Saturday, December 15, 2012

This Week in Texas Methodist History   December 16

Kenney Party Arrives at Washington on the Brazos  December 18, 1833

One of the pioneer preachers in early Texas Methodism was John Wesley Kenney (1799-1865).  Kenney was the main organizer of the 1834 and 1835 Caney Creek camp meetings that resulted in the organization of the first quarterly conference in “western Texas” and the appeal for missionaries from the United States.  Although he served under appointment for only one year in the Texas Conference, he preached many times as a local pastor and at camp meetings. Circuit riders and missionaries often stayed at his home, and in his secular profession of surveyor, he laid out the Methodist town of Rutersville in Fayette County

John Wesley Kenney was born in southwestern Pennsylvania in 1799 to Irish immigrants who operated a tavern on the main road to the West.  His mother had been converted by John Wesley on one of his numerous trips to Ireland, hence his name.  After the removal of Native Americans from much of the Ohio Valley in the War of 1812 made settlement safer for European-Americans, the Kenney family migrated down the Ohio.  As a young man Kenney came to know Martin Ruter who was in charge of the Methodist Book Depository in Cincinnati.  That relationship led to Kenney’s joining the Ohio Conference of the MEC, and when the General Conference of 1820 broke Kentucky off from Ohio to created the Kentucky Annual Conference, Kenney became a charter member of that conference.

He married Maria McHenry, daughter of pioneer preacher Barnabas McHenry who had been one of the first Methodists appointed west of the Appalachians.  Maria’s mother was Sarah Hardin, daughter of Colonel John Hardin, General George Washington’s aide-de-camp and soldier in the Northwest Territories

Kenney served several appointments in Kentucky, then located and moved to Rock Island, Il.   He continued to preacher, but also tried his hand at selling firewood to the steamboats on the Mississippi RiverRock Island had previously been a Native American settlement.  Their lands were taken from them and they were forced further west.  When they tried to come back to their old homes on the Mississippi to raise corn, the Illinois Militia of which John Wesley Kenney was an officer, did not recognize their peaceful intentions and the Black Hawk War resulted. 

Kenney sent his family back to the McHenry household in Kentucky to escape hostilities.  During that time the Kenney house at Rock Island was destroyed.  The war did not go well for the Illinois Militia so federal forces were summoned.   The troop movements facilitated the transmission of cholera throughout the Ohio Valley, including the home county of the McHenry family.  On one terrible weekend (June 15-17, 1833), Barnabas and Sarah Hardin McHenry and their daughters, Sarah and Emily, and one of John Wesley and Maria Kenney’s daughters, Sarah Kenney, all died of cholera.

Maria Kenney thus lost both parents, two sisters, and a five-year-old daughter in one weekend.  They decided to emigrate.  Their homestead in Rock Island, Illinois, had been destroyed.  They decided to come to Texas

The survivors camped out until October, waiting for cooler weather and less danger from fever, and then started out for Texas with a fairly large travelling party. John Wesley and Maria had three surviving children, Ann, James Harvey, and Martin McHenry.  Maria’s sister Lydia came.  John Wesley’s brother Thomas and his family also decided to come to Texas.  At least one other family and at least two enslaved women made up the travelling party. 

Although river transport along the Ohio and Mississippi was well established by 1833, the Kenney’s travelled by wagon, crossing the Ohio at Shawneetown, the Mississippi at Cape Girardeau, and the Arkansas at Little Rock.  The party proceeded to Nacogdoches and then to Washington where Kenney erected the first house at the new ferry crossing. 

John Wesley Kenney, ever a restless soul, hollowed out a cottonwood tree into a dugout and went down the Brazos and spent much of the winter boiling seawater for salt.  When spring came, the family moved about 25 miles south of Washington to a tributary of Caney Creek (the present boundary between Austin and Washington Counties).  It was there that in September 1834 that Kenney organized the famous camp meeting along with Henry Stephenson.  One year later, also on Caney Creek, came the famous appeal for missionaries.  The head of that missionary team was Martin Ruter who had helped Kenney years before in Cincinnati.  


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