Saturday, December 29, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History  December 30

First Week of January 1845  First Documented Evidence of Women Attending Annual Conference

Surviving documents relating to Texas Methodist History during the Republic Era are overwhelming male dominated.  Although we know from rosters of membership in churches and missionary societies that women made up a substantial portion of the church,  their participation is not as well documented as that of men. 
Although the documentation is scant, we know that women including Lydia McHenry, Ann Ayres, Martha Richardson, Maria Kenney, and Eliza Alexander provided much of the energy to the Methodist movement.

Among the documents showing women’s involvement are Lydia McHenry’s letters, now in the archives of the Chicago Historical Society.  That collection shows her to be a strong-willed, intelligent woman who was so dedicated to the Methodist movement that she undertook the arduous journey from Texas to New York City to attend the 1844 General Conference.  

The first reference to women attending the Texas Annual Conference comes obliquely.  In the first week of January, 1845, Homer Thrall was making his way to San Augustine to attend Annual Conference.  About where Chappell Hill now exists, he fell into the company of Robert and Eliza Alexander and Chauncey and Martha Richardson also on their way to Annual Conference. 

Both women were stalwarts of the Methodist Church in the Republic.  Eliza was the daughter of David Ayres, the most prominent layman of the era.  She had grown up immersed in Methodism in both New York and Texas.  Martha was married to Chauncey Richardson, president of Rutersville College, and Martha was in charge of the women’s division of the school.  Chauncey spent most his time traveling to secure financial backing for the school, and Martha is the one who managed affairs in his absence.

We comb through other records to find women’s participation.  Celia Craft of Bastrop County is the earliest African American Methodist women whom I can document.  It is recorded that Martha Richardson was asked to give a public prayer at a camp meeting. 

It took until 1956 for women to receive full ordination rights in the Methodist Church even though in a real sense women had been the backbone of Methodism for decades.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 23

This week let us follow the travels of Jesse Hord in 1838.

December 23   Am thirty miles from Houston and no intervening settlements;  a cold northwest wind howling loudly; However, I set out for the city; did not travel far before encountering a swollen creek.  No alternative I entered its turbid waters; my horse being brave, strong, and a good swimmer, bore me safely to the desired shore.  Now a vast prairie (the first I had seen), lay before me flooded with water.  No use to mind this---already wet from the swimming—so forward I go with a cold norther playing sportively on my back.  At evening the city was entered; put up at the City Hotel, crowded to uncomfortableness; yet, by pressing gained a seat in front of the blazing fire where I remained until 10 o’clock p.m. when I sought rest in sleep. 

December 24   I arose refreshed.  After breakfast went out to make acquaintances, especially two ministers said to be in the city.  I soon found Rev. Mr. Allen, Presbyterian, with whom satisfactory arrangements were made for harmonious preaching in the city.  I next visited Congress which was in session; had an introduction to several members; all of whom received me cordially; spoke in high terms of the importance of the gospel being preached in Texas; gave many good wishes for success, and promised every assistance that lay in their power to render.

December 25 This sacred day I spent in travel through mud and water, in transit from Houston to Richmond on the Brazos.  

December 26    Spent in Richmond; preached at night to a good congregation; good feeling, much interest; the Holy Spirit rests upon many, Hallelujah! “God is Love.”

December 27    Hord started for San Felipe but a fierce norther forced him to take refuge in a house along the way.

December 28   Arrived in San Felipe and conferred with local preacher Henry Matthews who advised him NOT to try to form a congregation there.

December 29   Left San Felipe and rode 40 miles to Egypt.  He stopped at the first house to ask for shelter.  It turned out to be the house of Dr. John Sutherland.

This week—December 23-29, 1838, is one of the most grueling weeks ever attempted by a Methodist circuit rider.  Little did Hord know that the New Year would bring even more privation, cold, and wet.  Hord spent the next few months mainly in Matagorda and Brazoria Counties---huge expanses of coastal prairie with little timber for shelter and many swollen creeks to cross.  He stayed true to his mission. 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History December 16

Bishop Morris, Clark family, and Josiah Whipple Enter Texas December 17, 1841.

