Saturday, January 26, 2013

This Week in Texas Methodist History   January 27

Rev. James E. Ferguson Criticizes Inaugural Address  January 29,1850

Last week’s column reported on Bishop A. Frank Smith’s invocation at the inauguration of Governor Beauford H. Jester.  About one hundred years earlier, another Methodist preacher went to Austin for a gubernatorial inauguration.  He later wrote a very critical letter of the experience.

The preacher was the Rev. James Ferguson,  (1824-1876) a recent transfer to the Texas Conference from the Arkansas Conference.  In January 1850 he went to Austin for the inauguration of Governor Peter Hansborough Bell.  Here is his report

Brother Phillips and I visited Austin, and was present at the Inauguration of Gov Bell.  In my humble judgment the Ex, and Elect, Governors made poor speeches.  I will tell you what Wood (George T. Wood, the outgoing governor) put me in mind of Bro Snead trying to be eloquent, or at least very interesting.  He drank water, spit and Pawed and with all his awkwardness he was cheered, huzzahed, as if a thunderstorm of Eloquence was pouring like a burning river of fire.  Bell read his speech, in a dry, solo style and stop occasionally to wet his whistle.  He also was cheered at a round rate.  I am of the opinion, if any of our preachers were to go to Austin and make as stumbling an out that half of the congregation would leave the house in high dudgeon. Bro Phillips acted as Chaplain, and did his part well. ]

James E. Ferguson was a prominent member of the Texas Conference who served some of the most important churches.  After the Civil War he located and lived on a farm near Salado in Bell County, named for Peter Hansborough Bell. 

In 1914 Ferguson’s son James E. Ferguson faced another son of a Texas Methodist preacher, Thomas Ball, in the contest for governor.  The main issue was prohibition.  Ball was a dry.  Ferguson was a wet.  Ferguson won in 1914 and again in 1916.  Last week’s subject, Beauford Jester was the only governor to die in office.  Ferguson is the only governor to be removed from office by impeachment.  Mrs. Ferguson (Miriam Amanda or “Ma”) was later elected to the office.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 20

Bishop A. Frank Smith Delivers Invocation at Gubernatorial Inauguration, January 21, 1947

Bishop W. Kenneth Pope once described Bishop A. Frank Smith as having “a great capacity for sustained friendship.”    One long time friend was Beauford Jester of Corsicana. On January 21, 1947 he delivered the invocation at Jester's inauguration of governor of Texas 

They had become friends at the Sunday School of First Methodist Church Corsicana where the Smith family lived from 1903-1907.  Beauford Jester’s father, George Taylor Jester was Sunday School Superintendent and a prominent Methodist who was a General Conference delegate in 1886 and 1890.   He was also an early supporter of Southern Methodist University. 

Frank Smith at one time intended to become a lawyer.  His friend Beauford Jester did so, earning a B. A. from the University of Texas in 1916, the same year that Smith was appointed to University Methodist Church in Austin

The two friends kept up with each other as Smith was pastor and bishop and Jester practiced law in his home town and became prominent in state affairs as Director of the State Bar and a member of the Railroad Commission. 

Jester had prevailed in the 1946 Democratic Primary in a field of fourteen candidates.  He was by far the leading candidate was forced into a runoff against Homer Rainey, former president of the University of Texas, who had been fired by trustees for standing up for academic freedom. 
Bishop Smith’s invocation is too long to reproduce here, but may be accessed in the House Journal,

The Jester administration was challenged  by the population growth and urbanization accompanying World War II. Texas population boomed during the war years, but it had been impossible to build the schools, highways, and other infrastructure the larger population demanded.  Jester worked for improvements in both public education and higher education.  One of his legacies is a dormitory at the University of Texas at Austin named for him. 

Jester holds the sad distinction of the only Texas governor to die in office.  In July, 1949, he died in a railroad car en route from Austin to Galveston.  Frank Smith returned to First Methodist Corsicana to hold his funeral.  He was 56 years old.

