Saturday, March 31, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History  April 1

Educational Commissioners Meet in Galveston to Locate Central University, April 2, 1855

In April 1855 and April 1870 Methodists met in Galveston to organize a central Methodist university for Texas.  Robert Alexander was a member of both commissions.  The 1855 Commission selected Chappell Hill as the site.  The 1870 Commission put plans in motion that eventually resulted in Georgetown’s being chosen.  

Why Galveston?   The island city was certainly not central for the participants but in both years it was the home of the Publishing House, and that made it the nerve center for all things Methodist in Texas. 
By 1855 Methodists had already attempted the organization of several schools.  Starting with Rutersville College in 1840, each had proved a disappointment.  Debt, disease, incompetence, and scandal had hindered Methodist educational work in Texas.   Bishop Fitzgerald later wrote, “The history of Methodist schools in Texas, like those of other conferences, is a history of hard struggles, partial success, and many mistakes.”

Robert Alexander, although not the beneficiary of higher education himself, was committed to education for others.  He had been one of the organizers of Rutersville, and even established his residence there briefly.  In 1853/54 he was Presiding Elder of the Huntsville District and an agent for both Andrew College (in Huntsville) and Chappell Hill College.  As a delegate to the 1854 General Conference meeting in Columbus, Georgia, he served on the Education Committee.  

At the 1854 Conference of the Texas Conference, meeting in Chappell Hill, Alexander offered a resolution authorizing an Educational Commission which would, with the cooperation of the East Texas Conference, create a Central University. Such a central university would combine the financial resources of both conferences so that a stable university could be created.

The Commission considered Richmond, San Felipe, and Waco, but chose Chappell Hill as the site because of generous offers of aid from citizens of that city.  Soule University came into being.

Twenty-five years later the notion of centrality had changed.  Population had moved west.  There were now five Texas Conferences rather than two.  Georgetown was chosen as the site for a next central university.   Forty years later the definition of centrality had changed again.     Neither Soule in Chappell Hill or Southwestern in Georgetown ever completely fulfilled the vision of centrality of the commissioners, but Dallas did.  That’s why SMU can be considered the central university Texas Methodists had being trying to build for decades.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History March 25

Schuyler Hoes Reports on Organizing American Bible Society Chapters in Brazoria County, March, 1839

The lower course of the Brazos River in Brazoria County boasts one of the largest concentrations of petrochemical industry and related industrial production anywhere in the world.  It is blessed with natural resources in close proximity.  The natural gas, sulfur, salt, and petroleum, are not only in close proximity, but they are also located near ocean shipping in an area with abundant fresh water on flat ground with few obstacles for building canals, roads, and railroads.          Although the region is subject to hurricane hazard, every other natural feature is ideal for industrial production. 
Stephen F. Austin and his colonists also thought the Lower Brazos to be ideal—but not for agriculture.  The regular depositions of silt had created alluvial soils well suited for cotton and sugar cane production.  Austin’s vision was of a series of plantations along the Brazos being served by steam boats similar to Tidewater Virginia.  He placed his headquarters at San Felipe where the Atascocita Road crossed the Brazos.  The road was there because that was where the coastal plains met the rolling hills.  

Part of Austin’s vision did come true.  Wealthy planters, using enslaved people’s labor, cleared the dense thickets along the river so they could plant their crops.   It was one of the most densely populated regions of colonial Texas and the Republic of Texas.  

It was natural for Methodist missionaries to evangelize the Lower Brazos.  Among them were Orceneth Fisher, Jesse Hord, and Ike Strickland.  Another was Schuyler Hoes, an agent of the American Bible Society of New York City.  He spent the last week of March, 1839, trying to organize local chapters of the ABS in Brazoria County.  Actually it more correct to say “re-organize” since Sumner Bacon had organized a chapter at Columbia on May 7, 1835.  It is likely the Coahuila y Texas Bible Society did not survive the Revolution.  Readers will remember that David Ayres brought both English and Spanish Testaments from the ABS when he came to Texas.  Hoes and Ayres had known each other when they participated in the 1826 revivals in Ithaca, New York. 
Hoes arrived in Houston in Nov. 1838 and set about his task or organizing chapters.  He spent most of March 1839 in Brazoria County and left a record of his efforts.

On Feb. 17, he organized a chapter at Cedar Creek (near modern Chappell Hill), part of the Brazos drainage.  The only officer he named in his report was T.F. Rucker (Presbyterian).  He then went to Egypt on the Colorado and organized a society there.  The Egypt settlers were mainly members of the “Alabama Colony”,  a group of Methodists interrelated by marriage, who had immigrated in 1828/9 to Texana on the Lavaca River, but had mostly moved to the much more fertile lands along the Colorado at Egypt.  Readers will be familiar with the names Menefee, Heard, and Sutherland,  

By Sunday, March 24 he was in Brazoria, and the next day in Marion and by the 27th he was in Velasco.  Only at Velasco was he unable to find a receptive audience.  His audience there pled extreme poverty.  

It was not enough to form local societies.  Hoes also formed a county society with James Caldwell (1793-1856) as President.  Caldwell is also known for leading the first Masonic Lodge in Texas.

Hoes was able to report donations of $390 to the ABS from Brazoria County—a very nice sum indeed that shows both the piety and prosperity of the region.

