Saturday, April 26, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History  April 27

Isaac M. Williams Reports on Church Conditions at Matagorda, April 30, 1844

By the Grace of God, live or die, sink or swim.”

The most significant ministerial recruiting trip in Texas Methodist history was Littleton Fowler’s 1842 visit to Ohio.  By 1842 Fowler needed a break.  He arrived in Texas in 1837 and shouldered much of the responsibility of establishing Methodism in the Republic of Texas.  From Ruter’s death in May, 1838 to December of that year, he was head of the Texian Mission.  In Dec. 1838 Texas was added to the Mississippi Conference, and he was a Presiding Elder.  He also married and was in the process of establishing a farmstead.  It was time for a break.

Accordingly he took an appointment as Agent for Wesleyan College.  Fowler was an experienced agent (fund raiser) since he had volunteered for Texas while agent for LaGrange College.  Freed of the responsibility of holing quarterly meetings, Fowler could take extended trips.  

In 1842 he went north to attend annual conferences and to recruit volunteers for Texas pulpits.  His most spectacular success was at the Ohio Annual Conference where a veritable stampede of volunteers supplied Texas with some of its most able preachers—Homer Thrall, John W. Devilbiss, Daniel Poe, Wilbur Thurber, William O’Connor, and Richard Walker all volunteered.  

Fowler then travelled to the North Ohio Annual Conference where his efforts were less successful—only one volunteer, Isaac M. Williams—transferred to Texas.

In April 1844 Williams was serving in Matagorda, on a circuit that had been organized by Jesse Hord just five years before.  Like Hord, Williams suffered from the rigors of trying to travel on the Gulf Coastal Prairie.  He wrote Fowler the following

My journey to this place was one of toil and weariness. My feelings and scenery were uniform in their monotony and being naturally of a gloomy cast by the time I arrived at my field of labor my feelings were any thing but enviable.

I found the Circuit in a bad state or in other words no state at all. However I trust I have gone to work in the right way in both senses in spirit & in manner.
My circuit is 180 miles round, this I travel in three weeks—
preaching 12 times. I have made 1/2 station of [this] town preaching [p. 2] here two Sabbaths in succession out of three. Another of my appointments is on the Peninsular which I visit every 3 weeks & preach 2 or 3 times when there. I go in a small open sail boat. ’Tis about 30 miles. I think I shall organize a society there. You may judge of my feelings when I affirm there is not a [at this place Williams drew a pointing finger] local Preacher Ex[?] or class leader in the bounds of my work! And but one class and had much preferred the non-existence of this. Through the negligence of the ministers of last year ’tis on the direct route to anihilation.

It is one of the most slavishly disagreeable countries I ever travelled. ’Tis so low and flat that an ordinary rain will completely inundate for miles. Here I go splash -- -- -- until by way of change my horse plunges a clear over and all under in one of those slews too common in the prairie country. Getting lost—sleeping out doors without [illegible]—swimming creeks, etc. are no longer to me rarieties. Notwithstanding all this I am encouraged. The people are kind and thankfully accept my labors and [page 3] by the grace of God, live or die, sink or swim, I am in for a revival. Pray for me.

In addition to the difficulties of climate and topography, Matagorda was an Episcopal stronghold.  Williams reported coolness on the part of the Episcopal priest, Caleb Ives.  Ives, the first duly appointed Episcopal priest to Texas already had a church building and academy in Matagorda when Williams arrived.  

After the division of Texas into Eastern and Western Annual Conferences, Williams transferred to the Eastern Texas Conference and thus traded the coastal plains for the Piney Woods.


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