Texas Almanac, 1988-1989 Page: 63
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This historic synagogue, Temple Beth-El in Corsicana
built in 1900, is one of many unique buildings constructed
by Jewish congregations in Texas. Texas Almanac Photo.
Henry Stephenson as a missionary to Texas in 1834, the
first official Methodist missionaries came in 1837 when
Martin Ruter, Littleton Fowler and Robert Alexander
were named by the Missionary Society of the Methodist
Episcopal Church of the United States. Ruter was su-
perintendent of the mission activity but lived only six
months. His influence on education lasted long after his
Ruter divided Texas into three circuits. Circuit rid-
ers fanned out through the republic, led by Ruter who
covered more than 2,200 miles on horseback in his short
service in Texas. These ministers visited neighbor-
hoods, determined if the people wanted a worship ser-
vice and, if so, provided one. When sufficient interest
was aroused, a church was organized. By 1839, there
were 20 Methodist churches with 350 members in Texas,
and two years later, the aggressive Methodists en-
larged that number to 1,878 members. The first sepa-
rate Methodist conference for Texas was authorized in
1840and organized by Bishop Beverly Waugh.
Circuit riders carried the message of virtually ev-
ery denomination across the sparsely inhabited terri-
tory. Bad weather, a lack of roads, sickness and, not
least, hostile Indians were constant challenges. Their
courage and dedication were similar to that of the Ro-
man Catholic missionaries who first faced the fierce
Indian tribes of the territory of Texas. Both groups con-
tributed martyrs to the evangelical effort.
Disciples of Christ, or Christian, churches were es-
tablished at Clarksville and Antioch in 1836, and others
may have existed. The denomination did not have orga-
nizations at that time, and each church was free-
James Huckins was the first official Baptist mis-
sionary, being appointed by the Home Missionary Soci-
ety in 1840. After arrival, he asked for 15 missionaries to
cover the large, sparsely settled region.
The mission board of the General Presbyterian As-
sembly appointed Rev. W. C. Blair missionary to Texas
in 1839 and located him in Victoria. A decade later, the
Presbyterian Church U.S.A. showed 10 ministers, 15
churches and 329 members in the state.
The first Episcopal services were held at Mata-
gorda on Christmas Day 1838, and the first parish was
organized a month later. Episcopal churches also were
established in Houston and Galveston in 1838 and 1839.
The Episcopal Diocese of Texas was formed in Decem-
ber 1849 with parishes in Galveston, Houston, Mata-
gorda, Brazoria, San Augustine and Nacogdoches par-
ticipating. Congregations also existed in San Antonio
The Roman Catholic Church, which was in dire
straits after years of neglect, despite its position as the
state church, began rebuilding in 1838. Texas was
placed under the authority of the Bishop Antonio Blanc
of New Orleans. Rev. John Timon and Rev. Juan Fran-
cisco Llebaria were sent to the new republic to deter-
mine the state of the church. They got no farther than
Houston, where they gathered information from
around the republic. Poor roads, bad weather and Indi-
ans kept the priests from touring the new republic. In
1842, Rev. John Odin was named Vicar Apostolic of Tex-
as to continue the work of rebuilding the church that
Father Timon started. By 1846, 10 churches or chapels
were completed. The Diocese of Galveston was erected
in 1847 to include the new state of Texas.
Many of the early German immigrants were Luth-
erans. In 1850, the Lutheran Synod of South Carolina
sent Pastor G. F. Guebner to Texas to analyze mission-
ary needs. The same year, Pastor Casper Braun orga-
nized a congregation in Houston, which he served for 30
years. In Nov. 1851, the First Evangelical Lutheran Syn-
od of Texas was formed, and from that time, the church
moved forward in the state.
Jews were among the early immigrants to Texas.
But they came in increasing numbers from Europe fol-
lowing the abortive political revolutions of 1848. As their
numbers increased, Jewish institutions - benevolent
associations, cemeteries, synagogues and community
centers - were established. The first Jewish cemetery
in Texas was founded in Houston in 1844, followed by the
establishment of the first synagogue in 1854. Before the
Civil War, a Jewish cemetery was founded in Galveston
in 1852, and two years later, one was established in San
Antonio, where religious services were initiated by the
Hebrew Benevolent Society in 1856.
Although most preachers in early Texas were sin-
cere, some came whose lives "did not tally with their
professions." Initially, none of the Protestant denomi-
nations had official organizations to provide creden-
tials, and the Ecclesiastical Committee for Vigilance
for Texas, formed by Methodist, Baptist and Presbyte-
rian ministers in Houston to certify newly arrived
preachers, was only partly effective. Baptist Huckins
lamented the preacher on the Gulf Coast whose ser-
mons were attended by ruffians and scoundrels who
cheered and stamped their feet. After the preaching,
the minister and his boisterous congregation adjourned
to the groghouse to imbibe in strong spirits.
Such performances, and others by charlatans who
preyed on the desire for religion, brought all ministers
into disrespect. And they gave early Texans an excuse
to treat ministers as slightly comical figures. One
preacher, for example, delivered a sermon at a small
settlement in which he announced the death of the dev-
il. Afterward, a public meeting passed a resolution la-
menting the demise of the preacher's father and ap-
pointing a local citizen to oversee the devil's estate.
Z.N. Morrell, a legendary Baptist preacher who arrived
in Texas in 1836, once caned a heckler who disrupted
services. Few challenged the preacher again.
Texas politicians went even further when writing
the Constitution of 1836, prohibiting preachers from
serving in Congress or holding executive office in the
republic. Rationale was that the preachers needed to
spend their time saving souls. The prohibition was not
unusual in American politics, with the first such noted
in the constitution of New York State in 1777, which
eliminated ministers from consideration for military,
as well as civil, offices. Louisiana and other states also
banned preachers from some offices. In Texas, the pro-
hibition was carried over into the state constitutions of
1845 and 1866 after Texas joined the Union.
Despite the politicians' opinion of preachers, the
Senate chamber in the Capitol in Houston was the scene
of almost weekly interdenominational preaching with
Protestants and Catholics sharing the lectern.
As if the frontier life was not challenging enough,
Here’s what’s next.
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Texas Almanac, 1988-1989, book, 1987; Dallas, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth113819/m1/66/: accessed November 15, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.