Saturday, September 29, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History September 30

Camp Meetings Held in Commemoration of Methodist Centenary, October, 1839C

Friday, October 4, 1839 kicked off a month of camp meetings in Texas in honor of the centenary of the founding of Methodism.    Texas was still considered a mission field by the MEC in 1839 and was attached to the Mississippi Conference as a district.  On the other hand, it was rapidly growing with the transfer of preachers from other conferences and the licensing of local preachers already in Texas.  It was even ambitious enough to be planning a university and had already hired a president for that that projected institution of higher education.  

The first camp meeting was held in Robert Alexander’s field at Rutersville, the site of the proposed university in Fayette County just a few miles from LaGrange.   Alexander had recently given up the Washington Circuit to move to Rutersville and help get the university started.  

On Friday night the preacher was Daniel N. V. Sullivan (-1847).  Sullivan was not even a preacher.  He had come to Texas from Alabama to teach school.  In the first session of the Texas Annual Conference, Bishop Waugh ordained him deacon and appointed him to Matagorda. He served responsible appointments and died in Houston in 1847.

On Saturday John Haynie, Joseph Sneed, and William Y. Allen occupied the pulpit.  Haynie (1786-1860) had been ordained a deacon for Bishop Asbury in 1811 and came to Texas only in January, 1839, and settled near Bastrop with his son-in-law, John Caldwell.  When the Texas Legislature moved to Austin, he served as Chaplain of the House of Representatives while serving the Austin Circuit.  He was also appointed to Corpus Christi, but came back to Rutersville where he died in 1860.  Haynie Chapel Iin the Rio Texas Conference is named in his honor.

Joseph P. Sneed (1804-1881) was another newcomer, having arrived in Texas in February, 1839.  He was appointed to the Montgomery Circuit, and with Alexander’s resignation from the Washington Circuit, had those churches added to his parish.  The result was by far the largest circuit any of the early Texas riders had to travel---basically from Texana to Marlin.  He retired to a farm in Milam County where he died.  Sneed Memorial UMC in the Texas Conference is named in his honor.

There aren’t any UMC churches named for William Y. Allen (1805-1885) because he was a Presbyterian.   He came to Houston in 1838 and enjoyed cordial relations with the Methodist preachers he met, especially Littleton Fowler with whom he exchanged correspondence.  His preaching at a Methodist camp meeting was in no way strange---Methodists in the 1830s in Texas were happy to invite Presbyterians and Baptists to the pulpit.  Allen did not return directly to Houston from Rutersville, but went to Austin where he organized the Presbyterian Church in the new capital city.  He eventually left Texas and became President of Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. 

The camp meeting continued until Tuesday, October 8, when Haynie preached the concluding sermon, “with curious effect” according to Allen’s diary.

Through the rest of the month Centenary Camp Meetings were held at  Texana, where Sneed preached; Robinson’s in Walker County; Fanthorp’s (present Anderson in Grimes County); and Lindley’s (Joseph Lindley 1794-1874---Montgomery County). 

The big one and most famous, though, was held on the Washington Circuit beginning on Thursday Oct. 24 on New Year’s Camp Ground about 8 miles southwest of Independence.   The preachers there included Robert Alexander (1811-1882), William Medford (?-1841), Joseph Sneed, and Robert Hill, and John Wesley Kenney (1799-1865). 

One of the preachers who had thought deeply about the observance of the centenary was not there.  Abel Stevens had come to Texas in December 1838, served the Washington Circuit, then went back home to his family whom he had left in Providence, Rhode Island.  On his way back to New England he stopped at the New York City offices of the Publishing House and Christian Advocate.  He reported on his idea to celebrate the centenary by soliciting land donations for church and camp meeting sites.  He had even gone to a printer and had deeds of gift printed so all donors had to do was fill in blanks.  It made a great deal of sense in Texas in the 1830’s since there was so little cash in circulation, but lots of people had more land than they could use for agricultural purposes.

The series of camp meetings in October 1839 produced a great deal of enthusiasm and set the stage for the organization of the Texas Conference at Rutersville in December, 1840.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History  Sept. 16

W. H. Seat Proposed Grand Mission Plan, September 20, 1855

 One might consider it audacious for a 30 year old preacher to offer a sweeping plan that would have reorganized the whole Methodist missionary system, but that's exactly what William Henry Seat did on September 20, 1855. 

Rev. William H. Seat was one of the most colorful characters in Texas Methodist history.  Seat was born near Memphis, Tennessee in 1824.  His mother, Frances Baskerville was reputed to be a cousin of Thomas Jefferson.  Seat was licensed to preach at 18 in the Mississippi Conference and served Aberdeen Circuit, but his preaching skills soon vaulted him him from riding rural circuits to occupying some of the most desired stations in the denomination, including the state capital of Jackson, Mississippi.

In 1854 Mrs. Seat, the former Sophia Fly (Fly is a well known family in Texas Methodist history.) became ill so Seat requested a transfer to Texas.  He began a succession of appointments that took him to the best churches in Texas: San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Huntsville, Galveston,  and Chappell Hill. 

