Friday, December 26, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History   December 28

Texas Annual Conference Convenes in LaGrange,   January 3, 1849       

Last week’s column related events at the 1869 session of the Texas Annual Conference which met in LaGrange.  That fine city on the Colorado had already hosted Annual Conference—the 9th session which convened on January 3, 1849. 

One wonders why the Annual Conference met in LaGrange instead of Rutersville College, just a few miles away and the site of the organizing session of the Texas Annual Conference only 8 years earlier.  One reason is that Rutersville College was already in decline.  Although it was officially still operating, it was declining in both student population and finances.  In 1846 the LaGrange Intelligencer even printed an obituary for the college.

The college was in decline, but LaGrange was still central to vigorous Methodist communities—downstream at Egypt and Columbus; upstream at Bastrop; and eastward along the LaBahia Road in Washington County.  LaGrange would do nicely as a conference host.
Bishop Andrew, recently the focus of the debate on slavery, convened the Annual Conference, and must have been cheered by the prospects.  A good indicator of the vigor of a conference is the number of preachers admitted on trial.  In 1849 there were seven admissions.  When combined with the six preachers admitted the previous year, that meant that more circuits could be started and circuits could be split so congregants could have preaching more often. 

Particularly gratifying was the admission of several German preachers which demonstrated Henry Young’s (formerly Heinrich Jung) success in the mission field.  African American members were being added at a faster pace than European Americans.  In Houston, for example, African American Methodists outnumbered ‘Whites” 130 to 92.  

As Texans moved westward, Methodism moved with them.  After the division of the Texas Conference into the Eastern Texas (East Texas) and Western Texas (later Texas) Conferences in January 1845, there were only three districts, but in 1847, membership growth necessitated the addition of both the Austin and San Antonio Districts. 

Although membership statistics for both clergy and lay were booming, the conference finances were still relatively modest.   The Disciplinary questions related to finance are revealing:

Question 14  What amounts are necessary for the superannuated preachers and widows and orphans of preachers, and to make up the deficiencies of of those who have not received  their regular allowance on the circuits?

Question 15  What has been collected on the foregoing accounts, and how have they been applied?
Collections from circuits     $60.26
Collections at Conference       16.45
Draft on McFerrin and Henkle  75
Draft on Bishop Soule                 75
Total                                        $226.71

Appropriated as follows;

M. R. J. Outlaw                    $59.00
J. W. DeVilbiss                        40
David Thompson                       34.00
R. Alexander                         21.10
Bishop Andrew                      75.00
Conf. expenses                        226.71
Total                                       $226.71

A word of explanation:  preachers were supposed to collect their $100 salary (more for married men with dependents) as they rode their circuits.  The figures for Outlaw, DeVilbiss, Thomson, and Alexander represent the difference between $100 and what they actually collected on their circuits. One should think of those amounts as a subsidy to ensure that preachers got their minimum salary.  Presiding elders would get their salary when they conducted the quarterly conferences at which time they would also collect for the conference expense –what we call “apportionments” today.  In the 19th century these apportionments were called “quarterage” because they were collected at the quarterly conferences.

There were no “conference claimants” (the phrase used then and now to designate retired preachers and dependents of deceased preachers) in the Texas Conference in 1849.  By way of comparison, the East Texas Conference at its session, just completed, paid Missouri Fowler (Littleton’s widow) $86 and Daniel Poe’s three orphan children $46. 

The Texas Annual Conference needed $1281.41 to meet its obligations for pensions, minimum salary subsidies, and the episcopal expense apportionment.  It raised only $226 to meet those obligations.  It is obvious from these figures why so many preachers had to locate and seek secular employment to care for their families.  The 1848 minutes report that “John Kolbe left without appointment on account of pecuniary embarrassment.”

Saturday, December 20, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History  December 21

Texas Annual Conference Convenes at LaGrange, Dec. 22, 1869

How would you like for Annual Conference to include Christmas?   Why hold an annual conference on a date that required preachers to be absent from their homes and congregations on Christmas Day—a traditional day of worship and family togetherness?  

