Saturday, February 24, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History February 25

Chauncey Richardson Arrives in Galveston, Goes on to Houston, March 1839

Last week’s post included the notice of Chauncey’s Richardson’s departure from New Orleans on his way to Texas.  Richardson (b. 1802) was a Vermont native who was admitted to the New England Conference and served appointments in Vermont and Massachusetts.  As was common in the era, the rigors of circuit riding injured his health.  He chose to spend his recuperation time at Wesleyan University in Middleton, Connecticut.  In 1833 he left New England to accept the presidency of a female academy in Tuscumbia, Alabama.  He kept that post until he accepted the presidency of the projected Rutersville College.

Richardson left a record of his first weeks in Texas.  He described both Galveston and Houston.  It can be difficult for us to realize how new both of these cities were.  Although Galveston Island had been the site of human activity for decades, numbering pirates and filibusters, customs agents and castaways, the city itself was not founded until town lots were offered for sale in April, 1838.  Houston was not much older, having been founded at the confluence of White Oak Bayou and Buffalo Bayou, the supposed head of navigation.  

Richardson’s reached Galveston on March 3.  Here is what he found

Galveston City presents a find appearance from the harbor, though it has the marks of extreme growth.  Its site was but recently occupied by a band of pirates.  The present size and wealth of the city are but a miniature representation of its future greatness and importance.  It is destined to be to Texas what New Orleans is to the Mississippi Valley.  Its harbor, even now, presents a forest of masts, and is animated with the living power of steam. On it float the flags of England, the United States, of Spain, and of France.  The city, I am told, is under the most excellent municipal administration and is rapidly improving.  It contains several hundred houses and about two thousand inhabitants. 

Richardson did not linger in Galveston.  He took a steamboat to Houston.  He stayed there about 3 weeks and headed toward Rutersville in Fayette County, another new city, having been founded by a group of Methodists in 1838 specifically to host a Methodist university.  They chose to create their own town rather than establishing a school in an existing city so they could exclude taverns, gambling dens, horse racing tracks and other impediments to piety.  

Richardson travelled the Atascocita Road to San Felipe where he crossed the Brazos on the ferry.  Coincidently the ferry franchise at the time was owned by another Methodist preacher, Henry Matthews.  

Upon arrival at Rutersville Richardson found himself in the greatest concentration of Methodists anywhere in Texas.  Among the residents were Robert Alexander, and the two preacher-physicians who had attended Martin Ruter in his final illness in Washington on the Brazos.  

Richardson spent the rest of 1839 building a university from scratch.  It opened in January 1840 and received its charter from the Congress of the Republic of Texas in February.  

Richardson served as Rutersville president, editor of the Advocate, and presiding elder.  His Texas life ended where it began, on Galveston Island.  He died there April 11, 1852.  His body was brought back to Rutersville for burial. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History February 18

Methodist Preachers on the Move, February, 1839

The week of February 18, 1839 is especially interesting to Texas Methodist historians because we have several travel accounts from preachers who were on the go that week.
Jesse Hord was travelling his circuit.  His circuit stretched from Houston to Victoria with most of the appointments in Brazoria and Matagorda Counties.  For those of you who have travelled these same counties in winter know that the coastal plains can be hostile in February.  There is little protection from the wind, the marshes that make the region a haven for waterfowl, made it miserable for travelers.  It seems like the roads never dry out.    Fortunately the fertile alluvial soils along the water courses of Caney Creek, the San Bernard River, the Colorado River, and lesser streams had attracted farmers so there were settlements along the way.
Hord started the week on Sunday, February 17 in Egypt, and left Monday for Matagorda and Quintana.  Egypt was home base for the Alabama Colony,  a group of interrelated families and neighbors who had immigrated to Texas in 1828/29.  They made contributions to Texas Methodism for generations.  Readers of this column would be familiar with the families, especially Sutherland and Menefee. 
The same week a party consisting for Littleton Fowler, Missouri Fowler, and Joseph Sneed were making their way from East Texas to Washington.   Fowler, the head of the Texas mission since Martin Ruter’s death the previous May, had stayed in East Texas-travelling back and forth from Houston to San Augustine, and preaching mainly in East Texas.   On February 10 Joseph Sneed arrived from the Mississippi Conference as a recruit for the Texas Mission.  He was bringing missionary funds entrusted to him by Bishop Andrew who had presided over the Mississippi Conference of which Texas was a part.  When Sneed arrived, Fowler was conducting a love feast at McMahan’s Chapel.  On Monday, February 11, they headed west. 
On Saturday they arrived at Cincinnati on the Trinity River.  Fowler preached on Sunday a.m. the 17th and they did a very rare thing---they travelled on Sunday.  That afternoon they made 12 miles, so that Monday they were able to make it to Robinson’s in southwestern Walker County.  Robinson and Fowler spent Tuesday locating a 30 acre camp ground which would prove to be an important Methodist site for years, including hosting the 1843 session of annual conference.
There were delays caused by the swollen San Jacinto River, but the party arrived in Washington on Feb. 20.   On the 22nd they went to the Kessee house where they stayed until March 5 and met other preachers who had been sent the notice to rendezvous at Kessee’s.  That party included Schuyler Hoes, the agent for the American Bible Society, Abel Stevens  a missionary recruit from the New England Conference, and Daniel N. V. Sullivan, another recent volunteer for Texas.  The attraction was the missionary funds Sneed had brought from Mississippi-  The men were going to receive their wages.  This was the first time Fowler met these 3 colleagues. 
Hoes reported that he had organized chapters of the Bible Society in Cedar Creek (north of present day Chappell Hill) and Austin County.  He and Stevens had travelled together from Houston, become lost in the underbrush and were saved from spending a night sleeping on the ground when they heard the family of Thomas Bell singing hymns during their nightly devotionals.  (later Bellville).
     This same week Chauncey Richardson left New Orleans for Galveston.  He was going to spend the rest of 1839 organizing a new school—Rutersville College—which did open the following January.
All in all the last two weeks of February, 1839, saw Methodist preachers in Texas on the move---that wasn’t rare.  The rarity was that their travels were so well documented.   

