Saturday, June 06, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History  June 7

Abel Stevens Announces Plans for Celebration of Methodist Centennial  June 12,  1839

The Washington Circuit Spring, 1839,  Quarterly Conference directed its circuit rider, Abel Stevens, to write a letter to the newspapers of the region to announce the circuit’s plans to celebrate the Centennial of Methodism.

The celebration was world-wide and honored the formation of Methodist societies in and around London in 1739.   In 1839 Texas was a frontier of missionary activity stemming from those early societies that had turned into one of the great mass movements of the 19th century.  Methodist missionaries in that first century carried Wesleyan doctrines and practices to North America, Europe, the Caribbean, Liberia, Brazil, and the Indian subcontinent.  

Abel Stevens, the preacher for the Washington Circuit in the Republic of Texas, was just one of hundreds of devout preachers willing to volunteer for hazardous missionary duty.  Stevens was a well-educated New Englander, and unlike most mission volunteers, a married man.  He left his wife in Providence, Rhode Island, and arrived in Texas in December, 1838.  Littleton Fowler, the presiding elder, had assigned him to Galveston-Houston, but Stevens immediately began asking for a transfer to the Washington Circuit, which in 1838-1839 was the strongest Methodist circuit in Texas.  Fowler finally agreed to the request, so Stevens began riding the Washington Circuit in Feb. 1839. 

His letter to the Houston Telegraph and Texas Register which appeared on June 12, shows that Stevens threw himself into his duties energetically.  He began making plans for the centennial celebration.  Methodist preachers, then as now, realize that every celebration is an excuse for fundraising.  Stevens quickly learned that the Texas economy operated mainly on a barter system.  There was very little coin in the Republic.  Lots of paper currency circulated, both Texian and from “wildcat” banks in the United States.  Some of that paper currency was bogus, and even the genuine notes were highly depreciated and constantly fluctuating in value.

Texas did have one great resource—land.  Land scrip—that is promises from the government for land to be surveyed later—circulated widely.  Veterans of the War for Independence, new settlers, merchants who had supplied provisions to the Army—all received land scrip in payment.

Since that was the main form of wealth his parishioners possessed, that’s what Stevens asked for.  His letter of June 12 reveals the success of that campaign and incidentally gives the names of the most prominent churches on his circuit.
Independence, which was already in 1839 more Baptist than Methodist, was the only church to donate money  ($277 probably in notes), but the other donations were in land, as follows.

San Felipe—12 acres
This donation was for a parsonage.  The church was on public land owned by the municipality and shared by all denominations.  That church  still exists and is still used by a United Methodist congregation, and it is still owned by the city government. 

Piney Creek -50 acres for a camp ground
This site was adjacent to the home of  Rev. William Medford.  The settlement was eventually incorporated into Bellville. 

Center Hill--25 acres
This was about three miles north of Piney Creek and was the development project of David Ayres who thought it would anchor a Methodist settlement.  When it lost the county seat election to Bellville, the town was abandoned.  

Travis—2 acres
This town was about 8 miles northwest of Piney.  It was a thriving settlement until 1879-1880 when the Gulf Coast Santa Fe built its tracks about two miles to the east.  The town was abandoned in favor of the new stop at Kenney, named for Rev. John Wesley Kenney (1799-1865) who made his home in Travis.

Caney Creek—5 acres
This tract included the grounds where the 1834 and 1835 camp meetings were held. 

Halloway-2 acres

Cedar Creek==25 acres
This site was about 3 miles northwest of Chappell Hill.  When Chappell Hill was created, the settlement was folded into it.  On June 14, 2015 there will be an historical marker dedication at Cedar Creek.  The marker text acknowledges its importance in Methodist history.  

Independence –4 acres 

Stevens did not stay around long enough to see his efforts develop into churches.  In June, 1839, he returned to the United States.  He went by the Advocate offices in New York City and submitted the same article for publication in that denominational organ.  He also tried to get the Publishing House to print forms for the donation of real property—fill in the blanks.  He went on to become a famous Methodist historian. 


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