Saturday, March 01, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History March 2

James Reily, Soldier, Statesman,  Delivers Oration for Houston Cornerstone Laying March 2, 1843
The 7th anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto was a joyous occasion in Houston.  1842 had been a difficult year for the Lone Star Republic and for Texas Methodists.  There had been two Mexican incursions all the way to San Antonio.  A punitive expedition succeeded in driving them out, but over enthusiastic Texians pressed the military operation all the way to Mier, and the result was a disaster.  T. O Summers, the Methodist preacher for Houston and Galveston, left Texas on a fund raising trip to the United States, and the December 1842 Texas Annual Conference had to be conducted without a bishop.  Bishop Roberts became ill on his way to Bastrop, the site of annual conference, and went home to die.  

On the other hand, there were some hopeful signs.  Sam Houston was serving his second term as president of the republic and reining in the free spending, expansionist programs of his predecessor, Mirabeau B. Lamar.  Immigrants were continuing to stream into Texas where most of them established farms.  Summer’s fundraising trip had been successful enough to begin construction of Ryland Chapel Methodist Church in Galveston.  

On March 2, 1843, the 7th anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, Houston Methodists laid the cornerstone for their church building.  Exactly one year earlier, March 2, 1842, Presiding Elder Robert Alexander had presided over a quarterly meeting which authorized the construction and named Charles Shearn, an English immigrant and Houston merchant, as chair of the building committee.

By 1843 there were at least two fraternal organizations, the Masons and the Odd Fellows in Houston.  Both of them participated in the ceremony.  The party then processed to the Presbyterian Church where Major James Reily delivered the main oration.  

James Reily had been born in Hamilton, Ohio, in 1811. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Miami University and then began studying law at Transylvania University in Kentucky.  While in Kentucky he married Ellen Ross, a grandniece of Henry Clay.  The couple moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where Reily practiced law. 
He moved to Nacogdoches some time after San Jacinto and quickly assumed positions of leadership.  He was aide-de-camp and law partner of Thomas J. Rusk and commissioned a major in the Texian Army.  He served in a variety of diplomatic, legislative, and commercial posts for the Republic.  He became a friend of Littleton Fowler and other Methodists even though he was an Episcopalian.  
The church, called Shearn Methodist Church, was widely noted because it was brick structure in a city of wooden houses and muddy streets.  It eventually moved its location and changed its name to First Methodist Church Houston.

Reily later served in the Mexican War and was appointed Consul to St. Petersburg, Russia, under President Buchanan. He accepted a commission as Colonel in the Civil War and died in 1864 in a battle at Bayou Teche, Louisiana. 


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