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
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
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.”