19th century Methodist circuit riders were famous for riding long, exhausting circuits to bring the Word of God to scattered communities in relatively unpopulated areas.  Presiding Elders traveled even more than the circuit riders because they went to every appointment in their districts 4 times per year.  Bishops traveled even greater distances, and their absences from home were counted in months rather than weeks.

Not only did they travel great distances to preside over the annual conferences to which they were assigned, they found time to write letters back to Christian Advocate telling about their travels. 

During the Republic of Texas, Bishops Waugh, Morris, Andrew, and Janes all came to the Republic of Texas.   Fortunately for historians we have accounts written by Waugh, Morris, and Andrew for 1840, 1841, and 1843.  Bishop Roberts was assigned for 1842, but he became ill in Arkansas, and returned home to Indiana where he died. Bishop Soule barely missed presiding over a Texas Conference session during the Republic Era.  Texas was annexed Dec. 29, 1845.  Soule came to Houston the first week of January 1846 for the Texas Conference and to Marshall  the last week of January 1846 for the East Texas Conference.

On December 17, 1841, Bishop Morris and his travelling companions crossed the Sabine at Gaines Ferry and set foot on Texas soil for the first time.   The companions consisted of volunteers from Illinois, John Clark and his family and Josiah Whipple. 

Clark and Whipple had come from northern Illinois, nearly 1000 miles.  They met Bishop Morris in St. Louis and travelled the rest of the way.  Bishop Morris wrote

Our time from St. Louis was two months; but deducting the Sabbath and other days when we stopped to preach, we were actually on the road thirty-seven days, and slept in our own camps twenty nights

Why did the party not book steamship passage to Rodney, Mississippi, and ride comfortably for a good portion of the way?  One reason was that Bishop Morris needed to preside over the Arkansas Conference in Batesville.  The other reason was that Mrs. Clark was in the traveling party and by avoiding the steamboat, they could also avoid cigars, whiskey, and rude language.    They did encounter some rough characters on the way.  One night Clark was put in a room with a man who had customized weapon—a flintlock pistol to which a Bowie knife blade had been affixed so that the butt of the pistol served as the knife grip.  Clark was so alarmed by the fearsome weapon that he left the room.

The 2nd session of the Texas Annual Conference convened in San Augustine on the 23rd in one of the few church building of any denomination in Texas in 1841.  There were twenty three preachers 16 members and 7 men On Trial.  They reported a membership of 2795 which seemed like rapid growth since the Texian Mission started its work in the autumn of 1837.   On Monday night of Conference, the Missionary Society service was held.  As was true throughout Republic era Texas, there was little cash to contribute so donors contributed pledges of land, either town lots or fractions of leagues. 

After the Conference, instead of heading home to Illinois, Bishop Morris, headed for Austin where his son lived.  His son, Thomas Asbury Morris had been acting Attorney General in the last days of the Lamar administration.  Sam Houston’s second inauguration meant he was losing that position.   Bishop Morris and Thomas A. Morris left Austin and made it back to Illinois in time to be with Mrs. Morris on her deathbed.

Whipple stayed in Texas for the rest of his career preaching mainly in the Austin area.  He lived to the age of 80.  John Clark is of course remembered as the only delegate from one of the Southern conferences to side with the north at the General Conference of 1844.  After the General Conference he stayed in the North.  Quarterly conferences all across Texas passed resolutions denouncing Clark’s vote.  He replied to those resolutions in open letters to the Christian Advocate.  Robert B. Wells, the Brenham preacher and son-in-law of Orcenth Fisher replied to those Advocate articles with letters of his own.  The Clark-Wells journalistic exchanges eventually led to Wells creating his own Texas version of the Advocate, and thus Texas Methodist journalism was born.

Clark eventually ended up back in Chicago where some sources give him credit for influencing Mrs. Eliza Garrett to leave funds for the establishment of what is known today as Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary.  Unfortunately he did not live to see the Seminary grow.  It was established in 1853 and his memoir is in the Rock River Conference Journal of 1854. 

Saturday, December 08, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History   December 9

Texas and East Texas Conference Reunited December 1902

The MECS General Conference of 1902 erased the division created by the General Conference of 1844 and reunited the East Texas and Texas Conferences. 
Although the big news of the 1844 General Conference was the controversy surrounding slavery, delegates also authorized the division of the Texas Conference into the Western Texas Conference and the Eastern Texas Conference.  The boundary between the two conferences was the Trinity River.    There had been several boundary changes after that.  In 1858 the western portion of the Texas Conference was broken off to from the Rio Grande Mission Conference (a predecessor of today’s Rio Texas Conference.)   After the Civil War the northern portions of both the Texas and East Texas Conferences were split off to form the Trinity (today’s North Texas) and Northwest Texas (today’s Central and Northwest Texas Conferences). 

