Saturday, December 31, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History      Jan. 1

Rev. Henry Matthews Reports on New Year’s Feast, January 1, 1838

Rev. Henry Matthews moved from Houston to San Felipe in 1837 and in December hosted Martin Ruter and Littleton Fowler who asked him to form a Methodist class in San Felipe.  He declined, citing his professional duties.  Matthews by this time was no longer preaching.  He had become a doctor and pharmacist and was even acting as coroner for Austin County.  

Ruter and Fowler left for Washington about Dec. 21.  Matthews recorded the feast his family enjoyed on New Year’s Day, 1838. 

 At noon we had a splendid dinner consisting of apple and peach pies, pound cakes, sugar cakes, custard, stuffed chicken, preserves, etc, etc. so that our family & hands are feasted as well here as we ever were in similar occasions in our living. . . . We have had Holy Day fires as well as feasts here since Christmas.
One year later in Dec. 1838.  Jesse Hord also stopped by San Felipe and asked Matthews to organize a Methodist society.  Again Matthews refused.   

The refusal of Matthews to organize his Methodist neighbors is somewhat puzzling.  He kept his local preacher credentials and is famous for marrying the first couple to receive a marriage license issued by Harrisburg (later Harris) County.  

Saturday, December 24, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History  Dec. 25

Twas the Night Before Christmas. One Degree of Separation with Texas Methodism. 
The “small world phenomenon” burst upon the public consciousness with John Guare’s 1990 play and 1993 movie adaptation, Six Degrees of Separation.  One of the characters says, “I read somewhere that everyone on this planet is separated by only six degrees of separation.”

It’s fun to play “degrees of separation” with Texas Methodist history.  For example, John Wesley Kenney is one degree removed from John Wesley.  Kenney’s mother was converted by John Wesley on one of trips to Ireland.   We could also cite several examples of one degree of separation with Francis Asbury claimed by Texas Methodists. 
One of my most surprising discoveries was when I found two degrees of separation between David Ayres and Clement Moore, the widely acknowledged author of the most famous Christmas poem in English, A Visit from St. Nicholas. 
Clement Moore is often described as a seminary professor of Greek and Hebrew, but he was much more than that.  His father was Benjamin Moore, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.  His mother was Charity Clarke, daughter of an English officer who remained in New York after service in the French and Indian Wars.  Clarke acquired an estate on the northern end of the built up area of Manhattan Island which he called Chelsea.   Clement Moore inherited that estate and made a fortune subdividing it into residential lots.  The area of New York City has retained the name Chelsea. 
Moore gave 66 lots to the Diocese to establish a seminary.  Moore had earned two degrees from Columbia, and when the seminary was completed, he was appointed Professor of Oriental Languages. 
Moore had a partner in his land development business, Don Alonzo Cushman (1792-1875).   Their partnership built houses around the seminary in the 1820’s, some of which still stand and are widely recognized as the best examples of the Federal Style in New York City.
Cushman, who was founder of the real estate firm of Cushman and Wakefield, which still exists, is the link between Texas Methodism and A Visit from St. Nicholas. 
The most famous Texas Methodist land developer was David Ayres.  He planned a grand Methodist city, anchored by a Methodist college, Centre Hill in northern Austin County near the Caney Creek camp meeting site.  To that end he acquired about 11,500 acres for his projected city, surveyed it into lots, and built a hotel.   He couldn’t finance the project himself, so he borrowed funds from his brother Silas and his business partners, the company of Ayers, Day, and Heddin in New Albany, Indiana.  (It’s not a misprint.  David was the only member of the family to spell his name “Ayres.”) Coincidentally, New Albany was also the home of Martin Ruter’s brother, Calvin Ruter who was Presiding Elder of the district there.   Ayres was in New Albany borrowing funds for Centre Hill.  Martin Ruter was in New Albany entrusting his family to his brother’s care as he went to Texas.  That’s why Ayres and Ruter travelled to Texas together, arriving in November, 1837. 
The firm of Ayers, Day, and Heddin held a mortgage on Centre Hill. 
When the Methodist college was founded at Rutersville rather than Centre Hill, it was a great blow to the fortunes of the projected city.  The real death blow came when Centre Hill lost the county seat election to the site of Bellville.  Ayres gave up, moved to Galveston.  The value of the Centre Hill property was now greatly diminished.  Don Alonzo Cushman acquired the devalued mortgage, and his agents eventually disposed of the property.  That’s how David Ayres is separated by two degrees from A Visit from St. Nicholas.    