(p. s.  Another Corsicana connection that served A. Frank Smith well was that of Walter and Ella Fondren who married in Corsicana in 1904.)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

This Week in Texas Methodist History  January 13

Methodist College Starts in Alvin, January 17, 1900

On January 17, 1900 trustees appointed by the Austin and Gulf Coast Conferences of the MEC  met in Alvin and accepted an offer from town leaders of land, buildings, and other inducements to assume ownership of a new college in that small city in northeastern Brazoria County. 

How did it happen that there were enough northern Methodists in Alvin in 1900 to justify owning a college?  The answer to that question is based on the geography of settlement patterns.  The establishment of a MEC (northern) institution on the coastal plains of Texas was made possible by confluence of economic and demographic forces that are all but forgotten. 

The first Anglo settlers to Texas avoided the Gulf Coastal Plains as too mosquito infested, poorly drained, and malarial.  The abundant grasses growing on predominately clay soils produced a sod cover too thick to plow with mules. Settlers filed claims only on the river bottom lands.  The interfluves, although used for grazing, remained mainly in the public domain.  As the state of Texas offered inducements of land to railroad companies for laying track, much of the coastal plain became the property of those railroad companies. Alvin, for example, is on land granted to the Houston Tap and Brazoria RR. 

Railroads did not want land.  They wanted to subdivide their holdings into towns, farms, ranches and then ship the produce of those enterprises.  By the end of the 19th century heavy equipment was being manufactured that could drain the plains, plow the tough sod and make farming possible.  In the meantime similar developments in the mechanization of agriculture had reduced labor requirements for the grain farms in the Midwest.  In that region small holdings were being consolidated to take advantage of economies of scale made possible by mechanization.

The increasing difficulty of making a good living on a small farm in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, or the Dakotas coincided with the development of agricultural lands in a great arc from Brownsville, Texas, to Lafayette, Louisiana.  Railroad companies and their developers sponsored special excursion trains in the winter months bringing prospective buyers to Texas.  They were shown demonstration farms—mainly of specialty horticultural crops—which thanks to the railroads could be sold in northern markets. 

Different communities developed specialty crops.  At first everyone tried to grow citrus, but recurrent freezes limited commercial production to the southernmost counties of the region.  Where irrigation water was available, cabbages, onions, and spinach became popular.  On the upper coast in Brazoria, Harris, and Galveston Counties, fruits and berries were often the crops of choice.  Pearland did not receive its name by accident, and Pasadena still has a strawberry festival.  Alvin produced both figs and pears.  Throughout the region canneries and packing houses provided seasonal employment. 

The northern migrants to the coastal plains brought their church affiliations with them, and a substantial number belonged to the MEC.  The Methodist annual conference system was unparalleled in its ability to shift preachers from areas of declining populations to areas of increasing populations.  By 1900 there were MEC Methodist churches scattered all over the Texas coastal plains staffed by pastors who had transferred from northern conferences.  The Alvin area had four MEC churches-- African American, Anglo, German, and Swedish. 

With such a presence on the coastal plains it is easy to see how MEC leaders thought a Methodist college in Alvin would be successful and why Alvin business leaders would seek the support of the MEC.  

Saturday, January 05, 2013

This Week in Texas Methodist History January 5

Rev. Charles Goldberg Praises Texas Hospitality and Mackenzie College, January 5, 1855

The Rev. Charles Goldberg (1820-1890) was admitted to the Texas Conference at its 8th session which convened at Chappell Hill on Dec. 27, 1847.  Goldberg ranks among the most interesting of 19th century Texas Methodist ministers.  He was a Polish Jew, the son of a rabbi.  He immigrated to North America and traveled extensively in Canada and the United State.  He converted to Christianity. Among his other assignments was the German Mission in Houston which eventually became Bering Memorial UMC.  In 1854 he accepted a position at McKenzie College in Clarksville teaching languages.  Upon his arrival he wrote a letter to Rev. J. B. McFerrin, editor of the Christian Advocate in Nashville, Tennessee.  The letter is full of praise for Texas hospitality.  It also provides insights into the operation of McKenzie Institute.  It is reproduced below. 

