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. 


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