Friday, September 23, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 25

Temple Houston Excoriates Homer Thrall in Galveston News, September 26, 1880

Homer Thrall was not only the most famous historian of Texas Methodist history in the 19th century; he was also a noted historian of Texas history in general.  In the preface to his History of Texas, Thrall boasts that his interest in Texas history was stirred by his personal acquaintance with many of the heroes of the Revolution and Republic eras whom he personally met after his arrival in 1842 from Ohio.  

His first work was A History of Texas from the First Settlements to 1876 (1876) sometimes called A School History of Texas.  It was followed in 1883 by A Pictorial History of Texas from the Earliest Visits of European Visitors to A. D. 1883.  

Both volumes are available at Google Books.

On Sept. 26, 1880 Temple Houston published a long, scathing denunciation of the History and of Thrall.  Temple Houston was the youngest child of Sam and Margaret Lea Houston, born in the Governor’s Mansion in 1860. He was orphaned as a child and lived with his sister in Georgetown.  He joined at cattle drive at age 13, was a page in the U. S. Senate for three years, and in 1877 entered the newly-established Texas A&M.  He transferred to Baylor at Independence and graduated in 1880.  He was admitted to the bar and became a widely known, flamboyant lawyer. 
His 1880 excoriating review was thus written by a very young man.  

His review begins with obvious criticisms of error.  The publisher used stock illustrations from previous travel books, with nothing changed but the captions.  Thrall’s history thus shows mountains in Matagorda County and palm trees around Liberty.  

Thrall included about 200 biographical sketches of prominent Texans.  Houston’s next criticism was really petty.  He objected to the omission of some Texans and the inclusion of others.  

Houston, though, saved his greatest criticism for Thrall’s treatment of his father.  A modern reader would find that Thrall was actually fairly favorable toward Houston, but Temple Houston demanded more—complete adulation.  When Thrall provided a balanced view, based on his sources, Houston replied

I denounce his work as stigma on the name of history, as a fraud on the people of Texas,  as an insult to their intelligence, and as containing libelous attacks on the character of one of her dead soldiers. 

From the deep veins of prejudice traceable through the entire system of his work,  I judge I have provoked a venomous reptile and suppose the public will soon hear him hiss. But when he defends even his name he will be engaged in a task less base than slandering the silent and defenseless dead. 

Houston moved to the Panhandle. He held a variety of public positions,, became a famous defense attorney, and eventually moved to Woodward, OK.  He died at age 45 of a brain hemorrhage.  

Saturday, September 17, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 18

Union Protracted Meeting at Washington on the Brazos,  September 1837

“The claims of denominational rivalry have been greatly overstated.”  One of the most common remarks the author hears concern denominational rivalry.  While it is true that Methodists, Baptists, Adventists, and Disciples in Texas engaged in debates---usually over infant baptism or universal salvation---the records from the Republic period of Texas history clearly show cooperation rather than rivalry.  A preacher of one denomination would call for a meeting and invite preachers of “all orthodox denominations” to participate.   The various denominations shared facilities—including a church building in San Felipe that still stands, and is still owned by the municipal government.

One such “union” protracted meeting occurred at Washington on the Brazos in September 1837.  Three preachers of three denominations, led the meeting.

The Baptist was Z. N. Morrell (1803-1883), a native of Tennessee who had lived in Mississippi.  He moved his family to the Falls of the Brazos in April, 1836, but Indian raids prompted his removal to Washington on the Brazos where he organized Baptist churches in the region.   He spent two years in a Mexican prison after being captured at the Battle of the Salado.  Upon his release, he rode a circuit from Cameron to Corsicana.  After the Civil War he spent two years in Honduras, but moved back to Texas and continued to support Baptist causes, including Baylor University.  His memoir, Flowers and Fruits from the Wilderness, or Forty-Six Years in Texas and Two Winters in Honduras (1872) is perhaps the most complete memoir of any preacher who worked in the Republic of Texas.  He was first buried at Kyle, but in 1946 his remains were reinterred in the Texas State Cemetery. 

The Methodist was Robert Alexander (1811-1882) another Tennessee native who moved to Texas from Mississippi.  Alexander was the first of the three officially appointed Methodist missionaries to enter the Republic of Texas. Alexander was involved in Methodist work for the rest of his life—he was active in helping to establish schools and publishing.  He was first buried in Chappell Hill, but was later reinterred at Brenham. 

