Saturday, June 28, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History  June 29

Nathan Bangs Writes Littleton Fowler About Missionary Service in Texas July 1`, 1837

On July 1, 1837 Nathan Bangs wrote Littleton Fowler about the details of his missionary service in Texas.  Fowler had been Agent for LaGrange College in Alabama since November 1833.  The job of Agent was mainly fundraising for the school headed by future bishop Robert Paine.   When the call for volunteers for Texas came in 1836, Fowler volunteered.  He already had Texas connections with an aunt and two brothers living in northeastern Texas.  Fowler would join Martin Ruter and Robert Alexander as the Texian Mission.

The letter from Bangs to Fowler is most instructive as it reveals Methodist conditions during the era of its most explosive expansion—an era before a large denominational bureaucracy when preachers shared a brotherhood of equality of salary, suffering, and glory.  

At the time of the letter, Nathan Bangs was Book Agent of the Methodist Book Concern in New York City.  In that capacity he edited the Advocate and the Methodist Quarterly Review and operated the press, bindery, and sales for Methodist tracts and books.  In 1836 he also became mission secretary, hence his letter to Fowler.  Co-incidentally the head of the Texian Mission, Martin Ruter, had been Book Agent in Cincinnati for 8 years.  If you wish to know more about his important figure in Methodist history, you are fortunate.  Our friend, the Rev. Dr. Daniel Flores has written a biography of Bangs, available at Amazon.

Here is the letter

New York, July 1, 1837

Dear Brother:
Yours of the 1st of June came to hand today.  Dr. Ruter writes me that he intended to star ton his mission about the first of this month, and as you are to act under his direction, he was requested to give you all needful instructions. If you have not received them from him, you will repair to Texas with all convenient speed and work to the best advantage until he comes or you hear from him.  I expect Brother Alexander has done ere this as he had instructions to go on some time since.

As to your support, you have not informed me whether you are married or single, and if the former, how many children you have.  If single, you are allowed what the discipline allows for a single man, your traveling expenses and board, and for this you can draw on our Treasurer, Bro. Thos. Mason in quarterly or half-yearly installments.1  If married, please inform me the number in family. But when you arrive, and Dr. Ruter joins you, he is authorized by a letter from me to regulate all these matters.

Consult also with him respecting books, etc., etc  If you shall want Bibles and Testaments for gratuitous distribution, we can furnish you will as many as you may want.2  Dr. Ruter and yourself and Bro. A. will consult on all these matters and let me know the result and we will endeavor to meet your wishes. 

Praying that God may make your way prosperous in that land of desolations3, preserve your life and health, and over-shadow you with his presence, I am,
Yours affectionately, N. Bangs.

1 Unmarried Methodist preachers of the era were allowed no more than $100 in salary per year in addition to traveling expenses and board.  Married preachers could receive $200 per year.  The amount added per child was a pittance, based on the amount collected in the annual conference of which the preacher was a member.
2 By 1837 the Methodist Episcopal Church distributed Bibles and tracts through the American Bible Society, a interdenominational organization also headquartered in New York City.
3”Land of desolations” refers to the lack of preachers in Texas rather than any physical desolation.


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