There were a few other changes.  In 1866 the newly created Trinity Conference was assigned Marion, Cass, Bowie, and adjacent counties, but the East Texas Conference got them back later.  In 1894 delegates to General Conference realized rivers in urban areas do not make good boundaries so there were adjustments to the North Texas and Northwest Texas boundaries in Dallas and Tarrant Counties. 

In 1900 the Northwest Texas Conference was by far the largest Texas annual conference.  It stretched from Williamson to Dallam Counties—roughly Round Rock to Dalhart.  It included Bell, McLennan, Tarrant counties in the east and the rapidly growing railroad cities of Abilene, Lubbock, and Amarillo in the west.  

In the meantime, the West Texas, East Texas, and Texas Conferences were being left behind as a percent of total Texas Methodist population.  The 1902 reunion of the Texas and East Texas Conferences partially remedied that situation and also helped the West Texas (today’s Rio Texas) by breaking the Austin District from the Texas Conference and giving it to the West Texas Conference. 

Crockett was chosen as the site of the 1902 Annual Conference at which the reunion would take place.  Bishop Eugene R. Hendrix presided that year.   The new conference had the following Districts:   Calvert, Brenham, Houston, San Augustine, Beaumont, Pittsburg, Palestine, Tyler, and Huntsville. 

Since the two conferences were being reunited, the Conference Secretary, J. W. Downs, decided to include a pictorial directory in that year’s Journal.  The 1902 Journal therefore exists as a valuable resources for genealogists and historians. 

Saturday, December 01, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History  Dec. 2

Texas Conference Meets Jacksonville, Accepts Ordination Credential from Other Branches of Methodism, December 1-5, 1909

Bishop Joseph Key presided over the seventieth session of the Texas Conference of the MECS when it met at Jacksonville, December 1-5, 1909.   Among the business items was a resolution honoring Bishop Seth Ward after his death in Japan.  Ward had been a member of the conference and the first native born Texas to achieve the office of bishop.

It granted deacon and elder orders to a several candidates for ministry. It also accepted transfers from a large number of other MECS conferences (Pacific (2), Los Angeles, Montana (2), Missouri, Louisiana (2), Alabama, North Texas,  St. Louis, Mexican Border, North West Texas, West Texas, New Mexico). 
In another action which was common then but fairly uncommon now, it accepted ordination credential from J. F. Henderson of the Free Methodist Church, and E. W. Bostick and S. B. Cherry of the Congregational church.

What is going on?  How could the Texas Conference absorb so many new preachers.  For those of you unfamiliar with the system, conference membership ensures an appointment (except under very special circumstances.)   

Part of the reason is that the portion of Texas embraced by the Texas Conference did experience significant population growth during the first decade of the 20th century.   The discovery of petroleum deposits at Spindletop in Jefferson County led to a flurry of exploration in the coastal regions of Texas and Louisiana which shared the same salt dome geology of Spindletop.  In addition to the petroleum activity, the coastal plain was also being developed agriculturally.  Early settlers had avoided the poorly drained malarial lands, but in the 20th century mechanization allowed the construction of drainage systems.   The coastal plains blossomed.  

The other part of the Texas Conference contained the heart of the Texas timber industry, and it shared the boom times as the petroleum industry provided a huge market for lumber.  The derricks were wooden, and some oil fields were so marshy that plank roads were necessary.  Appointments for 1909 show dozens of “sawmill” circuits with as many as 6 little churches serving that number of company sawmill towns throughout the timber belt. 

Some of the transfers were preachers who had followed the westward migration to California and now were returning to their Texas roots. 

How about the three men whose ordinations by other branches of Methodist were accepted?   A preacher from another denomination could become a MECS preacher fairly easily.  He would meet with a Presiding Elder who would interview him about his theology.   If he could sign the following, “I agree with the teachings and government of the MECS,” his request to join the conference could go to the annual conference for a vote.