Austin’s vision never came to full fruition.  One of the problems was the bar at the mouth of the Brazos which made navigation much more dangerous.  The newer cities of Galveston  and Houston took commerce away from Velasco, Quintana, Columbia, and Brazoria by using Buffalo Bayou and Galveston Bay as shipping routes.  In the Twentieth Century the problem of the bar was solved by created a levee and new outlet for the sediment-rich Brazos.  The majority of the industries are thus able to access deep water without worrying about the bar.  

Brazoria County is one of the largest in square miles on the coastal plains and boasts large populations not only near the industries, but also in the northern portion where Houston suburbs have encroached.  There are many vital Methodist congregations in the county today, descendants of churches planted by Hord, Strickland, Hoes, and others. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History  March 18

William Craig Reports on Church Conditions, March 22, 1861

William Craig transferred to Texas in 1841 from Mississippi.  He was born in South Carolina in 1785 and became a preacher at age 18.  Robert Alexander had been his Presiding Elder so perhaps he had a personal connection.  When the Texas Conference was divided at the Trinity River into two conferences, Craig remained in the East.  He served a number of appointments and organized the church in Henderson.  At one time he served as Chaplain of the Texas Senate.  He died in 1865 and is buried in the Old Henderson City Cemetery.

His letter of Mar. 22, 1861 to John Woolam is difficult to read because of the phonetic spelling.  Here it is.

Rev brother Woollum,
Thes leves us all well & striveing [to] serve the Lord & tu get sumthing tu live on. Tho times are exceding hard her so fare as munney matters are consernd & equele sad about bread stufs. I no not how we shal mak out but the [hartchering?] promes the Lord will provide. The people are striveing for another crop, small grain lookes well & if it should not be over taken with summer feed then it will mak[e] fair cropes.
Times relegesly are very dul. No revivels amunst us. Brother Burkes is getting along in Henderson [? a month early?] he has a good del of affletchen in his family. He has lost his Negro woman Bell & left a young child, but I hope she died in pes. Thare has ben a good many dethes in & about Henderson the past winter. I often think of you & of our gon[e] by dayes in the serves of the Lord but tho[se] are all past away & more than likely we shal not ingoy the lik[e] probledy again, but I am bound for a land of eturnel rest & I find the Lord is my porthen. Caul on us as you  pass[?]. I reacon you go to see your children in Mount Enterprise. I should like tu see you very much. I all so wish you tu be shur & right tu us. I want to no how you are getting a long in Gilmore[?Gilmer] & if Sister Fowler is with you thare or not & if my fren Mac Wilson is well & I want tu no how you are getting along with your work. I hope you are [p. 2] doing well among them people. I would [like?] tu be with you at sum of your meetings. I dou feel lost when I am out of the work. I have a few apointments & try tu prepare my self as well as I can. I have more invetations then I can a tend tu but so fare as preatching is consernd I still can preatch long & loud but the preatching I delit in is the holy gost preatching the sort Bishop Andrews spok of as in the dayes of William Gasaway  & many others that have gon and now my der John let us clam the promies of godes ful salvation through Jesus Christ in being [?] humble & truly desirous tu be a Christian that is tu be the best the Last servant of all. We avoid runing our selves into difficultyes we a scape many temtations and many mortifying disapointments fur my part as I ecept nothing from men tho cannot disapoint me & as I expect all good thing from God in the time wayes meeasur and mmanes it pleseth him tu besto  I cannot be disapointed because he does & will do all thing well. I trust you labor for god & soles not fod. Not for prayer & self when we thus labor god bleses in his grat mercy, blesses us & may god bless you & your labours is the pray[er] of your old brother. My wife sends you a grate many loveing expratchings tu you as ever yours in the bonds of a pure & peasable gospel of Christ.
W. & R. Craig

Saturday, March 03, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History March 4

Robert Alexander Reports on First District Tour, March, 1840

In 1840 Texas was still part of the Mississippi Conference of the MEC.  The work was so great that it was split into two districts with the Trinity River as the dividing line.  The two surviving missionaries of the three person missionary team sent in 1837 served as Presiding Elders of the two districts.  Littleton Fowler was PE of the eastern district and Robert Alexander PE of the western.
Alexander had already moved to Rutersville and made that his home base for the district which extended from Galveston to Marlin and encompassed settlements along the Brazos, Colorado, and Guadalupe River basins as well as the settlements on the west side of the Trinity.  A circuit of the district usually kept him away from home for six weeks. Imagine going by horseback from Victoria to Marlin four times per year.
In March 1840 he finished his first circuit in Galveston in the company of Edward Fontaine, the young man who had been assigned to Houston.  At Galveston he realized that this would be his best chance to post a letter to the Mission Board in New York City since there were regularly scheduled departures between those ports.
His report to the Mission Board here is part of his report

. . .we have seven circuits and one station . . . and circumstances seem to require the addition of another.  These appointments are scattered over an extensive territory, including more than half the settled portion of the republic, and the work is very laborious. 
The preachers in their respective circuits are truly in the spirit of their work and seem to regard the difficulties and privations with which they have to contend but rather esteem it a privilege to range these wilds in search of lost sheep of the house of Israel, and regard the swimming of creeks and rivers and sleeping alone on prairies, surrounded by howling wolves and beasts of prey, as trivial circumstances, while the people appear hungry for the bread of life. 

Alexander goes on in his report to mention that his greatest need is preachers to supply more churches.  Orceneth Fisher had returned to Illinois from Brazoria,  and Thomas Summers, who had been appointed to Galveston from the Baltimore Conference, had not yet arrived.