Life of Littleton Fowler, Part II

McMahan's Chapel Images

Highway Marker for mcMahan's Chapel, located just off the Highway 21 turnoff outside of San Augustine, Texas
Highway Marker for mcMahan's Chapel, located just off the Highway 21 turnoff outside of San Augustine, Texas
The third McMahan's Chapel, from a 1900 photograph
The third McMahan's Chapel, from a 1900 photograph
The fourth McMahan's Chapel
The fourth McMahan's Chapel

Littleton Fowler in Texas

Littleton Fowler, one of the three new Methodist missionaries to accept the invitation to go to Texas, left his home base of Tuscumbia, Alabama, where he had served as financial agent for LaGrange College, on August 22, 1837. Weeks earlier, the mission superintendent, Dr. Martin Ruter, had given Fowler detailed instructions on the desired route into the Republic, a route which would have had Fowler crossing over by way of the Sabine River at a place known as Gaines Ferry, and then on to San Augustine and Nacogdoches, the two nearest towns on this route. Fowler chose a different route, one that nearly replicated, and completed, the route taken 20 years earlier by William Stevenson, another Methodist preacher and the first Protestant Minister to work in Texas. First, Fowler crossed the border from Washington, Hempstead County, Arkansas, not far from present-day Texarkana, going to Jonesboro through the Choctaw Nation; at the time, he was apparently suffering from a fever. In Jonesboro, he visited two of his brothers who had already moved to Texas, John H. And Bradford Fowler, and two weeks later returned to Hempstead County with John to preside at the latter's wedding to a Mrs. Elizabeth Alexander.

Immediately after the wedding, Littleton Fowler returned to Texas with a fellow Methodist minister, John B. Denton. Together, the two crossed the Red River on September 30 and went along a subsidiary river, probably called Sulphur Fork, preaching along the way, to a camp meeting near Clarksville; this is the spot Fowler had visited in 1833. The minister then continued south to Nacogdoches, arriving there on October 16, preaching there twice, then to San Augustine on October 19--thus becoming the first Protestant ministers to hold services in deep East Texas.

In the next few weeks, Fowler began laying the foundations for Texas Methodism. Following the extended services in San Augustine, he started a subscription fund--basically a pledge drive--for materials to construct a church in the town, even going as far as to lay out the exact plans for the building; within two weeks, a lot in the center of town had been deeded, over $3000 raised, and trustees and Sunday school teachers appointed. Construction was set to be completed by September 1, 1838. In the beginning of November, he returned to Nacogdoches and commenced the same activities, raising $2500 in pledges of money and buying half a league of land for $1000 for construction of a church. (Both buildings experienced the delays in construction typical for frontier society; the Nacogdoches church would not be completed until 1860, forcing the congregation to worship in various other locations until then.)

Fowler also made the rounds of other towns in East Texas, establishing congregations and arranging for churches along the way--among these, Washington-on-the-Brazos, where he met Robert Alexander for the first time; and Houston, the capital, where he was elected to the first of two terms as chaplain of the Senate. (He was re-elected for the spring 1838 session; he served no active part in the government at this time, and his experience in the office can be regarded as a minor footnote in his life.) Fowler also, in 1839, helped in the construction of one of the great monuments of Texas Methodism, McMahan's Chapel, just outside San Augustine--named for the Rev. Samuel D. McMahan, who had preceded Fowler in Texas in the years just before the Texas Revolution--which became his headquarters and near which his built his home. He also became grand chaplain of the Grand Masonic Lodge in Houston.

In December 1837, just before departing for San Augustine, Fowler met his second mission partner, Martin Ruter. He began a regular correspondence with Dr. Ruter over the next several months, which must have included exchanges concerning Ruter's plans of establishing center of higher education in the Republic, about which he had consulted with several political leaders; Fowler later himself became a leader in founding colleges in Texas. Over the next few months, Fowler's influence with the mission grew, as more and more preachers began deferring to him for assistance in supplying ministers and other matters. The result was that when Ruter died suddenly in May 1838, of typhoid and pneumonia contracted after a grueling preaching tour through East Texas on the way to a quarterly meeting, Fowler became the ideal candidate to replace him as mission superintendent; he received his formal notification of appointment by the Missionary Society on June 23, 1838.

Fowler, meanwhile, had formed the basis of a family of his own, marrying the widowed Missouri Lockwood Porter on June 21, two days before receiving his letter of appointment. A businesswoman of some renown in her own right, she had continued to act as administratrix of her later husband, Dr. J.J. Porter's estate, as well as acting as a single mother of their young son Symmes. After her marriage to Littleton Fowler, she became an active helpmate in his mission work. Together they had two children, Mary, born about 1839, and Littleton Morris in 1841. The marriage, incidentally, worked to Fowler's material benefit, as it brought him a needed salary increase, as did his promotion.

On the negative side, his appointment as superintendent led to concerns for the health of this physically fragile minister, who had been afflicted with painful ailments for most of his life. In fact, his promotion came at a time when both he and Robert Alexander were suffering from malaria. Add to this the immense size of the territory encompassing Fowler's jurisdiction, basically the entire Republic from the Red River south to the Gulf of Mexico, and from the Sabine River west to the Nueces; a man in prime health would have had difficulty following this circuit.

A big part of the problem was a shortage of manpower--Fowler told Nathan Bangs, the corresponding secretary of the Mission Board, in July 1838 that only three full-time circuit preachers resided in Texas, and only one of these was healthy; there were plenty of part-time preachers, but most of them had family and business concerns which took up much of their time. Help soon arrived however, and by the end of 1838 Fowler was joined by men who would become some of the great figures of Texas Methodism, men with names like Henderson D. Palmer, Jesse Hord, Samuel A. Williams, Issac L.G. Strickland, and Joseph P. Sneed.

The new superintendent's primary concern was to secure an independent place for the Texas mission. In short, he wanted Texas organized as a conference as soon as possible, and formed circuits and made appointments, without first consulting the Mission Board, with this goal in mind. The Mission Board, however, had other plans. It made Texas a subordinate Mission District, attaching it to the Mississippi Conference, naming Fowler presiding elder. Fowler and his junior ministers protested against making Texas a part of such a distant conference, claiming that it would retard recruitment; in fact, they said, a number of ministers had declined going to Texas on this account. Bishop Thomas A. Morris, however, tried to reassure Fowler, telling him that Texas would soon come into its own. Fowler might also have been mollified by being given discretion in rearranging the makeup of the Mission District, which he soon used to good effect.

Within a year, Morris' promise showed signs of becoming a reality. The profound growth experienced by the Republic i was echoed by the Mission District, and sometime after the first half of 1839 the Mississippi Conference divided the Texas Mission District into two sub-districts along the Trinity River: the East Texas District with Littleton Fowler as presiding elder, and the Rutersville District (named for the late Dr, Ruter) headed by Robert Alexander. A few months later, the Methodist General Conference voted to make Texas a separate, independent conference, comprising all of Texas except the far northeast corner which remained for some time with the Arkansas Conference. The Republic was subdivided into three districts, including the San Augustine District, Littleton Fowler presiding elder. The first meeting of the new conference was held on Christmas Day, 1840, and was conducted like an old-fashioned camp meeting, with preaching, singing, and celebration, even though only nine ministers actually attended the meeting.

TO BE CONTINUED...

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Comments 1 comment

mary lauren 5 years ago

very good! littleton fowler is related to me and i am curently doing a project about him.

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