Saturday, June 09, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History   June 10

Methodists Respond to Martin Ruter’s Death, June 1838

Martin Ruter died in Washington on the Brazos between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. on May 17, attended by physicians Abner Manley and W. P. Smith, both of whom were local preachers. 
Robert Alexander and Abner Manley both wrote the widowed Ruth Ruter, who was waiting for her husband’s return in New Albany, Indiana.  Both letters gave an account of the death and Alexander’s discussed the disposition of Ruter’s worldly goods.  Ruth Ruter was so distressed that she could not write responses so she asked her daughter Sybil to write for her.  A letter to Littleton Fowler from Sybil Ruter dated June 7 and postmarked Matagorda still exists.  In it Sybil Ruter acknowledges that they must submit to the will of Providence and regrets only that Martin Ruter died away from his family.

The news of Ruter’s death spread quickly throughout the denomination.   He was one of the best known Methodists of the era.  He was an author, college president, and from 1820-1828 in charge of the Publishing House in Cincinnati.  He had been a delegate to General Conferences and had served in prominent cities, Boston, Portland, Philadelphia, New York, and Montreal.   He had enjoyed a wide correspondence with Methodists on both sides of the Appalachians.  One finds letters from Raper, Bangs, Stringfield—names well known to Methodist historians. 
Bishop Hedding was in charge of the Texian Mission, and he quickly told Nathan Bangs to write Littleton Fowler and ask him to assume the head of the mission until annual conferences convened.   At the Mississippi Conference that met the following December, Texas was attached to the Mississippi Conference. 

Meanwhile, Ruter’s fiends in Texas were busy tending to his temporal affairs.  Robert Alexander took his horse, saddlebags, etc. so he could sell them and remit the proceeds to Mrs. Ruter.  Martin Ruter had acquired land warrants for 350 acres of land since his arrival.  John Wesley Kenney took them, surveyed two tracts adjacent to his own league in northern Austin County and then perfected the titles to the two tracts to the benefit of “Heirs of Martin Ruter” as the tracts are still known.  When I go south from my house, my road takes me through one of those tracts 1.5 miles from my residence. Kenney was County Surveyor. There was no better person to handle the task for Ruth and her children.  

William Winans of the Mississippi Conference was authorized to buy a monumental tombstone in New Orleans and ship it to Washington.   The real monument to Dr. Ruter, though, was to be a Methodist university.  Almost immediately after the death, Methodists formed a corporation, bought a league of land in Fayette County, surveyed it into town lots and out lots and began selling those lots for the establishment of the town of Rutersville and the University of the same name. 

Littleton Fowler stepped back from these activities.  He had decided to cast his lot with Methodists in East Texas rather than move to Rutersville.  In June 1838 he married the widow Missouri Porter and began the process of acquiring a farm that would produce income while he was away on church business.  The wedding ceremony was performed by a recent volunteer from Kentucky, Lewellyn Campbell who had volunteered for the Texian Mission and was helping with the preaching while waiting for a formal appointment.    He and Sybil Ruter later married.  

June, 1838, saw a whirlwind of Methodist activity in Texas, much of it due to Martin Ruter’s death. 


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