Saturday, December 28, 2013

This Week in Texas Methodist History   December 29

Bishop Capers Opens 8th Session of Texas Annual Conference   December 29, 1847

Bishop William Capers must have felt a huge sigh of relief when he convened the 8th session of the Texas Annual Conference on December 29, 1847.   He knew that when the conference adjourned on January 3, he would finally be able to start back to his home in Charleston, South Carolina, after a very long and difficult journey.  

William Capers was elected bishop at the organizing General Conference of the MECS in 1846.  He left his South Carolina home on September 9 and headed first to Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia).  He planned to catch a riverboat for passage to Louisville, Kentucky, so he could attend the annual meeting of MECS bishops.  The Ohio was so low, he had to take a smaller, slower vessel.  He arrived in Louisville too late for the meeting.  The low river also compelled him to take a stage coach rather than the more comfortable steamboat to St. Louis.  

He arrived at St. Louis after a bone-shaking three day-two night ride across poor roads.  He was still 175 miles away from Glasgow, the site of the Missouri Annual Conference and exhausted.  He rested for two days with his nephew and then left for Glasgow.  He was late to the Missouri Annual Conference too, arriving in time for the ordination service, but none of the business sessions.  He then left for the St. Louis Annual Conference which was being held at a camp ground.  

Capers began to regain his strength and found his way from Missouri into the Arkansas Ozarks.  He was on his way to preside at the Indian Mission Conference to be held at Doaksville, the capital of the Choctaw Nation.  He presided over that conference and then headed for Washington Arkansas, to preside over the Arkansas Annual Conference.  When the Arkansas Conference Annual Conference adjourned, he headed for San Augustine to hold the East Texas Annual Conference which he described as “a protracted and laborious one.”  

Finally, in late December he arrived at Cedar Creek, Washington County, the site of the Texas Annual Conference.  The Conference lasted until January 3.  Bishop Capers admitted five new preachers into the travelling connection, including I. G. John, who went on to distinguished leadership positions in the MECS.  The Texas Conference had 30 preachers to be appointed.  The westward growth was demonstrated by the creation of two new districts, the Austin and San Antonio Districts. 

When Capers adjourned the Texas Conference on January 3, his last episcopal duty was complete.  He could go home.  He was in Houston by the 5th and took passage to Galveston.  He took the steamship Globe across the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans and then another vessel to Mobile then to Montgomery—finally arriving at home on January 19.  

Cedar Creek, the site of the 8th Texas Annual Conference, no longer exists.  It was replaced by Chappell Hill which remained a major Methodist settlement for decades.   The Texas Historical Commission has recently approved a historical marker application for Cedar Creek.  Watch this space for details of the marker dedication to be held sometime in 2014.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 22

Littleton Fowler Leaves Houston for East Texas  December 22, 1837

As last week’s column noted, Martin Ruter met Littleton Fowler in Houston in December 1837.  The two men were both missionaries of the Methodist Episcopal Church and had known each other when Fowler served in Kentucky and Ruter was book agent in Cincinnati and university president. 

Although Fowler had relatives in the Red River settlements, and the temptation to settle there must have been strong, he was a Methodist minister whose life was destined to ride circuits.  He arrived in Houston on November 19 and threw himself into the affairs of the Lone Star Republic.  On Monday, November 20, he was elected Chaplain of the Senate at a wage of $5 per day.  He joined the Grand Lodge of Texas and obtained the donation of ½ of a city block for a church building from the Allen Brothers.  

On December 19 the Congress of the Republic of Texas adjourned so Fowler was free to leave Houston. On Thursday December 22, Littleton Fowler left Houston for East Texas.  His traveling companions on the six day journey were Representatives  Kelsey Harris Douglass and Thomas Jefferson Rusk.  Both Douglass and Rusk were prominent in the political and military affairs of the Republic.  

Fowler and his company arrived in Nacogdoches on December 28 and spent the rest of the winter and early spring preaching alternate Sundays in San Augustine and Nacogdoches.  He also courted a widow in Nacogdoches, Missouri Lockwood Porter.  They married the following June and made their home in East Texas. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

This Week in Texas Methodist History  December 15

Martin Ruter Writes About His First Month in Texas   December 15, 1837

The head of the first official Methodist Mission to Texas, Martin Ruter, crossed the Sabine on November 23, 1837 in the company of his travelling companion, David Ayres.  He immediately threw himself into the task of organizing Methodist families into circuits.  

He preached first in the San Augustine/Nacogdoches area and then headed for the interior.  He spent his second Sunday in Texas preaching in Washington-on-the-Brazos, and his third Sunday on the Colorado River at Egypt preaching to the “Alabama Colony” consisting of the Heard, Menifee, and related families. 

