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. 


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