The Texas Annual Conference was organized on Christmas Day 1840 and was in session several other years on that same date during the 19th century.  Methodism had sprung from Anglicanism so it did not have the anti-Christmas bias of Puritans.  Charles Wesley even wrote one of the most beloved Christmas carols. Scheduling Annual Conference during Christmas cannot be attributed to an anti-Christmas bias. 
Part of the reason annual conference could include Christmas without causing offense is that Christmas celebrations in the early 19th century were simpler affairs.  The mass merchandizing, commercial, consumption extravaganza to which we are now subjected had to wait until the infrastructure was in place—factories which  mass produced consumer goods available for gifts, rail transportation to distribute them, and mass advertising in the form of catalogs to whet consumer appetites.

Probably a more important reason is that annual conferences were held according to the schedule of the visiting bishops.  Methodist bishops, both MEC and MECS, presided over multiple annual conferences.  They, like circuit riding preachers, spent much of their time travelling between appointments.  For example, Bishop Beverly Waugh who organized the Texas Conference on Christmas left his home in Baltimore in September and spent the intervening months attending annual conferences on his way to Rutersville.
So it was that the 30th session of the Texas Annual Conference convened in LaGrange on December 22, 1869 with Bishop Wightman presiding.  A recent post discussed the exodus of African-American and German Methodists away from the MECS during Reconstruction.  Wightman’s job was to try to do something the problems associated with the departure of so many preachers and members.  

One way to slow down defections was to have more African American and German preachers.  Accordingly one of the local preachers ordained deacon (a step on the way to full ordination) was an African American---Solomon Fisher.  Fisher was sent to “Glover’s Colored Charge” in the Columbus District.  Another African American, W. F. Watkins, supplied the Pittsville Circuit in the same district.
Two German local preachers, Jacob Bader and William Knolle, were also ordained deacons and sent into the trenches.  About one-half the German Methodists preachers in Texas had just gone just over to the northern branch of the church so only 7 German circuits could be filled.

They were Houston, Bellville-Industry, Bastrop, New Braunfels, New Fountain, Fredericksburg, and Llano.  Bader went to New Fountain and Knolle to New Braunfels.  It so happens that New Fountain is my ancestral church home so Bader’s signature is on several of my great-great aunts and uncles marriage licenses. (Bader served New Fountain again in 1884.)

Both the African American and German circuits prospered—but not as part of the Texas Conference of the MECS.  The African Americans circuits became part of the newly-established CME, and the German ones part of a separate annual conference.

Jacob Bader—remained in the ministry.  At the 1875 Annual Conference, held in Houston at what eventually became Bering UMC, he was honored by being invited to preach.  His text was “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few.”   From Bader’s ordination in 1869 to 1875 the number of German MECS preachers had grown from 7 to 16.  It is true that that the number of laborers had increased, but there seemed to be so many German-speaking Texans hungry for the Gospel that even more were needed.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 14

Even Homer (Thrall) Nods  December 1843

The Roman poet Horace writing in Ars Poetica about the time Jesus was born, noticed that Homer, the putative author of the Iliad and Odyssey about 8 centuries earlier, brought back a character in a poem he had already   killed.  Horace wrote,  "Quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus,"—which may be translated as “Even good old Homer nods.”

The Homer of Texas Methodist history—in the sense of the recorder of the decisive events of our origins, ironically is named “Homer.”  

Homer Thrall was the great historian of Texas Methodism.  He was one of the recruits from Ohio in 1842 who transferred to Texas and served appointments in the Lone Star Republic and State.  Although Thrall had been born in Vermont, he became a fervent Texan.  His circuit riding in the Republic gave him the opportunity to meet political leaders and heroes of the Revolution.  He wrote the first comprehensive history of Texas Methodism (1872), a general history of Texas (1876), a pictorial history of Texas (1879), a Texas almanac, handbook and immigrant’s guide (1880), and a short history of Texas Methodism (1889).  He also contributed to Reminiscences and Events in the Ministerial Career of Rev. John Wesley DeVilbiss (deceased) compiled by H. A. Graves (Galveston, 1886).  

It was in this Devilbiss biography that “Homer nodded.”  He knew his subject well since Devilbiss had been one of the other Ohio recruits.  They were colleagues in both the Texas Conference and later the West Texas Conference for decades.  Thrall had an extensive research library.  No one was in a better position to tell the story of the journey of Devilbiss from the Ohio Conference to the Texas Conference. 

