Texas Almanac, 1988-1989 Page: 59
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This replica of Daniel Parker's first Pilgrim Baptist Church in Anderson County was built in 1949. The original church was
moved to Texas from Illinois in 1833 and was the first Baptist Church in Texas. Texas Almanac Photo.
Religion in Early Texas
This article was written by Mike Kingston, editor of the Texas Almanac. Special thanks are extended to Dr. John W.
Storey, Lamar University, Beaumont; Rev. Walter N. Vernon, retired Methodist minister and historian, Dallas; Dr.
Eugene W. Baker, Baylor University, Waco; and Dr. James T. Moore, North Harris County College, Houston, for their
advice. Any errors are the author's alone.
Though Texas today has about 8 million church presidios and by food during lean years, the complete
members and adherents, organized religion developed civilizing process usually was not successful. Up to 40
slowly in the state, missions were established across Texas during the
The Indian tribes that inhabited the territory of Spanish period, meeting varying degrees of success.
Texas prior to the coming of Europeans in the 16th cen- Some lasted only a few months, while others are active
tfury engaged in a variety of religious practices. Most today as churches.
embraced, however vaguely, a concept of a supreme Missions were supported by the Spanish crown, and
being. They were not monotheistic, however, believing as financial difficulties deepened in Spain, funding de-
instead in a variety of supernatural powers, organized dined. Lacking funds, the missions often could not ful-
in a hierarchy. For agricultural Indians, various cere- fill promises made to proselytes, and this angered
monies accompanied planting and harvesting of crops, them.
and nomadic Indians sought the help of spirits in hunts. Attempts to secularize the missions - to convert
Roman Catholic missionaries brought Christianity them into regular churches supported by their congre-
to Texas. The missions now commonly called Ysleta gations - began in the late 18th century but were not
and Socorro were established in the El Paso area in successful.
1680, when Spanish colonists were expelled from Pueblo Through the later Spanish colonial period and the
Indian communities in the upper Rio Grande valley. early Mexican era, the missions and churches were in a
Friendly Tigua Indians and others, who accompanied state of decline. Morale and discipline among the
the settlers in their flights, were housed at the missions. priests were low, and two in San Antonio ignored their
In 1690, the Mission San Francisco de los Tejas was vows by taking wives, starting families and failing to
established near present-day Weches in Houston Coun- adequately minister to their congregations.
ty in East Texas. Concern that the French were plan- Roman Catholicism was the traditional state reli-
ning to colonize the vast expanse of Texas in the wake of gion for Spain and its colonies. When Texas was opened
LaSalle's unsuccessful effort prompted Spanish au- to Anglo-American immigration in 1820, Spain, and lat-
thorities to locate missions in this part of the state. The er Mexico, stipulated Catholicism as the state religion
missions were withdrawn three years later, but re-es- and required all newcomers to embrace it. Religious-
tablished in 1716. The first mission in the San Antonio civil rites, like marriage, were not recognized by the
area, San Antonio de Valero (now known as the Alamo), government unless performed by priests.
was established in 1718. Other religions were prohibited by the state. From
Missions had religious and civic responsibilities, the beginning, authorities were hard pressed to enforce
They were to convert natives to Christianity, to civilize the ban. There were simply too few priests available to
them, to teach them trades and to make useful Spanish service the tide of Anglo settlers that came to the prov-
citizens of them. The approach worked among the set- ince. And few priests spoke English. What developed
tied Indians of Mexico, but the nomadic tribes of Texas was not religious persecution, but an apathy toward
resisted the efforts. Although many Indians were at- religion altogether. Stephen F. Austin in 1823 and 1824
tracted by the protection provided by nearby Spanish petitioned Mexican authorities without success to send
English-speaking priests. When the Mexican war for
independence begn in 1810, immigration of priests
from Spain was stopped, and seminaries in Mexico soon
clcsed during the turbulence, some of which was aimed
Continued on Page 61
The color cover picture of this section was made in St.
Olaf's Kierke near Cranfill's Gap in Bosque County by
Mary G. Crawford of the Texas Almanac. The church
was built by Norwegian pioneers who settled the area in
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Texas Almanac, 1988-1989, book, 1987; Dallas, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth113819/m1/62/: accessed January 18, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.