Saturday, February 27, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History  February 27

Chauncey Richardson Arrives Enters Texas at Galveston,  March 3, 1839

On March 3, 1839 the Rev. Chauncey Richardson entered Texas at the port of Galveston.  Richardson was born in Vermont in 1802.  He entered the New England Conference of the MEC in 1826.  He itinerated in Massachusetts for several years, but then the rigors of circuit riding broke his health.  He recuperated at Wesleyan University, Middleton, Connecticut. 
Those studies qualified him as a professor, so in 1833 he went to Tuscumbia, Alabama, as president of a female college.   He held that position until his departure for Texas.  He left New Orleans on the steamship New York on Feb. 28, and set foot on Texas soil five days later.
Richardson cleared customs and hurried to Houston where he began his efforts that resulted in the opening of Rutersville College in January 1840.  Rutersville is recognized as the predecessor of Southwestern University.
Galveston in 1839 was a far cry from the bustling port city it would become in just a few years.  Although the island had been previously occupied, most famously by the pirate Jean Laffite, the city we know today dates from 1838 when Michel Menard and group of investors surveyed a streets and lots and offered those lots for sale. 
When Richardson arrived in March 1839, organized religious life barely existed.  The editor of the Galvestonian (March 27, 1839) suggested that in the absence of an organized church, “leading men” of the city gather each Sunday morning and listen to a sermon from “one of the great divines” such as Wesley read by one of the assembled citizens.

The idea of the leading citizens of the city assuming responsibility for devotional services in the absence of clergy led the editor to continue,

As for preachers by trade, we dislike them.  Our climate suits not their constitutions; especially as the most ordinary are prone to where better ___not be paid.  . . . Many a man runs his head against a pulpit who could have done his country excellent service at the plough-tail.” 

Unfortunately the editor’s comment “our climate suits them not” proved prescient.  Richardson died in Galveston in 1852.  His body was returned to Rutersville for burial. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History February 21

Henry Matthews Reports Visiting W. P. Smith, “Radical” Methodist and “Regular” Physician, February, 1837

In early 1837 Rev. Henry Matthews (1799-18??) was in the process of relocating from Natchitoches, Louisiana to Texas.  Matthews had been a Methodist preacher in Ohio before moving to Louisiana and becoming a pharmacist/physician.  He lived in Houston for several months in 1837 but then moved to San Felipe.  While living in Houston he signed the first marriage license issued by Harrisburg (later Harris) County as officiating clergyman.
In February 1837 he crossed the Brazos at Washington and reported on his visit with W. P. Smith, a “radical” Methodist and “regular” physician.
Those two adjectives offer an insight into the intellectual history of the era. Just what were a “radical” Methodist and a “regular” physician?
The 1830’s have been called the Age of Jackson after President Andrew Jackson who seemed to symbolize the changes occurring in the United States.  Jackson was the first president whose background was the frontier rather than the East Coast.  He was also the first of the “common men” to become president.  The previous presidents had all been well-educated members of the nation’s elite.
Democratic reform in the political sphere was driven by an expansion of the franchise as states dropped the property-holding requirement for voting.  Candidates thus had to appeal to a wider swath of society.
A more expansive democracy was not confined to politics—it also impacted religion and medicine.  A reform group arose in Methodism that wished to make the denomination more democratic.  Bishops and presiding elders were obvious targets.  Reforms wished to abolish those offices and create a democratic denomination untainted by episcopal authority.  The result was a denomination called the Methodist Protestant Church.  Smith was a licensed preacher in that denomination, hence the appellation, “radical.”  The Methodist Protestant Church continued until 1939 when it merged with the MEC and MECS to become the Methodist Church.
Full fledged democracy also existed in the field of medicine.  There were no government regulations on who could practice medicine.  The 1830s witnessed a flowering of competing medical philosophies—allopathy, naturopathy, hydropathy, herbalism, etc—all competing with each other in attracting patients.  What Matthews called “regular” can best be described as the forerunner of what eventually became the scientific practice of medicine by M.D.’s.  We have a good idea of Smith’s practice of medicine because he enlisted in the Texian Army on Jan. 1, 1836.  After the war, he applied for compensation for his services as an army doctor.  As part of his claim, he inventoried the contents of his medical bag.  Readers of this column may wish to see what Dr. Smith carried with him in his medical practice—everything from rhubarb to opium.  It is available from the Texas State Library at

Saturday, February 13, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History  February 14

Huntsville Preacher Hears Complaints about Members Losing Old Time Religion.  February 1884

Rev. J. G. Johnson served Huntsville as pastor from 1843-1845 and also pastored  nearby Martha’s Chapel.  Much later he received letters from his nephew, Benjamin A. Giger, about the sad state of religion.  Even worse, the pastor himself was among the “worldly” members of the congregation.

Here are excerpts from two letters to Johnson from February, 1885.

We have got our new church done and are in it, but I am sorry to say have lost all our religion.  It was dedicated last Thanksgiving Day and our preacher in charge was married to the Widow Hicks and had a big Thanksgiving Dinner in it the same day, and then again in January, they had a big Festival.  They put up a big cook stove in the basement and cooked and eat and upstairs they had a candy store and auction sale and I  am sorry to say our preacher in charge was at the head of all it; Uncle Jim, that kind of religion may do, but is not the kind Ellen and I have.  We think the Church of God is a sacred place and if the people have any regard for god, they will for His House.

We have just closed a protracted meeting at our new church that lasted four weeks, there was twenty that joined.  Religion now days is not the same that is was thirty or forty years ago.  Then they would become convicted of sin and when they were converted, they would not keep it to themselves, no the only way you can tell when they were converted they would not keep it to themselves, now the only way you can tell when they are converted is by asking them.  Then, when they joined the church, they were not allowed to attend the theater, dance, and play cards, and attend all the play parties, but now all of them things has to be allowed or they will not join, of course the church does not sanction all of them things, but permit it and what is the difference?   I have not heard a person shout when they were converted  in fifteen or twenty years.  How I would like to see the good old times religion once more and see every body happy and praising God once more. .