His error came when Thrall was describing the 1843 Texas  Annual Conference, his second conference in Texas.  The Annual Conference met at a campground near Huntsville (Robinson’s).  Thrall wrote “There were no telegraphs in those days, and news travelled tardily.  We had not learned until we reached the seat of the Conference that our good friend Daniel Poe was dead.  He and his heroic wife, I believe, died on the same day. . .”

Daniel and Jane Poe were still alive in December 1843.  Bishop Andrew appointed him to San Augustine were he and Jane died the following July.  Thrall’s memory was obviously incorrect.  When he wrote it, he was still under appointment at age 67, but his eyesight was failing, and it is easy to forgive the error. 

Saturday, December 06, 2014

This Week In Texas Methodist History   December 7

Martin Ruter Preaches to Methodists in Egypt (Texas), December 9, 1837

The more I study the life of Martin Ruter, the more I admire his determination to spread the gospel message in the wilds of Texas.  His zeal seemed to know no limits—witness for example his actions upon arriving in Texas in late November, 1837. 

Ruter crossed the Sabine with David Ayres in late November, 1837 after a horseback back journey across all of Louisiana from  Rodney, Mississippi, where they had disembarked from a steamboat. Since the Texian Mission of which Ruter was head had been encouraged by Methodists in the Caney Creek area (present-day Austin and Washington Counties), also home to David Ayres, they went there first.

The striking example of Ruter’s zeal is that after a few days resting with Ayres and other Methodist in the Caney Creek area, he left the comfort of fireside and lodging for another long horseback trip on muddy December roads.  

His destination was a colony of devout Methodists who hungered for the Gospel.  The colony consisted of several interrelated families who had emigrated from northern Alabama to Texas in 1830-31.  Those families first came to the Texana on the in present-day Jackson County. Some of the families, including that of W. J. E. Heard (1801-1874) moved to the more productive farm lands along the Colorado River at Egypt in present-day Wharton County.  Heard and other members of the “Alabama Colony,” participated whole-heartedly in the events of the Revolution.  One member of the colony, William Depriest Sutherland (1818-1836) was an Alamo defender. After independence several of them became prominent in the affairs of the Republic.  Francis Menifee White served in four Texas Legislatures.  George Sutherland was a member of the Texas Congress and  a county commissioner. John Sutherland Menifee was also a member of Congress. William Menifee signed the Declaration of Independence and also a member of Congress.  Heard served as Chief Justice (today’s County Judge) of both Wharton and Colorado Counties. 

On Saturday, December 9, 1838, Martin Ruter preached at Heard’s home in Egypt.  This sermon marked the most southerly point of his missionary journeys in Texas.  On Sunday, December 10, Ruter preached again—at 11:00 to the whites and 3:00 to the African-Americans.  His traveling companion, the Rev. John Wesley Kenney, preached a third sermon, this time by candlelight.  Ruter and Kenney also formed a society at Egypt.

Ruter and Kenney departed on Monday, and Ruter reached Houston by the next Friday.  Even though Ruter organized a society, there were not enough preachers in Texas to have regular preaching.  Ruter made another trip there during the first week of March.  That was the last time he was there.  The next record we have of an ordained Methodist preacher in Egypt is that of Jesse Hord in the first week of January, 1839.  Other appointments to the Egypt Circuit included Ike Strickland, Henderson Palmer, and John W. Devilbiss.  It was one of the most important circuits in the Republic. 

W. J. E. Heard continued his devotion to Methodism.  In 1866 he moved to Chappell Hill, a very strong Methodist settlement at the time.

Other families in the Alabama Colony will be well-known to readers of this column.  They include especially the Menifee, Sutherland, and Rector families.  Quinn Menifee (1830-1867) became a Methodist preacher, and Talitha Menifee (1824-1846) married John Wesley Devilbiss.  Unfortunately both died far too early.  Alexander Sutherland dedicated his life to Spanish-speaking Methodists.  Samuel C, A. Rogers (1810-1892) was licensed as a local preacher. The Alabama Colonists were a mighty force in both the civic and religious life of the Republic.