This Week in Texas Methodist History October 18
Rockey Spring Quarterly Conference Passes Resolution to Create Colored Mission in Harrison County, October 21, 1843
Clearing the raft of logs from the Red River by the U. S. Corps of Engineers under Captain Henry Miller Shreve had immediate effects upon Texas and also Texas Methodism. A town named Shreveport was platted where the Texas Trail crossed the Red River. Shreveport replaced Natchitoches as the head of navigation on the Red River, and steamboats soon found their way up Cypress Bayou to Jefferson. The Texas Trail soon became the preferred entry from the United States to Texas, taking business away from the Red River crossings at Natchitoches, Louisiana, and Fulton, Arkansas.
Unfortunately many of the people coming to Texas during the period were enslaved persons being marched in chains to new lands being opened up in Texas for cotton production. Shreveport developed a slave market, not as large as New Orleans, but still quite significant. Many of the exploited souls ended up around Marshall and Jefferson. The US census of 1850 revealed a very large percentage of the population there to be enslaved people.
The question of ”Colored Missions” or “African Missions” occupied a prominent place in the deliberations of Texas Methodism before emancipation. Many Methodists were driven by the Gospel mandate to “preach the Gospel to all persons.” Some of them interpreted that scripture to mean that such universality of preaching was a prerequisite for the second coming of Christ.
One of the problems was that “Colored Missions” depended upon the cooperation of the slaveholders, and their attitudes varied widely. Some viewed religion as another form of social control. Some refused to allow any contact by outsiders. Still others were ambivalent on the subject.
Methodism’s special problem was that the core source region for preachers volunteering for the Republic of Texas was the Ohio Valley, and especially the states of Ohio and Illinois. Many slaveholders looked suspiciously upon anyone from the North. William O’Connor, one of the 1842 recruits from Ohio had ruffled some feathers on the subject. Robert Alexander’s brother, David, had complained to Littleton Fowler, the Presiding Elder of the district who had recruited O’Conner, about possible “abolitionist” remarks.
O’Conner died in Marshall in Aug. 1843, at the age of 27, and possibly since he was no longer alive, Harrison County Methodists began discussion of establishing a “Colored Mission,” this time under a preacher who would be “safe” on the slavery issue.
The Quarterly Conference of the Harrison Circuit met at Rockey(sic) Spring on October 21, 1843 and passed a resolution to establish such a mission. One of the sentences in the resolution is especially revealing
In the Southern States where the M. E. Church has established missions to the slaves the consequence has been that of a great moral and religious reformation of this class of population which tended to make them honest, industrious and more obedient to those who controuled them greatly to the advantage of
both the servants and masters.
The resolution directed John Woolam to secure the permission of slaveholders before an actually appointment would be made.
The Texas Conference met the following December, and there was no appointment to a “Colored Mission.” Harrison, though, had two preachers, William Craig and John Woolam. One suspects that Woolam was directing his efforts to enslaved people.