This Week in Texas Methodist History January 31
Ruter Licenses Manly and Sullivan as Local Preachers, Late January, 1838
One of the most common explanations I give to genealogists is the status of local preachers in the Methodist Episcopal Church and later the Methodist Episcopal Church South. The inquiry usually begins, “We have a family tradition that our ancestor was a Methodist preacher, can you help find records about his ministry?”
If the ancestor was a fully ordained member of an annual conference, the answer is usually positive. If the ancestor was a local preacher, the identification becomes more difficult.
Local preachers were a major force in spreading the Gospel in the Republic of Texas and later the state of Texas. None was more important than Abner Manly who was licensed as a local preacher by Martin Ruter during the last week of January 1838.
There were two ways to become a local preacher. The first was to obtain a license from the Presiding Elder of the District. (Ruter was not a presiding elder in 1838 but had authority as Head of Mission.) The person so licensed would have ministerial authority only in the churches of the quarterly conference where the license was issued. The other way was for a fully ordained “traveling” preacher to request a “location.” That is, he would ask the bishop not to appoint him to a specific charge. Even though he was not under appointment, he was still expected to connect to the denomination through a quarterly conference.
Abner Manly is an example of the 2nd method. He was a “traveling” preacher in South Carolina from 1822 to 1827. He “located” and moved to Selma, Alabama, where he practiced medicine. He later moved to Texas and lived at both Washington and Fayetteville where he often preached and was fully involved in the Methodist activities of the era. He was an original trustee of both the church at Washington on the Brazos and of Rutersville College. He was an original member of the Missionary Society organized at Caney Creek in October 1837.
He was also one of the attending preacher/physicians at Martin Ruter’s death in May 1838. The other was William Smith who was also a local preacher who had been received from the Methodist Protestant Church. In an ironic twist both Manly and Smith died in 1870. Neither was ever a full member of an annual conference in Texas, but both contributed hugely to the growth of Methodism in Texas as local preachers.