When he was at Chappell Hill in 1867, he was appointed Financial Agent for Soule University.    Most financial agents of the era raised funds by preaching in the churches of the sponsoring conference, but not Seat.  He embarked on a grand eastern tour and instead of soliciting funds, solicited books for the library and apparatus for the science laboratories.  Harvard University gave him some books, and Samuel F. B. Morse gave him some telegraphic equipment.
That wasn’t enough.  Armed with a letter from Governor Throckmorton, Seat sought a meeting with President Andrew Johnson who provided him with letters of introduction and instructions for the consuls of Europe to give him hospitality.

He presented a plan to President Mood of Soule to tour Europe to solicit books and apparatus since the South was too impoverished to solicit funds there. Mood thought the idea was ridiculous, but Seat ignored Mood and left for Europe.

He and his family spent 4 ½ years in Europe.  He used Johnson’s letters to get interview and autographs from Gladstone, Carlyle, Hans Christian Anderson, and other notables.  The Queen of Holland gave him a two volume set of Dutch paintings for the Soule library.  He spent much of his time in Prussia and other German states, at that time the world’s leading manufacturer of scientific apparatus and optical goods.  Part of the justification of the trip was that he would be able to buy such items directly from the manufacturer and save money.

He did accumulate quite a large stock of good and shipped it to Galveston where it rotted on the dock.  During his absence Soule’s fortunes had fallen so much that it couldn’t event afford drayage to Chappell Hill, much less Georgetown where Southwestern University was being created out of Soule’s ashes. 

Instead of returning directly to Texas, upon his return to the United States, Seat served appointments in the Baltimore and Virginia Conferences.   In 1882, after being absent from Texas for 15 years, he transferred from Lexington, Virginia, to Goliad.  He died there in 1885.  

His 1855 mission plan, printed in the Texas Christian Advocate was grand in nature.  It proposed that that the various conferences divide responsibilities in the mission fields so they would not duplicate efforts or work at cross purposes.   That is eventually what did happen. 

Saturday, September 08, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History  September 9

Hurricane Strikes Indianola September 15, 1875.  Rev. and Mrs. Henry Homberg killed.

Indianola in Calhoun County was second only to Galveston in terms of Texas ports of the mid-19th century.  It began in 1844 as an port of entry for German immigrants coming to Texas under the auspices of the Adelsverein.  After Texas joined the Union, it became the eastern terminus of the military road that stretched all the way to San Diego, California.  In that role, it was the site of the famous camel experiment in which the U. S. Army conducted a trial of camels as pack animals through the deserts lying between the two termini.  It also developed into a major shipping port for hides and tallow from the herds of wild cattle living just to the interior.  The carcasses were often dumped into the bay.  That provided a food source for turtles, and soon a turtle meat canning industry grew up in Indianola.  In 1869 the first shipment of refrigerated beef was shipped to New Orleans on the Agnes.  There were rail connections with the interior.  

It was also the county seat of Calhoun County and boasted a population of 5000 in September, 1875 when the hurricane hit.  The town was crowded with hordes of visitors attending a trial involving the Taylor-Sutton Feud, and from 150 to 300 people died.

Among the dead were Rev. Henry Homberg and Emelie (or Amilie, 1845-1875).  His body was never found.  His memoir from the 1876 Southern German Conference Journal is reproduced below.   

Henry Homberg. — September 16-17, 1875, will long but remembered in Indianola, Texas. Here, in this city, the adopted home of many brave but God-forgetting Germans, a little flock of truly pious souls had been gathered by Brother Homberg as he labored truly and fearlessly at this outpost of Christianity, and here, in the midst of this noble work, in this self-sacrificing effort to save his fellow-men from soul-ruin, the storm-flood, as a messenger of death, came and took him and his dear wife and adopted daughter during the morning of Sept. 16. The small dwelling of Brother Homberg was carried away by the wild waves of the Gulf as they rushed madly on before the wind: but as he and his loved ones had taken refuge a short time before in a neighbor's house, they were spared awhile longer; but, alas! about midnight, in the utter darkness of a cloud-covered horizon, the rain falling in torrents, and the wind blowing with increased fury, a large storehouse just in front of the one containing our dear brother and his family was undermined and thrown down, as it were, in an instant, and its wreck, borne on the surface of the madly rushing waters, was driven against their place of refuge as with the force of a battering-ram, destroying it shortly and burying forever in that fearful midnight hour the servant of the Lord, who was never seen afterward; the other inmates of the house, taking hold of the floating roof, drifted away, but, with the exception of one man, all were lost. Brother H. Homberg was born in Waden, Germany, on the 6th of July, 1836. He came to this country during the war, and, like many of his fellow-countrymen, enlisted in the army. There he made the acquaintance of some Methodists, and being of a loving character and liking their way of worshiping God, he joined the Church at Industry, Texas, under the administration of Brother C. Biel, although living at Brenham. In 1866 he married a very pious lady, Miss Emelie Weiss , who proved to him a true wife and a faithful helpmeet in the work of God, enduring with him joy and sorrow to the hour of their death. In 1872 Brother Homberg was stationed at Victoria as a missionary, and meeting with a great deal of opposition there, he learned that s Methodist missionary in Texas did not walk amid a bed of roses; bat he held out faithfully, and by his manly character and pious and prudent walk soon gained the esteem, and even love, of the people of that city during the two years of his labor among them. He occasionally visited Indianola, where our kinsmen were spiritually neglected and forsaken, and succeeded by the help of God in rallying around the cross a small bodyguard of Christian warriors. In 1874 he was sent to them as а pastor, and with great zeal and faith he went to work, built a chapel, and had it nearly free from debt, when the flood took both preacher and chapel into its destroying embrace. His small society at Indianola had clung to him with a wholesouled devotion, and the scene beggars description when the retuning saved ones sought for their pastor and found him not. Brother Homberg's talents and learning were not brilliant. His sermons were plain, but earnest; and although he was permitted to labor but a few short years for Christ, yet, wherever he was stationed, he endeared himself to all with whom he came in contact. Toward his brethren in authority in the Church he was always obedient, never complaining of hard appointments or small salary, always willing cheerfully to do the work intrusted to his cure to his utmost ability as a servant of Christ. He had a thorough Methodist spirit in him, and his loss is felt deeply. His death forms a breach in our ranks; but we know that Christ has taken him home, and rejoice in his privilege of joy in heaven. Although the place of his earthly rest is unknown, the Lord having buried him (like Moses) himself, yet his memory is sweetly cherished by many of the children of God on earth, and expect that when the trumpet shall blow and the sea shall give up its dead, all will meet around the common Saviour and again unite in songs of praise and. thanksgiving.