On Monday, December 11, he headed for Houston and arrived the new capital city on Wednesday the 14th.  He looked up his colleague, Littleton Fowler and met Sam Houston.  Finally, on Thursday the 15th he found time to write home to Mrs. Ruter.Ruth Ruter was staying in New Albany,
Indiana, also the home of Martin’s brother, Calvin Ruter. 

 Martin Ruter had written her on his journey on the Ohio, Mississippi Rivers and across Louisiana, but Texas was a foreign country and Ruth and the children were eager for details of the new mission field.
By December 15 Martin Ruter had travelled about 350 miles in Texas.  He had seen the Piney Woods, the Brazos and Colorado River settlements, and a large portion of the Coastal Prairie.
He described some of his recent experiences to Ruth

But many things in this country are somewhat different from what you suppose.  . . .The accommodations are of course very poor.  Most the houses are cabins, without glass windows, &half of them without doors, many of them without floors, and with very little furniture even of a rough kind.  The chief food is corn bread, sweet potatoes, & meat—such as beef, some pork, venison, squirrels, some fowls, &c.  . . . Most of the beds are made of straw laid upon boards, with a sheet, blanket, & quilt.  . . .In riding over the prairies  it is often necessary to travel from morning till night without dinner, & without seeing a house, or without seeing more than one.  On some of the prairies when near the middle, it resembles being on the ocean, the scene appears boundless.  On the whole, there is in Texas much that is interesting, & much at present, that is undesirable.  . .

The letter reveals that Ruter believed that Texas was ripe for missionary efforts, but still had quite a way to go in becoming civilized.   

Martin wrote several more letters to Ruth from Texas, but they never saw each other again.  Martin Ruter died the following May, just has he was starting back to the United States and his family in Indiana.

Friday, December 06, 2013

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 8
Evangelical Lutheran Pastor Admitted to Texas Annual Conference   Dec. 8, 1872

Some readers of this column will remember that in 2008 the General Conference of the United Methodist Church voted to enter into full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).  In 2009 the ELCA also ratified the proposal.  Full communion meant that the two denominations recognized each other’s ministries and, in some cases, allowed the interchangeability of ordained clergy.  The General Conference delegates in Fort Worth voted 864-19 in favor of the proposal which was truly historic since it was the first time Methodists had forged such a relationship with a non-Wesleyan denomination. 

Few, if any, delegates in 2008 could have known that the Texas Methodists had already admitted an Evangelical Lutheran pastor---in 1872!   

The Texas Conference was meeting in Bryan in December, 1872 with Bishop J. C. Keener presiding.  Among the candidates proposed for admission was Johannes Friedrich Wohlschlegel, a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church

Wohlschlegel was born in 1836 and eventually entered the St. Chrischona Seminary in Basel, Switzerland, a seminary specializing in training missionaries.  In November, 1866, he entered the port of Galveston with his classmate, Heinrich Merz.  The next year he became a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Texas.  He entered his Texas missionary service in Medina County as pastor of the two churches at Quihi and New Fountain.  While serving these churches he married Caroline Uhr and then moved to Lutheran  churches in Seguin and later Fayette County

When the MECS General Conference authorized the creation of a German Conference from the German District of the Texas Conference, J. F. Wohlschlegel became one of its charter members and served in New Braunfels.  He thus became the second Texas German Methodist preacher of the mid-19th century for whom a European seminary education can be documented. (The first was the Rev. Peter Moelling who had been a Roman Catholic seminarian.)

The historical record does not provide an explanation of why Wohlschlegel transferred from the Lutheran Synod to the Methodist Conference.  The fact that he began his ministry in Quihi-New Fountain is tantalizing because during his time there, the MECS church in New Fountain was under the vigorous leadership of the Rev. Jacob Bader, one of the most able pastors in Texas. Although we do not have the documents to prove they knew each other, it is likely that Bader and Wohlschlegel would have known each other, and perhaps Bader had some role in the transfer.  The two men were contemporaries, both having been born in 1836, but Bader had come to Texas almost fifteen years earlier than Wohlschlegel. 

Wohlschlegel’s Methodist affiliation was brief.  In 1874 the Journals list him as “located.”   Perhaps the necessity of providing for his growing family was too much for a Methodist preacher. 
  Rev. and Mrs. Wohlschlegel eventually had 9 children. 

He died in 1885 and is buried in Hondo.  Although Caroline Wohlschlagel was 12 years younger than her husband, she outlived him only 7 years.  She is also buried in Hondo.