This Week in Texas Methodist History August 23
Lydia McHenry Writes Letter to Brother; Provides Details on Texas Affairs, August 25, 1836
Regular readers of this column will recognize the name Lydia McHenry as one of the great figures in Texas Methodist history from her arrival in December 1833 to her death in 1861. The Kentuckian was a daughter of Barnabas McHenry, one of the first circuit riders to cross the Appalachians. She was the sister-in-law of John Wesley Kenney.
She joined the party of immigrants who moved to Texas after her family was devastated by the cholera epidemic of June, 1833. After arriving in Texas Lydia McHenry was active in the early camp meetings, the organization of missionary societies, and other Methodist activities. In January 1836 she and Ann Ayres opened a boarding school at Montville. It was at this school that William B. Travis left his son Charles as he left for San Antonio and the defense of the Alamo.
In addition to her connection to prominent Texans, she was also well connected in Kentucky and adjacent parts of Illinois where many Kentuckians had moved. As she passed through Washington City on her way to New York City to attend the 1844 General Conference of the MEC, she stopped to visit her first cousin, then a congressman from Illinois, representing the district that would soon be represented by Abraham Lincoln.
The congressman’s son became an influential Illinois attorney, and we can thank him for depositing Lydia McHenry’s letters in the Chicago Historical Society.
The letter she wrote to her brother on August 25, 1836 is full of detail about affairs in Texas. Although she could not vote, she backed Sam Houston against Stephen F. Austin in the upcoming presidential election. “Austin, imbecile, artful, and ambitious, considers himself entitled to every office in the gift of the people.”
In August, 1836, Texians still worried about the possibility of re-invasion by Mexican armies. Much of the letter deals with preparations for defending the infant republic. She also reported on the plot to free Santa Ana (that execrable Scourge of the human race.)
Lydia McHenry’s letters provide a most valuable insight into Texas during the Revolutionary era, the Republic, and early statehood. That she was one of the early Methodist lay women is an added bonus.