Saturday, August 27, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History  August 28

Rev. Clayton C. Gillespie Speaks To Temperance Meeting at San Antonio Against Temperance Legislation, August 28, 1874

Most of our perception of Methodists and temperance come from the 1880-1920 period when the church seemed unanimous on the subject and supplied the lion’s share of volunteers and money for the cause of Prohibition.

We forget that immediately before this period, it was fairly easy to find Methodists willing to speak against prohibition legislation.    They were for temperance, but they wanted to achieve that goal through individual persuasion rather than the coercive power of the state.

One such Methodist was Clayton C. Gillespie, (1822-1876).  Gillespie was a Georgian who made his way to Texas and served significant pastorates.  When the Civil War broke out, he was one of the three “Chappell Hill Preacher Colonels” the other two being G. W. Carter and F. W. Wilkes.  Gillespie was elected Colonel of the Texas 25th Calvary and surrendered with that command at Arkansas Post in January 1863.  He was sent to Camp Douglass, the p.o.w. camp near Chicago,, but was exchanged and returned to the war.

After the war he resumed preaching and had one of the most important jobs in Texas Methodism.  He was editor of the Texas Christian Advocate.

In August 1874 he found himself in San Antonio at the Methodist church where a Temperance Society meeting was underway.  Because of his prestige he was invited to speak.  It took a brave man to speak against the prevailing opinion, but that’s what Gillespie did. 

This is from the newspaper report of the meeting

Col. Gillespie deprecated the denunciation of the bar-room men, as they only sold what society around them demanded.  He also deprecated society fanaticism, and opposed all temperance legislation, and temperance politics.  He then set forth the terrible ravages of intemperance, especially since the war among the very best men of the land, of all professions and occupations of life, many of whom were already buried, and many others following in their footsteps.

Gillespie himself did not have that much longer to live.  He died on Christmas Day 1875.  By that time his editorial successor, G. W. Briggs had turned the Advocate into a prohibition organ.  (see previous column for Briggs).

Saturday, August 20, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History  August 21

Methodist Church in Hempstead Hosts Political Meeting; Resolves to Secede if South Loses Presidential Election, August, 1860

By the summer of 1860 talk of Southern secession was in the air.  Slave holding and free staters were already fighting in Kansas.  In Texas there was a rash of fires and reported poisoning of wells in many parts of the state.  African Americans under mere suspicion of participation in the events were executed.  In late August a posse was already pursuing Anthony Bewley, a MEC preacher, through Indian Territory, Arkansas, and Missouri.  Bewley was falsely accused of being the mastermind behind the incendiaries.  He would be captured on Sept. 3 and lynched in Fort Worth on Sept. 13.

Meanwhile it was presidential election season.  Southerners knew they hated Republicans but could not agree on a candidate.  Eventually three nominees opposed the Republican Lincoln—Douglas, Bell, and Breckinridge.    
The Austin County political elite met in the Methodist Church in Hempstead in August, 1860, to choose their representatives to the state convention.  Hempstead was still in Austin County.   Waller County was not created until 1873. 

David Y. Portis chaired the meeting.  Portis was a local attorney with considerable prominence and legislative experience.  He had married Rebecca Cummings, who had been engaged to William B. Travis.  A ring Travis gave to Cummings is in the collection of artifacts at the Alamo.  

The most prominent speaker, though, was John Austin Wharton, a man steeped in the tradition of slaveholding as few other Texans were.  Wharton was the nephew of Leonard Groce, a member of the family credited with bringing cotton plantations—and their slave system to Texas.  When it was time for his formal education, Wharton was sent to South Carolina.  While there, he met and married Eliza Johnson, daughter of the governor of South Carolina.  Readers of this column will recognize South Carolina as the most radical of the states defending slavery. 

Influenced by Wharton’s eloquence, the county convention passed a resolution that if the “Black Republicans” won the presidential election, Texas should secede from the Union.  

Both Portis and Wharton were delegates to the Secession Convention in Austin.  Since Hempstead had a railroad, it became both a mustering point for Confederate recruits and a major prisoner of war camp (Camp Groce).  

