam to inquire among the slave holders if they would allow the circuit riders to preach among the slaves. The resolution is a good example of a popular argument Methodist preachers used when trying to obtain permission to preach to slaves. Here is part of the resolution:

. In the Southern States where the M. E. Church has established missions to the slaves the consequence has been that of a great moral and religious reformation of this class of population which tended to make them honest, industrious and more obedient to those who controuled them greatly to the advantage of both both the servants and masters. This enterprise had the full consideration of the members of this conference from the fact that near one half the population in the bounds of this circuit are slaves and hitherto have had but little preaching because the preachers had as much as employed their whole time in filling the numerous appointments within the bounds of their charge.

There is no “Harrison Colored Mission” listed in the appointments at the next annual conference, but between the establishment of the MECS and the Civil War there are numerous appointments to “African Mission” and “Colored Mission” in Texas.


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