Friday, December 16, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 18

Texas Conference Convenes fro Second Session, December 23, 1841`
The second session of the Texas Conference of the MEC met in San Augustine on December 23, 1841, with Bishop Thomas A. Morris presiding. 
In spite of economic problems facing Texas and Texas Methodists, the preachers were able to report significant accomplishments.  The membership had grown by 917 members so the rolls now showed 2795 members.  The conference college at Rutersville boasted an enrollment of between 70 and 80 students.  Successful camp meetings were conducted at Montgomery, Rutersville, and Waugh Camp Ground (then in Milam County, now in Burleson County).  T. O. Summers had done great work in Houston, strengthening the small society of Methodists in that city.  J. P. Sneed was able to report new organizations in Victoria, Gonzales, Port Lavaca, and Seguin.  John Haynie had established churches on the Upper Colorado on the Austin Circuit.  The geographic footprint of Methodist had expanded in Texas both northwest, southwest, and along the Red River settlements.
The conference was strengthened by the addition of transfers and admissions. 
The transfers included John Clark, J. W. Whipple, and Orceneth Fisher from Illinois, all of whom were to play major roles in the Texas Conference.  William Craig transferred from the Mississippi Conference.   The ordinands included Henderson Palmer, Daniel Carl, Robert Crawford, John Haynie, and J. W. Whipple.  .
The conference included three districts whose Presiding Elders were among the most renowned in Texas Methodist history.
Robert Alexander was Presiding Elder of the Galveston District which stretched all the way from Brazoria to Franklin in Robertson County.
John Clark presided over the Rutersville District which included Austin, Washington County, all the way to Victoria and Matagorda.
Francis Wilson had the San Augustine District, basically Liberty, Crockett, and Jasper, all the way to Marshall.  In addition to traveling his district conducting quarterly conferences, he also devoted much time to the establishment of a college in San Augustine.
One of the most consequential appointments was that of Littleton Fowler as Agent of Rutersville College.   The appointment freed him from the day-to-day administration that had been his life’s work since the death of Martin Ruter in May, 1838.  Upon Ruter’s death, he became head of the Texian Mission, and after the Mission became part of the Mississippi Conference, Presiding Elder for most of East Texas.  In addition he had married, acquired a family, tried to start a farm, and worked to obtain a college charter.  The job as Agent allowed a break in the hectic life he had been living.  He used the opportunity to travel to Ohio and recruit preachers from the two Ohio Conferences for Texas.  Some of those transfers, especially DeVilbiss and Thrall, were to cast giant shadows over Texas Methodism for decades. 
At the conclusion of the conference Bishop Morris did not return directly home.  Instead he went on a long, difficult winter tour of Texas.  He went by Washington on the Brazos to visit the grave of Martin Ruter.  He stopped at Rutersville to preach to the college students.  He then went to Austin where his son, Thomas Asbury Morris was in the process of vacating the office of Attorney General of the Republic of Texas.  The younger Morris had assumed the office when President Lamar appointed Attorney General Webb as a special negotiator to Mexico.  Morris finished out the term and did not stay for the incoming administration of Sam Houston’s second term. Instead he accompanied his father to Galveston and then home. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 11

East Texas Conference Reinforces Provincial Attitudes, Dec. 12, 1877

The East Texas Conference of the MECS convened at Crockett on December 12, 1877.  Bishop Wightman was detained at the Northwest Texas Conference, so Rev. John Adams was elected to preside until Bishop Wightman’s arrival. 

Times were still hard in the East Texas Conference in 1877.    The expansion of the rail network and the removal of Native Americans from western Texas made those areas more attractive for migrants to Texas.  Farmers looking for new land tended to pass through East Texas to more attractive lands to the west.  The railroads were just starting to expand into the pine forests of East Texas.  They would eventually create a boom in lumber and other forestry products, but not by 1877. 

Delegates to the 1877 Annual Conference showed a denominational and regional parochialism in the reports.  