Wharton fought throughout the Civil War including Shiloh, Chickamauga, the invasion of Kentucky, and the Red River Campaign.  He rose to the rank of major general.  He survived the battlefield only to be killed at General Magruder’s headquarters in the Fannin Hotel in Houston by fellow officer George W. Baylor in a personal quarrel.  His death occurred on April 9, 1865, only days before the Confederate surrender.  

Baylor’s murder trial in 1867 was sensational, and he avoided conviction.
Portis survived the war and died in 1883. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History  August 14

Samuel Gates Leads Camp Meeting Near Austin, Aug. 15, 1875

Late summer was “lay by” time in Texas.  The crops were “laid by.”  The corn was harvested and in the crib.  As it was needed, it would be shucked.  Some would be fed to working livestock.  Some taken to the mill and turned into corn meal.  Some would be soaked in lye to transform it into hominy.  The cotton would have been chopped (thinned) and hoed.  Farmers were waiting for the cotton to mature so they could begin picking it.  It was the ideal time for camp meetings.  It was the best time to take a break from the ordeal of farming in the Texas heat and attend a camp meeting in some shady camping ground.  The fruits of summer, melons, peaches, pears, roasting ears, peas, okra, etc were in season lending a special culinary pleasure to the event.

The Austin Weekly Statesman of Aug. 19, 1875 gives a very complete and complimentary account of a camp meeting held by members of the MEC (African American) Texas Conference.  

The meeting was held about 3 miles east of Austin.  It was led by Samuel Gates of the Austin Church (Wesley Chapel).  He was assisted in the preaching by Rev. Gregory, P. E. of the Columbus District, A. R. Norris of Dallas,  C. L. Madison of Dallas, E. Nesbett of Webberville, and several others.  J. W. Alexander, a lay member of Wesley Chapel, was the facilities manager. 

Rather than a brush arbor, the attendees had a large canvas cover.  Kerosene street lamps provided illumination.  

Rev. Gates was at the beginning of a long and distinguished career.

Samuel Gates was admitted in full connection to the Texas Conference of the MEC in 1871 by Bishop Janes and appointed to Hempstead.  In 1875 he was appointed to Austin.  Other appointments included Waco District P. E. and Columbus.  He died in 1904.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History August 7

Alto Methodist Church Hosts Mite Box Opening   August, 1910

How long has it been since you’ve been to a mite box opening?  Do you remember mite boxes?

On a Monday afternoon in August, 1910, the Alto Methodist Church in southern Cherokee County hosted a mite box offering for the Baby Roll.  

The use of mite boxes, sometimes called “alms boxes” or “poor boxes,” is ancient.
  But Jehoiada the priest took a chest and bored a hole in the lid of it, and set it beside the altar, on the right side as one cometh into the house of the Lord; and the priests who kept the door put therein all the money that was brought into the house of the Lord.  2 Kings 12:9

By 1910 wooded chests were replaced by cardboard boxes printed and distributed by the Publishing House.  Other versions were cardboard sheets with pre-cut slots into which coins could be inserted.  They were usually distributed to children at the beginning of Lent.  The mite box was appropriate for children because they could put their small coins in the box.  During a designated worship service the children would place their boxes on the altar.  

The main purpose, of course, was not to generate revenue, but to instill habits of charity in very young children.  

The mite box opening at Alto was somewhat out of the ordinary in that it was organized as a special party—complete with ice cream, recitations, and song.  

Perhaps the term “Baby Roll” is unfamiliar.  A Baby Roll, or more commonly “Cradle Roll,” was a standard feature of the Woman’s Missionary Society of the era.   When a woman in a Methodist church had a baby, it was common for the other women in the church to honor her by making a donation to the Society and entering the baby’s name on the roster of the local Society, thereby creating a relationship with the church that often lasted a lifetime.

Four years later, in 1914, a young preacher in his first appointment came to Alto.  He didn’t stay long, but he achieved such prominence that the church renamed itself in his honor.  That’s why we have A. Frank Smith UMC in Alto today.