This Week in Texas Methodist History December 16
Kenney Party Arrives at
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 .
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
He married Maria McHenry, daughter of pioneer preacher Barnabas McHenry who had been one of the first Methodists appointed west of the
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
then located and moved to . He continued to preacher, but also tried his
hand at selling firewood to the steamboats on the Rock Island,
River. Rock 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
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 ,
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
, had been destroyed. They decided to come to Rock Island, Illinois 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
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
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 ). 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 Washington Counties Cincinnati.