The Presbyterian was Amos Roark, who had come to Texas in 1831 and is reputed to have organized a church at the home of James Duff on Mill Creek in Austin County that same year.  If that is true, it would be the first church organized in Texas.  Much better documented is his participation of the Texas Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church at Sumner Bacon’s house near San Augustine in November 1837.   His previous affiliation had been the Hatchie Presbytery in Tennessee.  

One of Roark’s contributions to the history of religion in the Republic is his extended essay Narrative of the State of Religion within the Bounds of the Presbytery of Texas, printed in the Telegraph and Texas Register, Aug. 4, 1838.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 11

Bishop Joseph Key Dedicates Polk Street Methodist, Amarillo, September 1908

Amarillo Methodists had using their new church building for worship for about a year in September 1908.  They had completed the new building and paid off the debt in July 1907, but they had delayed the dedication service until they could secure a “big name” preacher for the dedication.

In September 1908 Bishop Joseph Key was en route from his home in Sherman to Portales, New Mexico, to preside over the New Mexico Annual Conference.  He arranged to stop in Amarillo to preach the dedicatory sermon.  

Joseph Key was truly the grand patriarch of Texas Methodism of the era.  He had been born in Lagrange, Georgia, in 1829.  Both his father and grandfather had been Methodist ministers.  He attended Emory College in Oxford Georgia and joined the Georgia Conference upon graduation.  He served various appointments in Georgia and was elected bishop of the MECS in 1886.  

Bishop Key moved to Fort Worth and travelled widely presiding over annual conferences in Mexico, China, and Japan.  After the death of his first wife, he married Lucy Kidd, a noted educator and president of North Texas Female College (later Kidd-Key College and Conservatory of Music). 

In addition to his interest in Kidd-Key College in Sherman, Bishop Key was instrument in the founding of the Methodist Home in Waco and of the state Epworth League.  

Lucy Kidd-Key died in 1916 and Bishop Joseph Key died in 1920.  At the time of his death he was known as the “Grand Old Man” of Texas Methodism.  They were both buried in Texas. 

Saturday, September 03, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History  September 4

Quarterly Conference of the Nacogdoches Circuit Meets , Sept. 8, 1838

McMahan’s Camp Ground hosted the quarterly meeting of the Nacogdoches Circuit of the Methodist Episocopal Church on Sept. 8. 1838.  The presiding officer was Robert Alexander.  

It was quite a gathering!  Littleton Fowler was there.  He was the preacher on the circuit.  James Porter Stevenson, son of William Stevenson, served as secretary.  The elder Stevenson preached the first Methodist sermon on Methodist soil.   Henry Stephenson was there.  He had been visiting Texas from Louisiana since 1824.  Both Friend and Samuel Doak McMahon were there.  Friend as a local preacher and S. D. as an exhorter.  Enoch Chisum  and James T. P. Irvine—both exhorters at the time, but soon to receive licenses.  

In September 1838 the Nacogdoches Circuit was part of the Texian Mission.  The bishops had already decided to attach the Mission to the Mississippi Conference, but that would not occur until the Mississippi Annual Conference met the following December.  

The minutes of the Quarterly Conference are personally significant because one of the local preachers licensed was Milton Stringfield, the author’s great-great-great grandfather.  The minutes of the meeting, now preserved at Bridwell Library provide the first documentary evidence of any of my ancestor’s being in Texas.
Milton Stringfield was born in Springfield, Illinois, in 1802 and migrated southward through Arkansas.    

He enlisted in the Somervell Expedition from Montgomery County and in the census of 1850 was enumerated in Springfield, then the seat of Limestone County.  The census manuscript shows that he lived 7 residences from Mordecai Yell, the Presiding Elder of the Springfield District.  He died in Harris County in 1856.
He followed a common practice of the era, naming his children after Methodist heroes—some of his sons were Thomas Wesley Stringfield, Littleton Fowler Stringfield, James McKendree Stringfield.  Both James McK. And “Lit” became preachers in the Rio Grande Mission Conference (the predecessor to the West Texas  Conference) but did not survive the Civil War.  Thomas Wesley died in the Stringfield Massac