Indianola rebuilt after the 1875 storm, but another hurricane in 1886 wiped our Indianola for good.  Today it is a ghost town. 

Saturday, September 01, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History  September 2

Methodist Meeting Held on Sulfur Fork, September 1839

The earliest scene of Methodist activity in Texas was in northeastern Texas along the Red and Sulfur Rivers and their various tributaries.  Since those rivers are part of the Mississippi drainage system, Americans assumed that they were part of the Louisiana Purchase, and therefore American territory.   In spite of the huge raft of logs that impeded travel on the Red River, Americans pushed up those rivers into what is today Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.  Pecan Point on the Red River, became a nucleus of a rude settlement consisting of traders, hunters, and trappers.  The first family that can be identified to settle south of the Red River  is that of Claiborne Wright.   They arrived in Pecan Point in September 5, 1816.  Mrs. Wright (Clara) was Littleton Fowler’s aunt.  

Where American settlers went, Methodist circuit riders were soon to follow, and the earliest recorded Methodist preacher to the region was William Stevenson, P. E. of the Arkansas District of the Missouri Conference.   His home was in Mound Prairie, just west of Washington, Arkansas.  From that base, he preached in Pecan Point n 1815 and later made Wright’s home a preaching point. Stevenson and Wright had known each other in Tennessee.  

Although the Red and Sulfur drainages  were part of the Louisiana Purchase,  there had never been a survey to designate the US-Spanish border.  The Adams-Onis Treaty finally designated the border, but put most of the Sulfur and the southern tributaries of the Red into Spanish Texas.   In return, the U S received Florida from Spain.  It didn’t really matter for the folks on the ground since Spanish had long since given up trying to exercise sovereignty in the region and immediately after the Treaty was ratified, Mexico was successful in the their revolution against Spain.    
In 1824 the U. S. Army established a post in the region, Fort Towson and brought some order to the region, but that was difficult since what is today southeastern Oklahoma was designated at the location for the Choctaws who were being removed from the Southeastern U S along the Trail of Tears.  One of the jobs of the soldiers at Fort Towson was to remove the European-American settlers from the lands assigned to the Choctaws.  Naturally, many of them just moved south of the Red River into Texas. 

By 1835 there were enough Methodist preaching points to assign  a circuit rider to what is today Lamar, Red River, and Bowie Counties.  The preaching points were Pecan Point, DeKalb, Jonesboro,  along the Sulfur River, and the area where Clarksville was later founded.  The name of the circuit was Sulfur Fork.   John Carr was the preacher appointed to the circuit, but he was inexperienced and quit before the year was finished.  The Presiding Elder could not find a replacement at conference so the appointment is listed “to be supplied.”  The next preachers was E. B. Duncan and John Bunyan Denton, followed by Jacob Whitesides.

In September 1839 there was a camp meeting on the circuit that resulted in 30 conversions.   P. E. Gregory, William Craig, William Mulkey, and W. G. Duke  were the preachers. 

Yes, readers, William Mulkey was the father of Abe Mulkey,  (1850-1919), arguably the most important evangelist in Texas Methodist history, credited with 548 revivals, 16,444 sermons, and 54,084 conversions according to the New Handbook of Texas.  

William Duke is also an interesting figure.  He was one of the group of 8 Tennessee preachers who volunteered for Arkansas as a group.  They crossed the Mississippi at Memphis and found themselves in an extensive swamp.   They pooled their funds and bought a boat.  It took them three days to traverse the swamp.