ClarksvilleTexasJan. 5,1855. Rev. J. B. McferrinVery Dear Brother :—I take the liberty of introducing myself to you by the recommendation of one of your old acquaintances here, though I should not write exactly as you would like it. My object in writing is to assist in setting this State in its proper light before the people of the older States. First and foremost, then, is the character of our people. A person travelling on horseback through the State can have no idea of the hospitality practised here;, but when a man with a large family is obliged to move, without having the chance of camping out, as is almost universally practised here, he can easily point out those from different parts of the North and South. Last August I entered into an agreement with the Superintendent of the "McKenzie Institute," to come and engage as a teacher of Hebrew and Modern Languages. For this purpose, I had to move with my family some 300 miles. Packing my concerns into a two-horse wagon, I started; and, with the help of a few nails and some raw-hide and buckskin, I did very well for the first few days. You must know that I started from Milam County, one of the parts where, 6 or 7 years ago, the Indian roamed unmolested. Such is the character of the Texans, that when I broke through a bridge, and was obliged to get a yoke of oxen to help me out, the only compensation required was, that I should come with my family and dine with the family who lent me the team. Arriving on the Brazos, a Major Hannay, a planter of that region, would not let me leave until I had spent a Sunday with him, though I came there Friday morning. The next week, my wife taking sick, I was obliged to stop at Corsicana, in Navarro County, where my name never was known before. Sunday night I tried to preach; after preaching, I made inquiry for a vacant house, where I might stay until my wife recovered; but nobody would point me out one, the people insisting that I should go to the hotel at their charge; and though we were 7 persons, and had 3 horses, Mr. McPhael, the proprietor of the hotel, was the first to make the invitation, though he knew not that anybody would assist him in bearing the expense. I could not help contrasting this conduct with that of a French or German hotelkeeper in the neighborhood of Houston, where I was well known, and where I had often tried to preach, when, some 6 years ago, Bishop Andrew, his nephew, and myself were obliged to stop there, on our way from Conference, who made us pay $1.25 each, for miserable accommodations for one night. (editor’s note:  That experience with a miserable German hotel keeper near Cypress Creek in Harris County was so memorable that Bishop Andrew also reported it to the Advocate.)
This is an unvarnished story, to show the heart of Texans. But, by the help of the good Lord, I arrived, though somewhat late, at my post; and here I have an opportunity of pointing out another characteristic of Texans. This school numbers now upward of 200 students, and the establishment can cost no less than $30,000 or $35,000; and yet it has all been done by one man, the Rev. J. W. P. McKenzie. Tuition in this State generally is from $2 to $3 for the common English branches; and of course ancient and modern literature is higher. Boarding is from $8 to &12. All this is monthly. Yet, while Louisiana is at hand with her Roman Catholic cheap schools, parents readily pay the prices asked here, in preference to having their children educated by Jesuits. But there is still another peculiarity to which I beg leave to draw attention, namely, the preference the people manifest for pious schools. This school is, I believe, the largest in the State; and here all the pupils board in the institution; but here nothing is undertaken without prayer, and that not only as a mere ceremony, but always connected with a lecture. In the morning before breakfast, at the opening of recitation, at night after supper, the family worship is always connected with a lecture; and no lecture is allowed that can not be turned to some religious account. Hence, we have almost a constant revival, and, at our prayer-meeting, on Thursday and Sunday nights, we are never without some mourners; and the young ladies connected with the school, either as teachers or pupils, are all of them professors of religion. With all these facts before the people, some of the wildest men in the State send their sons and daughters here to be educated.
But I have already exceeded the limits of a well-bred communication to a periodical, and I will therefore close this by saying, that if you think it worth publishing, I shall be more particular in future. Your brother in Christ,
Chas. Goldberg.

Goldberg moved from McKenzie to teach at a Cumberland Presbyterian school in Daingerfield and changed his affiliation to that denomination.  His status as a Protestant clergyman did not prevent a group of Jewish businessmen in Texarkana from asking him to preside over the observance of the High Holy days so they could be faithful in their observance.  He agreed to that request.  When the Civil War came, he enlisted as a Chaplain and nurse and saw significant action.  He is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Texarkana.