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. 


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