The Education Committee reported with disappointment that 6 charges (churches) showed zero attendance at Sunday School.   Can you imagine a a church without a Sunday School?—well they couldn’t either.  The Sunday School was perhaps even more central in 1877.  A circuit rider might come only once per month, but the Sunday School would meet every week.  With the abolition of class meetings,Sunday School  was the glue that held congregations together.  The Sunday School Superintendent was one of the most honored and respected members of the community.

The committee reported the reason for the absence of Sunday Schools---some communities had adopted a union Sunday School, combining all the denominations.  Publishers were supplying Sunday School literature stripped of denominational hot button topics that could by used by such interdenominational organizations. 

The East Texas Conference would have none of that---“. . .robbing our statistics annually of numerical and financial strength due them; and worst of all, permitting their children to grow up without a knowledge of our doctrines.”

The other provincial resolution also concerned education.  The MECS was in the process of creating Vanderbilt University.  The East Texas refused to give its full support for this new institution.  Please stay in Texas, but if you have to go
“abroad” Vanderbilt would be ok. 

Resolved that while we firmly hold that Texas young men should be educated on Texas soil and at Texas institutions, yet, if from any cause any of young men should go abroad for general education, we certainly would be pleased if they should attend that noble institution that has been founded at Nashville, . . .

Sure, go ahead and support the most ambitious university the MECS had ever attempted to that date, but only if you don’t go to school in Texas. 

Saturday, December 03, 2016

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 4

“Mac’s” Promote Lane College, December 4, 1885
The Texas Annual Conference met in Austin during the first week of December, 1885.  Bishop  Holland Nimmons McTyeire (1824-1889) presided.  Also present was John B. McFerrin, (1807-1887),  Mission Secretary and editor of mission publications.  Both men were among the group of leaders who made Nashville, Tennessee, the most prominent city in MECS circles.  McTyeire was instrumental in obtaining the gift that established Vanderbilt University there. 

The high point of annual conference  is the ordination of preachers.  With the new ordinands standing before him, McTyeire offered what may seem strange advice.  He said.  “Stay off the railroads.  Use a horse to ride your circuits.”   His reasoning was that many people lived away from the railroads.  Their souls needed saving.  Staying close to the tracks meant that some souls would spend eternity in hell.  The recommendation echoed Francis Asbury’s decision at age 65 to sell his buggy and go back to horseback.  There were some roads too narrow for a buggy.  

McTyeire and McFerrin were joined by another “Mc” at the Texas Conference in the cause of another school—Paine Institute in Augusta Georgia.  

On December 4, 1885, as the conference was concluding its business, a layman, Ben E. McCullouch, rose to present the case for Paine Institute (later College).  Paine was a fledgling institution, having been founded in 1882 with equal number of trustees from the MECS and the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (later Christian).  It was named after Bishop Robert Paine of the MECS who had helped organize the CME from the African American membership of the MECS during Reconstruction.  Classes began in 1884.
Ben E. McCulloch should not be confused with Benjamin McCulloch, one of the most distinguished military figures of Texas from his arrival in later 1835 until his death in the Civil War in 1862.  As far as I can tell, the Ben McCulloch speaking for Paine was his nephew.
He presented the request (today we would call it an apportionment) for $250 from the Texas Conference for the support of Paine Institute for the training of African American preachers and teachers.  It was known as “a school of prophesy.” 
After McCulloch’s speech, McFerrin took the floor to add his endorsement of the project, adding that he had stayed with McCulloch’s grandfather as a young circuit rider on his first appointment in Tennessee. 
Dr. A. E. Goodwyn, the pastor from Brenham, suggested that the conference take a collection of cash or pledges right there on the conference floor.  McFerrin immediately thanked him and suggested that he give $25 to the project himself to start it.   McFerrin and McCulloch then went down the aisles until the $250 had been pledged.   When he returned home, Goodwyn’s congregation paid $30 and relived him of personally contributing.

At the same time a CME High School was starting in Tennessee.  Eventually it rose to collegiate status as Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee. 
  Solicitations for Lane and Paine were a regular feature of annual conferences in the MECS and even in the southern conferences of the MC after 1939.  The Disciplinary language that asked MC annual conferences to raise funds for Paine and Lane did not disappear until the 1968 unification.    Both Paine and Lane College continue to carry on their educational missions.