Saturday, February 10, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History February 11

Annual Meeting Registration Now Open

The Texas United Methodist Historical Society is a membership organization devoted to the historical interests of all the annual conferences of the United Methodist Church with congregations in Texas. 
There are seven annual conferences including the Central Texas, New Mexico, North Texas, Northwest Texas, Oklahoma Indian Mission, Rio Texas, and Texas Annual Conferences in the TUMHS.

Each year the TUMHS holds an annual meeting.  The program consists of scholarly presentations, tours of historic Methodist sites, and the presentation of awards for achievement in writing local church histories and student essays.  

This year's annual meeting will be held Thursday April 5 through Saturday April 7 in El Paso.  The host church is Trinity-First UMC, one of the most historic churches in the entire Southwestern region of the United States.   A special attraction will be a celebration of the history of Lydia Patterson Institute which has been serving students for more than a century. 

The theme of the meeting is Methodism on the Border.   Registration materials may be found on the New Mexico Conference site.

Looking forward to seeing you in El Paso. 

Saturday, February 03, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History February 4

Bishop Simpson Tells His Side of the Story about Church Confiscations  February 4, 1869

Bishop Matthew Simpson is remembered as the preeminent Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church during the mid-19th century.  He achieved national attention because of his close association with President Lincoln.  Simpson’s funeral sermon for Lincoln at Springfield, Illinois, was widely reprinted. 

Simpson came to Houston in January 1867 to organize the Texas Conference of the MEC.  He continued to exercise episcopal oversight in Texas.   In 1869 he returned and used the opportunity to tell his side of the story in the church confiscation controversy of the Civil War.    During the Civil War several MECS churches were seized by Union forces and were put under the control of Bishop Edward Ames.  Ames appointed Unionist preachers to those churches.  Naturally the dispossessed MECS preachers and laity hated the confiscation.   The controversy did not end with the end of the Civil War.  The question remained a festering complaint between the MECS and MEC for years. 

On his 1869 trip to Texas Simpson gave his side of the controversy in the Houston Weekly Telegram.  The article is unsigned, but one of the associate editors was Homer Thrall, so it is quite possible that Thrall was the author of the article.

Simpson’s basic defense was that he appointed only one preacher to an occupied church, McKendree in Nashville, after visiting the church and finding that it was already in use as a hospital.  After the war, in consultation with President Johnson, he advised returning McKendree to the MECS and advised the preacher to relinquish the church.  The McKendree pastor, though, had been appointed by Bishop Clarke and believed that he needed to confirm the decision with the bishop who had appointed him.   Accordingly, the McKendree preacher went to Cincinnati to confer with Bishop Clarke.  Bishop Clarke concurred with Bishop Simpson’s decision.  The MEC preacher  returned to Nashville, and gave up McKendree to the MECS. 

In the meantime, though, Secretary Stanton had added to the controversy by demanding surrender of the church thus unnecessarily pouring fuel on an already volatile situation.

The author of the Telegram article also repeated Simpson’s claim that he had no intention to proselytize Southern Methodists, but felt a duty to care for those Methodists who came to the decision to leave on their own.   

The concluding paragraph of the article says   he desires peace,  prays for the prosperity of the M E Church South, and hopes the time may yet come when the two branches of Methodism may again become united in one body.